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The Way We Look at Life

The Way we Look at Life


1: 1-11 & 12-18a6/5/18

How we look at things is important.

Robert Fulghum tells the touching story (in It was on fire when I lay down on it) of how he has an old paper lunch bag which he keeps on his self.

One day he is getting ready for work and he picks up his lunch bag and his young daughter Molly gives him a second bag.

But when he gets to lunch and opens it up Molly’s bag is just full of rubbish; two hair ribbons, three small stones, a plastic dinosaur, a pencil snub, a sea shell, two animal crackers, a marble, a used lipstick, a small doll, two chocolate kisses and 13 pennies.

He tells how he smiled as he opened the bag and how at the end of lunch he put it all in the bin with the other rubbish.

Until he got home.

When Molly asked for her bag back,

Quick thinking Robert tells her that he left it at work and asks her why she wants it back.

Well it was full of her best stuff. And she forgot to put the note in it. And could he put the note in it and bring it back.

The note just said, ‘I love you daddy.’

Molly had decided that her dad was struggling, and that he needed her best stuff for a while to help him.

And he had treated it like rubbish.

He realised to his horror that, what she had given in deep love, he had treated with indifference. He had been given her greatest treasure and threw it away.

So before the janitor emptied the rubbish the next day Robert Fulghum got the stuff out the rubbish, cleaned it up, put it back in the bag with the note and handed it back to Molly the next night.

From then on in every now and again Molly would trust him with her best stuff, presumably when she thought he needed it most...

and off he would take it to work, then when she asked for it back he would give her it back, presumably when she thought he didn't need it any more.

Until one day she didn't ask for it back;

maybe because she had just forgotten, maybe because she had grown up past such things.

But he still keeps the bag. Because it is a precious thing, a great treasure.

To remind him that sometimes what others think is just rubbish, can represent something so special and wonderful.

It’s not about what life is doing to us; it’s about how we look at life.

That’s what this part of Paul’s letter is all about.

Paul was in prison. Now there weren’t that many prisons. So often it meant house arrest. And just so you couldn't run away you had one guard chained to your left leg and one guard chained to your right leg.

This was thought of as a disaster to the churches in Greece.

You see Paul was the figurehead to a great movement.

We think that our church has problems. Well the truth is, the church has always had problems.

We look at Paul off on his journey round the world as it was known at that time, setting up churches; reaching out to all the people he touched. Performing miracles and having success after success after success.

But this was causing problems.

You see the early church was an offshoot of Judaism. Jesus was a Jew, the disciples were all Jews. They believed that Jesus was the Messiah of the Jews, and then also others.

But then Jesus dies.

And then he comes to life again.

And then he disappears.

All of which is fine.

Except he doesn't leave any rules.

He doesn't tell them how church should be.

So what does the early church do?...they kind of expect the church to be the way it has always been...Jewish. They go to the Temple every day and be the best Jews ever.

Which is fine.

Because as the church grows it grows first with the Jews, then with the God fearers.

Now God-fearers were Greeks who saw truth in the Jewish God. They saw wisdom in the scriptures and a inspitration in the worship that touched them.

But because they were Greeks they didn't believe in circumcision, and they couldn't understand all the food laws and they wouldn't be allowed in the innermost areas of the temple, though they would be allowed to sit at the back of the synagogue.

So that was fine.

But then. when the faith started to really spread among the Gentiles it started to affect the way they met. There would be too many to meet at the synagogue,

and besides a lot of them would be women and they didn't like mixing men and women. So they would meet in people’s homes. But that meant the food laws would be more lax.

In the end there was a big row. A council in Jerusalem to discuss whether to be a true ‘Follower of the Way’ you had to become Jewish with all that meant.

It nearly split the church in two.

In the end a compromise was suggested. That Paul and his group reach out to the Gentiles while Peter and his group reached out to the Jews.

No one was sure which group would end up dominating, and then the leader of the Gentile section, Paul, gets arrested, and his work effectively was stopped.

That wasn't good.

What was worse was that the Roman officials were beginning to notice this faction that was beginning to grow in their empire, and was very suspicious of it.

The Empire was great as long as you believed the Empire was untouchable.

But when people started to say that their faith was more important than the Empire, then the Empire started to look at you with different eyes.

And now they had arrested Paul.

If they could attack Paul then no one was safe.

If they killed Paul then every official would think it was open season on Gentile Christians.

That wasn't good.

The church needed a leader, but their leader was trapped in a house unable to do anything. Preparing for a trial in front of the Emperor which may result in his death.

That wasn’t good.

All this was awful.

That was what the church thought of what was going on.

But it’s not about what life is doing to us, it’s about how we look at life.

That’s why Paul wrote this letter.

Yes, Paul was trapped between two guards.

Or maybe the two guards were trapped beside Paul.

Can you imagine being one of those guards? Just how boring it would be to be chained to someone all the time? And you’re not allowed to move. Just sit there.

What would you do to relieve the boredom?

Then this prisoner starts to write.

Only Paul doesn’t write because he is a terrible writer. So he has a script writer, like Timothy, who he dictates to. And you can’t help but hear what he is saying.

‘So what are you writing there Paul?’

‘So how do you know these people Paul?’

‘How many times were you stoned?’

‘And you really brought that person back to life after he fell asleep during your sermon and fell out the window?’

And not only that, some of these letters are to people Paul isn't getting on with. It’s like being at the bus stop when a couple are going at it hammer and tong, you can’t help but listen. Especially at the juicy bits when Paul is talking about a man having an affair with their stepmother, or people taking each other to court.

Of course as the guards swap duties they will be comparing notes, because we all know that give a man a few drinks and they are worse gossips than anyone.

And soon the whole palace guard is thinking about this new faith and what it means and how it works in real life.

It’s not about what life is doing to us; it’s about how we look at life.

Which brings us onto us.

I was at Clackmannan last week taking their service then leading their Annual Stated Meeting.

They are without a minister.

They are not sure when they will ever get a new minister.

And that is during a time when the national church is in a bad place.

It can be a scary time.

Like us they are creating a worship team.

Like us they are looking at new ways to do church.

Because maybe like Paul trapped in a prison,

this isn't a problem, this is an opportunity.

Maybe God has already seen our plight and God, being God, is using even this hardship to help us to grow and develop in different ways.

I remember Willow Creek decided to do a survey of their church and see what helped members of the congregation grow in faith.

They hoped it would be fantastic worship,

or maybe inspirational sermons,

or maybe encouragement to develop personal reading patterns of scripture.

And although all these things helped.

The biggest contributor to spiritual growth was struggle.

Those times when they were having it hard and it forced them to see that they couldn't do life in our own strength.

Those times when they gave up trying to work everything out and instead tried relying on God’s wisdom.

Those times when they realised that God was with them, especially in the darkness. And it wasn't just words they said, but something they felt, because they had been in the darkness and found God’s light helping them out.

This is what Paul is trying to tell the Philippians, trying to tell us.

It’s not about what life is doing to us; it’s about how we look at life.

God is with us, God is with you.

No matter what you face, no matter how bad it may seem,

you are not beyond God’s care, we are not beyond God’s care.

In fact sometimes it is only in the darkness

that we truly see how much we have been blind

and realise how much we need the light.

No matter what you face, no matter how bad it may seem,

you are not beyond God’s care, we are not beyond God’s care.

No matter what you trust in, trust in that.

No matter what you believe in, believe in that.

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