Let's make a "joyful noise" together as we explore what worship means and discover new ways to worship God this season.
Good morning and happy Sunday. My name is Sam Marcum and I have been on staff here at Cornerstone since early 2009. I work closely with our small groups, our classes, and different aspects of community and I describe myself as a somewhat introverted but athletic nerd who cares deeply for people. In the past couple of years, I’ve had the privilege and honor of serving as the site pastor at our [inaudible 00:01:03] Campus location. I’d love to just start by inviting the Lord into our time together so please join me as I pray. Lord, we thank you for this day. We thank you that you are Emanuel, God with us, and in the season, we are invited to prepare our hearts for your coming and even this deem of the heart of worship invites us to examine our hearts, to cultivate within us, the things that help us to worship you and to explore what that looks like. I just ask that you would be in our time together today, help us to hear the things that you want us to hear, to apply the things that you want us to apply, and to be able to just walk through this together as a community. I just ask this in Jesus’ name. Amen.
I love Christmas and the advent season. These weeks of anticipation and preparation. I remember, as a child, watching for the JCPenney Christmas catalog with its extended toy section. For those under 30, a catalog is an old-fashioned paper booklet that the stores used to print in order to advertise a select number of products that they thought people might want to purchase in a given season. The JCPenny Christmas catalog was substantial. It wasn’t quite as thick as a dictionary but it was close. For those under 30, a dictionary is this old-fashioned kind of book that people had to turn through to find, to spell check words, or to find a definition of a word. Anyway, the arrival of the JCPenney catalog was the true sign that Christmas was approaching, and soon thereafter would come Christmas music and all the stores and the malls. For those under 30, stores and malls used to be where you had to go and buy things. You had to physically get in your car and drive somewhere and then it might not even be there, the thing might be sold out and it might not be there, and so the internet didn’t exist yet, it wasn’t the locust of commerce that it is today so times were really tough.
Anyway, I jest a little but no matter how much things change because of the passing of time and the uniqueness of this season that we’re experiencing here in 2020, I find my heart even more filled with joy than usual. Christmas does that. Even if some of us have memories of Christmas that aren’t all that joyful due to broken homes and loss of loved ones and other stressors that get magnified around the holidays. There’s something undeniable in the air around Christmas. It feels different. There’s hope for something new, something better, Jesus’ birth created and continues to provide that. The theme of the Heart of Worship fits well into advent since we’re aspiring to prepare our hearts anew for celebrating this gift that we have of Jesus. In this time of preparing for Christmas, let us prepare ourselves for the hope and the new thing that comes from drawing near to him. I love that.
When I was asked to share in a series called The Heart of Worship, my first thought was why? For those who have the privilege of sitting next to me while singing during the worship part of our services, back when we were in person, you quickly realize that this is not my strength. As a young Christian, this actually created a sense of inability to connect with the Bible passages that pointed towards the value of worship and singing. I didn’t want to distract others with my less than angelic voice and I didn’t also want to bring anything to God that wasn’t good. In my senior year of university, a close friend of mine approached me and asked me to join a gospel choir that she was going to lead. I promptly responded with my vocal self-evaluation. I tried to help her understand what little value I can bring to a choir. Unconvinced or unswayed, she said, “Well, can you clap in rhythm?” I said, “I can clap in rhythm.” She said, “Can you blend?” I said, “I don’t know what blending is.” She said, “Why don’t you come and audition, and then we’ll see. I’ll be honest with you, I won’t make you embarrass yourself. I’ll give you feedback and then if it will work, great. If not, no big deal.”
I auditioned and she reassured me that she thought I could blend well enough to help round out the sound. So I started to rethink my vocal evaluation and say, “Well, if it’s good enough for a choir that’s going to do performances and stuff, then maybe it’s good enough to sing in church.” I started singing a little more confidently in church and singing a little more confidently at home. But when we got close to our first performance, we received our T-shirts that we were going to wear and, on it, it was the first time I got exposed to or at least noticed the first verse of Psalm 100. For those who caught our thanksgiving service, Pastor Terry shared out of psalm 100. It’s a beautiful song that was written as a praise to God, giving thanks to Him, and acknowledging just how good he is and how good his gifts are and how perfect and amazing and it’s just a beautiful, beautiful psalm. But the first verse, in particular, caught my attention on this T-shirt because it was written out. It said, “Make a joyful noise to the Lord all the earth, make a joyful noise.” I could make a joyful noise. If that was our standard, maybe I wasn’t that great but maybe that wasn’t the point.
