Oct. 4 Resiliency Exodus 20:1-4, 7-9, 12-20; Psalm 19; Philippians 3:4b-14; Matthew 21:33-46
I recently read the autobiographies of two of my favorite musicians, Dave Mustaine and David Ellefson of the band Megadeth. Both men have had similar experiences even though they are very different individuals. Both got into the music business as teens, gaining success before they were equipped to handle it. Both turned to drugs and alcohol to cope, were ravaged by their addictions, and repeatedly came close to destroying themselves because of their reckless behavior. But both men were able to sober up and get their lives back, with help from caring people, and through their faith in God. Ellefson in particular tells how in his darkest days, he prayed for help, and his prayers were answered. Although he is still a famous musician making music and going on tours, he is also a pastor. Once, the two men spent their time together drinking and doing drugs, as many with them still do, but now when they are on tour, they study the Bible together. Imagine that! Both men credit their faith for cleaning up their act and finding more meaningful and healthy ways to live their lives. Faith not only saved them but gave them the courage and resiliency to stay sober and move forward.
We currently live in a time when resiliency is a quality to be treasured. Our Psalm for today teaches us that “the heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims his handiwork,” but we still only get a partial glimpse of that glory, and there is much that we take on faith. Yet with the help of the Holy Spirit, we are able to catch a glimpse of that glory. Having such a faith is one of the essential aspects of resiliency. We may have trials and suffering, but the glimpse we have received of God’s glory reassures us that there is much more waiting for those who are faithful. It also should fuel our passion for sharing the Gospel and reaching out to the lost. We can see beyond the present and take comfort in knowing that God will accomplish what He promises for us. Having resiliency based on our faith allows us to have patience, endurance, and hope. The Spirit helps us to focus on what matters. God will get us through this.
We continue this week with Paul’s Letter to the Philippians, Chapter 3. Even while in prison, Paul invites us to keep our eyes on the prize of eternal life in Jesus. Paul writes:
Finally, my brethren, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things again is no trouble to me, and it is a safeguard for you. Beware of the dogs, beware of the evil workers, beware of the false circumcision; for we are the true circumcision, who worship in the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh, although I myself might have confidence even in the flesh. If anyone else has a mind to put confidence in the flesh, I far more: circumcised the eighth day, of the nation of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the Law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to the righteousness which is in the Law, found blameless. But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. (vv. 1-7)
Paul gives his credentials here, which the Jews of the time should have been impressed with but would have been meaningless to the Gentiles. These are fleshly things, but what matters more are the spiritual, such as glorying in Christ and worshipping in the Spirit. But there always seem to be those who put themselves first when they aren’t even true believers, according to Paul, but are dogs and workers of evil. The Greek word for “dog” is “kunis”, from which we get the word “cynic.” In the time of Paul, the cynics were a group of philosophers who travelled around trying to earn money from their false teachings. We too live in a time where false teachings are common, and it can be difficult to discern just what and whom to listen to.
Paul may have seemed impressive to some who valued such shallow things, but the real measure of a person is their faith in Jesus. We should remember than when Paul was reveling in these earthly accomplishments, he was also persecuting the church. It took a direct experience with Christ to see his error and get right with God. He may have thought he was doing God’s will at the time, and indeed it may have served a purpose, but after coming to Christ, Paul would always regret his past actions, but they fueled his desire to make amends and bring as many people as possible to Christ. Paul realized that it was not just the people of God that he was persecuting, but Christ Himself. How horrible that must have felt! But there is no real comparing of sins. Any sin we commit, after all, is a sin against God. We too need to face our sins and have them forgiven when we face God. It was only through meeting Jesus that Paul was able to repent and be renewed. May we never take our faith too lightly. It is through faith that we are saved, and through faith that we are able to ride out the tough times. It is through faith that we take on new responsibilities in God’s Kingdom and find the courage and resiliency to carry them out. Paul continues:
More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish in order that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith, that I may know Him, and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead. (vv. 9-11)
Now as far as we know, Paul never married and didn’t have kids. He was able to go out on the road for Christ without anything holding him back. Perhaps we struggle to find ways to serve God if we try to imitate Paul too much. Most of us are not in a position to give up what we have been entrusted by God already to hit the road for Him. Paul may be a role model for us, but each of us must look for our way to serve God within the life He has given us. One thing that we do share with Paul is our faith in Jesus, and we let the Spirit guide us as we too seek to faithfully follow Him. What Paul did give up was the easy life of a church official and the riches gained through his education and status. Is there anything we could give up today to follow Christ that might cause us hardship and suffering? Would it be worth it?
