FOLLOWING & BECOMING Philippians 3:12-21 Theme of the Month Mentorship: Growing, Maturing & serving
Rev. Dr. Jeffrey Sharp
Lead Pastor, English Congregation Vancouver Chinese Baptist Church, Vancouver, British Columbia
Sunday Sermon for 10 January 2010
Scripture Passage Philippians 3:12-21
Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. 13 Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. 12
All of us, then, who are mature should take such a view of things. And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you. 16 Only let us live up to what we have already attained. 15
Join together in following my example, brothers and sisters, and just as you have us as a model, keep your eyes on those who live as we do. 18 For, as I have often told you before and now tell you again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. 19 Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is set on earthly things. 20 But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body. Â 17
For most people, the New Year is a time for beginning again. I say for most people, because some people don’t even try. Why? Some because they know instinctively what the researchers tell us— that 70% of the New Year’s resolutions we make will be broken or forgotten within 10 days of beginning the new year. So why waste the effort? Others are comfortable with the same old, same old. Others are afraid, afraid of change and what it might cost them. A few years ago there was an end of the year “Calvin and Hobbes” comic strip that pictured the youngster Calvin walking with his life-like friend, Hobbes the tiger. Hobbes asks, “Are you making any resolutions for the New Year?” “Nope,” replies Calvin. “I want everything to stay the same as it was this year.” “Everything?” Hobbes asks. “I hate change,” Calvin replies. “It’s too disruptive! When things are different, you have to think about the change and deal with it! I like things to stay the same, so I can take everything for granted. Besides, things keep changing for the worse! The longer I live, the more complicated everything gets. I say let’s stop here before life gets any harder! From now on, no more change!” The two stand there quietly for several panels. Then they race off with Calvin shouting, “I’m bored. Let’s do something different!” and Hobbes commenting, says, “Some things never change.” Churches can be like people when it comes to new beginnings. “Been there and done that.” “Why waste the time?” “I’m not sure that I want to go there or do that or risk that.” But whether or not we like it, life does change, time, that precious gift, does pull us forward. It seems to me that the best thing to do then is to be intentional about what we plan to do with the future. I also think that it is best to keep some continuity with past and build on it as we move into the future. That is why for 2010 we are building on the theme and focus of 2009. 2009 was a big year for the church in that we celebrated our 40th anniversary and committed ourselves personally and together to the theme of “Uniting in Love, Journeying in Hope.” For 2010, all of the pastors—English congregation and Cantonese feel that God is calling us to walk further down that road and so we have chosen the theme of Unity. In the English congregation we have given this a twist and a focus. Our theme for the year is “One7: Uniting in the Body of Christ” and is drawn from Ephesians 4:1-16 where Paul reflects on the church as the Body of Christ in all its diversity, but held together by a sevenfold Unity that enables the church to grow and be effective in the life and work that God calls us to—individually and together. And we’ll talk more about this in the following weeks and especially in our 40 day spiritual journey through Lent to Easter (February through April). One of the things that we want to focus on as a congregation this year is “mentoring.” Now “mentoring” is a pretty popular term. You hear it at school and at work, in sports, almost everywhere. There are thousands of articles and books written on the subject. And it has a number of different meanings. Mentoring can be informal and formal, it can be structured around learning and mastering something specific or getting a handle on life skills. It can be unstructured and just happen. Here is a basic definition of mentoring that I like to use: Mentoring FOLLOWING&BECOMING 2
is a relationship through which one person shares him/herself as well as knowledge, skills, information and perspective to further the growth of someone else. The important things here are—personal relationship, sharing and growth. Mentoring has been a part of church life since the beginning. It has often been described as “discipling”—helping one person to grow in their faith and to use the gifts and calling God has given them to become a mature follower of Jesus and to be able to help others to grow as followers of Jesus. Mentoring is the recognition that the Christian life is a journey and involves growth, growth towards a goal—becoming like Christ—having Jesus’ heart and mind, Jesus’ passion and perspective, Jesus’ values and vocation/calling. And it isn’t something that happens overnight. It isn’t something that happens because we