See, worship is more than just a song. It’s a posture, it’s positioning ourselves rightly before God and Psalm 100’s joyful noise reassures us that it is the heart in our worship, even in singing, that matters. It’s our heart that matters. To dig into this, let’s look at the letter from the Apostle Paul to the Romans. Romans Chapter 12 has been one of the most important chapters of the Bible throughout my entire faith journey. It contains the first passage of scripture that I ever memorized and that verse became a sort of life verse for me. It was something that became something that helped me construct how a falling Christ would look like as I learned and grew. Then it goes on to position what worship can look like regardless of our singing ability. Let’s check this out.
In Roman 12:1, we read, “I appeal to you, therefore, brothers …” And that’s an inclusive term, it’s translated as brothers here. ” … by the mercies of God to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” As we approach this holiday season, it’s worth considering what a living sacrifice and spiritual worship entail. Jewish tradition relies heavily on the sacrificial system. Animals were killed and presented to God in order to cover the cost of sins and, temporarily, make people right with God. It may seem strange now but it was a way of helping people understand how significant our brokenness in the subsequent separation from God became as a result, was, and is. However, Jesus came and offered himself as a perfect sacrifice so that the price of sin could be paid in full forever. Thus animal sacrifices, or we could call them dead sacrifices, were no longer needed. Instead, we’re invited, as the Apostle Paul does here, to become living sacrifices because of what Jesus did through the cross, instead of dying for sin, we get to live for the Lord. This is our spiritual worship.
The first thing I wanted to note is that having a heart of worship involves living for the Lord. Having a heart of worship involves living for the Lord. So, that naturally begs the question, what does living for the Lord look like? For the answer to that, we’ll look at verse two, which, again, was my life verse, my memory verse. I’m going to read it here just to make sure I get it right, even though I’m a little bit nervous. “Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect,” Paul notes the world in this passage, is focusing on the broken parts of the world that have yet to experience the touch and the wisdom and the grace of God. Living for the Lord often, maybe almost always, stands in opposition to the ways and understanding of the world. As those who strive to follow Christ, we should expect to be swimming against the conforming currents of the world. The world tends to go in a given direction and a lot of times, we’re asked to either hold or to move against that, that direction.
If we think about it, how many things that are labeled as good by the world are actually destructive or diminishing and tend to pull us away from what is good and beneficial? The process of transformation in seeking the things that the world tells as good but can harm us to actually seeking what is good and helps us requires our minds to be renewed or made new. This way of thinking allows us to be better prepared to see things from God’s perspective. The second thing I want us to consider is that cultivating a heart of worship requires transformation and the renewal of our minds. Cultivating your heart of worship requires transformation and the renewal of our minds. Now, it’s worth noting here that this isn’t brainwashing or mindless conformity. Actually, worldly ways tend to go in that direction. Things of distraction, addiction, escapism, and anything else that creates currents of culture and feeds insecurities that drive consumerism and the fear of missing out, are all things that lead to cultural and worldly conformity.
One way that I was exposed to checking ourselves for this in our lives, for this conformity, is to ask the question if being a Christian were illegal, would a prosecutor be able to find enough evidence to convict me to convict you? If the answer might be no, we can invite God to renew our minds. We can ask the Lord to show us what we might care about more in His opinion. “God, show me if there’s anything more than I value than your opinion? Or am I worshiping something more than I’m worshiping you? Do I value likes on social media more than I seek to live how you like, how you ask, or even how you command those who want to show their love to you to respond?” That’s convicting. Then verse two tells us that this process of God renewing our mind, or in this process, we start to become aware of His will for our lives, and in it, our minds are fully engaged. There is a ‘testing’ involved. We see God is not afraid of the scientific process. We aren’t testing God here, we are learning how to test and discern God’s ways and discover what is truly good and acceptable and perfect.
The awesome part of this is that as we live more aligned with God, the freer we are to express the love and grace of God to others in beneficial and good ways. After Apostle Paul sets the context of living our lives for the Lord as worship, he knows how God has gifted each one of us to love and care for each other. Then he moves into these really practical ways of how we can live this out and that’s where we’re going to focus next. In verse nine, we pick up, “Let love be genuine, abhor what is evil, hold fast to what is good.” This may seem like common sense but there’s a depth to it as we head into Christmas. In the movie Dan in Real Life, there’s a quote that is both simple and profound. It says, “Love is not a feeling, it’s an ability.” Some people may say, “Well, of course, love is a feeling.” There’s a ‘responsiveness.’ We see somebody that we care for and there are things that we feel inside of us but the love that’s expressed in the Bible, agape love, it’s unconditional love, it’s sort of cultured and brought about in the context of choice, effort, intention, and commitment.
