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Forty Days of Purpose Celebration Sunday
Scripture: Philippians 1:3-11
Track 8 of 8 in the Purpose-Driven Life series
Running time: 38 minutes, 39 seconds.

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Chuck Sackett Speaker: Chuck Sackett
Dr. G. Charles Sackett is minister of Madison Park Christian Church.

View all sermons by this speaker.

Sermon for Sunday, October 30, 2005
8th sermon in an 8-part series.
Purposeful Words: A series of Sermons on living a Purpose-Driven life
(Philippians 1:3-11)
Copyright 2005 G. Charles Sackett

It was the mid-1970's. My father stepped off of a little foot-bridge wrong, broke his ankle and it required him, ah, actually to give up his work life. It was a very strange kind of experience for him because he has spent his whole life as a physical laborer. And suddenly he was hardly able to get around. He had to go basically into retirement. It wasn't too many weeks after that, after the surgery on the ankle and all the stuff that should have been healed up pretty easily and I begin to get the sense that there was something incredibly wrong. I mean, an ankle is a long ways from your heart. It's not like that's a fatal disease or anything to have a broken ankle. But, for some reason he was just in a downhill slide something awful. And the depression began to get worse and frankly we got worried. My mother got worried. So Gail and I had some free time and flexibility. We grabbed up our kids. We took a trip to my hometown in Idaho and decided just to pay a visit.

Now I'm no trained psychologist and I don't know a lot about human nature except it didn't take very long to figure out my dad was bored out of his mind. And he, frankly, had lost any sense of purpose his life. He just couldn't figure out what he was supposed to do with himself because he couldn't get up and go to work. So, like any self-respecting young man, I just turned the tables on things that he had done to me. I put him to work. We started a shed. Something in the back yard and we purposely didn't finish it. I just made sure that in the week's time that we were there that I was clumsy enough and slow enough that it wasn't going to get done. Now that wasn't hard for me to do, by the way.

I had the opportunity a week ago to drive past the old place in Idaho when I was out doing this recruiting trip for the seminary and I drove back by my. . . . (oh hi! It's a little unusual having you guys back here. Be nice. Behave!) I drove by the place and that shed is still standing. My dad did finish it. In fact, it took him several weeks to finish it. But, every day he'd go out and he'd do a little more. And it wasn't very long until that depression was gone and the work was done and he was back at his life. Now, he never did get a chance to go back to work. But he came out of that episode of just feeling like his life was worthless and it turned the whole corner for him.

I suspect something like that may have happened in us over these last forty days. That God has started to do something in the question is only whether or not we're going to allow that work to continue. Are we going to see this thing through to completion? We've been wrestling with these five things that God has asked us to do. That He's invited us into actually, as a part of his purpose for the world. We have been prepared as a people for worship, to engage Him and to honor Him. We've been called into a family of people whereby we find ourselves in fellowship with people who are like us in some way, who at least share at some levels some of the basic core values and core faith issues in our relationship with Jesus.

We've been called to the daunting task of looking like Jesus. Of at least making ourselves so available that you will allow Him to work in us in such a way that one day we'll look in the mirror and recognize that we don't look quite the same as we used to and it isn't just old age. That something of real significance has begun to occur in us and we're beginning to look a lot more like the Son of God than we ever thought possible. He's called us to service. In fact, He's reminded us that we have been wired up, shaped up, in such a way that every one of us has something that He has placed within us that He wants to use. And there isn't anybody excluded from that. It isn't the six year old. It isn't the 106 year old that's excluded because no one in the kingdom of God is excluded from that call to service and the recognition that in some way, God has created me in a way to do something that matters. It matters past today and tomorrow. It matters into eternity. And He's commissioned us with a word to the world and that world starts in our own family and it moves across the street to a neighbor or across a fence in the back yard. Across a community and across an area and across a world, that there is a gospel that needs to be heard and we've been, somehow, invited as an individual and as a congregation to help see that word get out. He's started that work in us. And the only question is, whether we are going to allow that to continue, or if we're going to say, "well, okay, we've given our forty days and now that's up we can go back to life as usual."

I trust life will never be "as usual" any time you encounter God. And if you've invested forty days in that encounter, then your life should be different no matter what happens from today forward.

I want to look at a text this morning in Philippians 1 that actually carries this theme pretty clearly.

Philippians 1. Paul's opening remarks to this church that he was so fond of and had such great things to say about. Here's a church who understood the call of these five purposes.

In Philippians 1:3 Paul begins what is typical for the apostle Paul in any letter he wrote. A time of thanksgiving, a time of appreciation where he says things about the church that remind them of who they are and why he is so incredibly grateful for them. And so he says in Philippians 1:3 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, (this is the place I'd like you to note particularly - Verse 6) 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.

