I have to admit I’ve really struggled with the sermon this week. I’m still going to preach out of Philippians to continue our series, but there’s a larger conversation going on right now that I’ve had a hard time with this week. I don’t want to spend a lot of time on it this morning, but I think I owe it to you to let you in on what’s been on my heart this week.
When we decided to plant this church is wasn’t because we were unhappy with any particular congregation. It’s our strong feeling that there is no perfect congregation. By the way, if you’re looking for Cornerstone to be perfect, let me warn you right now, we’re not. We’re all messed up people who will let you down. I’m the chief among these, too, so don’t think I’ve got it all figured out. I had a college professor once tell us that there are no perfect churches and if you find one and join it, you’ll mess it up. So our frustration wasn’t with any one particular church.
We wanted to start this church because we wanted to continue to spread the Gospel of Jesus to the 20,000 people that weren’t involved in any church. It wasn’t that we thought we could necessarily do it better than anyone else, but we wanted to do it differently, to reach a different audience, to hopefully present the same Gospel in a fresh way that would draw other people to Him.
I want to point out something right here, though. We wanted to create something fresh and new. So we stood on the shoulders of people who had done something like this before and said, “we can do the same thing here.” We can get a good band, create a cool atmosphere and have great worship services. We can get a mediocre preacher and do all the “churchy” things and hopefully people will come that aren’t going anywhere else. You see, we never set out to be the “cool” church where everyone in town would want to go. Instead, we wanted to join with the saints in other churches and hopefully grow the Kingdom. However, we set out to create.
Do you see the problem here? We wanted to create something new. In spite of all the cool things we do (and we’ve seen some wonderful things happen here in our short history) I think there’s a larger priority. We set out to create something. That presents a problem. When we make something, what is the emphasis on? It’s on us. When we make something, it becomes about what we’ve done instead of who God is.
As I was reading through Philippians, especially the chapter we’re studying this morning, I was confronted with my own arrogance. Looking at this book, that was a big deal. With Paul being so concerned with humility, my own arrogance became increasingly clearer.
There is today no lack of Bible teachers to set forth correctly the principles of the doctrines of Christ, but too many of these seem satisfied to teach the fundamentals of the faith year after year, strangely unaware that there is in their ministry no manifest Presence, nor anything unusual in their personal lives. They minister constantly to believers who feel within their breasts a longing which their teaching simply does not satisfy.
In John 4, Jesus was speaking with a Samaritan woman at a well when he made the statement “God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” What Tozer is saying is that we’ve got the truth part down. We have preachers and teachers who can open the Word and tell us what it says, but perhaps we have trouble with the Spirit.
This is where we get into the larger conversation. We’ve tried to create this great atmosphere into which people can come, sing some songs, hear the Word, and be encouraged. Have we, however, forgotten something? Have we forgotten the very Spirit of God?
The Spirit is the person of the Godhead who receives the least airtime, yet is the most prevalent in our lives. Jesus made the importance of the Spirit very clear.
John 14:15-17, 25-26
The Spirit is the one who lives inside us, the person of God with whom we should be the most intimate. Yet often, we have no clue of his presence. Tozer says he isn’t manifest in our lives or in our ministries. I wonder if perhaps we are afraid of him. I think we fear the presence of the Spirit because he’s unpredictable. Jesus said the Spirit would be our Helper and that we would receive power when the Spirit came upon us. Paul said in 2 Timothy that God has given us a Spirit of power, love and self-control. But the Spirit makes us do crazy things. By the Spirit of God people are healed, demons are cast out, and the miraculous happens.
It was in the context of this conversation that I came to Philippians chapter 3. This has consistently been one of my favorite passages in the whole Bible. After this week, I’ve begun to see myself a bit more in what Paul has written. As we read through this, it’s important to ask why this passage is right here. Why did Paul write these words immediately following what he wrote in chapter 2?
Starting in the first 3 verses we see the connection to this larger conversation. Paul says we worship by the Spirit of God and put no confidence in the flesh. Then he begins a long list of all of his fleshly accomplishments. I could go line by line through Paul’s list of accomplishments, but I think that’s unnecessary. Suffice it to say, Paul had a lot of accomplishments. He was a pretty stand-up guy when it came to religious things. He was a Pharisee, which meant he was extremely religious. He was faithful to all of the Jewish laws and even had the right lineage. If there was ever a person who could boast in his accomplishments, it was Paul.
This week, for possibly the first time ever (at least in a long time) I found myself identifying with this passage. That’s probably evidence of my own arrogance. As I was engaging in this other conversation about the Spirit and what we were doing as a church, I began to sense that possibly while we had the right idea in some areas, in others we had missed the boat.
