"Created for Praise Beyond Ourselves"
by Rev. Dr. Mark D. Roberts November 14, 2004
Preached at Irvine Presbyterian Church
Copyright © 2004 by Mark D. Roberts
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Scripture Reading: Ephesians 1:8b-12
8b With all wisdom and insight 9 [God] has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, 10 as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. 11 In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance, having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will, 12 so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory.
A Purpose for Living
Did you catch the recent headlines about Ezra Nicholas? The story ran a few weeks ago. It seems that Mr. Nicholas set a new world record, which, according to the official judges, will secure him a place in the Guinness Book of World Records. And what, you may wonder, did Mr. Nicholas accomplish? Did he hit a golf ball farther than any other person? No. Did he set the world record for most push ups in a minute? No. Nothing as trivial as this, let me assure you. Mr. Ezra Nicholas set the record - Are you ready? -- for the most hamburgers stuffed into a mouth without swallowing. No kidding. As onlookers shouted "Shove it in!, Shove it in!" 19-year-old Mr. Nicholas filled his mouth with three and one-fifth McDonald's burgers, surpassing the old record by that one-fifth.
After he passed the former record, Ezra Nicholas jumped up, pumped his fists in the air and shouted, "Yes! I am the Burger King!" Later, after he calmed down, he commented sagely: "I just thought to myself, 'I've got to do this, I've got to do this.' I'm on top of the world right now, because everyone's going to know that I can shove more than three burgers in my mouth!"
Imagine that! Imagine the response Mr. Nicholas will get as he strolls down any street in America. Men will bow. Young women will swoon. Mothers will thank Ezra for inspiring their children to greatness. More than three burgers in his mouth at one time! Who'd have believed it?
It's easy to laugh at Ezra Nicholas's accomplishment. After all, in the final analysis, just how important is it really to own the world's record for most burgers stuffed in your mouth at one time? It's a little hard to imagine that it was for this purpose that Mr. Nicholas was born. Guinness Book of Records or not, you've got to admit that his record verges on the ridiculous.
Yet before we laugh too scornfully at Ezra Nicholas, we might want to think twice about our own lives. Are we living for what really matters? Are we investing our time, our money, indeed our very lives in the things that matter most? Or are we squandering our lives by filling our mouths with burgers, so to speak?
The Progress Paradox
I've been reading a fascinating book recently. It's called The Progress Paradox: How Life Gets Better While People Feel Worse. The author, Gregg Easterbrook, is a senior editor at the New Republic. This is not a Christian book per se, though I don't know anything about Mr. Easterbrook's religious beliefs. He's writing as a social analyst and commentator, as one who is taking a new look at the cold, hard facts of life in America. And what Mr. Easterbrook has discovered is both striking and deeply unsettling.
In a nutshell, The Progress Paradox demonstrates beyond a shadow of a doubt that by virtually every objective measure, we live today the best world ever. We Americans have more money, more comforts, more security, more space, and more freedom than any people throughout human history. We have better education, better medical care, better homes, and better lives - objectively measured - than any people who have ever lived.
You may find this hard to believe, of course, because many people these days think that life is worse than it has been in the past. We believe, for example, that crime and pollution and the cost of living are skyrocketing. But, as Easterbrook shows in detail, in all of these categories we're much better off today than we were fifteen years ago. Even factoring in the fear of terrorism, we should feel better about our lives than any people who ever lived. But, in fact, we often feel worse.
Easterbrook goes on in The Progress Paradox to explain why this is the case and to suggest some remedies, but I don't have time to go into that here. My point, however, is use Easterbrook's analysis to pry the lid off of our hearts, and ask: Are we progressing in life, only to feel worse? Are we investing our lives in that which will bring the greatest return? Are we doing that for which we have been created and redeemed?
Why Am I Here?
Today we encounter some of life's most basic questions: Why am I here? Why do I exist on this earth? Am I just an accident of natural processes, or is there some greater purpose to my life? And if there is such a purpose, what is it?
This is not only one of life's most basic questions, but it is also a question that burns in the hearts of most people, including those of us who believe in Christ. How do I know this? Because of the astounding success of Rick Warren's fine book, The Purpose Driven Life. When I last checked, this book had sold over 19 million copies, making it the all-time bestselling hardcover non-fiction book in history. What can possibly explain this success, other than the simple fact that people are yearning to find their purpose in life, to live with greater meaning and significance. Each one of us wants to know why we are here.
Our Purpose according to Ephesians 1
Ephesians 1 provides God's answer to the question: Why do I exist? It explains your basic purpose for living in clear and surprising terms. Yet before I get to the reason for your existence, I want to back up a bit in Ephesians to set the scene.