said “yes” to Jesus in a rally or a worship service or at a camp. It is a process, like physical growth. And if it is going to happen, we need others to help us along the way. The church is always dependent for its health and growth and ministry on believers in Jesus growing into mature disciples who use their gifts and talents, their time and energy, their all for Christ. It is costly business. It is not for the faint hearted or the half-hearted. But that doesn’t mean that we throw up our hands in despair. That’s where God’s gifts come in— the gift of grace, the gift of the Holy Spirit that empowers us, the gift of one another to support us, encourage us and to mentor us along this journey. So for those who want to respond to God’s gift of forgiveness and experience new life in Christ, who want to be a part of what God is doing in this world, who want to know the purpose for their lives, there are resources and one of the main resources God uses to grow us is mentoring. In today’s passage from Philippians 3, Paul is making that clear—in his own life and in the life of others in the church. In the earlier verses in chapter 3, Paul has laid out his own testimony—how he came to realize that all those things he thought gave meaning to his life—family and heritage, personal and vocational achievements, social standing and the approval of others—all of this is like garbage (the Greek word skubala is a lot stronger) compared to what he has found and experienced in Christ. So much so that his whole life and passion are oriented towards knowing Christ and becoming like him. Because, Paul makes clear, that is what ultimately gives life, every life, meaning and direction. In today’s passage, Paul also makes it clear that he hasn’t arrived. No one ever does in this world. He isn’t perfect. But his purpose and the purpose of all those who have come to experience God’s gift of new life in Christ is to forget what is behind and press on to know more fully the meaning of the life they have in Christ and the purpose for which God took hold of them. And to do that, Paul reminds us that we need models, we need mentors. Paul had Gamaliel and some of the other apostles, for the Philippians and for us there are people in the church that can be and should be our models and mentors as we seek to grow in the faith and become more and more like Christ. In this passage Paul tells us four things that I think are absolutely essential if we are not only going to be followers of Jesus and understand this life that God wants to give to us in Christ, but if we are going to live fulfilled, happy and joy-filled lives.
The first is that Paul wants to remind us who we are to be. And in so doing he reminds us that we are destined for more than we often know and that too often we settle for far less than we should. I don’t know if you have seen the movie Kung Fu Panda. Connie and I have three granddaughters and I have seen it several times. Kung Fu Panda is a movie about a panda named Po who wants desperately to learn kung fu. But from the beginning of the film we learn that several obstacles come between Po and his dream— not the least of which are the dreams of Po’s father, which include Po’s taking over the family’s restaurant business. Though Kung Fu Panda is primarily a children’s movie, this scene addresses an issue adults wrestle with most of their lives—the issue of our life’s purpose and destiny and the basic human longing to be part of something significant. Early in the movie we have a scene in which there is an exchange between Po and his father. “Sorry, Dad,” Po says as he comes down the stairs from his room to the kitchen of his father’s restaurant. “Sorry doesn’t make the noodles,” his father answers. “What were you doing up there? All that noise?” “Oh, nothing,” Po answers. “Just had a crazy dream.” His father suddenly looks interested. “What were you dreaming about?” he asks. “What was I—? Uhhhh.” Po struggles to find an answer because he was dreaming about kung fu. He knows his father would disapprove of this, so he lies: “I was dreaming about—uh—noodles.” “Noodles?” his father asks, now very interested. “You were really dreaming about noodles?” “Yeah,” Po says, attempting to smile. “What else would I be dreaming about?” He is serving soup to a customer and accidentally drops a Chinese throwing star into the bowl. “Oh, careful!” he says to the customer. “That soup is … sharp!” Po’s father doesn’t notice. “Oh, happy day!” he cries. “My son is finally having the Noodle Dream! You don’t know how long I have been waiting for this moment!” He places an official restaurant cap on Po’s head. “This is a sign, Po!” his father exclaims. Po is confused. “Uh—a sign of what?” “You are almost ready to be entrusted with the secret ingredient to my Secret Ingredient Soup! And then you will fulfill your destiny and take over the restaurant—just as I took it over from my father, who took it over from his father, who won it from a friend in a game of mahjong.” “Dad, Dad, Dad,” Po says, trying to stem his father’s enthusiasm. “It was just a dream.” “No, it was the dream. We are noodle folk, Po. Broth runs through our veins!” “But, Dad,” Po asks, “didn’t you ever want to do something else? Something besides noodles?” “Actually,” his father admits, “when I was young and crazy, I thought about running away and learning how to make tofu.” FOLLOWING&BECOMING 4
