For the last couple of weeks, we’ve been looking at the word joy. And what that means to us and how we live our lives. You might recall that I mentioned my joy is sometimes connected to the outcome of certain sporting events. Actually, just one...the NBA Championships. And only when the Lakers are playing. This year they were there. And they won. And I’m still rejoicing.
Their hard-earned victory was exactly what our city needed. Before the coronavirus shut down the county, before fires destroyed millions of acres of our state, before people filled our city streets to protest racial injustice, Los Angeles suffered a massive lost on January 26, when Kobe and Gigi Bryant, and 7 others tragically perished in a helicopter crash. So yeah, this particular championship is just what we needed. It resuscitated joy back into the heartbeat of the city.
Before Kobe left the NBA, he spent his entire 20-year career with the Lakers: winning 5 national championships, 7 MVP awards, 2 Olympic gold medals just to name a few. Afterward, he would go on to win an Oscar.
The night he officially retired from the purple and gold, Kobe did what Kobe did best. He put it all on the line – scoring 60 points alone for one last win over the Utah Jazz. It was a bittersweet, joyous occasion. Whether it’s leaving a career or giving in to sobriety, saying goodbye to something that has defined you for so long is often bittersweet.
When I left advertising, I was ready to pursue something new. Something that would challenge me creatively but would also be so fulfilling that I’d want to get up every day to do the job. Despite its challenges, ministry has brought me more joy than I ever imagined. I get to pray at work. And talk about God without being labelled that weird Jesus freak everyone tries to avoid. Even though many of you still try to do that. I’ve since learned that ministry can be emotionally and spiritually difficult job. But to live my faith out loud is a happy reward.
A recent study has shown that people who retire often struggle to find joy in their lives. In fact, 40% suffer from depression – triggered by feelings uselessness or insignificance, believing that they have nothing left to contribute to the greater good of the world. As we will see in Paul’s letter to the Philippians, that’s not the case. In fact, we all have something to do and to contribute and in doing it we will reap the benefits of true everlasting joy.
What I’m getting at, friends, is that you should simply keep on doing what you’ve done from the beginning. When I was living among you, you lived in responsive obedience. Now that I’m separated from you, keep it up. Better yet, redouble your efforts. Be energetic in your life of salvation, reverent and sensitive before God. That energy is God’s energy, an energy deep within you, God himself willing and working at what will give him the most pleasure. Do everything readily and cheerfully—no bickering, no second-guessing allowed! Go out into the world uncorrupted, a breath of fresh air in this squalid and polluted society. Provide people with a glimpse of good living and of the living God. Carry the light-giving Message into the night so I’ll have good cause to be proud of you on the day that Christ returns. You’ll be living proof that I didn’t go to all this work for nothing. - Philippians 2:12-16
Right out of the gate, Paul tells us we need to get to work. You got to keep on doing what you’ve been doing…living in obedience…be energetic…but have reverence…no bickering, no second-guessing. No matter where we are employed, the goal of our labor should always be as Paul puts it to “provide people with a glimpse of good living and of the living God.”
What does that job look like to you? Showing up to church on Sundays? Being kind and getting along with everyone? Or being generous with your time and money? Volunteering or going out of your way to help someone in need?
For Paul, this meant getting up every day to live his life in accordance to God’s will; mirroring his life on that of Christ so others can come to know God’s glory. This is what it means to be faithful – to act on your faith that you have in Christ. This also means we can’t sleep in or take an early retirement. We have to get up every day and punch the clock for Christ.
The gospels only give us a small glimpse into the life of Jesus. What we know about his ministry is that he didn’t spend a lot of time sitting around quibbling over who was the greatest shooting guard in NBA history. He knew it’s Kobe. Whenever Jesus tried to rest or even retire for the night, people would come begging for help. And every time he saw them, Jesus had compassion for them.
Jesus spent his time living out the gospel – loving, healing, feeding, caring for God’s children so God’s glory could be seen, and God’s grace be given.
A couple of days ago I was talking with my mom about Medicare and Social Security. She said she didn’t get a lot because she only worked for a year or so. I told her that was not actually true. She worked tirelessly to keep our home and family running. Yet she still had time to run for public office, volunteer for numerous political campaigns, cheer at our sporting events and so much more.
Although my mother brought her own flavor to a conversation, it was always seasoned with the gospel. She knew her job wasn’t just a housewife or mother. She was also a beloved child of God who still shares the good news by living the gospel as best as she can be.