Even our commitment to God as we draw near to Him and then we live our lives for Him more and more, we start to have what’s called the fruit of the spirit-born through our lives. That’s represented or described as love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Love is a key part of us as all those things come out of us. As we seek to love well, we can stay away from what is inherently not good and cling to what is good. Then verse 10 goes on, “Love one another with brotherly affection.” Love like family, care for each other that way like a healthy family. Then I love this, “Outdo one another in showing honor.” Outdo one another in showing honor, and what if we all attempted to do this with the people in our lives as a gift? Outdoing one another in showing honor.
I tried to think of what this would look like, calling up my grandma, “Hey, grandma. You’re amazing. Thank you for making literally the best chicken noodle soup every single time I was sick as a child and even some of those times where I’m pretty sure you knew I was just faking it so I could have a soup. That is just one way and one example of how you demonstrated your love and care for me so well. It shaped me, it humbles me, and I just want to thank you and honor you this season.” Or calling up my buddy, James, “Hey, James. I just want to tell you thanks. You have helped me honor God for years now. You showed me a glimpse of unconditional love when we confessed our sins to each other and prayed together daily for a few years. I never thought I could let go of some of those things and I didn’t know that I wasn’t alone in my sin. You helped me, you encouraged me, you strengthened me, you challenged me, you stood with me. You are my brother and friend and I just want to honor you.” Then if someone said something like that to us, we would try to outdo them. How cool would that be? How many relationships would be strengthened and reinforced by those true and honoring words?
It’s important here to acknowledge that this should only be done with sincerity. If we add sarcasm, even a tiny bit, it erodes the benefit entirely. It can actually scar and hurt. Sarcasm is almost always that way so we have to be careful with that. I’m going to lay out some advent challenges today. Advent challenge number one, try to outdo our loved ones in giving honor, say what you appreciate about them, thank them and see what happens. Then along the lines of outdoing in showing honor, the Apostle Paul helps us dial in on how to serve God and each other well. In verse 11, “Do not be slothful in zeal. Be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord.” In this, we see worship can be serving with joy and vigor. Slothful in zeal is a bit like dragging our feet. When there’s an opportunity to serve and demonstrate love, let us be proactive and intentional.
When we go over to someone’s house, what if we instead of kind of waiting to see who’s going to jump in and do stuff because we don’t want to be pulled into something and then miss out on some of the fun, but what if we walked in and just looked for those opportunities to serve to say, “Hey, can I help out out napkins or silverware? I can get people drinks or can I organize the desert or what would be helpful?” Because when people do that, it creates a sense that we’re all in this together and it makes hosting something all the easier and it feels more like a family gathering where everyone is kind of playing a role in helping contribute to what’s going on. How great would it be to have guests do that when we have people over as well?
Then we look at what we’re told in verse 12, “Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.” In this, we see worship can be staying hopeful, patient, and prayerful. It can be easy to slip into anxiety and trying to force things to happen when we want them to, especially as the holidays approach. There is a worshipful way of honoring God when we trust things to Him and His timing. Christmas is a perfect example of this. I remember as a kid wanting Christmas to arrive as soon as possible, one year, we were determined to take all the waiting and wondering what was going to come in the form of presents out of the equation. So we sought through every square inch of our house and eventually found the stockpile of gifts. We knew my mom always listened carefully and provided really good thoughtful gifts but we just couldn’t wait. We went and found it and we dug through everything.
We made note of all the gifts we were going to get and we put them back carefully and then when Christmas Day arrived, if I’m honest, it’s probably my least favorite Christmas ever because we had avoided the waiting and the unknown. We had lost the joy of the surprise, we had lost the anticipation and the waiting to receive a good gift from someone who loved us dearly and had thought of those things. Just like I knew I could trust my mom, we can trust God’s good gifts as well with what we take to Him in prayer. We know he will deliver on what is good and sometimes we just need to wait. Look what this says, in verse 13, “Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.” In this, we see worship can be acting generously to meet the needs of others and welcoming them into the community.
For my family, it has been difficult to have the bay area feel like home. We’ve been called here for the last 15 years but our family, all of our family, is elsewhere. We struggle to figure out how to make some sense of home and the joy that comes from that, just feeling like you’re connected to people. One thanksgiving, we were trying to figure out what to do with these feelings and some friends reached out and said, “Hey, we’re going to have a get-together. If you don’t have any plans, we’d love to have you over. We’re just going to be hosting for all the different people who don’t have family here, some single, some couples, some with kids, but we just want to have you come and be family with us.” And for us, that changed everything. We went and we felt like family, we felt like we had people here who cared for us the way family does and it changed how the bay area felt and allowed us to stay here all these years because of the gesture of kindness of people welcoming us into their home. It’s an opportunity around this season where people are feeling more isolated and alone if they’re away from family, to open our homes because, after all, our homes are a gift from God as well.
