5TH SUNDAY OF LENT - JUST GIVE UP #6
Did you hear about the proud grandmother who introduced her two young grandchildren to her friend? The friend, “They’re so cute. How old are they?” To which Grandma proudly replied, “The lawyer is two and the doctor is four!”
Or how about the teacher who asked her kids one day what they wanted to become when they grew up? She got all the usual answers, “A football player, a doctor, an astronaut, the president, a fireman, a teacher, a race car driver and a chef.” When she got to Johnny she asked, “And what do you want to become when you grow, Johnny?”
Johnny hesitated for a minute and then said, “Possible.”
That wasn’t what the teacher was expecting and asked, “Possible? What do you mean?”
Johnny answered, “My mom is always telling me I’m impossible. So, when I grow up I want to become POSSIBLE.”
Watching our children grow up is hard work. You bring them home from the hospital and before you know it they’ve started to crawl and turned the house upside down because you forgot to put a child safety lock on everything.
You can’t wait for them to crawl and then walk and then wish they’d slow down so you could catch up. First they’re playing with cars and trucks and the next thing you know they’re driving and wanting to buy one of their own.
You read to them every night, and one day as you turn the page, they’ve graduated from High School and College; moved out and are starting a family of their own.
Growing up. We all have to do it, it’s part of life. And it’s also an integral part of our faith journey as well. Our children’s Sunday School faith and our Confirmation Class faith isn’t enough for a Christian life in the world today. We have to go deeper and be stronger if we want to faithful. That’s partly what Paul was writing about when he wrote the church in Philippi. Let’s look Philippians 3:4-14 (NRSV)
[4b] If anyone else has reason to be confident in the flesh, I have more:
 circumcised on the eighth day, a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee;
 as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.
 Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ.
 More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ
 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God based on faith.
 I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death,
 if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead.
 Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.
 Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead,
 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.
Paul is telling the Philippian Church to Grow Up and he uses his own life as example. Verse 12 tells us why, “because Christ Jesus has made me his own.” And verses 13 & 14 tell us how.
I. PACK UP:
A. First we have to Pack Up all the baggage and garbage of the past and get rid of it. We have to mentally, emotionally and spiritually clean house. Paul says, “This one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind.” It took Paul awhile to figure this one out. You see, he had been the model Pharisee. He had done everything he could do and under the law he was blameless. But then he says that even with all of that status, all of that prestige, all of that work, he still didn’t measure up.
Christ opened his eyes and heart to the grace of God which can’t be earned or bought, it can only be given and God gives it freely through His Son, Jesus the Christ.
Have you ever noticed that your car’s windshield is about fifty times larger than your rear view mirror? The reason is pretty simple. When we drive we need to spend 50 times more energy and time looking forward than looking backwards. It’s good to occasionally check your rear view mirror to see what is behind you, but it’s dangerous to drive using only your rear view mirror.
I saw a Bumper Sticker that read “Someday we’ll look back on all this and plow into a parked car.” It’s the same way with life. If we only look backwards mentally and spiritually, we will never get started and never get anywhere.
B. Seabiscuit is one of those incredible stories of overcoming obstacles and rising from the ashes. It’s the story of a washed up horse, an out of work has been trainer, a half blind jockey and an owner who’d lost everything. None of them could measure up on their own. But together they became legend.
I love those lines, “Everybody thinks we took this broken down horse and fixed him. But he fixed us. In a way, we fixed each other.”
The entire movie, the plots and subplots could have been based on verse 12-14. You see together they strained forward and pressed on but the first thing they had to do was to Pack Up and get rid of all the baggage that had burdened them mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually. They had to Pack it Up, put it down and let it go, just like Paul.
C. The second thing I hope you noticed in that particular clip was this was Seabiscuit’s last race, he was old and tired and worn out; probably shouldn’t have even been in the race. But they ran him anyway. No one thought he could even make it through the race, let alone, win. He started off slow, and the longer the race ran the further behind he got. Finally, one of the jockeys, who knew what spurred Seabiscuit on, intentionally sacrificed his position and any possibility of winning and slipped back to run alongside Seabiscuit until Seabiscuit found his stride. Then then he ran like lightening.
That is exactly what Jesus does for us when we struggle in our walk of faith. When the burdens of our past overwhelm us; when the fatigue from the journey causes us to stumble; when we get distracted and fall, Jesus is there to walk alongside us, to help us lay down the burdens, to Pack Up, so to speak, so nothing gets in the way of our completing the race. He is there to help us find our stride and will then run alongside us every step of the way so we can truly run the race.
