Life at the Next Level
Finding the More You Were Created for
Jeff Jones, Senior Pastor
January 14/16, 2005
Romans 12:1 (p. 803)
Good morning! I’m glad you are here today, and that I’m here too. I was in Vegas last week speaking at a pastor’s conference, and I’m happy to be here again. And didn’t Jack do a great job last week!
In our series, The More you Were Created For, we are looking today at worship—that you and I were created to worship God, to live life with God at the center. That is the only way life is designed to work. Yet, that is not natural. We live in a very me-focused world.
Think about it. Up until a few hundred years ago, we as humans were convinced that the earth was the center of the universe and every planet and the sun revolved around it. Then this guy Copernicus started asking questions like, “If that’s true, then why do we have seasons?” He made some observations and concluded that the earth and planets revolved around the sun. People kind of laughed old Copernicus into obscurity and then Galileo shows up about fifty years later and observes the same thing. By that time, people were just annoyed with the suggestion that we aren’t the center of the universe, and they put Galileo in prison, threatened to kill him, and threw him out of the church.
Evidently people wanted to see themselves as the center of the universe, but not much has changed. We do too. In fact, I started imagining what it would be like if I were the center of the universe and think it would be a great world. Just one example: Instead of our four food groups, we’d only have three: white chocolate, dark chocolate, and milk chocolate. And the surgeon general would mandate about 8 liters of Diet Coke a day. That would be a nice world.
Though I’m not the center of the universe, I can sometimes act like that. But in the Purpose Driven Life Series we went through last year, the most important thing we came out of that with was the realization, “It’s not about you.” Go ahead and say that to the person next to you. Fun, isn’t it. Bur realize they said it to you, too. We can easily live like that it is about us and live life with ourselves at the center, but if we do we will never find the more we are created for.
When Jesus came, he was very clear…that the only way we can find life is to give it away, that we don’t gain by grasping but giving. Jesus modeled a way of life that was not me-centric but god-centric. The only way you and I can thrive in life is recognize that it is not about us, but about God and his glory. The purpose of our lives is far greater than personal fulfillment, our own peace of mind, or even our own happiness. If you and I want to know why we are here, we can’t look within, we have to look up—at the one who created us. We are created for God, for his glory, and life only makes sense with God at the center. The self-centered life doesn’t work and never has.
You and I were created to worship God, but what does that mean? How do we live life that is God-centric, that brings glory to him? Today as we are talking about worship, we aren’t talking so much about a worship service. We are talking about a life of worship, that we can look back at the end and see that we lived a life of eternal significance with Christ at the center. To find the answer, we are going to look today primarily at one verse, Romans 12:1, to challenge us with what a life of worship is all about. Go ahead and turn in your Bibles to the 12th chapter of the New Testament book of Romans. It’s not that far beyond Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.
1Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God–this is your spiritual act of worship.
There is a lot packed into this one verse, so let’s unpack it. What does a life of worship look like?
- A response to God’s character
Worship is a response to who God is and what he has done for us. The passages says right at the beginning, “Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy…” In view of what God has done for us, what else can we do than live our lives for him?
When you and I think about what God has done for us, how can we do anything different than give our lives to him? It’s like that hymn that we sing, It Is Well with My Soul. When I was young and heard that line, “My sin, oh the bliss of this glorious thought.” I used to think, “Huh. That’s a weird thing to say in church. My sin, oh the bliss of that thought…man those were some fun times.” But that’s not what he is saying; the hymn goes on to say, “my sin, not in part but the whole, was nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more. It is well, it is well with my soul.” The hymn writer was blown away that God would just forgive him of everything.
Think about your own life, what God has done, what he has forgiven. Think about your life before you knew him. Before I was a Christian, I was quite the profligate. I was one bad dude, and I did a lot of things that looking back I’m not proud of at all now. It may have seemed normal then, but it was some really bad stuff. My life was full of debauchery…I don’t even know what that means, but it sounds really bad—and it was. I had made a wreck out of my life. But then, when I was six years old, I gave my life to Christ, and all that changed! A wonderful thing. How could I do anything less than give everything to God! Okay, so I couldn’t have gotten into too much trouble in my first five years of life—and I’m glad for that. I’m glad God saved me early, and that in my early years I made the decision to live for him. It spared me a lot of pain. Yet, I also have friends who became Christians later in life, and what I envy in them is their passion for Christ. They know what they’ve done, and they can’t get over the fact that God just forgave them.
