Celebrate What God Has Done
Pastor Rick Warren’s friends pointed out, tongue-in-cheek, that some prison systems have gotten into his life-changing nurture program called “Forty Days of Purpose.” For some inmates, it’s 40 years of purpose, but the same principles prevail. In fact, the gossip is that Pastor Warren is writing a new edition just for our penal system, entitled The Prison-Driven Life. And for the guys behind bars, I understand he’s known as Rick Warden instead, and the kicker at the bottom of the book—“What On Earth Am I Here For?”—has been changed to read: “What On Earth Am I IN For?”
But today we want to simply rejoice and celebrate over what God is doing here at our church, especially these past few weeks. It says in Deuteronomy 11:2: Remember today what you have learned about the Lord through your experiences with Him. Anything we don’t remember, we have to learn again. When we don’t learn from history, we repeat history. So now that we have crossed this river of adventure, what can we learn looking back?
There’s a key concept that has under girded everything we’ve studied. It comes from the first four words of Pastor Warren’s book. Do you remember what they are? “It’s Not About You.”
Now, right away, that might sound like bad news. Doesn’t the universe revolve around us? Aren’t our needs and feelings important? Aren't we everything? Don Henley, who used to be lead singer for the Eagles, has a hit song in his solo career entitled No One Else in the World But You. And he sings to this egomaniac: “In case you haven’t noticed, there are lots of other people here too.”
But the flip side, the good side, of this memo—“It’s not all about you”—is that it’s all about God. Everything finds its purpose in Him—Colossians 1:16; that’s a verse we’ve already used. We are here for God’s purposes. And God’s purposes are loving. God’s purposes are eternal. God’s purposes are not defeat-able. God’s purposes are going to triumph along with His entire galactic family.
A good NIV study Bible has several pages of scholars’ notes at the beginning of the Book of Psalms. There are something like eleven classifications of types of Psalms, and one of them is called letodah, which is Hebrew for “praising” or “giving thanks.” So we’re in that mode today. But then these Ph.D. authors had this to say:
“At the core of the theology of the Psalter is the conviction that the gravitational center of life (of right human understanding, trust, hope, service, morality, adoration), but also of history and of the whole creation (heaven and earth), is God (Yahweh, ‘the Lord’). He is the Great King over all, the One to whom all things are subject. He created all things and preserves them; they are the robe of glory with which He has clothed Himself. Because He ordered them, they have a well-defined and ‘true’ identity (no chaos there). Because He maintains them, they are sustained and kept secure from disruption, confusion, or annihilation. Because He alone is the sovereign God, they are governed by one hand and held in the service of one divine purpose.”
So you are a doctor—but you are God’s doctor. You are a husband—but also the man God put in a particular family to bring that group of people into a knowledge of the kingdom. You and I are citizens of this country here, but far more than that, you are His ambassador to do ministry and mission work on behalf of heaven.
And this news is also good when we’re hurting. Pastor Craig Barnes wrote an excellent article for Leadership magazine a few years ago, and he was giving counsel to someone who had really been abused. He said very gently to that person, “I know what kind of pain you’ve been through. But the good news is that all of this is not about you. This person who hurt you so badly was weak, frail, maybe even evil. No question. They were a struggling, dysfunctional, helpless, hopeless person . . . and you happened to be the one who was in their way. But God is still God. God is in charge. ‘These wounds don’t have to define you. Your deficiencies don’t have to eliminate you. Your hurts don’t have to control you. Your inadequacies don’t have to exclude you. Your brokenness doesn’t have to force you off the stage.’”
A lady wrote to Pastor Warren and confessed how her understanding these four words—“It’s not about you”—had absolutely changed her life. “Every time I focus on me,” she writes, “I lose my happiness.” Her husband would let her down; she got resentful. People criticized her; she was insecure. Someone would overlook her; she got jealous. She would be reminded of her shortcomings, and go into a tailspin of guilt. She wouldn’t get her way, and that made her impatient with her kids and stubborn with everyone around her. But when she was able to turn things around, a bit at a time, and remember that it’s all about God and His eternal purposes, she slowly began to move toward being a happier person, and a better mom and wife.
So let’s praise God that He still does miracles. And frankly, when God fixes a marriage or gives one of you the courage to step out of a relationship that you know doesn’t have purpose-driven compatibility to it, that’s as big a miracle as five thousand people being fed with five loaves, two fishes, and a plate of Fri-Chik. But our existence on this planet, these brief years here, revolve around God’s purpose, not ours . . . and He is still a mighty, miracle-working Friend.