“So why didn’t you?” Po asks. “Because it was a stupid dream,” his father replies. “Can you imagine me making tofu? Ha! No, we all have our place in this world. Mine is here, and yours is—.” “I know,” Po interrupts. “Mine is here.” “No,” his father answers, “it’s at tables 2, 5, 7, and 12. Service with a smile!” My friends, we are destined for more than simply living. God has created us for a relationship with himself through Christ. To realize who we are to be is to recognize that as a follower of Jesus I am disciple. The word “disciple” means “learner” and to be a disciple of Jesus is to be a life-long learner. This is what Paul is saying—I press on toward the goal, the life-long goal of learning to be like Christ. Along with this is the realization that it is not all about me. To become a disciple is to become a “discipler”—one who leads and mentors other people along the way. Notice Paul’s words —“follow my example”—“keep your eyes on those who live as we do.” And how did Paul live? He tells us earlier in this book that for him to live is Christ (Philippians 1:21). This was Paul’s passion—to be like Christ and to lead others into this rich and abundant life; to be a disciple and to become a discipler. To be a disciple is a recognition that life is not static. We can never come to the point of saying, “I have learned it all. I have it all down. I am perfect.” As a follower of Jesus, as a church, we are always a people on the move. This is what it means to “know Christ.” Paul wants to make sure that we know that we are called to something more, we are called to a goal and a future—to be like Christ, to live out God’s will in all areas of life. To settle for anything else is like Po, making noodles, when we are called to something more. And to get there Paul tells us something about what we are to do. Paul says that, as painful and as uncomfortable as it may be, we have to stop and recognize where we are spiritually. This is the meaning of Paul’s words in verse 12. Paul recognizes that he hasn’t arrived at his goal. He is honest with himself. Others may think he has made it. They might point to his achievements, his sacrifice, his spirituality. But Paul knows better. He knows that he is still on the way. He hasn’t arrived yet. He has taken a spiritual inventory and while he is pleased that he is on the way, he knows that there is still a way to go. So Paul makes it his point to live with purpose and his purpose is to press on, to take hold of that for which Christ took hold of him. Behind Paul’s words is the idea of grace. Paul is grateful for what God has done and is doing in his life. Paul knows what he is like. He has looked into the deep recesses of his life and knows that he is a sinner; that while there are many good things about his life, he is not what he should be and can be. He also knows that God sees in him something that Paul doesn’t always see in himself and so he wants to understand more deeply and clearly this life God has for him; this grace that makes it possible and so Paul presses on to know. This is “the one thing I do” (v.13). This is the overarching purpose of his life—to know FOLLOWING&BECOMING 5
more and more the grace of God and the purpose of God for his life; to know God and become like Christ (vv. 14, 20-21). Nothing else, no other life goal, is worthy of his focus and efforts. Now that doesn’t mean that Paul expects all of us to leave our jobs and families and communities and become a missionary like him. Paul has written elsewhere that knowing God and becoming like Christ doesn’t necessarily mean that (1 Corinthians 7:17-24; cf. Mark 5:18-20). It is a more basic, fundamental orientation of life. It is the realization that the ultimate purpose of life is not a family, a job, a good education, a good standing in the community or great accolades showered on us, but our relationship with God and the life God wants to give us in Christ. Only when we settle that basic, fundamental issue will life in all of its other aspects have meaning and satisfaction. Now Paul is not talking about something abstract or life in an ivory tower, he is very practical. And that is why he gives us some guidance on how to get there. We’ve already said something about this. And maybe the beginning of the New Year is a good time to start. Paul says that we, like him, need to take a look at our lives and assess, forget/let go and press on. Assess where we are in our relationship with God, where we are on the Christian journey, where we are in understanding and living out the destiny and plans God has for us. And when we pause to assess where we are, we will probably find that there are things from our past that are invading our present and keeping us from moving into the future, the future God has for us. Paul says that we should “forget what is behind.” Now, I don’t think that Paul is talking about ignoring real issues we need to deal with. I think we can see Paul doing that in his life. What I think Paul is calling our attention to here is the need to forget the sins we’ve pinned to the