From now until about March 1, we're taking a close look at the Apostle Paul's letter to the Philippians.
Did you know that Paul authored the content that makes up 2/3rds of the New Testament? He didn't start off doing that; every "book" he wrote was actually a letter(s) to a person (eg: Timothy, Titus or Philemon) or to the church in town that bears its name's-sake (eg: Thessalonica, Corinth, Rome, Galatia).
But four letters were written while he was imprisoned by Rome: Ephesians, Colossians, Philippians and Philemon. And it's in that third letter that Rick is basing this current sermon series.
It couldn't come at a better time. At the time of this writing, our nation hasn't been this divided since anyone can remember. There's lots of suspicion, name-calling, and fear. Politicians especially seize upon every word and action of their opponents in order to weaponize them and further their own parties' agenda. Senator Hiram Johnson wrote in 1918 that "the first casualty when war comes is truth". The same could be said about the political war.
I suppose it's true that the more things change, the more they stay the same. The Roman Senate was just as vicious and back-stabbing ("E tu, Brute?"); they had their alliances and manipulations. Maybe even worse.
It's also true that we face similar problems in our daily life that first-century people did: what is the meaning of life; what is God's purpose in all this violence and destruction; why do people have to be so mean; how do I become a better version of myself? And in the midst of all this, Paul, with the background of fighting the encroachment of competing and harmful theologies, gives us the clues we need to not panic, get God's perspective, and trust God for the outcome.
What are you facing right now?
Do you believe that God has a great purpose for whatever causes you the most grief or the most pain? Does God have a purpose for how your divorce is emotionally injuring your child - and yourself? What "better outcome" can there be when I can't get a better paying job to take care of my family? How is God going to use my cancer / Parkinsons / Lupus / (you fill in the blank) when it's robbing me of energy, draining my 401K or savings, and leaving me penniless to face the future?
Into all this, Paul speaks a word originally meant for the Philippian church, but because it is saturated by the power of the Holy Spirit, brings light for us today: "it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose."
He does have a purpose for what you're going through. He's not the author of evil - but he sovereignly allows it and chooses you to collaborate with him to see it through. God-followers since Genesis have always understood that.
And now it is your turn with where you're at.
I hope you get your miracle - that unexplainable, down-to-the-wire deliverance. We should ask for it, pray for it, hope for it. But we trust that if it doesn't come - and we end up poorer, in more emotional or physical pain or with less resources, God will give us the contentment we need. Even a reason to smile. Because that's what God gives to people when they trust him - even if we wind up dead.
God does his best work with dead people. It's why we call it Easter.
By the way, Paul was beheaded in Rome probably around 64 AD during the madness of Nero. No one cares about Roman emperors, today. But hundreds of millions have read and been comforted by the letters of an insignificant Jewish ex-rabbi who believed that his Messiah had risen from the dead.