For God’s Good Pleasure

Delivered November 24, 2002 by Rev. Lloyd Umbarger,
Pastor Emeritus of the Westminster Presbyterian Church in Bay City, Michigan and Parrish Associate at Christ Our King Presbyterian Church.

Theme: God wants you to be a part of his good purpose and it is a good purpose, to bring grace and love and mercy and forgiveness to the whole world.

Sermon Text:
Philippians 2:1-13

I just want to say what a delightful event it is for me to be here. It’s interesting. In the last several months I’ve been involved in the life of Central in a number of ways. Here’s a young married couple right down here, Tony and Tatiana. They got married this summer and I had the pleasure of taking part in that wedding here and also when I was at the University of Maryland, I was a physical education major. I wanted to be a professional baseball player and I got cut from the squad twice, so I started asking some serious questions, like who’s in charge? And that led to a vital faith. I grew up in Belair, Maryland and on the way back to college I would come back by here and to this church, to the college fellowship when Murray Smoot would teach and preach and he has always been a great friend and so it’s interesting to be back here and preach for him, filling in for him at this period of time. I also have another connection that’s really neat. There is a young couple that just joined your congregation here from Michigan, Brian and Julie and they are standing right there. Should we make them get up? Yep, from Michigan. There we are. Brian comes from the Allen Park Presbyterian Church outside of Detroit and the assistant associate pastor there now is a young guy who was the associate pastor and worked with me in Bay City, Michigan. His son went into ministry, and is now at his church. It’s a small world, isn’t it? And Julie, I baptized about 26 years ago when she was that long. 24 years ago, oh, oh, oh. 24 years ago. So, great connections and I am delighted to be here and share this life with you. My wife Sara is here and we have been together now for 43 years, 44. What’s a year here or there.

The sermon title is “For God’s Good Pleasure.” And the scripture that sets it up comes from Philippians, the 2nd chapter. It’s really set up in the first chapter. Paul’s letter to the Philippians was just an immense piece of work. I hope you will read it. It’s four chapters long. It’s just one of the great passages in the New Testament. And while you’re at it, look at Jonah in the Old Testament. That’s another one of my favorites. That’s also just four chapters. The Book of Jonah and the Book of Philippians. The second chapter of Philippians is set up with a verse in Chapter one, verse 29 and it goes like this.

“For God has graciously granted you the privilege not only in believing in Christ, but of suffering for him as well.”

And the context of the Book of Philippians, the Christian life in the first century was suffering, and that’s our context. It’s not an easy concept. A delightful elderly gentlemen came out of the last service and he says while shaking my hand, “I have trouble believing that God wants us to suffer.” And that is a honest statement that Christians have made for the 2,000 years that Christians have been in existence. It’s not that God wants us to suffer, as if somehow he wants to pick on us, it is the process of salvation for the world is so intense and so real that suffering is the outbreak of God’s effort to bring to the world his eternal love and of course that is most personified in his own son. So suffering is the context of the New Testament. Writings, this particular letter of Paul’s. He is in a prison in Rome when he is writing this letter to the Philippians saying, thank you for all your support, your prayers, your help, your sending buddies to come and help me and every other word is “rejoice in the lord always” and “thank you, thank you and thank you.” It’s filled with love and praise and rejoicing and thanksgiving and he sits in prison in Rome. And you think “what a downer,” not to Paul. He understood what we must understand, suffering, being bent out of shape, people not understanding where we are coming from, don’t like what we have to say, and the style we are talking about existing and the mercy. There was no mercy in the Roman language. They didn’t have a word for mercy. And the Roman centurions demonstrated that daily. There was no mercy. Christians talked about mercy. What? A bunch of weaklings. They had trouble and Christians are going to have trouble as long as you breathe. But it’s a good trouble. It’s a good suffering, the kind that Jesus went through and I want to show you this in this passage in Philippians 2. Starting at Verse 1 to Verse 13. I am going to be giving it in a different translation that I think you have. You have New International. I will be giving it to you in the New Revised Standard Version.

“If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete,” the Apostle Paul is saying. “Be of one mind. Be of one purpose.” Well you got some help of here, okay good. One consummation of love and one mind, he goes back and repeats it again. Making a big deal about that.

