Putting a Smile on the Face of God, Part 2

Genesis 8:20-9:3

20 Then Noah built an altar to the Lord and, taking some of all the clean animals and clean birds, he sacrificed burnt offerings on it. 21 The Lordsmelled the pleasing aroma and said in his heart: “Never again will I curse the ground because of humans, even though[a] every inclination of the human heart is evil from childhood. And never again will I destroy all living creatures, as I have done.

22 “As long as the earth endures,
seedtime and harvest,
cold and heat,
summer and winter,
day and night
will never cease.”

God’s Covenant With Noah

Then God blessed Noah and his sons, saying to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the earth. The fear and dread of you will fall on all the beasts of the earth, and on all the birds in the sky, on every creature that moves along the ground, and on all the fish in the sea; they are given into your hands. Everything that lives and moves about will be food for you. Just as I gave you the green plants, I now give you everything.

Dear Friends in Christ,

For the past couples of months I’ve been preaching a sermon series entitled “How to Live a Good News Life in a Bad News World.”  One of the goals of this series that I had in mind when I first began working on it was to help you see how relevant and applicable the Bible is to our modern times even though it was written so many centuries ago.  And if there is one fellow in Scripture who illustrates that for us and who really knew how to live a good news life in a bad news world, that fellow would have to be Noah.  Because he stood so strongly against the tide of popular culture back then and because the Bible tells us that God took pleasure in him, he serves as a wonderful model for us to pattern ourselves after as we find ourselves living in a culture not at all unlike the one he lived in.  Which is why we’re taking a 2-week look at him as we consider the theme, “Putting a Smile on the Face of God.”  Last Sunday, we considered 2 ways we can do this, namely, when we love God supremely and when we trust him completely.  Today we want to take a look at 3 more ways whereby we can put a smile on the face of God, again, using Noah as our example.

And the first of those ways is when we obey him wholeheartedly, which is precisely what Noah did.  Building the ark and saving the animal population from a worldwide flood required great attention to logistics and details.  Everything had to be done just as God prescribed.  And when you read the account of God’s instructions to Noah in the book of Genesis, you see how detailed he was.  He gave very specific guidelines as to the size and the shape of the ark and the materials it was to be made of, as well as the different types and numbers of animals that were to be brought on board the ark.  And in Gen. 6:22 we read: “Noah did everything just as God commanded him.”  That word “everything” means that Noah obeyed God completely and he obeyed God exactly.  He did it the way God wanted it done and according to the timetable in which God wanted it done.

May I ask you, my friends, how good are you at doing that?  I think if we’re all honest with ourselves, we’ll have to admit that we’re much better at giving God partial obedience rather than wholehearted obedience.  We like to pick and choose the commands we’re going to obey.  And of course, when we start doing that, we’re obviously going to pick and choose the ones we like or the ones we find easy to keep.  We may think to ourselves: “Ok, I’ll go to church on Sunday morning, but don’t expect me to go to Bible Class or Advent or Lenten services when we have them.”  Or, “I’ll be faithful to my wife, but I can’t guarantee I’ll keep away from Internet pornography.”  Or, “I’ll read my Bible each day, but I’m not about to forgive that jerk who hurt me last year.”

Wholehearted obedience is tough.  There’s no doubt about it.  In fact, it’s so tough that God sent his Son to do it for us because he knew we could never do it perfectly.  And thankfully, when we through the power of the Holy Spirit place our faith and trust in Jesus as our one and only Savior, he not only forgives us for all the times that we have failed to obey him wholeheartedly, but he also imputes or credits to us the perfect obedience of Jesus.

Now does that mean that because we are covered in the perfect righteousness of Christ we can go out and do whatever we want and live however we please?  Of course not.  Though we can never live a perfect life of obedience, it sure puts a smile on the face of God when we at least try.  And listen, my friends, the closer we get to Christ and the better we get to know him, the easier we will find it to obey him, to love the things that he loves and hate the things that he hates.  And before long we will be expressing the same attitude that David expresses in Ps. 119:33 when he writes: “Just tell me what to do and I will do it, Lord.  As long as I live I’ll wholeheartedly obey.”

Then another way we can put a smile on God’s face is when we praise and thank him continually.  Few things in life feel better than when we receive genuine heartfelt thanks and appreciation from someone else.  And I must say that few people do a better job of that for their pastor than this congregation.  Every year that I’ve been here you’ve observed Pastor Appreciation Month in October, and at times that observance has taken some rather interesting twists and turns which took us a while to figure out.  I especially remember the year when many of our members signed up to take 1 week of expressing your appreciation to Marilyn and me and though we felt far from worthy of it, the ways in which you did it were so unique and encouraging.  From enjoyable evenings in your homes to meals at restaurants to very meaningful cards and notes to yummy cheesecakes and many other things, we were truly humbled and blessed by what you did.

