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About this series
I Choose Joy
How to Live Life Above Your Circumstances
In the midst of difficulty, chaos, and continual pressure, what is it that sets a believer apart from the crowd? What causes people to notice that there's something supernatural at work in their lives? In this series, from the book of Philippians, Chapter 1, Chip tells us it's joy! He explains how understanding the power of focus, purpose, hope, and expectation enables an ordinary believer to live life above circumstances, weather the worst storms, and experience true joy.More from this series
Kevin shared what it is like to be a young dad with four kids, stage four lymphoma, and battling, wondering, the real challenges of: am I going to live or am I going to die? And how am I going to go through this?
I read every time on Caring Bridge as Kevin journaled through this process. And I followed him with the ups and the downs and this prognosis and then that one and then how he is feeling.
And I wanted to share with you the four things that I learned from going through this journey with Kevin that I hope will be helpful for you.
The first thing I learned was that facing our mortality is both scary and clarifying. As I would read his journal it just reminded me that I am going to die. It reminded me of just, life is really short. It reminded me of the battle and the victory that we went through with cancer with my wife.
It just reminded me, gosh, the second thing was that very few things in life matter very much. Just as I would read these journal entries and he wasn’t worried about remodeling the kitchen or whether he was going to get a raise. He wasn’t concerned about, is he going to get 49er tickets, how his fantasy football team wasn’t really a big issue for him, right?
And the same thing, it just brought back all those memories that when we went through cancer, how projects, demands, what people think, what they don’t think – nothing really matters. Life is very, very simple when you get really, really close to death.
The third thing is that I have listened to Kevin and watched is that C + P really does = E. Our circumstances plus our perspective determines our experience. And as you listen, if you read the journals, if you went through it in real time with him, there were ups and downs and he was brutally honest. Brutally honest about fears, brutally honest about doubts and struggles.
But, also, it was an unwavering, “I am going to trust God. I am going to, I believe there is a heaven, I believe the Bible is true, I believe there is God’s character, His Spirit lives within me, there is a certainty, there’s a hope. And I am going to have an upward focus and an outward focus. And I am going to use this for God’s purposes. Those nurses are going to hear and see Christ. Other patients are going to hear and see Christ. Not because I’ve got it in me, but Christ in me.” I watched his life prove that.
And, finally, I think the thing I learned from Kevin is that only an eternal “P” – perspective – can produce peace and joy when facing death. When you look at life through just the lens of: now is all there is, I’ll tell you what, you cannot sustain it.
In fact, this wall, for me, is a lot like life. And these are the circumstances. And sometimes they’re great, but sometimes it’s a brick wall. And you got a marriage problem here and a singleness and you want to be married here and cancer biopsy here and you lose your job over here and you’re clinically depressed over here, and you just keep butting against this wall and you’re looking for hope and you’re looking for hope and you lose it and you lose it and you lose it and you lose it.
And after a while, you just give up! And you just start doing stuff that you didn’t think you would ever do because hope is the oxygen of the soul. If you don’t have hope, you die. You can go without food for seven days and water for about three. You can’t go without any hope for probably more than three or four minutes. We’ll do.
So what do you do? Here’s what Kevin did. Kevin said, “I can’t take it. I don’t know what is going to happen. So I am going to rise above my circumstances and I am going to look at eternity. That which is seen, temporal circumstances, I can’t change.
And it’s not a pitcher half-full. It’s completely full. It’s heaven waiting. It’s Christ. It’s all of His promises.
It’s a sovereign God; it’s: this life is not all there is. And I can look at that and I cling to that and it’s the anchor of my soul and it gives me the grace and the perspective and the perseverance to keep going. It takes an eternal perspective.
