Do we live to please God, or do we live to please others? Guest Speaker Alex Costanzo exhorts us to do the former rather than the latter.
Good morning. It’s always so wonderful to share with my Cornerstone family. I love my church family so much. I want to give a quick shout-out to any of you joining us on the live stream, and I want to give a shout-out to my crew at Riordan. I can’t hear you, Riordan. That’s better. I’ll have to get a report later of how they did.
Okay, so I hit a great milestone recently that I want to share with you. I just celebrated my seventh San Fran-iversary. Do you guys celebrate your San Fran-iversaries? My family and I moved here on Valentine’s Day in 2012, seven years ago. It went so fast. I can’t believe it. I’m definitely not a tourist anymore. We pretty much raised our three boys here, Michael and me. We have one in college, one in high school, and one in middle school now. Sometimes I still can’t believe I get to live here. I have to pinch myself because San Francisco is just such an amazing place, isn’t it? The people, the culture, the natural beauty, the food, the coffee. I love the coffee. It’s so good. This is the epicenter of innovation and technology.
I feel cool just because I live here. I feel extra cool when I travel outside of California because people actually treat me like a celebrity when they find out that I’m from San Francisco. I don’t know if any of you have experienced this strange phenomenon. I was with my cousin in Europe and everywhere we went, we’d get to talking to people. They’d ask where we’re from. “Minneapolis,” she’d say, and she’d get a polite nod, “That’s nice,” right? Then it was my turn. “How about you?” “San Francisco.” Completely different reaction. “What? Did you hear that? She’s from San Francisco.” There’d be gasping and clapping. They’d huddle all around me and say things like, “What’s it like there? Can I take your picture? You’re so lucky.” My cousin would just stand there and roll her eyes every time this would happen. Even my kids get caught up in all the hype sometimes. Our youngest son once asked us, “I’m pretty sure we’re not billionaires but are we millionaires?” “No, we’re not.” “Are we thousand-aires?” he continued. “Not since our landlord raised the rent, buddy.” “Hundred-aires? Hundred-aires?” I said, “Yeah, go with that one. That’s good. Go with that one.”
We certainly live in a unique and influential city. Today, I want to look at a passage in Second Chronicles about another influential city called Jerusalem. It’s the fourth year in King Solomon’s reign. Solomon has been entrusted with building a temple for the Lord. A place where the Israelites could make sacrifices, house the Ark of the Covenant and the tablets of the 10 commandments. What I want to do today is focus on the temple specifications, which might be a little strange. I really want you to fight the urge to zone out because this is one of those passages that most of us would probably just skip altogether or gloss over. I’m hoping to show you that God can speak to us through even the seemingly mundane passages if we look closely enough. You can follow along in your handout and try to visualize the temple in your mind as I read.
The foundation Solomon laid for building the temple of God was 60 cubits long and 20 cubits wide using the cubit of the old standard. Most scholars will put a cubit anywhere between 1.5 to 1.8 feet. The Portico at the front of the temple was 20 cubits long across the width of the building and 20 cubits high. He overlaid the inside with pure gold, paneled the main hall with juniper and covered it with fine gold, and decorated it with Palm tree and chain designs. Solomon adorned the temple with precious stones. The gold he used was gold of paving. He overlaid the ceiling beams, store frames, walls, and doors of the temple with gold. He carved cherubim on the walls.
Let’s stop here for a quick minute. For those of you normal people who are not doing conversions in your head, the temple is about 90 by 30 feet, maybe 100 feet long if you include the Portico or the porch on the front. It fits pretty easily on half a football field, which might not seem large by today’s standard, but this was a big deal. It took seven years and over 150,000 people to complete it. The temple is opulent and beautiful. Solomon spared no expense. It’s clearly a showplace for the most talented architects and artisans in the land. Verse eight, “Solomon built the most holy place, its length corresponding to the width of the temple, 20 cubits long and 20 cubits wide. He overlaid the inside with 600 talents of fine gold,” which is I think about 10 tons of gold. “The gold nails weighed 50 shekels. He also overlaid the upper parts with gold for the most holy place. He made a pair of sculpture cherubim and overlaid them with gold.”
