Sunday, November 27, 2016

If it is You (HOPE) (Matthew 14.22-33)



Sermon by: Robert Austell; November 27, 2016
Text: Matthew 14:22-33

:: Sermon Audio (link) ::
Click link to open and play in browser; right-click to save. Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes. Search for "Good Shepherd Sermons" or "Robert Austell."  

:: Testimony :: Marlis Littleton testimony (audio link)

:: Scripture and Music ::
Song of Praise: Here I Am to Worship (Tim Hughes)
Hymn of Praise: O Come, O Come, Emmanuel (arr. Austell)
The Word in Music: Choir, Come, Abide with Us (Mock/Lopez)
Hymn of Sending: Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus (STUTTGART)
Postlude: Rick Bean, jazz piano

:: Sermon Manuscript (pdf) ::
This "manuscript" represents an early draft of the sermon. Some weeks  the spoken version varies more than others from the early manuscript.  Nevertheless, if you'd prefer to read than to listen, this is provided  for that purpose.

Today is the first Sunday in Advent, a ‘season’ in the life of the church in which we look forward to Christ coming, mysteriously to his coming again and also in anticipation of the celebration of his birth. Last week we talked about the importance of knowing God in cultivating a thankful life. And indeed, knowing God is more foundational than that; it is the basis of our faith and practice. During Advent I am going to look with you at four stories of Jesus inviting people to know him better. Those stories will focus through the four Advent themes of Hope, Love, Joy, and Peace. Each week we will also hear a personal account of how people in this congregation have come to know God through Jesus Christ. Today, Marlis Littleton will share part of her story with us as the offering is taken (audio link above).

Today we focus on HOPE, and how Jesus is worthy of our hope and trust. I chose the story of Peter trying to walk on water. It contains a phrase that jumped out at me as a hope-statement, and that is where I’d like to start with you.

Great Hope

This scene takes place after the miraculous feeding of the 5,000. After that miracle, Jesus sent the disciples on across the water in a boat and he withdrew to have some time alone to pray. But then Jesus caught back up with the disciples, not by skirting the sea and meeting them on the other side, but by walking out across the water to meet them on the water. They were already battered by a storm in the middle of the night and were terrified when they saw him, crying out in fear and thinking he was a ghost. But he reassured them, “Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.” (v. 27)

And then come the hopeful words, spoken by Peter: “Lord, if it is You…” (v. 28) What an interesting thing to say. You could read it as a test, I suppose; but I think it is something a little different. Peter didn’t say, “If it is you, prove it” or “If it is you, show us a sign.” Peter had a specific request that hinged on the power and person of Jesus: “Lord, if it is You, command me to come to you on the water.” I do not know why Peter chose that, but what is striking to me is that Peter didn’t ask Jesus to do something miraculous; he asked Jesus to include him and invite him in the miraculous. Jesus had included him and the other disciples in the feeding of the 5,000. I’m not sure why walking on water seems more miraculous than that (it does, doesn’t it?!); but I think Peter wanted to be part of what Jesus was doing.

I think that is a point worth pausing and pondering over. And I don’t think I’ve quite sorted it all out yet. But there is something powerful there – something that moves me. Peter has seen Jesus manifest the power of God – healing people, feeding people, teaching people. He is surely frightened along with the rest.  But what I hear him asking for here is something else that touches on faith and miracles and power, but runs deeper still. He seems to want to be a part of what Jesus is doing: “Lord, command me to come to you on the water.” And Jesus did! He said, “Come!”

As many of you may have, I just returned from time with family. I was in South Carolina with my parents and brother’s family, in the home where I grew up. It’s amazing how those familiar places bring back such strong memories. I was reminded of childhood, though it was long ago now. And I was reminded of one of the great longings of childhood, to be in relationship with my parents – to know and be known, to love and be loved. Though actually growing up (or parenting) seems to focus on rules and behaviors and grades and curfews and a hundred other things, perhaps the most formative part of growing up is our experience of relationship with parents, whether that is full or missing, good or bad, or whatever it’s like. It’s one of our deep longings, played out again in dating and marriage relationships and then again as we parent our own children.