The next one is a tough one. In verse 14, “Bless those who persecute you, bless and do not curse them.” Worship can be showing unexpected love and kindness. This is really hard. Over the years, I’ve had my share of people who didn’t like me. I’ve had people attack me personally because I represented the church. I’ve even had people tell me that I made them feel guilty and mad because I was too nice. They wanted to respond in the way that things were sort of escalating and they were saying something mean, they wanted me to respond in kind and get pulled into it and be able to have an argument and fight. If I’m honest, I wanted to at times, and sometimes I did. I can’t say I did this perfectly. The times that there have been tears, and I’ve written responses to things that I never sent most of the time, sometimes I’ve sent those responses and had to do clean up afterward. But in the times where I’ve held onto my conviction and then I gave it to God, I did my best to turn the other cheek. The holidays can be loaded with family baggage and drama. Sometimes a small gesture of kindness can open a door towards reconciliation.
Proverbs 15:1 guides into this, “A soft answer turns away wrath but a harsh word serves up anger.” Here’s our advent challenge number two. Let’s look for opportunities to forgive and show unexpected kindness. Where might those opportunities lie? What conversations would a loving response instead of just a reaction? Open a door for a new opportunity in that relationship. Then inevitably every season has its good and challenging aspects. Paul continues, “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.” Worship can be empathizing and showing compassion for what someone is experiencing. In a season like this, many of us have experienced hardship and challenges, unprecedented in our lives. When we encounter somebody who is having a joyful moment, maybe they got a raise or had the birth of a new child, or different things have happened that they’re celebrating, sometimes it’s hard to muster whatever we need to be able to celebrate with them because we know our own lack, we know the things that we’re holding onto, hope for change in. Then for others of us, maybe we’re experiencing one of those joyful times and we see somebody going through a hardship and it’s hard to want to draw near to that because we know we might get pulled into it. We just want to experience the joy for a little while before things sort of go back to normal.
In a season like this, we have an opportunity to come alongside people and if we’re staying close to God, hopefully, we have it in us to walk alongside somebody who’s celebrating and be happy for them or somebody who’s hurting and to be able to enter into that with them too and support them and if they need encouragement, to help them be encouraged but sometimes just to be with them as well. In all these circumstances, in this season, I actually had the opportunity to officiate a wedding as well as to attend a funeral. Regardless, across the spectrum of whether it’s joyful or hard and all of it, we can come into those opportunities and draw near to one another and show love.
The next few verses have similar tones so I’ll touch on them together. “Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, prideful, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight, repay no one evil for evil but give thought to do what is honorable inside of all.” Again, showing honor. “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” So, peacemakers. “Beloved, never avenge yourselves but leave it to the wrath of God for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord.” In this, we see that worship can be laying grievances and offense at the foot of the cross. God is the best source of justice, forgiveness, and healing. He can be trusted to make each of these right at the best possible time. This is hard, it’s really hard. When we see evil and brokenness, it is hard not to want to exploit things or to rise up and fight.
In college, a close female friend of mine shared how she had been abused by a guy that she went on a date with. I was livid. I wanted to channel my anger into causing this guy pain. I told her what I wanted to do and that I’d gladly do so but she said that’s not what she wanted. She wanted to handle things in the right way so that things could be taken care of. Feeling helpless, I asked, “What can I do?” She said, “Just listen to me, just support me. There’s nothing really that you need to do or can do.” I said, “I’ll do that.” But I still felt this conviction that I needed to do something. When I was back in my dorm room, I prayed and asked God to just show me something. In a couple of weeks, I learned that two other close friends of mine knew women that had been abused as well. This started a path to creating a nonprofit to help train men about treating women with dignity and respect. We traveled to high schools, fraternities, and dorms and spoke to groups of guys. I wanted to beat up one guy. God used that passion to help empower a whole group of young men to enact broader change. I’m still humbled by that.
In noting a different approach to vengeance, Paul says, “To the contrary, if your enemy is hungry, feed him. If he is thirsty, give him something to drink. By doing so, you will heap burning coals on his head.” I love that. Sometimes we do wish coals were being heaped on the heads of those who deserve some kind of justice or punishment. Here we see that worship can be loving and seek to understand people who think and value things differently. We may not think in the terms of enemies, in those words, but people who think and understand things differently, who live differently, sometimes feel like they’re opposed to us. Sometimes it’s loving and seeking to understand those folks so that we can respond with kindness. There’s little that initiates change like hot coals in the hair. If you’re by a campfire and coal falls on your head, you start changing the situation quickly.
