Yesterday’s message …
- Was, for the second week in a row, prepared and delivered in the same week. Very unusual for me; but then again, I don’t need to tell you that these are unusual times;
- Drew again from Paul’s letter to the Philippians, a letter written while under house arrest;
- Attempted to rescue Philippians 4:13 from its role as a cliche but returning it to its context and restoring its awesomeness.
- Landed at this bottom line: You’ll endure as long as he empowers.
We’ve all had times when people pull us aside during a time of crisis or uncertainty and say with a reassuring voice, “We’ll get through this.” Lord, I know when I was in fetal position during a church crisis or two in yesteryear, convinced that not only had I dug the pit but I’d put the church corpse in the vault, some people just like you said words just like that to me: “We’ll get through this.”
Some of you remember that time when you were a kid and your parents told you they were splitting up and each one took you aside individually and said, “We’ll get through this.” Others have you have had that same speech with your own kids, either last month or last year or last decade. Still others, when you received the diagnosis or your loved one did, you heard it from a trusted source: “We’ll get through this.” And then I know so many of you, at the funeral of a parent – whether it was a relief or it came with a shock – and the surviving siblings promise one another: “We’ll get through this.” And, for the most part in the situations I’ve described, we do. And yet, what is involved in getting through THIS THINGS, this collective house arrest? Where does the stamina come from for OVERWORKED health care professionals and UNDERWORKED everyone else? Where it the world will the endurance come from for those of us for whom prolonged PROXIMITY = heightened ANXIETY?
Now: I do suspect that on the other side of all this we’ll find SOME of how people got through to be kind of … creative? Maybe you’ve heard of the daughter who goes up to her dad and says, “Daddy, why is my sister named Paris?” Dad answers: “Because she was conceived in Paris, honey!” “Oh thank you, Daddy!” He answers, “No problem, Quarantine.” So yeah, a likely baby boom or maybe even separation surge but in this church that’s home of the Beautiful Marriage Movement we’re hoping for a lot more of the former than the latter.
Well, for all of us who are HOUSE ARRESTED, we’re going to turn to the original HOUSE ARRESTEE, Paul. In a letter written while under house arrest (the crime: being a Xn) to the church in Philippi with the overriding theme of joy. And we took from it last week that my circumstances can’t destroy me when my Savior defines me, which is really the background for what I’m saying today. Because as Paul winds up the letter in what for us is chapter four, there’s a really interesting dynamic at play. The Philippians have blessed him with a financial gift, much as we as a church would bless a missionary. So this whole letter is really a long THANK YOU to the Philippians for their generosity … sort of. Because he has to walk this fine line between giving his gratitude and yet also explaining why he would have been OK without their gift.
He is grateful for the gift but it is almost unnecessary for his well being.
That’s what he is driving at in 4:10:
10 I rejoiced greatly in the Lord that at last you renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you were concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it.
Then he makes his gratitude almost lukewarm in 4:11:
11 I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.
Almost: “thank you, not because I needed it for I have learned to be content. If I was a glass of water at a restaurant and they ask, ‘would you like lemon with that?’ I’d say, ‘no. I’m good I have everything I need to be complete and content.” That’s how content he is … nothing needs to be added to his life to give it more zest than Jesus already gave it. He elaborates more in 4:12a:
12 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty.
I’ve lived in the outhouse and I’ve lived in the penthouse and I’ve reached the place where it’s all the same to me. Had it all, lost it all, and as I result I kinda know it all!
Then the next sentence: 4:12b:
I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.
Ah! I’ve learned the secret. By learning, this is no doubt through some trial and through some error and what’s the result? He KNOWS THE SECRET! The 11 herbs & spices for KFC, the formula for Coca Cola, the recipe for the Geiko Gecko’s mom’s biscuits! All of it, he’s got the secret sauce for perpetual contentment! And heaven and earth wait in hushed silence for the answer! The universe is on the edge of its seat, because we sure could use some contentment during this emergency. So what is it, Paul? What is it?
And so it comes in Philippians 4:13:
13 I can do all this through him who gives me strength.
Which is just such a great verse. So great that boxer Evander Holyfield had it on his robe the night he beat up Mike Tyson. Yeah! Can do all things! Of course he also had it on his robe when Riddick Bowe beat HIM up! Whooops! Yeah, we’ve taken this verse – I’ve taken this verse (Mt. Carmel sweatshirt)! – and turned into a slogan, made it into a cliché … and in so doing robbed it of much of its power & meaning. Because I want to take a minute and rescue it from a cliché and return it to its context and redeem its awesomeness. Because it’s less a CAN DO verse and much more a GET THROUGH passage. Because look look look – it all stems from the contentment of having Christ define me. But better than that when he defines me he becomes the fuel inside me. And that fuel gets me through peaks and valleys, victories and viruses.
