Toledo First Seventh-day Adventist Church
THE GRACE BASED CHURCH - SINCERELY TRIES
A man had 50 yard line tickets for the Super Bowl. As he sits down, a man comes down and asks if anyone is sitting in the seat next to him. "No," he says, "The seat is empty." "This is incredible," said the man. "Who in their right mind would have a seat like this for the Super Bowl, the biggest sporting event in the world, and not use it?" He says, "Well, actually, the seat belongs to me. I was supposed to come with my wife, but she passed away. This is the first Super bowl we haven't been to together since we got married in 1967." "Oh, I'm sorry to hear that. That's terrible. But couldn't you find someone else—a friend or relative, or even a neighbor to take the seat?" The man shakes his head. "No, they're all at the funeral."
Last time we discovered that the grace based church is perfect in Christ. But like this man, not sinless. This week, we’ll learn that being sinful doesn’t mean we shouldn’t sincerely try to practice God’s ways.
Do you think skipping your spouse’s funeral and ditching your friends and family to watch the Super Bowl is honorable, right, pure, lovely, and admirable? No! But sadly, it wouldn’t surprise me at all to discover if this little joke Kim sent me this week is based on actual fact. Because last year, it was reported that New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees was willing to skip the birth of his child to play in the Super Bowl. The Super Bowl is a pretty big deal to players and more than a few obsessed fans.
Carla sent me an interesting article this week by Dave Ramsey, the Christian finance guru, who collected some fun statistics about the game [10 Things You Might Not Know About The Super Bowl from daveramsey.com on 31 Jan 2011]. Did you know 106.5 million people tuned into last year’s Super Bowl between New Orleans and Indianapolis, making it the most-watched television program in history? The game passed the finale of M*A*S*H, which had held the top spot for 27 years.
I’m not sure how many will tune in this year, but I’m pretty sure some of them will be Janell Ashley and Pam Neal whose fave teams—the Green Bay Packers and Pittsburgh Steelers—are playing each other. But unless they shelled out $3,000 each for the cheapest ticket, they may be watching the Super Bowl and the hilarious commercials here at church with family and friends from the community.
Speaking of commercials, did you know that last year a 30-second ad cost $2.5 to $2.8 million? If I had that kind of money, I’d buy Toledo Junior Academy a new gym. And some new classrooms. And after that, I’d make an ad showing a bunch of football players celebrating touchdowns by dropping to their knees with their hands pointing to the heavens with some words scrolling on a blimp or being spray painted in the sky by an airplane saying, “God loves you like crazy and so do we!!! Brought to you by fans from your local Seventh-day Adventist Church.” What do you think church? That would be worth the money right?
And while the Super Bowl has had its fair share of exciting moments, there are still some things that have never happened in the game: a shutout, overtime, a punt return touchdown, snow, and an offensive play over 90 yards.
Perhaps if you bring some friends and canned goods to our Souper Bowl of Caring this year, you’ll see one of those rare feats. Or maybe you’ll simply contribute to the increasing likelihood that Pastor Anna will be spending a night winter camping if we meet our goal of $200 cash and 500 cans for area food banks. So break out your rolodex or address book or cell phone and invite your friends and family to be here tomorrow @ 6:30pm for some really fun evangelism. And turn with me in your Bibles to Philippians 4:1-9 as we near the conclusion to this series on The Grace Based Church.
Philippians 4:1-9, “1Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stay true to the Lord. I love you and long to see you, dear friends, for you are my joy and the crown I receive for my work. 2Now I appeal to Euodia and Syntyche. Please, because you belong to the Lord, settle your disagreement. 3And I ask you, my true partner, to help these two women, for they worked hard with me in telling others the Good News. They worked along with Clement and the rest of my co-workers, whose names are written in the Book of Life. 4Always be full of joy in the Lord. I say it again—rejoice! 5Let everyone see that you are considerate in all you do. Remember, the Lord is coming soon. 6Don't worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. 7Then you will experience God's peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus. 8And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. 9Keep putting into practice all you learned and received from me—everything you heard from me and saw me doing. Then the God of peace will be with you.”
