Sunday, October 02, 2005

Real Worshiping

Philippians 3:4b-14
[This message was shared with the people of Friendship Church on October 2, 2005.]

This past week, a new law went into effect in the state of Maryland. It says that within the first five months of receiving their licenses, new drivers under the age of eighteen may not have any minor passengers with them unless a seasoned driver is also in the vehicle. Besides that, the law says that new drivers may not operate any electronic devices, including cell phones, while driving. The intention, of course, is to force the new drivers to focus on the demanding job of driving.

I suspect that some Maryland teens may regard this as a terribly unfair law, even though some of us might think that it would be good if such restrictions were placed on drivers of every age. But if that happened, there would be a huge outcry, such as occurred when cell phone use while driving was banned in New York City a few years ago. We seem to view doing lots of things as once, or multi-tasking, as it’s called, as our constitutional right.

But this multi-tasking stuff doesn’t always work so well. Presbyterian pastor and theologian Mark Roberts, who I’m looking forward to meeting at a conference for Christian bloggers in the Los Angeles area in a few weeks, enjoyed seeing the remake of the old movie, Cheaper by the Dozen, a few years ago. Mark writes that while there was a lot of the juvenile slapstick you might have expected, the film also conveys a serious point:
In scene after scene, the father of 12 children, Tom Baker, played by Steve Martin, is being multi tasked to death as he attempts to balance the impossible demands of work and family. Now I don’t have 12 children, thank God, but sometimes I feel almost as out of sorts as Tom Baker.

When we’ve got so much going on in life, when voices all around us clamor for our attention, it’s easy to lose focus. We can forget why we’re here and what we’re living for. We end up charging off in all directions at once, and arriving at none of them.
That’s true, isn’t it? We live in a world of wonders, filled with all sorts of delights and possibilities, career paths and hobbies, entertainments and enterprises that are worthy of attention, dedication, and passion. Many things cry for our attention. At the end of Cheaper by the Dozen, Tom Baker, decides to leave behind his promising career as a head football coach in order to spend more time with his children. He forswore the good to embrace the better.

You and I are called to do that kind of thing every day. It’s exactly what the writer of our Bible lesson for this morning, the first century preacher and evangelist, Paul, is talking about. Paul wrote these words to the church in the Greek city of Philippi.

A group of persuasive preachers had come to the Philippians and thrown them into doubt about their standing with God. They wondered if they really belonged Christ or if they would be with God in eternity.

That’s because these preachers had told them that it wasn’t enough for them to believe in Jesus, to trust Him with their lives. They told the Philippians that they also must become practicing Jews. The men would be required to be circumcised, for example, and all would have to observe the rituals and the laws of the Jewish religion.

The Philippian Christians had probably once been stirred by the truth that Jesus shared in John 3:16, telling that God had loves all of us so much that He gave His only Son so that everyone who believes in Him will live with God forever.

Now, here was this gang telling them that their belief in Jesus was okay, but now they also had to jump through religious hoops. Otherwise, God wouldn’t love them and they wouldn't be with God forever.

Martin Luther used to say that any time a person tells you that Christian faith consists of "Jesus and..." anything, they're not talking about Christian faith. Not even if it's "Jesus and" the very best things of which you can think. Rightness with God doesn't come from "Jesus and being a good person," or "Jesus and your family," or "Jesus and community service." Salvation and rightness with God have to do with only one thing, Jesus.

Paul said that these people who were commending circumcision, ritual observance, and good works in addition to Jesus were following the way of this flesh-and-blood world, not the God we know in Jesus Christ.

When Paul got wind of what the Philippians had been told and were starting to believe, he was furious!

These false preachers were taking their spiritual confidence away from the Philippian Christians. Our confidence as followers of Jesus has nothing to do with the things we do and everything to do with what Jesus Christ has already done for us from a cross and an empty tomb!

This is the way Paul expresses himself to the Philippians:
If anyone else has reason to be confident in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ. More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God based on faith.
In other words, Paul is saying, “All these people commanding you to conform to all legalistic provisions to be right with God are off the beam. I was a better Jew than any of these so-called Judaizers. I had climbed up the ladder of Judaism. I was a religious superstar!”

But, Paul wants them to know that he considers all that religion stuff to be “rubbish” compared to what he had through Jesus Christ: the gift of an everlasting relationship with God not based on anything he could do, but only on what Christ has done for us already. Our translation puts it a bit too daintily, by the way. Paul didn't say that he regarded his old life as mere rubbish. The word literally can be translated as excrement. That's what a life devoted to self-elevating works--even good religious works--is like compared to having faith in the Savior Jesus Who gives us everything worth having for free!

Then, Paul talks about the choice he has made in response to the incredible free gifts of life, forgiveness, love, hope, and confidence that comes through Jesus Christ. Paul isn’t going to multi-task with his life. He’s going to choose make following Christ his highest priority through all the ups and downs of life.

He writes:
I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.
Folks, last week, we said that authentic faith means worshiping God every day of our lives. Today, Paul reminds us that living lives worshiping God--knowing Jesus and moving toward being like Him--entails making Him the focus of our lives.

Pastor Mike Foss tells the true story of a business executive in his congregation. Says Foss:
John’s life and career were on the upswing. He had just closed a major deal that lead to a large bonus. Membership in the country-club, driving a luxury SUV, and having a fine home and cabin up north, just seemed to be standard fare for one whose accomplishments were so many and frequent. Then it happened: his wife was diagnosed with a terminal disease. Putting his career temporarily on hold, he made certain that she got the very best medical care and, when he didn’t like the diagnosis and treatment plan, he took her to a world-class medical center. But the doctors all seemed to come to the same conclusion: she would die after a long time of decline. They recommended that he put her in a nursing home, visit her regularly, and go back to his career. But John couldn’t do that. Every time he looked at her, he didn’t see the sickness—he saw the woman...he loved, the partner in life with whom he had shared family and faith. And after one night of restless prayer, he made his decision. He quit his [job] to care for her, saying, “I’ll never get a chance to love her again. But I can always go back to work.” So, he sold his cabin and house and moved her to a single-level simple home where he loved her until the end.
What that man did was an act of worship. No, he wasn’t worshiping his wife. There may in fact be times when our devotion to Jesus Christ will necessitate our giving attention to things other than our families. I think that many parents today are not being very loving toward their children by their willingness to drop everything whenever their kids want attention. Our children cannot learn to put God and others first, they cannot learn to be responsible, loving adults, if their parents always cater to their kids’ desires. Nor do we help our kids by enabling them in being selfish or inconsiderate or by bailing them out every time they make a bad decision.

Authentic worship of the God we know with Jesus Christ entails responding to Christ’s love by letting His priorities, His ways, and His love overtake every aspect of our lives. That’s what did John when he put his career behind and stretched out for the way of Jesus.

Every day, we must choose: Christ or me? Christ or my ego? Christ or my priorities? Humbly following Christ or following the religion that makes the world think me pious? Or for our teens perhaps, following Christ or impressing those around me? Every day, we’re called to follow Jesus rather than the world. And this isn’t something we can multi-task. We can’t follow the risen and living Jesus and a selfish and dying world at the same time. We will either have all of Jesus or none of Him.

To have none of Him is unthinkable. To have all of Him is to have everything that really matters for all eternity.