11-10-2013 message by Pastor Rich Doebler

So there’s this judge in Oklahoma (Mike Norman) who—on more than one occasion—has sentenced people convicted in his court to attend church. Last year a 17-year-old Oklahoma teenager pled guilty to vehicular homicide (for a DUI crash that killed his friend). Judge Norman said the teen could avoid prison time IF he met all conditions of his probation—which included 10 years of weekly Sunday church attendance (according to Oklahoma’s Tulsa World).

    So how does that make you feel? Is that a good thing—because it makes someone come under the influence of the Word of God? Or is it a bad thing because it suggests that going to church is like a punishment?

Is going to church like a punishment for you? When you come to church do you feel like you’re “doing time for your crime”? Do you come because you’re forced to come (by parents, by a spouse, by tradition, by guilt…)?
Or is attending church a privilege? Do you see it as a good thing to gather with others to worship God?

Here’s the irony in the story: the teenager’s attorneys didn’t argue with the sentence because (they said) he already “goes to church every Sunday.”

Today I want to talk about worship, about why we go to church—or, to put it more crudely, what do we get out of worship? To get started, I want to read something from the Bible about worship…

(Rom 12:1-2) 1 Therefore, 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. 2 Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. (NIV1984)

Why do we worship? What motivates us to worship?

Over the years I’ve been in ministry, I’ve seen many people come to church…and I’ve seen others leave. Sometimes they go to a different church; other times they just drop out altogether.

People come and go—and not always for the best of reasons. There are some good reasons to change churches. For instance:

  • Moving away. If you move to the Cities we don’t recommend that you make a pilgrimage each week back to Cloquet. Being part of a local church means much more than joining a crowd to sing a few songs and hear a message. It’s about community and relationships—the body…
  • Sometimes God leads a person to a new call—to step up to a new level of ministry or service. And when the Spirit leads, that’s a good reason to make a change—you’re sent out.
  • Others “leave” their church supposedly, but really it’s their church that leaves them. If a church changes its spiritual direction, abandons God’s Word, and ignores biblical truth, that’s a good reason to change.
  • Some change because first their hearts are changed. God gets ahold of them—awakens them from spiritual lethargy. They are transformed—and then they realize their church is not following or teaching the Bible, so they move on.

There are legitimate reasons for leaving one church and going to another. But I’m guessing many people switch for less than noble reasons.

Some have left this church for the wrong reason(s)—not because God led them. By the same token, others left another church to come here—again, for the wrong reasons.) For instance:

  • A judge sentenced them to come here. [No…I’m just kidding.]
  • They want to escape conflict or relational problems. Angry words are spoken. There is strife. Emotional hurt. Rather than do the hard work of reconciliation…they just leave.
  • Others want to escape responsibility. They might say, “I’m burned out”—too overworked. They want to go somewhere where they can just sin. [But needing a “break” or some rest should not mean you have to leave a church.]
  • Others merely want something different. But they use spiritual sounding words to make it sound better. They say, “I’m not being fed.” [I’ve heard that a lot. And it makes me wonder: How does God feed us spiritually? Is it the amount of food—or is it what’s on the menu that make people say they’re not being fed? Maybe we need health food but we want junk food!]

(2 Tim 4:3) For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. (NIV2010)

Wants and needs are two very different things. My wife wants a new kitchen countertop…a marble countertop. I want a new car…and a new camera…and a new camper…and a new…

“To suit their own desires…what their itching ears want to hear.” What they want… What we want is a source of temptation. Wants are in the same family as desires, which are in the same family as lusts. Wanting something can eventually lead to taking something.

Over the last couple of weeks, we’ve talked about giving and taking. About how followers of Christ become more like Christ as they learn to give themselves away—as Jesus put it: it’s when you give your life away that you discover what it means to really live. Try to hold on to your life, and you’ll lose it; but lose your life for Jesus’ sake, and you’ll find it. (See Matt 16:25; Luke 9:24.)

Some want a certain style (preaching, music, programs) and when it doesn’t happen the way the want, they leave the church saying, “I’m not being fed.”

But the church is not one big buffet line (like going to Old Country buffet). You can come because you’re hungry for God, but there comes a time when you have to stop filling your plate. It’s full and you shouldn’t have “seconds” until the others have been served. There comes a time when what you need to do is not push your way back into the buffet line to get what you want. What you need is to leave the front of counter and go work behind the counter. You will be fed when you learn to serve others.

You’ll grow and mature more by giving than by taking. You will be “fed” as you learn to “feed” others.

Jesus said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” (Acts 20:35). He said, “Freely you have received; freely give.”(Matt 10:8).