Verse 6 lays out the premise of this text so utterly clearly. God has started something in us that He wants to finish. And Paul states with clarity, "I believe that God can bring to completion that which He has started in us."

The only question I have is, what in the world has He started? What is it that's begun in us? What is it that's changing in us? In some way, how is this thing going to take place?

I look at this text and I find myself down in Verse 11 and I listen to this text and it surfaces this imagery. In Philippians 1:11 one of the things that Paul is praying that will happen is that we will be filled with the fruit of righteousness. I wonder if that's not what God has planted in us? Seeds for the fruit of righteousness. If He hasn't begun to work in us in such a way that what He's in the process of doing is developing a life that pleases Him and honors Him and that can be described in some way as a righteous life and those seeds have been planted.

Now I suspect it's going to take a while. I'm not looking at any of you in particular, of course, but. . . . . .

I did some looking because I, I'm a lover of Oak trees. I just think that those are magnificent things and I have a couple in my yard that look like they've been there for at least a couple of days. You know, it takes a long time to grow an Oak tree. I don't know how long. I couldn't find an answer to that question. But I remember when we first moved into our home in Lincoln, we planted some Oak trees that were about this - tall and they were about as big around as my little finger. They told me they were, like, seven year old trees. After living there for twenty-three years you can now sit under the shade of those trees. You can actually enjoy those trees.

I even found a web site out there that advocates that you begin as a young person, planting trees. Particularly, this person was advocating Oak trees and here was one of the lines in the web site. "If you start planting Oaks now, as a young person, you'll be able to bring your children and your grandchildren together to sit under the shade." Ha-ha! It's going to take a while.

One of the things that has been most striking in the last twenty or twenty-five years. . . in fact it was twenty-five years ago this May that Mt. St. Helen's blew up out there in that far western part of our country. You can actually now see green on those hillsides. It has been replanted and refurbished and it is beginning to actually look like a mountain again. But you got to start. You've got to plant trees.

And I think what Paul was driving at was that in all of us, we have been called into discipleship and the seed for that fruit has been implanted in us. And the question is, are we gonna be willing to work with it, and work with it, and work with it until it grows into something that God can be honored by.

Would you look at this text with me. It seems to me that in Philippians 1:5, one of the things that shows up in this text is that he is creating within us some kind of a spirit of participation in this thing. You notice that in Philippians 1:5? Paul offers God sayings that "he prays with joy because of the partnership in the gospel." This church, this Philippian congregation that Paul really didn't have a long association with initially had stayed with him, his entire ministry life, supporting him, encouraging him, actually financially, giving him money in order to carry on the ministry. If you look over at the last chapter of this book, Philippians 4:15 right in the midst of Paul talking about his imprisonment and all this stuff that has gone on and learning how to be content in various places. He says in Philippians 4:15 Moreover, as you Philippians know, in the early days of your acquaintance with the gospel, when I set out from Macedonia, not one church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving, except you only; for even when I was in Thessalonica, you sent me aid again and again when I was in need.

Do you understand that this was a church that was so responsive to Paul's needs, so immediate in his response that, that line about being in Thessalonica is absolutely amazing. He was only in Thessalonica for four weeks. That was as long as he could manage to stay there before he got run out of town. And the Philippian church, which would have been within a couple of days walk sent him money more than once. This was a responsive congregation that recognized Paul's ministry and the value of what it meant to share the gospel. And they were going to participate in that and they were going to partner in that no matter what.

I honestly believe that one of the things that God is trying to develop in us as believers, part of the fruit of that righteousness, is a recognition that we are involved in a partnership in the gospel. That what we do here matters as the gospel gets spread. That there needs to be, inherent in each one of us, the kind of spirit of generosity that occurred in that Philippian church. That it wasn't a matter of having to call a board meeting and decide in a vote whether or not we were going to send any money to Paul to carry out the gospel. They just understood in their spirit that there was a need to respond and to do something and so they gave and they partnered and they prayed.

I see that in us and frankly, I like it. I mean, I don't know what all happens around here but, I get inklings from time-to-time of different kinds of things that happen.