“Do nothing from self-centeredness or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interest, but to the interest of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus who though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself taking the form of a slave being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave me the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus, every knee should bend in heaven and on earth and under the earth. And every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father. Therefore, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed me, not only in my presence, but much more now in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both the will and to work for his good pleasure.”

Now before you fall asleep or get distracted or start doing anything else, I want you to just remember that our life if not for our pleasure, it’s for God’s pleasure. We were created by God for his pleasure, not for ours. Now it does not mean that we do not get pleasure, but that’s not the purpose. We are designed and redeemed and sustained and powered by the Holy Spirit to bring glory and honor to God. And folks it is not easy to arrive at that conclusion. We all know that, don’t we? As you are growing up you know the tensions that are going on between, what do you want to do and what God wants you to do. I was talking about the tension that I faced as a young person at college wanting the dream to play baseball and it wasn’t happening. I won’t bore you with any more of the details. It just wasn’t happening and a buddy came to see me and he said, “Hey, Lloyd, what would you say if you learned that God wanted you on his team?” I said, “It would be wonderful. Nobody else wants me on their team.” That’s where I was and I welcomed the possibility of Jesus Christ being alive into my heart. I simply was in room 214 of Kent Hall in the University of Maryland, the spring of 1952. That’s before your parents were born. And the room was filled with a peace that has never gone away, the room was just aglow and was totally silent. Totally silent. And I had this incredible, ah-ha. It was just great. This is it and I knew it. I knew it. And then something involuntarily changed in my head, just like the computers. Do you know how many things change in that computer and you have nothing to do with it? Anyway, the question changed in my head from “what’s good for me,” that’s the one I was always asking. That’s the one we naturally ask. No one has to do that. What’s good for me? And the question changed to “Lord, what do you want me to do?” And that’s a devastating question, because it is not easy to get the answer. The other one is easy to get and you want to surround yourself with the people who make you look good. You want to do the things that you like to do and make you feel comfortable and warm and cozy and fuzzy, and then when God comes he fills you with peace and in the peace you ask the question. I am going to be talking about that next Sunday on how you discover this peace of God and the fourth chapter of Philippians. So if you want to do homework, work through Philippians this week. It’s four chapters. And work on the fourth chapter. The peace of God, wonderful.

And this peace leads you into wanting to know the answer to the question that you didn’t want anyone to ask you, most notably God. Don’t you remember doing that? You have all done this. I remember when I was in high school and this classmate came in one Monday morning to class and said, “I just went on this retreat” and she was a Baptist and she says, “I am going to be a missionary to Africa.” And we all said, “Whoa that’s a pretty serious commitment. You’re going to be a missionary to Africa?” “Yes.” And then we graduated and at the 25th high school reunion, she and her husband were there. Sara and I had been in the ministry for 25 years at that point and I said, “Let’s go ask her if she did become this missionary.” So I went up to her and she and her husband, we were all dancing and I said, “By the way Mary, did you become a missionary to Africa?” And she stopped and she gets this sort of frozen expression on her face and her husband goes, “Mary, missionary to Africa.” And I said to Sara, “Let’s get out of here before they ask what we have been doing for the last 25 years.” I mean, you never know. She thought she wanted to do that. She really was serious. It just didn’t happen. When I was there, I had no intention of being involved in the life of the church, because it was obviously too slow. And I thought it was simple. If I wanted to avoid being a missionary to Africa, don’t let God have any questions. That’s how we keep God off. And then we do bargains with him. We come and say, “I will do this if you do this.” Have you ever done that? I use to do that. I was captain of the baseball team in Belair High School and we went to Havre De Grace and it rained the night before and I said as I got on my knees by my dad and I said, “Lord, I pray that we have a sunny day tomorrow.” And the sun came out beautifully. We went to Havre De Grace, I led off the game with a triple, scored on an infield out on second base and we won the ball game 1 to 0. That night I am on my knees again. “Lord, it has been a great day.” They don’t all turn out like that. You do not control that action. But the Lord wants to be involved in our lives and isn’t it interesting that even then I knew that there was this interaction going on, I just didn’t know how this worked and the truth is we all try to do it our way. We want God supporting us. We really want him seeing that we are happy and pleasant, and peaceful, healthy and wealthy. And you know God is not interested ultimately in any of that. Our lives were designed to be healthy, but if you don’t have it, he just wants what you got. How many here were here to hear Alan Tibbels, two weeks ago when he preached. He was in a wheelchair. Isn’t he an impressive human being. He is just a great guy. He had an accident playing basketball. Driving in to the basket full speed, sandlot, cement wall. He hit his head. Paralyzed from the waist down. What are you going to do with that? “Okay Lord, you got what’s left.” And that is what God wants. He wants what we have. The Apostle Paul went through that. You can read about that in Acts, Acts 9 is the big one, but to get the whole story, you got to go to Acts 23 and Acts 26, when he is telling the story to two of the locations before a king and some other place and he keeps filling in the details and I thought that is so real. When you tell the first story of how you came to know Christ and what that tension was about, you don’t have it all in the first story, you go “oh yeah, oh yeah,” and you keep remembering other little nuances and you add that later.