And I believe that deep longing is at the heart of knowing God. God is not an academic subject or a list of do’s and don’t’s; knowing God is relational and is ultimately about being a part, belonging to a family and to God. I hear echoes of that in Peter’s words, echoes of the great hope, “Can I be part of your life and what you are doing? Will you invite me to come to you, as impossible as that may seem?”

It’s a childlike question, the kind Jesus appreciated – and we’ll look at that story in two weeks. It’s saying, “God, if you are there, can I belong and be a part?”

Little Faith

I kind of wish the story ended there, without telling us what happened. But it goes on: Peter got out of the boat, walked on water, and came toward Jesus. Don’t miss that. For some undefined amount of time, he was part of the power and the miracle and the God-moment. But also don’t miss this: he got frightened and began to sink – which Jesus would name just a little later as doubt, as “little faith.” But don’t miss this: he cried out, “Lord, save me!” and Jesus IMMEDIATELY stretched out his hand and took hold of him.

Though Peter’s faith faltered, his hope was not in vain. Jesus did call out to him and grabbed hold of him just where he faltered, where he was weak. Peter’s great hope was not, I think, to walk on the water. It was to get to Jesus’ side. And he did, with Jesus’ help.

That is a good word. The great hope, to know God and be a part of what God is doing, is not dependent on your faith, strength, or power. It is God’s desire to know you and to grab hold of you, even where you are weak.

Take that to heart! You may be struggling at just that point, saying, “My faith is weak; I’m full of doubt; God doesn’t have any use for the likes of me.” But God DOES want to know you and use you. And knowing God is not dependent on your faith or strength or power. Call out to Him and God will respond. In fact, God may already be grabbing hold of you; do you see it? Do you perceive it?

Knowing Jesus: Teacher to Ghost to God’s Son

There’s one other development I’d like to track with you across this story. It is the growth in knowledge of God among the disciples. Coming into this story, the disciples knew Jesus as their Rabbi, their teacher. Some had suspicions that he might be more. Despite many miracles – amazing things – when they saw him on the water in the storm, they thought he was a ghost, some kind of spirit. But look where the story ends up. After the interaction with Peter, Jesus gets in the boat and the storm stops. And those who were in the boat WORSHIPED Him, saying, “You are certainly God’s Son!” (v. 33) Worship is a strong word here; he clearly is no longer simply Rabbi to them. Jewish people were rightly very particular about their worship, with the most foundational belief and commandment being, “Worship God alone; there is no other God but the LORD.” And they recognized Jesus as God and offered him worship. They were coming to know Jesus in a deep and personal way.

Advent is about “coming to Jesus” and that’s what I want to try to do with you this month. Do you know Jesus? Do you know Him as Lord and God and Savior? Do you know him personally? His invitation is that great hope that runs in us – to know and be known, to love and be loved, to be a part and to be family… with God Himself! It doesn’t matter if you have questions or doubts or struggle with faith. Consider the invitation to “Come!” and see what God does from there. My prayer is that each of you come to know God in a deeper and more personal way. Amen.




Monday, November 21, 2016

==STEWARDSHIP (2016)==

"Stewardship" (2016)
Good Shepherd Presbyterian Church
November 06-20, 2016

A three-week series on worship, stewardship, and devotion.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Joyful Thanksgiving (Psalm 100)



Sermon by: Robert Austell; November 20, 2016
Text: Psalm 100; 1 Thessalonians 3:9-13

:: Sermon Audio (link) ::
Click link to open and play in browser; right-click to save. Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes. Search for "Good Shepherd Sermons" or "Robert Austell."  

:: Scripture and Music ::
Song of Praise: Shout to the Lord (Zschech/Hillsong)
Hymn of Praise: All People That on Earth Do Dwell (OLD HUNDRETH)
Offering of Music: Choir, Fill the Earth with Praise (Williams/Larson)
Hymn of Sending: Great is Thy Faithfulness (FAITHFULNESS)
Postlude: Rick Bean, jazz piano

:: Sermon Manuscript (pdf) :: 
This "manuscript" represents an early draft of the sermon. Some weeks  the spoken version varies more than others from the early manuscript.  Nevertheless, if you'd prefer to read than to listen, this is provided  for that purpose.

