Friday 31 December 2010

It is not the end (Philippians 3:12)

It is not the end

I used to be a teacher in a school called ITE – The Institute of Technical Education. Sounds fancy. The students had a different name for it.

They called it, “It’s The End.” ITE.

That’s because you went to this school if you couldn’t get into any other school. If you had failed all your exams, if you got into serious trouble with the law; you went to ITE. “It’s The End”.

Every week, I spent 30 hours with 30 students, teaching them computing skills. By the end of the term I was lucky if two-thirds were still in class.

One guy was always late because he had to report each week to an officer in the local police station. Another guy would be late because he would be up all night working in a pub as a bartender.

I particularly remember two young men. One was R. R was actually older than me, his teacher. He left school as a teenager to join the army. After ten years, he was now an instructor – he trained soldiers to operate armoured tanks. He was a model student - hard-working, disciplined, well-behaved. R was focussed - his plan was to graduate, go on to study part-time for a diploma and save up money for a flat to get married to his girlfriend.

The other guy’s name was J. J had a punk hair-style, wore black leather wrist straps with metal studs. I remember one day after school, we had lunch together and as he left he said, “Bye, sir. I’m off. I am going to bible study!” As far as I could tell, this short-tempered, chain-smoking, 17 year-old with a Gothic-fashion sense, was the only Christian in the class.

Half the class smoked. Most were poor and many saw school as a luxury. Their families pressured them to drop out, to find a job and to bring home some money. Many of them did. Sadly, it was always the ones with the most potential who never got a chance to realise that potential.

Today I am going to tell you what I told them. I am going to tell you - postgraduates, academics – future leaders and businessmen and professionals – graduating from the most prestigious university in the world – I am going to tell you the same thing I told those 30 teenagers in ITE every day.

“It is not the End. It is not The End. You have everything still to live for.”

Not perfect...yet

Let me read you these words from a man named Paul in the bible. He writes:

But whatever was to my profit,
I now consider loss for the sake of Christ.
What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord,
for whose sake I have lost all things.

I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him,
not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law,
but that which is through faith in Christ –
the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith.

I want to know Christ and power of his resurrection
and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings,
becoming like him in his death,
and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.
(Philippians 3:7-11)

And here the words I wanted to look at this afternoon:

Not that I have already obtained all this
or have already been made perfect,
but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.
(Philippians 3:12)

What Paul is saying is this. If you want to see the value of what I have achieved, look at what I have lost.

Don’t just look at the trophies. Don’t just ask me about my accomplishments. Let me tell you about sacrifices I have made; about the risks I have taken.

He says, whatever was to my profit, I now consider loss for the sake of Christ.

Paul is saying, you can’t tell if someone is a Christian - You can’t tell if someone is a Christian by looking at his CV. A person’s background, his education, how many extra-curricular activities he took in school, how much money he got paid at his last job, what kind of car he drives – all this does not impress God.

If we are honest, it doesn’t impress us that much either. Everyone expects you to succeed – to move up in life. Your college will write to you asking for success stories – that new discovery you made, or that great contribution to society. Your friends will keep tabs on your Facebook page – checking to see who your new employer is, how good-looking is your wife, how many kids you have.

What if you didn’t take up that well-paying job? What if, instead of moving back home, or to a big city like New York or Sydney – you packed your things and went to Thailand, Burma, to Pakistan – to teach English, to run the Sunday School programme, to work in an orphanage?

What if you lived your life so radically different, what if you were willing to risk the expectations of your friends, your parents – and (like Paul) to consider everything a loss compared to surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus as Lord?

People would say how foolish you are. What a waste!

But... they will notice that you are different, that your life is different. And they might just start to notice that there is something different about Jesus.

Pressing on

Paul says:
Not that I have already obtained all this,
or have already been made perfect,
But I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.

This isn’t just for some people – type-A personalities, those who live life on the edge,
You know… Singaporeans:)

Paul says, I’m not perfect. Far from it, I’m struggling and it is hard. It’s hard.

But the reason I press on; the reason I keep on going; the reason I hold on to Jesus, is because Jesus is holding on to me.

Paul isn’t trying to be macho. He isn’t trying to prove something to God. That somehow he is more serious compared to everyone else, more sincere, or more sacrificial than everybody else.

The only reason Paul has the strength to struggle, the confidence to press on and the grace to take one more step living for Jesus alone – is because he isn’t trying to die for Jesus; Jesus died for him.

And that’s the question I really want to ask you today:

Not what great things will you do for God?
But what has God done for you?

If the only God you know, is the one whose job is to bless - To make the sun shine in the sky, especially on graduation day, to keep you healthy. I’m not talking about a rich, extravagant life.

No, I’m talking about thanking God for a good marriage, a middle-class life, nothing too fancy – just a safe environment for your kids to grow up in.

Then life would be about making this world a better place. Keeping things moving along. Being a good neighbour.

But if you have come to know Jesus, who being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped – the word means exploited – he didn’t take advantage of his situation.

But made himself nothing. Taking the very nature of a slave. Humbling himself to death.

If God paid a price for your life – was Jesus’ death.

Then maybe the right decision in life is not the most convenient but the most costly. Maybe opportunities are given you by God not to maximise your comfort, but to maximise your sacrifice.

God's will for your life in Jesus

Paul says:
I have not yet been made perfect

That word “perfect” is the Greek word “telos”. It can mean “mature”. It can mean “complete” or “finished” God is not yet finished with me, Paul is saying.
I am still work in progress.

But that word can also mean “The End”. “Telos” is where we get the word “telomere” – the end of a DNA sequence. Paul is saying, I have not yet reached the end – of this life; of suffering in this life.

Now depending on where you are coming from, that can sound cruel. To my students back in ITE, it sounds a lot like “Things are going to get worse!” You think this is tough, wait till you get to the real world.

I know a lot of people who think it’s the right thing to say – Put some backbone into their spines!

But that is not what Paul means, and that is not what the bible means.

Paul is not looking forward to an end,
He is looking backward

To a man dying on a cross,
He is looking to Jesus who gathers up all his energy, strains with his dying breath, to say one last word

Tetelesthai – Your English versions have “It is finished.”
But you could also translate that word: “It is the end.”

So when Paul says, I am not yet at the end, I am still pressing on
He is saying that God is changing me to be more and more like Jesus – That’s the End.

If you are a Christian – that’s the endthat’s the basis of deciding what to do next.

You know, We ask questions like “What’s God’s will for me?” “How do I know?” I wish he would give me a sign.

God’s will for your life is to make you look more and more like Jesus. It’s not hard to understand. It’s hard to do, but it is not hard to understand.

God’s will is to make you more like Jesus.

How has he done that?
o These last few years in Cambridge.
o Through your friends
o Through his word.

And how will God continue to do that for you, in this next stage of life?

Jesus says, “He who stands firm to the end – will be saved”
Paul says, “I am struggling to get to that end, to take hold of Jesus, because Jesus took hold of me.”

Knowing You, Jesus, knowing You
There is no greater thing.
You're my all, You're the best,
You're my joy, my righteousness,
And I love You Lord.

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