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I don’t know how I’d go about it, but I would love to learn how Christianity first came to Oklahoma City. When was the gospel first preached in our city and by whom? What was the response of those who heard? Was there initial opposition to the truth? Were those who spoke of Jesus persecuted? If so, how did they react? Where was the first church planted? How large was it? How quickly did the gospel spread to the surrounding area? I would love to know the answer to these questions.

My guess is that many of you are thinking to yourselves: “Sam, are you kidding me? You actually plan on preaching an entire sermon on the opening greeting of a NT epistle. Come on! Give us some biblical meat, something we can really chew on and apply to our lives, something that’s going to make a difference in how I conduct my life next week, something that’s going to stick in my soul and change how I think and feel and act. For heaven’s sake, don’t waste my time with the meaningless trivialities of an ancient salutation!”

I have to confess that all week as I studied and reflected on this passage we’ve just read, I was envious. I don’t think it was sinful envy, but envy it was. Hearing Paul talk about his relationship to the Philippians, how he felt about them and loved them and yearned to be with them, how he prayed for them and how he partnered with them in the gospel, I couldn’t help but stand back from it all and say: “This is what the church is supposed to be. This is the body of Christ stripped of artificial veneer and superficiality and obsession with image and all the meaningless clichés that so often characterize our interactions, such as: ‘How are you today? Oh, just fine. God is so good. How are you? Oh, just fine. Yes, he is good. I’ll be praying for you. Oh, that’s fine. I’ll pray for you too. Wonderful. Have a nice day. You too.’”

Tertullian (@ 200 a.d.) was one of the greatest of the early church fathers and was actually the first man to use the word “Trinity” to describe the nature of God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. He lived and wrote at a time when opposition to Christianity and the Church was intensifying. Although Tertullian was an apologist, which is to say he devoted himself to defining and defending the Christian faith against its critics, he was quick to point out that it wasn’t any particular theological or philosophical argument that would ultimately persuade pagans of the truth about Jesus. Rather it was the seemingly inexplicable love that Christians had one for another that initially baffled and finally captivated non-Christians. In one memorable statement, Tertullian said this: “It is mainly the deeds of a love so noble that lead many to put a brand upon us. ‘See,’ they say, "[see] how they love one another, . . . How they are ready even to die for one another!’ No tragedy causes trouble in our brotherhood, [and] the family possessions, which generally destroy brotherhood among you, create fraternal bonds among us. One in mind and soul, we do not hesitate to share our earthly goods with one another. All things are common among us [except] our wives. (Apology 39).

One of the greatest challenges we face as Christian men and women is the threat to our confidence in the goodness of God when circumstances turn bad. Therefore one of the greatest needs we have is the faith to believe that God exercises providential control over every dimension of our lives and will transform even the worst and most aggravating of tragedies into an opportunity for the advancement of the gospel and the praise of his glory.

The art of living well comes from knowing that dying is gain. Contrary to what many may think, that is not morbid. In fact, there is nothing quite as exhilarating and life-giving and joy-filled as pondering death. At least that’s true for the Christian.

How do you respond when God gives you something you don’t want? How would you describe your feelings when God brings people, circumstances, and situations into your life that are at best inconvenient and at worst irritating, exasperating, and perhaps even life threatening?

What kind or sort of relational culture do you want to see and experience here at Bridgeway? What ought to be the personal, inter-relational atmosphere here in our church? For what do you want to be known by those outside our community? When people speak of Bridgeway and the way all of us interact with one another, what do they say? What you do want them to say? That’s what I want us to think about today. But before I go any further, let me give you an illustration of the kind of relational culture that we must at all costs avoid.

Some statements in the Bible leave you scratching your head, asking: “What could this possibly mean?” Other texts leave you wiping tears from your eyes, wondering: “Did God really do that for me?” Then there are those passages that blow your mind and leave you shouting: “Wow! I can’t believe what I just read!” And finally there are some things in the Bible that leave you gasping for breath, struggling to maintain your composure, texts and statements and stories that quite literally drive you to your knees, in awe and wonder.

I need to explain the title to today’s message: Act the Miracle. It isn’t original with me. I didn’t make it up. I stole it. I have unapologetically plagiarized the words “Act the Miracle” from the Desiring God national conference that Ann and I attended last September in Minneapolis, with their permission of course.

