Here is my sermon from September 1, 2019. The final message in a series answering the question: “What is the purpose of the church?” The Answer: To glorify God by living out the gospel through discipleship, evangelism, and worship. In this message, we look at how to live out the gospel through a lifestyle of worship.
My name is Jathan Good, I’m the worship pastor here, and I’m excited to get to preach this morning! I try to preach every Sunday, but outside of the lyrics of the songs, I’m generally limited to about 30-seconds at a time, so to have 30 minutes to share with you is really special for me. And I get to talk about my life’s passion this morning, but I want to start off with a confession. Can I be vulnerable with you? Is this a safe place? You guys are family, and you love me even with my shortcomings, right?
Ok. I have a weakness. An addiction really… to Tap Sports Baseball. A video game that lived on my cell phone. It’s so easy to get hooked when it’s right there in your pocket; so easily accessible. Whenever I had a spare moment, I could pull it out and get a quick 5-minute fix. Or 10-minute fix. Ok, sometimes I’d be on there for half an hour. But I started to see how much time it was taking away from other things like sleep. So I gave it up for Lent earlier this year! Deleted the app from my phone and haven’t touched it since.
And I quickly replaced it with a new vice: Fantasy Baseball. I joined a fantasy baseball league for the first time. I’ve always loved baseball statistics, and I’ve followed the Giants almost religiously since 1989, but now I had to keep my eye on stats for players on 8 or 9 different teams! Fortunately, there’s a website that will consolidate all the information for you, and I found a daily podcast that will get you up to date in about 15 minutes. But when that podcast scaled back to only 3 days a week I had to start supplementing with an additional podcast. But that one’s an hour-long! As you can see I have this thing inside me, that craves the adrenaline rush I get from having something or someone to cheer for. Something to pour myself into, to dedicate myself to.
THE RELIGION OF SPORTS
This is worship. The word worship comes from the Old English “worth-ship.” And it is something that everybody does. When we ascribe great value to something we are declaring it’s worth. It takes priority over things. We devote our time and energy and money to that which we worship. Tim Kellar describes worship as “the act of ascribing ultimate value to something in a way that energizes and engages your whole being.”
Sports are an idol to which billions of people ascribe ultimate value in a way that energizes and engages their whole being. Think about it. Sports followers get to pick one of several hundred gods to worship, usually choosing the local team, but sometimes worshiping a foreign god, like the Chicago Cubs, or clearly occultic Tampa Bay Devil Rays. These worshipers sing their praises, declaring the greatness of their gods, and taunting other rival gods, like the Dodgers. They wear clothing which identifies them with their gods. They study the box score scriptures and read commentaries and listen to sermons on sports radio. They can tell you in amazing detail of the great things their gods have done, and the incredible statistics that separate their god from other gods.
These worshipers cheer on their gods with loud shouts of joy, celebrating every touchdown or homerun with arms raised high, and with fist pumps and high fives. They gather weekly with other followers to drink their communion wine and nachos while worshiping in their home groups. If their god is far away they might make a semi-annual pilgrimage to the main temple, or if it’s a local god they worship, they might pay their tithes in order to secure season tickets at the temple. They’ll arrive early for the worship service, maybe celebrating with a pre-service ceremonial meal in the parking lot.
The truly devoted will subject themselves to freezing temperatures and bare their skin to reveal the ceremonial body paint that they wear to honor their gods. They’ll even bid online for religious relics (autographed baseballs, and games worn gear). This is true devotion. This is authentic worship.
MISPLACED WORSHIP. Spirit & Truth
But it’s misplaced. We were designed to worship. But this is not what God intended. So let’s take a look at Jesus himself has to say about worship. Turn with me to John chapter 4, where Jesus is speaking with a Samaritan woman. I’m going to summarize it for time sake, but you can read along, too. Jesus says some pretty eye-popping stuff to the woman and she says, “Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet.” and she decides to take advantage of this one-on-one time with a prophet, and she asks him a question. She says, “We Samaritans worship here on this mountain, but you Jews say that Jerusalem is the right place to worship. Which is it? In classic Jesus-style, he responds with, “that’s the wrong question. It’s not about where you worship, it’s about how you worship. In verse 23 he says, “But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him.”
The word for spirit here is pneuma, which means breath and indicates the animating principle of a person – the thing that makes them alive, it can refer to the passion and expression of a person. The word for truth is alethia which means fact or accuracy, and reality. The Father wants us to worship in both passion and accuracy. And the word for worship here is “Proskuneo” which means to bow down, prostrate, a public expression of praise & adoration & devotion.
Worship is both a state of the mind, and position of the heart. I love how John Piper puts it. He says, “Worship is the response of the heart to the knowledge of the mind, when the mind is rightly understanding God, and the heart is rightly valuing God.”