Perhaps we might even think that Paul is seeking glory for himself in his suffering, for don’t we all like some sort of reward for what we have endured? Maybe praise or a nice dinner? Paul seems to brag about his suffering elsewhere, but here he rejects his former high standing in the Jewish church hierarchy. What do you think he means when he says that we should be “conformed” to Christ’s death? Later on, he will tell us to be conformed to Jesus’ body in glory. We are to die to the earthly things of life, to power, wealth, comfort, etc. and focus on living how God wants us to and doing what He has assigned to us. Only by dying to the flesh and earthly desires will we obtain the resurrection of the dead, Paul tells us. Or in other words, gain eternity in heaven. He continues:
Not that I have already obtained it, or have already become perfect, but I press on in order that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus. Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. (vv. 12-14)
Is this a difficult thing to hear? That Paul of all people has not obtained what we may think that we already have? Surely we know that Jesus has secured our eternal salvation for us, but that does not mean we sit back and take it easy. We keep busy. Sometimes we may need a rest along our spiritual journey, but most of the time we need to keep moving forward, growing and maturing. This is another important aspect of resilience. If we are life-long learners, always gaining knowledge, wisdom, and experiences, we will be better able to endure times of stress. Not only will we be better prepared, but our ability to learn new things and adapt to new situations will increase our likelihood of success. When it is our turn to go through a tough time, our faith will give us the resiliency to persevere and gain wisdom. We continually seek to grow in Christ and reach new levels of holiness. Paul continues:
Let us therefore, as many as are perfect, have this attitude; and if in anything you have a different attitude, God will reveal that also to you; however, let us keep living by that same standard to which we have attained. Brethren, join in following my example, and observe those who walk according to the pattern you have in us. For many walk, of whom I often told you, and now tell you even weeping, that they are enemies of the cross of Christ, whose end is destruction, whose god is their appetite, and whose glory is in their shame, who set their minds on earthly things. (vv. 15-19)
Does anyone here ever dwell on the possibility of losing one’s salvation? But if we can choose to follow Christ, we can also choose not to, and often we do so without being aware of it. How many of us know people who once active in church, but no longer are? Folks who clearly followed Christ, but now have left that path? How many of us have been that person, but glory to God, were brought back to where we belong? This is one of the main reasons we need to be involved in a church family, to learn how to walk with Christ and be accountable when we don’t. We need this sacred space to meet God again and receive His forgiveness. Paul concludes Chapter 3 with:
For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ: who will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory, by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself. (vv. 20-21)
Perhaps it is hard to realize that one day we will be freed from our current reality when we die to this life and enter God’s eternal rest and bliss. Perhaps you are anxious to do so! But God sent us here for a purpose. He seeks to bring His people to Himself, and them send them out into the world to bring more lost souls to Him. We were sent into this particular time to advance the Kingdom of God and need the love and grace of God to continue doing so. Again and again, the Bible tells us to be courageous and to persevere. We must have the resilience to overcome our setbacks and look forward to the completion of God’s promises for us. The Bible never says that life is easy, quite the contrary. But we are promised that the effort we put into this journey of faith will reap rewards beyond anything we can imagine. But sometimes, we struggle to stay focused and on task. So, may we continue to walk the walk as those who came before us have taught, and keep your eye on the prize of eternal life with Christ Jesus. God will give us the resiliency to get through this life and into glory!