There’s an old story told about a little church west of Winchester, Virginia. One Sunday morning, their minister was rather preoccupied. His sermon did not make as much sense as it usually did. As the congregation listened, they became concerned about him.
At the close of the service, before he pronounced the benediction, he said, “You know that my wife and I have a daughter we haven’t seen in awhile: She was living another kind of lifestyle, one that we didn’t exactly approve of. She left home, and we hadn’t seen her . . . Until we found her the other day. She was in an apartment with no heat, no warm water, no electricity. We also found her with our grandson, three month’s old. We asked her if she wanted to come home, and she said that, ‘Yes, she would.’
“Many of you in our congregation will not approve of someone like that living in your parsonage. But she’s our daughter, and we love her. There are two doors to our church. I feel that some of you won’t be able to shake my hand this morning. And that’s okay. I’ll understand.”
And with that, he went to the back of the church, pronounced the benediction, and waited.
You know how it is on Sunday. For one reason or another, people are always slipping out the other door so that they can get away quickly. But, that Sunday morning, every member of that church went out the front door to shake their Pastor’s hand.
And it went further than a handshake. The people of that church opened their loving arms wide, and accepted the young mother and child into their congregation. Clothes seemed to materialize out of nowhere. A job was found so that the young lady could make her own way. Babysitters seemed to pop out of the woodwork within the congregation so she could go to work. To make a long story short, this congregation began to take Christ’s message of salvation, Jesus’ message of forgiveness, very seriously.
It wasn’t long before folks in the community began to talk. “Did you hear about the minister’s daughter who’s going to church now?”
But it didn’t stop there; the talk continued. “She going to church there and the church is letting her in! Sinners worship in that church!”
Yes, sinners did worship in that church. In fact, there were people who were members of that church who had not been seen in years, but now began to attend services. They hadn’t felt good enough to attend before. But now they realized that not being good enough was exactly the reason they ought to attend. And attend they did. (1)
A church and a community were changed forever when a lost daughter and her child came home. A church and a community were changed forever when they remembered the purpose and mission of the church and it set their hearts and spirits on fire with a vision. A vision that helped them live the life Paul was taking about, a vision of “A Worthy Life,” “a life worthy of the Gospel.”
That sort of life, “a life worthy of the Gospel,” is what inspired the founding of this congregation. It was the folks who inspired the people who inspired you. If I tried to name all those folks, I’d get in trouble because I’d inadvertently leave somebody out. But you know who I’m talking about. The people who had the vision, which is “foresight with insight based on hindsight” (2) according to George Barna. The people who understood what God was and is calling this church to be. The people whose lives touched ours because they lived “a life worthy of the Gospel,”
Let’s look at the passage from Philippians 1:21-30, and see how Paul describes “A Worthy Life,” “a life worthy of the Gospel.”
21For to me, living is Christ and dying is gain. 22If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me; and I do not know which I prefer. 23I am hard pressed between the two: my desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better; 24but to remain in the flesh is more necessary for you. 25Since I am convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with all of you for your progress and joy in faith, 26so that I may share abundantly in your boasting in Christ Jesus when I come to you again.
27 Only let your way of life be worthy of the Good News of Christ,
that, whether I come and see you or am absent,
I may hear of your state, that you stand firm in one spirit,
with one soul striving for the faith of the Good News;
28 and in nothing frightened by the adversaries,
which is for them a proof of destruction, but to you of salvation, and that from God.
29 Because it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ,
not only to believe in him, but also to suffer on his behalf,
30 having the same conflict which you saw in me, and now hear is in me.
From that passage I think we can glean four things. In order to live “A Worthy Life,” “a life worthy of the Gospel,” we’re called:
– TO STAND FIRM IN ONE SPIRIT;
– TO STRIVE SIDE BY SIDE;
– TO HAVE ONE MIND AND
– IN NO WAY TO BE INTIMIDATED BY OPPONENTS
I. STAND FIRM IN ONE SPIRIT:
FIRST, TO LIVE “A WORTHY LIFE,” PAUL TELLS US TO “STAND FIRM IN ONE SPIRIT.”
You know it’s one thing for a Pastor to brag about his or her church. But it’s really something when another pastor calls up to brag about to you about your church and community. Rev. Grady Shytles pastor of Eagle Mountain UMC, called me this week to do just that.
Grady commutes to his church in Eagle Mountain but still lives in Ft. Worth. His daughter is a senior and they didn’t want to disrupt her final year. They live in the Polytechnic area and she attends Polytechnic High School.
Let me tell you what he said. As most of you know, Joshua HS played Poly a couple of weeks ago in football. Joshua won the game but there was a bigger victory that night for both the High School and the Community.