To rightly value God is to put him in the highest place, above all other gods and idols. To arrange your life in a way that public reveals that He is more important, more valuable than sports, or money, or sex, or success, or mere entertainment and leisure. He is more valuable than anything else we pursue with our time and money and passion.
So is it wrong to be passionate about other things like sports? Is it a sin to spend money on a fantasy baseball league, and setting aside time (at the expense of other good things) to attend sporting events? No. There’s nothing wrong with being passionate about sports or music or books or movies or food. Obviously, we need to be careful about what we fill our brains with, but it’s ok to be passionate about the things you love. God designed you to be a passionate, emotional being. But those passions need to be rightly aligned, correctly valued…somewhere lower than God.
As long as your passions are rightly valued, rightly ordered under God, then I think they can actually be a positive thing because they can be used as triggers to worship God. When you experience joy as your team scores the winning touchdown in the final seconds, or your guy hits a three-pointer at the buzzer to win the game, praise God! Not for the touchdown, but for the opportunity to experience joy.
When you eat your favorite dessert and those endorphins start firing and lighting up your brain, and your mouth is watering, thank God for designing tastebuds! Praise God for the engenius design feature of placing the taste buds on the front of the tongue so you can hold the food in your mouth and savor the taste. Aren’t you glad that God didn’t put your taste buds farther down the tongue, in your throat, where you would only taste that wonderful flavor for a fraction of a second as you swallow? Or even worse, what if they were inside your stomach? If you ate something disgusting…it’s too late! Now it’s gonna sit there on your taste buds until you digest it! You’re gonna be tasting that disgusting thing for hours!
Does anybody here love movies that make you cry? Those movies like The Notebook. Life is Beautiful, Marley and Me, Manchester by the Sea. Those movies where the characters are dealing with very real, serious issues like alzheimers, and cancer, and death, estrangement, depression. I watched a movie on netflix a few months ago called About Time. It’s about this guy who discovers he can time travel, and without giving away too much, there’s come a point at the end of the movie where he has to choose between his father and his daughter. Oh man, it crushed me! I watched it alone and I just had to tell the story to Carla later, and I cried while just giving her the summary. Then I told the story to my kids and cried while telling it to them!
Books can be even more emotionally engaging! That’s why the movie is never as good as the book it’s based on, right? There’s even more opportunity for character development, and more time to get attached to the characters, and to invest your emotions. A few years ago, Carla and I read The Yearling outloud to each other, and I’ll admit it was pretty hard to read those final chapters with that huge lump in my throat. Those stories impact us on a very real level, even though they’re not real at all. They are the very definition of fantasy. My favorite Christian artist is a guy named Andrew Peterson and he wrote a song about the Yearling because it affected him so much. He also wrote a series of fantasy books called the Wingfeather Saga, which I think are even better than the Chronicles of Narnia. But even fantasy stories can have a very real impact on us when they touch our emotions.
Man, when you experience those deep emotions, doesn’t it just make you feel more alive and more awake? More in touch with the core of who you are and what makes you you. Passion is a good thing. And movies and books and stories can be good things. You can glorify God when you watch movies and read books. Praise God for the emotions that the story brings out in you. Praise God for passion, and worship Him for the incredible complexity he created within the human soul.
Use your passions as a trigger to Proskuneo – bow down in worship before God, in Spirit, from the heart.
But there’s another kind of worship I want to talk about this morning, and this ties in with our theme for this sermon series. Our goal for this series, which I’m wrapping up today, is to address the question: What is the purpose of the church. Andy laid it out for us at the beginning of August, that the purpose of the church is …
To glorify God, by living out the gospel through Discipleship, Evangelism, and Worship. He then taught us about the importance of being a disciple of Christ – being little Christs, always learning and growing to be more Christ-like, and also the importance of being a discipleR, and helping others learn to be like Jesus. Then Chris taught us last week about Evangelism and the importance of sharing the good news of salvation with those who are lost and dying. And most of us left here with a little red card in our hands and a place to write the names of five people we are praying for and looking for opportunities to share the love of Christ with them.
And now that we have a good understanding of what worship is, and the kind of worship God is looking for, we’re going to look at how we can live out the gospel through worship. Turn with me now to Romans chapter 12 and we will examine what Paul has to say about worship in his letter to the Romans. Ah, but chapter 12 starts with the word ”therefore” and we know that whenever we see the word “therefore” we need to ask “what is it there for?” We need to look at the previous verses in order to get the context.
So let’s look at Romans 11:33-36. Paul is writing here about the mercy of God and seems as if while he’s writing he just gets caught up in a moment of worship, just thinking about God’s mercy. He starts to proclaim the greatness of God – this is worship in written form right here. He says, “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! “For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?” “Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?” For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.”
And here we arrive at the beginning of chapter 12, where Paul says, “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.”
