Everything You’ve Got

There isn’t much worthwhile in life that happens without effort.

Listen to the way Paul speaks of effort in Philippians 3:12 & 13: “I press on, straining toward the mark… I press on to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” Can you feel the intensity of Paul here, his determination?

Press on” in the Greek literally means “I over extend myself. — I go for it with all I’ve got. I throw myself into it, straining with every nerve and and muscle to reach the prize.” He’s a man of intensity, maximum effort. No gain without pain. That’s the way to live!

Can you stop for a moment and imagine what would happen if Christians would put as much energy into serving Christ as they do into making money or their favorite sport? Would you commit as much time to pursuing Jesus as you do tutoring or learning how to play PS3, Nerf-Guns, Golf, Ping-Pong? Hiking? Shopping in Hong Kong, Korea or Japan?

Memory Problems

One of the things that might be holding you back from growing in your faith is a memory problem. What memory problem? I’m not talking about something you have forgotten, I’m referring to something you need to forget or you won’t be able to move forward.

Paul says if he is going to be all God wants him to be he’s not going to waste any more time on yesterday.

Philippians 3:13 “This one thing I do, forgetting what is behind.”

God spoke to Israel through Isaiah and said:

Isaiah 43:18 “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See I am doing a new thing!”

Forgetting isn’t so easy though. It seems that whatever we try to forget we actually end up remembering and recalling more intensely. So how do I forget “what is behind“?

To forget, in this sense, really means, don’t let the past affect you anymore. Don’t let it control you or have power over you or manipulate you. Learn from the past without dwelling on the past, let it go and move on. Don’t keep obsessing about it.

Some of you might be continuing to rehearse things in your heart that God has long since forgiven and forgotten. We hang onto things from our past that can become handicaps that keep us from moving forward. Don’t become paralysed through unbelief. God’s forgiveness is available to you through Christ. When He “forgets” your sin, He no longer allows it to affect your relationship with Him. But it’s not just the hard and painful things you need to forget. We have memory problems.

It’s just as important to put any successes behind you as it is failures. The problem with success is that it tends to make you complacent and fills you with pride. Then you stop growing and learning.

Jesus said to him, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” ~ Luke 9:62

What do you need to forget?

Success: Not finished yet

How do you define “success” in the Christian life? Sinless perfection? Church attendance? Everybody seeking your approval before doing anything? How about, being transparent about your sin and flaws and need for God’s grace and repentance? Because that is how the apostle Paul describes it in Philippians chapter 3.

Paul even encourages us to follow his example. v.17join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us.” What is his pattern? How is it shaped by Jesus and the gospel?

Paul was honest about his faults. vv.12-13Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, … I do not consider that I have made it my own…

To me, that’s an amazing statement, because Paul is an old man when this was written. If anybody had the right to claim he had arrived it would be Paul. He wrote most of the New Testament. He single handedly spread Christianity throughout the Roman Empire. He made an incredible impact on the world.

Yet, at the end of his life, says “I don’t have it all together. I haven’t arrived. I’m not perfect. I’m still growing.” Even when he gets to be an old man, in prison, he says, “I haven’t arrived.”

Today, many Christians will give you the impression that they never have any problems. That they have arrived. They are sinless and perfect; no problems or doubts!

Personally, these people make me a little uneasy. The longer I grow as a Christian the more acutely aware I am of my own inadequacies, limitations, weaknesses and faults. Rather than saying “Look how far I’ve come,” I have to say, with Paul, “Look how far I have to go!” Paul says this is the starting point for successful living — to face up to your sin and need for God’s grace and repentance. Some people are uncomfortable with a leader that demonstrates transparency like this – they think leaders are supposed to be the “very perfect model of a modern Major-General.”

Transparency is a mark of emotional maturity. A lot of people are afraid to admit their weaknesses because they are more interested in having a reputation than they are in being godly. For these people, appearances are the most important thing. Any admission of fault or inadequacy is viewed as a mark of inferiority – a reason to be distrusted. They refuse to model repentance before others and will not submit to anyone who does.

