As Chiseled moved into its second week, the message featured …
- A bit of personal trivia involving the words “theocentric” and “anthrocentric”;
- The results of a Facebook survey asking the question ‘how has God made your life better?’ (if he has at all);
- A corporate reading of Psalm 145:1-8 before the message began;
- Pictures of Riley at 4 and then again at 24;
- This as the bottom line: God makes your life better so you will make his name greater.
STAND & READ PSALM 145:1-8 FIRST
Would you like to know a little bit of trivia? Bout me? That psalm we just read part of – Psalm 145 – was the Scripture for my very first sermon EVER in full-time ministry at Mt. Carmel Church in July of 1990. Just before I graduated seminary in KY & moved down there to start, I asked a prof what he’d recommend I preach for my first sermon. He said, “make sure to make it THEOCENTRIC rather than ANTHROCENTRIC.” Huh? Oh! That’s a fancy, sort of pretentious way of saying, “making it more about God than ppl.” So I did! I have no real memory of the content, it was certainly NOT part of a series, 76 ppl came, and I do know I said something about Big Tex (AV) & the Texas State Fair. So there’s that.
But all these years later, I look at Psalm 145 with fresh eyes – READ 145:1-2 –
I will exalt you, my God the King;
I will praise your name for ever and ever.
2 Every day I will praise you
and extol your name for ever and ever.
and I am startled by how abrupt it is. There’s no warm up, no easing into it, no 0-60, it starts at 60. It immediately goes all God-honoring on us. And can we admit something about this? No one talks this way except in church. Well, maybe some people talk this way in every day conversation, but usually you know enough to minimize contact with them. No, this is church-speak. Or really church sing, because these are the kind of phrases that are easier to sing than they are to say. So, we look at Ps 145 & there’s my professor’s pretension, there’s my first sermon (kinda lame) & now 27 years later the Psalm itself is hard to decipher.
Except one thing is pretty clear from his hyper speed Psalm – the poet is convinced that God has been good to him. God has made his life better than it would have been without God. Exactly what is the source of this confidence, we don’t know, we just see the clear evidence of it. I mean look at 145:5, 6, & 7:
They speak of the glorious splendor of your majesty—
and I will meditate on your wonderful works.[b]
6 They tell of the power of your awesome works—
and I will proclaim your great deeds.
7 They celebrate your abundant goodness
and joyfully sing of your righteousness.
You can tell that he has had a personal, living experience of this large, universal reality. God has moved his life from ENDURE IT to ENJOY IT, from tolerable to tasty, from satisfactory to savory.
And I don’t know, that may just be true for you. I did a very informal online survey called “how has God made your life better?” and here is a sampling of what you all wrote:
I realize “I’m only sober by the grace of God, and any success I may be having is far more His success than it is mine.” He keeps me right-sized.
Gonna sound generic, but having a Messianic Jewish background, he gave me the opportunity to be grafted into the vine. I was illegitimate, not born a Jew in the proper sense, and not a part of the family of God. He made a way for me to be a rightful son.
He helped me not see myself as the broken and damaged image that I previously saw by giving me courage to share my past with others, along with the message that by Him alone are we healed of our past everything. My life now no longer has an ending, only a new beginning
He healed me of cancer – twice!
God has made my life better by making it tougher. No longer am I able to tolerate the status quo. Living improperly now causes me misery and causes me to seek change.
In a world that isn’t always fair, steady or beautiful, He gives me justice, a firm foundation and the beauty of His word and His love.
How HASN’T He made my life better? A few years after I accepted Christ, I tried walking away from Him and doing it all on my own. There’s something to be said for the Holy Spirit’s tenacity because I made one dumb choice after another during that time and He still kept calling me back. ALL of my life is better with God. Every last bit of it.
Lord, to all that I’d add that he made mine better with this assurance of eternity that made my time in history make sense. There’s purpose, identity, and community. Life made better. Now: I know that some of you may not be able to name anything, some don’t believe in him yet, and others DO believe but you harbor a suspicion that he has actually made your life worse. And a few you contend that he has made your life HARDER but given you perspective and resources that make it better than it would be without. You could say that he has chiseled away a lot of pain or sadness or fear or even self-destruction & revealed beauty.
But have you ever wondered WHY? Why does God EVER make your life better? Why would he chisel away trauma and depression and failure and replace it with at least a measure of joy and contentment and favor? Was it so that you could look at your newly sculpted spiritual reflection in the mirror? Uh, no. But when you ask that question – what is the purpose behind God making my life better? – all of a sudden the light speed with which Psalm 145 begins comes into focus & makes more sense. Especially that word EXTOL in 145:2 (come on, NOBODY uses that word except in church, and even there only rarely!). Do you know what it literally means? To magnify. To make LARGER. But not like a microscope, which takes something tiny & makes it visible. Instead, it’s like a telescope, which takes something massively large (like a galaxy) and makes it more vivid.
