Monday, February 22, 2010

Shooting for the Stars

At some point we all start thinking that the world revolves around us; and yet the stunning truth of our faith is that the One around whom the universe really does revolve emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, and became obedient unto death -- even death on a cross. “Therefore,” Paul says, “God highly exalted him and gave to his Crucified and Risen Son the name that is above every name” (Phil. 2: 9). Now in Philipppians 2: 12-18, God’s “therefore” (God’s response) calls out from us our own “therefore” – our response. If praise was the Father’s response to Y'shua's (Jesus') work, what should our work be? If the work of Jesus was to humble himself and become the Servant Son, what will it mean for us to “shine like stars” for him?

First, let’s try to understand the nature of the work. For Paul says in vv. 14-15,“Do all things without murmuring and arguing so that you may be blameless and innocent…without blemish in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation in which you shine like stars in the world.”
Paul doesn’t mince words. If you want to shine like stars in the world, if you want to illuminate and influence this world in the manner of Jesus the Messiah, if you want to shine with your brothers and sisters like the fire of a hundred billion suns….then “do all things without murmuring or arguing (grumbling or complaining/ NIV).” It’s a bit of a let-down, isn’t it? When we think of ‘shining like a star” we might dream of being Olympic athlete like downhill skier Lyndsey Vonn, or a brilliant businessman…or (if we are trying to be a little more spiritual) ending world hunger, rebuilding Haiti, or winning a continent for Jesus. But no, Paul’s chosen example of what it means to 'shine like the stars' is to “Do all things without murmuring or arguing.” How unexciting, how ordinary…but how essential if we are to accomplish anything for our Lord! Because grumbling and arguing and complaining is the auto-immune disease of our culture and the church.

Imagine a restaurant where the moment you sit down…you hear nothing but complaints… the waitress complaining about that lazy cook who still hasn’t finished your order, or the bus boy who complains about how the waitress keeps shorting him on tips; or the manager who blames their “B” rating on the incompetent staff. No one would return to a restaurant like that…and no one would want to be part of a church like that. In Facing Your Giants, Max Lucado tells about running a half-ironman triathlon. “After the 1.2 mile swim and the 56 mile bike ride, I didn't have much energy left for the 13.1 mile run. Neither did the fellow jogging next to me,” he writes. I asked him how he was doing and soon regretted posing the question. “This stinks. This race is the dumbest decision I've ever made." He had more complaints than a taxpayer at the IRS. My response to him? "Goodbye." I know if I listened too long, I'd start agreeing with him. I caught up with a 66-year-old grandmother. Her tone was just the opposite. "You'll finish this," she said. "It's hot, but at least it's not raining. One step at a time… don't forget to hydrate…stay in there." I ran next to her until my heart was lifted & my legs were aching. I finally had to slow down. "No problem." She waved & kept going.

Complaining is a habit that we all indulge in, given the right situation. Sometimes we feel cheated – we don’t think we’re getting what we deserve. We may be spiritually lost – no one is more unhappy than the person who views life as hopeless. We may simply be lazy. Sometimes it’s easier to complain than to face life’s challenges, whether it’s a troubled relationship, finances, or the boss at work. But Paul knows that the church, of all places, must be a place in which men and women model the opposite of murmuring and complaining…who speak words of hope and encouragement, words that build up not tear down, that are truthful, constructive, and kind. It’s not just important for our community, it’s vital to our mission. Paul knows that they and we know that this is hard work. Are there any rewards, any incentives to do it? Yes, says Paul, so let’s look next at…

The rewards of the work. “It is by your holding fast to the word of life that I can boast on the day of Christ that I did not run in vain or labor in vain. But even if I am being poured out….I am glad and rejoice with all of you and in the same way you also must be glad and rejoice with me" (Phil. 2: 16-18). Paul says that it is by the Philippians’ faithfulness to the word of life, that it is by their willingness to live out the principles of Christ-like humility and love for one another that he will be able to boast on the Day of Christ that he did not run in vain. In other words, “Philippians, one of your rewards will be making me proud of you!”

What if it was simply our goal to make each other proud of our progress in becoming more like Y'shua (Jesus), to "spur one another on to love and good deeds" (Heb. 10:24); and to be personally proud when others “hold fast to the word of life,” hold fast to the teaching of Scripture, build others up with their words, offer help to those in need, and make disciples of Jesus our Lord. On the other hand, like Paul, we should feel a deep sense of grief when others in the body are hurting or feel hurt, when others have failed and have fallen. Like the relationship between a coach and an athlete…there is a sharing both of the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat. Notice that Paul never rejoices in the Philippians’ failures. He prays for them and exhorts them like a good coach! He wants to see them on the medal stand; he wants the reward of knowing that his friends have dealt with their disunity, their grumbling and arguing, and remained faithful to Jesus. And Paul hopes to make them similarly proud – even if it means he must face death for Jesus' sake.