Thursday is Thanksgiving Day, and I suspect that sometime during the week each of us will give some thought to what we are thankful for.  Some people have family traditions of sharing these thanksgivings around the dinner table; some people spend a little extra time offering God prayers of thanks; still others have an increased awareness of God’s many blessings in our lives. To prepare us for this week and as a reminder that we should be thankful all year long, I chose Psalm 100 as our sermon text.  It is known as a Psalm of Thanksgiving.  It is more than that, it is a beautiful piece of poetry that invites the reader and the hearer to know God, respond to God’s goodness, and worship God with a thankful heart.

It is made up of a series of seven imperatives, or challenges.  And they are arranged kind of like a bull’s-eye target.  At the center of the Psalm is the invitation in verse 3 to KNOW God.  Surrounding that are the calls or invitations to COME into God’s presence in worship.  One more “ring” out are the challenges to SERVE and GIVE thankful offering.  And finally, we find the commands to SHOUT publicly and joyfully and to BLESS the name of God.  This arrangement helped people to memorize the Psalm and to picture God’s invitation, challenges, and commandments for his people.

We’ll look at those same invitations, challenges, and commandments today as God speaks them to us through his Word.

Knowing and Coming to God

We aren’t used to starting at the middle of something to find out the main point, but poetry is different.  The layout makes a difference.  And Psalm 100 invites us into its “heart” to invite us to know God in a personal way.  None of the other challenging words of Psalm 100 make much sense unless we know the Lord God.

And so, in verse 3, we are not only invited to KNOW God; we are also told who God is.  He is the one who has made us.  God is our creator.  And we are His people – we belong to him and respond to the covenant-making God of promise and hope.  And we are the sheep of His pasture – he is our Good Shepherd, caring for us, tending us, and defending us.

That is the central question for each of us.  We can come to church, sing and pray, serve and give, and all the rest; but if we do not know the God who has made us, who leads us, and who shepherds us, we’ve missed it the meaning behind it all.

Do you know God?  It is THE central question to ask – and if so, the central reason to be thankful.

The Good News in the Bible is that God doesn’t leave us on our own to find and know Him.  Rather, He invites us to come to Him and meet Him face to face.  Look at the end of verse 2 and the beginning of verse 4 – one “ring” out from the center bull’s eye of knowing God.  The same word is translated two ways: COME and ENTER.  God bids us to come before Him – literally, before His face, not in fear or terror, but with joyful singing.  And God invites us to enter God’s gates and courts – His very presence – with thanksgiving and praise.

It’s that same message Jesus spoke to his disciples and so many he met: “Come and see; come and know; come and believe.”  And to do so leads us into God’s presence with joy, thanks, and praise.

Responding through Serving and Offering to God

It is natural then, if God has invited us into His presence so that we may know Him for who He is, that we would want to respond to God’s goodness in some way.  The next “ring” of the bull’s-eye is that of responding to God in service and offering.  Verse 2 says “SERVE the Lord with gladness.”  This is one of the Old Testament words for “worship” – an act or action given to the Lord, and in this case, with gladness!  And the second part of verse 4 has the corresponding challenge: “GIVE thanks to Him.”  And interestingly, this particular word for “giving thanks” specifically means “speak it out loud.”  We are to give thanks in a public way.

Having come to know God and having come near to Him with joy, thanks, and praise, we are challenged to serve and give to God.  This is our offering – our response – to the Good News and salvation of God.  It corresponds to Jesus’ own words.  After inviting those he met to “come and see,” he would challenge them with the words “follow me.”  That’s what this Psalm is saying – if you have come to know God as your creator, Father, and Shepherd, now give yourself to Him.  Give your thanks and give your life in service and worship.