The Bible doesn’t say who these two divas were that Paul calls out in the beginning of our passage. Both are feminine Greek names. But whoever they were, they were precious to him. Even if they weren’t precious to each other at the moment since verse 2 says they had an unsettled disagreement. Previously, in Philippians 3:20-21 Paul reminded them [and this passage is really the continuation of that thought] that we are citizens of heaven eagerly waiting for Jesus to return as our Savior. Whether you like or not, you belong to the Lord. And so does the person you don’t get along with. So settle your disagreements. If you can’t, get some help, as Matthew 18 describes, to intervene. Don’t let an unsettled disagreement between you and your brother or sister in Christ keep you from telling others the Good News. And that’s exactly what happens when people in the church care more about space than the people occupying it. The Good News doesn’t get lived. And if it never gets lived, it will never be shared. Did you know such a thing can happen in the grace based church? It’s not supposed to be this way. But it can happen. And when it does, one of the most important teachings Jesus Himself shared is abandoned.
Turn to Matthew 5:23-24 to see what I mean. Matthew 5:23-24 says, “So if you are presenting a sacrifice at the altar in the Temple and you suddenly remember that someone has something against you, leave your sacrifice there at the altar. Go and be reconciled to that person. Then come and offer your sacrifice to God.”
Now, there’s a difference between reconciled and resolved. We may never agree on everything. But according to Jesus, that does not prevent us from being reconciled with each other. We should be able to talk about it. See each other’s point of view. Respect each other’s needs. And if necessary, let them have their way. We need not be right to be in relationship.
The act of offering a sacrifice was considered to be among the most holy and important of all religious acts, but even it must take second place to point number one: The grace based church sincerely tries to get along with each other so the Good News can be lived and shared. 1 John 4:20 says it this way, “If we don't love people we can see, how can we love God, whom we cannot see?”
So important is point number one that elsewhere in Matthew 6:15 Jesus says that He will not forgive our sins if we don not forgive the sins of those who have sinned against us. Now that is serious! But this doesn’t apply to just those whom we disagree with inside the Christian church. Colossians 4:5-6 implies it also applies to those outside the church as well.
Colossians 4:5-6, “Live wisely among those who are not believers, and make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be gracious and attractive so that you will have the right response for everyone.”
Jesus didn’t die for a fundamental belief. He died for sinful people like you and me inside and outside the church. Some of whom know their worth and priceless value. But many of whom do not. Don’t settle for being on the winning team. For being right instead of in relationship. We must be Philippians 2 kinds of Christians willing to show love. Not in a fake “we can tolerate you” way. But in the authentic enduring maturing love Paul had for both these warring women in the church.
The grace based church sincerely tries and continues to try to get along. Because we are all citizens of heaven on earth eagerly waiting for Jesus’ soon return. If you think you can get to heaven and then get reconciled, you are mistaken. Jesus wants us to do it now. Before He comes. Git ‘er done!
Moving on, look at verses 6-7. “Don't worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. 7Then you will experience God's peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.”
That phrase “guard your hearts” sounds an awful lot like Proverbs 4:23 which says, “Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life.” I’ve always heard preachers talk about that verse with teenagers in the context of who to trust with your love. But in this context, Paul’s use of the phrase is more a result than a cause since the peace that passes understanding he refers to is a gift from God. Remember that Romans 5:1 says, “Therefore, since we have been made right in God’s sight by faith, we have peace with God because of what Jesus Christ our Lord has done for us.”
That peace we have with God gives us this peace in the present. Both come from God and are given to us through Christ. It flows from a sense of His abiding presence in our lives and produces a childlike confidence and trust in His love that some people will never understand. But you will. If you believe in his perfectly saving grace in the past, present, and future.
It’s not that you’ll never be worried. Jesus Himself was worried a bunch of times. But whenever He was, Luke 5:15-16 says He spent that time productively in prayer. Why? Because Philippians 4:6 says praying is the way to handle worry. It’s the antidote. The vaccine. It’s the avenue God has provided for us to give what’s disturbing our sleep back to Him so that His peace can be transfused back into our lives and overwhelm our worries. That’s how it worked for Jesus. That’s how it’s supposed to work for us.
And when it does, isn’t it interesting that the answer to all our sins, addictions, problems, or worries is simply more time with Jesus? He’s not saying you won’t have sins, addictions, problems, or worries. He’s simply saying those things should drive you to Jesus. Who has promised to carry these things for us making our burdens “light” [cf. Matthew 11:30]. Again, Jesus didn’t say we wouldn’t have burdens. Instead, in John 16:33 he warned, “You will have trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.” What He meant was that our burdens can be a lot lighter if we let Him carry them. So why don’t we? Perhaps it’s because some of us would rather do it ourselves. Martha was a bit like that. Remember her story in Luke 10?
