When President Clinton unveiled his tax increase two months ago, he called Americans to sacrifice. But when “morning-after” polls showed a drastic drop in approval ratings, sacrifice quickly became contribution. Apparently sacrifice, which is in the vocabulary of faith, does not exist in the language of politics.

We seem to have a hard time with sacrifice unless we sense a direct benefit for ourselves. But expecting something in return is not sacrifice, it is investment. The two concepts are radically different.

Our upscale American existence has been sanitized of sacrifice. The notion of giving without thought of return has grown passé. The church, however, would do well to remember that selfless sacrifice is the foundation of our Christian experience. In fact, the story of the church is the ongoing history of sacrifice.

I am reminded of an event witnessed by Bob Pierce, founder of World Vision, in Korea in 1950: The Red Chinese army has routed American and United Nations troops. Refugees flood south, their tales of atrocity sparking terror. Churches bulge with all-night prayer vigils conducted in an atmosphere of siege. It is winter, and the city has lost power.

It is four o’clock in the morning, dark and unbelievably cold inside. Many in the church are refugees. Most are dressed in nothing but thin, padded cotton. Women who watched their homes burn and husbands tortured to death gather their children close.

The singing is punctuated by tears, declaring both the worshipers’ need and their joy in finding the One in whom every need is met. The pastor prepares to take an offering for those still streaming into the city. “Something must be done to help our friends and brethren,” he explains. ...

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