We need to care more about the person in the mirror.

Have you ever had a ‘hold my beer’ moment? A time when everyone is saying ‘it’s not going to work’, ‘it’s too hard’, ‘no one will listen’ and you just take care of business and get it done. Paul’s letter to the Philippians is just such a moment. Presumably the church in Philippi has been struggling, they have been finding it hard to break away from their comfy lives and give themselves over to God. So, in the face of some whiney Philippians, who are resistant to change, who refuse to believe change is possible, Paul says, ‘hold my beer’ and listen carefully.

He begins this section of his letter by listing his accomplishments, all of which are quite prestigious for his time and then he says a few key phrases, he says: “I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him…I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection…I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own…forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal, for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.” And there you have it, the entire point of Christianity wrapped into a few lines written 2000 years ago. What Paul is saying is that all of his accomplishments and desires are nothing compared to what lies ahead of those who faithfully follow Jesus.

Our culture used to value hard work, but that isn’t true anymore, what we value now are results, achievement, and awards. Life has been reduced to a competition with winners and losers and we push our children to be the winners, but at what cost? Mental illness among teens and young adults has skyrocketed because they are so afraid of failing, of not meeting some meaningless standard a person with a fancy title decided they needed to meet. I have lost count of the number of young men and women who have expressed their fear of not being able to go to college because they think that anything other than an A means they have failed, and they have no idea how to handle the emotions they are experiencing because of it. The focus on achievement instead of effort has reduced much of life to a series of tasks, which render accomplishment meaningless because there is always another task to be completed and thus the vicious cycle continues and because the cycle never ends, we never feel complete, we never feel accomplished, and we never feel joy.

This is where Paul comes in, Paul is telling us that going after a long list of accomplishments is not going to bring us closer to the joy we seek, seeking “the heavenly call of God” is going to do that, but how do we do that? Well, there are many ways, but I am going to focus on just a few and I am going to try to keep it quite simple.

God wants one thing from us, that’s it. They want us to root our existence, our very being, in love. Not passion, not puppy love, not first love, but comfortable love. The love you settle into after a long, long time. And they don’t want us to only experience that with God, they want us to love each other that much; and most especially they want us to love ourselves that much; but what does that mean? Well, it means that no matter what is happening around you or even to you; regardless of how difficult the tasks in front of you seem; irrespective of how you are feeling on any given day you need to internalize the Love that God has for you to the point that it becomes second nature. Once you have accomplished this, you will see a change in yourself, a change that will help you refocus your outlook on life, a change so powerful that you will be at a loss of words to describe it. To be clear, I am not describing a metaphorical change or some mystical concept. I am describing a deeply rooted, emotional and spiritual change; a change that will allow you step back at any given moment and see the beauty of God in every person; that will allow you to see the beauty of God in yourself and once you can do that, once you can feel that all the rest will no longer matter. I’m not saying that life will suddenly become easy or that we will not be tempted by checking off the tasks, what I’m saying is that by changing our perspective we will more easily navigate the storm because you will have a more global perspective.

I currently have a student who has planned on being a doctor since elementary school. And their entire life, for the past six years has been about making that happen. They are that kid who feared they would not achieve their goal if they didn’t get an A in every class, I know this because we have talked about it. They have applied to like nine million colleges and they have gotten into many of them, but yet when I ask them about their plans, they are hesitant to commit, they are hesitant because of cost, and because they are afraid they will make the wrong choice. You see, because they were making choices based on a goal, they assumed that when faced with taking the next step towards that goal was going to be easy because it always has been, but this time its different. After more conversation I found out that they also applied to the Coast Guard Academy, which surprised me because that is not a typical path to medical school. What our conversations have revealed is that they have also always been interested in the Coast Guard, they think it will be exciting and they like the idea of being able to help people, but they have been hesitant to commit to it because everything in them is telling them that going to medical school will allow them to both help people and be successful; it’s as if the coast guard is just somehow not as prestigious. In one of our last conversations, I asked them a very simple question, what do you want? And after they gave me an answer, I asked it again and again and again until the true answer emerged. Guess what that answer was? They said, very simply, I want to help people and I want excitement. I am pleased to say that it looks like they will be choosing the coast guard because they have realized they don’t need to set a path and then force themselves to stick with it. Choosing a path that seeks to aid others and that will bring you joy is what it means to Love God, to love yourself, and to love one another. While this student is not a person of faith, I can see the Love of God flowing through them because I see that their motivations are not rooted in accolades and rewards, they are rooted in a desire to assist people, which will result in a sense of peace and joy.

If you take nothing else from my words today, take this. God is not found in the tasks, or the goals, or the awards. God is found in you, and even if coming here on Sunday is the only thing you do to develop your relationship with God, know that the only thing God wants, is for you is to feel loved and the way you will know you feel loved, the way you will know that you are allowing God into your life, is when you can step back and care more about the wellbeing of the person in the mirror than the achievements that person can accumulate because by loving yourself, by allowing yourself to experience joy, you are in fact honoring God because what brings you joy is rooted in the gifts God has given you.

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