Worshiping through Bearing Witness to God

The outermost “ring” of verses have to do with bearing witness to God: saying and demonstrating “this is God!.”  Verse one commands us to SHOUT joyfully to the Lord – we and all the earth.  The end of verse 4 has the command to BLESS God’s name.  Both of these words are about public (as well as private) declaration of God.  The first “shout” described a trumpet signal for an army, or in the context of worship, a loud shout to the Lord signaling all within hearing range that worship was about to begin.  For the whole earth to shout in this way is to signal to the whole world that God is Lord of Heaven and earth, and coming near.  One of our core values at Good Shepherd is “joyful worship” – and here it is commanded – shout with joy, for the Lord is near and worthy of worship and service.

When we bless God’s name, we are speaking God’s name and praises in such a way that we are clearly aligning ourselves with God – on God’s side.  It’s like a love-struck young man not only declaring his love in many beautiful ways, but naming the one he loves so all may know the one toward whom his love is directed.  “Blessing God’s name” is heart-felt and Spirit-filled worship – prayer, songs, and hearts full of adoration and praise, with clarity and outspokenness about the identity of the Lord we adore.

Verse 5 goes on to do just that – to “bless His name.”  It gives praise to God, first naming him as “the Lord.”  And here are the words of praise:

    The Lord is good;
    His lovingkindness is everlasting,
    And His faithfulness (is) to all generations.


Application: Who is God?

That concern with worship that is personal is the heart of Psalm 100, and indeed is the heart of Christian worship and of our worship here. It would be enough to declare God as God and to command all of the earth to worship and serve Him.  But this Psalm, God’s revelation in Jesus Christ, and our Christian testimony is that God has come near so that we might “see His face” (v. 2).  When Paul wrote to the Thessalonians, he wanted to see them face to face to finish telling them and teaching them about God, so they could know God and have “complete faith.” (1 Thess. 3:10)  We see God’s face in Jesus Christ and we are brought into God’s holy presence through faith in Christ.

Psalm 100 centers around the invitation to know God as Creator, covenant Lord, and Good Shepherd.  It concludes with more personal declaration of who God is – the Lord is good, eternally loving, and perpetually faithful.

There are a number of applications of this Psalm.  One is that a personal knowledge of and RELATIONSHIP with God must be at the center of Christian faith.  And God has invited us into that personal knowledge and relationship through trusting in his Son, Jesus Christ. In the next few weeks you will hear some personal stories from our congregation about different ways people have come to that personal knowledge and relationship with God. For me, it was as a child, through parents, church, and friends who, like Paul, pointed me toward Jesus to hear his invitation for myself.

Second, our personal knowledge of, relationship with, and experience of God should call forth an active response or OFFERING of obedience, service, and thankfulness. Said another say, it makes a tangible difference in our life!  And this response bears witness back to God.  It is not public for the sake of “showing off” – at least not showing ourselves off.  But it is public for the sake of showing forth God in Christ.

Third and related to that, our personal encounter with God through Jesus Christ not only produces a response of obedience and service in us, it also leads us to bearing WITNESS to God’s faithfulness in our worship and words. As the songwriter declares, “How can I keep from singing?” If God matters, our faith won’t be a secret.

None of this is new – in fact, it’s the basic flow of the Christian life, demonstrated most tangibly by our participation in and response to Sunday worship.  Like Psalm 100, we come to Sunday worship to be drawn into the heart of God – the encounter of God through faith in Jesus Christ and in the power of the Holy Spirit.  We respond with offerings and thanks and go forth with the Word of Christ on our lips and lives.

That’s why we fling open the doors and desire to bring people in.  That’s why we send you forth with God’s blessing and the Holy Spirit’s boldness.  May God give you boldness, motivation, and JOY this week as you serve Him.  Amen.





Sunday, November 13, 2016

Consecration and Devotion (Acts 2.42-47, Proverbs 3.5-10)


Sermon by: Robert Austell; November 13, 2016
Text: Acts 2:42-47; Proverbs 3:5-10

:: Sermon Audio (link) ::
Click link to open and play in browser; right-click to save. Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes. Search for "Good Shepherd Sermons" or "Robert Austell."  