God is at work in you. Whether you believe it or not. It doesn’t matter. You say, well so and so doesn’t believe. I don’t care. I know something about him that he doesn’t know about himself. God is at work in your life and he is going to bug you until you submit. That’s what love is like. God is at work in you.

Do we have some power points on the imperatives? I want to talk about the text, which is Verse 13, which says, “God is at work in you, enabling you to will and to work for his good pleasure.” God enables you to want to do this. You can’t do it. “I want to do the will of God.” Have you ever heard anybody say that? Not when they are awake. People don’t go around saying that. “I want to do the will of God.” Right. You don’t want to do the will of God, that is what you can take credit for. If you ever do feel you want to do the will of God, it’s the Holy Spirit working against your natural self-centerness. The normal. Then, even if you decide you want to do the will of God and you go, “I can’t do this.” You can not do it on your own strength, because God is calling for our death and resurrection. This is what baptism is all about. Baptism is, however its by immersion or water on top of the head or whatever, the implication of our Christian baptism is we go in to the water and die and we come out of the water, we are raised to new life. Now this is why I love Jonah and you got to go read Jonah, that’s for the next day when you are working this week, read Jonah and in the second chapter is a prayer, after he’s dumped off in to the water, swallowed by the fish, he is in the darkness of that cavern, it’s great writing and he goes, “Um, I think I forgot something. It’s a little stuffy in here. I know how I got in, but how do I get out?” By the way, that is my favorite prayer as a pastor for 40 years. All the stuff that goes on in churches and in the community, all the trouble everywhere and some of it I get in to trouble and my favorite prayers is, “Lord, I know how I got in here, how do I get out of the dilemma?” And you know he always shows you. You don’t always like his solution, but he shows you. Jonah didn’t like his mission in the first place. The Lord says, “Jonah, I want you to go up to Nineveh, that enemy city and proclaim the gospel to those people.” And Jonah did not want the Lord to give those folks a chance at all to repent. And so he gets on a boat and goes the other way. “I am not going to do that.” Have you ever said no the Lord? Come on. Everybody in the room has said no. The Lord says, “I want you to do this.” And you go, “Uh-huh, not a chance. It will be a cold day … in a lot of places before I do that.” But you know the Lord has a way of working this out.

As a phy-ed major I never had to take any languages. It was intentional. One of the reasons that I took that as a major, so what happened. I get called in to the ministry in the Presbyterian Church of all places, because they demand Hebrew and Greek by all the ministers. And I am sitting here learning Greek and Hebrew. I guarantee you; it is not the most popular languages in the world. But they happen to be the ancient words of which you do word studies and it opens up the scriptures and I eventually found that very exciting stuff, because of the results and it just opens things up. But the church has always been too slow and I have always felt that way. In every church I have been in, I have told them so. I said, “You know, I have never changed my mind. The church is too slow. Always has been and always will be.” I have to make the adjustment. It is obvious that God is in no hurry. And God has a way of working in to your future whatever it is you have said; “I am not going to do that.”

