Sunday, August 16, 2015

The Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:1-17)

Then God spoke all these words:

I am the Lord your God who brought you out of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.

You must have no other gods before me.

Do not make an idol for yourself—no form whatsoever—of anything in the sky above or on the earth below or in the waters under the earth.

Do not use the Lord your God’s name as if it were of no significance; the Lord won’t forgive anyone who uses his name that way.

Remember the Sabbath day and treat it as holy. Six days you may work and do all your tasks, 10 but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. Do not do any work on it—not you, your sons or daughters, your male or female servants, your animals, or the immigrant who is living with you. 11 Because the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and everything that is in them in six days, but rested on the seventh day. That is why the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.

12 Honor your father and your mother so that your life will be long on the fertile land that the Lord your God is giving you.

13 Do not kill.

14 Do not commit adultery.

15 Do not steal.

16 Do not testify falsely against your neighbor.

17 Do not desire your neighbor’s house. Do not desire and try to take your neighbor’s wife, male or female servant, ox, donkey, or anything else that belongs to your neighbor.

The Ten Commandments.  What comes to mind when you think of the Ten Commandments?  Rules?  Law? Judgment?  Charlton Heston with a bad spray-on tan?

I was thinking about how to get a handle on the Ten Commandments in preaching them today.  My first thought was that maybe we could spend 10 minutes on each one.  No?

Don’t worry, I’m not going to give you a quiz on them, either.  In a recent poll of South Carolinians, 79% affirmed the Ten Commandments as important.  However, only 11% could correctly name three or more of them.  We’re going to look at the Ten Commandments today, we’ve already read what they are, so we will spend our time looking at why they are important and how they relate to the life of faith.  May we pray.

When you go shopping and read the list of ingredients on the label, you know that the ingredients are listed in order of how much of each is in the product.  Whatever comes first – there’s more of that than anything else.  I looked at a can of peaches in our pantry, and do you know what the first ingredient listed was?  Peaches!  And I thought, “Oh, good!”  It hadn’t really crossed my mind up until that point that in a can of peaches, there could be more of something else than there were peaches, but it’s possible.  I don’t know that I’d buy a can of peaches that had something other than “peaches” as the first ingredient!

But in the life of faith, how often are we content to leave out the first ingredient?  The Ten Commandments are God’s household rules for God’s people, a recipe for peace and love and joy and hope, a guideline for our relationship with God and our relationships with others.  If followed, they can help bring about the kingdom of God in us and through us.

So, when it comes to the Ten Commandments, why are we content to leave the first ingredient off the list?  I’m not talking about the first commandment, I’m talking about what comes before the commandments even start.  We leave out God.  We forget that the Ten Commandments are given in the context of a very specific relationship – a covenant relationship between God and God’s people.  God says, “I am the Lord your God who brought you up out of the land of Egypt, therefore . . .” and THEN God gives the Commandments themselves.

Before we have done anything, God is gracious and acting on our behalf from his heart of love.  The people don’t earn God’s favor by following the Ten Commandments, God liberates them from slavery in Egypt before they have done a thing.

The covenant relationship with God comes first, then the rules for how that relationship will flourish.  No doubt, in all our relationships, we have rules in place to protect the relationship, to help it grow and thrive and be as healthy as possible.  My wife and I have the rule of “no electronic devices during dinner” – which means no phones, tablets, or laptops.  That rule is in place so we put the outside world, our work, other distractions aside in order to focus that time on each other.

I’m guessing we all have rules like that in our relationships.  Go from house to house, and I’m willing to bet that we all probably have some rules that are similar, almost universal, but we also have rules that are very different.  Those rules are specific to a particular family or situation, perhaps. 

If I heard it once growing up, I heard it a thousand times: “As long as you live under my roof . . . you’ll live under my rules.”  There’s a recognition in that statement that different households may have different rules, but in our house, our family, there was a specific way we were expected to live and treat each other, regardless of what the neighbors were doing.

Likewise, when God gave the Ten Commandments, he gave them as household rules for his covenant people.  They are rules given in the context of a relationship; to the family of faith, God gives the Ten Commandments to outline the best of our relationship toward God and one another, that we might live peaceably and full of God’s love.

