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Weekly Word

Entries in Father’s Day (1)

Tuesday
Jun182019

Finding Focus after Failure

Philippians 3:7-16.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on Father’s Day, June 16, 2019.

Today, we take time to celebrate fathers; a blessing for which they did not ask.  Being a father can fill you with all kinds of moments in which we feel great success and, of course, great failure.  It is one of those things that we cannot fully appreciate until we have been put in the harness ourselves.  Of course, this applies to parenting in general.

Our passage today is not about being a father.  However, it presents a problem that is common within parenting, that of getting up from failure and moving forward.  What do you do when your greatest attempts and endeavors are found out to fall short?  What do you do when that little baby who has grown up yells at you and slams the door to their room, or storms out of the house?  Sadly, many men run from such experiences.  Our society is full of missing-in-action fathers who decided to never start in the first place (often despite the children they have helped create).

Yet, for those who bravely jump into marriage and children, the challenges can mount and overwhelm a person.  We seem to be confronted with our weaknesses and shortcomings at every turn.  It is a very intimidating situation, even a crucible of sorts. 

So, I want to use this passage where the Apostle Paul is explaining his come-to-Jesus moment.  In it we will discover the proper response to those moments when you are made aware of your failures.

Confidence in the flesh does not lead to Jesus

Paul often spoke against the religious mindset that focused upon its own religious accomplishments because this does not lead anyone to Jesus.  Oh, it leads to all manner of places, but never to Jesus.  Confidence is good if it is placed in the right thing.

Paul had been raised in a religious environment in which performance was everything.  In verses 4-6 of this chapter, Paul lists his credentials among the Jewish people.  He had been circumcised when he was 8 days old.  This was the required mark that he belonged to God.  He was also from the tribe of Benjamin, a descendant of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  Thus, he was a true heir to the promises of God.  He was also a Hebrew of Hebrews, which meant that he was not one of those Hellenized Jews who adopted the Greek culture and mixed it, in varying degrees, with the culture of Israel.  He was a Pharisee, who prided themselves on exact, literal conformity to the Law.  His zeal was so great that he had been persecuting the Christians and even going to Damascus in order to seize more.  Lastly, his law keeping was blameless by the standards of his day.  Everything in Paul’s life told him that he was blameless and succeeding within his society.  Yet, the day that Jesus confronted him, he was made aware of just how greatly he had been failing God. 

Think about how we come from different subcultures within the greater USA culture.  Even Christians grow up within a subculture of the overall world-wide Christian community.  Each subculture has its own variation of what it means to be good, right, and successful.  However, those cultural trappings, whether religious or not, can blind us to our mounting failures.

Paul should have had his confidence centered upon God, but he had been taught to center it upon himself inadvertently.  On the road to Damascus, when Paul finally saw the light, he began to know just how far away from God he was, and yet also, that God still loved him.  I pray that today you may know that no matter whether you were a failure or a great success story, in regard to the subculture in which you were raised, God loves you too much to leave you alone.  He calls you to Himself through Jesus and says, “Put your trust in me.” 

Perhaps the greatest problem within Christianity throughout history has been the many men who were more confident in their ideas about Scripture than they were in the God who gave them.  On top of this is a similar problem.  Christians are often looking back to smart Christian men of the past and put more confidence in their great ideas about Scripture than in the Word itself.  Whether a group points to Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, Martin Luther, John Calvin, or for Pentecostals, men like Charles Parham or William Seymour, or for the Assemblies of God, men like E. N. Bell and J. Roswell Flowers, it matters not what men your subculture points to and holds up as the great light to this generation.  What matters is if our confidence is truly placed upon Jesus instead of the reason of brilliant men.

Knowing Jesus is more important than the things we lose

Paul recognized that everything for which he had been working fell short of God.  He would rather know Jesus than have the greatest Jewish resume among his people.  Thus, he had to let go of certain things in order to know Jesus.  He had come to that moment of realization (my great works have fallen short), and chose to go after Christ rather than doubling down on his life’s work.  He let go of his standing and reputation within the religious community.  He let go of his potential within the leadership of Israel.  However, verse 9 also points out that he had let go of the righteousness of his own attempts to satisfy the Law of Moses, in order to obtain a righteousness that is from God through faith in Jesus.  The righteousness of faith in Jesus is diametrically opposed to the self-righteousness obtained by keeping the law.  Paul points to this as the great problem for Israel in Romans 10:2-3 where he says, “I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge.  For, being ignorant of the righteousness of God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness.”