:: Scripture and Music ::
Song of Praise: God of Wonders (Mac Byrd, Steve Hidalong)
Song of Praise: Jesus, All for Jesus (Atkinson, Robin MArk)
Hymn of Sending: Take My Life and Let it Be (HENDON)

:: Sermon Manuscript (pdf) :: 
This "manuscript" represents an early draft of the sermon. Some weeks  the spoken version varies more than others from the early manuscript.  Nevertheless, if you'd prefer to read than to listen, this is provided  for that purpose.

Last week I talked about worship and we looked at how the Bible defines all of life as worship. That included serving, obeying, yielding, and loving God with all we have and all we are. This week we are going to zero in a bit more on that all-out love of God by looking at the devotion of the followers of Jesus Christ in the earliest days of the church. We will again see that love and worship of God is not a one-hour a week activity on Sunday, but an all-out, every day, every way kind of thing. I drew the comparison last week between worship and marriage. Just as loving one’s spouse is not limited to a date or special moment, worship is meant to be day in, day out, for better, for worse, in sickness, in health, and with everything we’ve got. Let’s look together at Acts 2:42 and following.

Continually Devoting Themselves (Acts 2:42)

Acts 2:42 tells us that the early believers were continually devoting themselves.  Their faith didn’t stop after they met Jesus or after the supernatural experience of Pentecost; it continued to grow in faithfulness, obedience, and commitment. There are four specific “core exercises” listed here that expressed and strengthened that devotion and commitment.

1.    GOD’S WORD: They were continually devoting themselves to God’s Word – the scriptures and Apostles’ teaching which became our New Testament. Reading, hearing, pondering, studying, listening, responding… this is what it means to devote yourself to God’s Word. How can you know what God has done, what God is like, and what God wants without it?

2.    FELLOWSHIP: They were continually devoting themselves to fellowship, less about eating together than about being church family to one another, with all that implies. This is one of the great blessings of being a part of a church. Is the family of faith important to you? Do you intentionally gather with that family and look out for that family? Like earthly family, those relationships can be neglected or they can be cultivated, and they are so important!

3.    COMMUNION: They were continually devoting themselves to the breaking of the bread, including eating together, but more importantly sharing communion together with its remembrance of, celebration of, and hope in Jesus’ saving death. Jesus is at the center of it all. We are more than a club or service organization. The news that God loved the world, pursued us in love, and redeems and reconciles us through Jesus is at the heart of what we do. Continual devotion is one reason we celebrate communion regularly (as well as worship weekly); we want to remember, retell, receive, and respond to that Good News message regularly: not once long ago, but regularly and freshly.

4.    PRAYER: And they were continually devoting themselves to prayer, communicating with God in praise, thanksgiving, intercession, and confession. I confess that I do not pray as regularly as I would like. At its heart, it is talking to and listening to God. Again like marriage, if I don’t talk to and listen to Heather, my marriage will suffer; so it is with my relationship with God. How can you and I cultivate continual devotion through prayer?

To those “core exercises” that strengthen our devotion, commitment, and relationship with God, I want to add another from the Old Testament. It is the practice of “first fruits.”

First Fruits (Proverbs 3:5-10 and Deuteronomy 26:1-2)

Exercises and practices to strengthen one’s devotion and commitment to God were not new in the New Testament. In fact, many of God’s commandments and teachings in the Old Testament were for that same purpose. One of those that I want to highlight is the practice of “first fruits.” It is the practice of offering God the first and the best of what we have rather than the leftovers (or nothing at all). Proverbs links it with wisdom, right choices, and earthly blessing:

5 Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding. 6 In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight. 7 Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord and turn away from evil. 8 It will be healing to your body and refreshment to your bones. 9 Honor the Lord from your wealth and from the first of all your produce; 10 So your barns will be filled with plenty and your vats will overflow with new wine. (Proverbs 3:5-10)

That is not a prosperity theology, but practical advice. Good financial advisors will tell you to prioritize your spending and saving. If you truly want to save, take it off the top. It rarely will happen if it’s left to the end. So it is with giving to God. It’s hard, and that up-front commitment will often force you to re-prioritize other spending. But that’s part of the point. I’ve learned that with exercise as well. If I commit to a time for it, especially first thing, and then let my calendar fill up, it will happen and my body will experience the natural consequence of the healthy commitment. Same with time with my family.