Preparation for Eternity
Let’s remember again that life is preparation for eternity. You know, when my wife and I celebrate birthdays—and we have more candles on our cake than many people here—I’m so glad to be a believer and to know that we’re all going to live for eternity. I’m glad for the infinity offered by the Christian faith. Every time I put up the Christmas lights a little quiver goes through me—another year past. My happy years of marriage thus far have gone by in a flash. But it is a comfort to me to know that God has 75 million years promised to me following the 75 down here.
C. S. Lewis, in his book, Mere Christianity, had a line where he suggests that if you as a Christian have a desire in your heart, somehow in God’s providence there is a satisfaction provided for that desire. A baby is hungry; well, there’s such a thing as food. A duck wants to swim; there’s a pond of water. We grow up into having sexual desires; OK, there is such a thing as sex. But if I look out at the sunset and in my moments of soul-searching find a yearning, a desire, that this world doesn’t seem to be able to satisfy, then the answer is that I was probably made for another world somewhere. And the Bible tells us in Ecclesiastes 3:11: God has planted eternity in the human heart. Nothing gives my life significance more than to know that God intends for me to occupy a place in His kingdom forever, that He wants me in His universe for a long, long, long time, that every day spent here is a preparation day, a day of getting ready for eons of happiness somewhere else.
We receive affirmation from our friends who take us out to dinner for a birthday supper. Parents say they love us, that they will sacrifice for us. A beautiful woman takes your hand and says: “As long as we both shall live.” But nothing gives our lives value and purpose more than getting ready to be with God for eternity.
And that reality drives each one of the purposes we’ve been studying. Our Christian friends at Saddleback suggest that we’re put here on God’s earth for five specific purposes. What are they? Some of you probably know these by heart now. First of all, we’re planned for God’s pleasure. The Bible word for that is worship. Secondly, we’re formed to be a part of God’s eternal family. That’s fellowship—and I surely do enjoy our particular brand of that. Third, we’re created to become like Christ; that mandate is all through Scripture. That’s known as discipleship. We Adventists sometimes say “sanctification,” the work of a lifetime. Number four, we’re shaped to serve God. That’s known as ministry, and I praise God for the dedicated promises many of you have made to His cause. You’re willing to serve. Finally, each one of us was crafted for a mission. And as we buy our plane tickets, we call that evangelism.
I’d like to invite each of you to join me during this time of abundant thanksgiving in thinking of specific ways you can do these several purposes with renewed excellence. How can you worship more? Here at church, are you praising to your fullest extent? Do you sing on all the songs? As someone else prays, do you keep your mind on it, and say, “Amen. Me too, Lord”? Are you thanking God sufficiently each day for the blessings? Are your prayers for the food rote or real? I think the men of our church have, without exception, without question, the greatest spouses in the world. I really mean that—starting with my own NAME and going right down the line. Are we thanking God for the queens who occupy this palace?
Then there’s fellowship. Are you involved in a weekly group? If not, could you possibly start one? And form a new group that reaches out instead of in? Could you have a fellowship lunch with someone once a week? Could a bunch of men get together on Sunday morning, jog three miles, have some breakfast, and then watch and discuss a DVD clip? I invite you to think with intentionality about how you can take fellowship to a new level. Can we be more loving here at church? Can we look out for missing members and stragglers as we scan the pews each Sabbath morning?
Then there’s discipleship. We make our New Year’s Resolutions, but let’s go beyond teeth-gritting and dieting this coming January. “We Were Created to Become Like Christ.” There’s nobleness in Ironman training, in spiritually striving for obedience. Garrie Williams, who wrote a book entitled How to Be Filled With the Holy Spirit—and Know It, suggests just prayerfully considering all ten of the Commandments, one at a time. Honoring your parents. Keeping the Sabbath. Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor. And ask God: “How can I be more aligned with Your will on this one? And this one?”
As we consider ministry and mission, I don’t have to tell you that there are a million ways you can serve this church, and another million ways you can make a difference in a hurting world. Praise God for your generous hearts. But ask God to show you new doors and fresh opportunities. There’s an Adventist church in Burbank, California that runs a tattoo-removal ministry for ex-bikers and street people and gang members. Now see, that’s thinking outside the box. They probably have the only born-again tattoo-removal Harley-Davidson motorcycle ministry in the entire Adventist denomination.
