HAPPY: Stealers and Sealers  Philippians 3:1-11

December 20, 1995,  American Airlines Flight 965 sat on the tarmac at the airport in Miami.  A thunderstorm had blown through so the flight was on a two hour delay.  Pilot Nicholas Tafuri, with 13,000 flight hours under his belt, sat at the helm, ready to take off.  The flight was going from Miami to Columbia and it was full of people ready to visit family back in Columbia for the holidays.  It had a few tourists and a few businessmen, but mostly it was families going home for the holidays.  The flight took off and soon was closer to the airport in Columbia where it was going to land.  There’s only one problem with the airport in Columbia—Three years before that flight took off, all the radar towers at this Columbia airport had been taken down by leftist guerrillas who were terrorizing the country.  Instead of having the normal radar system that most airports have these days, they were operating on a radio system that was a bit archaic for the time.  Something happened in the exchange of information between the pilot Nicholas Tafuri and the airport base in Columbia; there was some mis-exchange of information so the airplane that was suppose to be in one valley was actually in a valley over that ran parallel to that valley.  About 28 miles away from the landing strip at the Columbia airport, American Airlines Flight 965 ran smack-dab into the middle of a mountain.  Out of 163 people on board, 159 of them perished on the side of that hill.  Later, people went back to try to reenact what happened in order to prevent it from ever happening again. They said the flight was going well until the approach.   Until the landing.  They’re 28 miles out, which is not a long distance when you’re flying in an airplane.  They were right there, but the approach was what absolutely killed them.

I started to wonder how the approach in our lives may be similar.  Do you know you have an approach to life?  You have a way that you view life…..we could call that an approach.  You have a system of beliefs that you operate within.  You have a narrative that plays in your head 24 hours a day, seven days a week.  Did you know that?  It’s the way that we view life, it’s the beliefs that we hold, the dreams that we cherish, the things that we long for, and the things we seek after.  It’s an approach.  It’s a way that we go about living.  For some of us, the approach that we have is yielding great joy.  For others of us, the approach that we have is just ripping life out of our hands.  For some of us, our approach is built around making as much money as we possibly can, hoping that will fulfill us.  For some of us, our approach is protecting a family that we dearly love.  For some of us, our approach to life, the way we see all of life is by being as healthy as we possibly can in hopes that we might live to be 100…..or even older.  What’s your approach to life?  What’s the thing that drives you?  What’s the way that you view the world; if you could summarize it in just one sentence, what would it be?  It may be the most important question you’re asked all week.  Here’s why—because the truth of the matter, friends, is that our approach to life determines our aptitude for joy.

The way that we go about living determines whether or not we walk in the fullness of the joy that God designed us for.  So many people think that the way we experience joy or what determines our quotient or our level of joy in our life is based on the immediate circumstances that we live in, but sociologists/scientists are continuing proving that that is absolutely untrue!  In 1978, they did this famous study where they took two focus groups of people.  One of the groups of people were people that had recently won the lottery.  The other focus group was people that had been in terrible accidents and had come away as either paraplegics or quadriplegics—changed forever.  They asked them a series of questions over the months that followed either their accident or their winning.  You know what they found?  They found that there was (ZERO) NO measurable difference in the happiness of those that had won the lottery and in the happiness of those who had been in a terrible accident and had been left completely different for the rest of their lives.  Is that not fascinating??!!  It turns out that what happens TO you in life has very little bearing on whether or not you’re happy.  What happens to you in life has very little bearing on whether or not you walk in joy.  What happens to you in life IS NOT the determining factor on whether or not you drink in the joy that God intended for you.  Here’s what determines whether or not you taste that joy…..it’s your APPROACH.  It’s the way that you look at life.  It’s the filter that everything comes through.

