In the days before the abolition of slavery in the United States of America, a fine black slave was among the men being sold at auction. As the bidding began the slave noticed that a foreign-looking man was leading the bidding for him, consistently increasing his offer with every counter-bid. He began to shout and curse at the man, saying, ‘If you buy me, I will never work for you. I’d sooner die than work for you. If you buy me, I’ll try to kill you!’ He knew that if he was bought by a foreign buyer, he’d be separated from his family and his relatives, and most likely never see them again.
But still the man went on bidding, and eventually the competitors gave in and the slave was sold to the foreign-looking stranger. He paid the money over to the auctioneer, received the bill of sale and walked over to the slave.The crowd parted, waiting to see what would happen next. As the man reached the slave he stretched out his hand with the bill of sale in it. ‘Take it’ he said, ‘You are a free man.’
The slave looked blank for a moment, and then, realising what the foreign man had done, he fell on his knees before this unknown benefactor. ‘Sir’ he said, ‘I will serve you and go with you wherever you want. Your home will be my home; your concerns my concerns, and your wish my command. I am yours.’
What a wonderful story of grace! A story of someone paying the price, to set a slave free. And the freed slave responds by giving his life to the man. That is always the correct response to grace: laying down your life. It’s about lives laid down.
Earlier this year I shared with The Belfrey Staff Team a message from Romans 12:1-2 about the process of revelation, consecration and sanctification. At the heart of that passage is the call to be a ‘living sacrifice’ – dead to your own agenda, but alive to God. It’s about lives laid down.
At the Refresh weekend away a few weeks ago, we had 3 main speakers: Mark Stibbe twice on Saturday, me on Sunday morning and Mick Woodhead on Sunday evening. If you were to ask me what the common thread was that ran through the messages, I would say this: God is on the move, he has plans for York and the North and his call to us is to be ready and to consecrate ourselves, dedicating ourselves afresh to him. It’s about lives laid down.
It’s been great seeing and being part of the many recent baptisms and reaffirmations recently – on Easter Saturday outside the Minster, at The 7, at G2 and at Coversations. Hearing the testimonies. Witnessing the promises. Seeing folk go down, putting to death the old life, and coming up welcoming new life in Jesus Christ. Wonderful! Powerful! Inspiring! It’s about lives laid down.
Last week I was at the New Wine North and East Conference in Liverpool, which was excellent. Whilst there, a number of people asked how things were going in York and also what was going on in the life of the church. So I talked about all sorts: sharing some of the stories, talking about Roger Simpson’s new role as Archbishop’s Evangelist for the North, describing some of the structural changes, telling about the baptisms. But what I kept coming back to… was PRAYER. I said that the Lord was teaching us how to pray. And I think he is. This Prayer Week we are having right now is not insignificant. Prayer is often best done on your knees, because it’s one of, if not the most humble thing we do, which is why kneeling is normally the most natural and appropriate posture for prayer. We aim to decrease, so he can increase. We go low, so that Jesus Christ can be lifted high. And we call on the Lord, and ask him to use us in his service. It’s about lives laid down.
Do you sense there might just be some kind of common theme emerging here?!!! I think so. It’s about lives laid down.
If you are a follower of Jesus, it’s easy to think: ‘I am a Christian! My life is laid down!’
If you work for the church, it’s easy to think: ‘I’m on the Staff Team! My life is laid down!
Maybe you have given up something to serve God. If so, it’s easy to think: ‘I’ve given up this or that to serve God. My life is laid down!’
You see, if we’re not careful we can think God is speaking this message to everybody else, except me.
Well… No. This message is for YOU… and for me, and for us all – especially for those who are part of The Belfrey. It’s about lives laid down.
Now there is, undoubtedly an initial laying down of your life, when you become a follower of Jesus. But the challenge is to keep on – daily – laying down your life. In 1 Corinthians 15:31 St Paul uses the phrase: ‘I die daily’ He is partly talking about being aware that his life could end at any point, as he is often in danger. But what he essentially means is that his life is sold out for God. He belongs to God. All he has. All he is. It’s all for Jesus. Jesus has died for him. Jesus has saved him. Jesus has pulled him out of the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of light. He now belongs to him. Every day he lays down, again, his life for God.
Do you do that? Do you die daily?
In John 14 Jesus says ‘Greater love has no one than this, to lay down your life’ Because real love is shown in lives laid down. For others. And ultimately for God. This is what Jesus did for us at the cross. We are to do the same.
So it’s time to make a fresh consecration of our lives to God. Giving them back. Wholeheartedly. Totally. To him. For him. This Prayer Week provides a great opportunity to do that. Will you join me in doing that?
Lives laid down – are lives the Lord can use. He is asking you afresh: will you lay down your life again for me?