II. REACH UP:
A. Second, we’re called to Reach Up. That’s what the underlying story of Seabiscuit is all about. They had to Reach Up. That’s how the movie and story is framed. It exemplifies both the struggle to Pack Up and let go of the past as well as the Straining Forward and Pressing On to the future.
That’s what we’re called to do. As we Grow Up in our faith, we continually Reach Up. We strain forward through renewing your faith every day through personal prayer, devotion and worship.
When comedian Jim Carrey was a struggling young actor, he wrote himself a check for ten million dollars and postdated it seven years in the future. That check kept him focused. Even more impressive is the fact that, when it came due, he was able to cover it. (1)
By staying focused on his goal, by straining forward and pressing on, Jim Carrey achieved great fame and success.
Mary Lou Retton, gymnastics gold medalist and the heroine of the ’84 Olympic games, has said that to succeed one has to set her goal and be willing to pay the price to achieve it. That’s the idea of Reaching Up and Pressing On. It takes discipline. But she continued, “Achieving that goal is a good feeling, but to get there you have also to get through the failures. You’ve got to be able to pick yourself up and continue.” That is the dedication! “… Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal …” (Philippians 3:13-14).
B. The question I would ask is what are you doing to Reach Up? How’s your prayer life? How’s your Bible Study? How are your Spiritual Disciplines? The Challenge is to Reach Up in order to Grow Up as a mature Christian who can help others Grow Up in the faith.
III. LIVE IT UP:
And finally, I think we’re called to Live It Up. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mean become a party animal but I do think we should be filled with joy. That joy will help us Live our faith. And when we live our faith to bring Glory to God we are “[Pressing] on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.”
When we Live It Up for God, what we do brings God Glory and points to God’s grace for all to see.
One of my favorite stories is about a church in England where the pastor noticed a former burglar kneeling at the communion rail beside a judge of the Supreme Court of England. This was the very judge who years before had sentenced that burglar to seven years in prison. After the service, as the judge and the pastor walked home together, the judge asked, “Did you see who was kneeling beside me at the communion rail?”
The pastor said, “Yes, but I didn’t know you noticed.”
The two men walked on in silence for a few moments and then the judge said, “What a miracle of grace?”
The pastor agreed, “Yes, to see that burglar kneel at that rail was indeed a miracle of grace.”
The judge said, “Oh, I wasn’t referring to him, I was referring to me.”
The pastor was shocked and asked, “What do you mean?”
The judge said, “That burglar knew how much he needed Christ to save him from his sins. But look at me. I was taught from childhood to live as a gentleman, to keep my word, to say my prayers, to go to church. I went through Oxford, took my degrees, was called to the Bar, and eventually became a judge. Pastor, nothing but the grace of God could have caused me to admit that I was a sinner on a level with that burglar. It took much more grace to forgive me for my pride, my self-righteousness to get me to admit that I was no better in the eyes of God than the convict whom I had sent to prison.”
That’s the very same attitude which Paul had when writing to the Philippians. That Judge knew how to Live It Up for God. We’re called to Live it up, don’t Lock It Up, don’t Mock It Up, because that will only Mess It Up. Live It Up so God gets the glory.
Someone put it this way, “Live your life and your faith in such a way that when you die the preacher doesn’t have to make stuff up at your funeral.”
Live It Up for God.
The comics are always filled with good theological struggles and fodder for sermons. One of my favorite Peanuts cartoons shows Charlie Brown and Linus having one of their frequent philosophical discussions while leaning on a brick wall. Charlie Brown asks, “Do you ever think much about the future, Linus?”
Linus responds, “Oh, yes . . . all the time.”
Charlie Brown turns to Linus and asks, “What do you think you’d like to be when you grow up?”
In the last frame Linus responds: “Outrageously happy!”
I like that. “Outrageously happy!” Maybe that’s what Paul was describing when he wrote: “I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.”
I realize there is more to life and faith than happiness, but the joy of knowing your sins are forgiven, that you are a child of God, loved and accepted without strings or conditions; that joy can only lead to happiness. Happiness in God that comes because we have surrendered ourselves to God’s will and begin to Grow Up in the faith. Pack Up, Reach Up and Live It Up for God. Forget what lies behind, strain forward to what lies ahead and Press on for the prize of God.
This is the Word of the Lord for this day.
1. Succeeding Sane by Bonnie St. John Deane, Simon & Schuster, New York, 1998, p. 176.