Growing up, I don’t remember my parents trying to enforce our household rules on the neighbors.  The rules were for our house, our family, but the families next door, across the street, and down the block weren’t expected to conform their behavior to our rules.  Why?  Because the rules of our household didn’t apply to them.  They weren’t living under our roof, so we had no expectation that they would live under our rules.

The rules only make sense in the context of the relationship.  The covenant relationship with God is the first ingredient, it is what forms us as a family, a household of faith.  Without the relationship, the rules make no sense.

It reminds me of the little girl whose mother told her, “Clean your room.”  Some time later, the mother came to check on the progress, and she said, “Did you clean your room?”

The little girl said, “Mom, I’ve been thinking about what you said.  When you said those words, ‘Clean your room, I figured they were important.  So, I memorized those words.  I dissected them.  I formed a study group to talk about them.  What did you mean by ‘clean,’ anyway?

“I made this little sign, you can see it says, ‘Clean your room,’ and I hung it up here on the wall.  I made a sign for the neighbors, too, and everyone else on our street.  What a world it would be if everyone knew the words you have spoken, and they were posted everywhere!”

The mother said, “That’s all very interesting, but I can’t help but notice that you still haven’t cleaned your room.”

Friends, when it comes to the Ten Commandments, we’re supposed to do them.  Not just memorize them.  Not put them up everywhere.  We’re supposed to do them.  Not to worry about whether or not other people seem to know them or are paying attention to them.

How would you respond to a neighbor who wanted to impose their rules on your family?  When we take our household rules and start telling our neighbors they have to live by them, we do the same thing.  When we take the rules of our faith and start telling people outside our faith that they have to live by them, we demonstrate our lack of understanding that the Ten Commandments are given in the context of a relationship with God, in order to give God’s people guidance for how to live as God’s covenant people.

Outside that relationship, the rules make no sense.

We don’t follow the Ten Commandments out of a sense of duty or obligation.  We follow them out of a heartfelt love for God, a desire to please God, a desire to conduct ourselves in a way that honors God and allows God’s love to be seen and experienced through us.

The directions for living we find in the commandments are intended to be put into practice in real life to make that life more whole, more peaceful, more joyful. When we live this way, we are allowing the life and love of God to flow through us, healing the broken and wounded world around us.

God’s rules, God’s laws, God’s commands, God’s words to us are promises to us.  Every command from God is a covered promise.  In the case of the Ten Commandments, they stand as God’s promise to us to bring about the kingdom of God in and through us.

The first four commandments deal directly with our relationship with God.  The last six deal directly with our relationships with others. You can see the logic at play when Jesus would later summarize God’s law as “love God and love your neighbor;” in the context of a loving, covenant relationship with God, following the Ten Commandments does exactly that.

But, they work in total.  They are not stand-alone items in a cafeteria line we may pick and choose at our pleasure.  Not “hey, I got seven out of ten, not too shabby!”  Like ingredients in a recipe – leave just one out, and the whole thing doesn’t come out right.

And if we leave out the most important ingredient, the first ingredient, a covenant relationship with God, then the Ten Commandments make no sense.  When we enforce our rules without extending the benefit of a relationship, we place a burden on others rather than a blessing.

Friends, we’ve seen a lot of energy expended by people of faith to post and promote and protect the Ten Commandments.  Our efforts would be much more fruitful if we would simply follow them.  Others may not, and that’s between them and God.  Joshua, who led the Hebrew people after the death of Moses, said, “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” (Joshua 24:15).

There’s an implicit understanding there that you and your house may not.  We don’t have an ounce of control over what other people do.  I’ve been in meetings or counseling sessions or just church in general where someone is not behaving as they should.  Exasperated, someone else will inevitably turn to me and say, “Can’t you make them behave!  If you think that’s how it works, you’ve grossly overestimated my power.  I can’t make anybody do anything, and nor do I want to.  I don’t want people to do the right thing because I made them do it.  I want people to do the right thing because they want to do it.

We don’t have an ounce of control over what other people do.  We can fret and moan about what other people are doing, or we can devote our energy into what we know we’re supposed to be doing.  You and your house may not follow the Ten Commandments.  But, as people of faith, as ones who are in that covenant relationship with God, we will.  We are responsible for our own behavior, our own attitudes, our own choices.