Ephesians 1 begins with a mind-boggling revelation, namely that God chose you to belong to him before he created the universe (v. 4). Through Jesus Christ, God poured out his grace upon you, forgiving your sin and adopting you as his beloved child (vv.5-7).
But God's plan encompasses far more than your individual salvation. In the passage I read a few minutes ago, we learn that God has a plan "for the fullness of time." His plan is "to gather up all things in [Christ], things in heaven and things on earth" (v. 10). In other words, the time will come when God will set all creation right, ordering all things as he intended, with Jesus Christ as the rightful sovereign over the cosmos.
We also figure in God's cosmic plan. Let me read verses 11 and 12 once again:
In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance, having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will, so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory.
In context, Paul is speaking specifically about the early Jewish believers in Jesus as those who "first set their hope on Christ." But his description surely relates, in the end, to any of us who have put our hope in Christ, that is, to all Christians, including you and me. So what is our part in God's plan? It's right there at the end: In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance . . . so that we . . . might live for the praise of his glory. So we might live for the praise of his glory. There you have it in a nutshell. Your chief purpose in life: To live for the praise of God's glory.
Over three centuries ago our theological forefathers crafted the Westminster Shorter Catechism. The first question of this teaching tool, as many of you know, is this: "What is the chief end of man?" Answer: "Man's chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever." This is another way of saying that our purpose in life is to live for the praise of God's glory.
The Greek text of Ephesians 1:12 does not use the typical verb for "to live one's life" ("to walk" in Greek) in the phrase "so that we might live for the praise of his glory." Rather, the original language literally says that God has redeemed us so that we might be to the praise of his glory. Thus we have an unmistakable answer the question: Why do I exist? Answer: You exist for the praise of God's glory.
Claiming Your Life's Purpose
I know that for many of us here today this idea is not a new one. You've read it in The Purpose Driven Life. Or you've heard it preached by Ben Patterson, our founding pastor. Or at one time you memorized the first question of the Westminster Shorter Catechism. But I also know that some of you have never really thought this way about your life before. This may be the first time ever that you have been able to say, "I exist for the praise of God's glory." I know I run the risk of seeming contrived here, but I'd like all of us actually to say this together. If you feel comfortable doing so, will you repeat after me? "I exist for the praise of God's glory." "I exist for the praise of God's glory." Let's try that one more time, "I exist for the praise of God's glory." Now I'll ask the question and you answer: "Why do you exist?" "I exist for the praise of God's glory." Now there's truth that will change your life!
I know you may not fully believe this yet. Perhaps you've always seen your life in terms of fulfilling your duties: going to church, raising your kids, making a decent living, being a good citizen. Or maybe you've envisioned your life more as a matter of indulging your desires: having lots of cool stuff, enjoying all sorts of physical pleasures, filling your life with excitement, demonstrating to others just how successful you are. For most of us, the reality lies somewhere in between these extremes. But today I'm telling you something that transcends whatever personal goals you might have adopted. I giving you God's purpose for your life, and that purpose, simply put, is to glorify him.
I'm aware that this can sound odd at first. After all, if one of us had a life's goal of glorifying ourselves, we'd be rightly criticized as being egoistical and narcissistic. This criticism would be on target because you and I are not worthy of ultimate glory. But God is. God deserves to be glorified without limit because his glory is without limit. We're reminded of this fact in Revelation 5, for example, when every creature in the whole universe sings, "To the one seated on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!" (v. 13). Did you catch that? God is so worthy of praise that he deserves the praise of every being in the whole Universe, and this praise should go on forever and ever without end.
So God is not being selfishly narcissistic here by establishing our primary purpose as glorifying him. God is merely expecting to receive what he is due. Furthermore, and this is key, when we live for the praise of God's glory, we also experience life in all of its fullness. The Westminster theologians rightly noted that glorifying God and enjoying him go hand in hand. When we actually live for the praise of God's glory, we find our true reason of being. We are fulfilling our deepest purpose in life, and we are doing it with joy.
How Can We Live for the Praise of God's Glory?
I realize that "living for the praise of God's glory" can sound pretty churchy. If you were to envision what it would look like to live for the praise of God's glory, you might picture yourself in some sort of fantastic worship service. There you'd be worshipping with all of your heart, soul, mind, and strength, singing God's praises without reservation.
