Monday, September 15, 2003

Purpose Driven Living:
Worshiping God with Our Whole Lives
Romans 12:1-2

[shared with the people of Friendship Church, September 14, 2003]

Albert Einstein, the great mathematician and theorist of physics, considered by many to be the most brilliant person ever, was getting ready to board a train one day. But he couldn’t find his ticket. A conductor, seeing Einstein making his frantic search, asked if there were something wrong. Einstein explained that he’d lost his ticket. “That’s okay. I know who you are, Dr. Einstein. You can get onboard.” Einstein climbed onto the train. Some time later though, the conductor found the great man still rummaging through pockets and satchels, looking for that missing ticket. The conductor said, “Dr. Einstein, I told you: I know who you are.” Einstein replied, “I know who I am, too. I just don’t know where I’m going.”

Millions of people attend churches each week around the world. They really believe in Jesus Christ. But there is a disconnect between their faith and their lives. They have no idea where they’re going. They don’t know what their life’s purposes are. And truth to tell, we all wrestle with this question.

Rick Warren, a pastor from southern California, noticed that people struggle with this issue of what their lives are for and in response, wrote a book called, The Purpose Driven Life. Many of you began doing short daily readings from it on September 2. You know that Warren looked at Jesus’ Great Commandment and Great Commission and from these important words, identified five major purposes for every human life. Today, we’re going to talk about the first purpose of life.

You've heard me speak of when I fell in love with Ann. What really amazed me about falling in love with her was the very thing that Warren speaks of when talking about falling in love with his wife: I wanted to be with Ann all the time. We had a word that we would say to each other when we had to say goodbye: goofy. It seemed so goofy, so ridiculous, and so stupid, for us to be away from each other. Once I knew that I loved Ann, I wanted to spend as much time as possible just getting to know her better and better. Some weeks after she and I decided to get married, Ann went to Florida for a long-planned trip with her college roommate. A few days after she left, I got a post card from her that said where she was and how much she loved me. At the very bottom she wrote two words, underlined: very goofy.

When you love someone, you want to be with them, to spend time with them, to hear their voice, and to do what is best for them. Any other way seems goofy.

Jesus once was asked what the greatest commandment was. He gave a two-part answer. In the first part, He said that we are to love God with our whole heart, mind, soul, and strength. Giving love to God is the appropriate response for us to make to the God Who loves us completely and Who accepts us in spite of all our faults and flaws.

Loving God is really nothing other than what the Bible calls worship. Worship, as the Bible understands it, is to happen not just on one morning of one day of the week. Worship is meant to be our life style. God loves us. He wants to spend every moment of every day with us. And He is desperate for us to spend time getting to know Him better and better. For the follower of Jesus, knowing that Jesus is the only source for life and genuine hope, anything less than a life of worship, lives spent loving God, would be just goofy!

This then, is the first purpose of every human life: to completely love and offer our whole selves in worship to the God Who completely loves us and Who, through Jesus Christ, has already given Himself completely to us!

How do we do that? The first century preacher and evangelist, Paul, tells us how in our Bible lesson for this morning, taken from the New Testament book of Romans. Paul writes:

"I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God–what is good and acceptable and perfect."

In these few words, Paul shows us how to love God completely and to cultivate the intimacy with God that God craves to have with us.

First: We need to remind ourselves often of how much God loves us. When we remember that, we’ll want to love and please God and be with Him all the time. Paul appeals to us to pay heed to the words he writes to the Romans because of “the mercies of God.”

Sometimes we forget how much God loves us, that God became a human being, died on a cross, and rose from the dead all because of His deep and unswerving devotion to us!

Yesterday morning, I attended a funeral at Ann’s and my home church. The funeral was for a man named George. George was one of those great believers in Jesus who influenced me to follow Christ because he lived with Christ in his everyday life. One of the preachers at the funeral, Larry Baker, is a hospice chaplain who knew George very well. He talked about how George and his family had aroused the concern of the hospice team that worked with them. Team members said to Larry, “They seem so happy. Do you think that they understand what’s happening? Does George know that he's dying? Does his family understand that George is dying?” I think that Larry had to stifle a laugh. “Of course, they understand.” he told the other hospice team members, “But their faith in Jesus is so strong that they’re not afraid.” The reason for George's family's joy and serenity in the face of death is simple: Every day of their lives through prayer and Bible reading and also through regular worship attendance, they were reminded that God loves and has given His whole self to us! We will want to worship God with our whole lives when we remember how much He loves us!