cross. If we have come to know God in repentance and claimed his forgiveness and gift of new life, we can put our sins behind us. The Bible reminds us: “As far as the East is from the West, so far have our transgressions/sins been removed from us” (Psalm 103:22). It is learning to live in forgiveness—God’s forgiveness and forgiveness of ourselves. But it is also possible that Paul is saying that one of those things we also need to forget/let go of are those good things in the past that keep us from looking towards the future. Gordon MacDonald once explained that he had tried to figure out what he liked about some elderly people that made them stand out from other elderly people he knew. He concluded that the people he enjoyed most were the ones who weren’t always reminiscing about the past, but instead were talking about the present and looking to the future. Some of us have accomplishments in the past that we feel we could never replicate. It is essential for us if we are going to make any progress in the Christian life to live today realizing our future is ahead of us. We must forget what lies behind when it gets in the way of our embracing what God has for us in the now and the future. And this means “pressing on”, moving towards the future that God calls us to. And this can be scary. What is the future like? Will I be secure? Will I be happy? Will others think I am a fanatic? Will I be…? You fill in the blank. But Paul tells us, we are to press on towards a future that has a
worthwhile goal. Life doesn’t stand still and neither can we. Paul says that to arrive at our goal, our destiny, our purpose, means moving forward. Just as growth is normal and we get concerned when children aren’t growing and want to know why, so Paul reminds us that a static faith is an inadequate faith. It not only doesn’t fulfill the purpose for which God created and saved us, it doesn’t satisfy and can’t help us to live and deal with the challenge and struggles as well as the opportunities of life. We are called to something more, we are called to a goal and a future—to be like Christ, to live out God’s will in all areas of life. And one of the resources God gives us as we press on, move towards our goal of knowing God and becoming like Christ is models that we can imitate. Mentoring is God’s method for believers to grow in the Christian life. The mentoring relationship is all about influence. There are a lot of things in life that we may feel like we can’t choose, but we can all choose our influences. We can decide who we want to be like. My challenge to you this year is to do two things: Seek out those who can mentor you in the faith; learn to do what they do. And whatever you pick up in the process, look for opportunities to pass to others. Get a mentor—someone who can help you pray, get into the Word, live like Christ; and be a mentor for others. And it is essential to get the right model, the right coach for the journey. That is what Paul is saying here. I’ll be saying more about this throughout the month, but here are some guidelines: A good mentor is someone who is growing more and more like Christ in character and lifestyle. They aren’t perfect, but their goal and purpose in life is to live like Christ. And because they aren’t perfect, they know about God’s grace. A good mentor or model is also one who tells the truth, even if it hurts, the truth about the spiritual life. Truth about where you are on that journey. They are not people who try to put you in your place, who relish hurting people. A good mentor is someone who gently but firmly tells the truth in love. A good mentor or model is also someone who gets involved. They struggle with you in the midst of your struggles. They hurt when you hurt. And last, but not least, a good mentor or model is also someone who has a life with a godly purpose. They know where they are going and because they do they are willing to encourage you when you need to be encouraged, motivate you when you need to be motivated and correct you when you need to be corrected. Why do we need mentors on the spiritual journey? Because it is all about accountability. They help us to be responsible and grow. They ask us about how our walk with God is going. They ask us about our prayer life and our growing in our understanding of God’s will in our life. They call us to account about those things in our life that lead us away from life rather than to it. Growing in the Christian life and becoming a mentor/model means that we grow in our availability. We become more caring for others in their spiritual journey. There is no way for a growing disciple who is becoming a discipler, mentor, model to throw up their hands and say “It doesn’t concern me.” They realize that they are connected in Christ and that we are our
