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Life From the Inside Out

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" I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart; for whether I am in chains or defending and confirming the gospel, all of you share in God’s grace with me. God can testify how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus. And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God." (Philippians 1:3-11, NIV)[1]

I walked into the pastoral care office at the Chalmers the other day and saw Chris.  I am not sure what he does but I see him often and we have a relationship of sorts.  There are some relationships that remain at a certain level, simply because it takes time to develop them beyond that “tipping point”.

He asked me how things were going at the church.  That’s one of those questions for which it is difficult for me to give a simple answer.

I could say “Good.” and feel that I was telling the truth even though we have struggles, conflicts, all the sorts of things that come when human beings come together.

I could say “Good.” and feel like I was telling the truth even though there are hopes and dreams that I hold for our church that I would like to see realized and some days they seem a long way off – even impossible.

I could say “Good.” and feel like I was telling the truth even though there are days when I wonder what in the world God was thinking when He called me to be a preacher.  It seems to me that as I develop a greater, sharper vision of who God is and what He truly would like to do, I feel less adequate.  I just know that I am “called”.

I could say “Good.” and feel like I was telling the truth even though we have people come and go.  Some predate me, some I predate.  I hate it when I am reminded that I am not everyone’s cup of tea or our church is not a “be all end all” as people look for the perfect church.

I could say “Good.” and feel like I was telling the truth when I sit in midweek prayer meeting and listen to the prayers of those around me who are seeking God almost in desperation that He would be honored in every area of their lives.

I could say “Good.” and feel like I was telling the truth even though there are days when the sermons seem flat and the music is too loud.

I could say “Good.” and feel like I was telling the truth even though I am not satisfied, even though I would never trade this place for any other position, even though I am convinced that I am the most blessed pastor in this world.  I think that I married the most beautiful woman in the world and I think that I pastor the greatest church in the world.  I am not deluded or in denial – I am just looking through a different set of eyes than others.

So in response to his question, I simply said, “Good but we have typical struggles and challenges.”

And Chris began to tell me, it sounded almost like a sermon and a well-rehearsed one at that.  He’s not a preacher but he was communicating under an anointing.  It wasn’t that he was saying things that I had never heard before.  Cliché’s are clever phrases repeated often with little thought.  These weren’t cliché’s, . . . there was an air of freshness about his words and an obvious authority.  I wasn’t expecting that. 

Then I realized why these words were falling on me with such impact.  Chris is confined to a wheel chair.  Did you hear that?  He can’t walk.  He’s been that way since the day that I first met him approximately 9 years ago.  I forgot.  Because he doesn’t live confined or defined by his handicap.  He wasn’t in the hospital because he was sick, he was there to minister to other people.  And here I was, “Super-pastor” trying to edit my response to show that I was neither overly optimistic about my church nor discouraged.  Here’s a guy who knows very well that life rarely unfolds according to our design.  He knows that nothing is perfect, that there are always wrinkles, imperfection, handicaps. 

Do you know that?  The person that you envy for what you can observe has a set of circumstances that you would never envy them for.  If you knew what those circumstances were, you’d stop envying them and find thankfulness for life as you know it.

I think that there is a life principle here.  The things that are unseen at first glance bring the greatest reality to our lives.  They are not expensive or faddish.  They are deeply embedded and they determine the way that we live, . .  good or bad.  It is this area of our lives that is foundational to the change that the Spirit brings to us and it is the workshop where God labors to make the substantial difference.  It’s easier for us to simply try to be different on the outside.  But to go to the workshop with Him and to allow Him to engage in the lifetime project that you are is much more difficult.  What God is doing in you is what ultimately will make the greatest difference.  You are a work in process – always as long as you live and breathe.  Is He ever done – no.  Anyone who tries to tell you differently has simply left the workshop to paint the outside.

1.  What is on the inside is what really matters

If I am to be able to live well the inner resource must be greater than the outer demand or challenge.  I think that it is human to care more about the “outer” person.  That’s where 1st impressions come from.  It would seem in today’s world that we all are subject to what we see and if we like what we see then that is what we respond to.  Consequently the outside is what gets our attention.  We give ourselves to that part of us which serves to advance our interests more quickly.