I believe in this passage we get to see what Paul has been leading up to the whole time in this letter. Why is this passage related to the second chapter? I think Paul is being vulnerable with the Philippians right here. Not only did he encourage them to be humble like Christ was, but he admits his own failings. He admits that while he was very religious, he missed what God is all about. He was a Pharisee. He believed in God. He had read the Old Testament. He knew the law. He was confident in his interpretation of scripture. He had gone through rabbinical school. He was among the best of the best when it came to knowing and understanding his religion. Paul was possibly the finest example of a follower of the Jewish faith. But he missed the Truth. He missed Jesus.
We know the story of Paul’s conversion from the Pharisee named Saul. Walking to Damascus he was blinded by a bright light and confronted by the resurrected Christ. This encounter changed him forever, as we’ll see in this passage.
“Whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ.”
Paul had it all. Who knows what would have happened to Paul if he’d continued on this path. But being confronted by Jesus himself changed Paul’s perspective. Everything Paul had accomplished became worthless to him. Why? Because the only important thing was Christ. Paul’s conversion is a testimony to what is supposed to happen to all of us. When we’re confronted with Christ, our perspective changes. When we’re confronted with Christ, our lives become different.
He goes on: “Indeed I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.” Jesus is the goal. Knowing Jesus is the point of Christianity. Indeed, Jesus himself said that eternal life was knowing God and his son (John 17:3). Everything else is worthless, and Paul would know! He had it all and lost it all and it didn’t matter because he had Jesus.
I want you to hear the passion in Paul’s voice. “For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish…” This word rubbish or waste or garbage literally means excrement. That’s what everything else in the world is when compared with Jesus.
“…in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith…” Any righteousness that comes from my own works is worthless. Any righteousness that comes from my own good deeds doesn’t matter because it can’t compare with the righteousness that comes from God. It doesn’t compare with Jesus. As good as I might be, I will never live a perfect life. Jesus did. That’s why he can be the sacrifice, that’s why he is worth so much. In another letter Paul says his own righteousness is like filthy rags. Remember that Paul just said he was blameless when it came to the law. If there was ever a Pharisee that got it right, it was Paul. And yet, his righteousness was worthless. But if we are found in Christ, if our righteousness comes from him, then we stand blameless before God. That’s why Jesus is so important.
“—that I might know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I might attain the resurrection from the dead.” What’s the goal of Christianity? Most people would say “Heaven.” If that were the case, then what we’ve been doing for years would be the answer. If Heaven was the goal, then getting people saved and baptized would be our plan. But that’s not what Paul is saying. To Paul, the goal is Christ. The goal is knowing, really knowing Christ. Paul wants to be as much like Jesus as possible, even sharing in his sufferings and death. To Paul, Jesus really is the answer. That’s why losing everything else was acceptable. When presented with a better choice than the one he’d been living, there was no contest. He would choose Jesus every time.
Can you begin to see why this was hard for me? Something else I should probably let you in on: Tim sent me a forwarded email from a friend of his. Included in the body of this email was a web link to a YouTube sermon by Francis Chan, the author of Crazy Love. In this sermon Chan poses an interesting question. He asks if you were stranded on a desert island and had no previous experience with church and somehow you came across a Bible, is this what you would create based on the words in scripture.
This question has haunted me and it’s why I had such a hard time putting pen to paper this week. Then as I read this passage I was broken over my own arrogance and pride at what we’d created here. I hope you hear my heart. I love being your pastor and I fully plan for us to continue doing this thing we call Cornerstone. I think coming together to sing songs and worship is wonderful. I think Levi, Jordan, Alex, and Luke do a great job with the music. I love to lift up songs to the Lord in worship. I love preaching. I think the Word of God has an important role in our worship. I think coming together to be encouraged is necessary. Communion is a vital part of who we are as a church and we’re going to make it a more prominent part of our worship. But church doesn’t end in this room. There’s more to church.
I think we’ve missed it when it comes to our lives being led by the Spirit. I hope in my own life to be more sensitive to the Spirit’s leading. I think we’ve missed it when it comes to prayer. I hope in my ministry here, the Spirit becomes more evident. I hope we become known as a people who love one another and love the community. I hope we become known as a church where the miraculous occurs and lives are changed. It’s scary stuff because when you turn your life over to God you never know what’s going to happen. We occasionally watch videos that tell stories of people who traded in their old lives for radical new ones because of the prompting of the Spirit.
I hope you’ll get involved here at Cornerstone. I hope you’ll take your faith seriously. I pray you get to know people. As we continue to grow it’s going to get easier to get lost in the crowd and it’s going to get easier for us to miss you. I hope we won’t let that happen, but I also hope you won’t let that happen. There are beautiful people here at Cornerstone, people with all kinds of backgrounds, people you should meet. Then, as we encourage one another, let’s actually do what it is we say we want to do. Let’s actively share our faith. If we will encourage one another, it will become easier to live out our faith in front of others. It will be easier for us to pursue Christ.