“THE LAST LAP”

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NOVEMBER 4TH, 2018                                                                              PASTOR DON PIEPER

MAIL FROM JAIL                                                                                      Philippians 2:12-13, 19-30;                                                                                                                                     3:1-14

                                                “THE LAST LAP

 

            Paul writes the church in Philippi urging them be of one mind in Christ and to encourage them “to live clean, innocent lives as children of God in a dark world full of crooked and perverse people.  Let your lives shine brightly before them.  Hold tightly to the word of life...!”     (Philippians 2:15-16)                                                                                                               

            Then, to further encourage them, he talks about sending them their mutual friends, Timothy & Epaphroditus.  Timothy is Paul's protege and Epaphroditus, a dear friend and a leader in Philippi. These two guys have served along side Paul, among other ways, as his traveling buddies.  Of Timothy, Paul writes: “Like a son with his father, he has served with me in preaching the Good News.”  (Phil 2:22) 

 

            And of Epaphroditus, Paul says, “He is a true brother, co-worker and fellow soldier. He risked his life for the work of Christ...”  (Phil. 2:25,30)  Timothy is like a son, Epaphroditus, a brother, and they have spent long hours on the road together as Paul's traveling buddies.  Can you imagine...?

            [DVD clip from the film, Brother Bear; Scene # 15; 44:15 – 45:02]

 

            I'm sure that's pretty much what it was like, traveling from city to city, with only local means of transportation available....   Okay, maybe not.  Fortunately, Paul's traveling buddies were a bit faster on the draw, as it were.  Paul's offer to send them to Philippi reveals not only his love and concern for his friends in Philippi but it also serves as a reminder of our partnering with one another.  If we're going to share the Good News of Jesus we need one another for prayer and personal support.

 

            Reading further we find Paul pausing to issue a warning - and typical of Paul he is not one to mince words.  He's been battling a group of Jewish-Christians who are saying that new converts to Christianity from non-Jewish background must be circumcised in order to enter the kingdom.  Paul sees this as a direct assault at the heart of the Christian faith.  It would mean that the cross of Christ was not sufficient.  That more is needed – that God needed a contingency plan. 

 

            Paul warns: “Watch out for those dogs, those wicked men and their evil deeds, those

mutilators who say you must be circumcised to be saved...  We put no confidence in human effort.  Instead, we boast about what Christ Jesus has done for us!”  (3:2-3)   

 

            Paul likens those who say circumcision is necessary for salvation to a pack of dogs.  Dogs in the ancient world, particularly those that traveled in groups, were a terrible nuisance.  Getting into garbage, spreading disease, nipping at horses and stalking the weak they had a terrible reputation.   Case in point - when Rome was invaded by the dreaded Gauls,  a small Garrison fought back atop famous Palatine Hill.  After many failed attempts at taking the hill, the Gauls sent an elite team of warriors up a sheer cliff protected by just a couple of soldiers, a bunch of geese and a few of man's best friends.  When the attack occurred the soldiers were lulled away and the geese sounded the alarm but only after the dogs failed to do so, having slept right through the entire attack! 

 

            Perhaps Paul had this famous story in mind when he calls these trouble makers, “dogs”.  He's saying they're untrustworthy at best and dangerously lethal at worst. 

 

            So Paul sounds the alarm, identities the perpetrators and then reminds his friends in Philippi: “We put no confidence in human effort.”  The tone sounds like that of a teacher in the class room. 

                                                                        -2-

 

            Paul reminds them they can't earn their way into heaven.  The human condition is terminally flawed.  When we arrive in heaven no excuse will do, no religious act will impress and no record of success will suffice.  We'll just need a pass with Jesus' signature on it.  Remember, Paul says, We put no confidence in human effort.  Instead, we boast about what Christ Jesus has done for us!  

                                                                                                                        (Philippians 3:2-3) 

            Then Paul adds, “I no longer count on my own goodness or my ability to obey God's law, but I trust Christ to save me.  For God's way of making us right with himself depends on faith.  As a result, I can really know Christ and experience the mighty power that raised him from the dead.”

                                                                                                                        (Philippians 3:9-10) 

            Paul lays his hope of salvation at Jesus feet and gets on with the business of really getting to know Christ.  Or as he put it earlier: 'Holding tightly to the word of life!' (2:16) Just as we get to know our human friends and family through their words and deeds so it is with us and Christ and nowhere do we have access to Jesus' words and deeds more reliably than in the New Testament! 

 

            Paul speaks of another way he interacts with Christ when he tells of how one can “experience the mighty power that raised him from the dead.”  (3:10)  That's Holy Spirit talk!  Paul is noting how Jesus makes himself known not only thru the living word of life, the Bible, but also directly thru personal experiences of God's power!  It is the power of the Holy Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead and it is the power of the Holy Spirit by which Jesus is raising people up to new life today as well...!

            Paul speaks more of such things in his other letters.  Here he wants to bring to their attention the danger of this false teaching...  The belief that one has to do certain things to earn God's favor is the other side of the same coin by which we convince our selves that we can do it on our own, that we don't need God because our essential goodness will get us through...when the time comes. 