But, to varying extents, we’re all good at evaluating other people and advising where they need to change. Do you have courage to sit beside Paul, and say, “I’m with you. I haven’t arrived yet either.” Do you?

Whats the worst insult you can think of?

When we think of dogs, we think of “man’s best friend” or warm, cuddly pets. In the New Testament times dogs were not thought of as dirty scavengers. The worst thing you could call somebody, was, a dog.

In Philippians 3:2 Paul uses the term “dog” to designate anyone who directs you away from Jesus as the source of joy. In particular, he focuses on those obsessed with moralistic rule keeping as the means to achieve God’s blessing. The idea was, along the lines of, if you live according to a strict moral code, then God will be happy with you.

We’re all familiar with the austere looking puritan caricatures that so often are used to ridicule Christians. Unfortunately, in many cases, those caricatures are closer to the truth than Christians will care to admit. “Oh, we’re saved by grace” they nobly espouse. Then, as soon as someone falls short of their  moral code of conduct, they are either given a dressing down or shunned.

These so-called Christians are Dogs! Filthy, disgusting, scavengers, scum of the earth!

What is going to bring joy into my heart and soul and keep it? What safeguard is there for me that will keep me stabilized, make me certain and keep me secure so I can live with joy?

It is not keeping to the rules. You can’t possibly maintain a perfect standard anyway. Instead, joy, exuberant, exalting, free, hedonistic joy is to live each day realizing that everything God does in you and through you, is by grace, rather than working for it and earning it.

Stay clear of “dogs” or whatever else you might think to call those who turn you away from Jesus.

Would you like some cheese with your WHINE?

One of my previous employers use to host a Friday afternoon social that consisted of some drinks and snacks. The snacks would vary depending on which team member had done the shopping, but one thing was consistent; there was always a nice bottle of wine with a few cheeses and usually a loaf of sour dough and olive oil dip. The afternoon provided a way to wind down at the end of the week, debrief and catch up with colleagues that you had been too busy to speak to earlier and otherwise relax before heading off into your weekend. It was something to look forward to, particularly if the week had been a little long. At 4:00pm each Friday, it was “tools down” and time to push away from the desk and gather in the break out area for a drink. My wife and I also enjoy an occasional wine and cheese night at home with a movie. The idea is pretty much the same, relax, wind down and enjoy a small treat.

But there is another type of “whine” that isn’t so enjoyable or relaxing. You know, the whiner, the martyr, the cynic, the perfectionist – they just can’t seem to talk without complaining about someone or thing. They have the un-delightful talent of making any interaction painful.

What does God’s word have to say about dealing with this habit of complaining? In Philippians 2:14-16, Paul says,

Do all things without grumbling or questioning, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain.

How do I do that? It is not achieved by a mere act of will power. It is an effect or result of living out the inner reality of the gospel of Jesus in the strength and power of the Holy Spirit (spoken of in verse 12 & 13).

When we are truly meditating upon and believing the gospel of Jesus Christ, our complaining is undone. Our complaining says, ‘I am entitled to better than this.’ Whereas the gospel says, ‘I am entitled to be judged for my sin and sent to hell for eternity. Thank God for his grace and mercy to me.’ When we put the gospel first, we will gladly sacrifice all types of ‘complaining’ for the sake of the salvation of others.

When Paul says the result of not complaining is we “shine as lights in the world“, he is alluding to Daniel 12:3, “Those who are wisewill shine like the brightness of the heavens, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars for ever and ever.”

The point he is making is that people believing the gospel, will react differently to the circumstances in life. A complaining Christian is speaking and acting as though the gospel isn’t true.

How do you make a positive impact so that the world takes notice? Not by whining. Instead, speak the word of life, sacrifice your own agenda and give yourself to Jesus (v.16-18).

Choosing not to complain is an act of self-sacrifice. It is a loving decision to enter into personal suffering, loss and inconvenience for the sake of Jesus and others. Jesus entered our broken lives and pain and took it upon himself to give us life. He chose not to exercise his entitlements and instead died for our sins, in our place and we are called to sacrificial service for the sake of others coming to faith in Christ.