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11-17-2013 message by Pastor Rich Doebler

November is more than half done. We’re fast approaching Thanksgiving. And all this month, we’ve been looking at the idea of “giving and taking.”

A lot of people are “takers.” It’s human nature. Looking out for #1 is pretty common in our society.

No one has to train a 2-year-old to be a “taker.” You never see a pre-school teacher saying, “Now Johnnie, you’ve got to grab with both hands. Don’t be shy. How do ever expect to get ahead in life if you keep letting Suzy hog the sandbox?”

What we try to teach kids is to “share” or to “be kind.” We try to modify their behavior—their natural human behavior—so as they mature, they will become more “giving” than “taking.”

Human nature, however, can’t be changed simply by teaching or training. Behavior modificiation might help us get along better in society, but it cannot change the human heart. For that to happen we need radical heart surgery—something deep and powerful. We need a dynamic spiritual work.

So last week we looked at the spiritual work God does in his mercy. It’s only because of what Jesus did on the cross—his love, his grace, his forgiveness—that we have hope of change. When we begin to see our hopeless, sinful condition—and then we are confronted by Jesus’ sacrifice and bowled over by his love—something happens.

Last week we put it something like this: When you think about God’s mercies and all he’s done for you, it’s only logical to give your all to him! So offer yourself to God daily as a living sacrifice—dedicated completely to serve and worship him, set apart to please him.

This is a paraphrase of a very familiar passage, which we’ll read again this week. [Outloud, together.]

Rom 12:1 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.

Since God sacrificed so much for us, it only makes sense to worship him by giving everything we are back to him. It only makes sense to live our lives as sacrifices. We’re not supposed to be like the rest of the world, grasping and taking. We’re to be different—dying daily to follow him.

It’s not only a spiritual act of worship; it’s a reasonable, rational, logical response to God’s grace. Giving ourselves is an act of worship.

The word “worship” is an unusual word (latreia), used only three times in NT to refer to worship. It carried the idea of “service,” as in a “service of worship.” It comes from (latris): “a hired servant.”

To serve God in worship, as a servant serves, means to set aside our own interests and desires. We put his best interests ahead of our own. Do you do that?

A while back I was eating in a restaurant in Chicago with three friends. We ordered our food, and soon the waiter brought out two meals—and headed back to the kitchen. We thought he was going to get the other two meals, but he didn’t come and he didn’t come. For a long time! Finally, after about 10 or 15 minutes, we managed to flag down another waiter. He got the manager who came out, apologizing profusely. “I’m so sorry. But your waiter quit. He put down his apron and walked out.”
What? Couldn’t he at least have made one more trip before he quit? No, he served two of us and then walked out before serving the other two. Apparently, he put his own interests ahead of his customers. (And guess what? He got no tip from us.)

A servant doesn’t just quit. A servant doesn’t just walk out. A servant doesn’t put his own concerns ahead of the person he serves. A servant gives himself away. In stronger terms, a servant sacrifices his interests.

So let’s read what comes next—as a result of giving ourselves back to God in worship…

Verse 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.

Do you see the stages of grace at work here? First, because of he had mercy for us, God sent his Son as a sacrifice for our sins. Second, in view of all God has done for us, we give ourselves back to him as “living” sacrifices. Third, to continue living sacrificially in a world of “takers,” we cannot conform to the world’s ways. Instead, we need to be continually transformed by the renewing of our minds.

So there is a strong connection between “worship” and “sacrifice.” Without Jesus’ sacrifice, we could never be transformed—we’d never have the ability to worship.

On the other hand, without our sacrifice—without our surrender—there would be no REAL worship.

If we don’t surrender and give ourselves to him, we’re just going through the motions. We’re just playing the religion game.

It’s hardly any better than a church for atheists. Really! Sounds like an oxymoron, doesn’t it? But Dave Pritchett sent me an article this week about atheists who don’t believe in God, but they like the atmosphere of church. The article begins: It looked like a typical Sunday morning at any mega-church. Several hundred people, including families with small children, packed in for more than an hour of rousing music, an inspirational talk and some quiet reflection. The only thing missing was God.

