Worship Teaching, February 28, 2009

The Pursuit of Happiness: Life Made Better By Your Messes
Philippians Series, Part Two, Philippians 1.12-18
MP3 Download: www.cantonfamilies.org/events
Often, when we are dealing with significant challenges in our lives, we tend to ask the why question:  "Why is God doing this to me/letting this happen to me?"  And consistently, we are left frustrated because we cannot get a definitive answer to the why.  It is understandable to want the answer to the why.  But it is impossible to know the answer–so far. 
In this week’s passage, Paul discloses that he is in jail awaiting trial.  He’s stuck.  He can’t continue his mission to share the good news of Jesus.  And he’s probably being mistreated and certainly is in an uncomfortable, disgusting prison cell.  But after he discloses his situation, he does not give a theological philosophical explanation of why he is being held.  Rather, he moves to explain that he has discovered that God is utilizing his current situation to continue the advance of his kingdom in the world.  Prison guards are learning about and accepting the work of Jesus in their lives; great men and women who were supportive of Paul’s ministry are now stepping up to continue and expand on the mission work of Paul while he is tied up–they are motivated to greater boldness because of Paul’s uncompromising passion for the good news; and, Paul even celebrates the opportunists who seize upon him being out of comission to make a name for themselves as Christian leaders.  So Paul, rather than trying to figure out why he’s in jail instead looks for and recognizes how God is working in a mighty way while he’s in jail.
For us, this is a crucial shift in thinking, to slow down our wondering about the why and increase our pursuit of the how:  looking and searching to see how God is working in our lives in the midst of difficulty, how God is giving you an opportunity through the very thing you’re struggling with to join him in expanding kingdom good news to the people around you and finding in that a joy that supersedes the real frustration that exists in your suffering. 
The other question we often ask, is "Did God bring this problem into my life in order to discipline/punish/correct/teach me something?"  My stance is that God does not bring suffering, but that he is working to end suffering in the world.  What I believe is that where problems exist, they expose something out of whack in our lives, in our families, in our communities or in our world.  And in those moments, God uses them to help correct some of things that are askew.  I didn’t talk about this in the teaching, but I believe God would like to teach us some very important lessons about how our society makes its living.  The current global economic crisis should teach us some important lessons about debt, about greed, about wealthy nations’ relationship and empathy with the third world and more.  Did God cause the economic crisis?  I don’t think so.  I think we caused the economic crisis and God is working to bring good news into this situation by waking us up to a more careful, measured, reasonable and compassionate approach to how we operate on a global, national, corporate, local and family level.  We looked at Romans 8.28-30 where it says that in all things God works for the good of those who love him.  Take a moment to read up to that passage from the beginning of chapter 8–good stuff.
If we are looking for it and wanting to be a part of it, we will always find God at work and we will always hear him calling us to join him in his work and we will find greater meaning, fulfillment and joy when we partner with him.  And knowing that we are becoming more and more in harmony with the work of the good news brings a greater joy to life, even in the midst of the difficulty.
I shared that I have seen this mindset exhibited most profoundly in Joe and Mary Green, ministry partners at Canton Adventist.  They have had great times in their lives and have suffered through some very difficult times in life, including what they are dealing with right now.  But their circumstances, whether good or bad, did not change how they lived their lives.  No matter what they were dealing with, they continued to focus less on the why question and more on the how.  And so, they have always ended up bringing joy, encouragement and meaning into the lives of people they interact with.  This happens without fail.  I’m sure they must have made some mistakes and had to have gotten snippy with a couple people here and there, but overall they have been good news bearers to everyone in every situation.  I have had too many people share this fact with me to know they’re not just putting on a show when the pastor’s around.  For me, they are my goal–I want to be like them in how I relate to others.
I closed by encouraging us to make Jailhouse Rock by Elvis Presley our theme song to remind us to rock in the situations that have bound us.  God is throwing a party of his goodness no matter what situation we are in.  And we can choose to sit on the side and mope about our problems, or we can get up and start to dance with what he is doing and find joy even in our chains.  Let’s rock…
I am interested to hear your thoughts on dealing with the why vs. the how and your comments and questions on the issue of suffering and how God works in it.  And, if you have experienced good news through your relationship with Joe and Mary, I’d encourage you to drop them a line at joemary@bellsouth.net

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