First fruits is about two things: PRIORITY and COMMITMENT. If something is important, we have to put it first. For it not to be pushed to the side, it has to be an intentional commitment.

Deuteronomy 26:1-2 reminds us of what we heard last week: that the earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it. When God’s people came into the Promised Land, they were reminded that it – like everything else – comes from God. And they were challenged to make a first fruits offering to establish that pattern of priority and commitment.

I can share multiple examples in my own life – with money, with relationships, with health and exercise, and with God – where I have made a first fruit commitment and where I have not. It’s not an easy thing, but the difference it makes is unmistakable. A little bit later in the service, Todd Pearce is going to share some similar examples around this theme from his own life.

Exercise and Commitment Yields Results (Acts 2:43-47)

Acts 2 goes on to describe some of the things that God did out of the devotion and commitment of the early Christians.

For one, they experienced the POWER and PRESENCE of God. They felt a sense of awe (v. 43) and they witnessed signs and wonders. I think that so often we want to turn that around: I want to have the powerful experience of God, or the Hollywood romantic experience, or the endorphin rush of health, and THEN I think that will motivate my commitments and priorities. But reality and experience seems to be the opposite (sorry, Hollywood!): commitment, habit, practice, and priority lead us closer to the things or people we prioritize. Want to experience God? Then put God first; test that out; see for yourself.

In vv. 44-45, we read of their GENEROSITY, an almost unbelievable sharing of property and possessions. That scares us – sounds like socialism. But this was voluntary, neither required by government or cult leader; they took care of the needs in their fellowship and their community. Our Deacon’s Timothy Fund is not unlike that. Part of your giving to the church goes into that fund that is used exclusively for church and community crisis needs. It is a sharing of resources, led by God’s Spirit. We’ve done some amazing things with it on a small scale. I sometimes wonder what it might look like if God really got a hold of us!

And in vv. 46-47 we see that their DEVOTION CONTINUED. Even as God showed up and did extraordinary things, they did not sit back, but kept on with the core exercises of worship, study, communion, fellowship, community, and first fruits. And God grew and multiplied them – not for their sake, but for His own Name.

Looking Ahead

As we look ahead to 2017, there is much that I believe God would do through this church. I challenge you to step up and step out in faith. Embrace these core exercises of devotion and commitment. Embrace the practice of “first fruits” even for a time and see how God changes you and uses you. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed; I think you’ll be amazed… in awe! This week Shannon Klar will be sending a letter out to our members asking you to make an intentional financial commitment of first fruits. Please consider that thoughtfully. I will continue to ask you to join me in figuring out where God is leading us: I suspect it will increasingly be out into our community, across racial lines, into the spiritual and economic need of those to whom Jesus has asked us to consider our neighbors. I believe God has brought you and me together in this special place, this special church, for an extraordinary reason, because He is an extraordinary God. Join me; step up; step out! Amen!




Sunday, November 6, 2016

Cultivating Worship (Genesis 2, Exodus 20, Joshua 22,24)


Sermon by: Robert Austell; November 6, 2016
Text: Genesis 2:15-17; Exodus 20:1-6; Joshua 22:1-6; 24:15

:: Sermon Audio (link) ::
Click link to open and play in browser; right-click to save. Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes. Search for "Good Shepherd Sermons" or "Robert Austell."  

:: Scripture and Music ::
Call to Worship: The Earth is the Lord's (Ps. 24) (Nygard)
Hymn of Praise: This is My Father's World (TERRA BEATA)
Song of Praise: We Give Thee But Thine Own/We Give Thee (SCHUMANN; arr. and refrain Austell)
Offering of Music:Oh, How He Loves You and Me (Gwen Ingram, soloist; Rick Bean, piano; Crouch)
Hymn of Sending: These Hands (Deyo)
Postlude: Rick Bean, jazz piano

:: Sermon Manuscript (pdf) :: 
This "manuscript" represents an early draft of the sermon. Some weeks  the spoken version varies more than others from the early manuscript.  Nevertheless, if you'd prefer to read than to listen, this is provided  for that purpose.