As you probably know, over the past decade or two, the Poly area has undergone some major changes. It has change ethnic populations not once but twice. There is a large ethnic diversity there that the community has been struggling with for quite some time. As a result of that struggle, many of the students don’t have a very good self esteem. And being black and hispanic, their reception has been less than stellar in some small communities where they were taunted about their ethnicity. While they are able to overcome those taunts and slurs at home, the ones thrown their way while in other communities have a tendency to stick and cause the most damage.
Rev. Shytles happened to observe the game here that night. Both the Poly football team and the band are in the rebuilding stages. All he saw that night was a school and a community that was color blind. Everyone was cordial and understanding. When the Poly Band took the field and performed, the Joshua fans cheered them as if the Aggie Band had just performed.
Grady went on and on for over thirty minutes talking about Joshua. He said from top to bottom, young and old alike acted the same. The image that stuck in his head though was the way the cheerleaders were laughing and giggling together and how they walked hand in hand from one side to the other. He said he witnessed a town with the most Christian attitude he has ever seen.
He thought I needed to hear that and I thought you needed to hear that. Sometimes we wonder whether our Church and our individual faith and lifestyle makes any difference. The answer is a resounding “YES!” The School, the Church and this community are seen by those outside as a place where we carry out Paul’s call to “STAND FIRM IN ONE SPIRIT.” And that Spirit is the Spirit of Christ.
II. STRIVE SIDE BY SIDE:
SECOND, TO LIVE “A WORTHY LIFE,” PAUL TELLS US TO “STRIVE SIDE BY SIDE.”
What better example of “STRIVING SIDE BY SIDE” than Lord’s Acre. To me, Lord’s Acre a beautiful example of unity, of striving side by side for a single common goal. Yes, it’s a lot of work. A lot of sweat, anxiety, a few tears, and massive quantities of energy are expended. And for what reason? Money? No way. That’s definitely part of the strategy. It’s definitely part of the goal. That’s definitely part of the vision. Lord’s Acre funds go to help pay for our new building and our relocation.
But the main reason for Lord’s Acre isn’t money. It isn’t the building. It isn’t gain. Our main purpose in Lord’s Acre is to glorify God through the unity and the spirit of this Church. And if you listen to what people who are not members of the church say, you find out that this is what impresses them the most.
Oh, their impressed by the amount of work we do, by the size of our Lord’s Acre, the barbecue the crafts, baked goods, silent auction, Auction, how much money we raise and everything else that goes on that day. But the thing that impresses them the most is our Unity both in work and in Spirit.
I believe Lord’s Acre shows the true spirit and personality of this congregation. WE ARE ABLE TO LIVE “A WORTHY LIFE,” BECAUSE WE “STRIVE SIDE BY SIDE.”
III. HAVE ONE MIND:
THIRD, TO LIVE “A WORTHY LIFE,” PAUL TELLS US TO “HAVE ONE MIND.”
When we have one mind, the mind of Christ, it won’t matter what storm comes our way, and we know that storms come. That’s a part of life and faith. But because we “HAVE ONE MIND” we’ll be able to “sleep when the wind blows” because we’ll know we are safe and secure in the arms of Christ.
Years ago, a Cornish farmer owned a farm along the Atlantic seaboard. He constantly advertised for hired hands. Most people were reluctant to work on farms along the Atlantic. They dreaded the inclement weather. Storms would rage across the Atlantic, wreaking havoc upon the buildings and crops. As the farmer interviewed applicants for the job, he received a steady stream of refusals.
Finally, a small-statured man approached the farmer. He appeared to be well past middle age, nearly on his last legs. The farmer asked him, “Are you a good farm hand?”
In his Cornish accent, the little man quipped, “I can sleep when the wind blows.”
The farmer had no idea what this guy. But, he was desperate for help, so the farmer hired the little man. The man seemed to work well around the farm. He was busy from dawn to dusk. The farmer was satisfied with the man’s work.
Then one night, the farmer heard the wind howling off the ocean. He jumped out of bed, grabbed a lantern, and rushed next door to the hired hand’s sleeping quarters. He shook the little man and yelled, “Get up, a storm is coming! Tie things down before they blow away!”
The little man rolled over in bed and said, “No sir, I told you, I can sleep when the wind blows.”
The farmer became enraged. He was tempted to fire the man. Instead, he hurried outside to prepare for the storm. To his amazement, he discovered that all the haystacks had been covered with tarpaulins. The cows were in the barn, the chickens were in the coops, and the doors were barred. The shutters were tightly secured. Everything was tied down. Nothing could blow away. As the farmer inspected his property, he began to understand what his hired hand meant. And eventually, he returned to bed to enjoy his sleep as the wind blew. (3)
When we “HAVE ONE MIND,” the mind of Christ Jesus, a mind to serve and a mind to glorify God in all we do, then we’ll be able to say we “can sleep when the wind blows.”