We follow the Ten Commandments out of our love for God.  The relationship comes first, and the rules for the relationship follow.  If other people do not love God, making them follow the Ten Commandments will not make them love God.  We recognize the Ten Commandments as the household rules given by God to his covenant people.  If we want people to follow our household rules, the best plan of action is to invite them to be part of our household, with both the benefits as well as the responsibilities.

And so, rather than posting the Ten Commandments, we are living them, rather than writing them in stone, they are written upon our hearts.  The hope would be that we live out our faith in such a way that other people come to want what we have.  The hope would be that our faith is so robust, so infectious, so seasoned with God’s love and grace that everyone around us looks at us and says, “I’ll have what they’re having.”  Living our faith in such a way naturally invites others to experience and enjoy a relationship with God, and not just the rules.

I love the Ten Commandments.  But I don’t love them for their own sake; I love them because I love the God who gave them.  I recognize that when I follow them, they invite me into better relationship with God and others as I live as one of God’s people in the world.

The Ten Commandments are not prefaced with an order: “Here are ten rules – OBEY THEM!” – but with a breathtaking announcement of life-giving freedom: “I am the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt.”

The Ten Commandments are not merely a set of rules; they’re the seeds of a relationship.  We follow them to live for and show our love for the One who gave us life in the first place, and who continues to make it worth living.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Did Anyone Else Hear That (1 Samuel 3:1-10)

Now the boy Samuel was serving the Lord under Eli. The Lord’s word was rare at that time, and visions weren’t widely known. One day Eli, whose eyes had grown so weak he was unable to see, was lying down in his room. God’s lamp hadn’t gone out yet, and Samuel was lying down in the Lord’s temple, where God’s chest was.

The Lord called to Samuel. “I’m here,” he said.

Samuel hurried to Eli and said, “I’m here. You called me?”

“I didn’t call you,” Eli replied. “Go lie down.” So he did.

Again the Lord called Samuel, so Samuel got up, went to Eli, and said, “I’m here. You called me?”

“I didn’t call, my son,” Eli replied. “Go and lie down.”

(Now Samuel didn’t yet know the Lord, and the Lord’s word hadn’t yet been revealed to him.)

A third time the Lord called Samuel. He got up, went to Eli, and said, “I’m here. You called me?”

Then Eli realized that it was the Lord who was calling the boy. So Eli said to Samuel, “Go and lie down. If he calls you, say, ‘Speak, Lord. Your servant is listening.’” So Samuel went and lay down where he’d been.

10 Then the Lord came and stood there, calling just as before, “Samuel, Samuel!”

Samuel said, “Speak. Your servant is listening.”

After 45 years of marriage, he was starting to suspect that his wife was developing a hearing problem.  One evening as she was relaxing in her lounge chair, he quietly came up behind her and said softly, “Honey, can you hear me?”  There was no response.

He crept a little closer, and said it a little louder, “Honey, can you hear me?”  Still, there was no response.

He got right up behind her and said in a normal speaking voice, “Honey, can you hear me?”  She turned around in her chair, looked him right in the eye, and said, “For the third time, yes!”

It can be frustrating to feel like you aren’t being heard.  It’s one thing when someone doesn’t have the ability to hear you; it’s something entirely different to know that they have the ability to hear, yet aren’t listening.  Ever had the experience of someone not listening to you?

Ever stop by somebody’s house, ring the doorbell, and you know they’re home – yet, for whatever reason, they don’t answer the door?  How many times do you ring the bell, how long do you stand there waiting for them to answer, before you turn around and walk off the porch?  Ever tried repeatedly to call someone, and they never pick up, let your call go straight to voicemail, and never return your messages?  How many times do you call, how many unreturned messages do you leave before you give up trying to contact them?

Been there?  If so, then perhaps we know something of the frustration God must face on a daily basis when it comes to getting through to us.

The first verse of today’s Scripture reading tells us that, at the time of Samuel, the word of the Lord was rare, and visions from God weren’t widely-known.  In the kind of parody ripe for an episode of Saturday Night Live, Eli, the old priest, is going blind.  You can’t make that sort of thing up!  A priest with failing eyesight?  Really?  No wonder visions from God were rare!  Of course Israel can’t see God – her own priestly leader can’t see anything!