Jesus said, “He who has been forgiven much loves much.” He is saying that those who have lived life and made some mistakes and receive forgiveness can’t help but love Jesus intensely. Some of you have a story that you aren’t fully proud of—actually all of us do. But be encouraged. You have the capacity for even greater passion for Christ because you know what forgiveness is all about. Go with that, and live for God. Show us what passion for Christ looks like. And all of us have been forgiven when we didn’t deserve it, so what else could we do than give all we are to God.
- Total Devotion
Our verse tells us to “offer your bodies as living sacrifices,” using the imagery of an Old Testament offering or sacrifice. In the Old Testament, they brought an animal like a lamb to sacrifice it on the altar. Now, think of that event from the perspective of the worshiper. It was certainly a sacrifice for them. They are giving up one of their sheep, which is a big deal. After all, it was one of their animals that they were giving up and most people weren’t very wealthy.
But he doesn’t say we are like the worshiper who is giving up one of his sheep. He says we are the sheep. We are to present not something we have that is valuable but we are to offer up ourselves on the altar. Now, that raises the stakes. He says we are to sacrifice as much as the sheep.
What does the sheep sacrifice? Everything! It’s not like the sheep who was sacrificed made a contribution. They didn’t say, “Let’s see. Here’s some wool you might could use. And if you really want it, here’s one of my hoofs. It’ll hurt, but I can spare that.” No, for the sheep it was total devotion.
That’s what worship is. Worship is not about coming to a service and making some contributions. Worship is about a life of total devotion to God. We are the ones on the altar. It is a total commitment deal.
That means that worship is much more about how we live life during the week in between church services than the actual church service. Worship is a way of life. Worship is a full-time gig. That’s why in 1 Corinthians, we are told that all that we do should be to the glory of God…everything.
We are to worship God all the time, in everything we do. So, that means that we should seek to make every moment a worship experience, where God is glorified. So, today at lunch after this service, think about that. How could you make lunch a worship experience. Now, I’d answer that if you ordered a chocolate dessert, you couldn’t help but have a worship experience. Chocolate is innately spiritual. But seriously, how could lunch become an opportunity to give glory to God? Pray that way when you are there.
Or at home this afternoon and evening. If you are a mom or dad, how could you make the ordinary time this afternoon a time for glorifying God in the way that you relate to your spouse, children, friends?
At work tomorrow, when you start a meeting, pray and say, “God, help me in this meeting conduct myself in such a way that you are glorified. Make this a worship experience.”
But now let me up the ante just a little bit. I’ve looked at different categories that are part of our life, such as home, work, relationships. But how about different life circumstances? Here’s what I mean. It is easy to worship God when everything is going great…when life is working pretty much like it should. In fact, when life is going well and people ask how they can pray for us, sometimes we’ll say, “Well, God is good. Let’s just thank God, because life is great.”
But how about when our world is crumbling? What about when our circumstances stink? What does a life of worship look like when the God we are worshiping allows us to experience suffering and difficulty?
Think about the guy in the New Testament that was born blind. In John 9, we learn about this poor guy: 1As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. 2His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” 3“Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life.
Now, imagine being the blind guy and hearing that the reason you’ve been blind all your life is for God’s glory. How good would that really feel? Be honest. That’s a tough thing. What if the reason you are suffering is so that God would be glorified through your pain somehow? What if the reason God isn’t answering your prayers for your circumstances to change is his glory? Are you okay with that thought?
You might remember the names Martin and Gracia Burnham, who were both missionaries in the Philippines. They had three kids born on the mission field and were both excellent missionaries. But on May 27, 2001, a militant group connected to Al Qeada kidnapped them both as they were celebrating their 18th wedding anniversary. For 400 days they were held hostage under terrible conditions and endured things that you and I could only imagine. In the middle of all this, most people would have gotten so angry at God. Here they were serving him, and he could have stopped that. He could rescue them. In the midst of all that, Martin said, “We might not leave this jungle alive, but at least we can leave this world serving the Lord with gladness.” And they did just that, until June 7, 2002, over a year into captivity when the Philippine army raided the camp where they were held and in the firefight one bullet injured Gracia and another ended Martin’s life here on earth. She was left a widow, and her three children left without a dad.