Because DO NOT MISS THE PRONOUNS. I “can do” – which really has the sense both in language and context of “endure” even though I am weak because HE STRENGTHENS ME. Not from my inner reserves. Not from my self esteem. Not even from my therapist’s advice. I’m not the solution because I never was the source! He was. So here it is: You’ll endure as long as he empowers. You get through only when he’s got you. His strength is all your when your soul is all his. You’ll endure as long as he empowers.
Don’t you hate it when you get this? Kind of all anxious and nervous? And what do you need? A charger, an outlet, even best of all a PORTABLE CHARGER! That’s the only way to stay operational and connected. Listen: you’re GONNA get low battery during this emergency. From overwork or from underwork. From cabin fever. From constant news. Gosh in those cases and at those times you gotta remember that my situation won’t control me when my Savior sustains me. He is that power for your endurance. Not you him. It works so much like a glove (DO) where you see yourself as the shell and Christ is the one who comes in and fills and shapes you, propelling you with endurance you would not have on your own.
Because remember what Paul had brought into his house arrest! The secret of contentment! Which turns out to the be fuel for endurance! The overwhelming sense and I have to believe the ongoing self-talk of who he was in Christ.
I AM LOVED.
I AM BOUGHT
I AM CHASED
I AM KEPT.
He knew that about himself and so he didn’t have to have a big trophy case to prove his worth. He knew the HE was on Jesus’ trophy case! That Paul? He’s MINE! Isn’t he awesome. And when he’s got that definition and that assurance, no wonder he was equally content in outhouse or penthouse and fully fueled to endure. You’ll endure as long as he empowers.
And you know why I love this so much? Because God loves it when we admit we’re powerless and trust his power. Loves. It. It makes think of what I’ve told some of you before of when our daughter Taylor, now 30, was 2, she’d run around the house with her hands up in the air like this, saying Daddy hold you! Daddy hold you! Of course I was like, NO KID, YOU’RE ON YOUR OWN HERE! When we have that posture of joyful certainty that we don’t have it figured out and we need someone bigger and stronger to hold us and get us through, God loves it. Why do you think I remember Daddy hold you! 28 years later? Because I loved it then and still do. Even if you’re one of those people who is “nope, I’m not sure about God,” I know you’re slightly envious of those who have such confidence that when they call out, someone is answering. You’ll endure as long as he empowers.
Could it be for all of you that the UNDENIABLY GOOD that God will massage out of the UNBELIEVABLY BAD of this situation is that you’ll adopt that posture of continual dependence on and conversation with him? All day long? You start the conversation in the morning – in the Word and not the world – and that evolves into communication throughout the day? Empowering talk. You know how it works with me and others on staff? When we counsel – even with some of you! – we pray, “Lord, let them see Jesus on my face.” I can’t counsel good on my strength. I don’t have a smile today, Lord. Can I have yours? He never says no! Or every message I ever give, whether livestreamed or live and in person – gets hands laid on and prayed over. Don’t ever preach without praying like this he told me a long time ago, and I haven’t. 30 years of enduring! You’ll endure as long as he empowers.
So many of my closest friends are in recovery. AA usually. And there’s that moment in an AA meeting where I think heaven is so pleased: “We admitted we were powerless over alcohol.” And God says, “Now I have you where I want you!” And to those of us who aren’t prone to drink: you’re all powerless over SOMETHING. Maybe it took the coronavirus to get you to admit it. Hallalejuah, maybe that’s our Victory In The Virus! You’ll endure as long as he empowers.
Because you kow what? You, we, all of us WILL GET THROUGH THIS. But you know what that means? There’s another crisis of some sort coming. I want you to endure that one as well as this one. To locate your contentment not in what you’ve achieve but in what Jesus achieved for you. And to find your endurance not in your stamina but in his endurance. Like a new friend of mine who described her journey through chemotherapy this way:
During my chemo and hospital stays and my boys who were struggling I know how I held it together. I prayed for strength and just talked to God. Knowing that he would not give me more than I could handle. They wanted me to take some chill pills but I knew God was going to pull me through like he always does. Maybe he put me in time out to get my priorities in order and kept my daddy alive so he could see I beat cancer. I’ll take the harder road if given a choice – it’s the one that teaches me the most about God. And about me.
I’d add her name to the list of people who endured because he empowered. Can I add yours?
Here’s what it looked like, “live and in studio”: