Tag Archives: Philippians 3

Not Earth to Heaven, but Heaven to Earth

But our citizenship is in heaven.
Philippians 3:20a (NIV)

Since last September our local gathering of Jesus’ followers has been engaged in a year-long study of the book of Acts, which starts as a history of the early Jesus Movement. The second half of the book, however, is really a history of Paul. While history records that what remained of the Twelve original disciples gave their lives in service to advancing Jesus’ message to the known world, the latter half of Acts does not mention them. The author, Luke, traveled with Paul and his focus lies there.

In case you didn’t know it, that’s why I’ve been blogging through all of Paul’s letters in, roughly, chronological order.

One of the discoveries I’ve made in my study this year is the degree to which Paul was focused on Jesus’ mission to bring God’s Kingdom to Earth.  “Your Kingdom come,” Jesus taught His disciples to pray. “Your will be done on Earth, just as it is in heaven.” This isn’t a minor point. It’s a transformative shift in paradigm.

As I look back on almost forty years of my spiritual journey the emphasis I’ve been taught by teachers and authors and commentators has been on getting to heaven. We want people to walk the aisle, get their ticket punched and their reservation made in eternity. That accomplished, we encourage spiritual growth, but in practice only a few really take the whole thing seriously on a day-t0-day basis. Most go about life without giving it much thought in daily life. But no matter, the important thing is that the sinner’s prayer was dutifully said as a child back in church camp. Your fire insurance policy is paid up. The church can breathe a sigh of relief if you get hit by a Mack truck later today. (In case you didn’t know it, Mack trucks have been unexpectedly sending people to untimely deaths in hypothetical Christian scenarios for many decades).

In today’s chapter Paul certainly has his sights on eternity. He talks about being called heavenward. He tells the Philippian believers “our citizenship is in heaven.” His emphasis, however, isn’t on getting there. His emphasis in today’s chapter is on the work in his here-and-now, Level Three journey on Earth. I paraphrase:

  • Rejoice today in your circumstances (Paul is writing from prison).
  • Watch out for those who would lead you in the wrong direction.
  • I’m giving everything I’ve got, today, to advance the Kingdom (on Earth).
  • I’m approaching everything in this Level Three earthly journey with a Level Four eternal perspective.
  • I’m following and suffering to live out Jesus’ teaching and calling.
  • There’s more to do. I’m not waiting for it. I’m pressing into it every day in every way.
  • I’m not sitting back and waiting to die, I’m doing everything I can right now.

This morning I find myself reexamining my entire life and faith journey. Mental adherence to the right set of beliefs, a muttered rote prayer, a membership certificate, or a religious habit of Sunday attendance were what Jesus’ message was about, but that’s largely been the message that I think I’ve unwittingly lived out in too many ways. I have to confess that bringing the Kingdom of Heaven here to Earth hasn’t been where my focus has been. I regret that.

Well, as Paul wrote in today’s chapter: “forgetting what lies behind, straining toward what is ahead.” I’m getting ready to head into a full day of client meetings. I don’t want to leave the Kingdom in my hotel room once I publish this post. I want to take the Kingdom with me into every meeting, conversation, word, relationship, and action.

Backward Glance

But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead….

Philippians 3:13b (NIV)

Anyone who has regularly read my blog, listened to me speak, or who knows me for any length of time comes to realize that I am a lover of history and one who appreciates the past. I have this freaky brain that remembers all the names of the kids in my 1st grade class but can’t recall the name of the guy I met this morning. I have an appreciation for the way our past has shaped us and has led us to where we are today.

I have equally come to appreciate this reality: While the past has shaped my present I am not bound to it. I am free, in the present, to choose this day what I will do and how I will act. The past may have ushered me to this place, but I choose where I go from here. The only power that the past has over me is that which I choose to give it.

Jesus said, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back, is fit for service in the kingdom of heaven.” If I’m looking backwards then the row I’m hoeing will be crooked. I can’t move productively forward in life if my mind, will and emotions are fixed on what happened to me, or what I did and chose to do, in the past.

A glance backwards can be beneficial as a point of reference. Where have I been? How far have I come? How did I get here? What can I glean from where I have been? I cannot, however, truly progress in my life journey until I willingly choose to turn away from the past, look at where I am, give thought to where I am going, and move.

 

photo:  madelinetosh via flickr

Holy Sh*t

holyshitYes, everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I could gain Christ. Philippians 3:8 (NLT)

One of the books on my summer reading list is a fascinating treatise entitled Holy Sh*t, A Brief History of Swearing, by Melissa Mohr. I am intrigued by the subject matter on a number of levels. At least part of my motivation when I picked up the book sprang out of my role as President of our local community theatre. Most popular plays and musicals contain at least some swear words. Our organization regularly engages in conversation weighing the options of presenting a script as written (knowing that we will offend some of our audience members) or changing the script to eliminate some or all of the offensive words (knowing that in doing so we are breaking the law and our contractual obligations to the playwright and publisher). When people hear certain words they get offended. Then, they write letters. It’s my job to respond.

What most modern Americans do not realize is that the Bible is full of language that most people would consider harsh or obscene. After studying it for over thirty years, I’ve always understood this. In her book, Mohr does a great job of laying it out in a literary, social and historical context. The Old Testament was originally written in Hebrew and the New Testament was originally written in Greek. The authors sometimes used words, phrases and euphemisms which, literally translated, would offend most religious people today. The verse above (Philippians 3:8) from today’s chapter is a great example. Paul was trying to make a strong point. All of the things that he once thought worth-while (e.g. being extremely religious, keeping all of the Jewish laws and customs, zealously persecuting anyone who didn’t agree with his religious view, and etc.) he now considers worth-less. But, Paul didn’t write it that way in his letter.

When Paul wrote that all of his former religiosity was “worthless” he used the Greek word that is transliterated in English: skubalon. It is the only place in the New Testament this Greek word is used. Literally translated in today’s language it means “shit.” When translators write this verse in English they choose to use a more acceptable English word such as “rubbish” or “worthless” so as not to offend. But make no mistake about it, Paul considered all of the religious trappings of his life prior to meeting Jesus as nothing more than a pile of shit.  And, he wasn’t afraid to say so.

Today, I’m thinking about words, phrases and euphemisms. They are little metaphors. A sound we make or symbols we write which represent something else without using “like” or “as.” One of the little known, rarely taught aspects of God’s Message is that it often uses words and word pictures that are offensive to those with fragile social sensibilities. Truth offends, and Paul clearly understood that sometimes Truth must be spoken in words that communicate its harsh realities.