This vision of living for the praise of God's glory is partly right. But it's far too limiting. You see, we are to live for the praise of God's glory, not only in official acts of corporate and private worship, but also in every action of our lives. You can live for the praise of God's glory when you belt out a song in church, and when you do your job tomorrow. You can live for the praise of God's glory when you give an offering in church or when you do your homework or parent your children or coach soccer or teach Sunday School drive on the 405 or . . . .
Perhaps a paraphrase of Ephesians 1:12 will help you get the point: Live each moment so that God gets the glory. Live each moment so that God will be praised. No matter what you do, do it to the glory of God.
Pledging and Giving for God's Glory
In a few minutes we're going to make our pledges to the Building Fund portion of Beyond Ourselves. What is this about? Is it about helping to pay off our Administration and Youth Center so we can move forward with our Master Plan? You bet. Is it about sharing some of what God has given to us with our mission partners? Absolutely. Is it about investing our money in God's vision for our church? Yes indeed. But, even more than this, our pledging is fundamentally about living for the praise of God's glory. When you write a number on a card and bring it to the front, God is glorified. When you seek the Lord and sacrifice in obedience to him, he is glorified. When you decide to have less for yourself so that God gets more for the work of his kingdom, God is glorified.
In the last few weeks several of you have asked me how you should go about deciding how much to pledge to the ministry and building funds. It's been tempting for me to say, simply, "Pledge a lot!" But I've resisted this urge. Rather, I've encouraged you to seek God openly, to pray, to devote your heart to him. And, may I add, in whatever you pledge, seek to glorify God. The glory comes, not so much in the amount you pledge, because this has largely to do with how much money you have. If God has given you abundant financial resources, then you'll glorify God as you make larger financial gifts. If God has given you relatively little, than you'll glorify God by being generous with smaller gifts. God is glorified in your devotion to him, in your obedience, in your sacrifice, in your willingness to put more trust in him than in Mammon. God is glorified when you say, in so many words, "Less for me and more for you, Lord!"
And then, as the money you give does its work in this church and in the ministries of our mission partners, God is glorified. When we provide an outstanding working environment for our staff, God is glorified. When we are better able to welcome visitors to our church, God is glorified. When we build buildings that communicate positively with our neighbors, God is glorified. When we double our space for youth ministry so we can have tons more kids involved, God is glorified. When we are able to move ahead in our Master Plan and build new tools for ministry, God is glorified. When we help build churches and schools in Africa, and orphanages in China, and kids' dorms in Mexico, God is glorified.
Our Purpose Together as a Church
Existence for God's glory explains, not only our individual existence as Christians, but also our corporate existence as a church. Why are we here together? We're here for the praise of God's glory. We're here so that God may be praised. We're here so that people all around us will glorify God, both by their words and by giving their lives to him through Christ.
Now of course we have all sorts of other goals as a church: to worship God in spirit and truth, to build up one another in love, to reach our neighbors with the good news of Jesus, to share in God's mission throughout the world, to help children to grow as disciples of Jesus, etc. etc. etc. All of these are great and worthy goals, indeed. But we'll be able to accomplish these goals best when we continually seek, above all, to live for the praise of God's glory.
Consider, for example, the basic rationale for our worship services, and especially for the development of the new third service on Sunday mornings. Why are we starting a new service? One great answer would be: So that people in our community who don't know Christ and who don't relate to our existing worship style might come to faith and experience salvation. Savings souls - now that's a great reason to have a worship service. Another great answer would be: We're starting a new service so that more of the young people of this church will worship God regularly as a part of his body. Helping the next generations learn to worship - there's another fine reason for a worship service.
But, more profoundly, we are starting a new service, not only because of the benefits for the people who will worship there, but mainly because God deserves to be glorified by these people. Our most fundamental purpose in any worship service - just as in every other part of life - should be to bring praise and glory to God. If we remember this, then everything else will fall into its rightful place.
"It's All for Your Glory"
I want to close with a story that will be familiar to many of you this morning. So please indulge me a bit of repetition.
This story comes from my experience of being called as pastor of this church in March 1991. If you're not familiar with how Presbyterians do things, let me explain that when a church calls a new pastor, first it forms a search committee to find the best candidate for the job. After months and sometimes years of effort, the committee presents a candidate to the congregation, which then votes either to call or not to call the candidate. In most cases, the pastor to be voted upon preaches in worship on a Sunday morning, after which there is a congregational meeting for the vote.
On March 17, 1991, I preached my "candidating sermon" in both Sunday worship services and then the congregation voted on whether or not to call me. Even if you're brand new to IPC, you can guess the result of that vote. The event I want to share with you took place, not on that Sunday, but on the night before.