I ran into someone two weeks ago who left our church more than 10 years ago because of a conflict. She is doing well. God is using her. But it reminded me of the pain of that conflict; not something to be proud of. Certainly we have our weaknesses as a church. We have our moments. There are times that we grumble and complain, and act selfishly...but I don't believe this speaks the deepest truth about us. I belong to a family of believers that truly loves Jesus, and I'm proud of my family. I'm proud that many lives are being touched through our Int'l Student Fellowship and the work of our Resident Missionary, In Cheol Kim. I’m proud of our ministry to children, families, and youth thanks to our terrific staff members Alea Hessler and Joel Dunn. I’m proud of the way our Deacons help those who are in need. I feel like boasting about the spiritual leadership of our Elders over this past year despite some real challenges; about the many quiet acts of humble service that are displayed in our church; and about the fact that there are men and women here who have walked with the Lord for more than 70, 80, or 90 years! And yes, I’m proud of our sacrificial commitment to mission around our city and around the world.

So here is a challenge to you...assuming that you belong to a community of Jesus followers somewhere on this planet. Make it your goal to make each other proud just as Paul hoped the Philippians would make him proud! Beyond that, let’s live a life that makes our Lord proud…which is our greatest reward, to hear him say, "Well done, good and faithful servants" (Matt. 25: 21). To do that, however, we will need more than an understanding of the nature of the work, or its rewards, we will need to understand, first and foremost, who the workers of the work are.

"Therefore, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed me, not only in my presence but much more now in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure" (Phil. 2: 12-13). The most important thing to get straight as we read these verses is that there are two workers. First, there are the Philippians. Paul -- who can no longer be with them personally, who is now absent and can no longer personally oversee their spiritual growth -- challenges them to “work out their own salvation.” Don’t misread Paul. He is not telling them they must earn their salvation through their good works. He uses the plural here (Keep on working out, all of you, your salvation: that is, the “wholeness and healthiness” of the entire church, which is what the noun soteria means in this context. Hear me again: Paul is not telling them that they must “work for” their salvation, but that they must “work it out” (pres. imp.) – that is, ‘continually work out’ the practical implications of the salvation which they already possess. It’s as though Paul were saying, “My beloved, (Notice how Paul sets the example with his pastoral tone) when I was with you, you always followed my example, but now I am in prison and it’s even more important. I can’t be there to guide you. It’s time to start walking on your own two feet; to start taking responsibility for the health and well-being of your life together in the Messiah Jesus as you address your problems.

BUT, as you engage in this work…be encouraged. You are not alone. There is another Worker, the strong and faithful God who always finishes the good work that he begins (see Phil. 1:6); “who is at work in you now (lit. “energizing you”) enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” Where did Lyndsey Vonn get the energy to ski the women’s downhill to gold medal victory despite the pain of her shin injury? It came from physical training…6-8 hours a day. It came from a good diet. It came from mental and emotional toughness. Maybe those commercial deals didn't hurt either! But when did she begin to draw on all this energy? Answer: When she put her poles in the snow, and began to propel herself down the hill. She could not draw upon that energy until she began to ski; she could not be sure of her capacity to overcome the pain and to endure to the end until she faced her fear and began careening down that mountain at 65 mph. But as she started to ski, her mind and body immediately began to draw upon all the energy sources that were available to her.

Friends, this is your coach talking. Be encouraged! Even the desire, the will, to propel yourselves up and down the mountains of life come from God. Because as we begin to move out together in faith and humility he will provide the energy “to do all things without murmuring and arguing,” to “hold fast to the word of life,” “to shoot for the stars, and shine like the sun,” to cross the finish line in victory…and hear our Lord’s “Well done, good and faithful servant”!

Jesus our Mighty Savior, you are the Light of the World. Shine your light in our hearts, exposing anything that is displeasing to you or that would hinder your kingdom work in this world. Help us to turn from hatred, infidelity, untruthfulness, abuse and disrespect, taking what is not ours, ignoring those in physical and spiritual need, the desire for more of everything but You. Thank you that this does not begin with our work for then we surely would be lost. It is your work in us that we count on today; that we are your children because you claimed us, that our labor will not be in vain because you empower it; and that we really can shine like stars, bearing witness to your grace and truth because you continue to illumine and transform us with your Holy Spirit. Amen!


keagle46 said...

Hi Steve, I enjoyed your message a lot. I wasn't able to attend church because of our baby, so I read it on the blog. I felt encouraged and inspired. Often, even though I have a devotion, life just goes on. Messages, such as those based in Philippians which can, depending on how they are presented, impact one. The Holy Spirit has infused this letter with joy, encouragement, and the need to pull together as a body, as well as to see what is truly significant.
Thanks "Coach,"
Keith Akiyama

Corynn said...

Hi Dad! How ya doin? I love you sooooooooooooooooooooooo much!!!!!!!!!!
You're #1 fan,
Corynn :)

Kaitlin said...

Hi Dada!
I love you sooooooooooooooooooo much!!!!!!!!
You are the best dad in the whole world!!!!!!!!!!!!
Have a great day!!!
Love Kaitlin

Steve said...

Thanks Keith...I'm glad the message fed your spirit. You're a blessing. How's the little guy? Corynn, and Kaitlin...thanks for all the love. It lifts your daddy's heart :)