Here’s another important Bible principle: we grow through making these commitments. Making promises to our brothers and sisters; telling our church body that they can count on us to do something significant. The disciple James talks about talk being cheap, about promises being empty words if we don’t back them up with loving action. I’m so thankful for the many of you who are willing to actually hold a pen in your hand and write your name down on a commitment card. You’re willing to be a man or woman of your word.
We also grow through fellowship. We learn from each other. I have been in many of your homes and listened to your own spaghetti-and-meatball sermons. You’ve told a small group what you’ve thought. You’ve brought your religious perspectives to the dinner table. When we mingle with other Christians and share with each other and slowly resolve our feuds and our frustrations, as we take half a loaf instead of none, as we say in a board meeting, “I got outvoted, but I love you guys and I support the mother ship”—that’s when we grow as a body. We become a more solid family. Pastor Rick Warren suggests that we simply cannot be holy all by ourselves, because “holiness is love, and you can’t love people unless you’re around them.”
I want to challenge you to be very aware of our community. What do we have all around us? We are surrounded by people who are hungry for spiritual truth. You have brothers and sisters who have stopped walking with the Lord. You have co-workers who don’t know Jesus. Some of you have parents who stuck you in the church and then left it themselves. But as we learned last week, there are multiplied million Americans all around us who are just waiting for someone to give them a map to their house with a promise of a good meal and a non-confrontational Bible discussion afterwords. There are people within 300 yards of this church who will come worship here and find a home here, if we’ll just go and find them. John 4:35 has Jesus saying to His friends: Look around you! Vast fields of human souls are ripening around us, and are ready now for reaping.
I have personally spent many, many hours driving around this city following up “interest names.” Someone asks for a book from It Is Written, or fills out a card saying they’d like some mail-order Bible lessons. A lot of those turn out to be dead-ends, and a lot of my drives across town end up with nobody home. I just keep on driving, keep on knocking on doors, keep on looking for that hidden jewel. “Save one more for Jesus.”
Now, my brothers and sisters, there are two more words for us to put front and center. Now What? What do we do now? How shall we live differently? Let me reiterate: get up each morning with this glorious truth in your heart: I was created by God for His pleasure. And then just keep it on the table; keep it in your consciousness: WORSHIP. FELLOWSHIP. DISCIPLESHIP. MINISTRY. MISSION.
On a church level, we’re told that we need to have these five ideas always in our planning, always in our thinking, always in our priorities. We have to have programs and policies that make sure all five of these are ongoing, vibrant, happening, moving forward. And in your own life, invite God to give you ways to be growing stronger in all five of these all the time.
Please write this down and hold fast to it: start living what you have learned. It says in John 13:17: Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them. And also Ephesians 5:15: Live life with a due sense of responsibility, not as those who do not know the meaning of life but as those who do. Say to yourself each day, as it says in that beautiful Christian praise song: “I will never be the same again. I can never return; I’ve closed the door.”
Finally, let’s be sure to pass it on. I have gotten a blessing. You have gotten a blessing. So—give it to someone else. I can think of gracious moments where some of you took me out for a birthday supper. On the way home, my heart was overflowing with love. I had had such a good time. I felt so blessed. It feels so good to work where people love you. And I realize what that means. The next time I face a choice about doing the community thing versus hiding out in front of my TV screen, I have to pass it on. The next time I can either keep my money in my wallet, or pay for a meal that will gladden somebody’s life, I need to pass it on. The next time there’s a party and I have to decide whether to fuss with getting a gift and going to a restaurant and losing an evening—or just stay home and pamper the couch potato side of my personality—I have to remember that our highest joy comes from passing it on.
We need to do whatever it takes so that our relatives and neighbors down the street can experience this same blessing, get the same renewed faith that we’ve found for yourself. II Timothy 2:2 encourages us with this challenge: Now I want you to tell these same things to followers who can be trusted to tell others.
I praise the Lord that in the great scheme of things, the “Star Wars” of winning this world back to Him, He’s going to be using all of you as comforters to change lives one at a time, and all for His honor and glory.
This is part 8 of a 8-part series: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7
Submitted by David B. Smith. Better Sermons © 2005-2008. Click here for usage guidelines.
|Home | Sermon Resources | Sermon Evaluation | Audio Archives | Contact Us | About Us | Help|