When you hear Gracia talk about it, it’s amazing. Does she hurt? Of course. Does she wish things could be different? Sure. But she has been able to see things from a bigger perspective. She can see how God has used all that for his glory. Throughout the whole ordeal, they were able to talk to the world press about Jesus. Chained every night to a guard, Martin took the opportunity to say goodnight, pray out loud for him, and talk to him about Christ. And because of Martin’s death, nations around the world heard about Christ. Millions saw her handle the whole experience with such strength and grace. She wasn’t angry at the captors, she prayed for the captors. And through all that, God was seen and honored.
That’s what Paul was talking about in Philippians 1:29, when he said, 29For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for him… Paul is saying, “Guys, you’ve been given a great opportunity to suffer for Christ. What a great thing, be thankful for it.” Now, that doesn’t sound right. We don’t thank God for suffering. We pray that he will get us out of it, and if he doesn’t we get mad. Isn’t that normal?
Yes, that’s normal, but not for a worshiper. A worshiper says, “However I can best glorify God, my whole life is committed to that. I’m not committed to comfort, I’m committed to Christ and his glory.”
When I was in Romania in the early eighties, life was very tough and Christians were persecuted. Yet, they actually prayed for the privilege of suffering for Christ’s name. At that point in my life, I thought they were nuts. But they weren’t nuts. They were worshipers. They just wanted the opportunity to glorify God with their lives.
I don’t know what you are going through, and there is nothing wrong to pray that God will change your circumsntaces. But in the meantime, ask a bigger question. Explore it. Ask God, “How can you be glorified through this? How can you use this? How do you want me to respond in such a way that you will be honored?” That’s the heart of a worshiper.
- A life of constant sacrifice
We skimmed over a funny little phrase, “living sacrifices.” He says we are to offer up ourselves as living sacrifices. Now, when they offered up the animal on that altar it was very soon a dead sacrifice, not a living one. But he says we are to crawl up on that altar as a living sacrifice. That’s very different.
We aren’t dead sacrifices but living ones. And that I believe is actually harder. Because when it starts getting hot, we want to get down. We don’t want to be up there anymore. We don’t want always live our lives for God and not for ourselves. Staying on the altar as a living sacrifice is not easy, because we can choose to get down. Sacrificing our own desires and our own resources and our own plans is not easy.
But worship and sacrifice go hand and hand. You can claim to worship God, but be careful. Worship is all about sacrifice. It is about giving to God all that you are and all that you have. It is about being a living sacrifice.
Now, think about that for a little bit. What do we make sacrifices for? We make sacrifices for what we value. If we want children, we will sacrifice to get that. If we value a nice-looking body, we’ll make some sacrifices to get that. If we value a goal in our career, we’ll make sacrifices to achieve it.
You see why worship and sacrifice go hand and hand? Worship is all about what we value, and we only sacrifice for that which we value. The word worship is actually from an old English word that was pronounced something like “worth ship.” It meant to ascribe worth to something, to put a price tag on it. You and I can tell what we really value by what we make sacrifices for.
Let me ask you this question, “What do you value highly—maybe even more highly than God?” Now, don’t answer to quickly, because it is easy with our words to say, “I value God more than anything. How dare you, you Alabama pastor swine.” But, let me ask you this way, “What do you tend to sacrifice for?”
A businessman may claim to be a Christian who worships God completely, but his actions might tell a different story. he truth about him is he is consumed by his desire for achievement and success, and he's sacrificing everything. He neglects his marriage. His wife has registered a hurt in a thousand different ways—doesn't change anything. His kids hardly know him. The truth is, he has placed them and everything else on the altar of the god of success.
Another person claims to be a Christian but in fact worships approval, being well thought of, impressing others. This person sacrifices her own opinion, her own integrity just to be able to manage other people's impression, sacrifices the freedom of saying what she really thinks and worships before the jury box of other people's opinions, offers her life up to be highly regarded. Maybe that's your altar.