Enter Samuel onto the scene.  He is living with Eli, the old blind priest, and serving in the temple.  Samuel’s mother, Hannah, had prayed for a son, and struck a deal with God that if God gave her a son, she would give the son back to God in a lifetime of service.  Shortly after Samuel’s birth, his mother kept her promise and brought the boy to the old priest.

Samuel has spent his young life serving in the temple.  Learning the priestly trade, assisting with the tasks and chores of maintaining the sturdy religious institution.  One night, he is lying down in the temple, in that place between asleep and awake, and a voice calls to him in the night: “Samuel!  Samuel!”  Obediently, if not somewhat begrudgingly, the boy jumps out of bed and says, “Here I am! You called me!” as he scurries into the room of Eli, the old, blind priest.  “Silly boy!  I didn’t call you!  Now quit bothering me and go back to bed!”

The scene is vaguely familiar to anyone with children in the home.  The adults are tired and the child won’t stay in bed.  In slapstick comic fashion, not once, not twice, but three times the child shows up in the adult’s room when he should be in bed.

But finally, the light bulb goes off in old Eli’s head, and to his credit, he finally seems to get it, summoning up the last bit of his mojo right near the end to do what he was supposed to be doing all along.  And yes, God has to call Samuel three times before Eli remembers that the Lord sometimes does this sorta thing.  But Eli does remember.  It takes a minute before the rusty old gears in his priestly brain engage, but Eli does remember, he remembers that he is a custodian of the ancient and treasured words about how God has done this before, and there’s enough of a momentary flicker within his old mind to believe that maybe God is speaking again.

Eli tells Samuel to lie down and be still.  In other words, he tells Samuel to go to intentionally tune out anything that might distract him from hearing and responding to God.

We would do well to do the same.  I think that so often we miss out on hearing a word from God or catching a vision from God because we are too-easily distracted by too many other things.  Other things grab our attention by their noise or their flashiness, and if we’re honest, we each generate plenty of our own noise, as well.  We surmise, like the people at the time of Eli and Samuel, that God must not be speaking.

But friends, we often don’t hear from God because we aren’t listening for God.  We aren’t listening for God when we worship, or in our prayer, or in studying the Scriptures.  It isn’t that God has stopped speaking; it’s that we aren’t listening.  The absence of a word or vision from the Lord has more to do with our human refusal to listen than with any divine reluctance to speak.  Or, we’re listening to many things, just not the right things.  We listen to voices that tear down rather than build up, voices that aren’t rooted in love and grace.

We make the mistake of going about our faith alone, when very often, listening for God requires listening to each other.  One of the oft-overlooked but crucial details of the story is that both Samuel and Eli had to listen to each other for God’s voice to be heard.  In the church, we need both the wisdom and maturity that necessarily comes from old age, AND the energy and enthusiasm that necessarily comes with youth.

There’s a story of a church service where the message of the sermon was about how church is not just comprised of one generation.  God’s people span the generations, and the message was really about how the generations can learn from and value each other.

The children in the nursery had been taken outside to play on the playground, and you could hear them laughing and their shrieks of joy and surprise outside the windows of the sanctuary. What an appropriate backdrop for such a message!

And then it happened.  A man in the congregation stood up, walked clear down the side aisle, opened the door to the church yard and told the children that they needed to quiet down because a service was taking place inside.  During a message about generations needing to be willing to listen to one another, some guy actually got up and told the younger members of the church to pipe down.

Can you imagine something so rude and hurtful?  Can you imagine how something like that would have just wilted the budding faith of the youngest members of that church?  I hope to never hear of an incident so completely devoid of God’s grace taking place here, and I have good reason to hope that, because of pictures like this:

We are at a point in history when five generations are worshiping in the church together.  That’s never happened before – to have five generations alive and active in the life of the church.  Now, of those five generations, which one is God’s favorite?  Which one has the exclusive claim to the church?