I’m going to skip ahead to verse 13. “The wings of these cherubim extended 20 cubits. They stood on their feet facing the main hall. He made the curtain of blue, purple and crimson yarn, and fine linen with cherubim worked into it. Are you still with me? This room, called the “most holy” place, is where the ark would go. It takes about a third of the entire structure. It’s separated from the main hall by a grand curtain. But this next part is the part I really want to draw your attention to. There’s a design spec that I find kind of odd, kind of interesting, and kind of curious. See if you can figure out what it is. Verse 15. “For the front of the temple, he made two pillars, which together were 35 cubits long, each with a capital five cubits high. He made interwoven chains and put them on top of the pillars. He also made 100 pomegranates and attached them to the chains. He erected the pillars in the front of the temple, one to the south and one to the north. The one to the south he named Jachin and the one to the north Boaz.”
Did you guys catch it? Did you catch what I think is the most curious specification of the temple? To me, it’s the pomegranates. There are 200 pomegranates carved at the tops of the pillars, 100 for each pillar. They weren’t spread throughout the temple. They weren’t distributed up and down the pillars. They all went on the very top. If you do the conversion from cubits to feet, the pillars stood over 30 feet tall. In other words, no human eyes would be able to see these decorative pomegranates and truly appreciate them.
I guess it’s kind of ironic that a blind girl is talking about whether or not something is visible, but I’m pretty sure you can’t see something that is on top of a 30-foot structure when you’re standing right next to it unless you have a drone or a really long periscope, right? The pomegranates were virtually invisible to the temple goers, invisible. I wonder how the pomegranate artisan felt. Did he know that his life’s masterpiece would be literally out of sight? Imagine all the other artisans receiving praise when the temple was finally open, the oohs and the ahs for the gold, the jewels, the cherubim, and the curtain, but no one notices the pomegranates.
To me, the pomegranates are a powerful metaphor. They represent the times in our lives when we feel unnoticed, unappreciated, or just plain invisible. Have you ever felt invisible? I have. In fact, if I had a little nickname for myself, it would be the invisible woman. I certainly felt invisible as a child. I immigrated to a small town in the Midwest and it felt like I was the only kid in the entire state. No one had ever heard of Korea. There wasn’t any K-pop back then. My visual impairment made me stick out even more. I’m completely blind today, but when I was young, I could see about 10 feet in front of me, which meant that I was really bad at sports, especially if a projectile was involved. I used to have nightmares about the volleyball unit in gym every year. I was also super awkward and shy. The kids would tease me and call me names, but worse yet, they would simply ignore me.
Working in my 20s and 30s, I sometimes felt invisible trying to prove myself in a male-dominated industry. I’d say something in a meeting. Nobody would react, but then a few minutes later, someone else would say the same exact thing and everyone would agree. “Such a great idea. What a wonderful insight. We should do it.” It’s like I wasn’t even in the room.
As I lost more and more of my vision, I knew it was time to carry the white cane. At first, I really resisted because when I carried that cane, some people would treat me like a child or like I had a mental disability. Still, others wouldn’t even address me directly. They would refer to me in the third person to whomever I was with, and I hated that feeling of not being acknowledged.
But here’s the truth. We are never invisible to God. We are seen by Him. He sees everything that we do. He saw us in our mother’s womb. He sees us coming and going. He sees every struggle, every triumph and when our hearts break, so does His. Do you feel like a pomegranate carver sometimes? Maybe you feel unappreciated or misunderstood or just alone? I want you to know today that God sees you. He sees you, even if people do not. Out of all the people who might be watching, He’s the most important one.
God could see those pomegranates on the temple, no problem, even if nobody else could. In fact, those pomegranates were intentionally placed on the tops of those pillars just for Him, for His eyes only. It’s like those pomegranates are there to remind us not to lose sight of the truth, that we were created for a relationship with God. Yes, we interact with humans every day, but God is the source of our worth and value, not the praise of people, not our physical appearance. It’s not about what we think of ourselves or our accomplishments.
I used to define myself by my achievements and my work. There’s nothing wrong with working hard and being successful. Nothing wrong with being a millionaire. It wasn’t until I found my identity in Christ that I was set free. I didn’t have to look to others or to my own achievements for worth anymore. I knew I was loved and valued by my creator. He sent His son to die for me. It’s like my restless heart could finally come to rest. As if I finally locked eyes with Jesus and everything else faded away.
When I heard our series theme of all-in, I asked myself, “What does that mean to me? What does that mean to me?” I think it means that my identity is in Jesus and that I live out my life for the audience of one, for my Lord, the audience of one. I love this phrase so much because it captures so perfectly how we should live when we decide to follow Jesus. It distills it all down.