This word for worship is “latreia” which can also be translated as “service rendered unto God.” This word is related to the word “Liturgy” which means “the work of the people.” In contrast to Proskuneo, an inner worship of the heart and mind, “latreia” is worship in action.
The context for this idea of living sacrifices is the biblical act of worship, commanded in the Old Testament, the Jewish scriptures, of sacrificing an animal to God as a symbol of substitutionary atonement – a big word. But it just means that in God’s economy, evil must be paid for. There are consequences for sin, and it must be destroyed. But…since all of humankind is sinful in nature, every human must be destroyed! But God allows for a substitution. Instead of destroying humans when they sin he allowed them to bring an animal to die in their place. But Jesus put an end to the need for animal sacrifice as he became the Lamb who takes away our sin, the ultimate substitution – the sinless one who took on the sins of the world. The once-and-for-all perfect, final payment for the sins of all. The perfect sinless one, in place of the sinful.
LET EVERYTHING YOU DO BE AN ACT OF WORSHIP
But here in Romans chapter 12, Paul appeals to us to present our bodies as living sacrifices. Does he mean we’re supposed to kill ourselves? No, he says, “living” sacrifices. This is not a sacrifice of our bodies unto death, that’s not necessary, thanks to Jesus. This is a sacrifice of our bodies through our actions. Give over and dedicate to God the actions of your bodies. It is your living that is the act of worship. What Paul is calling us to is a sacrifice of living for God. It’s easy to live for oneself, and seek only what is pleasing to oneself. But to live for God, and seek what is pleasing to Him, is a sacrifice. But it is a sacrifice that is holy, and acceptable and pleasing to God! Living in a way that pleases God is our true and proper act of worship. Your everyday choices, the menial things that you do.
In 1 Cor. 10:31 Paul says, “whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” Even eating and drinking can be done for the glory of God. Thank God for your tastebuds.
One of my favorite books is a book called The Practice of the Presence of God, a collection of letters and stories told by Brother Lawrence, a monk who excelled at living every moment in an awareness of the presence of God. He talks about worshiping God while washing the dishes. Worship is not just what you do in church for one hour a week, it’s just as much what you do with the other 167 hours of the week.
In Colossians 3:17 he says again “whatever you do, in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.”
My favorite example of worshiping God with our actions, even things that would at first glance appear to be totally neutral rather than as something that could bring glory to God, is the story of Eric Liddell. His story is told in the 1981 movie Chariots of Fire, which won 4 Academy Awards, including Best Picture. Eric Liddell was a British Olympic runner in the 1920s, and also a Christian missionary to China. In the movie he says, “I believe God made me for a purpose: for China. But he also made me fast. And when I run I feel His pleasure. To give it up would be to hold him in contempt… it’s not just fun. To win is to honor Him.”
Listen… whatever you do, whether you eat or drink or run, or program computers, or fix broken toilets, or perform heart transplants, or teach Sunday school, or run the media computer during worship services, or mentor the students in the church’s youth department. Whatever you do, in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him. Worship is a lifestyle. Are you expressing God’s worth, God’s value in your actions, in the way that you live? Do people observe your life and see God’s glory?
As John Piper says, “let every act of your living body be a demonstration that God is your treasure. Let every act of your living body show that Christ is more precious to you than anything else. Let every act of your living body be a death to all that dishonors Christ…Show the worth of Christ by the way you use your body.”
May we glorify God by living out the gospel in everything we do.
THE EGOTISM OF GOD
So why is it so important that we glorify God, anyway? Why is God so eager to be praised? Have you ever asked that question? I think it’s a really important question that most Christians gloss over. I’ll admit that I kind of did. But we need to address this. Many skeptics hear about this supposedly benevolent and loving God who asks his creation to worship Him, who commands everyone to praise Him, and they think, “wait a minute, that doesn’t sound like a loving thing to do. I thought love was putting the other person’s needs and desires above your own. This God of the Bible sounds pretty selfish. In fact, He sounds extremely arrogant! Demanding that people bow down to Him and worship Him? That’s what a tyrannical despot does. That God is an egomaniac! I wouldn’t even do that. That’s repulsive. I could never worship a needy God who demands my adoration. You can’t demand adoration, right? It has to be earned!
You have to admit, that line of thought makes a lot of sense, doesn’t it? If humans are supposed to be humble and not prideful, if we are supposed to be selfless, how can God get away with it?
Isn’t He supposed to be the ultimate example that we try to emulate?
But Jesus himself said, “Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.” It’s right there in Matthew 10:37! Man, Jesus said some really weird stuff, didn’t he? He had some very hard teachings. Hard to understand, and hard to put into practice. So is this just something that we’ve misunderstood for two thousand years? God isn’t really that arrogant, is he?
