Zis-N-Zat From Pastor Asher

God is my conscience, Jesus lives in my heart… this blog is about what I see, what I think, what I do and how I serve God

Approximate Notes for Sunday Message; Philippians 3:1-14

Scriptures for this Sunday: Philippians 3:1-14

You can read these Scriptures here: NIV and ESV

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We are in the season of Lent and Lent is a time when we are challenged to struggle with the tough questions and issues of faith. Sometimes I wonder whether we have “domesticated” Jesus. I struggle with the issue of the North American churches softening Jesus’ call to service and action. I think that we offer cheap grace as a response to sin; we even use words like “bad choices” to describe “sin” and do not hold offenders responsible for their actions, not to mention challenge them to repent. To add insult to injury, I think that we make it difficult for outsiders to see themselves inside this club that we call the Church.

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We are entrusted with the greatest story of love and grace in action ever told. Somehow we made it into a story of who is in and who is out, putting ourselves in control of who gets in.

Notice I did not say you; I said we. All of us are guilty.

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As a result, it is a “good” Sunday when there are sixty of us in the church and there are ONLY 100 or so empty seats in the pews. It is impossible to estimate how many of our sisters and brothers have come through the doors of our churches looking for God only to leave disappointed because our restrictive rules, our habits, and inflexibility speak louder than our ability and willingness to meet them where they are emotionally and spiritually. These are our neighbors, our sisters and brothers. These are God’s children who came with their hearts and minds open, and left feeling hurt and misunderstood. It is very possible that they left feeling rejected by our dispassionate and aloof witness.

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Without recognizing this, without admitting that somewhere, somehow we took a wrong turn, without asking God’s forgiveness [act of confession], without repenting (doing something differently) we cannot even dream of the renewal and regeneration of our church. To quote one of the greatest visionaries of the last century, Albert Einstein, “We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.”

What are we to do?
            
How do we develop a different way of thinking?

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The life of the Apostle Paul is a great example. You can say many things about Paul, but nobody can say that he lacked passion. He was passionate for God and for the traditions that he grew up with, to the point that he organized the persecutions of the first Christians and even presided over the execution of Stephen (Gal 1:11-24, Acts 7:58).

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All that changed one day on his way to Damascus, where Paul was sent to persecute Christians (Acts 9:1-19). It is on that road that Paul met Jesus, and after that meeting everything Paul said and did was about his experience of Jesus Christ.

An experience of God changes us. It changes what and how we think, how we perceive ourselves and others, and why we do what we do.

Before meeting Jesus on the road to Damascus, Paul placed his confidence in his pedigree, and was dedicated to maintaining the traditions of ancient Judaism.

After experiencing the Risen Savior, Paul’s world was turned upside down. What was gain became loss. What was foolishness became wisdom. Paul gained new insights through faithful living. Throughout Epistles we hear over and over and over, “God is in Christ and Christ is in me. Praise be to God for God is faithful” (Romans 8:10, 2 Cor 5:19, Col 3:3).

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Listen to how Paul says it in today’s reading, 7 But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. 8 What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith” (Philippians 3:7-9).

We live in a fallen world. That is why it is our tendency as a Church to concentrate on the institutional aspects of the issues that we face in our life. During the Bishop’s Day Apart on February 8, 2016, our bishop, Bishop Johnson, invited Bishop Young Jin Cho to address the clergy of Peninsula-Delaware Conference. One of the quotes that Bishop Cho used came from the book by Dr. Graham Standish titled Becoming a Blessed Church. Dr. Standish wrote,

“I have been frustrated over the years that a vast majority of the congregations in the mainstream denominations, and the denominations themselves, have adopted a functional style of church that cuts off their spiritual cores. What I mean is that too many churches focus only on function, on doing activities of church, and not on the fact that at their hearts churches are meant to be spiritual communities in which people form a relationship with and experience God. In these churches there is little expectation that members will experience and encounter God, or connect what they do to God’s purpose, presence, and power.”

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That’s what Paul was doing before meeting Jesus: his spirituality was based on maintaining the traditions and following the rules. Before meeting Jesus, Paul was about “functionality of the establishment” and he was passionate about it.

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When people come through our doors they are NOT looking for functionality, maintaining of religious traditions and following the rules. If they suspect or discern that we are about “a functional style of church” they leave because they come to us looking for God, not for ways to administer their lives. If they think that they see righteousness without a kindred spirit, without hunger for God, without passion for faithful living, they will leave.

The good news in all that, our hope in all that, is that the church building is meant to be a gathering place for a group of people who cannot contain the good news of Jesus and do not want to keep it to themselves.

It is sometimes difficult for us to reconcile our modern faith and lives with Paul’s faith and life. None of us have gone blind after experiencing the Risen Savior (Acts 9), I do not know of any of you being stoned for your faith (Acts 7:58, 14:19), and most of us do not travel and plant churches like Paul did.

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The truth remains that after meeting Jesus, Paul found a new “normal.” Paul’s faith in Jesus is made up of things that he forfeited. A major lesson from the life of Paul is that sacred cows, when we give them up for the right reasons, make awesome burgers. “I consider everything a loss,” Paul wrote “that I may gain Christ” (Phil. 3:8).

Paul challenged his readers with these words, “…forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which … God has called me [through] … Christ Jesus.” (Phil. 3:13-14).

There are three instructions in this passage:

  1. Forgetting what is behind” (Phil. 3:13) Jesus has redeemed the past. Jesus bought us a future with his love. Our challenge is to NOT get stuck in the past. “… if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” (John 8.36)

  2. “… straining toward what is ahead” (Phil. 3:13) Moving forward with Jesus is simple, but it is not easy. To do that we have to confront our fears. Salvation is not for wimps. Relationship with Jesus stretches us and challenges us emotionally. Do you trust the Holy Spirit to lead you through this process?

  3. “… press on toward the goal … for which God has called me…” (Phil. 3:13) Our goal is God, to see God better, to love God deeper, and to follow God more closely. We cannot perfect ourselves any more than we can work our way into Heaven. What are you doing to see God better, to love God deeper, to follow God more closely?

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