As my friend had said, “You make me feel guilty because you’re too nice.” In some ways, I was addressing the internal stuff that I knew I needed to. I was prone to reacting with swearing sometimes. I was prone to reacting with anger and wanting to get pulled into the pettiness and those kinds of things. I was addressing that and he was seeing me address that. For him, it was changing how he was thinking about things. It was like a coal falling on his head and addressing his response. Sometimes, as we address the stuff internally, God uses that to bring about conviction in others and then that can permeate out in waves of people addressing their own behavior. Pretty soon, we start seeing broader change as well. As these verses allude to, “Hearts are more to readily transform by love than acts of vengeance.”
Finally in verse 21, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” Here we see worship can be simply drawing close to God through His invitation in Jesus. This is a season of hope, transformation, and love being victorious. One of the great things about the Bible is we get to know how it all ends. Good wins. God’s love wins. That is part of what we celebrate at Christmas. How God came to earth as a child because, as Pastor Terry often reminds us around this time of year, who could be afraid of a child? Who would be hesitant to draw near to a child? That child would change the world so that we could have hope, even in seasons like this. The final thing I want us to think about is a heart of worship that celebrates the gift of Jesus in every good and beneficial way we can. If you can sing well, worship by singing out loud and strong so you can cover up my joyful noise. If you can’t sing well, sing anyway because God loves it if our hearts are in the right place.
Advent challenge number three, make your joyful noise by finding a new way to worship God. For some of us, this could be making a point to catch all the Sunday messages leading up through Christmas or tuning in for the Rise and Shine Devotionals Monday through Saturday. For some of us, it may be reestablishing disciplines and patterns of prayer and reading the Bible that may have fallen off during the season. Or for some of us, it might be opening our hearts to the Lord for the first time. Let us worship how we serve, show hospitality, give, forgive, hope, pray, and empathize. These not only bless others but also blesses God. Let us love well, let us take on the advent challenges as an expression of our heart of worship. Outdo one another in showing honor, look for opportunities to forgive and show unexpected kindness, make your joyful noise by finding a new way to worship God. This is part of how we live for the Lord, with our days filled with acts of worship.
In a moment, I’ll pray but, before that, I just want to thank our community for the faithful ways that you’ve given to the needs within our community, as people have expressed the needs that have come up, but also the ongoing support of just being able to do things like our weekend messages and all the different things we’re doing through the week. Giving is another aspect of worship. It’s a way that we put our heart before God because where our treasure is, there our heart will be also. We’re not to give out of compulsion, this is not a guilt thing or a pressure thing. In His Word, we’re reminded that the Lord loves a cheerful giver and so whatever we can give joyfully, that’s what our worships should be. If you are part of our community, and I invite you to do so, you can give online through our website, through the app, or if you want to mail in a check and, for those under 30, a check … I’m just kidding. Let’s go ahead and close out in prayer.
Lord, thank you again, that you are Emanuel, you’re God with us. In this season, you invite us to come with joy, you invite us to come and just receive the gift of you, of drawing near to you, of being able to worship you as we live our lives for you. And so, Lord, help us to allow us to step into things that are good and beneficial, to allow our minds to be renewed, to be transformed so that we can know the things that are good and beneficial, that are pleasing and perfect, Lord, in your eyes. Lord, help us to pray our hearts for this Christmas season, to celebrate well, and that we would do those advent challenges of outdoing and showing honor of giving forgiveness and unexpected kindness. Finally, of finding new ways to make that joyful noise and to worship you. And so, Lord, we left all this to you in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Now, we’re going to end with a fun version of a song that I believe most of us will recognize and if you listen closely to the lyrics, you’ll hear that it’s all about bringing who we are, as an act of worship. And then after the song, Pastor Terry will close out with a few thoughts. Enjoy.
You know the best thing we can give Jesus is ourselves. We give him our gifts, we give him our love. So much of Christmas is about giving because God gave, God gave us Jesus for God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son. Christmas invites us into giving because the Lord gave and we can never, as my grandfather used to tell me, you can never out-give God. No way. You know why? Because He’s so good and He’s so God and He wants us to so good and so God into the lives of others. May we take advantage of the unique opportunity of this Christmas season that may mean more now than at any other time that we’ve celebrated it. In light of all the limitations and the dark thoughts, the Lord invites us to embrace His light. That’s wonderful, isn’t it? Don’t forget, you are greatly loved and my prayer is that our Lord would keep you in your spirit and your soul and your body. In all ways, His hand would be over your life. Let’s enjoy this Christmas season together. I’ll see a lot of you tomorrow on Rise and Shine. Lord bless.