Here’s what I’d like to propose to you today —- maybe we do some analytical work on what our approach is. There’s a few areas that the Apostle Paul, in his letter to the Philippians, is going to push on our approach.  He’s going to subtly say, “Hey, the way that you’re going about this is not leading you to the place you want to be and you know that deep down inside.”  With a few minor changes, everything could change.  Philippians 3:1-11, as we continue our study in this wonderful letter that Paul wrote from prison.  From house arrest in Rome, he’s writing about twelve years after planting a church in Philippi and seeing it flourish and seeing it grow.  He’s writing back to his friends.  He’s writing back to people that he had walked alongside of a good deal of time and he wants to encourage them.  Listen to what he says:  Finally, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord.  To write the same things to you is no trouble to me and is safe for you.    Paul is the quintessential preacher — I’m not afraid to repeat myself.  Because you need to get it!  If he had more parchment, he probably would have wrote that.  Parentheses — I have no trouble writing this again because you, church, we need to get it.  Sixteen times in the letter he will use some derivative of this word:  joy, rejoice.  In the very first message we gave on the letter to the Philippians, I proposed to you that there’s really no tangible, negligible difference in the Scriptures between the word joy and the word happiness.  Some of you pushed back on that, which, can I just say as your pastor, I LOVE it.  I invite it anytime because it means you’re listening.  I’ll take it!!!  It means you’re engaged. I’m not going to belabor that point.

I don’t think you can make a case in Scripture for there being a difference between joy and happiness.  Here’s how I will invite you to maybe reimagine whether or not you think that’s true.  As you do a study on the word REJOICE in the Scriptures, here’s what rejoicing looks like — singing, shouting, laughing, gladness.  Turns out, rejoicing looks a lot like happiness.  In fact, we are called to rejoice in temporal circumstances.  Joy is something eternal; happiness is temporal.  It turns out that rejoicing happens on a daily basis simply because God made today (Psalm 118:24).  Rejoicing happens at a response; heaven rejoices at a response of sinners repenting (Luke 15:10).  Rejoicing is a party!  Paul will write: Rejoice in the Lord!  It’s a command.  So, you don’t have to pray about it.  Is it God’s will for you to rejoice?  Yes!!  How do I know that?  The Scriptures are really clear.  It’s a command….therefore, {look up at me a second} it’s a choice!  I love the way that Henri Nouwen, the great author and spiritual director, puts it: “Joy does not simply happen to us.  We have to choose joy and keep choosing it every single day.”  Abraham Lincoln, arguably one of our greatest presidents, said: “Most folks are about as happy as they make up their minds to be.”  It’s true.

Do you know why it’s a command?  Because it’s not natural.  The most natural thing that could happen to you and to me is to allow our joy quotient to be determined by our circumstances, to be determined by everything that happens around us and everything that happens TO us.  But Paul says no, no, no, no, God has better for you than that.  So he says first rejoice and then he gives you the source of this ability to rejoice.   Rejoice…..in the Lord.  God, Yahweh, the King above it all, is the giver of this joy; is the sustainer of that joy; is the culmination of that joy.  If you’re here today and you’re not a follower of Jesus, we’re so glad that you’re here.  The joy that Paul’s talking about, though, is available ONLY in the Lord.  It’s something that’s available as we know Jesus by faith and step into the promises of God.  THAT’S the kind of joy that he’s talking about, THAT’S the kind of happiness that he longs for this church to have.  Can we just admit for a second, if Paul can say this from jail, we might be able to say it in whatever circumstance we’re in?

The last thing he says about it:  He says okay, I don’t mind repeating myself, it’s that important and then he says that this rejoicing is safe for you.  In the Greek it would be this picture of being trustworthy.  It’s reliable. You’re not going to walk out into this life of joy and the bottom’s going to fall out on you, that’s not going to happen.  In the NIV, and I believe the NASB, it says it’s a safeguard for you.  I know some of you are going, “Here’s what’s going on in my life, Paulson, I just got a call from the doctor.  Is this possible for me?  Is this safe for me?  Because it feels like I’m going to get my hopes up and they’re going to be dashed.”  It feels like I’m going to long for things that just aren’t going to happen.  Is joy safe??  Can we have this approach to life and have it sustain us and not let us down?  What Paul would say to the church at Philippi is absolutely!  The joy that you find in the Lord WILL NOT fail you, because it’s built on something that transcends you.  It’s built on something bigger.  More beautiful.  It’s not something that we GET from Him, it’s something that we find IN Him; that He invites every single follower of Jesus to.  THIS, friends, is the approach that he invites us, as his followers, to have. One, joy is a command and it is a choice.  Two, our joy is found distinctly in the Lord.  Three, it is safe to step out on that ledge.

