Worthy of the Gospel – September 21, 2008

Exodus 14:19-31, Philippians 1:19-30

September 21, 2008

Do you live a life worthy of the Gospel? That’s our theme for today, and it comes from verse 27 in our reading. “Only let the manner of your life be worthy of the Gospel of Christ…” Do you? And do even have an idea what it means to be worthy of the Gospel?

I’m guessing we have an idea. We figure being worthy of the gospel means something like “living a good life.” And that’s a good start. It means living in such a way as to be pleasing to God, and in such a way that will speak well to others of the Gospel to which we are called. I want to say more about that in a minute, but let me say first, that if you’re like most people, the problem is not so much knowing what it means as much as it is remembering to do it.

That’s why I like to give you little phrases to remember. I was talking with Patty the other evening about that. I was saying how I like to give you little phrases, the kind that would go on the refrigerator, or maybe on one of those colored, rubbery wrist bands – like the “livestrong” bands. Because reminders are so important.

If your like me, you need those reminders. Maybe you make lists. Maybe you have a pocket calendar. If you’ve been around me enough, you know I write them on my hand. People say, “Would you like a piece of paper?” And I say, “No, I might lose the piece of paper!” “I’m not likely to lose my hand!” And if I do lose it in some traumatic accident, in all likelihood, what’s written there is not going to be all that important any more! Actually that comes from my pilot training days. I found when the guy in the control tower was giving me several different frequencies and headings to read back very quickly, it worked out better just to write them on my hand.

When I was a kid, I used to make piles. When it was late at night and dark in my room and I thought of something I needed to remember for the next day, I’d go and put a trash can on top of a chair in the middle of the room, or stack some books on the corner of my desk – anything odd that would remind me of whatever it was!

Well, we need reminders in our faith, about being the kinds of people God wants us to be. And again, I think those reminders are most helpful if they are short and to the point. So the reminder for today is “worthy of the Gospel.” Maybe that can be on our minds more easily, and we can then ask ourselves when we do something or are about to do something, “Is that worthy of the Gospel?”

When we do that, we can then experience what I like to call “little moments of growth.” That is, when we are about to do or say something that’s not so good, but then we think of our little phrase and we stop ourselves, that is a little moment of growth! That is a tangible place of change. And the more we do them, the more they add up into big growth as we are changed into the likeness of Christ. So today’s little phrase is “worthy of the gospel.” When we’re about to act or talk, we can use that phrase to measure what we’re about to do. Is it worthy of the gospel?

With that in mind, let’s think a little more what that means – so we have something to go on when we ask ourselves that question. What is it like when we’re living a life worthy of the gospel. Well the first thing we need to recognize is that it’s going to look a little different for each of us. God convicts different people in different ways – just like he gives us all different gifts. But let’s look at what Paul says and see if there are some good guiding principles.

First of all, just before he uses that phrase, he talks about three things. He talks about progress, joy in the faith, and ample cause to glory in Christ Jesus. I’d like you to think about those things. I think those are three really good things to have in our lives if we’re living in a manner worthy of the gospel. Think about it. 1) Progress, or in other words, Growth. 2) Joy. And 3) Ample cause to glory, or in other words, praise. Do we have all three?

First of all, growth. And the first thing we need to say about growth that it does not just mean growth in what we “know.” This is not just about “learning more stuff.” This is about growth in how we live a life worthy of the gospel. Are we becoming more and more gracious, more caring, more joyful. In other words, are we growing more and more into the image of Christ? Can people see that progress as we move more toward the place where we are like Jesus?

Some people are content with what you’ve heard me call “doing the minimum of faith.” In their life of faith they only want to do “just enough to get by.” They just want to keep their “spiritual bases covered” – whatever that means – and that’s it. “I just want to be sure I’m going to heaven!” “But don’t expect me to live differently.” “Don’t expect it to impact my life at all.” “I don’t want to appear all that religious!” Maybe you find yourself saying those kinds of things. Or maybe you find that’s the way you’re living your faith.

