Sunday, September 15, 2013

Running on Empty? Using the Right Fuel (James 1:19-25)

19 Know this, my dear brothers and sisters: everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to grow angry.20 This is because an angry person doesn’t produce God’s righteousness. 21 Therefore, with humility, set aside all moral filth and the growth of wickedness, and welcome the word planted deep inside you—the very word that is able to save you.
22 You must be doers of the word and not only hearers who mislead themselves. 23 Those who hear but don’t do the word are like those who look at their faces in a mirror. 24 They look at themselves, walk away, and immediately forget what they were like. 25 But there are those who study the perfect law, the law of freedom, and continue to do it. They don’t listen and then forget, but they put it into practice in their lives. They will be blessed in whatever they do.

Something I do that drives my wife crazy is letting my gas gauge get very far down before I stop to fill up.  I don’t think the fuel light in her car has ever lit up because she’s never let her tank get that low.  I, on the other hand, don’t even think about filling up until the light goes on – I mean, the light is letting you know that you have a whole gallon left – that’s at least 25 miles, in my car!  Still, she says that it stresses her out knowing that I’m always running on empty.

At least some of the time, many of us feel like we’re running on empty.  Have you ever felt like you are running on empty – physically, emotionally, mentally, spiritually?  Running on empty is common to all of us – I don’t know anyone who hasn’t felt that way at least some in their lives.

Today we are beginning a new series of messages called Running on Empty, because God wants something better for us than a life of feeling empty.  Jesus said he came that we might have life, and have it to the full (John 10:10), and over the next several weeks, we’ll be looking at just how we can move from empty to full by availing ourselves of God’s grace any time we can.  Like gifts waiting to be unwrapped, God has given us several ways that we can fill up on grace, and each week we will better understand and experience one of these different means of grace.

So, if things feel empty in your life, what you learn and apply in this series will help you experience a fuller life as God intends.  If things are going well in your life right now, these messages will serve as encouragement to keep it up.  Over the next six weeks, we will experience God’s grace in new ways and find our lives fuller as a result.  May we pray.

If we’re going to move from an empty life to a full life, the first thing we need to do is take a look at what type of fuel we’re using.  Fuel is the source of our energy and even our identity – it’s what drives the whole process – and for our purposes, our “fuel” is worship.

My wife’s car takes premium fuel, which is probably something we should have researched before we bought it, but we didn’t.  It presents us with a quandary when we take a road trip – whose car are we going to take?  Hers uses more gas and the gas it takes is more expensive – but her car is the nicer, smoother, more powerful to drive and more comfortable to ride, so even though it costs us more, guess which one we usually take?  And I don’t mind telling you – the extra is totally worth it – it pays off in terms of the quality of the ride.  It’s not always true, but often, you get what you pay for.

What’s It Worth To You?
That’s true in worship, too – what you “get out” of worship is in direct proportion to what you put into it.  The term “worship” comes from the Old English “worth-ship,” and it literally means “to ascribe value (or worth) to something or someone.”

We may think of worship in terms of our prayers and songs and sermons that glorify God, but the definition of worship is actually a little different.  Did you know that everybody worships?  Everybody assigns value or worth to someone or something – even people who do not profess faith of any sort still worship.  If you want to know what you worship, take a look at your bank statement and your calendar.   In our society, time and money are our two most valuable commodities, so whatever has got the most of your time or your treasure, that’s what you worship, simple as that.

For the Hebrew people of the Old Testament, worship involved the sacrifice of an animal – in other words, giving something of value – to God.  These sacrifices were pure, spotless, healthy, unblemished – the first and the best as a way of saying, “God, you are worth the very best I have to offer.”

It is part of the reason we receive a monetary offering as part of our worship.  Let me bust a popular myth about the offering – we don’t receive it to support the church – yes, the church has bills to pay, it costs money to pay salaries and utilities and fund the ministries that happen through this church, and it’s true that the offering received does go to support all that, but that’s not the primary reason we receive an offering.  Do I have your attention now?

We receive an offering not because the church needs your money, but so you can express what God is worth to you.  In other words, we need an opportunity to be generous!  As people created in the image of God who is generous to us, our offering to God is to reflect the same generosity back toward God.  The offering is the place in our worship where we show God what God is worth to us.  What we give is not a financial issue, it’s a spiritual issue.  Spiritually mature people tend to be generous people.  Giving generously ascribes worth and value – worship – to God.

Again – we all worship.  God knit us together with the overwhelming need and desire to worship him; we find ourselves running on empty when we use the wrong fuel; we find ourselves running on empty when we worship something other than God.

