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What's the Point of Life? - Romans 1, Philippians 1

A service plan focused on finding God's purpose for our lives in a series addressing life's toughest questions for Christians.

Worship Service

Theme of the Service

During the month of August our worship services will be built around five probing and strategic questions that people ask about life. These five have been garnered from reading about the searches of others, observations in pastoral work, and consultation with others. The title of the entire series is "Life's Toughest Questions" and the five questions are:
"What's the Point of Life?"
"Why Isn't Life More Fair?"
"Why Aren't My Prayers Being Answered?"
"How Can I Handle My Times of Doubt?"
"Why Should I Work So Hard?"

Since the first question is the foundational one about our existence, both the message and the liturgy should focus on and be guided by the need for human beings to find their fulfillment in accomplishing their God-shaped purposes in life.

We Gather in Worship 

Prelude: "Come, All Christians, Be Committed", Held and/or Wood [organ]
"Come, All Christians, Be Committed", Porter and/or Leavitt [piano]
"Reflections on 'Come, All Christians, Be Committed' ", Hopson [handbells]

The Call to Worship

On this first day of the week we are called to worship by our God of grace and love who desires that his children worship him.
Receive us, O Lord, and bend low to meet with us today.
Our Lord, who calls us to worship him, has said that he desires we seek first his kingdom, trusting that all the other things will be added too.
Receive us, O Lord, and correct our values.
Our Lord, who has redeemed us, calls us to understand that in all our daily tasks it is the Lord Christ we are serving.
Receive us, O Lord, and deepen our commitments.
Our Lord, who is calling us today, desires that in our lives we do all for the glory of God.
Receive us, O Lord, and lift our sights high.

*Song of Entrance: "Come, All Christians, Be Committed" (Beach Spring) TWC578

*Our Declaration of Trust and God's Greeting:

Congregation of Jesus Christ, in whom are you trusting?
Our help is in the name of the Lord who made heaven and earth.
Grace, mercy and peace to you in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

*We Bring Our Praise: "Psalm 95: Come, Worship God" (O quanta qualia) SNC25

We are Renewed in Grace 

The Call to Confession - 1 John 1:5,6

Our Prayer of Confession

We humbly acknowledge, O gracious Lord, that we have been created in your image, to be like you, to live for big purposes, and to fulfill paths of significant service. But we confess that all too often we have been preoccupied with ourselves, our desires, and our needs, rather than your kingdom.
Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.
We humbly acknowledge, O gracious Lord, that we have been redeemed by your grace and have been renewed by your Spirit so that we can serve you in all things. But we confess that all too often we have been preoccupied with being our own master.
Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.
And we humbly acknowledge, O gracious Lord, that we have been called to be part of your great plan for the world and do all things to your glory. But we confess that all too often we've been more concerned about our own name and our own credit.
Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer through Jesus Christ, our Savior, Amen.

The Assurance of Pardon - 1 John 1:7

*Song of Grateful Assurance: "I Want to Walk as a Child of the Light" RN152, SNC77, TWC539, WOV649

The Call to Grateful Living - PsH p.1017

The Children's Moment

We Bring our Gifts and Prayers

The Offertory Prayer

Offertory: "For the Beauty of the Earth", Burkhardt [organ]

The Prayers of the People

Heavenly Father, we come into your presence today with a deep sense of privilege. It's a beautiful morning. The sun has risen, the landscape proclaims your glory, and the birds are singing. We are gathered here with each other in your presence. And it's your day, the day for worship and the day to celebrate your great acts of grace in our lives and our world, a day to center ourselves again in you. [The following are suggestions for prayer topics.]

  • Include expressions of praise and thanks for God's world, the beauty of creation, and God's care of us.
  • Include petitions for the ability to see and recognize his hand in the events of our world and our lives.
  • Include thanks for relationships that enrich our lives, for marriages, families, friendships, and the privilege of being part of a Christian community.
  • Pray for healing for those who experience fractured relationships, for a spirit of reconciliation where there is brokenness, and that the church also may experience such reconciliation where needed.
  • Intercede for our society, those who are victimized by others, those who are forgotten and ignored, and that the structures of our society may be marked by righteousness and truth.
  • Intercede for the suffering and the lonely; those in hospitals, rest homes, prisons; the homeless and those who are marginalized and overlooked.
  • Pray for peace among the nations of the world, and for the mutual respect for all humans regardless of their race, religion, politics, or social standing.

    (A time for silence to express private concerns, or a time for worshipers to publicly add their own petitions.)

    You have encouraged us to lay all our needs before you, and you have provided the way through your Son, our Savior, Jesus Christ. For his sake, therefore, we ask that you hear and answer our prayer. Amen.

God Speaks from His Word

The Old Testament Lesson: Ecclesiastes 1:1-11; 2:17-26

The Word of the Lord.
Thanks be to God!

Song: "O God, Our Help in Ages Past" PH210, PsH170, RL1, TH30, TWC78
or: "Psalm 90: God Everlasting" (St. Magnus) SNC213

The New Testament Lesson: Romans 1:1-7

The Word of the Lord.
Thanks be to God!

The Prayer for Illumination

O Lord, our ears are bombarded daily with messages and invitations that contradict the truth of your word. False gods everywhere beckon us to come follow them. Cheap values seem so attractive and alluring. And so today will you please speak clearly from your word that we may know how to live the way you intend for us to live. For the sake of Jesus Christ, Amen.