And you know what?  It requires more energy to create and sustain a perception than it does to develop the substance.  When you and I work harder at the outside than we do the inside then we are depending on perception, we are relying on a façade to find us favor or advancement.  

How hard are you working on the things that people can see compared to the work that you are putting into the things that people don’t see at first glance?

When trouble comes the façade crumbles and the substance or the lack of it is revealed.  If you really want to discover what a person is like watch them in the storms of life – pay attention to the way that they handle conflict or personal failure.  It’s pretty much impossible to fake your way through adversity and failure but totally possible to pretend that everything is peachy and that you are doing fine.

Casual exposure to a person or a church can never show you what is really there. 

If you are at heart a consumer, you look for personal benefit.  You choose your friends that way.  You choose  your church that way.  If you are a contributor that’s another thing.  If you mission in life is to make a difference, for you life to enrich people and enhance circumstances then you see life through a far better lens.  You know what else, you’ll enjoy life far more.  There will be fewer frustrations and more opportunities.  It won’t be pain free.  It never is, meaningful living that is.

If you are waiting for life to work itself out perfectly before you begin to live as God would have you to live, to involve yourself in ministry, to give, then you probably never will.

If you just listened to this statement and all you hear is that another pastor is asking you to do something then I have mis-communicated or you have simply made a presumptive leap. 

2.  What I am trying to suggest is that our greatest joy and in turn our happiness comes from the living out of the passion that God has placed in every human heart.

"What does the worker gain from his toil? I have seen the burden God has laid on men. He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end. I know that there is nothing better for men than to be happy and do good while they live. That everyone may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all his toil—this is the gift of God. I know that everything God does will endure forever; nothing can be added to it and nothing taken from it. God does it so that men will revere him." (Ecclesiastes 3:9-14, NIV) [1] 

We try to find what God has “set in our heart” – we think that this ache or hunger will be satisfied with something temporary – something that we can set our hands on.  The attempt to satisfy an eternal longing in the here and now is impossible and only leads to disillusionment and destruction.  Only God can meet the need, the longing that he has produced in us.  It comes from the likeness that we bear and is satisfied through an intimate connection with God.

I am beginning a series today that will take us through the book of Philippians.  I was at a prayer and fasting retreat last week for ministers on the Atlantic District.  It was held at Beulah.  The DS passed out a question that we were to respond to in one of our common sessions.  He asked us if we could only keep one book of the Bible or one chapter or one verse, what would that be?  My book, . . . Philippians.  My chapter, . . . the second.  My verse, . . . 3:10

"I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death," (Philippians 3:10, NIV)[2]

As I read this epistle, the words fall heavy on my heart.  Not in condemnation but in terms of the challenge that God lays before me, the blueprint of what he would like to do in my heart and life.  Can he really do all this with me?  Yes, if I remain in the workshop – if I allow him unrestricted access to my OS, my operating system.

Paul was writing to the Philippian church as a prisoner under house arrest in Rome.  He was confined but not defined.  Restricted but not rendered ineffective.  The book itself is called the Epistle of Joy.  We should listen.  Out of adversity comes a letter of “joy”.  Can we not learn from those who find in adversity what we cannot find in abundance or at least the absence of adversity.  Maybe that’s our problem?  Maybe we haven’t suffered enough to find “joy”?

"“To what can I compare this generation? They are like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling out to others: “ ‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not mourn.’" (Matthew 11:16-17, NIV) [3]

We are so conscious of what we do and how we expect others to respond.  When they meet our expectations we pout.  We live our lives in a state of disappointment over the way that others respond to us or fail to respond to us.

The city of Philippi was named to honor the Philip, the father of Alexander the Great.  It was a remote outpost of the Roman empire occupied largely by military or retired military people.  The land was given to the soldiers who lived on the “front lines”.  These people had been long term supporters of Paul since his first visit.  They held a special place in his heart.  He was sharing with them at a deep level of appreciation for the relationship that he knew with them and communicating the “inside track” of his own life.  The greatest of his desires, his personal vision and mission.  The pillars of his own faith experience.