You see, the more we grow as believers, the more we will think of others and not just ourselves. The more we will learn to give instead of take.

This is what we might call sacrificial living. Over the last couple of weeks we’ve looked at sacrificial living in terms of our relationships:

1)    How we relate to the world. How do we live in the world—a “vampire” world (as Jeff put it), where the culture wants to suck the life out of us?  How do we live as “givers” when so many are “takers”?

2)    How we relate to our family. What does it mean to live sacrificially in our homes, among those who know us best?

3)    So today, we’re going to talk about living sacrificially in another relationship: How we relate to God.

The most important relationship we can ever have is our relationship with God. The relationship we have with God defines everything else in our lives. So how do we live sacrificially for God? How do we give ourselves to God? How do we worship him sacrificially?

Do we go to church because we have “itching ears” that want to hear something that will scratch the itch? That’s not sacrificial worship! Scratching an itch is to make us feel better—it’s not necessarily what’s best or what’s right.

Do you know why many don’t go to church? A nation-wide survey found that:

  • One in four (24%) cite personal choices: other priorities—including 16% who say they are too busy with their personal lives—recreation, pleasures, activities, A growing trend in this country: putting kids’ sports ahead of worship. But there are other reasons…
  • One in four (24%) mention practical difficulties—including work conflicts, health problems or transportation difficulties.
  • And 37% point to a religious issue—such as disagreements with church leaders or beliefs, or the idea that attending worship services is not really that important.
  • Lots of reasons people don’t go… [Email last night] “Why I quit attending sports events…”
  1. The coach never came to visit me.
  2. Every time I went, they asked me for money.
  3. The people sitting in my row didn’t seem very friendly.
  4. The seats were very hard.
  5. The referees made a decision I didn’t agree with.
  6. I was sitting with hypocrites—they only came to see what others were wearing!
  7. Some games went into overtime and I was late getting home.
  8. The band played some songs I had never heard before.
  9. The games are scheduled on my only day to sleep in and run errands.
  10. My parents took me to too many games when I was growing up.
  11. Since I read a book on sports, I feel that I know more than the coaches anyway.
  12. I don’t want to take my children because I want them to choose for themselves what sport they like best.

(Rom 12:1) 1 Therefore, 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. (NIV1984)

Some might say: Why do we need to sacrifice for God? After all, God doesn’t need anything. He’s the Creator; he made everything. And he certainly doesn’t need our sacrifices. And they’d be right! God, who commanded sacrifices in the OT, said:

(Ps 50:9-12) 9 I have no need of a bull from your stall or of goats from your pens, 10 for every animal of the forest is mine, and the cattle on a thousand hills. 11 I know every bird in the mountains, and the creatures of the field are mine. 12 If I were hungry I would not tell you, for the world is mine, and all that is in it. (NIV1984)

God absolutely does not need our sacrifice. As a matter of fact, he sacrificed himself for us. Jesus gave his all—like the song says: So I’ll stand with arms high and heart abandoned in awe of the One who gave it all.

Jesus gave his life and died on the cross to deal with all the sin and brokenness and pain and tragedy in this fallen world—a world that was ruined by our rebellion.

God doesn’t need us to sacrifice—but we need to sacrifice to God. He gave his all for us; so we need to give our all for him. We need to abandon our hearts to him: So I’ll stand with arms high and heart abandoned In awe of the One who gave it all. So I’ll stand, my soul Lord to You surrendered—All I am is Yours…

Because of what God did for us, there’s reason for us to worship him sacrificially. Because of Jesus’ sacrifice…because of God’s love and mercy…because of his grace there must be a response from us.

If God so loved that he gave, we need to respond to his gift of love. We can respond by ignoring it—or we can respond by loving him back—his love compelling us to love enough to give back. Let’s look at the text again…

1. Therefore…in view of God’s mercy. For 11 chapters the letter to the Roman believers talks about God’s grace and mercy—how the law and commandments and good works can never save sinners:

  • 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. (3:23-24)
  • For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (6:23)
  • I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. (7:18)
  • It does not, therefore, depend on human desire or effort, but on God’s mercy (9:16).

Chapter 12 really can’t be understood apart from the words that precede it.

Chapter 11 says in spite of our disobedience, we received God’s mercy. Then the chapter concludes with a hymn of praise, words that say we can’t give enough or sacrifice enough to repay God:

(11:35-36) 35 “Who has ever given to God, that God should repay them?” 36 For from him and through him and for him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen.

