Welcome (Christmas Offering was over $3,500!! Thank You! AND FOOTBALL SUNDAY FEB 5TH!)
Look at this and then I want to share something about myself with you, that you might not know.
I want to start with confession today. It’s good for the soul. When I was growing up I had a very serious problem. I struggled with things like commitment and practice…AND I listened to these guys…
Anybody even know who that is?! That’s Stryper. They were a Christian heavy metal rock band and that was their signature look with the yellow and black. They had a song out in the late 80’s called “Honestly” that actually went platinum and made it onto the Billboard charts and for a brief time in 1987 it was the most requested music video on MTV. Well at the church I grew up at my Dad was the Pastor and we had special music from time to time in worship. I could sing okay, nothing amazing, but I had done some songs before and could hold my own depending on the song and the range. I’m about 16 or 17 and I know! I’ll do “Honestly” for special music in worship. Now, here’s a quick listen of “Honestly”…
((Stryper Honestly Video)) — Start clip at 1:43 and stop at 2:14
He’s playing drums without drumsticks. That’s how good they were! Tough song though right? It’s super high. I’d have to go Falsetto for some of it…and practice like crazy. And that was my problem. I didn’t practice. A few days before Dad was like, “We should probably take the mix tape over to church and practice your song so you’re ready.” I was like, “Nah. I got this. I don’t need to practice.” Well, Sunday came and I got up there on stage and…it was so terrible. And when I say terrible I mean like an out of tune, off key, falsetto song bird being run over by a tractor kind of terrible. So bad that afterwards one of my best friends came up to me and said, “That was great Matt, I mean it, really great!” (in falsetto).
If only I had practiced. It probably still would have been terrible! But the odds would have at least been better. So let me ask you this…How do you feel about practice? Were there ever any times that you didn't feel like practicing and you didn’t want to go through the process of that and you were like, “Why do I need to practice? What’s the point.” However you slice it and dice it; sometimes we struggle with “Practice” don’t we? And the practice of practicing. Whether its for ourselves or with a team. There’s this temptation to undervalue it. Especially when it comes to living out our faith and the practice of that.
Allen Iverson was a basketball player, a number of years back in the NBA, who went on a legendary and epic rant one day, and maybe at some point in your life you felt like Allen Iverson and I did towards practice…
((Allen Iverson video)) — Start clip at 1:30 and stop at 2:13
That video is legendary in the sports world right? He just keeps saying it. He’s really cranky about practice isn’t he? Yes Allen Iverson…practice is important! And we’re going to talk about it. It actually does matter. But, I think for many of us, especially when it comes to our faith and worship we share the same attitude…”We’re Talking About Practice?” Think about it…
Some of us want the glory of game time without going through practice. We want the peace that Jesus provides without the weekly practice and commitment of worship. We want the answers, we want the community, we want the discernment, we want the joy, we want the blessed assurance, we want the hope, we want God to come over to our house without going over to meet him in his house. And if we get really honest, sometimes we feel like, “We’re talking about practice?” Worship every week?! I just want game time.
So we want to spend the next few weeks talking about faith through the lens and practice of worship. Today I want to share with you the overarching narrative of the series and a Big Secret and Big Idea that can make a huge difference in your life. But I’m not going to share that secret until the end and everything we’ll talk about leads up to it. Here’s the key thought that we’ll highlight every week and keep coming back to. It’s sort of the force field around the whole series…
Corporate worship is the best practice for constant worship.
And that helps us live a life of intention with God. Now, there’s some context to understand and some assumptions about that statement.
—First, “Corporate worship” is simply a fancy word for when people gather together to focus their attention on Jesus. Because worship builds a community that is sent on a mission. And that’s something we do together. This is corporate worship.
—That statement also implies and points to the fact that the practice of weekly worship is important. it helps us grow in our faith and the ways of Jesus. It reminds us of who we are and whose we are.
—Third thing about corporate worship. It helps us live a life of CONSTANT worship. Because worship isn’t only a one hour a week event. It’s a lifestyle you could say. It’s an attitude. It’s a response. It’s a perspective. It’s a way of being and living in the world. It’s worship, that points to God, in everything we are and who we are. And that kind of worship happens every day and every moment.