 

            In the same way, we have a hard time changing our behavior in terms of trusting Jesus.  We believe in him but when it comes to our day to day decisions and relationships we give him very little thought or bother to include him.  We pick and choose which commandments to obey or live a life style in which we've left no time for biblical reflection or prayer.  We believe...but we don't really trust. 

 

            How can we “really know Christ and experience his mighty power” as Paul did and speaks of?  How can we heed Paul's warning and avoid falling into old patterns of thinking and behaving that reflect not the love and grace of Christ Jesus but rather the brokenness of our all-too-human condition?

 

            The second half of Philippians 3 addresses such questions.  Paul writes: I don't mean to say that I have already achieved these things or that I have already reached perfection!  But I keep pres-sing on toward that day when I will finally be all that Christ Jesus saved me for and wants me to be.”

                                                                                                                        (Philippians 3:12)

            Paul models his humble recognition that he hasn't got it all figured out or worked out.  “No, dear brothers and sisters, I am still not all I should be...” (3:13)  The world needs to see more of this side from us Christians.   Too often we come across as if we've arrived rather than a work in progress...

 

            Paul also shares his determination to “press on” - to persevere.  And note what, specifically, he seeks to persevere in – to be all that Christ saved me for and wants me to be! Faith is an adventure of discovery, and those open to discovery, keep their eyes on the horizon!

                                                                       

 

                                                                        -3- 

 

            This is why Paul speaks of 'forgetting the past'.  He's often misunderstood here.  He's not saying that the past holds no meaning or is flippantly suggesting that those hurting should just get over it.  He's talking about breaking free from all that might hold us back, any thing that might hinder our focus on the prize – our coming to really know Christ and experiencing his mighty power!

                                                                       

            In High School I ran cross-country and long distance events in track.  Our coach regularly told us three things: 1) pace yourself, 2) keep your eyes on the horizon, and 3) never look back.  Looking back causes a runner to lose stride and focus.  Keeping one's eyes on the horizon helped one to antici-pate the finish line.  Keeping time there, the coach would yell encouraging things to me, especially as I got to the last lap.  By focusing on him, especially during that last lap, I was able to lay it all out...!

 

            Paul is saying, we're to approach life and faith as though we're on the last lap, ignoring the dis-tractions and hindrances behind us, while listening for the coach's encouragement with our eyes on the prize – finishing the race well as our coach welcomes us home with the words, well done faithful one!

 

            Some times, if we're honest, we get stuck in the past – in some unresolved pain, lie or longing.  It brings to mind a story in which evil lures its victims into reawakening old lies or pain.   It's a story about temptation, longing, discovery and transformation.  It's a story about the ultimate adventure as conveyed by a valiant mouse named Reepicheep..., who we find sings a song about what exists past the farthest point on the map, a land known as Aslan's Country, where you might find all that you seek...  

            [DVD clip from The Voyage of the Dawntreader; scene #4; 12:00-13:03]

 

            As this scene takes place early in the film you get the sense that Reepicheep, like the apostle Paul, has his eyes on the prize as he battles enemies from within and without. Of all the foes they battle it turns out that none is nearly so formidable as the enemy that lies within.  Lucy battles issues of ego and jealousy, Caspian struggles with regret and guilt, and Eustice has to become an actual dragon before he recognizes the dragon within.  It is the lies within that keep us stuck in the past.  No wonder Paul urges his friends in Philippi to forget the past and look forward to what lies ahead.   

 

            Clinging to the promise of the Gospel, knowing that the battle is temporary and the approaching joy is eternal, puts everything into perspective...granting the courage needed to go the distance...

            [DVD clip from The Voyage of the Dawntreader; 1:38:25 – 1:41:34 – freeze final frame]

 

            As Reepicheep lays down his sword he says, “I won't be needing this.”  The sword represents his battle not only against the forces of darkness but also against the darkness within.  It's a story about the ultimate adventure inspired by the greatest story ever told.   Like Paul, Reep keeps his focus on the prize – that prize being that he'll be “where the Lord Jesus Christ lives..., who'll take these weak mortal bodies of ours and change them into glorious bodies like his own...”  (3:20-21)

 

            God is calling you to greater things – in this life and in the one to come!   Christ is calling you to step out with great confidence and courage knowing that where he is, what he's blessing, where he's moving in power to bring his kingdom to life, is precisely where he's leading you...! 

            As Paul writes in his concluding remarks: “Think about things that are godly and worthy of praise.  Don't worry about anything; instead, pray about everything.  Tell God what you need and thank him for all he has done.  Then you will experience God's peace, which exceeds all understanding, and His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.” 

                                                                                                            (Philippians 4:6-7) 

Christopher Pieper

Lutheran Church of the Redeemer, 45 Redeemer Way, Chimacum, WA, 98325

 I live to be forgotten, so that Christ may be remembered. - D.E. Hoste