Wow, there is a lot going on today! We could celebrate All-Saints on the first Sunday after Nov. 1. We are celebrating the Lord’s Supper. We are coming up to Election Day on Tuesday, with all that surrounds that. We have this musical, our single biggest outreach of the year coming up. And we are coming into our stewardship season, when we traditionally talk about giving – tithing, pledging, time, talents. What to preach, what to preach?

I originally chose the text today as a stewardship text, but it goes far deeper than that. It goes all the way to the heart of worship and to why we are on this earth and to how and why God created us. In doing so, I think these texts will not just speak to how we view money and other resources, but speak to how we understand ourselves period. And my hope is that these texts will speak, in that sense, to some of those other issues and the context in which we live on November 6, 2016.

I want to talk about worship. And while that may seem like a churchy side-issue with all that is going on in the world, I would hold out to you that worship, which is how we relate to God, is at the very center of all we do as human beings and particularly as those who trust and follow God through Jesus Christ. Said another way, God’s Word says that worship (or not worshipping) is the core issue for every human; and as professing people of faith, what God says about worship must be central and of highest importance.

It may help to tell you that by worship I don’t mean the narrow activity of Sunday morning at 11:00, though that is a specific example of worship. No, I mean the rich and all-encompassing understanding that begins in Creation, expands throughout biblical history, and is perfectly completed in eternity (cf. Revelation). And it intersects every aspect of our lives; in fact, it is the reason for our lives.

I want to walk you through three biblical texts that help unpack what worship is and means and then end with a challenge.

Created to Worship (Genesis 2)

We’ll begin in Genesis 2. After God made the heavens and the earth and the first human beings, do you know what he did next? He put Adam to work! The Garden of Eden wasn’t laying around in hammocks sipping nectar and listening to the birds sing. Work is part of creation! And Adam’s work is described there in verse 15:

The Lord God took the man and put him into the Garden of Eden to cultivate it and keep it.

Realize that this is the Creation story. Everything is important here! What was the relation of the Garden to Adam and what was his role? It’s where he lived; it’s where he worked; he ate the produce of the ground. But was it Adam’s garden? No – clearly, this was God’s garden, entrusted to Adam for care. This verse is the heart of biblical stewardship. For though much time has passed and we no longer live in paradise, the earth is the Lord’s and all it contains (Ps. 24). Though we built or paid for our homes and the land they are on, are they not the Lord’s? Though we work and produce goods and services, are they not the Lord’s?

What Adam was doing in the Garden was tending the ground; but in doing so, he was rendering an act of service to God. Serving God is at the heart of worshiping God. And Adam’s work in the Garden was really worship in the Garden, because it served God’s will and purpose in the young world. In fact, the word translated here as ‘cultivate’ is most often translated ‘serve’ in the Bible. It is the act of actively doing God’s will; and that is one essential kind of worship. Closely connected to that is the word translated ‘keep.’ It also has the sense and is translated as ‘obey’ as in “keep the rules.” And that’s just what Adam was doing (until he didn’t!); the one rule at that point was “don’t eat from a certain Tree.”

By serving God’s will and obeying God’s Word, Adam worshiped God in the Garden. It’s what Adam was created to do and it’s what we are created to do. When we serve God’s will and obey God’s Word, we worship God and fulfil our creation purpose!

Commanded to Worship (Exodus 20)

As you know, Adam and Eve fell short. They did the opposite of worship because they disobeyed God’s Word and they grasped after what belonged to God to have it for themselves. And so they were expelled from the Garden. But the opportunity to worship God did not go away. In fact, as God communicated with His people, He made worship the cornerstone of the Law, what was commanded and expected from God’s people. Let’s turn to Exodus 20 and the Ten Commandments and we will see this.

In the first two commandments, God identifies Himself as the starting point upon which the commandments rest: “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.” And then first are the worship commandments and prohibitions: “You shall have no other gods before Me. You shall not make for yourself an idol…” And then verses 5-6 detail and define worship:

You shall not worship them [idols, false gods] or serve them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, on the third and the fourth generations of those who hate me, but showing lovingkindness to thousands, to those who love me and keep my commandments.”