And here’s where we’re headed in the series. Over the next few weeks we’ll talk about three things that we all have in our lives and that we are all engaged with.
Our Homes and Families
Our Work Life
Our Encounters with Everyday People and Strangers
Home. Work. Strangers. We want to help you discover constant worship through those things as we practice a life of intention with and for God. Today we’re setting the foundation for that.
So there’s this guy in the Bible, named Cain, who also sounded a lot like, “We’re talking about practice?” And in many ways he and his Brother’s story is about a life of worship and practice. It’s about what we bring to God and what God brings to us. It’s the story of Cain and Abel. Let’s walk through it…
So Cain was the first born. And then his little brother Abel came along. Cain was the farmer and Abel was the rancher. And what we’re going to see here is two contrasting attitudes of worship and the practice of faith.
“In the course of time Cain brought SOME of the fruits of the soil as an offering to The Lord. But Abel brought fat portions from some of the FIRSTBORN of his flock. The Lord looked with favor on Abel and his offering, but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor. So Cain was very angry and his face was downcast.” (Genesis 4:3-5)
You could say this is like the first worship service in the Bible. The worship was to offer a sacrifice to God who has already given life and blessed us. And Cain and Abel both came to worship with something right? But what did they come to practice with? It says Cain brought “SOME” of the fruits, while Abel brought from the “FIRSTBORN”. In the Hebrew that means Abel brought from the “Firstlings.” Why is that a big deal? Because Abel’s was Sacrifice. Cain’s was Satisfactory. Abel’s was the Extra Mile. Cain’s was Maybe a Quarter of a Mile. Abel’s was offered from All Out, All In, First things First Faith. Cain’s was Some Faith.
When you come to practice and worship, are you offering just “Some” of yourself or the “First” and best of yourself? Who’s showing up? SOME of you or ALL of you? When the “First” of you shows up you have undying anticipation and attentiveness to what God can and will do in your life. When “Some” of you shows up you’re distracted with what you think God isn’t doing in your life. And trust me…I totally get this trap from my own life and experience.
You see sometimes people have this reverse outlook on worship you could say. “So much is going on in my life right now. Worship just doesn’t fit into it. It just feels like one more thing. I’m walking through this disappointment or pain I can’t face God in worship.” Or this is a biggie I hear often…”I had a really bad week and it was super hard. Or I’ve messed up big time and God is probably the last person that wants to see me in worship.” And so sometimes people feel like they can’t practice in worship because life is too busy, or there’s too much pain, or they think they need to “be better” to impress God, but here’s the deal…
You don’t need to impress God, God needs to impress upon you.
No matter what’s going on in your life and even if your week’s been the worst week ever in the history of weeks. That’s exactly when God wants all of you. When “Some” of you shows up you’re still the victim. When the “First” of you shows up you’re the victor. Because you know there’s hope and there always be. That’s what God wants to impress upon you each and every week. So who’s showing up? Some of you or All of you and the firsts of you?
God was like, “What are you mad at me for?! You know the deal. You even agreed to it and wanted to be part of the team!!! And you know what happens when you don’t practice and bring all of yourself to practice…it’s like sin is crouching at your door just waiting to pounce on you!”
What kind of sin is crouching at your door because you’re not all that into practice? It’s hard to live a life of constant worship if you’re not engaged in a commitment to corporate worship. And maybe right now you’re like, “Well, I’m not here every week and I don't have that much sin in my life.” Touché! But think about this. Maybe there’s a sin in NOT knowing what you’re missing and what could be in your life. Just a thought. Maybe it’s a sin of omission or spiritual apathy you could say. What kind of sin is crouching at your door? For Cain it was a pretty big deal and horrific. Look at what happened…
So you see; when you don’t practice and come to worship you’re probably going to end up killing someone! That would be bad. We would frown upon that here at Valley. Just kidding. We don’t need to apply it that literally and drastically to our lives…but, I think it does remind us of something powerful. Worship reminds us that we actually are our Brothers and Sisters Keepers. We ARE in this life and story of God’s creation together. And because we are in this together we don’t hurt one another. Who’s your “keeper” that reminds you of that and who are you “keeping”? The practice of worship should lead you not just closer to God but closer to others too. Because to love God is to love others and to love others is to love God. The Bible, The Gospel, Jesus, it’s all about relationship. That’s why we talk about and practice it so much here in worship. And that leads to a life of constant love and worship in our everyday lives and relationships.
