Monday, October 3, 2011

Sept 18, 2011 - Live a Life Worthy

Sept 18, 2011
Live a Life Worthy
Fr. Philip Eberhart

This week I’ve been reading some of the new research from the Barna Group on the spirituality of America in our post 9/11 culture. He has a new book coming out in Feb of next year and the research is being hinted at in articles now prior to his book release.

Our scriptures this morning give us a challenge: Paul in his letter to the church at Philippi urges his hearers to “live your life in a manner worthy of the gospel of Jesus Christ.” I think I would like to spend a few minutes reflecting with you what that meant to Paul and what it might mean to us today in our lives.

Paul’s letter to the church in Philippi was a letter to a church he loved. Its frowned upon for grandparents to say “so and so is my favorite grandchild.” But I think it is fairly clear that Philippi and the church there held a special place in the heart of the Apostle. They were a church that struggled mightily, as did most first-century churches, against the forces of the day – pagan worship, persecution from both Jewish and Roman quarters, and the every day lure of non-religious pursuits, that we all struggle with.

Paul here is urging his hearers to live their lives “as citizens of heaven”. That is the heading for this section in the NLT and it’s a phrase that Paul uses later in the letter, in his famous section on losing your self to gain Christ in Chapter 3. And I think that it’s a worthy subject for us to look at in more depth. We live in a time and place that is “depth challenged!” One of the articles I read this week from Geo. Barna, was entitled “Self-Described Christians Dominate America but Wrestle with Four Aspects of Spiritual Depth.” It doesn’t take a lot of research in fact, for us to know that we as American Christians struggle in the area of making our faith REAL in our day-to-day lives.

Paul has some thoughts on this in our passage this morning. He indicates that there are four metrics by which he will know that they are living a life worthy of the Gospel. Look at the second half of our reading with me: In fact let’s read that paragraph together:

Only, live your life in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that, whether I come and see you or am absent and hear about you, I will know that you are standing firm in one spirit, striving side by side with one mind for the faith of the gospel, and are in no way intimidated by your opponents. For them this is evidence of their destruction, but of your salvation. And this is God's doing. For he has graciously granted you the privilege not only of believing in Christ, but of suffering for him as well-- since you are having the same struggle that you saw I had and now hear that I still have.

SO THAT I WILL KNOW…
1. That you are standing firm in one spirit,
2. That you are striving side-by-side with one mind for the faith of the gospel, and
3. That you are not intimidated by your opponents.
        And Paul adds, almost as an afterthought, as a P.S.:
4. That He has granted you the privilege not only of believing, but of suffering for Him as well.

So the four from Paul are…
Standing as One; Striving Side-by-Side, Without Intimidation, in Suffering for Christ.

How do these things manifest themselves in our lives?
“Standing Firm in One Spirit:” “Real spiritual unity,” one of our early AMiA bishops said, “is a weapon of mass destruction for the kingdom of Satan.” I believe that Oneness, what Christ prays for in John 17, his final great prayer over his disciples, “that they might be one, Father, as you and I are one!” -- Oneness is a gift of the Spirit of God to the Body of Christ. It is something we have by virtue of our position EN CHRISTO - IN CHRIST. But we have to access that gift and live into it with intentionality; thus Paul’s admonition to his hearers in Philippi to “stand firm in One Spirit.” We must choose to stand together or we will surely “fall… apart!”

In a letter to the church in Ephesus later Paul refers to our partnership in “maintaining the unity of the Spirit, in the bond of peace.” Our spiritual unity (the gift of Christ) is held in the vessel of our human relationships in the Body of Christ, person to person and life on life.
Choosing “peace” is the clear weapon of choice in the war with have with our own flesh and with the devil’s warfare against our unity in the Body of Christ.