The point I’m getting at here is that if it feels that good to us human beings to know that we are appreciated, imagine the smile it must put on the face of God when we do the same for him.  Again, Noah serves as our model here.  Do you remember the first thing he did when he got off the ark after surviving the Flood?  Genesis 8:20 says: “Then Noah built an altar to the LORD and…sacrificed burnt offerings on it.”

Now thankfully we don’t have to offer those kinds of sacrifices anymore because of Jesus’ perfect sacrifice on the cross, but the Bible does tell us to offer God “the sacrifice of praise” and “the sacrifice of thanksgiving,” kind of like I used to do with my mom years ago.  When I would come home from college for a visit, she would go out of her way to fix me the meals that she knew I liked the most.  And without exception, she would always bake me her special kind of homemade cheesecake that to this day is one of the best I’ve ever eaten.  And while I do believe she got great pleasure out of doing that and watching me eat and enjoy what she prepared, I also found great pleasure in not just eating it, but raving about it and letting her know how much I appreciated it.

Well, worship works like that too.  When we enjoy what God has done for us and we express that enjoyment, that appreciation, that thanksgiving to him, it not only brings pleasure to his heart.  It also increases and enhances our joy as well and makes us want to do it even more.  I’ve found this to be true in my morning prayer time.  Most of the time I pray for those who are on my prayer list, but once in a while I’ll say, “God, I’m not going to ask anything of you today.  I’m just going to thank you.”  And when I start thinking of things for which I am thankful, one thing leads to another and another and another and I realize how incredibly blessed I am.

Well, that takes us to the 5th and final point of the 2-part sermon.  And that is we put a smile on God’s face when we do what we were created to do unreservedly.  When Noah left the ark, God gave him these simple instructions: “Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the earth. The fear and dread of you will fall upon all the beasts of the earth and all the birds of the air, upon every creature that moves along the ground, and upon all the fish of the sea; they are given into your hands. Everything that lives and moves will be food for you. Just as I gave you the green plants, I now give you everything.”  That was God’s way of saying, “Noah, it’s time for you to get on with your life.  So do the things I designed humans to do.  Love your wife.  Have babies.  Raise families.  Work hard.  Eat meals.  Take charge of the world in which I’ve placed you.”

Now you may feel that the only time God is pleased with you is when you’re doing something spiritual – like reading the Bible, attending church, praying, or sharing your faith.  And you may think that God is unconcerned about or uninterested in the other areas of your life.  But nothing could be farther from the truth.  In fact, in Ps. 37:23 we’re told: “The steps of the godly are directed by the LORD.  He delights in every detail of their lives.”

We talked about this in our sermon a few weeks ago, how every human activity, except for sin, can be done for God’s pleasure if you do it with the mind-set that you’re doing it for Christ.  You can wash dishes, repair a car, sell a product, write a computer program, grow a crop, and raise a family all for the glory and pleasure of God.

Listen, my friends, God is no different than a proud parent who faithfully goes to all their child’s basketball games or scholar bowls or swim meets or dance recitals.  And as such, he especially enjoys watching you use the talents and abilities he has given you.  He loves to see you do what he created you to do.  Some of you he has made to be athletic and others of you he has made to be analytic.  You may be gifted in the area of music or math or mechanics.  Perhaps he’s given you speaking or writing or artistic abilities.  Whatever skills you possess, you need to understand that you put a big smile on the face of God when you use them in ways that honor him.

In the well-known movie Chariots of Fire, Olympic runner Eric Liddell says, “I believe God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast, and when I run, I feel God’s pleasure.”  What about you, my friends?  Do you feel God’s pleasure when you run, that is, when you work or parent or do whatever you do throughout the course of the day?  If not, it could be that you’re doing those things for the wrong reasons.  For example, if you go to work only to bring home a paycheck so you can pay the bills, work can get pretty burdensome.  But if you go to work to be Jesus to those you work with as well as those you work for, oh what a difference that can make.  Or if you go to school only to earn a diploma or get a degree, that’s certainly commendable, but it’s not exactly enjoyable.  But if you go to school to improve your intellectual capabilities so that you might be able to use them to better serve your fellow man and thereby bring honor to your Creator, again, what a difference that can make.

So let’s pull together what we’ve talked about in my past 2 sermons.  How do we put a smile on the face of God?  We do it when we love him supremely, when we trust him completely, when we obey him wholeheartedly, when we praise and thank him continually, and when we do what he created us to do unreservedly.  That’s a tall order, isn’t it?  And I think one reason why it’s so difficult is because we’ve gotten so attached to this world that we’ve lost sight of eternity.  We’ve become so focused upon ourselves that we’ve lost our focus on God.  But when we live our lives in the light of eternity and when God takes center stage, our focus all of a sudden changes from “How much pleasure am I getting out of my life?” to “How much pleasure is God getting out of my life?”  And when we start looking at life from that perspective, it won’t be long before our lives will take on a whole new meaning and purpose as our goal each and every day will be to not just please ourselves, but to put a smile on the face of the One who made us and saved us and who now stands ready, eager, and willing to help us become all that he desires us to be.