Why do I think that it would be worthwhile for us to take a Sunday morning walk through these chapters?  Because I think that I need to learn to a greater degree, how to live fully from the inside out.  How to let what is happening in the workshop, be the “gyro” of my life.  Gyro is an abbreviation for gyroscope, a device used for measuring or maintaining orientation.  It allows for stability in movement over rough terrain.

In a conversation with Chris Haines the other day about vision, he talked about the search for what gets you up in the morning to feel that there is some important or compelling reason for you to occupy space on this planet.

3.  My heartbeat as the pastor of First Wesleyan Church is to raise a group of committed believers who celebrate life between Sundays and live it fully from the inside out.

They believe that God is to be worshipped in their everyday existence whatever they are doing.

In earlier days of my ministerial life, I got excited about how many people come to church on Sunday morning.  I still love to see the church filled and I can see the day when the house of God will be filled with people who come together to celebrate what God has done in the last 6 days and to celebrate what He will do in the next 6 days.

But what stirs my heart these days is the possibility of raising up an army of ministers missionaries whose joy is the living out of their faith in life between Sundays.  Our mission is more that getting people to church.  Our mission is to get people to heaven and to get those en route to grab as many others as they can on the way.  Sunday is no more than a reflection of the other 6 days.  Our experience of God on the Lord’s Day will be no more than our experience of God on any other day.

Are you up to that challenge?  It’s meant to be a “joyful” experience you know.

You see, I am convinced that God has something for this church and for this people that is different than what he has for other faith families across this city.  If we all stand in the same place with the same posture relative to the community then there will be enormous gaps.  God doesn’t need another church in Fredericton.  He needs a group of people who are willing to find what makes them different so that we can fill a place of need that others may be missing or ill-equipped to fill.  And each one of you are a part of that plan.  You have been divinely guided here because you are looking for that difference as well.  He has brought you here with something in your heart to do for Him.  Don’t automatically assume that you job is to find something that we have been doing that piques your interest.  How about a fresh expression of ministry that comes from your giftedness, your passion for people lost and found and your desire to fill a meaningful place of ministry.

Beneath the surface of everyone’s life, especially the more mature, is an ache that will not go away. It can be ignored, disguised, mislabeled, or submerged by a torrent of activity, but it will not disappear. And for good reason. We were designed to enjoy a better world than this. And until that better world comes along, we will groan for what we do not have. An aching soul is evidence not of neurosis or spiritual immaturity, but of realism.

The experience of groaning, however, is precisely what modern Christianity so often tries to help us escape. The gospel of health and wealth appeals to our legitimate longing for relief by skipping over the call to endure suffering. Faith becomes the means not to learning contentment regardless of circumstances, but rather to rearranging one’s circumstances to provide more comfort.

Orthodox Bible preachers rarely are lured into proclaiming a prosperity gospel, but still they appeal to that same desire for relief from groaning. They tell us more knowledge, more commitment, more giving, more prayer—some combination of Christian disciplines—will eliminate our need to struggle with deeply felt realities. Yet there is no escape from an aching soul, only denial of it. The promise of one day being with Jesus in a perfect world is the Christians only hope for complete relief. Until then we either groan or pretend we don’t.

The effect of widespread pretense, whether maintained by rigidly living on the surface of life or by being consumed with emotionalism, has been traumatic for the church. Rather than being salt and light, we’ve become a theologically diverse community of powerless Pharisees, penetrating very little of society because we refuse to grapple honestly with the experience of life.[4]


[1]  The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984 (electronic ed.). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

[2]  The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984 (electronic ed.). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

[3]  The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984 (electronic ed.). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

[4]Crabb, L. J. (1998], c1988). Inside out (Rev. & updated, 10th anniversary ed.) (18). Colorado Springs, Colo.: NavPress.

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