I remember one Sunday morning, we just stand up and make an announcement that there's a bucket out there on the shelf and if you've got any money to help with Katrina, you toss it in there and we take up $3,000.00 in just one very quick offering. I recognize that with a little planning ahead, we're able to put together 76 backpacks for kids. I recognize that at the spur of the moment I've opened my pockets when Crissy was off to the mission field and had you fill it with $1,700.00 before I could get out of the building. Was a great lunch, by the way. (Lots of laughter)

I think that's what God is cultivating. I think God is saying, "I want you to be so invested in a partnership in the Gospel of Christ that whatever I call you to do, you'll jump in and you'll begin to do it because He needs your partnership." Now, understand that. God doesn't need us and yet He needs us. It's one of those weird paradoxes. He can do it all by Himself. You know that. But He chooses not to. For some odd, weird reason, God decides to use fallen humanity to be His partners.

In Acts 8 He's got the Ethiopian eunuch reading the most powerful passage in, well, I think, the most powerful passage in the Old Testament about Jesus, Isaiah 53 and all He's got to do is say, "This is Jesus, pay attention to Him." And what does he do, He says to Philip, "come and join yourself to the chariot and explain this." You've got to be kidding! He's got what's going to become the apostle Paul, face flat on the ground in the sand in the desert out there. He's got his full attention and what does he say, "Go up there to Damascus and wait for three days and I'll send somebody to explain this to you." Why? Because God desires that you and me get involved in this process of partnering with Him. That we recognize that if it was up to Him, He'd just save everybody, but He's decided to limit Himself in some way so that we have to partner with Him. And the question is, are you willing to allow what we've been through for forty days to become the catalyst, the seed that will send you out into a world as a partner with God? Maybe partnering with Him right there where you work. Maybe partnering with Him by making sure that missions get supported, but partnering with Him. And letting that Spirit grow as we give and serve and pray and encourage. And we partner with God in the life of other people. I think that's one of the things He's trying to grow in us.

I look again at this text and I look down here at Philippians 1:7 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.

I think God is trying to create in us a spirit of identification where we recognize that we share with each other and we share with people who are involved in the ministry and we identify with folks in ways that allow us to really make a difference.

Paul talks about this imprisonment. In fact, I read somewhere this last week that the apostle Paul spent one-fourth of his entire ministry life in prison. That is absolutely remarkable, ya know?? I don't meet many people who've done that. I've only met a handful who've had that kind of experience where they literally paid that kind of a price. Now I have met some. I have had the privilege of listening to C. Y. Kim come to our stage in Lincoln. I don't suppose I will ever forget watching this Korean man come down to his knees in front of our college audience and spend thirty minutes preaching from this position. Because this is the position that he spent the last twenty-five years in, in a Communist prison for being a preacher.

I opened up my laptop last night and I saw this e-mail with the subject line that said, "Gabor Kovesch" (??) You haven't had a chance to meet Gabor (??)yet, but you will. He was my Hungarian translator. He's the first one that ever translated for me in Eastern Europe. A man just five or six years younger than I am. I knew that his health was just a little bit in question. Never knew just exactly how serious it was. But I remember as a young, new professor teaching these people whose lives I knew had been so influenced by Communism. I remember sitting there in a break during class and talking with Gabor and having him say to me, that when he was seventeen years old (I'm guessing that none of you up here fit that category, but you do) when Gabor was seventeen years old he spent a year and a half in a Communist prison because he tried to convert gypsies and that was against the law.

The e-mail last night said that Gabor had gone to be with Jesus. His illness finally got the best of him. Gabor and I were partners. I couldn't speak without him and so he came along side me and partnered and he talked for me to my class. But we were partners. The day class ended, he came to me and he said, "Would you mind if I took this material back to my church and used it?" And I thought, "No, that's copyrighted."(laughter) "Did I mind?" The only thing was, it scared the daylights out of me to think that something I'd said was going to immediately taken to a church that I didn't know anything about, but I had absolute confidence in my partnership with Gabor that he would take that material and actually make it worthwhile. We partnered.

And I began to identify with him and began to recognize that here was a man that I could appreciate and identify with and I could love from a distance, that I could pray for. I got to be honest with you, when I read that e-mail I had a deeply mixed emotion. I'd love to have him translate for me again. He never will, because, when we get to heaven, he won't have to. We'll all speak the same. Or at least we'll understand each other. So there was a bit of bitterness in the sense of loss but there is great joy knowing that my friend is with Jesus.

I think this church understood that kind of identification. While they weren't in prison for their faith, they understood with Paul what it meant because they worked so hard at identifying with him. Of understanding who he was and seeking to partner with him. This is the apostle who wrote in Romans 12:14-15 that as a part of the expression of the grace of God in our lives that we rejoice with those that rejoice; and we mourn with those who mourn. We come together and we begin to identify with each and we understand each other and we care about each other and we do the things that matter for each other. And that's why I think it is so utterly important for you to be a part of some group of people who are Christians, who can surround you with grace and love and care and accountability. And whether it's a bridge community or the choir or the adult discipleship class or just a bunch of friends that love each other and care about each other, you need that kind of identification with other Christians.