Maybe you worship comfort. A lot of people in churches all across the country do. Comfort is not much of a god, and if that's what you're devoted to, security, comfort or so, you don't think about yourself as really sacrificing, but you are.
You're sacrificing your growth, you're sacrificing risk, you're sacrificing learning and faith and generosity and passion. You have placed on the altar the adventure of what could have been your life, and you've offered it to the god of ease and security and comfort.
We're all tempted, all of us are, to treasure ultimately something beyond God. It might be a particular relationship, our appearance, our net worth…but we make sacrifices and we worship at that altar.
A God-worshiper climbs on the altar as a living sacrifice and leaves all else behind. It’s not God plus anything. It is God and God alone. We make sacrifices, but we make sacrifices in keeping with our overall commitment to Christ.
So, what does that look like?
Think of the person who serves God with their time, sacrificing what is most precious to most of us in order to serve other people. Think of the hundreds of people in this church who serve God by serving us…they serve in KidZone, in our adult ministries, in youth ministries in countless ways—many of them at great sacrifice.
Think of the people who offer up their finances and are faithful and sacrificial. God calls us to sacrificial giving, giving that hurts—but most people never learn the joy of that, the privilege of that.
Think of the people who sacrifice their own preferences for the sake of others in this church and for the sake of the mission—the people God has called us to reach. I love talking with people in our church who are sold out to Christ and to his mission and want us to be a church that has freedom in form—meaning that we are willing to change the way we do things to be more effective in reaching our culture for Christ—even if it makes them uncomfortable. I had a lady pull me aside a few weeks ago who has been at our church for years, and she said, “Look, you keep stretching us to do what God has called us to do. Don’t let us get comfortable. If I don’t like all the worship songs or every little thing we do, that’s okay. It’s not about my preferences. It’s about what God has called us to do. Now that is a sacrifical servant, and that is a worshiper. The opposite to worshiping heart is a consumer heart. When we become consumers in mindset, propping up our own preferences to the top, then we kill worship in our hearts. A worshiper says, “I will sacrifice my own preferences to serve others in this church and to fulfill the mission God has given us. It’s not about me.” When you feel a consumer spirit building in your heart, don’t give in to it. Choose to be a worshiper.
Worshipers sacrifice constantly. They are living sacrifices, looking for ways to serve with their time, their talents, their treausures…willing to give up their preferences for the sake of others. Does that describe your life?
God calls us to be worshipers, and life will never work out until we are. We are created to glorify God, and life will only work with Christ at the center. What does that look like? A life energized by a response to God’s character and work in our lives. A life of total devotion and constant sacrifice. That’s what worship is. How much of you does God really have? As we start a new year, what do you value more than anything else? What will you make sacrifices for? What would it look like for you to choose to be a real worshiper?
Let me close with a story, told by Robert Fulghum, that lets us know why all this matters to God in the first place. Why does he want our worship? Robert tells this story about a special box in his office: "The box contains those odds and ends of personal treasures that have survived many bouts of clean-it-out-and-throw-it-away that seized me from time to time. the box has passed through the screening done as I've moved from house to house and hauled stuff from attic to attic.
"A thief looking into the box wouldn't take anything, couldn't get a dime for any of it, but if the house ever catches on fire, the box goes with me when I run. One of the keepsakes in the box is a small paper bag, lunch size.
"Though the top is sealed with duct tape, staples and several paper clips, there's a ragged rip in one side through which the contents may be seen. This particular lunch sack has been in my care for many years, but it really belongs to my daughter, Molly.
"Soon after she came of school age, she became an enthusiastic participant in packing the morning lunches for herself, her brothers and me. Every bag got its share of sandwiches, apples, milk money and sometimes a note or treat. One morning Molly handed me two bags as I was about to leave, one regular lunch sack and the one with the duct tape and staples and paper clips.
‘Why two bags?' I asked. ‘The other one has something else.' ‘What's in it?' ‘Just some stuff. Take it with you.' Not wanting to hold court over the matter, I stuffed both sacks into my briefcase, kissed the child and rushed off.
