APRIL 26, 2009

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            In November 1992, a man named Kerry Dixon went to the Philippines with a small team of missionaries.  One day he and his team went to speak to an isolated tribe called the T’boli at Lake Sebu.  They got there by walking several hours through rough terrain, including mountain tracks, plantations, and paddy fields.  They took two interpreters with them: a Filipino pastor to translate English into Cebuano, and a T’boli member to translate Cebuano into his own language.  Around 8:00 PM word spread that “white people” had appeared.  The tribe emerged from the darkness to gather by the light of flaming torches.  Kerry spoke about Jesus through the two interpreters to this tribe of people who had never heard of Jesus before.  After the talk they pushed a middle-aged man, blind from birth, to them.  If Jesus was God, they wanted to see him in action.

            In the hushed silence, Kerry laid hands on the blind man and prayed for Jesus to heal him.  He then asked the man if he could see.  The man replied through the interpreters that he could see flickering lights through the darkness.  Kerry prayed a second time.  This time the blind man made out Kerry’s outline in front of him.  The third time Kerry prayed, there was no need for any interpretation.  The man was jumping for joy and and praising the living God who had performed a miracle in his life.  All fifty people present that night were converted and a new church began. 

            The church in Philippi, like the church in T’boli, was founded by an extraordinary display of God’s power.  It happened in 52 AD, in utter frustration.  Paul had to change his travel plans.  He could not get into modern day Turkey where he wanted to go, so he headed to Macedonia after he had a vision of a man saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.”  He did.  He went to Philippi in Macedonia and on his first Saturday there he went down to the river where a group of women were praying.  He went there probably because Philippi did not have the necessary ten Jewish men to form a synagogue.  As Paul spoke about Jesus, one of the women, Lydia, a rich, merchant woman, was converted and persuaded Paul to stay in her home.

            Shortly after arriving in town the craziest thing happened to Paul.  Whenever he walked around the city a female fortune-teller possessed by a demon, shadowed him.  She followed him everywhere, sort of an ancient stalker, saying, “These men are servants of the Most High God, who are telling you the way to be saved” (Acts 16:17).  Finally, after several days of this, Paul could no longer take it, so he turned around and said to the demon inside of her, “In the name of Jesus Christ, I command you to come out of her!” and it did.  The demon came out. 

            Other miraculous things happened as well, not the least of which was an earthquake that sprung him from jail, and so between Lydia, and the demonic fortune-teller, and the earthquake, Paul had the Philippians’ attention, and the church grew out of this enormous display of God’s power.

            Now, as we turn to the first chapter of Paul’s letter to the Philippians, the years have passed - about eleven or twelve years - and Paul is in prison in Rome, and he’s writing to the church, to Lydia, to the former demonic fortune teller, to the Philippian jailer, and to others who had joined the church over the years, and he opens his letter with a prayer.  You know, Paul opens every one of his letters with a prayer, except one, his letter to the Galatians.  In his Galatians letter he is so angry with them that he skips his prayer.  But he doesn’t skip his prayer here, and it’s useful to notice the prayers of Paul because what he prays for in the beginning, he eventually gets to in his letter.

            Maybe you have had an experience like this when you were in college and you went home for Christmas break, and you are sitting down for dinner and your mom says, “Let’s pray.”  And she begins to pray, and she prays, “Lord, thanks for bringing Mary back this Christmas break.  I hope we have a wonderful time together.  I hope she studies really hard while she’s home, and does well in her school work, and earns a lot of money from her Christmas wrapping job at Dillards.  We, also pray that she will be able to balance her time well between family, job and friends.  Now, bless this food to our bodies.  Amen.”  From that prayer, you know there will be a lot of conversations on those subjects, on studies and money to support herself while in school, and balancing her time with friends and family while home.  This is true of Paul as well, and one of the things that he prays about is that they Philippians will have a new heart.  A new heart?  What kind of heart?  Well, let’s look at what he hopes will fill their heart.

            First, he prays that their hearts will be filled with confidence in God.  He prays,


            I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ.


            Note the source of his confidence.  It’s not the Philippians.  After all, the Philippians are like you and me.  They have their ups and downs, their good days and bad days.  His confidence is not in them, his confidence is God’s work in them.  His is confident that God will get them from Point A, where they are now, to Point B, to their rightful place in God’s kingdom.

            For Paul, God is somewhat of a cosmic Garmin.  Now, you may not be familiar with a Garmin GPS system, but I am.  Let me tell you about them.  Trudy and I were first introduced to a Garmin GPS system in Cleveland, Ohio, at the Avis car rental desk.  We were on a baseball trip, where we were checking ball parks off my list, and we were going to drive from Cleveland, to Detroit, to Milwaukee to watch baseball games, and ultimately back to Omaha.  In the process of filling out the paperwork for our rental car, the woman behind the counter asked, “Would you like to rent a GPS system for your travels.  It’s only $5.00 a day,” or whatever it was.  I don’t recall the actual cost, but it wasn’t much.