I know I say that all the time. I hound you about it almost every Sunday and I want you to know something, I'm not going to quit. So if you're waiting for me to stop, you might just quit waiting, I'm just gonna keep at it.

I spent fifteen years as a part of a small group of professors who met. The group changed a little bit from time-to-time but there was a core group of us that met for fifteen years every week to pray and talk and literally hold each other accountable.

Just seconds after I had closed the e-mail about Gabor and had prayed for Annika (??) and his family and his church, I opened another e-mail from my friend Neil Wyndham. Neil is a part of my accountability group at Lincoln. His father was rushed to the hospital in Texas for emergency surgery (blood clot in his brain). I looked with interest at the list of names in the e-mail to see who it was sent to. Want to know who it was? The people in that small group; because there is some sense that when you're in trouble and you need somebody to pray, you need somebody to be helpful, where you gonna go? You're gonna go to the people that you know best. You're going to go to your friendships. You're gonna go to your small group. You're gonna go to your Sunday school class. You're gonna go to your choir group. You're gonna go to the group of kids that you meet with. You're gonna surround yourself with the people that understand you and know and care about you. That, I think, is what Paul is driving at. There is this kind of commitment among Christian people to identify with each other and to care about each other and to know the pains and praises of other people and to genuinely share in their joy and to commiserate with them in their misery.

So, can I just one more time, ask if God has begun a work in you? To opening you up to the possibility of letting people into your life to share with you the things of God. Will you let that go to fruition, will you let that continue to blossom?

I come down to Philippians 1:9 & 10 and I see one more thing that I think God is trying to do in us. I think God is trying to create in us a kind of spirit of expectation. I don't know how all of this comes together for you.

I just, I think I've said this often enough, that you already know this. I have just come to expect when I come home, after being away for a little while, some things are going to be different at my house. In fact, I was in Lincoln last week teaching an intensive week for the seminary and was gone all week long and about Thursday, somebody who knows me fairly well, came up and said, "Well, what do you think your wife did while you were gone this week?" I said, "Well, I'm not sure, but I'm thinking the bathroom wallpaper is going to be gone when I get home." Yep!

The only upside to this whole thing is that I'm at least getting to the point that I can begin to predict it. In the past, it's always been just kind of a shock. You know, I just walk in and see what's been done.

I like the "status-quo". You know, put a chair in a spot and leave it. Why would you want to move it? You just find out what's under it. (laughter)

But there is one place where the "status-quo" can never be acceptable. And that's right here. In the heart. You can never be satisfied where you are in your relationship to your own spiritual growth.

And Paul says in Philippians 1:9-10 I pray that the love that you share with each other with abound more and more. It's a great word.

Some of you who have read your Bibles will recognize the story of the Feeding of the 5000. Those of you who haven't run across it yet, you will if you just keep looking. It is the day that Jesus is out on the side of the mountain and there are 5000 men plus the women and the children and they're hungry. And He says to the disciples, "feed them". And it's like, yeah, with what? You gonna send us to the store? We're a long ways off and we don't have that much money. And a little boy wants something, says I got a lunch here. I've got five loaves and two fishes and Jesus says to the disciples, "Here, take this and spread it out." And they do.

And five thousand hungry men, women and children ate lunch and then the disciples go out and they collect twelve baskets full of leftovers. And the word that's used in that text for this collection of the leftovers is this word, abounding. I pray that your love abound, that it get multiplied.

Ah, we were reading last night. In fact, if you happen to read the Christian Standard, the church has a few of them floating around here. In the "Buzz" column, you're going to see a little comment about this thirty hour famine thing. We did it last winter here and you heard about this. My daughter lead her youth group, just a small little youth group. And the year before they had done it and raised a couple thousand dollars and they had decided this particular year to try to see if they could double that amount and see if they could raise it to $4000.00. Now we're talking seven kids, right? And their trying to raise $4000.00 and they managed to raise somewhere over $3600.00 and they get up on Sunday morning and they announce to the congregation that they've raised $3600.00 for world hunger and somebody in the church is so excited about it that they decided to match that dollar-for-dollar and so, suddenly, $3600.00 became $7200.00 and then they learn about the fact that there's a government agency that will match that seven-to-one and these seven kids just raised $51,000.00 for world hunger.