Here’s the question: How, when life is crashing in, do you develop that eternal perspective that gives you the kind of hope that allows you to go through anything, that allows you not to give up, not to give in, not to get inwardly focused, not become a victim, not blame everybody else, not blame God, but be the kind of person in the midst of you don’t know if you’re going to live or die and there’s pain and there are children and there’s a wife and there’s a concern, where nurses want to come in and go: “I don’t know what is going on in this room, but we’ll hang out here.”
That’s the presence of God; that’s the power of God. That’s a joy, not a happiness. That’s a reality experienced in the midst of crushing circumstances.
Well, if you open your notes, we are going to learn the answer to finding that kind of hope. And the answer is in a very simple, yet profound word. And it’s the key to eternal perspective. And the key word of the lens you need to look at is the lens of hope and the question to ask yourself when you’re really struggling is not just: where is my focus? And not just: what is my purpose? But: where is my hope? What is my hope rooted in?
And, by the way, when we use the word “hope” – English word “hope” has one meaning, the biblical word “hope” is a little bit different. When we use the word “hope” we often: I hope it doesn’t rain, I hope the 49ers win, I hope I get a good job, I hope someday I get married. We use the word “hope” in a good way, but it’s almost wishful thinking.
We hope for something positive in the future. It’s a good definition, there’s nothing wrong with that kind of hope. But that’s not the word in the Bible. The word in the Bible for “hope” is an absolute certainty that you can bank on that will never change. Christ’s return is the hope. Heaven is our hope. God’s promises are our hope. Jesus said that, “I will give you all the grace you need to get through any situation.” It’s a hope.
In other words, it’s the anchor of your soul. Biblical hope isn’t a possibility. It’s a guarantee of something unseen. The apostle Paul will later say, “That which is seen is temporal; that which is unseen is eternal.”
And it is both a skill and an act of faith to learn how to look at the unseen hope that sustains you. We pick up the story of the apostle Paul and it is now his third lesson. The context, for those that might be just joining us, he’s in Rome. He is chained to a praetorian guard that changes every six hours. It is not a good situation. He is on trial and at the end of the trial, he is either going to be released and found innocent, or he is going to be found guilty and be executed.
And when we pick up the story, he is in this situation where: “I don’t know what’s going to happen.” Imagine more than a little anxiety for most of us.
So what is his perspective in facing death? It’s crazy. It’s joy!
It’s joy! He actually has a joyful attitude facing death. He has an eternal perspective. Notice in verse 18 it says, “Yes, and I will continue to rejoice.” The question is: why and how could any individual, unless they are playing just mind games, how could you have joy in a terrible situation? You’ve been betrayed by your friends, there’s political issues happening in the Church, you are humanly thinking, God, You sent me to go to all the world and instead, here I am in this prison.
Little did he know that all these letters that he would write would change the course of history. He didn’t know that.
What was it that allowed him to have this amazing attitude in circumstances that would absolutely crush ninety-nine-point nine percent of the people? He gives us two reasons in Philippians chapter 1, verses 19 to 25.
Reason number one is that his deliverance is certain. His deliverance is certain. Underline the word deliverance. Follow along as I read. “For I know that this shall turn out for my deliverance,” – well, how? “through your prayers and the provision of the Spirit of Jesus Christ, according to my earnest expectation and hope, that I will not be put to shame in anything, but that with all boldness, Christ even now, as always, will be exalted in my body,” – well, how? “whether by life or by death.”
Paul is completely convinced that he is going to be delivered. Now, I want to do something with you. It’s kind of fun. The apostle Paul, I really like him, because he has run-on sentences. Because I have run-on sentences.
And the favorite grammatical punctuation in all of the English language for me is a semi-colon. That’s how you put multiple sentences together and not have the teacher take off.
And so I have written the notes in a way so you can see the structure of them. But let me give you just his sentence. And so what I want you to do is, “For I know that this will turn out for my deliverance,” put a line underneath that. Okay, you got it?