            We immediately thought of all our arguments over reading maps, and missing turns, and getting frustrated with one another, so we both said,  “Yes, let’s rent a GPS system,” and we did, and woman behind the counter helped us set our first destination, Jacob’s Field.  We were driving straight from the airport in Cleveland to the Cleveland Indians - Texas Rangers baseball game.  It was wonderful.  The money we spent on renting the Garmin was money well spent.  Without fail, it got us to where we wanted to go.

            And it had a little British woman living in it, and she gave the most lovely, warm directions as we drove.  She would say things like “Turn right in 400 feet.”  “Proceed 2.4 miles to Exit 75 on your right.”   The touch-screen showed us the route and the little British woman inside the Garmin, gently directed us along the way.  But, if we missed a turn, or did not do what she asked us to do, she didn’t get all that upset.  She simply said, “Recalculating,” and she came up with another way to get us to our destination.

            Paul says God does something similar with us.  God gives us directions on how to live life.  God tells us how to get from Point A to Point B.  Sometimes, of course, we think we know best and follow our own sense of direction, but God recalculates our journey.   God is committed to getting us where we need to go, regardless of how many wrong turns we may take.   As a result, Paul says in his prayer, “I am confident God who began this good work in you will complete it on the day of Christ Jesus.”  Paul knows, in his heart that God will get the Philippians from Point A to Point B, and Paul wants us to know that in our hearts that God will get us from here to there as well.

            So, first Paul wants us to have a heart filled with confidence in God’s ability to get us where we need to go.  Second, Paul prays that we will have a heart filled with knowledge and insight into the wonders of God.  Verse 9 ...


            And this is my prayer, that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and insight to help you determine what is best, so that on the day of Christ (that is, when we finally arrive at Point B) you may be pure and blameless.


            Paul uses two interesting Greek words here that we translate as “knowledge” and “insight.”  The first Greek word refers to knowledge “intensified.”  We could translate the first Greek word as “deep knowledge.”  The second Greek word for “insight” refers to ordinary knowledge.  In other words, Paul prays that the Philippians, and ultimately us, will have deep knowledge, that they and we will know the deepest truths, and that they and we will also have ordinary, day to day, common sense.

            Each year Princeton Seminary honors somebody from a previous class.  A number of years ago they honored a pastor from South Korea, the pastor of probably the largest Presbyterian church in the world, with some 40,000 members.

            During an interview this South Korean pastor was asked, “How do you elect elders for a church of that size?”  The room was filled with Princeton graduates serving in churches throughout the world, and all these pastors had elders in their session.

            “Well,” he said, “we give an examination for prospective elders.”

            The interviewer pressed him.  “What do you examine them on?”

            “We examine them on four great topics.”  We examine them on the Bible, theology, and church history.”  Everybody was nodding in agreement up to then.  When he came to his fourth point, the audience roared.  “And we also examine them on common sense.”

            Wouldn’t it be something if every Presbyterian church examined their elders and pastors on those four topics, especially the last, on common sense?  We certainly do not need hysterical Christians running around everywhere do we?  We don’t need people putting out fires in the midst of a flood.  We need people with common sense.

            And why does he want us to have a new heart?  Why does he want us to have a heart filled with deep knowledge, common sense and an unshaking confidence in God? 

Let’s read the end of his prayer once again.


            And this is my prayer, that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight to help you determine what is best, so that in the day of Christ you may be pure and blameless (by the way, the Greek word for “pure” literally means “unmixed” referring to an inner beauty, and the Greek word for “blameless” means “without giving offense” referring to an outer beauty.  So Paul wants our insides to match our outsides) ... so that in the day of Christ you may be pure and blameless having produced the harvest of righteousness that comes from Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God.


            In other words, Paul wants our insides to match our outsides so that people in seeing us, will see God.

            I get glimpses of God in a number of people.  One particular person, I actually went so far as to take a picture of her.  You may recognize the person.  I heard her speak in Saint Louis.  I got there early so I could sit in the front row, and I snapped this picture from my seat while she spoke.  She barely could see over the lectern.  She could not have been over five feet tall.  Those upfront, do you recognize her?  That’s right, it’s Mother Theresa. 

            After meeting her, the broadcaster and journalist Malcolm Muggeridge wrote of Mother Theresa,


            When I first set eyes on her ... I at once realized that I was in the presence of someone of unique quality.  That was not due to her appearance, which is homely and unassuming ... there is a phrase in one of the Psalms that always, for me, evokes her presence: “the beauty of holiness” - that special beauty, amounting to a kind of pervasive luminosity generated to a life dedicated wholly to God and His creation.


            That’s what Paul prays for us, a pure and blameless life generated by a heart for the deep knowledge of God so that when others see us, they see the glory and praise of God.