But when we look closely we see that it actually goes much deeper. In fact, the more we read the Bible, the more we see that everything God does is really for one purpose: to reveal his own glory. From creation, to choosing israel as his people, to delivering the Israelites from Egypt, to giving them victory over other nations, and even giving them over to their enemies, and restraining his anger in exile, to sending his son, and redeeming his creation. Everything is done for the purpose of illuminating God’s glory. It appears that God’s glory is the supreme value of the universe.
Well, thanks, Jay, you just made it worse. Now, I’m really concerned!
So how is it not egotistical and self-centered for God to be so obsessed with His own glory? Like most things in life, it’s all about perspective. It turns out that the alternative to God be God-centered is for God to be man-centered. Now who’s being selfish? When we think of God’s demanding worship as egomaniacal, we are actually the ones being self-centered. We are putting ourselves at the center. We want the story of Jesus’ death and resurrection to be about us. But it’s not. Salvation is not a story about you, it’s about God. God enacted his plan of salvation not for your good, but for His glory. He is the protagonist of this greatest story ever told. The good news of the gospel is not that you get to go to heaven. The good news of the gospel is that God is all-powerful, all-loving, and He redeemed His creation through the ultimate act of self-sacrificing love. It is in the salvation of sinners where God’s glory is most clearly seen. God saved us in order to reveal his glory. God saved you so that you could worship Him.
OUR GREATEST JOY
And here’s the great thing! When God is God-centered, it in fact results in our greatest joy! Joy is not found in thinking highly of ourselves. Ask celebrities or sports heroes after winning the Superbowl. Reveling in your own greatness doesn’t last. It fades, and it leaves a gigantic hole. A God-shaped hole. A hole that only God can fill. When God is at the center, everything falls into its proper place; everything aligns. If you want to be most alive, most joyful, focus on God’s glory.
Have you experienced this to be true? Have you ever stood at the edge of the ocean, or the Grand Canyon, or looked up into the night sky and marveled out how vast the universe is, and how great God must be, and how small you are, and found peace there? The more we see of God’s glory, and the more we understand of His grace and love and the beauty of His character, the more joy we experience.
“Joy reaches its height in moments of self-forgetfulness in the presence of beauty and greatness.” And the more we bask in God’s glory and respond with passionate praise, the more joy we experience. Admiration is one of the deepest longings of the heart.
C.S. Lewis said it this way: “we delight to praise what we enjoy because the praise not only expresses but completes the enjoyment;… It is not out of compliment that lovers keep on telling one another how beautiful they are; the delight is incomplete till it is expressed.”
Our deepest longing is met when we see God’s glory and respond with adoration. So the revelation of God’s glory isn’t so selfish on God’s part after all, is it?
Piper: “When all is said and done, and the history of the world is complete, and the new heavens and the new earth are established, and the infinitely joyful age to come is here, the ultimate joy, the ultimate climax of history for our aching hearts, is “we will see his glory,” and we will be transformed by it into the kind of people who can enjoy it fully and not be incinerated by it.”
Hope this insight into the significance of God’s glory make you want to praise Him more.
This is why Sunday mornings are so important, and why our worship gatherings are not just optional extras to add onto to your personal, private faith, but are actually a strategic part of God’s plan for the Christ-follower’s life. When we gather at church on Sundays we are reminded of what really matters. We get to put everything else we’ve been worried about throughout the rest of the week into perspective. A perspective that places God back at the center.
We’re going to close the service with a sacred ritual: the sacrament of communion. Jesus said to do this in remembrance of him whenever we gather together to worship. He did not do this because he was a self-centered egomaniac. He invited us to remember his sacrifice because it brings glory to God.
It puts God back at the center, and when God is at the center, everything else falls into alignment. Jesus said the bread is a symbol of his body which was broken for you, and the cup is a symbol of his blood which was shed for you, establishing a new covenant between you and God. A covenant based in Grace, not law. One that does not require animal sacrifice to atone for our sins, one that relies on Jesus’ death as the ultimate atoning sacrifice. The sinless in place of the sinful. The pure in payment for the impure.
Take a few moments as the band plays to pray and to praise God, to recognize His glory and to worship Him. When you’re ready, come down and receive the elements of communion. Eat the bread, drink from the cup, remember Jesus’s sacrifice and praise God for the glory found in salvation.
“Lord, we praise you for you are worthy as nothing else is worthy. You are more valuable than anything else on earth, more precious than anything you’ve created. You are that which is above all other things, and we proclaim your greatness. Amen.”
All of creation brings glory to God. Go and do likewise. Live for the glory of His name. Declare his mighty acts, and tell of his salvation with the actions of your bodies and the passions of your heart. “In view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.”
God bless you, and we’ll see you next week as Paul Thome kicks off a new sermon series examining the Sermon on the Mount.