And then I want you to skip down where it says, “…according to my earnest expectation,” just underline the word, just, “that.” And then I want you to skip down a little bit farther and underline, “Christ will even now, as always, be exalted in my body.” His simple sentence is: “I know that this shall turn out for my deliverance, that Christ will, even now, as always, be exalted in my body.” And everything else, is the “whys,” the “wherefores,” the “hows,” and all those clauses to explain it. But they are really important.
First of all, put a box around the first, where he says, “For I know.” There are two Greek words for know. One is you know by way of experience. Powerful word. But that’s not this word. The other word is like you know, like physics. You know that water boils at such-and-such degrees or two plus two is four. That’s this word.
In other words, there is empirical facts. Paul says, “I have an empirical fact that doesn’t change that I will be delivered.” And put a box around the word deliverance. We get our word salvation. It means to be delivered out of. In the Old Testament, when the Red Sea parted, they were delivered.
So he says, “I know for certain I am going to be delivered that Christ is going to be exalted.” I want you to note his perspective on this. He says there are two reasons why I know I’m going to be delivered. One is the responsibility of man and the other is the sovereignty of God. Did you pick it up? He says, “I know I’m going to be delivered through, A, your prayers and, B, the provision of the Spirit of God.”
Despite anybody’s theology anywhere, the apostle Paul actually believed, when men and women, ordinary people like us would come to God earnestly, in faith, and claim his promises and in our heart, at least, and get down on our knees and intercede for the life of another person, it actually makes a difference. He is certain of his deliverance.
And for the provision. Put a circle around the word provision. It’s an interesting word. We get our word, are you ready? It’s weird. We get our word chorus. Like a singing group. And historically, this is kind of fun to give you a little background on this because in the ancient world, if you were a very, very wealthy person and in a smaller town, then there was entertainment and so the theatre was very big and they had these outdoor amphitheaters.
And if you were very wealthy, it was expected that you would bring a theatre group, that you would pay the theatre group, that you would rent the amphitheater, and everything that had to happen for their costumes, the group, the entrance – everything – so that you could entertain the city. And that’s this word chorus. Over time, it came to mean whatever it takes to pull this thing off, all the provision, the money, the time, the energy, the leadership. Everything it takes to pull something off, that’s what this word became.
And Paul says, “I am convinced of my deliverance because you all are praying and that whatever it takes, that the Spirit of God is going to bring into my life,” but notice, he doesn’t think his deliverance is necessarily out of his circumstances. He doesn’t say that: “I am going to be delivered and I’ll be released, that I’m going to be executed, that God is going to just deliver me out of it.”
He says, “I am convinced of my deliverance that Christ will be exalted in my body, whether I live or whether I die.” And then notice he says, “According to my earnest expectation.” It’s another very interesting word that has a, it’s a picture of someone who blocks everything out and brings a level of focus.
Imagine, if you will, the runner and you know what? He’s two, three yards and everyone is leaning in on the hundred-meter dash, and he leans forward. The crowd is gone, the noise is gone, and it’s a word that says, Paul is saying, “My eager expectation.” “My absolute focus.”
In other words, “I believe in this deliverance. I believe because of your prayers. I believe God is going to come through. And I have a laser-like focus in the promises and the character of God and I have a hope.”
Jesus promised – I have a hope – heaven is real. I have a hope – God is in control. I have a hope – God’s goodness says that whether I live or whether I die, His highest and best purposes, His hope is in the character, the promises, and the reality of God’s goodness and that the worst that can happen is he goes to heaven.
And so he says: earnest expectation – hope – his biggest concern is that he would be put to shame. But he says, “With all boldness that, Christ, even now, will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death.”
Notice, he prayed that what he would be delivered from is failure to represent Christ well in the midst of crushing circumstances. His biggest concern wasn’t whether he lived or died. His biggest concern was Christ’s reputation. Whoa.
There are three ways in Scripture that God delivers us and we tend to only think of one. So, get your pencil out, this will be helpful one day in your life.
