Saturday, October 31, 2009

In Our Race To The Finish Am I Your Partner Or Competitor?

Good morning friends. Do you agree with me that Saturday's are really great, unless you have to work? Then you end up feeling robbed of a great day. Hopefully not many of you have to work today. I pray for you that the joy of the Lord will be your strength. Either way it is good to start the day sharing the Word with you, especially as we move on to the letter to the Philippians.

There is this strange and wonderful thing that is happening because of the Internet; the Church is getting closer as it becomes global. Through applications such as Twitter we are able to meet and encourage Christians from everywhere around the world. It is amazing the close relationships that can be formed so quickly and how much encouragement and support is offered. The one thing I do not hear is a lot of talk about denominations and disputable matters. People just accept each other as brothers and sisters. Now if we could only translate that to our physical communities.

It seems in the flesh we are not able to shake the labels we have created. We know people as Baptist, Anglicans, Pentecostal, Salvation Army, Brethern, Presbyterian and so many more. With it comes all the baggage of differences in disputable matters and it is hard for us to get through to the essentials of our faith. This is the reason why Philippians is such a joy to read, because Paul addresses them in this way, considering them as brothers and sisters in the faith.

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.  Philippians 1:3-6

Do we see our fellow believers as partners? I do not mean the people in our own congregation, although we may want to start there, but the people from other congregations outside of our denomination. Many of our differences is based on traditions and when we get past that we discover that everyone seems to be missing something that we need from the other congregations. That is how we are designed, to need each other. When we realize this then we begin to realize that we are partners in this mission we share together. Partners play off each others strengths and cover each others weaknesses. Partners never attack or demean each other because it would result in failure. We cannot afford to fail our mission. We need to begin to realize our need for our partners. Then in seeing them in this manner perhaps we too will receive joy as we pray for them.

Do we also see people as a work in progress? I don't think we do. I think we expect a finished product, especially in the leaders. However, if we were able to change our mindset I think we would discover we can tolerate a lot of imperfections in people, especially when people own their imperfections. Our own attitude should be "I'm not perfect but God's getting me there". We should not be satisfied with our imperfections but instead submit them to the Spirit for improvement. We must give others this same chance, to know their imperfections and to desire change. This way we can accept each other as works in progress and allow forgiveness to freely flow from this mutual love of the Father.

This attitude allows for us to show grace to one another as Jesus has shown it to us:

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. Philippians 1:7-8

These partners of ours have received the same grace as we have from the same source. This means they are as much objects of teh Fathers affection as we are. We share in this wonderful grace. Will this thought allow you to permit others to enter your heart? Are you willing to allow your partners in so that you can love them, support them and encourage them, as different as they are from you? Paul expressed his longing for the Philippians and he said it was with all the affection of Jesus. This is a sacrificial love. Imagine the changes in our communities if we were able to long for each other with this sacrificial love.

Check your heart right now. Are you an open and loving person? Would people refer to you as affectionate? No? Why? I think its because we don't trust people with our heart. We are afraid to be hurt. It may also be because we do not have the energy that such a commitment requires. Love demands action and especially time. It is hard to let people in. So consider what Paul's prayer was for his partners who he longed for with the all the affection of Jesus and who he shared the experience of God's grace with:

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. vs. 9-11

What is it you pray for your fellow Christians in your community? I don't mean by church, I mean by name. Do you pray for them? We talk a lot about unity but we need more than just the unity of our own church. We are desperate for the unity of the Church with all its diversity. It isn't going to happen if we keep arguing over things like which translation of the Bible we use, whether we speak in tongues, how we wear our hair or how we dress. These are disputable matters and Paul says to avoid them because they bring division where there should be unity. Consider the lowest common denominator that Paul used here; we have all been called to the same mission; we are all works in progress; we all share in the same grace; and we should all desire to see each other prosper and succeed spiritually so that we all make it to the finish line.

It is with this prayer of Paul's for the Philippians that I have this image of all these runners running together. Instead of seeing the other racers as competitors they see them as partners. Running partners cheer each other on, they push to get each other that little bit further. They don't criticize each other over their clothes, their speech, their hair style or their running techniques. They only have one goal, to help each other finish the race. This is how I see Paul's prayer. Should this not be the desire we have for each other? When a runner stumbles or falls the partners do not kick him or reject him. They help the partner up, speak encouragement into them and then continue the race.

How do you see your fellow believers? Are they your partners? Do you have a duty to them? Do you need them? Will you change your heart so that you long for them with all the affection of Christ? It means forgiving them when they stumble and fail. It means setting aside disputable matters. It means sacrificing for them. Can you do this?  

I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy. 

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