Sunday, November 23, 2014

Shaping Your Worldview - Philippians 3.1-11

If you believe in some cosmic karma, you might need a new worldview. Meaning that there is a cosmic force that will repay, be it good or bad, what one does. “Pay It Forward” is one such ideology from this camp.

If you believe that God helps those who help themselves, you might need a new worldview. People who live this way believe that by our own strength, we do what we can and then God comes along and picks up the slack.

This next one is pretty self-explanatory. If you believe that God wants you to be happy, healthy and or wealthy, then you might need a new worldview.

Finally, if you believe that God is the Big Guy Upstairs, you might need a new worldview. The Big Guy Upstairs is an euphemism for our Heavenly Father. Yet I’ve enjoyed introducing myself to people I meet in the basement because I am challenging and claiming that title as my own. The BGU is akin to corporate bosses or CEOs who have the big picture in mind for the company and how it works maybe to include day to day operations, but to know all who work for him? Naw, that is not happening. He’s doing good to know how many work for his company. Yet our Heavenly Father does know how many there are in His creation, and He knows each of us by name, including those who don’t know Christ.

Now all of these worldviews I shared this morning are real views that I have heard Christians claim. Shaping our worldview is something that we need to be actively concerned. There is always something attempting to reshape it into something else. It is when our worldview is off base, that is when we tend to stumble or worse. We can become jaded, hurtful, or even isolated from our spiritual family.  So how do we properly shape our worldview? Let’s read our text.

1.  We rejoice in the Lord.
Rejoicing in the Lord isn’t just something that we do when times are good. This is what we do when they are bad. Paul has now twice told them to rejoice while he is sitting in prison. Is it easy to rejoice in the middle of the storm, especially if you are the creator of that storm? Not at all. Rejoicing is knowing and being comforted that our Father will work our storm out for our good. It doesn’t mean that we will escape the storm, but that we will weather it. Now if it isn’t a storm, but some injustice, then know that God may balance the scale, he may not.
Rejoicing also helps us to see the good that God is doing. In the previous chapter, Paul tells of their Epaphroditus who was ill, but in the illness, the Lord sustained him. Paul was able to see the good in the midst of his shackles. He is directing us to do likewise.
We rejoice in the Lord not only in the good times, but also in the bad.

2.  We keep on guard.
Staying on guard means that we are watching two fronts. One is the lies from the false teachers. In Paul’s day, most of the false teachers were teaching that good Christians follow the Law of Moses, especially circumcision. At best these teachers are power hungry. What would a Gentile know of the Law of Moses? These teachers would be able to keep their prestige because they knew the Law. They’d have control over others.
Today we might boil that down to the 10 commandments. James would say that the danger of this type of living is that by breaking one law, then we are guilty of breaking all of them. When was the last time any of us were in Jerusalem offering a sacrifice in the Temple? How many have mixed fibers, poly blends? Should I mention tattoos? The Law had the purpose, according to Moses of setting, making God’s chosen people stand apart. Paul says that it also defined sin. We look at the law to see how we’d not be able to obtain a right standing before The Lord Almighty.
But staying on guard isn’t just this teaching. It also comes in the health and wealth Gospel. One preacher in Houston is famous for telling his listeners that God really wants us to be happy, wants us to pursue our best for ourselves. He has the nation’s largest church. People like that message. But our Father didn’t call us for that. He called us to live for Christ.  To live lives worthy of the grace that we’ve received.
Another danger comes not so much from false teachers, but from a lie. Aesop’s Fables is where that one worldview comes from. This is a way that we rely upon our flesh. And yet, when storms come, we also do something else because of this lie. We allow our pride to step in and keep us from sharing our burdens with one another. There is no shame when you let a brother or sister in Christ know that you have a struggle, a hurt, a need.
So in our text, Paul tells us that there is no confidence in the flesh. If there was, then he’d have it in spades. But all that he has is worth nothing.
He would tell the Corinthian church that it is in his weakness that Christ’s strength is made known. Christ doesn’t ask for us to surrender part of ourselves for the Gospel. He wants us to totally surrender all of ourselves. He doesn’t desire just the bad parts, but also our strength, our minds, our heats. Then the Holy Spirit can work in and through us. We need to be on guard.