The two worship principles from Genesis show up again here as ‘serve’ and ‘keep (my commandments).’ So doing God’s will and obeying God’s Word are still front and center. But the definition of worship has been expanded to include two other principles, found in the words ‘worship’ and ‘love.’ Here, ‘worship’ literally means “bow down” or “yield one’s will” and ‘love’ will soon be defined as everything we’ve got: heart, soul, and strength. (cf. Deuteronomy 5) The Ten Commandments go on to prohibit the same kinds of anti-worship we already saw in the Garden: grasping after what belongs to God and what belongs to others (life, property, etc…).

So not only are we created to worship, but we are also commanded to worship – through yielding our will, serving God’s will, obeying God’s Word, and loving God with all we are and all we’ve got!

Choosing to Worship (Joshua 22, 24)

The third text I chose for today is Joshua 22 and 24. Here, only a generation or two after Moses and receiving the Ten Commandments, Joshua is in the Promised Land with God’s people. And in ch. 22 Joshua praises the people for their faithfulness and obedience… for their worship. Look at all the places worship shows up! I have changed the word ‘kept’ to ‘obeyed’ so you’ll more easily see the Genesis worship word in the text.

You have OBEYED all that Moses the SERVANT of the Lord commanded you, and have listened to my voice in all that I commanded you. 3 You have not forsaken your brothers these many days to this day, but have OBEYED the charge of the commandment of the Lord your God. 4 “And now the Lord your God has given rest to your brothers, as He spoke to them; therefore turn now and go to your tents, to the land of your possession, which Moses the SERVANT of the Lord gave you beyond the Jordan. 5 “Only be very careful to OBEY the commandment and the law which Moses the SERVANT of the Lord commanded you, to LOVE the Lord your God and walk in all His ways and OBEY His commandments and hold fast to Him and SERVE Him with all your heart and with all your soul.” 6 So Joshua blessed them and sent them away, and they went to their tents. (vv. 1-6)

Joshua was praising the Israelites and highlighting for them the great importance and blessing of living lives of worship before God. Indeed, God was now entrusting the Promised Land to them – in many ways a “second Eden” and second chance at stewardship. They were to serve, obey, and love God through their care of this land-blessing. Only two chapters later, everything comes to a head. It turns out that many of the Israelites have brought along or picked up foreign idols and are worshiping and serving them. They had grasped at what God had said was out of bounds to them, repeating Adam and Eve’s sin. So Joshua stands up before the people and makes his famous declaration:

If it is disagreeable in your sight to SERVE the Lord, choose for yourselves today whom you will SERVE: whether the gods which your fathers served which were beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living; but as for me and my house, we will SERVE the Lord. (Joshua 24:15)

SERVE: that’s the ‘cultivate’ word. And Joshua issued it as a challenge to God’s people, blessed as they were in the Promised Land. Serving, obeying, loving, yielding to God’s will and Word remain our purpose, commandment, and invitation today… to cultivate worship in our lives.

A Challenge for Today

So that’s your challenge: to cultivate worship in every aspect of life. Anti-worship grasps after what belongs to God and what belongs to others. Worship asks:
  • How will I serve God’s will today, in this community, with money, with time, with choices I make?
  • How will I obey God’s Word in my life, my relationships, my priorities, my community?
  • How will I yield what I want to what God wants?
  • How will I love God with all I am and all I’ve got? (and love others as myself)
It’s big, I know. It’s so much more than what we do in here for an hour on Sunday morning. In many ways this is rehearsal for everything else out there! And God asks a lot, more than a lot! It’s everything. But that’s why we are here; that’s our purpose and we either turn towards it or away from it.

As you may have realized, our understanding of worship broadens as we move through the Bible. One of the other aspects of worship that I didn’t touch on this morning is that God made us to worship Him TOGETHER, as a community, as a family of faith. And that’s what the Church is – a family of faith together. So, it’s a big purpose, a big commandment, a big choice; but it’s not one you have to do alone. That’s what God has brought us together in this place for – let us choose together this day whom we will serve. I want to serve the Lord! Amen.