So…in view of God’s mercy…

2. Offer your bodies. The word “bodies” refers to your physical life here on earth. Worshiping God is not about being super-spiritual. It’s not limited to religious activities—prayer meetings, songs of praise, going to church.

A sacrifice of worship means giving yourself over to God—including your physical bodies, your material things, your earthly existence. A sacrifice of worship means that you surrender your all to God, not just your spirit and soul.

A sacrifice of worship means that you will honor God in everything you do (and I hope we can expand on that idea next week)—not just honoring him in a church service. We are to give our physical lives to God for his purposes.

Our society is not about giving (or losing or settling for second place or surrendering). Our culture doesn’t like to give up. Most people want to take. Even church people with itching ears want to take. They want to take God’s blessings…take his grace…take his mercies.

But this verse tells us “in view of God’s mercies, offer your bodies as living sacrifices…”

3. As living sacrifices. This is an unusual concept—a living sacrifice.

In the OT, the priests would kill the animals before laying them on the altar. The blood was drained out before the sacrifice (and the OT was quite specific in saying “the life is in the blood” (Lev 17:11 and elsewhere) so the blood meant a life was given in exchange for another life.

In the OT sacrifices were not living; they were dead. So why are we supposed to be living sacrifices?

One possible explanation is that God wants our lives to continually be sacrificed to bring honor to him. He wants us to die daily—over and over again—continually giving up our wants and desires so we can show his love to others. Dying once is hard. But dying daily is harder.

We think giving our all to the Lord is like taking a $1,000 bill and laying it on the table—“Here’s my life, Lord. I’m giving it all.” But God rarely asks us to give away our lives all at once (like the martrys, in a flash of glory). Instead he sends us to the bank to get $1,000 worth of quarters. And he sends us through life putting out 25 cents here or 50 cents there. Day after day, giving away little pieces of ourselves: taking the time to listen to someone when we have better things to do; going to the committee meeting when we were tired and wanted to stay home; volunteering to wash the dishes to give you mom a break; being a friend to the person everyone else tries to avoid. Sacrificial living—a quarter here, a dollar there—isn’t as glamorous as going out in a flash of glory. But that’s what it means to be a living sacrifice. It’s little by little over the long haul. [Illustrations… p 187]

Today you will have the opportunity to worship God by taking up your cross, denying yourself, and sacrificing yourself—by giving yourself away. Tomorrow, you’ll have the same opportunity…to be a living sacrifice.

4. This is your spiritual act of worship. What does this mean? If you read the KJV, it sounds different. It says, “…which is your reasonable service.”

So how do the words “reasonable” and “spiritual” relate to each other? The word that’s used here is not the typical word used for “spiritual” in the NT. The more common word would be pneumatikos, which you would find in 1 Cor 12 talking about “spiritual gifts.”

The word here is logikos, which appears only twice in the NT. It comes from a logos, which means “a word, a statement, a speech.” So logikos means “reasonable, rational.” We get our English words “logic” and “logical” from the Greek.

So I think the KJV captures the idea better—worship may be spiritual, but in when it comes to giving ourselves to God as a living sacrifice, it’s the reasonable response to give as worship as we think about his mercies. Other translations also capture this idea:

  • Considering what he has done, it is only right that you should worship him in this way. (ERV)
  • …That’s the most sensible way to serve God. (CEV)
  • …this is your true and proper worship.(NIV2010)
  • This is the true worship that you should offer. (TEV)
  • This is truly the way to worship him. (NLT)
  • which is your reasonable (rational, intelligent) service and spiritual worship. (AMP)

My paraphrase: Considering God’s mercies and all he has done for you, the only logical response for you is to give your all to him! So offer your entire being to God each day as a living sacrifice, dedicated wholly to him, set apart to please him.

It’s the reasonable thing to do! Jesus said we should “worship in spirit and in truth.” (John 4:24) Worship is not just a heart thing; it’s also a head thing. Worship should be in spirit and in truth. We should respond with our hearts (our spirits) but also respond with our heads (in truth).

People who respond only with their hearts can sometimes be led astray. They can be tempted to listen to their feelings—where they itch—and forget about what’s right—what is reasonable and rational.

On the other hand, people who respond only with their heads can sometimes dry up; they can wither away spiritually. They can be tempted to make worship so clinical and intellectual, that they drain all the life and vitality out of it!

It’s not either/or—it’s both/and. It’s both heart and head. It’s both spirit and truth. It’s a spiritual and reasonable act of worship. Which leaves just one more phrase to look at in this verse…

Act of worship. So next week, I hope to talk more specifically about what this living sacrifice—this act of worship—looks like.

A Living Sacrifice, the ultimate act of worship