To know Jesus is more than to know information about him.  Yes, we want to learn about who Jesus was, what he did, and what he taught.  However, the words used for “knowledge,” and “know,” in this passage, include a knowledge that comes through a relationship with someone.  Paul doesn’t just want to go to school and learn about Jesus.  He wants to do life with Jesus.  His life would now be about learning who Jesus is through a personal relationship with him.

So, how do you have a relationship with Jesus?  You do so by faith.  You pray, you believe, you trust, you succeed, you fail, you repent, you keep your eyes upon Jesus.  I pray that today you will be struck with this desire to know Christ and not settle for anything less.

However, to really know Jesus, you must also get to know those major aspects of his life.  Paul wanted to experience and to learn about that same power that raised Christ from the dead.  He wanted that power operating in his life.  He also wanted to experience and to learn about the sufferings that Christ submitted himself to go through, even to the point of laying his life down for others.  Paul wanted his death to conform to that kind of death that Jesus had, which was a noble and godly one.  Ultimately Paul wanted to experience the Resurrection from the Dead himself, which is promised by Jesus to all believers.  There is coming a day when he will give the command and all the righteous saints of history will receive glorified, immortal bodies.

What do I do when I haven’t arrived yet

Fatherhood is a constant reminder that we haven’t arrived yet, and I’m not talking about the kids in the back seat droning, “Are we there yet?”  It is easy to get the wind knocked out of your sails when you are faced with your own failures.  In fact, it is easy to get angry, even filled with rage, as life constantly reminds us of how short we fall.  Yet, just as Christ was calling Paul to a different life that was not filled with hatred, anger, and rage, so Christ is calling us to let go of our failures and follow him.

Paul clearly says in verse 12 that he had not attained the list of the facets of knowing Jesus.  In fact, because the Resurrection is on the list, he still hasn’t attained that whole list even today.  Unless Jesus returns in our lifetime, all of us will close our eyes in death, realizing that we hadn’t attained it all yet.  But, God will not fail us.  He has set a time in which all of these things will be attained by all of the saints of all time together.  All of us will simultaneously enter into our full inheritance on the Day of Resurrection.  Wow!  What a day that will be.

Paul could have run away from his failures and away from Jesus.  Instead, he ran towards Christ.  Jesus is the “author and finisher of our faith.”  Yes, we are to cooperate with the Holy Spirit and work hard for our Lord, but we always remember that he will bring us through and finish us.  Yes, I haven’t arrived yet, but Jesus will get me there, just as he will get you there too.

Paul points out that he had to forget those things that were behind him.  We can learn lessons from our past, but we must not allow ourselves to become stuck in our past and frozen.  Paul had much guilt and shame behind him.  Yet, Jesus had forgiven him.  Have you ever noticed that we can still hold failures over our own head, even though Jesus says that he forgives us?  Faith is letting go and trusting Jesus.  Yes, you fell short.  Leave it behind you and move towards Jesus who promises to forgive you.

In fact, Paul was pressing forward to the things that Christ had set before him and us.  We first press towards those things that Jesus has for each of us in this life.  We don’t know what that will involve and everybody’s story is unique.  Yet, as we approach the end of our life, we must again press forward to those things that lie in our resurrected future.  Our greatest prize is that which we enter into at the Resurrection of the Dead.  All of us have to learn to get up and go to work.  This is what Paul is expressing.  He had to get up and get to work finding out just who this Jesus was.  Jesus is calling to each of us today.  “Come and get to know me!”

Paul ends this section with a reminder of our thinking, which he had been addressing back in chapter 2.  The mind of a person who keeps doubling down on their own accomplishments is not the mind of Christ.  Christ trusted the Father instead of trusting what he could do in the flesh.  He submitted to the cross and was rewarded with the highest honor of the entire universe.  The mind that is never too great to simply do what the Father asks us to do.  Failure is part of who we are as humans, but in Jesus it is not the final word.  If we will humble ourselves and press forward towards him, then Jesus will bring us to victory!

Finding Focus audio