Just a thought and observation and experience from my own life. There was a time in my life when I felt like a restless wanderer. 19-21 years old. I was pretty much a mess. I had neglected the importance of practice and when I did offer myself to God in worship it was only “some” of me and not “all” of me. I was angry, I was confused, I was bitter, I was wandering. In all honesty, some of the choices I was making…God only knows why I’m still here. Which I now know why too, but you get the point. But, THE thing that brought me back was practice. Worship. And people (Bill Fell, Steve Blanchard, George Bennet, and Mark Smith) who surrounded me on the team and didn’t let me skip practice and they embraced me, for me, and taught me how to be a better me. They helped me find my best self and my first self, not just wander anymore with some of myself. I believe that was God moving in and through them to connect with me and help me not wander as much anymore. In some ways you could say that was corporate worship together that helped me learn a life of constant worship.
Who do you need to come alongside of? Do you know a wanderer who needs you? And now we've caught up to the scripture we started with.
The Hebrew word for “Punishment” here is “Ah-Vone” and it actually means “Guilt.”
This sounds to me like a man who finally feels the weight of what he’s done and how that has hurt someone else and all of God’s creation. He's ready to change and take his next steps. And there’s two words I want you to notice in this part of the story and the big secret it leads into for our faith…
“Not so” and “Mark”
The story of Cain and Abel isn’t a story about murder or guilt or punishment. This is about what we bring to God and what God brings to us. It’s about “being” rather than “doing” because what we do comes from a deep sense of who we are and whose we are. It’s a story of the kind of practice that God runs and wants us to BE part of every week. This is a story about the God of creation who is merciful, grace-filled, loving and patient. In fact if you read on in chapter 4 God even blesses Cain with a family of his own. This is the story of a God who, when we say, “I’ll never be able to go back to the way it was. I’m a spiritual fugitive and wanderer. The things I’ve done and the things I’ve been through. The hurt I feel, the hope I’ve lost. Nothing will ever go right, no one will ever love me again, how can I move forward, and no good can ever come of this.”
This is when God looks at us square in the eye and says, “NOT SO”. And he uses the word “Mark”. “Not so because I still love you. I have always loved you. And I can and will Mark you for a new life. You keep showing up. Coming to practice and I’ll keep reminding you of that and together we’ll live a life of constant worship. You’ll know who you’re supposed to be.”
And that leads us into the big secret for today. It’s actually pretty simple and radical at the same time. It makes a huge difference.
Worship should be the most intentional hour of your week.
It fuels the other 167 hours. And how you come to worship matters. Is it all of you or some of you? Are you trying to impress God or will you let God impress upon and mark you for something greater? When God gets into your life like that nothing can harm you. Nothing can kill your spirit or your hope or your calling or your peace.
((Band comes up and starts playing “Christ is Enough” in the background))
Imagine what would happen if you showed up like that. Like Abel showed up. All in for practice. If you practiced like that every week with God. You’re life would be constant worship…at home, at work, with everyday people and strangers. Imagine how different our world, our community, our church might look. All because we just showed up for practice and that led to a life of intention with God every single day. We’re talking about practice? Yup!
So here’s what we want to do now. We want to mark you with God’s promise today. With God’s mark of hope and power. In ancient times during worship people would be anointed and marked with oil in the shape of the cross on their foreheads. It was a visible and powerful reminder of God’s mark on their life. It’s a way to say, “God, you have ALL of me, not SOME of me.”
As we sing the last song I want to invite you at any point you feel led to come forward and we want to mark you with the sign of the cross on your forehead with anointing oil. It’s actually vitamin c oil. May the mark heal what ails you. May it remind you of who you and whose you are.