That's multiplication. That's abounding. You hear it? That's this word. And when God gets a hold of something, He doesn't just add to it, He abundantly abounds in it. And he says, "That's what I'm praying. I'm praying in your life, God is just going to abound. And you're going to begin to see things in your life that you've never seen before. You're going to see a loving relationship with people that you've never been able to love before. You're going to see things happen that you cannot hardly imagine. Because God is going to begin to do stuff in you that you just cannot possibly understand. Because, where you didn't see people the same way now, you see them in such a way that you don't know what else to do, but to do the thing that God would do.

One of my students became a Christian seven years ago. Six years ago he really got serious about it as a sophomore at Illinois Wesleyan University. He decided in the midst of that to start a campus ministry at Illinois Wesleyan, which he now directs. And Illinois Wesleyan's campus ministry this year is going to host a banquet for the homeless street people of Bloomington in the name of Jesus. Because you see, they've learned how to see people differently than they've ever seen them before. And their love is abounding more and more. And instead of doing stuff that lots of campus ministries do with fun and games, they've decided to look at people and say, "How can we touch a community and change them in the name of Jesus, just by partnering?" They do it for Habitat for Humanity. They do it for the homeless. They are beginning to recognize that God wants to love people through them.

I wonder what would happen if those of us in this place who have started to get excited about God would begin to let Him shape the way we view people. I wonder if there are enough ministry opportunities in this town to hold back to even occupy all the stuff we could do in the name of God. If we ever allow God to multiply in us the love He has for people.

And He says in this place, down here in Philippians 1:9-10 so that you may be able to discern what is best and be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, and one of the things that happens as we begin to allow God to work and to multiply (??) and make wise choices. We begin to make better choices. We begin to approve the things that are good and to discern the things that are best so that we can be pure and blameless.

See I suspect that there is not a parent in this room for whom the most important thing in their whole life is to hope that their kids will just keep making better and better decisions. We just kind of expect you to make stupid ones once in awhile. Okay? We've come to just kind of know that it's going to happen and what we hope is that you won't get hurt when that happens. But we just keep hoping that you'll make better ones later. I think that is what God is asking. That we allow Him to work in our life in such a way that our decisions get better and better.

If "Forty Days" doesn't do anything for us other than that, then it's done its work hasn't it? If it has encouraged us to look at our decisions and make them more wisely so that we discern better the things that we ought to do that will help shape in us purity and righteousness and blamelessness. Wouldn't it be a success if just once in awhile we made really good choices instead of looking back a few days later and saying, "I sure wish I hadn't done that."

God has planted in us seeds of righteousness. And Paul says in this text that he firmly believes that God will continue a work in us and bring it to completion.

And you know the only real question I have is not whether or not God can do that, it's whether or not we'll let Him.

I so desperately wanted to have a video clip for you this morning but I could not find it. Poor planning on my part, I admit. Some of you remember it was Barcelona, 1992. It was one of the heats of the 400 meter dash. Great Britain's hope, Derek Redmond, was lined up in the blocks hoping to make it to the finals. In fact, it was almost a shoe-in that he was going to make it to the finals. He made 175 meters around the track coming out of the turn he went flat down on the ground grabbing his leg. He couldn't walk. He got up and he tried to limp and if you were paying attention, out of the crowd, there was a man literally crawling over people down to the track. and when they tried to stop him from going on the track he literally shoved them aside and said, "that's my son". And Jim Redmond walked down on the track and put his arms around his son, Derek, and said, "we'll do this together."

And in front of 65,000 fans and millions on television, they, together, walked to the finish line. And there is a God in heaven who is looking down and saying, "I want to walk with you. I want to partner with you. I want to get you to the finish line." This isn't about us "starting" something. This is about us letting God take it to completion.

So we're asking, "Are you ready to finish this thing?" Are you willing to really let God get a hold of your life and to change it forever? To make the most important part of your entire life your relationship with Jesus that gets lived out in your every day experience. As we begin to partner with Him in the gospel of Christ; as we begin to identify with one another and help each other; as we begin to expect Him to work and to multiply in us the very character of Jesus. That's what this whole thing is about. Oh, we're here to celebrate some of the stuff that God has already done, but what we're really doing is trying to anticipate what God has yet to do.

Can we make that our prayer. Can we stand together and in one of those outbursts of adoration before God, can we just sing with our voices and our hearts that the one thing we want above everything else is an intimate relationship with Jesus Christ. And if you don't have one of those, and you're ready, then we want you to come. We want you to say so, so we can help you to walk with Him. And some of you may not want to sing. You may just want to pray, right where you are that the people around you, will, in fact, let God do His work in their life.

But together, let's say to God, "We want to walk with Jesus." We want an intimate relationship with Christ. That's what we want to be known for, as a community of people.