We’re all God’s children, aren’t we?  And the reality is that God is still speaking to and speaking through all of his children of every generation.  103 years separate Miss Dorothy and little Miss Skylar in this picture – five generations covered between them, and it looks like they speak the same language of joy and love that is common to all people of faith, regardless of their age.

Friends, in the midst of a Christian community, hearing the voice of God requires that we listen to each other, never forgetting that we are all on the same team.  What happens between the generations within the church is like what happens between runners in a relay race.  Those who are on the same team, whether they run their leg early or late, are not in competition with each other.  They have to work together, run in the same direction, listen to each other, communicate with each other.  When one generation or group is rooting for another to fail, then guess what – the whole team loses.  But when each is rooting for the others to run their leg as best as they possibly can, cheering them on, supporting them, then the whole team wins.

In the church, that means God wins.  It means God getting through to each generation, and making his love and grace known in and through us.  Whatever generation you belong to, whether you are old and wise, or young and fresh – and I will not assign you to those categories, I will let you choose for yourself which one best suits you!  Whatever generation you belong to, here in the community of faith I hope you will be willing, for the sake of the kingdom of God, to listen to those of a generation not your own.  Take the best they have to offer, and while you’re at it, offer the best of yourself back to them.

Successful teams will work on their handoffs, and if we’re smart, we will learn from that – we’ll spend time on how we hand off leadership from one generation to the next.  If you’re part of an older generation, I pray you’ll know when it’s time to graciously pass off the baton to someone who is ready to keep running the race you’ve started.  If you’re part of a younger generation, I pray you’ll know when it’s time to graciously receive the baton and keep running the race someone else was running long before you.

In either case, whether we are passing off or receiving the baton, I pray we will do it graciously.  If you’re of an older generation, find ways to invest the best parts of yourself and your faith in a younger generation.  If you’re of that younger generation, look for older folks who are walking close to God, and ask them to help you do the same.  In either case, invest in each other, and listen to each other – listen most attentively to those who are listening to God.

Friends, we need both the wisdom that comes with age, and the energy that comes with youth.  We need both.  Our faith needs both the voices of experience and exuberance, both young Samuel, and old Eli.

If we’re willing to listen to each other, the more likely it is that we’ll be able to hear God.  Speak, Lord, for your servants are listening!

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Let Everything PRAISE the Lord! (Psalm 150)

Praise the Lord!
Praise God in his sanctuary;
    praise him in his mighty firmament![a]
Praise him for his mighty deeds;
    praise him according to his surpassing greatness!

Praise him with trumpet sound;
    praise him with lute and harp!
Praise him with tambourine and dance;
    praise him with strings and pipe!
Praise him with clanging cymbals;
    praise him with loud clashing cymbals!
Let everything that breathes praise the Lord!
Praise the Lord!


Ashley and I included a stop at the Grand Canyon on our fall vacation last year.  Neither one of us had been before.  We drove into the park through the east gate and stopped at the first observation point.  We parked the car, hurriedly walked down the path without stopping at the bathroom first – that tells you how eager my wife was to see the canyon – and crowded into a spot at the overlook with a few hundred of our closest friends, and we said the same first words of everyone who views the canyon for the first time: “Wow.”


We lingered for awhile, drove to the next overlook, parked, walked up to the edge, and said, “Wow.”  We repeated that pattern for the next two hours as we made our way toward the hub of the park and our hotel.  That evening, we ran through the village to crowd onto the last bus that would take us to points further west where we could catch the sunset over the canyon, and can you guess what we and hundreds of other folks said as the sun set and painted a continually-changing beautiful picture in front of us? “Wow.”


The next morning, we were up early to watch the sunrise – just like watching the sunset, but from the other direction and in reverse order, right?  I’ve seen the sunrise in beautiful places before, I had an idea what to expect, shouldn’t have been too surprised by what we saw, but do you know what I said as the sun rose that morning?  “Wow.”


There were also people there who seemed less-than-impressed.  People who walked up to the edge, snapped a few pictures, and hopped back in the car to drive to Las Vegas or Phoenix or Albuquerque or wherever they were headed next.  Families who complained about how expensive everything was, children who weren’t sure what their parents were so excited about, saying, “What’s the big deal?  It’s just a big hole-in-the-ground?”


Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.  But for those with eyes to see, it will make you keep saying, “Wow.”  And I don’t know about you, but when I see something beautiful, something that takes my breath away, something that makes me say, “Wow,” I just don’t want to take my eyes off of it.  We spent about 24 hours at the Grand Canyon, not a ton of time, but every moment, would you like to guess which way my head was pointed and what had my attention?  I was looking at that big hole in the ground, that thing that kept making me say, “Wow.”


What if God held our attention in the same way?  What if, every available moment, our senses were drinking in the love and grace and holiness and majesty of God?  What if, we couldn’t take our eyes off of God, couldn’t even if we wanted to, what if God was constantly revealing some new facet of God’s self to us that we were constantly saying, “Wow?”


In today’s Scripture reading, the Psalmist says, “Let everything that has breath praise the Lord.”  Does everyone here have breath?  I hope so!  You may want to check the person next to you – everyone here still breathing?  Let everything that has breath praise the Lord.  If you’ve got breath, praise the Lord!


That word, “let,” is a funny little word.  Sometimes we use it like we’re giving permission for something, or allowing something.  “I’m gonna let you go swimming” or “I’m gonna let you go to your friends’ house.” 


But there’s another we use that word, “let,” not so much giving permission, but giving a command.  At my house, that sounds like Ashley telling me, “I’m gonna let you clean up the kitchen,” or “I’m gonna let you take out the trash.”  In reality, is she saying, “I allow you to do this,” or is she really saying, “I’m telling you to do this”?


In the same way, when the Psalmist says, “Let everything that has breath praise the Lord,” it’s not that we are being given permission to praise God, but being told, commanded, expected to praise God!  Do you have breath?  Yes, I do!  Good!  Then, as a person of faith, use that breath to praise God.


The problem is that many times we use our breath to do things other than praising God.  Ever used your breath to say things that were quite the opposite of glorifying God?  Ever found your breath filled with gossip rather than worship, or with giving grief to others rather than giving glory to God?


Today, the Scripture reminds us to use our breath, which is itself a gift from God, to glorify the God who gave us breath in the first place.


But, how should we praise God?  The Psalm says to praise God with all the instruments available at our disposal – with the blast of the ram’s horn – maybe that’s a trumpet.  Praise God with the lute and lyre – a guitar and a harp, perhaps?  Praise God with drum and dance – just don’t tell our Baptist friends that we’re dancing, I suppose!  Praise God with strings and pipe – sounds like an orchestra and an organ.  Praise God with loud clashing cymbals – in other words, expect worship to be loud!  Use every instrument at your disposal to glorify God.


Too often, however, we approach worship with our personal tastes, preferences, and sensibilities higher on the list than glorifying God.  We pick the instrument on that list that matches our own preference, and we begin to praise it rather than seeing all of it as an appropriate vehicle to praise God.  Too often, we use our breath to praise the organ or praise the guitar.  Praise the choir, or praise the band.  Praise the early service, praise the late service.  Praise what I like, praise what suits me best, praise what I most prefer.  It’s too easy to fall into praising those things, instead of recognizing that we praise God through those things.


We come to worship, a time to focus solely on God, and our first words are about ourselves. I like, I prefer, I want.  Nothing wrong with having or expressing a preference, but the word of caution is that we can worship our personal preferences rather than worshiping God.


We sing "mi mi mi" to warm up our voices, but too often "me me me" becomes the theme in much of our worship. We come to worship as consumers, ready to absorb and receive and evaluate based on our personal fickle preferences.


It's not that worship shouldn't touch us or move us or speak to us in some way. Worship is very much a conversation - we offer praise to God and God offers something of his love and grace back to us. What God offers us may look a little different from week to week - encouragement, inspiration, comfort, challenge, instruction. What God says to us at any given time may well make us glad, or sad, or mad, but at the end of the day, worship must be focused more on God than on ourselves.  Worship is not about me, me, me.  It’s about God, God, God!  We are not the audience in worship. God is.