I’m going to give it God’s plan A, God’s plan B, God’s plan C. Or, actually, it’s more probably accurate to say our plan A, our plan B, and our plan C.
Plan A, when God uses the word deliverance, He delivers you out of something. He does a miracle. I have had times where we had no money, we couldn’t pay the rent, there’s no way, I have no resources, and I get a check in the mail from someone that I have met once years ago, for a thousand dollars and I pay the rent and I go, “That’s a miracle! God delivered me out of it.” It happened again. A missionary from India, actually, sent me money during seminary to pay my bills. Go figure. He delivered me out of it.
I have had times where we have anointed people with oil, prayed for them, and seen a brain tumor miraculously go. Delivered them out of it. Praise God. He still does miracles. But we have prayed for people and three weeks later, they have died. God is in control. He has purposes. Some of which we understand; a lot of them that we don’t.
Deliverance number one: He delivers us out of the adversity or the difficulty.
Number two is He delivers us through them. Jot down: 2 Corinthians chapter 12, verses 9 and 10. This is what Paul is experiencing. He tells us that he had this amazing experience and so that he wouldn’t get proud, he was given a thorn in his flesh. Everyone postulates and guesses: is it malaria, is it an eye disease? We don’t know what it is. But all we know is that there was a bad back situation that he was struggling with and he was in pain all the time.
And God did not, and he prayed, Paul has got a pretty effective prayer life, wouldn’t you agree? And he asked God, in faith, believing, “Take it away! Take it away! Take it away!” And God said, “No, no, no. My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” And then Paul’s attitude changed and realized sometimes God wants to do a deeper thing in us and He doesn’t deliver us out of it, He delivers us through it, and as He delivers us through it, He refines us and our faith grows, and our character changes, and it’s very difficult and He gives us a joy and a contentment and a peace that is unexplainable externally apart from a living God doing something inside of you.
The third way that God delivers us is unto Himself. We were talking about this as pastors, we were going over the study earlier this week. And one of the guys in the group said, “You know what’s kind of odd is that in our day, we think the worst thing that could ever happen to a person is they die. And that doesn’t seem to be Paul’s perspective.” “Christ gets exalted whether I live or whether I die,” and a little bit later we are going to read that he’s not sure whether he’s going to stick around or die but the dilemma, he thinks it’s far better to be with Christ.
I have had both my parents die of debilitating, painful, long diseases. When my parents died, by the time they got to where they died, it was, Lord, thank You. To watch them live through what they were living through at that level was really, really painful. Psalm 116 says, “Precious in the eyes of the Lord are the death of His godly ones.
You see, if all there is is now, temporal, and someone you love dies, I got news, you got nothing. You got nothing! But, if in fact, there is an eternity, if there really is a heaven, if what Jesus told the disciples the very last night that allowed them to hang tough and hang on no matter what, there’s an eternity, there’s a heaven, that it’s real. Then it’s pretty interesting. It sustains you. And it’s sad and it’s hard and we lose those that we love, and that’s why sharing Christ is so important.
That’s why if you’re here or you’re watching or you’re listening and you have never put your faith in Christ, you need to know that you’re going to be in heaven and that’s not something from trying to be a nice, little, good person or being a bit moral. Your sins have got to be completely covered. You have to receive the gift of Christ dying on the cross for you, in your place, and turn from your sin – repent – and ask Christ to forgive you and come into your life, and He will! And you can know for sure.
The first reason Paul has joy in the midst of these horrendous circumstances, his deliverance is certain. And he is certain that, by the grace of God, he is going to be faithful. He is certain that he is going to be bold in his faith right until the end. And he is certain that whether he lives and gets to go on and minister more, or whether he dies and is immediately ushered into the presence of Christ that he knows that’s his hope.
