Monday, April 25, 2016

Monday Morning Rewind: Shining Brightly Together

Perhaps your sense of humor is too refined to appreciate "light bulb" jokes.  But I love them!

For example, how many Gorillas does it take to change a light bulb?  Only one, but you better have a truck load of light bulbs!

How many Oregonians (I'm all the way over here on the east coast, so I can talk about them) does it take to change a light bulb?  Nine.  One to change the bulb, and eight to protest the nuclear energy plant that powers it!

Sorry, I can't help myself.

But Paul does prompt a question we should ask when he says in Philippians 2:15 that we should "shine as lights in the world."  How many of us will it take to get that done?  Well, if you are part of a church family, it will take ALL of you to do it the way your Lord and mine wants it done!

We we continue in our "One Body" series at Covenant, we find in Philippians 2:12-18, three postures--actions that are essential for every church to shine brightly in a dark world:

1. Obedience.  Ever cuss around a preacher, and then try to apologize?  As a preacher, I find those experiences to be hilarious, chiefly because I'm a little unsure of why they are so apologetic since they don't ultimately answer to me.  That's the same spirit in which Paul writes verses 12 and 13.  Essentially, he says "behave yourselves whether I am present or not, because the One you answer to is always present!"  We do that, first of all, by seeing the promise we are given here--that God is ALREADY at work inside each one of us.  In other words, we can put on the mind of Christ, we can avoid selfish ambition, act in humility, and put others before ourselves.  And we can "work that out" because God has already "worked it in!"  And obedience is when we work out in our lives the very things God has already worked into our souls through the person and work of Jesus.

When we obey in these ways, in the context of our church family, we help each other grow toward Jesus  In fact, the only way to truly "work out" what God has "worked in" is, according to Paul, doing it within the community of faith that is the church.

2. Holiness.  It is unfortunate that there is so much confusion in our day regarding what holiness is.  Too many people hear this word and think of all sorts of unpleasant things--cold showers, hard beds, no sex, no laughter, little rest, and a generally miserable existence.  C.S. Lewis commented a generation ago; "How little people know who think that holiness is dull.  When one meets the real thing, it is irresistible.  If even 10% of the world's population had it, would not the whole world be converted and happy before the year's end?"

What was his point?  That we have defined holiness in such a way that its the last thing on earth anybody wants to be!  Thankfully, we get some help from Paul, who uses a different but very similar word--"blameless."  And when he applies this concept to the church corporately, the lesson we learn is that truly holy and blameless people work through their problems much differently than the world does.

Think about how our world tries to solve its problems:  Presidential "debates," Jerry Springer-style drama, polarization, biased media, and the non-stop grasping for power and prestige over others.  Paul's message to the church at Philippi, and to us, is that we are supposed to be better than that.  But are we?  Perhaps the first step in becoming what Paul envisions is to admit that we are far more like the world than we want to admit--and the primary evidence for this is that we try to solve problems and navigate conflict in EXACTLY the same way they do.  But people who seek unity, put on the mind of Christ, and put others before themselves are those who give the strongest evidence that they are truly holy.

3. Joy. Think joy and holiness don't belong in the same message--let alone the same sentence?  Then perhaps you need to re-define what both mean, because they go hand in hand.

We talked a lot yesterday about the Jewish ceremonial background of Paul's comments in verses 17 and 18, but what he is basically saying is "If I am sacrificed--poured out completely for your sake--and the result is that you are unified together in your service to Jesus, I will rejoice in that!"  Another way of putting it is this: "What you are doing in Philippi as one body is more important than what I do from a jail cell 800 miles away."

That is also true for any church.  A truly unified body is so powerful that even if their spiritual father is removed from the equation they continue to shine as a bright light in a dark world.

So what if something terrible happened to me?  What if through death, or chronic illness, or something else beyond my control I am removed from the picture as your lead pastor?  Hear my heart when I say this; the greatest joy I could have would be for Covenant to be so strong, so unified, full of both holiness and joy to the extent that my absence wouldn't matter.  If our church family can find the joy Paul talks about here, we won't just "be fine."  We will thrive, regardless of what transpires.

Conversely, we can have the best communicator in the pulpit, the most talented musicians on stage, the slickest programs, the most well-run system, and the most wealthy donors in the world, but if we don't learn to take joy and delight in each other, we will never get where Jesus intends us to go.

Are we really that different?  Because we should be.  That is who God calls us to be.  And to the degree that we embody these postures, to that same degree the world looks at us and says "there worship the children of God!"

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