It’s Not About You *

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This recording is intended for distribution to members and friends of the Kirk of Kildaire, Presbyterian Church family.  While effort is made to give credit for work done by others, the notes may use material for which appropriate credit is not given.

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1 Corinthians 10:23-31

“It’s not about you. The purpose of your life is far greater than your own personal fulfillment, your peace of mind, or even your happiness. It’s far greater than your family, your career, or even your wildest dreams and ambitions. If you want to know why you were placed on this planet, you must begin with God. You were born by his purpose and for his purpose.”

With that simple paragraph, Rick Warren wrote a bestseller, The Purpose Driven Life, that caught on like wildfire inside and outside the Christian community.  Congregations began 40 days of purpose programs as a means to transform their congregations. Stories were told about it transforming people… Remember Ashley Smith, a hostage, who calmed a Killer to be- Brian Nichols… by reading a passage from the book?

In the book Rick Warren tells people that we begin with the wrong starting point when we are looking for the purpose of our life. We ask self centered questions like, “what do I want to be? And what should I do with my life? What are my goals, my ambitions, my dreams for my future? But focusing on ourselves will never reveal our life’s purpose…Contrary to what many popular books, movies and seminars tell you, you won’t discover your life’s meaning by looking within yourself…” He says, “You were made by God and for God-and until you understand that, life will never make sense.”

Do you know what puzzled me most about the popularity of the book?

I read those opening paragraphs and knew I had heard this before. A fellow wrote pretty much the same thing about 500 years ago. His name was John Calvin. Ever heard of him? With all due respect for Rick Warren, he just took John Calvin and re-packaged his premise: that it is not all about us. It is about God… Calvin said the same thing in his great book that was a best seller in his time-sold in many different languages across Europe. The book was called “Institutes of the Christian Religion.

It was his explanation of what life, faith and the church was all about. It is a book still read by serious Christians today as a guide to life. I wish I could be around 500 years from now to see if The Purpose Driven Life is still around.

In the Institutes Calvin said something that sounds a lot like Rick Warren:[ I put it on the cover of the bulletin]
“We are not our own: let not our reason nor our will, therefore sway our plans and deeds. We are not our own; let us therefore not set it as our goal to seek what is expedient according to the flesh. We are not our own; in so far as we can, let us therefore forget ourselves and all that is ours. Conversely, we are God’s: let us therefore live for God and die for God…”

We were made to live for God… according to Calvin. More specifically… we were made to live for the glory of God. For Calvin… the purpose of life … the reason we were born…indeed the very reason the earth was created was very simple: to give the glory, the honor, the splendor due to God.

I love the way Marty Haugen put it in a contemporary song:
All you works of God,
Every mountain, star and tree,
Bless the One who shapes your beauty,
Who has caused you all to be
Ond great song of love and grace,
Ever ancient, ever new.
Raise your voices, all you works of God.
Sun and moon:
Bless your Maker!
Stars of heaven: Chant your praise!
Showers and dew: Raise up your joyful song!
[Other verses:]
Winds of God / Cold and winter / Snow storms and ice
Night and day / Light and darkness / Lightnings and clouds
All the earth / Hills and mountains / Green things that grow

Rick Warren, John Calvin and Marty Haugen- didn’t make this up of course.  It comes right out of the scriptures. Do a little search on the word glory in the Bible and it comes up about 320 times… almost all of which refer to the creation and to human beings and to God’s people being designed in some way to give praise and Glory to God and no other…

There are also reports of our failures to do so… like the time when Israel made the golden calf, the scripture says that we exchanged the glory of God for an ox that eats grass. Now there is an insulting dig at us! Romans says, in the end, all have fallen short of the glory of God. Which may be a way of saying, all of us… every one of us have failed to live up to our purpose or our calling.

Paul made it clear that everything we do-how we treat each other… how we live together… how we conduct ourselves… how we make ethical decisions… everything for the glory of God.

In the example I chose from Paul’s letter to Christians at Corinth… who were a fighting and arguing bunch of Christians… arguing over what is legal and what is not legal to do as a Christian…who is right and wrong… all the time…When Paul is trying to settle one of their conflicts tearing apart the church: about whether it is right or wrong to eat meat offered to idols… When Paul wants to give them guidance– he lays down a very simple principle:
“So whatever you eat or drink, or whatever you do (whatever you do) do everything for the glory of God”

That was the principle and theme that guided the life of John Calvin and guided those who listened to him ever since. Do everything for God’s glory. There is nothing more important. That’s your purpose!