3.  We realize where our focus should be. This should be our goal, to know Christ more. If we are blessed by a person, aren’t we inclined to know more about him? Here we have a great salvation, a God who wants to know us to the point that He sent his Son for us. All we have to do is surrender to Him. Everything else, all the good we’ve done, all the bad stumbles we’ve made, they are nothing.  This is the attitude Paul had.

When our focus is on knowing Christ, learning how to love others as he’s loved us, when we are on guard by clinging to the Bible, and when we rejoice in the Lord, we will see those in the world as the Father sees them. We will love them as the Father loves us. And they will be receptive to the great news we have. So tell me, what is your worldview?

Monday, November 10, 2014

Achieving the Goal - Philippians 2.1-15

I understand Veterans' Day is this week. Some may have expected a message. It is a noble service that you have done for the country and I thank you for your service. I really do not have a message with regards to your service, or the service of military in general. Yet I have noticed that as 11.11 comes closer, we will be more inclined to focus on the vets who've served. There will even be a few memorials to those who've given their lives to the battlefield. And to those, people will remind them that that event is in May.

It is fascinating how easily people rally around causes. Though all the causes that I can think of are polar.Let's take the World Series, which is old news. Either you routed for the Giants because you have a loyalty to the team, in which case we should talk, or you have a loyalty to the NL West, But I, and a few I know, routed for the Royals because of loyalty to the Diamondbacks. Well another factor helped. My high school, the choir was called the Royalaires. I know someone who routed for them because of color. But that's old news.

I could find a few other rallying cries across the spectrum of daily life where we could unite. Yet an area that has been lacking this has been the church. This week's top church news has been the Seattle area Mars Hill Church. In light of their pastor, Mark Driscoll, stepping down, the elders of the multi-site congregation have decided that each site is now on its own. Each congregation has the option of buying their property from the parent church corporation, or they can fold, if I understood that correctly. 

Unity seems to be allusive. But it isn't unobtainable. This morning as we continue our travel through the church of Philippi I've noticed some steps to take towards unity. It isn't easy, but it is doable.

Let's read the text (Philippians 2.1-15; Holman Christian Standard Bible):

If then there is any encouragement in Christ, if any consolation of love,  if any fellowship with the Spirit,  if any affection and mercy,  fulfill my joy by thinking the same way,  having the same love, sharing the same feelings, focusing on one  goal. Do nothing out of rivalry  or conceit,  but in humility  consider others as more important  than yourselves. Everyone should look out not only for his own interests,  but also for the interests of others. 

Make your own attitude that of Christ Jesus, who, existing in the form of God, did not consider equality with God as something to be used for His own advantage. Instead He emptied Himself by assuming the form of a slave, taking on the likeness of men.  And when He had come as a man in His external form, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death— even to death on a cross. 

For this reason God highly exalted Him and gave Him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow — of those who are in heaven  and on earth and under the earth — and every tongue  should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory  of God the Father. 

So then, my dear friends,  just as you have always obeyed,  not only in my presence, but now even more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God who is working in you, enabling you both to desire and to work out His good purpose. Do everything without grumbling  and arguing, so that you may be blameless  and pure,  children of God who are faultless  in a crooked  and perverted  generation,  among whom you shine like stars in the world.

Now that we've read the text, why should we seek unity? The answer is Jesus. Paul gives us reason to untie together and all the reasons are what we have and are receiving from the Lord. Are we being changed to being more encouraging, more merciful? Do we enjoy fellowship with the Holy Spirit? Then we should have one goal, unity.

Sure someone may point out, "Steve, the previous verses had been about sharing the faith, spreading the Good News." Yet the following seem to be more about the unity. When we are united, realizing that the label we wear is more of comfort, like I wear boots instead of shoes.  I believe that unity is a draw for people. If a congregation isn't united, then it stands out like a sore thumb. It's bad enough that we cant achieve unity between congregations that don't wear the same labels. I was once in a town that had 3 ministerial associations. The town was a quarter of Bisbee in population.

Still, if we are glad to be in Christ, then why shouldn't we be glad to be in fellowship with one another? Yet, this is preaching to the choir. I know that some of us regularly are in fellowship with other churches. We need to be mindful that we continue to encourage others, seek unity around Christ, around His Word.  Now here's how we do it:

1. Check our motives.  Why do we do what we do? Is it so that we can look better than our neighbor? Or is it from jealousy, because someone else is getting the spotlight and we desire to be in it?