responsible and play a role in our brothers and sisters spiritual growth. They also realize that we are to be available for ministry in and through the church. Ministry is for all of God’s people. If I am not serving, I’m not growing. If I’m growing in the faith, I will be looking for places to serve. And finally, Paul answers the question, “Why?” Why be so concerned about fulfilling our destiny and purpose? Why be so concerned about how we and others get there? Paul says that it is important because becoming who we were created to be and intended to be brings glory to God, brings our personal fulfillment and happiness, and enables us to transform the world by bringing to it the good news that liberates, satisfies, and empowers people to live life in all its intended fullness. So where are you? Where are you in your relationship to God? Where are you in relationship to your purpose and destiny—growing more and more like Christ? If you aren’t making progress in that direction, you haven’t discovered that you are destined for more. One of my favorite movies is Dead Poets Society. Maybe it’s because I like Robin Williams as an actor. Dead Poets Society is about a controversial English teacher, John Keating, who shakes up a New England prep school for boys in the 1950s. While at Helton Academy, Keating (played by Robin Williams) introduces his students to classic poets, teaching them to look at life from new vantage points instead of simply relying on knowledge that has been passed down to them. Inspired by their mentor’s example, the boys resurrect a society of dead poets that Keating established while he was a student at Helton. Because of the club, a particularly shy student finds the courage to express himself poetically, and another student begins acting despite his father’s disapproval. On the first day of school, Mr. Keating walks into his class whistling the “1812 Overture.” At once, the students recognize that he is unlike any other teacher they’ve had at Helton Academy. He motions for them to follow him out into the hall where they stand in front of the school’s trophy case. A student reads aloud a famous poem about the passage of time, which Keating proceeds to interpret. Keating says, “We are food for worms, lads. Believe it or not, each and every one of us in this room is one day going to stop breathing, turn cold, and die.” Motioning them to draw nearer to the displayed, aged photographs, he continues: I’d like you to step forward over here and peruse some of the faces from the past. You’ve walked past them many times, but I don’t really think you’ve ever looked at them. They are not that different from you, are they? Same haircuts, full of hormones, just like you. Invincible, just like you feel. The world is their oyster. They believe they’re destined for great things. Their eyes are full of hope, just like you. Did they wait till it was too late to make from their lives even one iota of what they were capable? Because you see, gentlemen, these boys are now fertilizing daffodils. If you listen real close, you can hear them whispering their legacy to you. As the boys press their noses near the trophy case, Mr. Keating stands behind them and whispers, “Carpe Diem. Seize the day!” FOLLOWING&BECOMING 8
So what about you in 2010? Are you ready to Carpe Diem, seize the day and opportunity to grow more like Christ, to live your destiny and purpose? It’s up to you. The resources are here. The song of response that Tommy has picked out for today says it well. “Brothers / and sisters let me be your servant / Let me be as Christ to you / Pray that I might have the grace to let you be my servant too. / We are pilgrims on a journey / we are brothers and sisters on the road / We are here to help each other, Walk the mile and bear the load / I will hold the Christ-light for you in the night time of your fear, I will hold my hand out to you, speak the peace you long to hear. / I will weep when you are weeping / When you laugh I’ll laugh with you / I will share your joy and sorrow, till we’ve seen this journey through.” My hope and prayer for us this year is that we will be moving on, pressing on, taking hold of that for which Christ took hold of us and that we can do it together in a way that will make 2010 the greatest year in the life of VCBC.
Reflection Questions 1. As you read today’s Scripture passage what impressions, questions, thoughts do you have? 2. When you hear the word “mentoring” what comes to mind? Have you ever had a mentor? Been a mentor? How does mentoring take place in the church? 3. What is your reaction/thoughts when Paul looks back at his previous background and labels it all as “garbage” when compared to knowing Christ? 4. Do you agree that Paul is trying to tell us that we are destined for more than we usually think? How is the life that Paul talks about in Christ the “more”? Have you ever thought about your destiny and purpose in life? 5. Could you say about your life that you have taken a spiritual assessment? What does it look like? Are there some things that you need to “forget” as you press on toward your goal? What is your goal? 6. In what ways have you made yourself accountable to other Christians as you seek to grow more like Christ? In what ways have you made yourself available to help others with their spiritual journey? 7. Do you feel that you are seizing the day and the opportunities and resources that God is making available to you to grow more like Christ, to live your destiny and purpose? If not, why? What would need to take place before you would? What is holding you back? 8. What questions, thoughts, impressions do you have having hearing/reading the sermon?