Well this stinks! Ever felt that way before? Ever said that out load before or even thought it under your breath with only yourself and God as the audience? Yup; me too. We’ve all been there. The truth is that life does stink at times and those who appear to constantly live above the fray and claim no pain are probably not dealing with reality and know a Christianity other than what I know. When I read the Bible I don’t see perfection, at least not on this side of eternity. No, I don’t see “health and wealth and lack of problems.” I see . . . stink. I see real life in the Bible and the kind of life that we experience here in the 21st century. While the Bible was inspired by God, it was written through human agents who breathed the same air and problems we face today. They were human and at times their lives stunk as well. Elijah felt suicidal. David wept bitterly. Paul spoke of anxiety regarding a dear friend near death. Even Jesus, God in flesh, spoke of the problems of his age and ours and the fact that just like they hated him, they would hate his followers as well. Yes, I see loads of stink in life and in the Bible, but I also see hope.
This past Sunday we kicked off a series of studies at The Crossings entitled “In Search of Joy” from the book of Philippians. In the text, the apostle Paul wrote to some of the first Christians in the ancient city of Philippi and called them to “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say again: Rejoice!” Maybe you read that and think he’s either got to be kidding or has stepped out of reality. Maybe he wrote that while kicking back on a Caribbean cruise or while relaxing at a mountain retreat at Lake Tahoe. I mean anyone can rejoice when the world is going your way. But what we find in the historical context is that Paul was actually in jail for Christ when he wrote those words around 61 AD. In addition, Paul was living with people who were using his imprisonment as an opportunity to advance their own cause while all the time cloaking their real motives in the guise of evangelistic opportunities. Yes, unholy church politics even existed in the first century just like today.
Somehow though, despite all the problems in Paul’s life at that time of which he could have focused on, he was able to look above the stink and see the bigger picture and truly rejoice. It’s interesting to note that in the little four chapter book of Philippians the word “rejoice” or some form of the word appears almost 20 times. You get the picture that maybe Paul knew something we don’t in the Western Church today. Throughout the text Paul hinged everything around Christ again and again. Because of Paul’s focus on Christ he was able to see the bigger picture, secure contentment in the present, and look forward to eternity to come. Because of Paul’s focus on Christ, he was able to rejoice in a way that the world around us simply cannot comprehend.
We live in a world that is consumed with self-absorption but devoid of true joy. It was into this kind of world that Paul wrote the book of Philippians which shined like stars in a dark night of the first century. Because those words of Paul were also inspired by God, they can likewise shine in the darkness of your world today. We’ll be unpacking this more fully at The Crossings in the weeks to come, but here are a few pointers to begin with. What else would you add?
-Turn off political talk radio for at least one week. Philip. 4:8.
-Send a “Thank You” note to someone.