I have to confess that it's difficult for me to remain faithful in following Jesus or to remember God’s love for me. To do so, I need to spend time with God each and every day. I agree with Martin Luther, the founder of the Christian movement of which Friendship is a part, when he says that being born again isn’t something that happens to us just once. Each day, we need to turn to God, handing God our sins, seeking forgiveness in Jesus’ Name, and letting God renew our lives and our faith. We need to remember God’s love for us regularly.

Next, we’ll love God completely and cultivate intimacy with Him when we offer our bodies to God as our living sacrifices to God. We offer our bodies because, as Warren points out in his book, if we offer our bodies to God, everything else--our minds, our spirits, our wills--wil come along for the ride.

Living sacrifices don’t hold anything back from God. I once heard a man named Robert Coleman, a professor at Wheaton College in Illinois, tell the story of a little boy whose twin brother was very sick. Without a transfusion, the brother would die. The situation was explained to the little guy and he readily volunteered to have his blood drawn. Laying on a hospital bed some moments after the IV had been put in his arm, the boy turned to the doctor and asked softly, “Doctor, how much longer before I die?” It was then that the doctor realized that the boy thought that giving life to his twin brother would cause his own death. The doctor asked the boy, “If you thought that you were going to die, why did you say it was okay for us to draw your blood?” The boy said, “Because he’s my brother and I love him.”

Jesus Christ gave His blood–and His body–to give us life. He did it because He loves us. And in the face of such overwhelming, sacrificial love, it’s fitting that we should make ourselves living sacrifices to Him.

We’ll also be loving God completely and cultivating intimacy with Him when we refuse to be conformed to this world and let Christ renew our minds. We need to let the God we know through Jesus Christ step into our minds and change the way we think. You know, what we dwell on tends to come true. Psychologist Denis Waitley once told about a woman who used to tell friends that she and her family always came down with colds in the summer. And sure enough, as if on command, they always did. Research once indicated that obsessive thoughts can become self-fulfilling prophecies.

And that isn't only true with our physical ailments. Robert S. McGee, in his book, The Search for Significance, tells about a married man who developed a powerful attraction to another man’s wife. Over a period of many months, the man fantasized about and flirted with the woman until one day, the two of them were in a hotel room together. Afterward, the man was almost in a state of shock, wondering how it had happened. He probably shouldn’t have been so surprised.

On the other hand, when we allow ourselves to spend time with God and think about the things God calls us to think about, we’re prepared to meet the challenges of this life and face the future with hope. In another place in the New Testament, Paul writes:

"...whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things!"

I’m compiling a list of Bible passages for a friend of mine who needs encouragement. These Bible passages will remind him of God’s love for him, of what God promises to those who follow Jesus, of how God says that He is always with those who believe in Him. I suggest that you make a similar list. Read two or three chapters of the Bible each day and as you do, jot down the passages that help you understand Who God is and how much God loves you, not in an abstract way, but how He loves you as an individual person, faults and all! Then, go back over that list once a week and remind yourself of how wonderful God is, how loved you are, how empowered you are for a God-blessed life.

The first purpose of every life is to love and give intimate worship the God Who made us and gives us new life through Christ. We can do that when we remind ourselves of how much God loves us; offer our lives as sacrifices to God; and let God’s love fill our minds with thoughts of just how great and wonderful He really is! Promise yourself this morning that you won’t be goofy when it comes to God. You’re number one in God’s life. So, make Him number one in your life and spend time with Him every single day!

[The story about Albert Einstein was told in a sermon by Gerald Mann. Denis Waitley told the story of the family who caught summer colds in his classic, The Psychology of Winning. All other quotes are cited in the message itself.]