Shakespeare said, “All the world’s a stage.” Who are we performing for? Do we live for the approval of people or do we live for the likes on our social media pages? Do we live for our own pleasure, the way we spend our time, our resources, how we conduct ourselves in our workplaces and in our homes? If we are all-in, no matter where we go or what we do, we should be living for the audience of one. People might be watching, but we should aim to please God, not people, not ourselves, but God alone. To do this, we might have to quiet the noise of our culture and our own selfish desires. We might have to stop caring what people think. Look at this verse in Galatians. We’ll put it up. “For am I now seeking the approval of man or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please, man, I would not be a servant of Christ.” Who are we living to please, God or people? We can’t serve two masters.
Here’s my central idea. If we’re all-in, we live to please the Lord, the audience of one. We live to please the Lord, the audience of one. How do we do this? In the time I have left, I want to talk about a few things. I want to talk about obedience, humility, and excellence. I’m going to give you some practical application challenges as well, so here we go.
First, we are called to a life of obedience. In John 14:15, Jesus said, “If you love me, obey my commandments.” I know that the word obey is not a popular word in our modern culture. It can come across oppressive or legalistic, but God’s word is not meant to be oppressive. It’s meant to help us. It’s for our own good. It helps us find our way through times of uncertainty and conflict. If we want to follow Jesus effectively, we read and study God’s Word and apply it to our lives. It is still relevant.
The great evangelist DL Moody once said, “The Bible is not for our information, it’s for our transformation.” Obedience is more than just knowledge of what’s in the Bible. It’s knowledge and action. Here’s my next idea. The audience of one calls us to obedience, living by God’s Word and not by cultural norms. We go directly to the Bible for truth. We go to His Word for instruction and wisdom. We spend time in prayer and seek godly counsel. We ask advice from people who are mature in Christ, who won’t just tell us what we want to hear.
Sometimes obeying God will go against the grain of our culture. It won’t make sense to people. At times, it won’t make sense even to us. One of our sons was dealing with a bully at school and our knee-jerk reaction was to go straight to the school leadership, but we decided to go to the scriptures first. What does the Bible say? Jesus says to love your enemies and pray for them to be blessed. I think my son’s exact words after reading this were, “That’s stupid.” It’s pretty counter-cultural. Honestly, I didn’t want to pray for that punk kid, either.
Figuring out what God says about a situation is sometimes the easy part. The harder part is the actual follow-through, the obedience part. We prayed for God to bless the bully. Maybe our hearts weren’t really into it at first, but it’s funny how God will change our hearts as we obey Him. He must have changed that kid’s heart too because eventually, the bullying did stop.
In some situations, finding God’s will for us is a little more challenging. There’s a lot more ambiguity. When we moved here seven years ago, we moved for a job opportunity for Michael. We had been living in Charleston, South Carolina, which if you haven’t been to, is quite a lovely place. The ocean is actually warm there. We had built our dream house and both sets of grandparents lived in our neighborhood, AKA on-demand babysitters. Huge perk.
We were thriving in all aspects of our life. Although the career opportunity was extremely enticing, everyone agreed that it was a dumb idea. San Francisco’s too expensive. Why uproot the kids? Why leave family? It would have been so easy to just say no and move on. We didn’t want to be too rash in our decision. Sometimes you don’t want to be too rash. We really wanted to be in God’s will, so we took a week to seriously fast and pray about it. I remember Michael pulling up that Galatians verse that I showed you earlier and saying, “It’s not about pleasing people, even ourselves. I think God wants us to make the move and I don’t want to disobey Him.” “Okay, let’s do it. Let’s do it.”
Three years after our move, I was diagnosed with stage four breast cancer. Many of you are familiar with my cancer story. Some of you might not be. But the doctors told me that my prognosis was bleak and I shouldn’t make long-term plans. They recommended experimental treatment. I enrolled in the only clinical trial I was eligible for at the time. We did a national search for the right trial, and it wasn’t in Charleston or anywhere on the east coast. It wasn’t even at Stanford in Palo Alto. It was at UCF just four miles from my house right here in San Francisco. This past December, the FDA approved this experimental treatment. It’s pretty cool that first of all, I’m still alive, I’m still here, and also that I got to play a role in research that’s going to help other cancer patients. In retrospect, God had a plan not just for my husband’s career, but for my health as well.
I mentioned I would give you guys some challenges today, so here’s the first one. Seek to be obedient in a new area of your life. Seek to be obedient in a new area of your life. Maybe you have a big decision to make or a problem to solve, and maybe normally you wouldn’t go to God with it. Ask God to show you His will in that situation. Maybe the Lord has already been tugging at you for a while. Maybe He wants you to be a better witness at work. Maybe He has something to say about your finances. Maybe He wants you to work on a relationship or a marriage when our culture would say, “Just walk away.” The more areas we open up in our lives to the Lord, the more we can be in His will.
