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Thursday, January 12, 2017

Inhabiting Two Worlds (Philippians 3:18-21)

Inhabiting Two Worlds (Philippians 3:18-21)
Rob Tennant, HillSong Church, Chapel Hill, NC
“Facebook Live Post” – Sunday we got Snowed Out – 1/8/17

Good Morning.  We here in North Carolina have been totally thrown off by weather that people in Michigan or Wisconsin might describe as a normal January day.  In those Northern states, this is no big deal; some snow, some sleet.  Whatever!  But, for us in the Tar Heel state, everything closes, including church.  The roads are covered and in my neighborhood, kids are sledding down the middle of the street.  Nobody wants to drive out to worship services when temperatures are barely in the 20’s.
I hope you have taken time this morning to pray and worship God.  Our family sang some worship songs and shared Bible readings that are on our minds.  We prayed together.
If we were at HillSong, in the sermon, time, I would continue what I began the year discussing – the quest to see more of God.  As part of my study for these messages that have opened 2017, I have revisited a couple of my favorite Philip Yancey books – Reaching for the Invisible God and Rumors of Another World.  In Rumors, Yancey touches on the notion that we live in two realities – the Heavenly realm inhabited by God and unseen by human eyes, and the earthly realm which we experience everyday with our five senses.  In his treatment of this peculiar dynamic – us living two realities concurrently – he refers to two other authors who also saw things this way: C.S. Lewis and Augustine of Hippo.
Augustine’s great work City of God shows how we are residents of two cities – the one, the city of man, is where find ourselves now.  But in Christ, we are oriented toward something more permanent – the eternal city of God.  I picked up an e-version of City of God on Google play for under $2.  I am just a few pages into the 800-page work, so I will have to report back on that later. 
C.S. Lewis deals with the two worlds with his brilliant creativity in the Chronicles of Narnia series.  In another of his novels, the Great Divorce, Lewis depicts the Heavenly realm as decidedly more real.  The physicality, the vibrancy, and tangibility in the Heavenly realm are all more than we in this earthly realm can tolerate.  However, if we have in our lives grown in our knowledge of God and our relationship with God, then we gradually change.  The theological term is ‘transformation.’  We become prepared to divorce this fallen life and move into eternity – eternity spent in resurrection in God’s presence. 
All three writers – Philip Yancey, C.S. Lewis, and St. Augustine – have helped me understand that what we see around us is not all there is.  The reality I cannot see with my eyes but that God reveals to our spirits is more permanent and real than what I know by sight and sound, taste, touch, and smell.    Another Christian thinker who elaborated on the two levels of living is Biblical author Paul the Apostle.
Paul was a Jew from Tarsus.  He also went by the name Saul.  He was an expert in the scriptures, a Pharisee.  First century Pharisees, one group among many in that era of Judaism, were the ones who preceded the group now known as Rabbis.  Pharisee Paul felt that the new group, the followers of Jesus, were blasphemers.  He had arrest orders from Jerusalem to bring Christians into custody on blasphemy charges.  However, the resurrected Jesus met him in a blinding flash of light on the road to Damascus.  Saul the Christian-persecuting Pharisee became Paul, church-planting follower of Jesus.  He began traveling the Mediterranean world, starting churches.  One of those churches was the city of Philippi.  After starting that church, he writes a letter back to them and that letter is in our New Testament: Paul’s letter to the Philippians.
He writes in chapter 3 of that letter,
18 For many live as enemies of the cross of Christ; I have often told you of them, and now I tell you even with tears. 19 Their end is destruction; their god is the belly; and their glory is in their shame; their minds are set on earthly things. 20 But our citizenship[l] is in heaven, and it is from there that we are expecting a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. 21 He will transform the body of our humiliation[m] that it may be conformed to the body of his glory,[n] by the power that also enables him to make all things subject to himself.

Paul’s two levels of understanding are clear.  He knows he is a citizen of the world.  He even sounds a bit arrogant in describing how he fits in the world.  In verse 5 of chapter three he writes,
circumcised on the eighth day, a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.