Consider Joseph of Cyprus from the Book of Acts. He had a plot of land and sold it. Then he handed the check that he received to the Apostles so that the money can help brothers and sisters who had needs. He didn't have any strings attached. He gave. And in turn, the Apostles gave him a cool nickname Son of Encouragement. He would continue to live to that name by giving second chances when others wouldn't.

You'd think that was all to him? Unfortunately, it wasn't. He inspired some jealousy. A couple wanted their 15 minutes of fame. Peter called them on it, and now history has recorded them as being infamous, not quite the same motivation that Joseph had.

Today, I can still see this at play. Many a students enter the ministry with high aspirations for the kingdom. Yet most of us, 20 years later, aren't really known outside of sphere of influence. Most of us preachers won't see the spotlight like Billy Graham, or even Mark Driscoll. Mark said that it was the spotlight that aided him in being distracted from caring for the flock that he was given.

With the proper motivation, we tend to follow what Jesus said about going to banquets. Assume the lower station and let others lift you up. We want to be great, love our neighbor and worry only about what God thinks. Are we doing what we do to bring glory to God, and love to our brothers and sisters in Christ? This is our motivation that we should have.

2. Model Jesus. This is perhaps the hardest to consider, to emulate. Look at the person of Jesus. Here he is. He is fully God, fully man. Read about his life in the Gospels. I challenge you to once find an example of him using his God-ness to achieve something personal. Not one miracle was performed for his benefit. Not once, do I believe that he used even his divine strength for his own benefit. The closest that you might find is at the beginning and end of his earthly ministry. When Philip went for his brother, Jesus said, "before your brother called you, I saw you sitting under the fig tree." This was said refuting Nathaniel's claim of whether anyone/thing good can come from Nazareth. When Nathaniel confesses his faith, Jesus tells him, "You think that was something, you've not seen anything yet." The other was when he's arrested, the officials say that they are looking for Jesus. When he states that he is Jesus, it was like a line of angels knocked them all back. Yet, these two signs were for those whom Jesus was addressing rather than for his own gain. Yet he willingly went through death for us, even stating "Daddy, please don't make me, but ok, I will."

But He's God, someone might say. I believe that when he was baptized, the Holy Spirit came upon him to give him the same strength that Paul says now indwells each of us. What if Jesus so emptied himself that what he did, we can also do? Modelling Jesus is a game changer in that light. We obey because we rely upon the Holy Spirit within us.

3. Live Our Message. When Paul talks about working our faith with fear and trembling, he is not talking about earning our salvation. Rather he is saying that if we are of faith, then our lives should show it, shouldn't it? James restates it this way, "Faith without works is no faith. I will show you faith by works." The point that these men are telling us that it isn't enough to merely state that we have a relationship with Christ if we are not motivated by that relationship. To only know that Jesus is Lord places us on the same level as the demons, and that truth of who Jesus is makes them tremble in fear.

Consider what supernatural answers to prayer you have seen in your life. Look at events that you've gone through, what Christ has helped you endure. Doesn't that make you pause, perhaps even shudder? It does me. God has done some mighty things in my life, things that cannot be explained my natural reasoning.

Yet that is the measure of God. His desire to be in fellowship with His creation is so great that Jesus came to taste the pain and separation from God in a way that we won't have to if we remain in Him. This is how we should be motivated to live our faith.

Now the why is as important. Paul told Timothy to preach the the Gospel when it's convenient and when its not. Augustine added to it by stating preach the word, and when necessary, use words. Today, the biggest problem nonbelievers have with the church is that we tend to talk the talk, but not walk the talk. We are accused of being hypocrites.

It is a valid point. I don't mean that we don't stumble in our walk. We do. What the world is accusing the Church is that Sven, for example, always goes to church, professes his love for God but is the crustiest guy in the neighborhood. Sven isn't walking his talk. It comes from the attitude that we do our duty to God by coming to Church when the church is open, and the rest of the time is ours. Rather, coming to Church isn't about doing duty to God, but to be recharged for the struggles ahead, to encourage one another.

But this is where the Holy Spirit helps us. Unity is possible with the effort, with relying upon the Holy Spirit, and with fellowship with one another. Once we have this down, as we work on it, our neighbors may take stock and become more receptive so that we might complete the mission.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Remembering the Mission - Philippians 1.12-20

They're called, the Houston 5, or H5 for short. These are five pastors who may or may not have been vocal in their churches about the mayor's action to make public restrooms coed. Their sermons were demanded for review, their text messages, their emails as well as anything else that might mention homosexuality, coed bathrooms or the mayor herself. 