Sermon: What's the Point of Life?
(Life's Toughest Questions - #1)
Texts: Romans 1:1, Philippians 1:1

The Prayer of Application

We Respond to God's Word 

Anthem: "The Summons", Bell

Our Sung Prayer: "O Master, Let Me Walk with Thee" PH357, PsH 573, TWC651

*The Benediction

*Song of Commitment: "Step by Step" SNC17

*A Moment of Meditation and Reflection

Postlude: "Prelude and Fugue in G Major", J.S. Bach

* you are invited to stand

Liturgy Notes

1. Please notice that the responsive Call to Worship and the Prayer of Confession are shaped by the need to reassess our view of life and how prominent our wants have become. These reinforce the theme of the service at the very outset.

2. The Call to Grateful Living uses a responsive form of the Ten Commandments as a rule of gratitude. You may wish to use another passage or formulation, but God's call to a life of servanthood should come through clearly.

3. The formulation and suggestions for the Prayers of the People are here for your possible use, either as is, or as a stimulus to encourage your own creativity in crafting this prayer.

4. The two Scripture readings are a lesson in contrast: in the Old Testament passage Solomon expresses the dreariness of an empty life that searches; in the New Testament passage Paul gives his own testimony of a Christ-centered life of devotion. The Prayer for Illumination is intended for corporate use in unison. As such it can be a powerful expression of the congregation asking for God's direction.

5. If the message ends with a challenge to reassess our view of life or to make a commitment to Christ, and the Benediction reinforces the theme, then worshipers can be encouraged to use the Moment of Meditation and Reflection for that purpose.

Sermon Notes

1. Since this sermon begins a series of sermons on "Life's Toughest Questions", it might be wise to begin the sermon by introducing the entire series. I explained that there are big questions most of us wrestle with but don't often discuss with others, then explained where I had gotten my information and impressions that led me to choose these, and identified the questions this series would deal with. (See "Theme of the service" above)

2. Mitch Albom, a sports writer from Detroit, wrote a book entitled Tuesdays with Morrie, which chronicles his weekly Tuesday visits to Boston to visit a former professor who was dying of cancer. The book is a record of their weekly conversations about life. Though they didn't center on Christian concerns, there is much insight in them. At one point in their conversations, Morrie said, ".most of us all walk around as if we're sleepwalking. We really don't experience the world fully, because we're half-asleep, doing things we automatically think we have to do." Albom came to realize that people like Morrie who are facing death can help us strip away all that and focus on the essentials. I began this sermon with the claim that many of us are sleepwalkers, and the purpose of this sermon (and series) is to help us think more deeply about what we are sensing but find it hard to admit. The question about the point of life is one of the biggest!

3. It might help listeners to identify that there are several stages in life when the question expressed in the sermon title comes up with great significance - in adolescence when we set our direction, when life has disappointed us and we are disillusioned, when we succeed and feel self-satisfied, when we are facing mid-life and reevaluating life, and in the senior years when we know we don't have a lot of years left.

4. Paul's four-word testimony formed the core of this sermon and is his answer to our question. He considered himself a "servant of Christ Jesus". Though it's easy to overlook such an introductory statement that seems like a secondary clause, this phrase carried Paul's whole Christian philosophy of life. An examination of the word "servant/slave" and how this was achieved and evidenced in Paul's biography will be most helpful. It should form the core of this sermon.

5. This message would be an ideal time to challenge all listeners to reexamine their view of life, to ask hard questions about how self-centered we have become, and also to challenge those who are not yet committed to Christ.

Music Notes

Music Level Key: E = Easy, M = Medium, D = Difficult

  1. The music for the prelude can be found in:
    • "Seven Settings of American Folk Hymns", Wilbur Held Concordia 97-5829 [1984] (E)
    • "Wood Works", vol. 2, Dale Wood SMP KK400 [1989]
    • "Day by Day", Rachel Trelstad Porter Augsburg 11-10772 [1996] (M)
    • "How Sweet the Sound", John Leavitt CPH 97-6891 [2000] (M)
    • "Reflections on Beach Spring", Hal H. Hopson Genevox 4184-18 [1986] 3-5 octaves (E-M)
  2. The set of variations on "For the Beauty of the Earth" can be found in Michael Burkhardt's "Praise and Thanksgiving" set 4 Morningstar MSM-10-754 [1991] (E-M). This offertory music can serve as a "prelude" to the Prayers of the People.
  1. Alternative harmonizations for "O God, Our Help in Ages Past" can be found in John Ferguson's "Hymn Harmonizations for Organ, Book 1", published by Ludwig O-05 [1975].
  1. "The Summons" (tune Kelvingrove) by John Bell is published for two-part mixed choir with opt. flute and congregational verses by GIA G-5410 [2000] (E). It can also be found for congregation alone inSing! A New Creation 267 with the title "Will You Come and Follow Me".
  1. The postlude is one of J.S. Bach's "little" preludes and fugues and can be found in many different editions.
Glossary of Hymnal Abbreviations:
  • PH The Presbyterian Hymnal (Presbyterian Church USA; Westminster/John Knox Press)
  • PsH The Psalter Hymnal (Christian Reformed Church; Faith Alive Christian Resources)
  • RL Rejoice in the Lord (Reformed Church in America; W.B. Eerdmans Publishing Company)
  • RN Renew! (Hope Publishing Company)
  • SFL Songs for LiFE (children's songbook; Faith Alive Christian Resources)
  • SNC Sing! A New Creation (Calvin Institute of Christian Worship, Christian Reformed Church, Reformed Church in America; Faith Alive Christian Resources)
  • TH Trinity Hymnal (Orthodox Presbyterian Church, Presbyterian Church in America; Great Commission Publications)
  • TWC The Worshiping Church (Hope Publishing Company)
  • WOV With One Voice (Augsburg Fortress)