Eric Liddle understood this. Many of you will remember the movie that made his story popular: Chariots of Fire. In the movie we follow the story of two runners: one a Jewish Englishman named Harold Abrams and the other Eric Liddle, a Scottish Presbyterian who were stars at the 1924 Olympics in Paris. Harold Abrams wanted to be accepted for who he was, in the midst of an elitist class system; he was treated as an outsider. His purpose in life was to win a gold medal because it would open the doors of opportunity and approval that he was desperately searching for in his life. Eric Liddle was different. He was the son of Christian missionaries and he ran for a different reason which became clear as his story in the movie was told. The very year he was called to go to the mission field to help his parents, he was invited to run in the Olympics. In his sister Jenny’s mind, there was no decision. Of course he would answer God’s call to serve as a missionary. After all, which is more important, to run a race for one’s own glory or to serve the glory of God? This decision was very complex for Eric as he tried to live out his faith with integrity. The intensity of his desire was revealed when he refused to run in a race that was his best event-because the heat was on the Sabbath-a Sunday. He would not run on the day set apart for worshipping God. Even the pleas from the Royal family went on deaf ears. I’m sure he sacrificed a sure win in the Olympic games. So, the decision to run in the Olympics at all was very hard. But as he sorted it out and as he tried to explain to Jenny the importance of this opportunity, he said, “Jenn
y, Jenny, God made me fast and when I run I feel God’s pleasure” And run he did, in his own uncanny way-arms flailing, head back, mouth open, hair blowing in the wind. He ran as a wild animal runs-unself-consciously, wholeheartedly, holding nothing back.  He ran… not to glorify himself… not to seek honors for himself… he ran, because he believed given his gifts and opportunities-God was glorified when he did so.

Which leads to an interesting question for us: What are you running for? Or, Who are you running for? And how does running to glorify God affect how you run your race? What does the glory of God look like in the way you live your life? As you conduct your business, or teach in your class room, play your sports, dance your dances… or struggle with difficult ethical decisions, or as you deal with your friends or family or partner? In the trenches of your life… what does it mean to glorify God? We may get some hints from the lives of those in the Bible. For example: when Jesus is talking to the crowds in the Sermon on the Mount about how to live their lives, Jesus says, “to let the light of your good works shine so that God may be glorified.”  Be bold in doing good. That will glorify God.

Paul would say in Romans, when you are dealing with those who are weaker or newer in the faith… maybe less mature… be patient… encourage one another… seek to live in peace with one another… no matter what your differences… why? “so that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ”.

So when you deal with one another in the church…or in the world for that matter… in the way we talk to each other… ask yourself a simple question: is the way I spoke, emailed or facebooked someone… is that giving glory and honor to God?  If so, give God the praise. If not, feel free to confess to a loving God and try again.

Whether you gave glory to God or not is the question to be asked when you wonder if you are fulfilling your purpose.

How people interpret that can change from time to time. In Paul’s day, it was long hair and their version of personal makeovers that he discouraged. He thought that too much focus on personal appearance may detract and distract us in worshipping God. It might lead to idolatry.

Reformers had organs and stained glass windows removed from churches because they knew that these were very powerful. Art is a very powerful medium. Sometimes the artist wishes to be glorified… sometimes the music is so powerful we praise the performers instead of God who is being worshipped. They must have seen that. Their answer: remove anything that gets in the way of God. Perhaps extreme, but I sort of understand. When idolatry creeps in, sometimes extreme reactions and measures are taken. I’m glad we’ve moved back to a middle ground where when properly performed, our music, our art and even our lives can bring God great pleasure and glory. Which is the main point according to Calvin.

The difference between glorifying self and God can be very hard to define. But I know it when I see it. And I saw it a few years ago in the same worship service in Florida. On a trip to be with my text study group we decided that we would go to a church known for contemporary worship service. It was an interesting experience for me. The part that stood out for me was the young women doing the liturgical dancing. They performed in two parts of the service and they were graceful and beautiful. But I had two different experiences of the same dancers in the same service. In the first performance, they danced beautifully to the music and we, in the congregation loved it so much, we clapped for them. For them. They had done a great job. I could have been at the Performing Arts Center. Later… they brought the communion elements up to the table using liturgical dance… again gracefully and beautifully. But this time, no one clapped. In fact, we were more in awe as they lifted up the elements to God. And my heart and soul was moved not to praise them… but to praise God. I was not at the Performing Arts Center… I was at worship. It was a holy moment for me when they led me to an experience of God. When they became not the end, but the means by which God was glorified and praise.

Which Calvin would say is the thing to remember. It is not about us… it is about God. And when we remember that, we will have found our purpose and we will feel God’s pleasure. Amen