Why this happened is interesting. After she declared bathrooms coed, she and the city's attorney were served with 50k signatures demanding that the people of Houston should decide if bathrooms were to become coed. 50k people against her? The signatures must have been forged. She rejects them despite city protocols. Of course the people who spent time collecting the signatures didn't appreciate their hard work being tossed, and their integrity being questioned. They filed a law suit.

So if there were really 50k people against her, then there has to be someone rallying the troops, perhaps these 5 pastors were deemed the most influential against her agenda.  Now 5 pastors stared at court orders demanding everything that mentioned those 3 items. They were in a conundrum. What were they to do? They decided to fight the subpoenas. 

At the same time, I wonder if they, and not just H5, but Christians across the nation had forgotten the primary mission of the church? Opportunities to share the gospel is something we ever need to be seeking, perhaps even creating.  This morning, as we continue in our journey through Philippians, we'll look at 3 results that can happen as we carry out the mission. Let's read the text:

Before I point out these results, I will say something that will challenge every patriotic fiber each of us has, regardless of the label we claim. Now the primary mission of the American Christian is to share God's love and grace, or the good news of Jesus to those around us. Though our nation was founded on rights of the individual, rights aren't new to us. Paul had rights as a Roman citizen. Citizens usually have rights. 

Ah but in America, we fought for them. We fought and fight for others. And there is nothing wrong with that. It's noble for a young citizen to sacrifice a few years or even his or her life for our nation. Yet at the end of the day, when option A is to hold on to those rights, or B to lay them aside and share the good news, then we need to lay aside those rights. Paul did as he founded this very church. 

So the first result is that bad things may happen. Paul laid aside his rights when he was flogged and is now in chains heading off to see Nero. 

In this cultural war, a term I take strong issue, we are being told to attend for our rights. We get downright ugly against someone who doesn't know Christ. We've forgotten that the Houston mayor isn't the real enemy. She's a pawn. Our enemy is the devil. Let me go further, in this culture of war, we tend to expect Christian behavior from both non Christians and corporations. We are too reach the nonuniform, but we teach and mentor one another. As for corporations? God didn't call them to behave as such. Jesus didn't die for Home Depot, nor Hobby Lobby. He died for you, me, our lost neighbor.

This war, anyway, started off with a photographer and a baker. It moved on to a family that opened up their ranch. Now a couple who run a wedding chapel, pastors they're called, are being sued. Next will be a church. And I can see it being in a small rural church, not too different from ours here in Bisbee. 

Just as Paul did, are we prepared to lay aside our rights for the opportunity share the Gospel? 

Not only does our laying aside our rights lead us to discomfort, but it may also encourage others. Paul states in verse 14 that others have gained confidence. 

It's not to different from the whistle blower. Once a victim comes forward, other victims are encouraged to come forward. They do so because they're not alone. Just as Paul suffered, others gained confidence because they're not alone. 
For now, a church standing to preach Christ alone, apart from political rhetoric, is rare, but we're not alone. There are many churches that refuse this battle so that they can reach lost souls. 
Which brings up our last result. Others preach. Regardless of their motives, they are preaching.  Perhaps it's from Catholics versus Protestants, but somewhere, though we vocally deny it, we can see other churches as competition. Perhaps it comes from the love of sports. But we are not competing. 

We have, regardless of church label, the same mission, to reach lost souls for Christ. One time Jesus sent out his disciples to preach and prepare the community for his arrival. They came across others preaching about Jesus, well more doing miracles that they were doing in Jesus name as well. Well the disciples told them to stop. Jesus then said whoever isn't against us is for us. Basically we're on the same team. 

Competition should enter our minds until more people are in Christ than are not. Unfortunately that's unlikely to happen. 
This is why we are instead to pray for different eyes. Eyes that allow us to see the world ready to hear the good news. It won't be easy. It flies against everything I've been taught, and even lived. 

Prayer is the first step. The second is to be in the word. This isn't our shield but also and primarily our sword. By the Word, we know how to love God, and to know that we should love our neighbor. And then there's fellowship. Through fellowship, we not only encourage one another, but also hold each other accountable, to living love and grace. 

As you read, listen to the news this week, consider a different way we might handle the situation as we remember the mission.