The articles says there are nearly three dozen such “churches” in the U.S. and Australia. Later you read: During the service, attendees stomped their feet, clapped their hands and cheered as Jones and Evans led the group through rousing renditions of “Lean on Me,” “Here Comes the Sun” and other hits that took the place of gospel songs. Congregants… applauded as members of the audience spoke about community service projects they had started in LA. At the end, volunteers passed cardboard boxes for donations as attendees mingled over coffee and pastries and children played on the floor. http://hosted.ap.org/dynamic/stories/U/US_ATHEIST_MEGACHURCH?SITE=AP&SECTION=HOME&TEMPLATE=DEFAULT&CTIME=2013-11-10-17-03-15

What brings them together? A shared belief in unbelief. And I say, “What’s the point?” Why bother? It’s only a game—a religious game!

If there’s no substance or reality behind what we do, it’s a hollow, empty put-on.

That’s true for atheists who play church…but it’s also true for Christians who claims to believe—but don’t live out their faith in real life. There has to be substance behind our actions. Here’s an example…

$100 bill. If you’re only counting the paper it’s printed on, the ink, and the cost of printing, a $100 bill is really worth no more than a $1 bill. They’re both about the same.
It’s not until you see the promise backing it up that the $100 bill holds more value than the $1 bill. It says: “Federal Reserve Note.” The value of the $100 bill is backed up by the promise of the federal government. [And we all know that you can always count on the promises of the federal government! …Maybe that’s why our money still says, “In God we trust.”]

But I digress. The point is, if you give me a counterfeit bill, I know it’s phony. There’s no point in you asking me to give you change for a counterfeit bill. I know the government will not stand behind that bill. It’s worth nothing.

And “nothing” is the value of many things done in the name of “worship.” Because it’s not so much what you say or what you do in worship—it’s what stands behind your worship. Is there any substance? Any reality? Do you stand by what you say? A lot of things called “worship” are empty and hollow.

Hebrews 13:15 speaks of “a sacrifice of praise.” There is sacrifice that stands behind that praise. So is your life a “living sacrifice”? Do you give a sacrifice of praise to God? For instance…

Do you show love for God by loving others? The greatest commandment, Jesus said, is to love the Lord your God…and the second is to love your neighbor as yourself. (Matt 22:37-39).

  • Matt 25:24-40. The King will say: “I was hungry…thirsty…a stranger…needed clothes…sick…in prison.” And they will say, “When did we ever do that for you?” And the King will reply: “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.”

  • Prov 19:17: Whoever is kind to the poor lends to the Lord, and he will reward them for what they have done. (NIV*)

We can give a “sacrifice of praise” by helping others. Some people say, “Where is God when the typhoon hit the Philippines?” The question should be “Where are God’s people when tragedy hits?” Where we have opportunity, we can worship the Lord by helping people.

  • Mark 10:42-45. Jesus tells us we’re not to be like the world with “rulers…[who] lord it over them, and…high officials [who] exercise authority over them.”

  • To be transformed by the renewing of our minds means we won’t be conformed to that pattern!

  • Instead, Jesus says, “whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all.”

  • True greatness is measured by how well you serve.

The world does it one way—but because of God’s mercies we can can do it the opposite way. We can be “servant leaders”—where influence and motivation comes through our lives, not just our sparkling personality or our persuasive rhetoric.

The world has a way of measuring strong leaders. God has a completely different scale of measurement. The difference was captured pretty well in a tweet I received last week: “If you’re too big to serve, you’re too small to lead.”

Do you see how our relationship with God—how we worship as living sacrifices—is supposed to influence everything we do? So the title of this message is “Whatever…whatever you do.” I took it from this passage:

Col 3:15-17 (NIV) 15 Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. 16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. 17 And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

In all of your life—in anything and everything you do—you are to honor God! Four steps to do that:

  1. Let the peace of Christ rule! (You are called to peace.) MSG: [Let Christ’s peace] keep you in tune with each other, in step with each other. Living in harmony with one another.

  2. Be thankful. Thanksgiving is coming up…this “attitude of gratitude” is repeated three times in these few verses. A thankful person who appreciates life and blessings will see life differently from a complaining person….

  3. Let the word of Christ dwell in you. (Teach, admonish each other with wisdom…singing [praises] with gratitude to God.) Read the Book! Study the Book! Absorb the Book. It is Life!

In all you do (in word or deed) be done in Jesus’ name (that is, for his honor and on his behalf, as though you are representing him as an ambassador to this culture—with his backing and authority…as for example, the ministry of reconciliation [2 Cor 5:18]).

A Living Sacrifice…Whatever you do