But….   Look out!!!  That’s what follows; it’s the very next word.  I did a ton of study on this section of Scripture and most of the commentaries I looked at completely detach verse one from the rest of this thought.  I’m going, “No way!!”  This “look out” is directly tied back to “rejoice!”  What Paul wants the church at Philippi to be aware of and what I’d love for us to be aware of, in addition to that, is that there are thieves of our joy.  There are joy stealers, you know them well.  Paul knew them well and what he wants to do is he wants to say to the church, in verse 2:  Look out for the dogs, look out for the evildoers, look out for those who mutilate the flesh.  Look out!  Because there’s a whole lot of people proposing a whole lot of different approaches to life.  Those approaches to life will ultimately fail.  Because, friends, there are joy stealers in life and there are also joy sealers in life.  There are things that have the ability to rip joy, happiness, gladness, delight, pleasure right out of our hands.  There ARE things that allow us to live in the fullness of the way that God designed us to live. There are approaches to life that yield this joy that Paul is talking about.  So for the next few minutes, I want to point out from the Scriptures what approach Paul is inviting the church at Philippi to have that will eventually yield their joy, because the approach you have to life will always determine your aptitude for joy.

Here’s what he says:  Look out for the dogs, look out for the evildoers, look out for those who mutilate the flesh.  For we are the circumcision who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh—-though I myself have reason for confidence in the flesh also.  If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: {So Paul’s like, “Let me brag a little bit.”}  circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.    Paul sort of looks at it in two different categories.  He says, “I had it all together in the family that I was born into and in the way that I lived.  I attacked it on both levels and I stuck the dismount!”  Eighth day, just like the law commanded, I was circumcised.  My parents were good Jews.  Of the tribe of Benjamin — it’s important because it was THE tribe that the very first king of Israel came from.  That king’s name was Saul and Paul’s name before he became Paul was….Saul.  His family is in this lineage of hope; they are in the covenant of God.  He then says he was a Hebrew of Hebrews.  Most scholars believe this meant that his parents did not give in to the pressures of the day to turn towards Hellenization and to adapt Greek culture; they remained Hebrew people in the midst of persecution, difficulty and hardship.  Paul goes listen, the road was set for me.  Not only was the road set for me in the way that I was born, but in the way that I lived.  I was a Pharisee — it was one of the three main sects of Judaism in that day; they were strict keepers of the law.  There was this sort of rumor among the Pharisees that if one of them could keep the law perfectly for a day, the Messiah would come. Ironically, the fact that they couldn’t keep Torah for a day meant that the Messiah came!  As for zeal, a persecutor of the church — just read Acts 8.  You see Paul and his zeal for persecuting the church and taking down, what he viewed at that time, as something that ran completely contrary to the way of Yahweh.  As to righteousness under the law, blameless.  It doesn’t mean he thought he was perfect, it means that he did everything he needed to do based on the sacrificial system to come before God in holiness and righteousness. He goes, “Hey, I have confidence in the flesh, confidence in the flesh, confidence in the flesh.”

Think if Paul at the end of his life were to say the same thing.  Well, I seem to have written about 31.8% of the New Testament; planted 14 churches, at least; spread the gospel to multiple new continents.  If Paul says, “I put no confidence in the flesh” with THAT resumé…..I’m just going to throw it out there….maybe, just maybe, your resumé isn’t as good as his and that the conclusions he comes to may apply to us today.  Here’s the approach that changes in the Apostle Paul’s mind:  He changes from approaching God in confidence in the flesh to by faith in Christ.  We could summarize it really simply like this:  His approach changed by rather than trying to encounter God through his achievement, that he encounters God simply by acceptance.  Not by his work but by the work of Christ.  That changes everything for Paul.  Every single person in this room, I would argue, is operating either in the mode of achievement when it comes to a relationship with God, or the mode of acceptance, but there are only two ways of interacting with Him.  It’s either…..I can do this; I can make a way; I can climb the ladder, or….the ladder’s there because God has climbed down to me in the person and work of Jesus; displayed his love through the cross; invited me, a sinner, back into a right relationship with God; and it is simply by faith, because of grace, that I can have a relationship with Him.  There’s only two ways of looking at this, you guys.