Paul wasn’t just an average Joe.  He had a privileged status in Jewish society as a Pharisee and before deciding to follow Jesus, he used that status.  He also used his position when became a disciple.  In addition to being a Jewish Pharisee, Paul was a citizen of the Roman Empire.  And in the book of Acts, when he gets arrested on false charges, he uses his citizenship in order to appeal to the Emperor.  He does this in order to preach salvation in Jesus in the capital – Rome itself.
Paul exhibited an extraordinary intellect.  He was adept in using earthly systems in Israel, Greece, and Rome for the Heavenly goal of helping people come to faith in Jesus. 
Yet as we read, he tells the Philippian believers as well as future readers of the leader, people like you and me, “our citizenship is in Heaven.”  When he returns, he transforms each of us so that we conform to his glory.  What exactly does that mean?  It means after death, our bodies are resurrected as Jesus’ body was.  It means at his return – the Second Coming – he calls us to Himself and live in loving fellowship with God and with one another forever.
The most important effect of that promise of eternal love and fellowship with God is the way it forms how we live today, in the here and now as we await Jesus’ return.  Anticipating the final act of salvation and paying attention to the way God speaks to our hearts, we begin practicing the loving fellowship of Heaven in our lives on earth.  Because we know God is real and is present, we forgive instead of holding grudges.  Because we feel the touch of the Holy Spirit, we are motivated by love, not by selfish desire. 
Paul contrasts citizens of Heaven, followers of Jesus, with those he calls enemies of the cross.  He has certain Christian-persecutors in mind, but we can extend his definition to anyone who is apart from God and has no relationship with Jesus and has not receive forgiveness of sin.  Paul writes that their end is their destruction and their God is their belly.  People apart from God are driven by what satisfies them in life.  Followers of Jesus are convinced that God knows better how to fulfill than we do.  We trust that God’s grace is what we need more than anything else.  This is why Jesus says we “die to self.”  We know God will give life, so we give ourselves to God.
Paul was so convinced of this that he writes in Philippians 1:21,
21 For to me, living is Christ and dying is gain. 22 If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me; and I do not know which I prefer. 23 I am hard pressed between the two: my desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better; 24 but to remain in the flesh is more necessary for you. 25 Since I am convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with all of you for your progress and joy in faith, 26 so that I may share abundantly in your boasting in Christ Jesus when I come to you again.

Paul was so acutely aware of the blessings of Heaven, he considered himself a citizen there – not here on earth – and he wanted to depart from here in order to be there.  That was his honest desire.  But that God-awareness also made it crystal clear to Paul what his calling was.  God wanted Paul to plant churches, help people become Christians, and build up the way of Christ in the Roman Empire.  Because he knew of another world, the Heavenly realm, and because his certainty of the reality and goodness of God was unshakable, he devoted his life to establishing communities of love on earth.
When we inhabit two worlds, we always have hope because we know God is with us, because we know are part of a greater community, and because we know our future is resurrection.
When we inhabit two worlds, we try to do as much good here as we can because we have been and are being transformed into the image of Christ who is the supreme example of perfect compassion, complete forgiveness and mercy, and total love. 
If you are unaware of two world and your life is spent only this one, which is snowy in North Carolina today, I pray that you would come to know Jesus as your Savior.  Ask God to come into your heart, forgive your sins, and open your mind to His presence and love.  When the snow clear, drive to a church and meet the people there.  Find out what they are all about and what it means to have life in Christ.
If you are aware of two worlds – Heaven and Earth – I pray that today your citizenship in the Heavenly world will form how you live in the earthly one.  Let Christ speak in you.  Be a person of compassion.  Be patient with the world around you.  The world is fallen and is falling away from God.  We in the church are his agents.  Through us He speaks his promise of salvation and redemption.  If you know of the Heavenly realm, let your life speak.  Maybe someone you know is hurting and the healing will begin when they meet Jesus in you.

Thanks for listening everyone.  Wherever you are, I pray you feel God’s blessing today.  

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