IV. IN NO WAY BE INTIMIDATED BY OPPONENTS:
AND FINALLY, TO LIVE “A WORTHY LIFE,” PAUL TELLS US “IN NO WAY BE INTIMIDATED BY OPPONENTS.”
You may not think the Church has very many opponents but it does. I’m not talking about the devil and evil spirits and that sort of thing. They’ve already been defeated by Christ’s death and resurrection. And the only power they have is the power we give them.
But the opponents I’m talking about are those things that separate us from God and from each other. Things like: Greed, power, discord, grumbling, gossip, the constant need for attention, manipulation, spiritual and emotional immaturity, strife, selfishness, self-centeredness, the list could go on and on. It’s those kinds of attitudes that destroy us. It’s those worldly feelings and actions that tend to divide.
But we shouldn’t be intimidated by them. You see, they too only have as much power as we give them. When we “HAVE ONE MIND,” when we are “STRIVING SIDE BY SIDE” and “STANDING FIRM IN ONE SPIRIT” the other things can’t get in. They won’t creep in. Unless we let them.
And then even if they do stick their ugly little heads up, we’re prepared because we know that in Christ and through Christ, they can do no real harm.
We need to “IN NO WAY BE INTIMIDATED BY OPPONENTS.”
That’s not why Christ came. He gave his life on the cross and was raised from the dead so that we could have the abundant life. Not a life of stuff and things but a life that is WORTHY OF THE GOSPEL.
A SUBSCRIBER SAYS: “Your exegetical work on Jesus’ temptation was FABULOUS!!! I’ve read a lot of things on this. Yours was the best. Brilliant! Seriously. So helpful to preachers struggling to find the red thread.” (Steve Ramp, Ph.D., a preacher and a teacher of preachers)
Resources to inspire you — and your congregation!
I will never ever forget the very first church I served. I think my District Superintendent pulled if off a multiple charge just to give me the opportunity to preach. It was 45 miles from our house at the crossroads of the remains of a little bitty farm community. The community had a gas station/general store and a tiny Post Office that was open until noon every day. The Post Mistress and her husband were members of the Church.
At this church we only held Worship Services on the first and third Sundays. We had a choir of about four. The pianist knew exactly six hymns. So we would sing three one Sunday and three the next. The pianist and her family owned a dairy and on more than one occasion, she came right from the milking parlor into the worship service. All she had done to get ready was to pull a dress on over her overhauls. It truly was a site to behold and a little bit of a smell, too.
But I’ve never seen so much love for Jesus in a group of people, except maybe here. I received a whopping $110.00 a month as my salary. But, boy did we have fun. That’s where I did my first wedding and my first hospital visits. I learned a lot from that little church. That’s where I found out the meaning of this passage.
We only averaged about 35 in worship. Sunday school had about 30 in it. The major leaders in the church were Old Mrs. Foster and her daughter in law, Young Mrs. Foster. Young Mrs. Foster was probably in her mid fifties. But both Mrs. Fosters made sure that the children of the area came to Sunday School and Church. Every week they trooped in with half a dozen to a dozen children each. Some were their kin, some were neighbor kids. But everyone of them knew they were important because one of the Mrs. Fosters had called the night before to remind them about Sunday School and Church and promised to pick them up if they could go.
And then there was the Youth Group. It consisted of two youth 17 and 18 and four adult sponsors which included Young Mrs. Foster and Old Mrs. Foster.
The exciting thing about this little church was the fact that they truly fit the description of this passage. They STOOD FIRM IN ONE SPIRIT; THEY STROVE SIDE BY SIDE; THEY HAD ONE MIND AND THEY WERE IN NO WAY BE INTIMIDATED BY OPPONENTS.
They knew who they were and whose they were. No one could dissuade them of anything different. And they took the great commission seriously. They recruited and taught and molded those children and the youth of that little bitty community in much the same way the Churches of this community have molded the people here. And they did it through there love for God in Christ and their lifestyle. They lived the “Worthy Life,” “a life worthy of the Gospel.”
And that’s what you and I are called to live, so others will know the love God has for them. And the Salvation Christ offers to all.
Live “a life worthy of the Gospel.” You never know who is watching.
This is the Word of the Lord for this day.
1. As told by David R. Palmer, “Becoming a Believer,” February 26, 1989, VIRGINIA ADVOCATE.
2. From Power of Vision, by George Barna, p. 28.
3. The Pastor’s Story File (Saratoga Press, P.O. Box 8, Platteville, CO, 80651; 970-785-2990), October 1999
– Copyright 2002, Billy D. Strayhorn. Used by permission.