Well, the other spiritual fault that some people have, along those same lines, is that they become “stationary.” They become “content to stay where they are.” In other words, they’re not interested in any kind of growth. “I’ve got my faith right where it needs to be for me.” they say. “I don’t need to go any further.” There’s no need to pursue any higher goal, any more Christ-like status, any closer relationship with God, any higher challenge. We need to be sure not to get bogged down in that one. Because it’s an easy one to fall into! We need to be moving ever forward, always growing in our understanding, in our image of Christ, and in our closeness to God!

Then there’s Joy. If our manner of living is worthy of the gospel, we will have joy. That was a favorite word for writer C. S. Lewis. As you may know, Lewis married a woman named Joy. But even more than that, he was interested in the Christian concept of joy – so much that he titled his autobiographical book that described his conversion to Christianity “Surprised by Joy.”

Lewis came to believe that the concept of ”joy” included an element of “surprise.” The unexpectedness of faith is one of the greatest elements of faith. Because unexpected-ness requires the influence of “another.” If faith is always the same, there’s a good chance that’s because we are the only factor in it. We are totally in control of things and we’re keeping all the circumstances of our lives under our own mastery – as much as we are able. But when God breaks through, when we see his hand in our lives, when we feel his presence, it is often in ways and times that are beyond our expectations. That’s when we truly understand this thing called Joy. Do we let that happen? Are we in relationship with God, allowing him to work in our lives? Or do we keep a tight grip on the reins, and not let God in?

I love the third part of this where he says, “Ample cause to glory in Christ Jesus.” What about that? Do you have ample cause to glory in Christ Jesus? Think about your life. I know some of us would say “Yes,” right away! There are some who recognize how God has richly blessed them, and they are constantly aware of his hand in their lives. But others would not. In fact, for all of us, sometimes, life is just tough! Sometimes things are not going right in the big picture. Our kids – our grandkids – are facing crises. We seem to have one health problem after another. We’re low on cash and the car needs work. We lose our job. And then sometimes it just seems like every little thing goes against us. We’re frustrated by traffic snarls. We fight with our computers. We just can’t get that jar open! Yet even in all of that, I would still ask you, “do you have ample cause to glory in Christ Jesus.”

You may not think so at first. But if you will stop and realize – if you will choose to think – of all God has done in your life and what a privilege it is to live this life in his presence, if you “count your blessings” as the old cliché says, you will realize that you do have ample cause. And if you do, you will be making a “pro-active” choice about your life and your faith, rather than just a “re-acting” to what life throws at you! We don’t do as well if we’re just re-acting, do we?

That goes right along with this last part I’d like usto see. Paul says that we should stand firm. That’s a choice, too. Isn’t it? He doesn’t say, “I hope circumstances in your life are good so that you will re-act by standing firm.” He says choose. When we are striving to make the manner of our life one that is worthy of the Gospel, we need to choose to stand firm in our faith and in our relationship with God – despite the circumstances!

We need to do that. Because there are opponents to faith in our world. They may be just feelings within us, feelings that say, “Ah, don’t worry about this stuff.” “You don’t have to bother.” “Give it a break!” But there are also people who oppose our faith. There is an “animosity toward Christianity” out there. And yes, some of it is justified – sort of. Some of it is a reaction toward what some people have done in the name of Christianity. Because of that, we need to live in such a way as to give Christianity a good name! But there are also those who simply have an aversion to our faith and who would fight against it. And we must be able to stand firm against that kind of opposition. We must learn to do what our final hymn says, “Stand up, Stand up for Jesus.”

So, the operative phrase for the day, the one I want you to keep in your mind as you go through the rest of this day, and as you strive to live each day in God’s kingdom, is “Worthy of the Gospel.” Let that go around and around in your mind, like that song you can’t get out of your head. And grow, be joyful, have ample cause to glory in Christ Jesus, and stand firm.

Prayer

Eternal God, you have done so much in our lives! Help us to see your hand in our world every day. Help us to see more clearly those times when you break through unexpectedly. Give us joy and perseverance as we live our lives for you. For this we pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.

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