given on Sunday, February 20, 2011

Several times this week I found myself awestruck.  Last Sunday morning it was seeing the eagle perched in the tree on Hwy M.  On below freezing mornings it was the weather forecast predicting 70 degrees.

Thursday morning I watched the snow piles along the curb dissolve in a little over an hour even before heading to school.  That evening, sweeping the back porch, I discovered bright green sprigs of yarrow and mint pushing up through the muddy muck.  I was awestruck.

The amazement that we experience when something goes against what we expect leaves us awestruck.  Paul’s personal story of how he was a persecuting Pharisee with Roman citizenship and notoriety has always peaked my interest.  As Saul, he had it all.

Can you imagine what it was like to be walking down the road and suddenly be struck down by blindness?  The sheer surprise or shock of that immediate loss would have sent most spiraling into depression.  But Saul’s story took a u-turn on that road so much so that he even changed his name.  He was awestruck and I am, too.

Now my degree of awestruck surely cannot be the same as Paul’s.  Yet my awestruck meter can quickly swing from 0 to 100 because it does not take much to make me happy.  The little things in life can trigger the needle to jump from 0 to 50 in a heartbeat.  Sometimes it can swing way over to 100 when I first note something amazing, but it can swing back to a lower reading when I register the full story.

Paul’s letter to the Philippians continues to hold my attention as I study it.  The third chapter seems a bit slower than the first two, but it may be due to the retelling of Paul’s own experience.  To review, Paul was writing the letter to the early church in Philippi from his prison cell.  He had to get it done to send back with Timothy and Epaphroditus.  He had already told them that even while suffering in jail he was filled with joy.  He continued with a mini-lesson in Chapter 2, explaining that serving one another is a type of cruciform living that fills one with joy.

That brings us to Chapter 3.  Analyzing the letter, the third chapter presents the proof that the author is qualified to speak out in defense of Christ.  Paul reviews his own history and transformation without all the minute details of being struck blind and miraculously healed.  Instead he focuses on how faith in God turned his life completely around—a full 180 so to speak.

As one who was awestruck when he came to know God’s forgiving, loving nature, he shared his story to assure the Philippians that they too could experience the awesome sense of joy by simply believing.  All it takes is to believe:  another way to a joy-filled life; another awestruck moment.

Awestruck.  Incredulous.  Unbelievable.  Surreal.  The words tumble out of my mind as I consider how Jesus’ contemporaries and that first generation after his crucifixion must have explained what a difference believing in God made in their lives or in someone they knew personally.  Do you think they fully understood what had happened?

Do you think we, 28 generations or more later, understand?  I am afraid that awestruck sensation may be diminished here in 2011 AD.  Listen to Paul’s words:

Yes, all the things I once thought were so important are gone from my life. Compared to the high privilege of knowing Christ Jesus as my Master, firsthand, everything I once thought I had going for me is insignificant—dog dung. I’ve dumped it all in the trash so that I could embrace Christ and be embraced by him. I didn’t want some petty, inferior brand of righteousness that comes from keeping a list of rules when I could get the robust kind that comes from trusting Christ—God’s righteousness.

10-11I gave up all that inferior stuff so I could know Christ personally, experience his resurrection power, be a partner in his suffering, and go all the way with him to death itself. If there was any way to get in on the resurrection from the dead, I wanted to do it.

Paul gave up everything from his previous life—politically safe, religious leader, well-known, prestigious—and completely did a 180, pardon the cliché, because he found joy in suffering, joy in serving, and joy in believing.

His family and friends must have been awestruck, too.  They probably were completely unprepared for such a dramatic change in him.  They probably were dumbfounded.  One can only speculate on what they did.  Did they follow Paul, too?  Did they consider Paul the “black sheep” in the family?  Did they shun him?  Did they try to intervene and make him give up his crazy idea?

Whatever happened to his family and friends is not available to us today, but we can consider our own family and friends.  Are they part of our Christian family?  Do they consider you to be a joy-filled Christian?  Do they see God in you?  Do you demonstrate to them the joy your faith has given you?

As Paul continues his letter to the Philippians, he shifts from his own experience to more advice on how to live as Christians.  Eugene Peterson subtitles this section in his translation “Focused on the Goal.”  Paul’s words sound like the Stephen Covey, author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, of 61 AD:

Friends, don’t get me wrong: By no means do I count myself an expert in all of this, but I’ve got my eye on the goal, where God is beckoning us onward—to Jesus.

Scanning over the next verses, the life coach, Paul, repeats the instructions:

  • . . . keep focused on that goal . . .
  • . . . total commitment . . .
  • . . . Now that we’re on the right track, let’s stay on it.
  • . . . Keep track of those you see running this same course . . . same goal.
  • . . . There are many . . . choosing other goals, and trying to get you to go along with them.  I’ve warned you of them . . .
  • . . . All they want is easy street. . . . easy street is a dead-end street . . .

Paul was passionate about Christ.  He felt personally invested in sharing the good news with others.  He did not want to leave one church and move on to the other without staying connected—not an easy task without any form of communication other than letters sent from one’s hands to another’s hands.

The goal is worth the suffering.  It is a joy to serve.  And believing is the ultimate goal.  Joy in life on earth.  Joy in heaven ever after.  Paul ends this lesson with a picture of the goal:

20-21But there’s far more to life for us. We’re citizens of high heaven! We’re waiting the arrival of the Savior, the Master, Jesus Christ, who will transform our earthy bodies into glorious bodies like his own. He’ll make us beautiful and whole with the same powerful skill by which he is putting everything as it should be, under and around him.

The earliest Christians were awestruck by the picture Paul painted in his letters.  His own story proved what a joy believing in Christ could be.  As long as you believe, you will find joy.

Awestruck.  The word is filled with anticipation, energy, promise, hope, and joy.  The eagle perched on the tree is majestic and is awesome to see.  The new, bright green sprigs of yarrow and mint contrast delightfully against the dried, brown muddy leaves and grass.  The sunrises and the sunsets brilliantly paint the sky.  The full moon peeks from behind the clouds and lights up the dark night as the warm breezes chase the snow away.

I believe.  Paul tells me that even during the suffering believing in God brings joy.

I believe.  Paul tells me that following Jesus’ pattern of serving one another brings joy.

I believe.  Paul tells me that staying focused on the goal, of being committed to my belief in Jesus Christ, I will receive joy.

I believe.  I know that God is.  I know that Jesus came to share the message.  I know that life as a Christian is a joy-filled life.

Dear Awesome God,

Paul has shared with us today through his words.  His personal story demonstrates the truth of his words.  The selflessness he demonstrates through his letters to the churches is Christ-like.  His praise for those who serve, and continue to serve, guides us, too, to continue serving.  As a life coach for today, Paul tells us to stay focused and committed to believing in God because the goal is life eternal.  The goal leaves us awestruck.         –Amen

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