Paul says, “For a long time in my life, I tried to approach God through achieving and it let me down, every single time, so look out!”  Look out, South Fellowship, because this has the ability to sneak in.  We start thinking alright, God, maybe just maybe you’ll be a little bit more pleased or a little bit more happy with me if I read my Bible and say my prayers and serve in children’s ministry, and if I do ALL these things, God, that are great things….that I recommend you do, as long as you realize it purchases you absolutely nothing with the King of kings and the Lord of lords.  We have this thing in us that longs to go back to achievement; it feels safe to us. God, if I can stand before you and tell you well, here’s what I did…..it feels like it’s a safeguard for us.  Here’s how I started to recognize this starting in my life.  There’s three ways I see it in my life.  One is I feel like I start to deserve things from God.  The scary part about that is I only recognize I’m doing that is when He doesn’t come through on his end of the bargain.  God, I’m obeying; God, I’m serving; God, I’m doing and why didn’t you fill-in-the-blank?  Second way I see it in me is that I compare myself to others.  Achievement is based on how well I’m doing compared to……you.  Well, I’ve done a little bit better; I’ve done a little bit more; I’m not as bad as them—-as if THAT’S the barometer to have a relationship with Jesus.  The third thing is if I’m operating in an achievement mode and if you’re operating in an achievement mode, we have zero ability to look honestly at ourselves and say, “I’m blowing it here and I fall short.”  So when we operate in achievement mode, we tend to lie to ourselves, because we have to protect the image that’s going to get us right with God.  If we say we’re a failure and we’ve messed up and we’re broken and we’ve let ourselves and everybody around us down again……if this is our approach, we’re unable to say that because our acceptance by God is based on our achievement.  Here’s the good news of the gospel, friends—-the gospel is NOT how awesome you are, it’s how glorious HE is.  It’s not that you’ve done anything that could deserve Him loving you, it’s that He stepped out of eternity and purchased, for you, redemption in the person and work of Jesus based on absolutely NOTHING that you did.  Paul will write to the church at Ephesus (Eph. 2:13) and say:  But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off {you WORKED yourself closer to God. No.} have been brought near by the blood of Christ.  Friends, when you stand before the throne of God that will be our only anthem, that will be our only song—-praise be to the Lamb of God who was slain on my behalf!  Your resumé is not going with you.  Praise the Lord, HIS IS!! That’s the gospel, that’s what we circle around.

If that’s the internal dialogue we have—I’m accepted in the Almighty because of Jesus—it doesn’t just change the way that we approach life, it changes every single relationship that we have.  You do know that the way that you view yourself is what you impose on everybody else.  If you operate based on achievement, your expectation is that everybody else around you operates based on achievement.  If I could just speak into our lives as parents for a second to just press on us of how important it is for us to get this.  If we operate in achievement, at best, we will raise moralistic Pharisees.  At worst, we will raise people who will want absolutely nothing to do with Jesus because they know they can’t live up to the standard.

Here’s how Paul continues in verse 7.  He’s laying out this idea that the approach we take in life determines our aptitude for joy and you’ve all sensed this, I’ve sensed this, when we approach God based on achievement, there is no joy.  But….   Paul’s going to lay out a different way to look at things.  But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ.  Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.    Just stop there.  He uses this word knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.  There’s two primary words for “know” in the Greek New Testament.  One is “oida.”  The other is “ginosko.”  Oida would be the type of knowledge you could get by reading a book.  You could learn and you could mine and you could understand the way things operate.  Ginosko is intimate, first-hand knowledge of.  It’s experiential.  Any guesses on which word Paul uses here?  Ginosko.  It’s the “I have KNOWN Jesus.”  See, when a husband and wife know each other, sometimes they have kids.  It’s that type of knowledge.  It’s that type of intimate exchange.  Paul is saying, “I have KNOWN Christ.”  It’s not ‘I’ve known ABOUT Christ.’  It’s not I’ve studied everything and I’ve learned all the doctrine….which isn’t a bad thing, it’s just different than knowing Him.  You know this.  You know you could read every single book out there on World War II.  You could read about storming the beaches of Normandy on December 7th.  You could understand everything about it and yet….it’s not the same as being there, is it?  The question I think Paul would push back on us is what’s our approach to God?  Are we trying to know about God or are we longing to KNOW Him?  It’s two different approaches.  To know Jesus cognitively; to know Jesus intimately.  You live in a time and place, friends, where there has never been so much information available to you at your fingertips.  I want to affirm that is a great thing.  It’s a wonderful thing.  But there’s a difference between knowing about Jesus and knowing Jesus.  I think part of the temptation of our day and time is, because information is so accessible, that we can exchange those two things rather easily and we could substitute knowing about God for knowing God.  When we do that it creates a whole lot of churches full of people who could answer you questions about Bible trivia and they could wreck havoc in Bible story drills, but they do not look anything like Jesus!  Because they haven’t known Him.  I long for us to be the type of people who don’t just know about Him, but who know Him.

