Sunday, November 06, 2005

Finding Our Place

Intro.:    One of those pieces of trivia that many Christians carry around with them is knowing the shortest verse in the Bible.
  1. Most people will tell you that the shortest verse in the Bible is John 11:35 - “Jesus wept”
  2. But that is only half true.  It is only true in an English translation.
  3. If we read Greek, then would find a verse that is shorter by one word.  
  4. The Greek in John 11:35 has three words.
  5. The Greek for I Thessalonians 5:16 is only two words long.
  6. And what does I Thessalonians 5:16 say - “Rejoice always.”
  7. And that takes us to Philippians 3:1-11
Read:  Philippians 3:1-11
Trans:  You have heard me say, perhaps too often, that as people we are broken.

1.  That might raise the question – what does an unbroken person look like.
2.  G K Chesterton, writing in the early 1900's addressed that issue when he wrote -

that most humans rejoice over the insignificant and despair over the essential. However, that isn’t the last word, Chesterton averred. “Man is more himself, man is more manlike, when joy is the fundamental thing in him, and grief the superficial. Melancholy should be an innocent interlude … praise should be the permanent pulsation of the soul.”  Why does joy go deeper in humanity than pain? Because joy is at the heart of our relationship with God and was the basis of Adam’s initial walk with God. One day that joy will be restored as the basis of our redeemed walk. So often now joy lies manacled by the equivalent, or excessive, sorrows of life. And while we can hear joy shouting its existence, even while imprisoned, it will one day break free and embrace all the saved in its delight. Pain is a viscious interloper that will one day vanish. In the new world, free from restriction, joy will once again prevail, rippling like waters through stony heights.

  1. Rejoicing in the Lord    Philippians 3:1
  1. We all will start some where.
  2. Paul starts with “Rejoicing”
  3. He knows – whether one has learned to rejoice or not – a heart that is capable of rejoicing is ready to face life's difficulties.
(Ill.)  I suspect most of us have read the Pollyanna stories or seen one of the three movies based on the book.  Pollyanna was a fictional girl whose father, a missionary, had died.  She was sent to be raised by a rather obnoxious aunt.  Her arrival in Vermont to meet her aunt is a good illustration of the “Glad Game” that became an important part of the Pollyanna stories.  When she first arrived at the railway station, she was met by a servant that she thought was her aunt.  “I am so glad that you came to meet me, Aunt  Polly.”  When Pollyanna found out that it was not her aunt, she turned and said, “I am so glad that Aunt Poly did not come to meet me – I have now made a friend of you and I can still meet my Aunt Poly.”  Today we think of Pollyanna as being an air head who never understood what life was really about.  

Eleanor Porter, the author of these books, would want to argue with you.  The daughter of a pastor, her father was given to times of depression that seemed to take over his life.  For many years he felt discouragement as he sought to serve the Lord – and, as you can imagine, it took its tole on the little girl, Eleanor.

That was until he discovered “his rejoicing texts” as he called them.  It was those verses that began “rejoice” or “be glad in the Lord” or “Shout for joy.”  Eleanor tells the story that one occasion when he was particularly depressed, he took the time to count the verses that he had collected.  There were eight hundred verses.  Her father said that if God took the trouble to tell us eight hundred times to be glad and rejoice, He must really want us to do it.  And he developed the “Glad Game” for himself.  He taught it to Eleanor, who through the Pollyanna books, taught it to us.

Pollyanna's cheerfulness wasn't an escape from the reality of life, but the simple faith of a child learned from her father, who, like us, was learning to trust God and rejoice in all life's ups and downs.i
  1. Paul writes, “Finally, my brothers and sisters, rejoice in the Lord.”  Maybe we too need to listen to what he has to say.
  1. Watching out for the kill-joys
  1. I don't know what happened between verse one and verse two.  It sounds as if Paul is about to end his letter – but before he does he puts down his pen for a time.  Before he is able to finish, Paul hears some disturbing news.  
  2. Strangers have apparently arrived in Philippi suggesting that those who had placed their faith in Christ must now follow the OT law.  It was not enough to accept the grace of God – you must also place yourself under the rules and regulations that are found in the OT.
  3. And Paul responds by using strong words – he calls those who would divert the minds, hearts, and souls of the church from following Christ alone, “Dogs.”  
(Ill.)  At the very least it was term to used to refer to the Gentiles who had no real faith in God.  The Greek word is a reference to the wild dogs that roamed the city streets scavenging for any garbage that they could get their mouths around.  Rather than being holy people, there was nothing clean about the dogs that roamed the city.  
  1. “Mutilators of the flesh” refers specifically to the OT practice of circumcision.  The OT laws were no longer required – permitted to the extent someone wanted to follow them, but not required.  
(Ill.)  A counselor at church camp told of his experience with a nine-year-old boy who started to cry when they turned out the cabin lights the first night. “Was he afraid of the dark?” the counselor asked. “No,” the boy replied; “he just didn’t want to be attacked by the ‘killer rabbits.’“  Some older kids at home had told him that there were “killer rabbits” who would come out at night and attack the campers. Jesus was constantly reassuring the disciples with the words, “Fear not.” Their fears betrayed their lack of faith. When one traces these words and their usage throughout the Bible, it seems that one of man’s constant needs is to be reassured of the presence and comfort of God almighty. Christians can draw on this presence to find comfort and destroy their fears. Watch out for “killer rabbits!” They can destroy your peace of mind at camp and throughout life.ii
  1. What Paul is really saying is this – that we must watch for those things that might distract us from following the one to whom we gave our life.  Whether it be people, ideas, or things – there are distractions to our walk with God.  Paul warns us, “Watch out for the kill-joys of faith.”
  1. Finding the balance
  1. There was no room to boast in the Law.  Paul knew that better than anybody.
  2. He was a Jew that had spent his time obeying the law  - look at what he writes ”... circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for legalistic righteousness, faultless.”
  3. If anybody had reason to boast – it was Paul.  
  4. But, now, as a believer, Paul looks to that same past and call it “rubbish”.  His past had no value when placed in the hands of Jesus Christ.   
(Ill.)  Perhaps understood the explorer in a story I once heard.  A very boastful explorer was boring his dinner guests with accounts of a South African trip he had made. “And just as I looked inside my tent when I retired,” he boomed, “I saw a ferocious ape.”  

“What do you suppose I did?”  

A weary voice replied, “Took the mirror down?”
  1. We cannot boast in what we have accomplished.  May we have Paul's attitude in Philippians 3:8-11.
    Read Philippians 3:8-11

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