You put that understanding of the one word “extol” together with the pile on of these other words like EXALT, KING PRAISE GREAT FATHOM and the purpose behind God’s making life better intervention quickly becomes very clear. Here it is: He makes your life better so you will make his name greater. That’s it. Your life improves so his cause advances. He upgrades your situation so you will uphold his reputation. A blessing you receive becomes a story you share. God is so over cul de sac Xns, HOARDER Xns who take blessing and nurse them and hold them and treasure them but never share them. He makes your life better so you will make his name greater.
It’s a bit like the pastor Michigan who stopped in to get a hair cut one day. Turns out the person cutting his hair was an nice you woman who happened to be Muslim. The man shared that he was on his way to do a funeral and the young woman said that he had been offered $150 one time to cut the hair of a person who had died to prepare them for a funeral, but she wouldn’t do it. “Why not?” the pastor asked. “Oh, I couldn’t touch anyone who had died,” she answered. “I’m afraid they’ll sit up.” To which the pastor answered, “I know one who did.” And then told the Jesus story. That’s what it’s like. He makes your life better so you will make his name greater.
Or maybe it’s like that man from this church who I talked to on the phone after he’d had two consecutive surgeries in four months. We actually talked ON THE DAY I WAS JOTTING PREP NOTES FOR THIS MESSAGE. Unprompted, he told me, “I think the Lord is using these surgeries so I can share his word in all kinds of new ways. It’s now easier to say to people ‘let me tell you what God is doing for me.’” Wow. I’d be moaning about my bad luck in having consecutive surgeries; he is spreading the word. He makes your life better so you will make his name greater.
Let me ask you: who are you telling? You DO notice how often Psalm 145 uses words like “tell” and “declare” don’t you? Who knows more about Jesus and his goodness because of you? Who is more aware of God’s love due to your influence. Now: this is not a license to obnoxiousness. Not an invite to holier-than-thou-ness. This is an invitation to grace-fulness. To the simple yet profound realization that every good gift you’ve ever received was given to you so you could share that source of that gift. Every. One. It’s why I continue to love hearing about that man who was in recovery from his alcoholism and was speaking with another fellow pilgrim on the AA journey. They were talking about the story in John where Jesus turns water into wine. The friend asks, “Do you believe he really did that?” “I don’t know,” came the answer, “I just know that in my house he turned beer into furniture.” Hey – and in your house he turned marijuana into kitchenware. He turned depression into a bookcase. He turned thoughts of suicide into a new garden full of hope & new life. Who are you telling? He makes your life better so you will make his name greater.
There are roughly 2000 of you here each week and I know that a lot of you know from personal experience that he has made your life better. It just wasn’t til today that you knew WHY. He is chiseling away apathy and revealing influence. He makes your life better so you will make his name greater.
But wait wait wait wait. I don’t want you to overlook what is probably the most significant verse in the hyper-speed opening of Psalm 145. Look at 145:4: One generation commends your works to another; they tell of your mighty acts. Oh I love it! Praise is the language that bridges the generation gap. Making God’s name great is cross generational speech! And so I have to talk to two groups of people right now. First: moms, dads, single parents, adoptive parents, grandparents. Dads especially. Your #1 privilege AND responsibility in life as a parent is to introduce them to Jesus and invite them to give Jesus their lives. #1. And get this: it doesn’t happen so much with a designated “let’s sit down and talk BIBLE!” time together as it does in the warp & woof, the nooks & crannies of every day life. It’s why we’ve said before here that faith in kids gets formed in the details, not at Disney.
But then another group I want to speak to are those among you who are being called to be an additional voice to mom & dad / mom or dad. The spiritual supplement. Because even the most committed households need one more voice in this journey. You know who this is? (AV, Riley at 4) That’s our now 24 year old son Riley when he was four. And our church then had a children’s ministry called Pioneers Club that in his 4th grade mind he pronounced Piney-Ear Club. It was recreation, refreshments, and bible story on Wednesday nights. And his favorite teacher was a woman named Paula Stevens who was and is a part-time artist as well as a grocery story worker. IOW, a normal person. Why do I tell you about Piney-Ear Club & Paula Stevens & Riley? Because he is now in ministry at the Univ of Tennessee & it is in large part due to ppl like Paula Stevens who made God’s name great in his little life.
I think we have some Paulas here. Or Pauls. People who know from experience that God has been good to you and have not only HIS story to tell but yours as well. People who all this time thought you were coming to church to fill up a seat when actually you’ve been called to spring up from that seat into ministry with and for the next generation. Coming alongside parents, being one extra voice, one extra model, one extra soul at inviting the generations into a living relationship with Jesus Christ.