This reminds of me of a story in John’s gospel when Jesus is walking in the temple and a group approached him and said, “Tell us plainly, are you the Messiah?” This is a title given to God’s anointed savior. Jesus answered the men, “I’ve told you already, and yet you don’t believe. The works that I do in God’s name reveal who I am” (John 10:22-30).
What does this say about us? How does our work describe who we are?
Jesus worked out the gospel by bringing the good news to others in the way he lived out his faith and faithfulness to doing God’s will. This tells me that if we want to have real joy in our lives, we have to take the gospel, the very gift of our salvation, and put it into productive use. When we live short of all that God has given to us our joy is short lived.
Kobe Bryant took his gift to create multiple championships. He worked out constantly to keep his body in optimal health, and to stay at the top of his game. As students of Christ, we must constantly work on our spiritual health and wellbeing. We have to work out, what God has worked in us.
I think this is what Paul meant when he wrote, “Carry the light-giving message into the night so I’ll have good cause to be proud of you on the day that Christ returns. You’ll be living proof that I didn’t go to all this work for nothing.”
Paul worked out his salvation by mirroring Christ. So did all the Apostles, and all the saints before us. What they all showed us is that this job is what Henri Nouwen described “a daily work out of our salvation…to make our own lives available to others as sources of new life and joy.”
Just as Jesus pointed out to the men in the temple, our true identity cannot be reduced to a job title. I couldn’t say Kobe is the greatest basketball player of all time if he never played the game. Likewise, the gospel has to be lived out, it has to be experienced.
Salvation is not just a theory or religious concept. It’s a reality we live in and live out daily. The early church grew exponentially because they experienced Jesus firsthand through the works and words of the Apostles. This experience was passed down through the generations. To this day, people will continue to experience the everlasting joy of Christ through us.
That’s the church’s job. And by your faith in Christ, you are a part of his church. It’s in our living out the gospel that people will come to know who we are, and what we stand for or believe in. We need to get up and work out the Christ in us everyday. We need to let Christ’s joy be felt in the way we love God, love others, and serve both.
That’s the mission of New Church Sherman Oaks. We chose it because we believe Jesus meant it when he said, “They will know you are mine by the way you love one another.” As the church we carry on Jesus’ legacy. We become the visible presence of his love; the very place where joy is born. We invite you to join us in this mission, and to be a part of this good news.
Like Erma Bombeck once said, “When I stand before God at the end of my life, I would hope that I would not have a single bit of talent left and could say, ‘I used everything you gave me’”. Will you be able to say that?
Lebron, Anthony Davis, and the LA Lakers bench did this last Sunday. They used all that they had. And now they rejoice. Kobe used everything God gave him, every time he stepped on a basketball court...or a boardroom. And of course, Jesus left every last bit of himself on the hard wood of that old rugged cross.
Today it’s our turn. God has employed us to be more like Jesus, who through his righteous works of love was raised up and became one with God.
Like Jesus, we too will find our truest joy being one with God allowing God to work through us. And when God works through us life's most difficult challenges can be overcome. Joy can be had. Like Paul realized and shared with us, in Christ God has given to us all the abundance of life so we can pour out our life generously for others with great joy.
Whether you’re retired, unemployed, or overworked this is the goal. You might be student or in the midst of changing careers, but Christ is still calling you because there’s still a lot of work to be done.
Whether you are facing difficult challenges and overwhelming uncertainty – the work you do in Christ’s name is never done in vain. But done in glory of the One has given us everlasting joy through our glorious salvation.
Let us pray:
“God, help us to make the choice to live for your glory, to grow to be more like Jesus. Knowing that you will work out what we can’t work in. Help us to pour out our lives; recognizing that you are working in us with what you’ve already given to us in and through Christ Jesus. Amen.”
Bible. Philippians 2:12-18; (The Message).
Cook, John, ed. The Book of Positive Quotations: 2nd Edition. Minneapolis: Fairview Press, 1993.
Holladay, Tom. Philippians: The Eight Places Joy Is Won or Lost. El Toro: Saddleback Church, 2014.
Mahan, Michael. "How to find more meaning at work." Relevant, Jan-Feb 2016: 38-39.
Miles, Sara. Jesus Freak: Feeding, Healing, Raising the Dead. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2010.
Nouwin, Henri. Bread of Life. New York: Harper-Collins, 2007.
has been blogging under the name: Jesus not Jesús: Looking for Christ in the face of strangers. You can read his posts and browse his archives by clicking here.
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