Tonight is the Oscars and believe it or not, I love going to the movies. The theaters now have these nifty devices that provide audio descriptions of what’s going on and it’s completely upgraded my movie-watching experience. I used to have to depend on the description skills of whoever was watching the movie with me, and my family is the worst. For example, the theater would burst into laughter and I’d whisper, “What happened?” A typical response would be, “Something funny,” or sometimes I’d get, “I’ll tell you later.” I got to thinking if Jesus gave out his own version of the Oscars, who would be nominated and win in 2019? He commands us to love and serve one another. Who would win for best performance? Probably people you’ve never heard of because that’s the nature of following Jesus. The better and better you get at it, the humbler and humbler you become. It’s sort of a paradox.
A friend of mine once said, “There’s no limit to what you can do if you don’t expect credit.” I just love that. I asked him to put it up. There’s no limit to what you can do if you don’t expect credit. Sometimes we mess up a good thing. At least I do, anyway. We have this idea to do something good for someone, but maybe they don’t appreciate it like we thought they would, or we find ourselves expecting something in return. Maybe we take it too personally and our feelings get hurt. Then we get resentful and bitter, and then we’re not going to put ourselves out there again. In order to give away freely as Jesus did, we have to get ourselves out of the way, our expectations, our self-righteousness, our need for approval, our pride. We love and serve others not to please ourselves, but to please the Lord.
My next idea is that the audience of one calls us to humility, to humility, serving others without personal gain, no personal gain, no strings attached, no tooting our own horn. This doesn’t mean that we can’t ever be recognized for our contributions, but check out Jesus’s warning in the book of Matthew. I’ll put this up. “Watch out. Don’t do your good deeds publicly to be admired by others for you will lose the reward from your Father in heaven. When you give to someone in need, don’t do as the hypocrites do blowing trumpets in the synagogues and streets to call attention to their acts of charity. I tell you the truth. They have received all the rewards they will ever get. But when you give to someone in need, don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing. Give your gifts in private and your Father who sees everything will reward you.”
Your Father who sees everything. There’s that audience of one concept again. God sees the good we do. He sees it, all of it. We might not see an earthly return. Maybe someone else might take credit for it, but it’s okay. God knows and He will give us an eternal reward. We will hear Him say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”
I think that Jesus might have given a leading lady award to the widow in the synagogue. Do you remember that story? She placed her last two coins in the offering box. She was probably invisible to her society, but she wasn’t invisible to Jesus. Maybe the leading man award went to the good Samaritan who at his own expense nursed a beaten man back to health, a man who probably would have shunned him if they had met on the street. If I were giving out awards, I’d give the best performance in a leading role to my husband, Michael. He’s one of the humblest people I know and he has to deal with me every day, which isn’t easy.
If I were to give the award for the best supporting role, I’d give it to, and I have to take a deep breath here, Lily, Liz, Dawn, Mimi, Cheryl, Val, Kim, DI, Diane, Donna, Pat, Pam, Christine, Erica, Shannon, Grace, Sua, Kelsey, Francis, Becky, Julie, Genesin, Susan, Rhea, Lynn, Alice, Michelle, and Robin. Okay. I probably forgot somebody, but these are the women who have collectively taken me to over 100 hospital visits for treatment in the last three and a half years. Their acts of kindness have literally kept me alive. There are countless more that have sent me meals, prayed for me, and helped me not because they knew that I would read their name up here or because I gave them something in return, but because they are willing to humble themselves and put someone else’s needs before theirs.
What would it look like if every Christ-follower performed an act of kindness every day without expecting anything back? I think the world would certainly be a better place. Here’s my next challenge for you. Practice doing good without getting credit. Practice doing good without getting credit. Perform an act of kindness and don’t tell anyone about it, all right? Don’t even do the humble brag thing. Maybe even bless someone anonymously. Leave a super huge tip for someone. Pay for a stranger’s cup of coffee. Don’t do anything too creepy, okay? But I’m sure you could get creative. Just bless someone. Ask God to show you an opportunity and I’m sure He will. The more and more we practice serving others just for the audience of one, the more effectively we can love others and represent Jesus.
The last thing I want to talk about is excellence. The concept of excellence in the Bible might be a little different from the way you and I would normally define it. Look what it says in Colossians 3:23. We’ll put this up. “Work willingly at whatever you do as though you are working for the Lord, rather than for people.” We see the audience of one concept yet again. Regardless of who you’re working for, whether you have a great boss or a bad one, regardless of what you’re doing, whether it’s exciting or boring, do it as if you are doing it for the Lord. It doesn’t matter if you’re a software engineer, a fireman, a missionary, or a student. Do it as if you are doing it for the Lord and do it willingly.