"At midday while hurriedly scarfing down my lunch, I tore open Molly's bag and shook out the contents—two hair ribbons, three small stones, a plastic dinosaur, a pencil stub, a tiny sea shell, two animal crackers, a marble, a used lipstick, a small doll, two chocolate kisses and thirteen pennies.
"I smiled, how charming. Rushing off to hustle to the important business of the afternoon, I swept the desk clean into the wastebasket, a leftover lunch, Molly's junk and everything. There wasn't anything in there I needed.
"That evening Molly came to stand beside me while I was reading the paper. ‘Where's my bag?' she asked. ‘What bag?' ‘You know, the one I gave you this morning.' ‘I left it at the office. Why?'
"‘I forgot to put this note in it.' She hands over the note. ‘Besides, I want it back.' ‘Why?' ‘Those are my things in the sack, Daddy, the ones I really like. I thought you might want to play with them, but now I want them back. You didn't lose the bag, did you, Daddy?'
"Tears puddled in her eyes. ‘No, I just forgot to bring it home,' I lied. ‘Bring it tomorrow, okay?' ‘Sure thing, don't worry.' As she hugged my neck with relief, I enfolded the note that had not got into the sack— ‘I love you, Daddy.' I looked long at the face of my child. She was right. What was in that sack was something else. Molly had given me her treasures.
"When you deal with somebody's treasures, you're real close to their being. All that a seven-year-old held dear, love in a paper sack, and I missed it, not only missed it but had thrown it into the wastebasket because there wasn't anything there I needed. It was not the first or last time I felt my daddy permit was about to run out.
"It was a long trip back to the office, but there was nothing else to be done, but I went. Just ahead of the janitor, I picked up the wastebasket, poured the contents out on my desk. I was sorting it all out when the janitor came in to do his chores. ‘Lose something?' he asked. ‘Yes, my mind,' I said. ‘It's probably in there, all right. What's it look like? And I'll help you find it.'
"I couldn't feel any more of a fool than I already was, so I told him. He didn't laugh. He smiled. ‘I got kids, too.' So the brotherhood of fools searched the trash and found the jewels, and he smiled at me, and I smiled at him. You're never alone in these things, never.
"After washing the mustard off the dinosaurs and spraying the whole thing with breath freshener to kill the smell of onions, I carefully smoothed out the wadded ball of brown paper bag into a semi-functional bag, put the treasures inside, carried the whole thing home gingerly, like an injured kitten.
"The next evening I returned it to Molly, no questions asked, no explanations given. The bag didn't look so good, but the stuff was all there, and that's what counted. After dinner I asked her to tell me about the stuff in the sack, so she took it all out a piece at a time, placed the objects in a row along our dining room table.
"It took a long time to tell. Every piece had a story. A memory was attached to dreams or imaginary friends. Fairies had brought some of the things, and I had given her the chocolate kisses, and she'd kept them for when she needed them.
"I managed to say, ‘I see' very wisely several times in the telling, and, as a matter of fact, I did see. To my surprise, Molly gave me the bag once again several days later, same ratty bag, same stuff inside. I felt forgiven and trusted and loved and a little more comfortable wearing the title of father.
"Over several months the bag went with me from time to time. It was never clear to me why I did or did not get it on a given day. I began to think of it as the ‘daddy prize' and tried to be good the night before so I might be given it the next morning. In time, Molly turned her attention to other things, found other treasures, lost interest in the game, grew up, something.
"Me, I was left holding the bag. She gave it to me one morning and never asked for its return, and so I have it still. Sometimes I think of all the times in this sweet life when I have missed the treasure I was being given. A friend calls this ‘standing knee-deep in the river and dying of thirst.'
"So the worn paper sack is there in the box, left over from a time when a child said, ‘Here, this is the best I've got. Take it. It's yours. Such as I have, I give to thee.' I missed it the first time, but it's my bag now."
Why does God care about our worship? Because he loves us. We really do matter to him, and he is honored when we choose to give God our very best. He treasures all that we do for him. When we give him our time, our treasures, our talents, our preferences—he is impacted by that. When you and I choose to make him our highest priority and greatest value, nothing brings him greater joy.
Let’s make that choice right now.