One of the realizations Paul comes to is that knowing Jesus is not a means to an end.  He’s coming to this place where he’s going, “I’m sitting in jail; I’m wrestling with why I’m here and yet….and yet….knowing Jesus is more.”  Knowing Jesus isn’t a means to an end so it can rip something out of God’s hand that I really want. Knowing Jesus is the end.  John will write in John 17:3 that knowing Him is salvation.  It’s not something we get from Him, it’s an invitation we get to walk with Him.

I want to answer the question—How does this actually happen?  How do we know Jesus intimately?  How do we get beyond the two dimensions of the page and get into life with God?  Let me give you four things.  {I’m going to fly through these, but I will write a blog page this week for more info.}  One, we embrace obedience fully. John 14:21 would say very clearly to us that if we do not obey Him, we do not know him.  So we jump wholeheartedly into obedience.  Two, we abide with Jesus intentionally.  The command to abide in Me in John 15:4 is not a suggestion, it’s a command.  It takes effort to say, “I’m going to live my life in the rhythms of grace.  I’m going to live my life with an internal dialogue that engages the Spirit that is alive in me.”  It will not happen by accident.  Three, we encounter the Spirit personally.  Did you know that as a follower of Christ the Holy Spirit lives inside of you?  It’s one of the greatest gifts we have.  Jesus even suggested that it was better for him to go away and to disappear so that the Spirit could come and abide in you. (John 16:7)  Think of how huge a statement that is.  Four, we seek encounter with God fervently.  We long to know Him personally.  Paul is not saying in this passage, I want to be a better person.  Paul’s saying, “I’ve met Jesus and that changed everything!”

But whatever gain I had, {This is the third dimension that starts to change in our life; the approach that changes.} I counted as loss….  {It’s going to be this accounting term that’s going to sort of flow out of this passage.  The word ‘count’ simply means ‘to look intently at.’  Paul’s stepping back from his life and going, “I’m looking at things now and I’m looking at them differently.”} ….for the sake of Christ.  Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.  For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count {look at, consider} them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ. He’s putting life on this weighing scale. He’s going there’s a whole bunch of things I built my life on.  There’s a whole lot of achievements I had that I thought were good, that filled me up to a certain extent, then I met Jesus and it changed the way I measured everything.  So the question we need to ask ourselves is how are we measuring life?  How are we measuring success in life?  How are we measuring our significance?  How are we measuring what we long for?  Paul says listen, I’m looking at everything differently.  I think he echoes Socrates: “The unexamined life is not worth living.”  Paul’s saying, I’m asking myself some really serious questions:  Did the things that I invested time and energy and money and passion into, yield any joy in my life?  He goes no.  Not when I compare it to Christ.  Not when I stepped into relationship with Jesus; everything else pales in comparison to that.  The question is:  Is our approach for a worthless goal, things that will eventually let us down?  Or is it based around a worthy pursuit?

Paul uses this Greek word “skubalon.”   It is the word “rubbish.”  The King James Version translates that word as dung.  It’s garbage.  In an ancient city like Philippi or Rome where Paul was, overcrowding was a huge issue. Cities were packed to the brim.  Their sewer system was quite that developed.  In fact, people would take sewage and put it out into the street and let gravity do its best work.  They would call that sewage that would run downhill, eventually hitting a bay or a pile somewhere, skubalon.  It’s as close as we get to a swear word in the New Testament.  You’re trying to drive in a nail and you hit your thumb, “Skubalon!”  That’s the feel.  Paul’s going listen, I started to evaluate things, I put things on the scale and it just didn’t add up.  Jesus was better than it all.  He goes on to say, “I lost all things.”  Paul looks at his life, decides what’s really valuable, identifies what success is and he cuts anchor with every other contingency plan he had.  If we’re going to be followers of Jesus, we must do the same thing.  It’s not Jesus PLUS whatever else we’re building our life on.  It’s Paul reorienting his life around “this is what’s really important to me and I am all in on that.”

