THE GRACE BASED CHURCH - REJOICES AGAIN
by Pastor Mike Fortune
Mary Grace was born with physical deformities. Her right hand is a stump half past the elbow. And her right foot is 8 inches shorter with only 3 toes. But she never allows her disadvantages to hinder her from fulfilling a desire to produce beautiful music for Jesus. She has played the piano with her left hand and right stump in Guam, Germany, Korea, Japan, Philippines, Canada and the USA and has been featured in numerous journals and television ministries. But tonight, she will share her story of hope, faith, and inner strength to transcend limitations. The free concert will start at 7pm and will conclude with a tasty "afterglow". ABC 13 will be here. I hope you will be as well. With your friends and family. So we can invite them back to a church that loves people far and near like crazy. 100% of the collected love offering will benefit the Eden Garden Orphanage in Haiti where some of Haiti’s neediest orphans have found a home.
You may recall, that on January 12, 2010 a devastating earthquake there killed more than 200k people and drove the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere even deeper into poverty. Since then, the US Air Force C-17‘s carrying emergency supplies and soldiers and been replaced by commercial jetliners carrying willing citizens like Dr. Kettle Daniels from Toledo’s Parkwood Church as well as our friends from the New Hope Church in Maryland last year. Both will be giving us updates on conditions there tonight. You will not want to miss it! Like the passage we’re studying from Philippians 4 this morning, the concert will remind us that we can find our joy and contentment in Christ. But that it takes grace to give and receive. Please turn with me in your Bibles to Philippians 4:10-20 to see what I mean.
“10How I praise the Lord that you are concerned about me again. I know you have always been concerned for me, but you didn't have the chance to help me. 11Not that I was ever in need, for I have learned how to be content with whatever I have. 12I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little.13For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength. 14Even so, you have done well to share with me in my present difficulty. 15As you know, you Philippians were the only ones who gave me financial help when I first brought you the Good News and then traveled on from Macedonia. No other church did this.16Even when I was in Thessalonica you sent help more than once.17 I don't say this because I want a gift from you. Rather, I want you to receive a reward for your kindness. 18At the moment I have all I need—and more! I am generously supplied with the gifts you sent me with Epaphroditus. They are a sweet-smelling sacrifice that is acceptable and pleasing to God. 19And this same God who takes care of me will supply all your needs from his glorious riches, which have been given to us in Christ Jesus. 20Now all glory to God our Father forever and ever! Amen.”
Philippi was originally known as “the place of small fountains.” But after they found gold nearby, the city was rebuilt in 356 BC by Philip of Macedon—the father of Alexander the Great and named Phillipi in his honor. A few hundred years later, In 49 or 50 AD, the city was visited by the apostle Paul during his second missionary journey. According to Acts 16:9, he was guided there by a vision of a man of Macedonia. Accompanied by Silas, Timothy, and Luke, Paul preached in Philippi baptizing a business woman named Lydia, a purple dye merchant, who invited them to stay at her home according to Acts 16:14-15. Which by the way, is why we named our Lydia Lydia. We wanted her to remember that you can serve God wherever you work if you bring Jesus to work with you.
You may recall in another account recorded in Acts 16:16-40 that Paul drove out an evil spirit from a slave girl who worked as a fortune teller in Phillipi. Her owners became angry and dragged Paul and Silas into the marketplace and complained about them before the magistrates. A crowd joined in the condemnation, and the missionaries were stripped and flogged, then thrown into prison. At midnight, however, a great earthquake came and the prison doors flew open. The jailer nearly killed himself over it, but Paul talked him out of it and the jailer and his entire family was converted.
So Paul practices what he preaches. Not just when he and Silas are singing in a prison in Philippi. But now, 10 or 11 years later, when he is in prison in Rome. Why? Because the grace based church rejoices again and again for joy and contentment. This is point number one. That’s how his letter begins remember? Philippians 1:3-5 says, “Every time I think of you, I give thanks to my God. Whenever I pray, I make my requests for all of you with joy, for you have been my partners in spreading the Good News about Christ from the time you first heard it until now.”
That’s why Paul begins our passage today with these words, “How I praise the Lord that you are concerned about me again.” Believers can experience joy and contentment no matter what happens. This joy comes from knowing Jesus personally and from depending on His strength rather than our own. And the cool things is it only grows when you remember that you aren’t alone. That others are praying for you and depending on God and His strength and not their own as well. So if Paul and Silas could sing in prison and Paul could praise the Lord again whether he had nothing or everything and a full or empty stomach, perhaps we can too. If we remember the secret of living in every situation. And what is that secret? The secret is in verse 13. “For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength.”
