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Faithlife

Down But Never Out

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" I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart; for whether I am in chains or defending and confirming the gospel, all of you share in God’s grace with me. God can testify how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus. And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God." (Philippians 1:3-11, NIV) [1]

"Now about brotherly love we do not need to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love each other. And in fact, you do love all the brothers throughout Macedonia. Yet we urge you, brothers, to do so more and more. Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business and to work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody." (1 Thessalonians 4:9-12, NIV) [2]

Do you remember the show “Hogan’s Heroes”?  Colonels Hogan an Klink squared off weekly in Stalag 13.  Hogan was an American POW who served in captivity as a most effective source of intelligence and counter espionage.  He was happy to have Klink believe that he was fully in charge and in turn, his pandered pride served him up regularly as a pawn for Allied interests.

Royce Gracie, the Brazilian Ju Jitsu master, defeated many unsuspecting opponents with his back to the mat.  The illusion of control given to the opponent caused them to prematurely assume victory and relax just long enough to play into one of his patented submission holds.

I would say that Paul was cut from this breed.  There are times when the odds against us place us in a favored position.  Paul and Silas were imprisoned in Philippi

"The crowd joined in the attack against Paul and Silas, and the magistrates ordered them to be stripped and beaten. After they had been severely flogged, they were thrown into prison, and the jailer was commanded to guard them carefully. Upon receiving such orders, he put them in the inner cell and fastened their feet in the stocks. About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them. Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the prison were shaken. At once all the prison doors flew open, and everybody’s chains came loose. The jailer woke up, and when he saw the prison doors open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself because he thought the prisoners had escaped." (Acts 16:22-27, NIV) [3]

The church is at its’ best against all odds.  It always has been.  Today we see the church growing most in countries where it is less likely to flourish.  China, the underground church, persecuted.  A church of prayer where reportedly 35,000 people come to a faith experience on a daily basis.  I think really we are at our best when it comes to kingdom interests when it seems that we operate from a position of disfavor rather than favor, weakness rather than strength.

What kind of position do you hold today in your family, your workplace.  From a faith perspective, do you feel overwhelmed and outnumbered, in a hostile environment?

There could be many reasons for the strength that comes from adversity.  Relative to the church, disfavor culls a church leaving those who are serious about their experience.  Personally speaking, adversity strips pretense from us one painful layer at a time.  It reveals the real person and reduces us – it destroys our pride and this is often painful.  When we look at our failure and have no choice but to own it, then we have something solid to build on.  Rather than deceiving ourselves and others, we see ourselves as we can by no other means.  What we see provides the impetus for transformation when there is nowhere to go but up.  Maybe you’re there today.  I remember the words of an old Imperials song.  It said, “I was looking up to the bottom when it finally dawned on me.”

The people who consistently manifest the greatest joy in life are those who will simply not be discouraged by their circumstances.  As author Zig Zigler says, "If life hands you a lemon, take the lemon and make lemonade."  Let me close with several examples:  Charles Goodyear's lemon was a prison sentence, resulting from a contempt of court citation.  While in prison, Goodyear didn't complain.  Instead, he became an assistant in the kitchen.  While there, he continued to work on an idea.  In the process he discovered a method for vulcanizing rubber.  His lemon, a prison sentence, became our lemonade.  We have better tires, which means better travel and a better way of life.

So from a prison cell, his back to the mat, rather than surrendering, Paul redefines his mission and his methodology and gives us in these first few verses of chapter one, several insights in advancing the kingdom when we think we are ineffective and useless.  He weaves three strands throughout these verses, people, prayer and partnership, creating an unbreakable and dynamic means through which you and I can live fully and well from the inside out redeeming life between Sundays for His Glory.

Let’s look at the first strand.

1.  Importance of Investing in People.

Perhaps one of the greatest reasons that trouble hits us with such a devastating blow is that we make no preparation for difficulty.

It’s what you do before the storm hits that determines how well you weather it.

Years ago, a farmer owned land along the Atlantic seacoast.  He constantly advertised for hired hands. Most people were reluctant to work on farms along the Atlantic. They dreaded the awful storms that raged across the Atlantic, wreaking havoc on the buildings and crops.