Other translations say, “Do it with all your heart, with your whole being, from the soul, enthusiastically, heartily.” The wording is similar to how God wants us to love Him, with all our heart, all our soul, all our minds, and all our strength. God cares so much about our heart condition because He can see our hearts. He cares less about the final product and more about the attitude and intention. He wants us to be present and engaged.
Here’s what the verse doesn’t say. It doesn’t say, “Whatever you do, do it perfectly, skillfully, expertly, and better than the next guy.” It’s not about making a certain mark. It’s not the final grade that matters. It’s the effort. It’s not about perfectionism. It’s just about giving Him our best, not what seems like other people’s best on Instagram, but our best. I think God deserves our best, don’t you? He deserves our willingness, our enthusiasm, our wholeheartedness without grumbling or cutting corners because He gave us his best. He gave us His perfect son.
Here’s my last idea. The audience of one calls us to excellence, giving God our best in everything we do, in everything we do. Tomorrow is my mom’s birthday, February 25th. She would have been 80. She passed away in 2009, although I really lost her 10 years before that to Alzheimer’s. My mom probably would have run a company or a university if she had been born at a different time and place. She was a brilliant, brilliant woman. She could help me with my calculus homework. I mean, who remembers calculus, right, 25 years later after taking it? She was the only one of nine siblings from a poor family to finish high school and college, all on academic scholarships. Because my parents were traditional, she was a full-time homemaker. She was one of those people who did everything with excellence. She never did anything halfway or half-heartedly. She was diligent, enthusiastic, joyful, and she loved the Lord.
Some of my happiest childhood memories are watching my mom in the kitchen singing while preparing dinner and she had this beautiful voice. What I admire the most about her was that she was so content with her position in life when she had the intellectual capacity to do so much more. It’s like taking care of her family were the pomegranates she was carving on the tops of those temple columns. It’s like her whole life was an act of worship because whatever she did, she did it wholeheartedly for the Lord.
I appreciate her now so much more because I’m a mom. Honestly, when I have to make dinner night after night and do multiple loads of laundry a day, I don’t feel like singing. I feel like grumbling, okay? Is it just me? Because being the stay-at-home parents can feel like a thankless job sometimes. We don’t get raises or promotions. Sometimes I feel like the invisible woman again. I remind myself that God sees me. He sees every dish I wash, every pile of laundry I fold, every painful middle school band concert I endure, and I’ve endured a lot and I still have more to get through. I know that my Lord sees me and values me and this makes me want to do everything with excellence, with excellence, to give Him my best. Whether I’m doing the dishes or standing up here sharing a message. I’m going to do it with all my heart because I’m doing it for the Lord.
Here’s my final challenge for you. If it doesn’t spark joy, let it spark worship. Do you guys know who Marie Kondo is? She’s this home organization guru that’s been getting a lot of attention these days and her message is that if an item in your home doesn’t spark joy, get rid of it. Too bad we can’t apply that to work or even to people, right? But we can certainly change our attitude. I want you to pick a task or an activity or whatever that, if you’re honest with yourself, you do it half-heartedly or maybe you do it with downright dread and transform it into an act of worship by doing it wholeheartedly for the Lord. Maybe it’s a small thing like making dinner. Maybe it’s a big thing like a job you’re unhappy in but turn your thoughts away from the task at hand, away from the drudgery, and to the audience of one. Turn your attention to the audience of one. There’s no room in our hearts for grumbling when we turn our gaze to our loving, powerful, faithful Lord.
As I close, I want to just encourage any of you who might be in a pomegranate season in your life, God sees you. He loves and values you even if others do not. He wants to make eye contact with you and to be the only audience you care about. I hope we all remember the example of the pomegranate carver. I like to think that he knew his work wouldn’t be visible to people and that he was okay with that and that he carved his heart out on those pomegranates as an act of worship for the Lord. That he gave his best for the audience of one.
We’re going to have a time of giving and the band is going to close with a song, but first, let’s pray. Father God, oh Lord, we love you so much. We want to be all-in for you, Lord, all-in. Help us to find our identity in you. Help us to focus on you, to be in your will, to have the courage and resolve to obey you, to love selflessly as Jesus did, to worship you in everything we do, Lord. We worship you now with our closing song and we turn our eyes upon your precious, precious son. We live for your glory in your son Jesus’ name. Amen.