Topical Scripture: Philippians 3:7-11
Eric Liddel was the greatest 100 meter runner of his day, so fast he was nicknamed the “Flying Scotsman.” However, as the 1924 Paris Olympic Games drew near, a problem arose.
The 100 meter race was scheduled for Sunday. A devout Christian, Liddel did not believe in competing on the Lord’s Day. He felt that Sunday was for God alone. So while his race was being run, he was preaching in a Scottish church in Paris. His countrymen were confused and outraged.
Later in those Olympics, Liddel ran in the 400 meter race, not his best event. He set an Olympic record and won the gold medal. And when the closing ceremonies came, fame and fortune were his.
But then he surprised his countrymen for a second time. Rather than returning to Scotland and glory, he rejoined his missionary parents in China. He served his Lord there for many years. When the Japanese invaded China in 1937, Liddel might have escaped to freedom, but he chose to remain with his people and church. And so he died at the age of 43 in a Japanese World War II interment camp.
What makes a man do something like that?
Today we’ve taken time for a “state of the church,” an opportunity to take stock of the gifts which God has given to us, the “stones of remembrance” made possible by his Spirit’s blessing on our church. Now we turn from the gifts of God to the gift of God. If we focus only on the gift, we will miss the Giver. And knowing him intimately and passionately across this new year is the greatest gift of all.
When last did your spirit connect with his Spirit? When last did his word come to life in your soul? When last did worship move your heart? When last did prayer empower your obedience? When last would you say you really “knew” God? Not just believed in him, or worked for him, or thought about him, but knew him the way you know your spouse or your best friend? If it’s been a while, Paul may know why.
Roadblocks to knowing God
Personal success can keep us from knowing God intimately.
Paul was born into an elite family and Roman citizenship. As the star pupil of Gamaliel, he was renowned for his intellectual brilliance. He was a Pharisee, the elite religious and political leaders of his nation. He was wealthy enough to support himself in travels around the world. But now he says that “whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ” (v. 7).
Is social or financial success your real goal today? Is Jesus just one part of your life? Is the church just one part of your schedule? I know you didn’t intend it to happen, but maybe it has. Is it honestly more important to you that your children succeed socially than that they know God intimately? Is it more important to you that your job or house or car or school impress others than that your faith impresses God? If the highest goal of your life for this new year is not to know God, today is the day to consider all this “loss for the sake of Christ.”
Personal failure can keep us from knowing God intimately.
Paul was known for “persecuting the church” (v. 6), arranging for Christians to die for their faith. When he was first converted, no one in the church wanted to talk to him, because they were afraid of him. Later he would call himself the “chief of sinners” (1 Tim 1:15). But he was able to know God.
Is personal failure keeping you from knowing God intimately today? Guilt over sins you’ve confessed but not forgotten? Know that God has forgiven and forgotten every sin you’ve admitted to him. If he could use a murderer like Moses, an adulterer like David, or a persecutor like Paul, he can use you. If problems in your past are keeping you from knowing God, today is the day to count your failures “loss for the sake of Christ.”
And religious success can keep us from knowing God intimately.
Paul was so engaged in the rules and rites of his religion that he missed the God they were intended to serve and honor. He knew about God, but he did not know him.
You and I can be so involved in the church that we miss Christ. We can be so busy working for Jesus that we forget to walk with him. Or we can assume that our religious activities guarantee a personal relationship with him. If you are active in the church but not intimate with Christ, today is the day to consider all else “loss for the sake of Christ.”
The gospel, the good news that God loves us and wants an intimate relationship with us, the incredible fact that our Father will forgive our sins because of Jesus’ death for us and make us his children–this is the treasure hidden in the field, the “pearl of great price” (Matthew 13:44-46).
This is the message Paul and the other apostles gave their lives to tell the world. This is the news which more than a million early Christians died to share. The greatest “stone of remembrance” is the Rock of Ages, cleft for me, the Chief Cornerstone, the Lord Jesus himself.
Is he your pearl of great price? Do you “consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus your Lord” (v. 8)? Will you sacrifice the time to meet him each morning, submitting to him as your King? To settle for nothing less than a personal, intimate connection with him each day?
Let’s decide early in this new year that Paul was right, that we will consider everything in life as “loss” and “rubbish” compared to the joy of knowing Jesus as our best friend, Savior, and Lord. That we will seek an intimate, passionate relationship with him every day. That we will know Jesus, wherever we are, whatever the cost.
During World War II, three American divisions had pressed the defending Nazi paratroopers to the tip of the Crozon peninsula in southern France. In the desperate final hours of the battle, men on both sides were killed and wounded.
One young soldier from the 8th Division was brought to the first-aid station with a shattered leg. The corpsmen did what they could to stop the bleeding, then looked for someone to carry the man back to the waiting ambulance. Four volunteers lifted the stretcher to their shoulders and began the march away from the front lines. The wounded man was obviously in pain; as he rolled his head to the side he noticed a cross on the collar of one of the stretcher-bearers. He asked, “Are you a chaplain?”
“Yes, I am, can I do something for you?” “Do you know that old tune, ‘He walks with me and he talks with me’?” “I sure do–want me to sing it for you?” “Better than that, Chaplain, you sing melody and I’ll sing tenor.”
Quite a few soldiers along the road lifted their heads in surprise as they heard, amidst the whine of incoming artillery shells and the rat-tat-tat of machine gun fire, the sound of two men singing in the middle of a war, “And the joy we share, as we tarry there, none other has ever known.”
In the midst of your battles, whatever they are, would you stop this morning and sing that song? Make it your resolve for this new year, joining the apostle of old: “I want to know Christ. Whatever it takes, wherever he leads, whatever he asks. This will be my ‘stone of remembrance’ this year–I knew Jesus.” Is it so for you today?