As the farmer interviewed applicants for the job, he received a steady stream of refusals.  Finally, a short, thin man, well past middle age, approached the farmer. "Are you a good farm hand?" the farmer asked him.

"Well, I can sleep when the wind blows," answered the little man.

Although puzzled by this answer, the farmer, desperate for help, hired him. The little man worked well around the farm, busy from dawn to dusk,  and the farmer felt satisfied with the man's work.

Then one night the wind howled loudly in from offshore.  Jumping out of bed, the farmer grabbed a lantern and rushed next door to the hired hand's sleeping quarters. He shook the little man and yelled, "Get up!  A storm is coming!  Tie things down before they blow away!"

The little man rolled over in bed and said firmly, "No sir! I told you, I can sleep when the wind blows."

Enraged by the response, the farmer was tempted to fire him on the spot. Instead, he hurried outside to prepare for the storm To his amazement, he discovered that all of the haystacks had been covered with tarpaulins. The cows were in the barn, the chickens were in the coops, and the doors were barred.  The shutters were tightly secured.  Everything was tied down.  Nothing could blow away. The farmer then understood what his hired hand meant, so he returned to his bed to also sleep while the wind blew.

When you're prepared, spiritually, mentally, and physically, you have nothing to fear Can you sleep when the wind blows through your life?

The hired hand in the story was able to sleep because he had secured the farm against the storm in advance.

Paul’s clear strategy that brought him help was that he invested in people.  That was the essence of his life.  I believe that this is possible and desirable for every follower of Christ.  The greater the investment, the greater the return. 

Why is that?

Because God loves people and he places a value on your “loving them” that is second only to loving Him.  Many times we elevate other causes over this as though we could reshuffle God’s priorities for Him.  We think that we could serve Him better by determining that someone was a “lost cause” and walking away.  The truth is that you are God’s lost cause, we all are.  God never gives up on people – aren’t you glad.  The scripture calls this “longsuffering”.  I am so glad that He has suffered long with me.

There is nothing more important to God than “people building people, people blessing people, people believing in people.  That’s why there is such a high priority given to unity in the church.  “preserve the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.”

Relational stock always yields a great return to the individual who is wise enough to invest in it.

Look at the return it brought him:

·         An thankful heart – v. 3

·         A joyful prayer experience – v. 4

·         An ability to trust God to care for those that we care for – v. 6

·         Personal enrichment that comes from enduring relationships – v. 7

The investment that you make in the lives of other people in life between Sundays will bless God and return to bless you in your time of need.

2.  Imperative of an Intimate prayer life.

I have had to overcome some obstacles with the notion of prayer.  The first thing that I had to do was to get it off of my “To Do” list.  For years it was right there with “brush your teeth”, “take out the garbage”, “mow the lawn”.  I saw it as something that God wanted me to do for Him rather than something that God wanted to do for me.  I thought that my agenda in prayer was the main consideration rather than God’s agenda.  Somehow, coming to God on a regular basis is for my benefit, not his.  Prayerlessness makes me not so much a sinner as it makes me a loser.

It’s like the locker room message that the coach delivers to his team to help them to connect with their training and to shine in the second half.

It’s the break between rounds when the “corner crew” wipes the fighter down and looks for cuts and scrapes that might later turn into wounds that would cost the fight.

It’s like the time out that the coach calls when you are facing the full court press and you can’t seem to break it – there are so many opponents on the court that you lose sight of your team mates.  It brings strategy that makes sense in seeming chaos.

It brings a life of your own, full and vital, to you that makes Entertainment Tonight seem mundane and unimportant.  It causes you to stop trying to find meaning in someone else’s existence and understand that God has planted something within you that needs to be discovered, developed and deployed.

Until you learn to pray, you’ll be a stranger to God – you’ll never know His heart.  You’ll find him in the darkest hours of your life if you’ve known him in the good times.  If you haven’t searched for Him and sought His face in the absence of trouble, he may be more difficult to find when you need Him most.

When you pray, you learn the language of blessing.

Look at Paul’s prayer for the Philippians in verses 9-11.