Joy and contentment is not manufactured. This isn’t something superhuman that Paul summons that we can’t. It is a gift. Just like grace. That comes from Jesus. He gives us His strength. And in our weakness, like Mary Grace, we become strong [2 Corinthians 12:10]. Last week, we read Philippians 4:4 which says in the way I memorized it, “Rejoice in the Lord always and again I say rejoice.” So I thought this morning, one way for us to remember the secret of depending on Christ for his strength which will give us joy and contentment is to sing like Paul and Silas did in prison. So that’s what we’re going to do right now. I’m gonna invite our worship leaders back up here and we’re going to sing Philippians 4:4 together once so you hear how it goes and then three times as a round. One side will start with me and the other will start with them and we’ll sing it three times. I hope it sounds really nice. Let’s give it a try. You’re not in prison. Your country isn’t in turmoil and revolution like Egypt. The joy of the Lord is our strength. We can depend on Him and be content whatever happens. So let’s sing about it!
Moving on, Paul says in verse 14-17, “14Even so, you have done well to share with me in my present difficulty. 15As you know, you Philippians were the only ones who gave me financial help when I first brought you the Good News and then traveled on from Macedonia. No other church did this. 16Even when I was in Thessalonica you sent help more than once.17 I don't say this because I want a gift from you. Rather, I want you to receive a reward for your kindness.” Over 810 miles separated Phillipi from Rome. When Paul says in verse 10 that he knew they didn’t have a chance to help him, he’s telling the truth. Because taking a journey like that is no small task. Even today, every parent or grandparent knows driving to Florida is no small task. It takes 20 some hours to drive 1200 miles. And after you’ve completed about 800 of them and you’re still in Georgia, the VeggieTales are driving you crazy, and your head is about to explode, you just can’t wait to get out of that car am I right? And it was even more intense for the people traveling back then.
That’s probably why none of the other churches did anything to help Paul. It was too far. And dangerous. But not for Eppie. That’s what I call this member from the church in Phillipi that Paul commends in Phillipians 2:30. Paul says he, “Risked his life for the work of Christ even bringing him to the point of death while doing for Paul what they couldn’t from far away.” And what did Eppie do? Paul tells us in Phiillipians 4:15. They collected an offering, gave it to Eppie, and he took it to Paul. It was a financial gift that no other church gave. Which was not the first time they helped Paul either. He mentions the other in verse 16 describing a time when he was in Thessalonica. Which leads us to point number two.
The grace base church rejoices for the grace to give. In the same way that they sing and keep and singing, they give and keep giving. Not because they have to, but because they want to. Why? Because they’re content depending on God to provide for them. If you’re content depending on God, it’s a lot easier to give your money away. Maybe that’s why Jesus said this in Luke 6:30, “Give to anyone who asks; and when things are taken away from you, don't try to get them back.” Huh? Give and keep giving? To everyone who asks? Don’t worry about trying to get anything back? If you’re poor, give. If you’re rich, give. But isn’t it interesting that even in Paul’s day, most churches weren’t following this advice? It wasn’t that they didn’t know Paul was in prison and in need of help. They knew. But the only church that did anything about it was Philippi.
It’s not that we don’t know Haiti is still in ruins. That the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere just keeps getting poorer. But one year later, it’s so unique that a church would specifically call the community to help them that the news wants to show up and ask us why! Isn’t that odd? The question shouldn’t be why should we give and keep giving? The question should be why shouldn’t we give and keep giving? Romans 12:13, “When God's people are in need, be ready to help them. Always be eager to practice hospitality.” How often? Always!
But who are God’s people? Just Americans? We had one person literally return our invitation to our Valentines for Haiti concert we mailed out a few weeks ago with an unsigned note asking us to do something for Americans instead. Had they provided their name or return address, I would have been happy to tell them about the money we raised for victims of the NW Ohio tornado that tore through here last year. Or about our other “big annual outreach”, our Car Show, that has comforted kids with cancer right here in Toledo or about the Souper Bowl of Caring we just completed last week benefiting empty food banks here in Toledo. The ironic thing is the vast majority of ordinary outreach things we do and will continue to do in the future are for the people in the mission field all around us. But once or twice a year, around Christmas or Valentines Day, we select a distant location that is content to live on next to nothing, because they’re depending on God for everything, and we shower that location with gifts galore just like the Philippian church gave Paul. We don’t do this because we have to. We do this because we want to! Because God has so richly blessed us!