I had this beautiful lady who went with me in Bay City Michigan to a nursing home and she was a great singer. She didn’t have a great voice, she had a great attitude and she would lean forward and belt out Christians songs like they were torte singers, you know and everybody would clap and applaud and so she says, “I am never ever going to do that.” I said, “You repent right now, you just woke up seven angels and they are at this moment planning that for your future.” And her response was, “I repent! I repent!” You can not tell God what you’re not going to do. That is if you agree that our life is for his pleasure, not for ours. And you are going to have to have your disappointed expectations before you agree with that statement. For me it was the baseball thing. You, it’s something else.

Detrick Bonhoeffer, the professor at Union Seminary in New York, who gave up his safe and secured honored position as a professor in that institution to go back to Germany in World War II, to take on the responsibility of the underground to try to get rid of Adolph Hitler, because he was convinced he was destroying the country, which he did. And he was later captured and put to death by the Nazis, right at the end of the war. And he wrote a lot of things from prison. A lot of great Christian writings come out of prisons. Pilgrim’s Progress was written in prison in England. And if you want something that just knocks your socks off, Martin Luther King Jr’s Letter from Birmingham Jail is absolutely incredible. God does something to people when they get isolated and the Apostle Paul did the same thing. He’s in jail. House arrest. In Rome, writing to the Philippians and tradition says that he had praetorian guards, that’s mentioned in a couple of places, he had praetorian guards seeing to it that he did not leave his house. Crack troops and the Apostle Paul goes, “Okay, if I can’t go around the empire and preach, I’ll get these guys.” Can’t you see each one, the shift off every three or four hours, good. “A new batch now let me tell you a story. Let me tell you about Jesus of Nazareth. He has risen from the dead and he wants to be in you, and he …” And these guys went all over the empire preaching the gospel, instead of him going all over the empire, in this strange bizarre way, some very intelligent men are brought to his doorstep, day after day, hour after hour. That’s the way God works in this bizarre world. It doesn’t make sense to us, but God seems to take great delight in doing that. So much so that he will even use you and me. How’s that for a miracle?

Alright. In this passage of chapter two of Philippians, go and read this sometime. Ponder it. There are ten imperatives in there, where Paul said, “you need to do this and you need to do that,” but it’s all centered around this fact that God wants you to be a part of his good purpose and it is a good purpose. We are not a part of always doing good things, but God is. So let me end with this thing on good. If you notice that text, it’s for God good purpose, the good purpose is to bring grace and love and mercy and forgiveness to the whole world. God has made the decision and we are all invited in, but he needs to be using you and I to get that message out. We have to be a part of that transition or it isn’t going to happen. Our forefather, John Calvin, of the Presbyterian Church, his favorite Psalm was Psalm 100 and I want you to work this out with me as we conclude and you tell me why, see if you can figure out why this is John’s favorite Psalm.

Alright, I will give you a line and you give it back, alright?

Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth.
Worship the Lord with gladness.
Enter his temple with Thanksgiving.
Enter his temple with singing.
Know that the Lord is God.
It is he that made us and not we ourselves.
We are his people and the sheep of his pasture.
Enter his gates with Thanksgiving and his courts with praise.
Bless his name.
For the Lord is good.
The Lord is good.
The Lord is good.
His steadfast love endures forever.
And his faith endureth to all generations.

Now why did John Calvin consider that his favorite Psalm? Praise for God. But there is a theme in there. There is one theme and I thought we jumped on that pretty good. Because God is good and John Calvin lived in a pretty tough time, not unlike our own and he wasn’t sure that anything else was good. In fact, he made it pretty clear, he called it “Doctrine of Total Depravity,” to which I heard a guy say in a convention center in Cincinnati, “That’s a very good doctrine. Very democratic. It levels us all.” God is good. We’re not good.

Psalm 16 starts like this, “Protect me O God for in you I take refuge. I say to the Lord, you are my Lord. I have no good apart from you.” That’s the gospel. It’s a great gospel. Go out into your world of relationships in your homes, families, places of business and work and go with the conviction that God is at work in you and in them. Follow the leading of the spirit and watch the dance of conversation and smiles and twinkles of the eyes and the questions and the security of knowing that God is good and is working in all of us to bring about a larger force to get to the rest of the world that Jesus is Lord and King and it’s always going to be like that. Praise God. Thank you.