The Real Thing
Worshiping something other than God leaves us empty because deep down, our spirit just won’t accept an imposter.  Our spirits crave authentic and life-changing worship of God, and worshiping something else just won’t give us what we need.  I remember in high school buying those “Designer Imposter” fragrances – cologne that doesn’t have the fancy label, but smells so much like the real thing, who can tell the difference?

Well, as it turns out, everyone can tell the difference, except, perhaps, the teenage boy who is bathed in the stuff.  Again, you often get what you pay for!  Despite what we tell ourselves, there is a huge difference between the genuine article and a fake, between fuel that feeds our soul and so-called fuel that leaves us stranded at the side of the road.  In terms of our worship, there’s a huge difference between the authentic worship of God that satisfies our soul, and the false worship of the things of the world that leaves us empty inside.  Coca-Cola was right – you can’t beat the real thing.

In today’s Scripture from the letter of James, we are given guidelines about sorting false worship from the real thing, from worship that serves only to deceive ourselves, and worship that truly brings glory and honor to God, fills us up with God’s presence, and equips us for service

The Service
Reverend Jenkins came across a young boy who was intently studying a large plaque in a hallway at the church.  “Reverend Jenkins,” he said, “What’s this?”  “This plaque lists the names of all the people from this church who died in the service.”  “Oh, I see,” said the boy.  The two stood there quietly for a moment, when the boy, with all sincerity, said, “Which one – 9 or 10:55?”

“Service” is one of the most mis-used words in the church.  At the end of each worship gathering I say, “Our service of worship has ended, now our worship through service begins.”  The letter of James makes a clear case when it tells us, “You must be doers of the word and not only hearers who mislead themselves” (James 1:22).  Worship sends us into the world to put our faith into action; authentic worship is less a matter of what happens in this room during one hour on Sunday and more a matter of what takes place during the other 167 hours in a week.

Our “service” is not what we do on Sunday morning.  We serve God not by going to church, but by being the church; God doesn’t want us to simply go to church, God calls us to be the church – the leaving, breathing, body of Christ who makes God’s love real beyond ourselves.  This hour of worship equips and empowers us to move beyond this hour of worship, beyond these walls, for we are called to be doers of the word and not only hearers.

Sunday morning is the time to celebrate God at work, to be changed by God through the very words we sing, the prayers we pray, and yes, even the offering we give.  Sunday morning, we give our full attention to God, hearing the word and then going to do the word, so that we do not, as verse 25 says, “listen and forget, but put it into practice in our lives, and we will be blessed in whatever we do.” 

Great Expectations
Some of it is having some level of expectation when you come.  I need to be very clear here: I expect to experience God’s presence in worship.  I expect to be filled with the Holy Spirit.  I count on worship leaving a mark on me, changing me, filling me with grace so amazing I’m not the same person when I walk out as I was when I walked in – and I not only expect that for me, I am counting on it for each and every single one of you.

Not every sermon or worship service is a home run – even I have weeks I know I bombed one and I just want to say, “I am so sorry, please come back next week and I promise it will be better,” and on those Sundays, you are free to say, “I didn’t get anything out of church today.”  But can I let you in on how this works?  For the most part, what you get out of church will be in direct proportion to what you put into it.  If you come looking for things to criticize, you’ll find no shortage.  If you are primarily concerned with the movement of the clock, don’t be surprised if you miss the movement of the Spirit.

For my part, I’m gonna listen to God through the week and hopefully have something worth coming to hear, but friends, you gotta do your part, too!  The more you come to worship with an open heart and mind, and a sense of expectation that you’re going to encounter God here, I promise you’ll experience God’s grace filling you up in ways you have never experienced before or even known were possible. Worshiping God changes us.  Authentic worship makes us doers of the word, and not just hearers; it doesn’t make us better than anyone else, but it does make us better than ourselves. 

To those who feel like they’re running on empty, the first thing I’d say is to use the right fuel.  Your spirit is designed to run on premium, and sure, you can put other stuff in it, but it just won’t run right.  St. Augustine said, “Because, thou, O God, has created us for thyself, our hearts are restless ‘til they rest in thee.”  Maybe you’ve heard this described that God has created us with a God-shaped hole in our hearts, and though we may try to fill it with all sorts of things, only God will truly fill it.

We are created with an overwhelming need and desire to worship God.  You are hard-wired to worship, so just make sure that the altar you’re bowing before belongs to God and not something else.  The human spirit knows the difference, and it won’t accept any substitutes, and authentic worship of the life-giving Lord fills us up in a way that nothing else can.

Friends, you and I were made to worship.  But what we worship will determine whether we find ourselves empty or full.  The first step toward a full life is to give glory and worth to God and God alone; that’s what you and I were created to do.

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