But the next reason is equally powerful. The second reason that he has this joy is his source of joy is unshakable. It’s unshakable. Circumstances go up, they go down; incomes go up, incomes go down; hurricanes come, hurricanes go; earthquakes come, earthquakes go; economies go up, economies go down; marriages are good, marriages aren’t so good; kids do great things that make you proud, kids do some terrible things that make you sad. You’re healthy and working out and doing a triathlon this year and next year they’ve got a biopsy report and they’ve got tubes running in you. Circumstances up; circumstances down.
You either live your life like a little cork on the waves of circumstances of the sea of life or you live your life with that leaning eagerly expectation and anchor of your soul – hope – that there is a heaven and there is a God and there are promises and He will sustain me, and as I trust Him, and that’s what Paul does.
His joy, the source of it, is unshakable. He says, “For me, to live is Christ,” temporal. Eternal, “…to die is gain. If I am to live on in the body this will mean fruitful labor for me; yet what shall I choose?” I don’t know! I’m torn between the two. “I’m hard-pressed from both directions, having the desire to depart and be with Christ, for that is very much better; yet to remain on in the flesh is more necessary for your sake.”
And then he comes to this moment, “And convinced of this,” as the Spirit of God is speaking to me, as I am writing this letter, as I am processing, he says, “I know that this will turn out, that I will remain and continue with you all” – why? “for your progress and,” is this guy crazy? Who is he concerned about? “…your joy in the faith, so that your proud confidence in me can abound in Christ through my coming to you again.” “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.”
Paul lives, there’s two platforms in life. You look at life from this platform of time or you look at life at this platform from eternity. And he says in time, it’s Christ and if it’s Christ, I am going to continue to serve, because unlike American Christianity, he thinks the goal of life is to love God and to serve Him and to know Him and to enjoy Him and to share that with as many people as you can before you die and to model the kind of life for you and your friends, or if you’re married, you children.
So that the most important thing is not what school you go to, not how much money you make, not what you look like, what other people think. But the most important thing is that Christ is the center of your heart and life and you are actually reflecting what He’s like. It’s called: His glory.
Everybody and everything revolves around something. It’s interesting, take a microscope and – right? You’ve got the center, the nucleus, and those electrons are going around it and now they’ve got super-powerful ones and there’s stuff inside of that, things going around.
Or all the planets go around the sun. They have found, now, that our solar system and our sun actually goes around an axle star. Everything in life goes around something. The question is: what does your life go around? Paul said, My life goes around the living Christ. He is my anchor. And so if I live, it’s for Him. And if I die, it’s gain. I am immediately translated into the presence of Christ. No soul sleep, no purgatory, no waiting. I die, instantaneously, I’m in the presence of Christ.
And then he begins to think and ponder about, Wow, what should I do? “I’m hard-pressed from both directions,” he desires to depart and be with Christ. I don’t think many of us would say that, if we’re just honest, right?
See, I don’t think Christianity was a religion for Paul. I don’t think it was a moral statement. I don’t think it was, “I want to do really good in this life and it has a lot of good byproducts and produces good things and it’s important.”
I think Christianity for Paul was a life-transforming moment of a relationship connected to God. And he loved God and he got to know, even though he never met – we have some visions that he has, but he didn’t meet Him face-to-face, as far as we know.
But the Spirit of God living in him, just like he lives in us who are followers, he cultivated that and he cultivated it by he took that Old Testament and God revealed to him and those early, this is His Word. And he cultivated a tenderness to hear the Spirit of God and follow it.
And he was always living in community. In other words, it was his relationship and he thought, I’ve got this barrier still. I still have this barrier. I have tasted and I have seen and He has changed me and He has revealed things. But I have this barrier. It would be better to be face-to-face. But his heart is one of: “I want to do whatever You want me to do.”
And these Philippians, they could use some good teachings still. They are still messed up. These two ladies are arguing with each other and under pressure they are not doing so well. In fact, I’m going to write them pretty soon about humility and loving each other because they are at each other’s throats. So, Lord, plan A, I’ll be with you. Awesome. Plan B, I’ll stay here as long as You want. I think God must want me to stay. Notice the secret is his vantage point. I looked this up in the dictionary and I loved it. A vantage is a position or situation more advantageous than opponent’s. That’s one definition. But I think the second one has much more application for us.