Friends, when we prioritize our time, our money, our relationships….when we prioritize the things that God has brought into our life in a way that honors Him, there’s two things that start to happen.  1) We actually give value to the things that matter.  Imagine that.  When we do this work of really orienting our life around these things, (2) those are the things that we end up holding onto in the storms of life.  They are.  They’re the things we built our life on.  I saw this picture (on the internet) of a woman in Taiwan.  She’s in the middle of a typhoon; so much so that her umbrella is turning inside out.  This picture went crazy around the internet, because while there’s a typhoon that killed a number of people, she has her pork bun securely in her hand!  I thought, that’s a picture of priorities, is it not?  My house might not be there when I get back, but this pork bun’s going down!!

What does it look like to prioritize Jesus? To say, it’s better to be in jail with Jesus than to be out of jail without Him.  Man, you guys, does he have that kind of value in our life?  To quote the great missionary, Jim Elliot: “He is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.”   I just want to encourage you, out of this passage, to do some counting in your life.  To take account, to look at, to examine.  Are there things I’m building my life on that are eventually going to let me down?

Here’s how Paul lands the plane.  He says: …in order 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 comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith—-that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.  Paul says listen, my whole life found its purpose, found its anchor, found its roots in the reality not that I’ve been able to find myself, but that I am found in Him.  He goes I’m not looking outside anymore, I’m just looking at who Jesus is and the fact that He’s invited me to be a child of the Most High God.

Paul uses this phrase “in him” 164 times in his letters in the Scriptures!  By contrast, the word “Christian,” which is how we would primarily define one who follows the way of Jesus, is only used three times!  So Paul is saying my life can be summarized in these two words, “I am ‘in him.'”  And the approach is changed.  Rather than looking deep down inside himself to find something good, he’s looking to Jesus who invites him in.  He says because I’m in Him, I have righteousness.  He has taken our sin and our shame and given us His righteousness there’s a resurrection power that starts to flow from our lives and there is a resurrection reality.  Look at verse 11 again:  That he may become like him in death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.  {Look up at me a second, friends.}  If you’re a follower of Jesus, THAT is your destiny.  That one day, God will speak life into your dead bones and you will walk out of the grave.  Paul would say to the church at Colossae (Col. 3:3-4):  For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.  When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.   I just want to invite you, every day, to think about THAT day.  You are IN HIM.  That changes everything.

So what approach do you have?  Are you interacting with God based on acceptance or based on achievement?  Is your longing to know ABOUT Him or to KNOW Him?  Are the things you’re chasing after worthy of your life?  Is your quest to find out how to help yourself or to say to God, “I’m lost unless I’m found in You?”

We have a ministry here that you may not know of.  After every single message, Sharon M. types up a transcript of what I say on this stand.  {Pray for her!}  We post it along with the messages online, so you can get audio, you can get video and you can read every single message that we’ve given for the last year or so.  One of our members, Fred Kress, after hearing the very first message that we gave in this Philippians series, took the transcript of that and sent it to his brother who’s in jail in Massachusetts.  His brother got that sermon, read through it, and started to pass it around to everybody in this jail.  His brother writes back to him and says, “I need you to send me two copies (of the sermons).  I need one to keep as an original and then the other one I want to send around, because the guys are writing this down.”  A few weeks ago, he (Fred) got a letter back and I just want to read it so that you can see the way that the Scriptures still change lives. This is from a guy in a Massachusetts’ jail.   Dear Fred,  Dave showed me the sermon that you sent to him.  I personally wanted to write you a little letter to say thank you!  Reading about Paul’s jail experience and how he reacted was a complete turn around for me.  A lot of us are depressed and stressing out because of our cases and how our lives may be affected when we get out.  That sermon gave me a 180º change in my outlook of this time.  Now is the perfect time to get close to and start our long journey with Jesus and our Lord.  Thank you very much!

I would say, friends, why wait?  Let’s not require that God put us in a place where we’re so confined to say God, we’re going to respond to your word.

Jesus, thank you for being a God who loves us, who pursues us, who accepts us because of your blood, who changes us.  Lord, our desire today is to live in a way that will honor you.  We want to approach life in such a way that we would drink deeply of the joy that you have for us.  Lord, if there’s something off in our hearts and in our soul today, we just want to lay it down before you.  We want to ask that you would work and that you would move and that you would change us.  For every person in here, Lord, would you put your finger on one way in their heart and their life that you would want them to take and apply your Scriptures, that we may not just be hearers of the Word, but that we may be doers and so walk in the life of Jesus.  It’s in His name that we pray.  Amen.