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Summer Praise
July 10, 1994


What are you doing this summer? Hanging loose? Slowing down in the heat? Gardening? Vacationing, camping? Going to school? Those in year-round schools don't have the traditional summer vacation. Summer traditionally is the time to change the pace. Roll out those lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer, so goes the song. And, Summertime, when the livin' is easy. May I make a suggestion? This summer, relax and praise. Rejoice in how God loves you. Remember all that God has done, and give thanks.

Paul begins his letter to the Ephesians with a note of praise, Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ. Praise God! Praise God from whom all blessings flow. Get your mind off yourself, get your attention away from yourself and praise God. In the passage read this morning, all the action is God's action, not ours. God is the subject of all the verbs, not you. God does the blessing, choosing, destining, adopting, bestowing, and redeeming.

We Americans put much emphasis on self-help. Self-Reliance was one of Ralph Waldo Emerson's most popular essays. We like to think of ourselves as "self-made". Our bookstores are full of self-help books. But, the gospel, the good news begins with God. We don't have to do it ourselves. We don't do it by ourselves or for ourselves. Hard work, earnest endeavor, sly maneuvering, and burning the midnight oil do not bring us salvation, do not bring us love! Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, Paul opens his letter. God has blessed us, and God blesses us. How?

God chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world.

God destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ.

God freely bestowed on us his glorious grace.

In Christ we have redemption.

In Christ we have been forgiven.

Praise God! God has acted. Our response? Accept, receive, give thanks and praise!

What can you do to get yourself right with God? What can you do to make yourself more presentable to God, more acceptable, more forgivable? Nothing--absolutely nothing! Christ has done whatever needed and whatever needs to be done. God loves you and accepts you completely. Without restriction, without condition, without a "when you do such and such, then I'll love you." Therefore, relax and praise God. Don't try to earn your salvation. There's nothing God wouldn't do for you. There's nothing God hasn't already done for you. Relax this summer. And praise God.

What can you do to make yourself loved more by others? What can you do to make others love you on your terms? Nothing--absolutely nothing. Relax. Quit trying to manipulate others to love you. Quit trying to force love. If your spouse or children or friends love you because of guilt, intimidation, bribery, or manipulation, that is not love. It is something superficial, artificial, and shallow. It is not love. Love is unconditional, unrestricted, unmerited, undeserved. If you wait for others to deserve your love, or earn your love; if you wait for others to do something before you will give your love, forget it. You will die a very lonely and probably, bitter person. A delightful new movie about unconditional love is Forrest Gump, starring Tom Hanks. Forrest Gump was loved unconditionally by his mother and, in turn, Forrest loved Jenny unconditionally, without restrictions and expectations, without strings. Love others as God loves you. We love and are able to love unconditionally because we have been loved by God.

God, the creator of heaven and earth, the creator of universes and galaxies beyond our wildest imagination, in an amazing act of divine graciousness has chosen, adopted, forgiven, and redeemed you; not because of anything you have done or will do, but because of God's amazing grace. Your response? Receive, accept, give thanks and praise.

How do we praise? By worship. Worship means the ascribing of worth to God. Ascribing devotion, honor, glory, and majesty to God is what we do when we worship. We worship by singing, praying. Praising means to focus on God, not on ourselves. Get beyond feeling sorry for yourself, and praise God for all God has done, for all you have. Rejoice in what you have, rather than feel sorry for yourself for what you don't have. Church is a place of praise. You come to church to offer your worship. Worship is something you do. A worship service is for joy, laughter, and fun, as well as tears, repentance, and confession. Worship is the celebration of God's presence with us. Relax and praise! The philosopher Nietzsche said, "You must look more redeemed if I am to believe in your Redeemer." And, he didn't.

We praise by worshiping--singing from the heart, praying from the soul. And, secondly, we praise God by how we live. In the passage of the morning, Ephesians 1:12, Paul wrote, that we might live for the praise of his glory. Christian living, Christian action is a form of praise, an expression of gratitude. Christian living and action do not earn us salvation, Christian living and action follow salvation. Because God loves us, we love others. Not because we love, God loves us.

William Willimon, Minister to Duke University, tells how he as a young, white student participated in a march for civil rights in the Deep South during the Civil Rights Movement. The students gathered to march for justice, to stand up bravely and be counted. But, they were surprised to learn that the first thing the organizers of the march had them do was gather in a hot, rural, black Baptist church for hours--endless hours of singing, praying, and preaching. The young white activists wanted to get on with the real work. What did all this singing have to do with a civil rights march? The organizers patiently explained that they were not contending against a few bad laws and a few bad people. They were struggling against principalities and powers, against cosmic evil. If all they had to sustain them out in the streets was superficial, optimistic humanism, they would not be out there long. Then the students understood they were in church to be reminded of the God who called them together, the God who sent them out to the battle, the God who marched with them. They came to see that the most important, most revolutionary act they could do was to sing a hymn, to praise God, and thereby believe and act. Praise precedes Christian action, calls it forth, sustains it. We love because we have been loved.

Merced Church was singled out for its Christian action during the clergy session of the Annual Conference two weeks ago. I was in Family Camp and did not attend Conference, but I did drive to Sacramento for the clergy session. Last year during the clergy session, a factual account was given about Merced Church and its change in pastors. This year, Merced Church was commended for its compassion. Before candidates for ordination are voted on by the clergy, they are invited to share their vision of ministry. Kyle Phillips, pastor in Tehachapi, a candidate for ordination who was ordained later in the week, told the clergy how a young woman had been worshiping in his church, had participated in the membership class, and was considering joining the church. On a trip to Sacramento up Highway 99 with her small children, a tire blew out. She changed it, put on the spare, drove a few miles when the spare also blew out. She was stranded along 99 with small children, when Tom Keene, a member of the Merced United Methodist Church, stopped. (I'm quoting Kyle). During the course of the conversation, Tom asked her if she was a vagrant, and how she was with the Lord. She explained she did not have enough money for the repair, and had just taken a church membership class. Tom supposedly said, "What's good enough for Tehachapi is good enough for us," and brought her to our church.

Because it was late Sunday afternoon, the tire could not be repaired until the next day. With church funds, she and the children stayed overnight in the Holiday Inn Express and repaired her tire the next day. Kyle reported she returned to Tehachapi very impressed by her treatment in Merced, amazed that we put her up not in the cheapest motel in town, but in the Holiday Inn Express, and astounded that our church would pay for the tire repair. Subsequently, she joined the Tehachapi United Methodist Church! What Kyle didn't say is that Tom included others in his Christian action. Karen Devcic, Phil and Jan Wilson were all involved. On behalf of all of us, they acted in Christ's name. After Kyle's talk, I was bombarded with congratulations on our church's highway ministry. Several plan to break down in Merced so they can stay in the Holiday Inn Express!

Relax this summer. Relax and praise God. Praise God for your salvation. Praise God for your blessings. Praise God by worshiping and living for the praise of God's glory.

© 1994 Douglas I. Norris