AN “I” EXAM: Restoring Our Vision for Christ’s Mission – Loving for the Future
Philippians 2:1-5 (p. 819) May 1, 2016
At one of our recent leadership meetings, one of our servant hearted elders, Brad Kidd, shared this poem called “The Bridge Builder” by Will Allen Droomgoole:
An old man going a lone highway,
Came, at the evening cold and gray,
To a chasm vast and deep and wide.
Through which was flowing a sullen tide
The old man crossed in the twilight dim,
The sullen stream had no fear for him;
But he turned when safe on the other side
And built a bridge to span the tide.
“Old man,” said a fellow pilgrim near,
“You are wasting your strength with building here;
Your journey will end with the ending day,
You never again will pass this way;
You’ve crossed the chasm, deep and wide,
Why build this bridge at evening tide?”
The builder lifted his old gray head;
“Good friend, in the path I have come,” he said,
“There followed after me to-day
A youth whose feet must pass this way.
This chasm that has been as naught to me
To that fair-haired youth may a pitfall be;
He, too, must cross in the twilight dim;
Good friend, I am building this bridge for him!”
Christianity is built on the principle of bridge building…it’s a future focused belief system, that affects how we live in the here and now.
“Our faith is the assurance of things hoped (for, and a conviction of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1)
In fact we are told by the writer to the Hebrews…“Without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to Him must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who earnestly seek Him.” (Hebrews 11:6)
We believe in an invisible God who called us from our sin. We believe in His son’s sacrifice and resurrection…someone we’ve never seen, but we’ve read about…we believe in a Holy Spirit that convicts human hearts and leads us to repentance…And when we respond to this invisible spirit’s internal promptings we surrender in faith…we’re baptized in water to visibly connect with his death, burial and resurrection…we then believe God gives us the gift of His Spirit to live inside these earthly bodies…we believe we become His temple as we are born again to live forever…to await His promised return of our death…either way to “live is Christ and to die is gain.” (Phil 1:21)
But what does faith mean for me and you right now? It means we understand our mission…“To go into the world and make disciples, baptize them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and teaching them to observe everything Jesus has commanded us.” (Matt. 28:19-20)
Every person mentioned in Hebrews 11, the faith chapter that pleased God…trusted God’s promise for the future…by what they did in the here and now.
I believe that’s exactly what the Apostle Paul was telling the Philippians and us in Philippians 2:1-5
I. BUILD BRIDGES NOT WALLS
I used to sing this little song in youth group…it went something like this.
“You can build a bridge or you can build a wall
It all depends upon the love you give.
If you build a wall your world is small
But a bridge of love can conquer all.”
Paul uses the word “IF” 4 times in Phil. 2:1. “If” you have any encouragement from being united with Christ…“If” any comfort from His love…“If” any common sharing in the Spirit, “If” any tenderness and compassion.
I know how I’d feel if Kari looked at me and said, “If” you love me take care of the family…“If” you love us put us first…“If” you love us be “kinder”…“be gentler”…“If” we’re in this together let’s be on the same page.
I’d get mad…I’d get defensive…want to mention and list all the stuff I do…but if she really questioned whether I loved her…and my family, above myself it would break my heart…and get my attention pretty quick.
Paul is in jail when he writes this letter…He’s in chains for the cause of Christ…He’s not questioning the Philippians allegiance to Christ…but he is thinking of the future of the Church…and He’s challenging them to never stop loving for the future…Listen to how much he loved these folks:
PHILIPPIANS 1:3-11 (p. 818)
I love you! I’m thankful for you…when I think about you I feel joy…God’s got a plan…He’s working through you…even while I’m here in prison I want you to grow…to love people even more…to understand His will even clearer…I want you to have nothing to regret when our Lord returns.
Real faith builds bridges for the future…not walls that divide the house…Real faith builds up other believers and sacrifices for a future generation…It’s what being united with Christ does to our self centered hearts…
The problem occurs when we forgot this truth…when the Church does, it becomes a museum instead of a grace Hospital…I believe “if” means we constantly have a choice to either build bridges or walls…Paul is encouraging believers to always build bridges as I will encourage you to do as well.
So how do we experience complete joy? How can we be like minded and experience the same love as Christ wants His family to enjoy? How can we be one in spirit and one in our thinking?
II. PUT A GREAT VALUE ON THE NEEDS OF OTHERS
Have you ever seen a church make decisions because they didn’t want to make someone mad? Have you ever seen a church that is proud of its past, but has forgotten it exists to build bridges for the future? I have…Listen:
REVELATION 3:1-6 (p. 862)
The church at Sardis had “a reputation of being alive.” They had knowledge they needed…They’s received it and heard it…but they went to sleep spiritually…or at least most of them…there were still a few bridge builders among them…I share this because the book of Revelation is written by John, one of the original 12 disciples…That’s how quickly “if” can occur…That’s how quickly selfish ambition and vain conceit can smother humility.