What breaks the heart of God breaks our hearts — so we give and keep giving. Haiti is still our neighbor too. But it takes grace to give. It’s not natural. The normal thing to do is spend all your money on yourself. On vacations. On your kids. On sporting events. We spend our money on a myriad of things. But in this church, like the church in Philippi, we are determined to spend ourselves for the sake of others like Jesus who though he was rich, for our sake became poor [cf. 2 Corinthians 8:9]. We’d rather be broke and content than rich and in need of nothing.
So the grace based church rejoices for the joy and contentment depending on God brings. Point number one. It also rejoices for the grace to give. Which is a gift from God that none of us naturally have in our hearts. Point number two. But much more challenging, it also rejoices for the grace to receive. Which is point number there. Look at verses 18-20, “At the moment I have all I need—and more! I am generously supplied with the gifts you sent me...This same God who takes care of me will supply all your needs from his glorious riches, which have been given to us in Christ Jesus. Now all glory to God our Father forever and ever! Amen.”
These verses contain the third of three well known Scriptures. The first we read in verse 11. “For I have learned how to be content.” The second just a couple verses later providing the secret, “For I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.” But the third is found here in verse 19. “This same God who takes care of me will supply all your needs.” But how did this same God take care of Paul’s needs? Did God miraculously wire money into his offshore account? Did he send him some on PayPal? Or did he send some on the wings of ravens like 1 Kings 17:6 says the prophet Elijah received bread? No! God provided for Paul’s needs by inspiring the church to give and keep giving when he needed it most.
Yes, Isaiah 33:16 says that the bread and water of God’s people will be sure. But what if that promise is based on God’s people providing the bread and water? What if that’s always been the way God usually works? What if the miraculous stories of divine intervention are more the exception than the rule? Yes, God miraculously saved Elijah, and Daniel. But we forget that John the Baptist died alone in prison. And that James the half-brother of Jesus was executed just like Paul would be soon. No, our joy cannot be found in the blessings God provides. The joy of the Lord can only be found in the Lord amen? Our joy is found in depending on God whatever happens. And often, how it seems to work, is that God provides for others needs by inspiring us to give and keep giving. That’s how it worked for Paul and the Philiippians and that’s how I think God wants it to work now.
Today, UNICEF says one in five children worldwide die from diarrhea they get from drinking contaminated water. That’s more than AIDS, malaria, and measles combined! One and half million children die of waterborne illnesses every year. FIfty percent of the world’s hospitalizations are due to water-related illnesses [Statistics: UNICEF, water.org]. All this takes place because enough of us haven’t figured out how to spend less and give more. Did you know that if just the 120 million Christians in America [The Hole in Our Gospel, p.260] spent less at Christmas, we could raise the $10 billion it costs to drill wells in every remote place on earth lacking clean drinking water? We can do this because Americans spend $450 billion on Christmas presents every year so just the Christians could easily raise $10 billion and solve the entire planet’s water problems [See Advent Conspiracy video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?
And when we did, even though it would be terribly late for many of the world’s neediest children, you know they would gratefully accept our help and rightfully praise God for providing for their needs. Don’t you think they would? If you don’t believe me, come tonight to see the video of the kids in the orphanage doing just that. They don’t hold our ignorance or selfishness or lack of faith against us. Because they have learned, like Paul, to be content and to gracefully give and receive. 2 Timothy 1:9,12 says it this way, “For God saved us and called us to live a holy life. He did this, not because we deserved it, but because that was his plan from before the beginning of time—to show us his grace through Christ Jesus...That is why I am suffering here in prison. But I am not ashamed of it, for I know the one in whom I trust, and I am sure that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him until the day of his return.”
So whether we get everything we want or even need in this world isn’t as important as knowing the Lord of it. Some of Jesus is better than all of anything else. He gives us joy. And contentment. And the gifts to give and receive. So let’s sing and keep singing. Let’s give and keep giving. Not because we have to but because this has always been the way God provides for His people. Last year, we raised $3,997 during Valentines for Africa. Let’s see if we can top $4k tonight for Haiti. See you tonight!