A position that allows a clear, broad view, understanding – a vantage point. In other words, what you need to understand, it’s not just: where is your hope? But it’s: from where are you looking for your hope? Paul had been beaten at least three times, left for dead once, overnight in the ocean. Been in prison. Deeply discouraged. I’m not reading into the text, if you read 2 Corinthians pretty carefully and look at Acts, he’s probably clinically depressed at one point. Just is almost at the end of his rope. In his words, “Knocked down but not out.”
And then he says this in 2 Corinthians chapter 4, because I think this is the greatest thing that we need out of this passage and in our life is not to lose heart. “Therefore, we do not lose heart, but though our outward man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day. For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we,” notice, perspective words now: look and see, “…while we look not at the things which are seen, but we look at things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal.”
But there’s a couple questions we need to answer as we close. Where is your hope?
See, ask yourself: what really gets you discouraged? Ask yourself, when you’re frustrated and when you’re angry and when you’re mad: is your hope in a perfect marriage? Is your hope in upward mobility? Is your hope in what school your kids get in or how they are doing in their grades? Is your hope in your body and how you look?
Come on! This is just in here. Don’t look at me like that. Come on, now. We all, here’s the thing, God loves us so much He is saying, Don’t be stupid! “Instruct those who are rich in this present world not to be conceited or fix their hope on the uncertainty of riches,” Silicon Valley, America! The uncertainty of riches! “…but on God who richly supplies us with all things to enjoy.”
It’s not that money is bad, it’s not that success is bad, but they make really bad gods. They make great idols. And what idols do is destroy idol worshippers. So the question for every believer in this room is: What is my life really going around? Not what I say it’s going around or not what I think it’s going around.
And if you want to know, just go home and check your finances and then go check where you go on the Internet and then go check where your time goes and check who are your closest friends and what do you talk about? And you’ll know exactly what your life is going around.
You can sing, “I love Jesus,” and come to church and try and be a good person and your life really go around a married person, your kids, your work, your money, your future, and your stuff. And we all do it. So God brought us here together on this day to repent of that.
For some of you, He brought you today to give you the biggest gift you’ll ever receive in your life: eternal life. You don’t have an eternal hope. You’ve got temporal stuff and you might be successful, you might even be moral. But I’ll tell you what, add cancer and a week to live, you better have what’s on the other side of this wall. And so He just brought you here to say, It’s really not that complicated. Yes, you lose control to an all-knowing, all-powerful, good God who so demonstrated His love He died in your place, rose from the dead, and for two thousand years has been transforming the world and now He wants to transform you.
Would you bow your head with me? Father, thank You for how good and how kind, thank You that You love us. God, I thank You that as hard as life has been and as many mistakes as I have made, I have just seen thousands upon thousands upon thousands and myself included experience a hope that no difficulty or tragedy or challenge can change.
And so I want to pray now for those that would say, “I’m not sure whether I have eternal life.” And if that’s you, I would like you to bow your heart, your eyes are already closed, but bow your heart and be as honest as you can be and say, Almighty God, I am the god of my life and I am running my life. And I repent. I ask You now to forgive me of all of my sins – past, present, and future – I believe that when Jesus died on the cross, He died for my sins and rose from the dead. I accept that gift and ask You to come into my life right now. And then give me the courage to tell someone this very day. Lord, help me to understand Your Word as You start to speak to me. And, God, would You please provide a community of friends to help me grow?
And if you’re a follower and you realize some of those idols have crept in, would you just tell God, No more. I need a hope that won’t change. I need a future that’s secure. And then would you covenant with God to tell at least one person before the sun goes down on this day, “This is a baby step I am taking to make Jesus the center of what my whole life goes around”? And you probably need some help to get there.