I don’t know how you feel about this, but there have been times during the course of my life and ministry in the local church when I seriously wondered if it might be the wise thing to do simply to quit and withdraw into the isolation and seclusion of a monastery. As boring and outrageous as that may sound to you, at times it has struck me as profoundly appealing.

Some of you may not like the title to my message this morning. You may think it lacks political correctness and that instead of referring to an ordinary “Man” of God I should have said an ordinary “Person” or “Human,” and in that way I would have included both genders, male and female. But the fact is that I have in view “men” particularly and not “women.” That isn’t to say women can’t benefit from what I want to say. I’ll explain how they can in just a moment. But the focus of my message today, indeed the focus of Paul’s comments in Philippians 2:19-30, is the Christian male. So I want to talk about what every ordinary man who knows and loves God ought to be like.

My first experience with divine healing came quite suddenly and unexpectedly and with remarkable results. I was 10 years old. We had just moved into our new home in Midland, Texas. I had gone to bed somewhat early that night because of a terribly painful headache. I didn’t know anything about migraines at that young age, but I suspect that’s what I was suffering from. It was debilitating, almost paralyzing.

I have a simple but profound philosophy when it comes to the Christian life. When it is fully understood it can be revolutionary. By that I mean it can take a self-absorbed, idolatrous rebel and empower him to pursue a life that truly honors God. It can take a hopelessly depressed, self-loathing woman and restore meaning and value and joy to her lowly life.

Put aside your political affiliation for just a moment this morning, and don’t let it interfere with my opening illustration.

My title for today is a long one – Holy Dissatisfaction and Relentless Pursuit: Overcoming the Threat of Spiritual Stagnation. Now what in the world do I mean by that?

I can live in the absence of a lot of things. If pressured to do so, I can probably get by without baseball and movies and books and a nice car and the home where Ann and I currently reside. To lose all that would be hard. It would put a strain on life. But I think I can live without them.

This past week I counted up and gave some considerable thought to the churches that I’ve either regularly attended while growing up or at which I have served on pastoral staff. The total came to an even dozen. Included among these are four Southern Baptist churches that I attended regularly while growing up, one independent Baptist church, one Presbyterian church, two non-denominational Bible churches, one Vineyard church, one Anglican church, one non-denominational charismatic church, and finally Bridgeway!

Rejoice in the Lord? Are you kidding? Is Paul kidding? Does he have any idea what he’s saying? Is he so out of touch with the harsh realities of life that he can be this flippant and happy-go-lucky?

Among the many reasons I could mention why I love God’s Word, let me give you just one example. When I read a passage such as Philippians 4:8-9, I find myself experiencing a double effect. On the one hand, I feel encouraged and energized, almost as if I’m being lifted above and beyond the harsh realities of life in this fallen world of ours. It’s as if the exalted language of v. 8 and the virtues to which it calls me serve as something of a powerful updraft that elevates me from my place on earth and draws me closer to God.

One of the most helpful things I’ve learned in my years as a pastor is the crucial role that self-awareness plays in our growth as Christians. By self-awareness I mean the capacity to be honest and sincere when it comes to both our strengths and weaknesses. To be “aware” of oneself in the way that I have in mind is to be conscious and forthright about our tendencies and inclinations. To be self-aware is to possess a keen sense of the way we impact other people. To be self-aware is to have a clear grasp on why we react the way we do when we encounter adversity or threatening circumstances. It is to be in touch with how we think and what we value and why we make the choices we do.

There are over 2,300 references to finance and money in Scripture. Many would prefer that the Bible say nothing at all on the subject because any mention of it makes them feel uncomfortable. Some are uncomfortable because they feel guilty for not being generous and for having fallen far short in financial stewardship. Others feel uncomfortable because they think the only reason why a preacher would ever bring it up is when he wants to elevate his own personal standard of living.

This inaugural message on the book of Proverbs is going to be somewhat odd, insofar as I am going to provide a short introduction to the book as a whole while also addressing what it says about how to overcome the power of peer pressure.

Mark Twain is known and remembered for a lot of things, but Christian faith isn’t one of them. Nevertheless, he did say some remarkable things that Christians need to hear. One of the more insightful comments he made is this: “The two most important days in your life are the day you were born, and the day you find out why” (Mark Twain).