At about 9:oo on Saturday evening Linda and I had settled into our motel room over at the La Quinta Inn on Sand Canyon. We were staying in one of those rooms that had once been part of a bean silo. As you can well imagine, I was feeling nervous and excited and a bit overwhelmed. Sleep seemed a long, long way away. So I left Linda in the room and drove over to this church. Nothing was going on that night. All the buildings were dark and quiet. (Of course there was no sanctuary back then.) I began walking around the church property, praying as I walked.
At first I prayed for God's peace for my restless soul, for help the next day as I preached, and for his guidance on the congregational vote. I was pretty sure the congregation would vote to call me, but I was afraid that there would be many "no" votes. How could a congregation that had had Ben Patterson as it's founding pastor settle for somebody like me? (I'm not joking about this. This is how I felt.) So I talked to the Lord about my fears. The more I prayed, the more I felt my thoughts and feelings begin to change. Rather than praying for any particular result, I found myself submitting myself and the whole process to God. Rather than seeking my will, I began to seek and truly to desire his will. Rather than asking that I get a strong vote, I began to ask that God would be glorified in everything that transpired, whatever the result.
This prayer stuck in my heart. "Let it be for your glory, Lord," I prayed. "May you be glorified in me tomorrow! May you be glorified in this church tomorrow! May it be, not about me, but all about you! It's all for your glory, Lord!"
At that moment my concern about Sunday morning dropped away, and I began to pray for this church. "If I become pastor here, Lord, may you be glorified all the more in this church. Whatever we do in the future, may you receive all the glory. No matter how long I am here, gracious God, may the fruit of my ministry be your glory. As we reach out to this community, may you get the glory! If we are able to build a sanctuary someday, let all the glory go to you!" And so I prayed as I walked around this property. After a half-hour or so of walking and praying, I can truly say that what I wanted at that moment, more than anything else, was for God to be glorified.
Today I stand before you, thirteen years, seven months, and 29 days later. And, once again, I feel like we're on the verge of a new adventure together as a church. And, once again, I feel both excited and nervous and sometimes overwhelmed. And, once again, I am asking God to bless this church and guide us. This time, of course, I'm praying specifically, not about your vote, but about your financial commitments to Beyond Ourselves.
My friends, we have a great work ahead of us. Building out this church campus will take lots of money, lots of time, lots of hard work, and lots of prayer. This sort of thing doesn't come easily in our impatient, instant-gratification culture. If we focus on how much we have yet to do and how much it will cost and how long it will take, we can easily become overwhelmed and discouraged. But if we focus on glorifying God in all things, then we can do everything we have been created to do right now. We don't have to wait one moment. Moreover, if we remember that the ministry of this church and the buildings that support it are for God's glory, then we can trust to him the timing of our future building.
More importantly, our greatest work is not building tools for ministry, but being a "beyond ourselves" church for the Lord:
• Through the Holy Spirit, we have been filled with a power beyond ourselves.
• We have been sent to a people beyond ourselves, so that they might come to know Christ through us.
• We have been graced by provision beyond ourselves, so that we might contribute generously to God's work.
• We are inspired by possibilities beyond ourselves, knowing that God is able to do abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine.
• And, as we have seen today, we have been created for praise beyond ourselves. We are to live for the praise of God's glory. That's the point.
4,986 days ago as I walked around this church campus, I wanted God to be glorified most of all. Today, as we face extraordinary challenges and opportunities, I can say the same thing. More than anything else, I want God to be glorified in my life, in your life, and in our life together as Irvine Presbyterian Church.
My prayer for each one of you, my sisters and brothers, is that you'll discover your true purpose in life. I pray that you'll come to know as surely as anything that you exist for the praise of God's glory. That's why you're here on earth. That's why God has chosen you to belong to him. You have no higher or truer calling than to glorify the Lord.
I pray that this truth will capture your heart. I pray it will motivate your behavior. I pray it will transform your life. I pray that it will enrich every moment, leading you away from empty living, and guiding to the fullness of real life in Christ.
So when someone asks you "What's your purpose in life?" Or when you wonder yourself, "Why do I exist?" Here is the answer: "I exist for the praise of God's glory. I exist for the praise of God's glory."
Let's end this sermon by confessing the truth out loud together.
Why do you exist?
"I exist for the praise of God's glory."
Why do you exist?
"I exist for the praise of God's glory."
And, people of Irvine Presbyterian Church, why do we exist?
"We exist for the praise of God's glory."
Dear friends in Christ, why do we exist?
"We exist for the praise of God's glory."
Amen, and amen!