“Striving Side by Side with One Mind for the Faith of the Gospel”:
Paul tells us in the Ephesian letter as well, that we fight not against flesh and blood, but against principalities and powers, and spiritual evil in the high places. Part of our preparation for the warfare we are engaged in the Kingdom of God, is figuring out who the enemy is! Look around you. Is there anyone here that you need to say “I’m not your enemy” too? Maybe we need to take the “Peace” seriously when we pass it as it is the primary weapon in this warfare we have with our flesh and with the Devil. “Striving Side-by-side” means we are facing the same way, together – with one mind: and our focus in on the “faith of the Gospel!!” Our fight is never with one another! It is in the world and FOR the GOSPEL of JESUS CHRIST! Our focus is on the gospel and on taking it forward into the world. It is amazing the clarity that warfare brings.


“And Are In NO WAY INTIMIDATED by your opponents.”
One of our groups is studying the new book from Max Lucado, entitled FEARLESS. I’m hearing good reports and I think I’m gonna pick up a copy myself to read on vacation. Fr. Edward, as a result of his ordeal in the jail in Colorado Springs, describes himself as now having No Fear!

IN NO WAY INTIMIDATED! Where are you on the intimidation scale? When you are faced with an opportunity to speak to someone about faith, what happens in your stomach?

And finally, Paul adds, all this is GOD’S DOING! Because by His Grace He has granted you the glorious privilege to suffer for him.

OH… THANKS LORD!
UM… LORD… WE DON’T DO SUFFERING HERE IN AMERICA!

And that might be our greatest problem! When we suffer we have a tendency to run or at least… to whine. We move naturally away from that which is probably the most powerful tool in Christ’s hands for the shaping of our lives – one that Paul considers to be a supreme sign of God’s grace!! He calls it a “gracious privilege!” One in which all Christians get to take part. And one which most Christians in America avoid, and in so doing, we avoid the maturity that comes with it.

George Barna in his article on his website, lists four obstacles to spiritual maturity in America:

COMMITMENT: While those who self-identify as Christians in America have largely made an initial commitment to Jesus (81%), only 1 in 5 in actively investing in their own spiritual development (18%). Just a few more describe themselves as “completely dependent on God. (22%) We know intuitively that there is more than most of us are experiencing, but few in America seem willing to dig for the treasure!

REPENTANCE: We are well up the scale as well in “asking for forgiveness (64%)” but the second half of repentance is actually turning from the activities of sin, handing control over to Jesus! Only 1 in 8 (12%) have been gripped by the desperation of their sinfulness, and even less (3%) have come to a place where they have surrendered control of their lives to God.

ACTIVITY: We tend to confuse religious activity with spiritual maturity. 4 in 10 participate regularly in “church, prayer & bible reading”, but when we dig deeper we find far less activity: sharing the faith with a non-Christian, fasting, time of spiritual reflection, and even less frequently: solitude, sacrifice, acts of service, silence, scripture meditation and memorization. We tend to be a “mile wide and an inch deep!”

SPIRITUAL COMMUNITY: This may be where American independence has bitten us worst! We don’t seem to take the concept of a community of faith very seriously in America. Only 1 in 5 even believes that there is a connection between our spiritual maturity and being in a community of faith! Only 1 in 3 admit to having talked with another Christian about their own sins. Vulnerability and accountability are not popular in the western church experience.

SO WHAT?
Paul urges us to live our life in a manner worthy of the Gospel and further identifies the markers of that life: Standing firm in One Spirit; Striving Side by Side for the Gospel of Jesus; Not being intimidated by our opponents and Suffering for Jesus! Do these seem to be a bit anti-thetical to what we’ve just heard about our tendencies in America?

I will grant you that we are a little different here at REZ, but we want to be different! We want to be change agents in this culture! God is calling us to be different! And I believe that God expects us, as Paul did in his letter to the Philippians, to live a life worthy of His Gospel: To stand together as ONE by His Spirit; To strive for the Gospel Side-by-Side! To be FEARLESS and to come to the reality of suffering, seeing it as a grace-gift, not as an inconvenient or unwanted.

Let us pray that we can live lives worthy of the Gospel Of Jesus and that we can overcome our American, easy-believism and our aversion to suffering, accountability and vulnerability as we live our lives openly, in front of one another and the world, for the sake of the Gospel of Jesus Christ!

Amen.

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