Luke 10:41-42 says, “But the Lord said to her, "My dear Martha, you are worried and upset over all these details. There is only one thing worth being concerned about. Mary has discovered it, and it will not be taken away from her.” Jesus gently chided Martha for her worries. Because whatever they were, they were taking her away from Jesus. He affirmed Mary because her worries were bringing her closer to Jesus.
Point number two: The grace based church sincerely tries not to worry. They accomplish this by drawing closer to Jesus and thanking Him for making them right with Him. Which leads to peace that passes understanding.
But Paul has one more piece of advice [no pun intended] for this grace based church and it’s found in verses 8-9 of Philippians 4. So let’s read them one more time. “8And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. 9Keep putting into practice all you learned and received from me—everything you heard from me and saw me doing. Then the God of peace will be with you.”
Point number three: The grace based church sincerely tries to practice God’s ways. Why do you think Paul says “fix” and “Keep putting into practice” the things you learned? Isn’t it because he knew our thoughts would be scattered? That we would fail to perfectly practice the ways of God? I think it’s because God knew this would happen, because we are as Hebrews 10:14 says, “Already perfect but being made holy”, that prior to Philippians 4 He told us how this fixing and practicing would work.
Philippians 1:6 says that “God who began the good work within you will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.” And what is that work? Philippians 2:13 says ”For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases Him.” So as crazy as it sounds, whose job is it to fix our eyes on Jesus? Who is responsible for giving us the desire and the power to practice what pleases God? They’re both God’s jobs!
This friends, is the only way Philippians 4 makes any sense. Philippians 4:8 without Philippians 2:13 is legalism. It’s the youth pastor who told me to burn all my CDs or throw out all your meat, milk, or cheese or whatever else the perfection police deems impure. And while sexual purity is implied in this verse, even our own Adventist commentary concedes the purity being defined by Paul should not be limited to pornography, fornication, adultery you name it. Why? Because Jesus said in Matthew 5:8, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”
What’s the point? The point is purity of thought such as “whatsoever things are true and honorable and pure” precedes purity in action. And the really good news too many preachers ignore when they talk about Philippians 4:8 is that God is the one bragging about both our thoughts and actions in Philippians 2:13. Even the practice of pleasing God by obeying Him is something God does in us. Which is why Bible writers have no problem saying that we’re saved by grace but judged by works because rightly understood, all our works are really God’s! He is the one rearranging our thoughts and deeds.
So yes, put up a “be careful little eyes what you see” sign above your TV if you want. Definitely invest in some good firewall or internet protection so you and your kids don’t stumble onto some pornographic content online. Try to watch stuff on TV that Jesus could watch with you if He was sitting next to you on the couch. But know that when you don’t, our Savior promises that if we trust Him and sincerely try practicing what pleases Him, eventually He will change our thoughts and desires and actions. Sometime between now and when Jesus returns, the things of this earth will grow strangely dim.
This is why Romans 6:1-2 is not a guilt trip. You remember this verse don’t you? Romans 6:1-2, “Well then, should we keep on sinning so that God can show us more and more of his wonderful grace? Of course not! Since we have died to sin, how can we continue to live in it?” But when we quote this verse or this equally famous but disconcerting verse in Philippians 4:8 that says we should fix our eyes only on “whatsoever is true, honorable, right, pure, lovely, and admirable” without the promise of Philippians 2:13 saying God will help us think and do this, it becomes a demotivating influence of evil instead of good. But in the context of Paul’s thoughts in both Romans and Philippians, this is not the way it should be understood. Because we have been made right in God’s sight by faith and have peace, God forbid we abound in sin. Romans 5:1 must precede Romans 6:1.
And in Philippians, because God gives us the desire and power to do what pleases Him, fix that’s how you can fix your thoughts on what is true and keep practicing God’s ways. Philippians 2:13 must precede Philippians 4:8-9. You can’t have one without the other. Well you can, but it’s bad theology and messes up generations of young people. Sandra Wilson in her excellent little book Hurt People Hurt People says it this way on page 115, “New Choices + Consistent Practice = Change.” Not perfect practice makes perfect. Sincere practice makes perfect. Our video clip said it this way. “Where you live doesn’t make you a missionary. The mission you’re on makes you a missionary.”
Our mission this week, should you choose to accept it, is to sincerely try to get along with others. To be reconciled even if everything cannot be resolved. To pray more than we worry so we have peace. And to practice God’s ways by asking Him to change our thoughts and actions. None of us will get it perfect. If we could, we wouldn’t need a Savior. But all of us can sincerely try? Are you willing? May God bless you this week as we like Hebrews 10:22 says, “Go right into the presence of God with sincere hearts fully trusting Him.”