And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God."

I think that we can begin to learn a language in prayer that translates itself into the way that we talk to people, the way that we treat people.  Simply because when we are willing to pray for people, God can readily change our hearts.

Learn how to bless other people.  It is too natural to curse others, to allow your words to discourage.  It’s amazing what kind of an impact that you can have on others if your can learn the language of blessing.

3.  Involvement in Intentional Partnerships

“. . .  I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. . . “

"Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord." (Romans 12:11, NIV) [4]

Spiritual vitality comes from a full engagement in the mission.  When people retire from a particular involvement in their church or in some definite kingdom role that they play then their spiritual vitality is diminished.

He was not set aside and rendered ineffective.  He was unstoppable in many ways without knowing it.  He was not consumed with what he could not do but determined to do whatever he could do.

Would you call yourself “missional” in the living out of your faith?  I think that “missional” Christians are clearly the most vibrant representatives of Christ.  They are followers of Christ who enjoy their relationship with Christ to the point that they become convinced that Jesus can be the same for everyone that they meet.  When they encounter people going through difficulties, their mission is to gently help them to consider that God can meet them at their point of need.

These people believe that nothing else can make a meaningful difference in the world in which we live.

And so they are consumed with communicating this message in whatever form it may take.  They believe that there is always a way for the message to go out.

Paul believed this and it produced the prison epistles, Ephesians, Philippians and Colossians.

Many of us become consumed with what we cannot do.  Paul could have been blinded to the possibilities by his imprisonment.  He could have languished in his limitations but chose rather to

Rebellion against your handicaps gets you nowhere.  Self-pity gets you nowhere.  One must have the adventurous daring to accept oneself as a bundle of possibilities and undertake the most interesting game in the world - making the most of one's best.

 

Harry Emerson Fosdick

He believed that there was always a way for the message to be proclaimed.  There is always another option.  

It became both as simple and as profound as writing a letter and offering it to God.  For you and I it means that we do whatever we can do whenever we can do it regardless of whether we see it as great or small.

God blesses small things offered freely to him.

God unites “missional” churches.

Relational depth and intimacy comes to groups of people from their shared mission.  Teams of people who compete together are among the most cohesive units that we find.  And the time in which they are most united is the time when they struggle together, to play the game, to win the contest.  That common focus helps them to subjugate their differences to their objective.  We could stand to learn that lesson.

A sense of mission allows us to find a way in any circumstance to maximize the meaning of our lives.

There are times when the hardest times yield the fondest memories.

I can’t . . . . but I can.

A problem is a concentrated opportunity. The only people I have ever known to have no problems are in the cemetery. The more problems you have, the more alive you are. Every problem contains the seeds of its own solution. I often say, when the Lord wants to give you the greatest value in this world, He doesn't wrap it in a sophisticated package and hand it to you on a silver platter. He is too subtle, too adroit, for that. He takes this big value and buries it at the heart of a big, tough problem. How He must watch with delight when you've got what it takes to break that problem apart and find at its heart what the Bible calls, "the pearl of great price."  Everybody I've ever known who succeeded in a big way in life has done so by breaking problems apart and finding the value that was there.

   -- Personal Selling Power, 12/92

There once was an oyster whose story I tell,

 Who found that sand had got under his shell,

 Just one little grain, but it gave him much pain,

 For oysters have feelings although they're so plain.

 Now, did he berate the working of Fate,

 Which had led him to such a deplorable state?

 Did he curse out the government, call for an election?

 No; as he lay on the shelf he said to himself

 "If I cannot remove it, I'll try to improve it."

 So the years rolled by as the years always do,

 And he came to his ultimate destiny--stew.

 And this small grain of sand which had bothered him so,

 Was a beautiful pearl, all richly aglow.

 Now this tale has a moral--for isn't it grand

 What an oyster can do with a morsel of sand;

 What couldn't we do if we'd only begin

 With all of the things that get under our skin.


----

[1]  The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984 (electronic ed.). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

[2]  The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984 (electronic ed.). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

[3]  The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984 (electronic ed.). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

[4]  The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984 (electronic ed.). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

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