When we make worship primarily about ourselves, in terms of style and taste and preference, we miss both the opportunity to glorify God, and to hear God speaking to us in unexpected ways and places.  I’ve participated in worship in various places in a variety of styles that run the gamut, some of it very familiar, some of it brand new and strange.  I’ve attended worship in languages I didn’t understand, and worship conducted in English where I didn’t have a clue what they were talking about.  Some of it I liked more than others, but in every instance, when I was able to discern that a genuine offering of praise was being offered to God, well, then that was worship.  As long as God is at the center, regardless of the style, regardless of whether or not I “like” it, I’m pretty much good to go.


Those of us who lead in worship - pastors and musicians and choirs and any one else who contributes and leads in some way, we are not here to perform and entertain.  My hope is that you walk away, not thinking about what a good sermon or not-so-good sermon it was, or what a good preacher or not-so-good preacher I am.  My hope is that you walk away having seen more of God than you have seen of me.  Likewise, if the choir or our musician plays a piece and you glory in how great they are rather than in how great God is, then it may have been a wonderful performance, but as an act of worship, it has failed.


I say that even with my friends in the quartet sitting right here. They are talented. They are gifted. They got up early this morning, drove up from Charlotte, are singing two services today, and then driving back to Charlotte this afternoon.  But, they didn't drive up here to perform for us, they are offering their gifts to God as an act of worship. They aren't performing for us, they are leading us in worship in their own unique God-given way. If we walk away today praising them, while stopping short of praising the God who gave them their gifts, then everything they've done today will have been for nothing.


Whether you are up front or sitting in the seats, don't come to worship for yourself. Come for God.  Don't come to worship as a consumer. Don't come as a spectator, don't come as a passive recipient, don't come with your list of likes and dislikes and preferences.


We don't come to evaluate; we come to participate. Say that with me. We don't come to evaluate; we come to participate. Let everything that has breath praise the Lord. Come to use whatever breath you've got to praise God. It doesn't matter whether you've got a great big and flashy breath like some of the people in our choir, or a little off-beat can't carry a tune in a bucket breath - whatever breath you've got, use it to give glory and honor and praise to God.


The Westminster Catechism says “the chief end of [human]kind is to glorify God and enjoy [God] forever.”  When we give ourselves to the worship of God, using all our life and breath in praising the one who gave us breath, we fulfill the chief and most basic purpose with which we were made.  Some have described the human heart as having a God-shaped hole within it – when we worship as Psalm 150 invites us to do, we fill the hole with God.


When Jesus was asked about the Greatest Commandment, he summarized it as “loving God and loving our neighbor.”  Those two go together.  They are inseparable.  But how he told us to love God is so important – he said to love the Lord our God with all our heart and all our soul and all our mind.  All our life, all our breath – not part of our breath, not dividing our breath, giving glory with this breath and grief with the next, dividing our breath between worship and gossip – no, let everything that has breath use all of their breath to praise the Lord.


We’re invited into a lifestyle of constant worship, and if we’ve used all our breath to glorify God, then there won’t be any left over for less-than-godly pursuits.  If we love and glorify God with everything we have, then that love spills over into everything else.  When our faculties are dedicated solely to God, they cannot be co-opted for anything less.  Praise the Lord!


If you come to worship as a critic, you can always find something to criticize.  If you come to worship as a consumer, you can always find something that met your needs and something that didn’t.  Worship can be very much like standing next to the Grand Canyon.  One person can be standing there saying, “Wow,” and another person may be asking, “What’s the big deal?” or “How much longer ‘til we’re outta here?”  Beauty is very much in the eye of the beholder, and what we put in will have a tremendous impact on what we get out.


So, don’t come to complain; come to contribute!  Don't come to give grief; come to give glory!  Don’t come to gossip, come to worship!  We don’t come to evaluate.  We come to participate.  Come to join your breath with others in giving glory to God.


Friends, as we give glory to God, God gives grace to us.  And that grace changes us.  Makes us better disciples.  More like Jesus.  More transformed into the image and likeness of the God who first placed breath within us.


That’s enough to make each one of us say, “Wow.”  Wow, God.  Wow, God, for who you are, and Wow, God, for what you’re still doing in me.  Wow.


Don't come to evaluate. Come to participate. Come to give glory to God.  Let’s all resist the temptation to make worship about, “me, me, me,” and let it be about “God, God, God.”


Let everything that has breath praise the Lord.  Praise the Lord!