In Thom Rainer’s book “Autopsy of a Deceased Church” he also uses the churches of Philippi and Sardis as examples.
He says “The Philippians knew what they were supposed to do. They were to live the gospel. They were to proclaim the gospel…vibrant and living churches look after the interests of others. They are concerned for their community. They open their hearts and doors to others.”
But he also says Sardis was engaged in an activity called, “We’ve always done it this way.” Instead of having a gospel centered purpose and a heart and minister for it’s community they were on the path toward death…They were doing church…not being the Church.”
“The most pervasive and common thread of our autopsies was that the deceased churches lived for a long time with the past as hero. They held on more tightly with each progressive year. They often clung to things of the past with desperation and fear. And when any internal or external force tried to change the past, they responded with anger and resolution: “We will die before we change.”
– Thom S. Rainer, Autopsy of a Deceased Church: 12 Ways to Keep Yours Alive
When Paul writes “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit” he’s dealing with the two main attitudes that kill a church’s mission and spiritual alertness.
The cure? Put a higher value on the needs of others…put others before yourself…Look out for their interests before you demand your own…verse 5 tells us… “In your relationships with one another have the same mindset as Christ Jesus.”
What was that mindset? Lost people come first…“The Son of Man came to seek and save that which is lost.” (Luke 19:10) Children and young people had a high value…“Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the Kingdom of God belongs to such as these.” (Luke 18:16) Hurting and sick people had a high value…“I did not come to call righteous people but the sick. It’s not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.” (Mark 2:17)
And Jesus also had the mindset where He spoke truth powerfully to religious people who only appeared to do good, but on the inside were dead…“In the same way on the outside you appear to people as righteous, but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.” (Matt. 23:28)
Jesus put a very very high value on the needs of others…He came to serve…not to be served…He went to the cross to die…for the needs of others…How high a value is that?
You see only His Spirit living and working in me and you can turn our hearts from self centeredness to humility…only when we see through his eyes can we find value where the world sees worthlessness.
His mission is our mission…“Go make disciples…Baptize them…Teach them.” It’s impossible to be obedient to His commission if the most important person we see everyday is the one in the mirror.
It takes an “I” exam to restore our vision for Christ’s mission…and it starts with a holy Spirit examination of how we value others…Inside and outside His Church.
As you all know “Messy Spirituality” by Mike Yaconelli is one of my favorite books and he shares a story about how we should treat others…How we should value people…Especially those who are “broken and messy.” He writes…
It’s difficult to be odd in a culture of sameness. Society is not kind to the odd, the strange, the different, the broken, and the outcast. But Jesus is. Sophisticated culture doesn’t like aliens and rejects. But Jesus like us. Most people would not choose odd people, but Jesus chooses us.
In his marvelous book Letters to My Children, Daniel Taylor describes an experience he had in the sixth grade. Periodically the students were taught how to dance. Thank God this kind of thing isn’t done anymore, but the teacher would line up the boys at the door of the classroom to choose their partners. Imagine what it would have been like to be one of the girls waiting to be chosen, wondering if they were going to be chosen, wondering if they would be chosen by someone they didn’t like.
One girl, Mary, was always chosen last. Because of a childhood illness, one of her arms was drawn up and she had a bad leg. She wasn’t pretty, she wasn’t smart, and she was…well…fat. The assistant teacher of Dan’s class happened to attend his church. One day, she pulled Dan aside and said, “Dan, next time we have dancing, I want you to choose Mary.” Dan couldn’t believe it. Why would anyone pick Mary when there was Linda, Shelley, or even Doreen? Dan’s teacher told him it is what Jesus would have done, and deep inside, he knew she was right, which didn’t make it any easier. All Dan could hope for was that he wouldn’t be last in line. That way, he could choose Mary, do the right thing, and no one would be the wiser. Instead, Dan was first in line.
The faces of the girls were turned toward me, some smiling. I looked at Mary and saw that she was only half-turned to the back of the room. (She knew no now would pick her first.) Mr Jenkins said, “Okay, Dan – choose your partner!”
I remember feeling very far away. I heard my voice say, “I choose Mary.”
Never has reluctant virtue been so rewarded. I still see her face undimmed in my memory. She lifted her head, and on her face, reddened with pleasure and surprise and embarrassment all at once, was the most genuine look of delight and even pride that I have ever seen, before or since. It was so pure that I had to look away because I knew I didn’t deserve it.
Mary came and took my arm, as we had been instructed, and she walked beside me, bad leg and all, just like a princess.
Mary is my age now. I never saw her after that year I don’t know what her life’ s been like or what she’s doing. But I’d like to think she has a fond memory of at least one day in sixth grade.
I know I do.
There was nothing Mary could do. She was chosen, and she was chosen first. I have a feeling all of heaven stood and applauded.
Most of us want to put ourselves in the place of Daniel…the chooser…but in reality we are all in the position of Mary…the chosen…and understanding that spiritual truth changes how we value others.