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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
In God’s economy, mark it down, the shortest distance between two points is a zig-zag line.
So what I want to help you do is learn: that these current circumstances – God actually is using them, there is a purpose behind them.
A number of years ago, I could give you probably a million illustrations. But one of the most graphic for me, anything inside of a knee that can blow up, blew up.
I find myself going to physical therapy after surgery and a lady begins to talk to me who is my physical therapist. I learned very early on, her dad is a super fired-up atheist, hates Christians. She finds out on my paper I am a pastor. And I began to explain to her who Jesus was. And to make a long story short, I saw her trust Christ. She had been through a horrendous hardship and abandoned by a husband and had a little five-year-old girl.
And what I remember thinking, because I went back to playing basketball and I had this brace and I was kind of bummed out, like, Okay, I lost my first step. Of course, I didn’t have much of one at that age anyway. And I couldn’t jump at all. And God said, "So, Chip, let me get this right. Do you think just blowing out your knee, a little difficulty, a little challenge is worth that young woman’s eternal future and what happens to her daughter?" And I remember thinking, Wow, Lord, that is so awesome. That is so awesome. Would I give a knee for someone and what I saw? Absolutely.
What are you going through? What are you going through right now that God wants to use so that other people, so the gospel can go forth? How you respond to the difficulty, the pain, the injustice. What is happening at work or what your ex is saying or what is happening with one of your kids or a health issue that everyone is going, “Wow! How do you even get through this?”
God wants to use your present circumstances, exhibit A, for the furtherance of the gospel. But that’s not all. Exhibit B, here’s another good thing that happened. The Church grows stronger. Notice what he says.
“And that most of the brethren, trusting in the Lord,” notice the phrase, “because of my imprisonment have far more courage to speak the Word of God without fear.” See, when we step up, when he is in the midst of this, and he is being bold, the rest of us go, “Wow, you know something?” The praetorian guard, the Church was being persecuted. And now they say, “If Paul can do it in prison, I can do it!”
I have two or three friends that have very high-level jobs in the high-tech world. And they are bold. They are out there. And they are not asking, “Can I do this?” or, “Can I say this?” They are loving, they are kind, they are great at what they do, but they are bold. They are not afraid to say, “Yes, I am a Christian. I am not anti-intellectual, I am not narrow, I am not a hater.” And by how they are living and how they are treating people, I’ll tell you what, it just makes me go, “I can do this. I can do this.”
Sometimes adversity and difficult circumstances cause the gospel to go forth and sometimes difficulty, circumstances, you know what it does? It builds the body. It causes the Church to grow.
One of my deepest zig-zags was God made it really clear, Chip, you have to be back in the local church. I had the privilege of leading Walk Thru the Bible and what they are doing here and all around the world, great organization, but I wasn’t teaching God’s Word anymore. I was just creating some videos and then traveling all around the world and kind of sharing it with a few people who would teach it to others. But I wasn’t teaching God’s Word.
And the administrative responsibilities got bigger and bigger and that’s not my strength and so God said, I want you to leave that and go back to the local church. I said, “Okay.” So, I had this good transition plan. And, No, I want you to resign. “God, You don’t understand. I don’t have a job yet.” I know. So, do you trust Me or not? Okay.
And so, I thought, at that stage in my life, I bet there’s a church somewhere and some people said, “Hey, yeah, why don’t you think about this or that?” And we came up with a profile. Here’s what I want to tell you. For two years, I was not pastoring a church, Living on the Edge was developing and growing and getting its feet as an independent organization. And I was in limbo. I woke up every day like, I went to a little make-shift office with a cardboard table with two other guys and two other employees, wondering every month: Are we going to even pay the bills to get Living on the Edge moving and where it needs to be?
And I’d wake up on Sunday morning and I’d visit this church and visit this church and then I found a friend that I went to this church. And if you do what I do for a living, and I love visiting good churches but when I’m sitting in this row over here and thinking, What, Lord, what, what, what, what are You doing? Are You kidding? You said to do this! It has been two years! Praying, processing.
And here’s what I learned is God wanted to do some things in me, it was crystal clear that we were to come here, He was preparing this church so this church would be ready and I would be ready and Theresa would be ready so we would all come together.
And let me tell you something that happened. This is really, really cool. I never thought about this until this week and this passage. I thought about, okay, that two years was wasted. Really, Chip? Yeah. So, what happened in those two years? Well, we prayed and the Internet was exploding and there are so many good communicators, maybe we are only on the radio in order to develop a platform for discipleship.
And we took this huge step of faith. And I’m sure we couldn’t have done it if I was teaching full-time. We took this huge step of faith and we said, “You know something? We’re really not just a teaching ministry. That has never been our heart. It’s a discipleship ministry.”
And so, we went off three major morning-time slots in top-ten cities in America to shift the paradigm to say: the issue isn’t how many people listen, it’s how many people are growing and becoming reproducing disciples. And then we took that and we started building small group material and we decided we would launch small groups off the radio and then, later, digitally.
And as I am sitting here, I thought, I wasted those two years. Nothing good happened. We now have twenty-seven, I think, different small group resources used all around the world, we have over three million people that are either in or have been in small groups, just in America alone. And all of that grew out of two years of limbo with a frustrated Chip going, What’s the deal? What’s the deal?
And, yet, those difficult times, it was a zig-zag line. The gospel is going forth, yes. Second, the Church was being strengthened. More people are growing deeper than if I was at a church, if I could have been at ten churches, fifteen churches, a hundred churches. Here’s the deal: God knows where you’re at. He knows what you are going through.
Third, He takes our circumstances, not only for the gospel to go forward, not only for the Church to grow strong, but Paul gets very personal. He says exhibit C is the man grows deep. When these zig-zags happen and if it’s cancer or losing your job or your mate walks out on you or one of your kids is going through a struggle, if you’re clinically depressed – I don’t know what it is with you.
But we all have stuff, right? You were injustice, you were passed over for a promotion, where you thought you would be in your life is not where you are right now. And you wake up, you just, you wake up almost every, single day going, You know what? It’s half-full. I’m still single. It’s half-full, I still don’t make any money. It’s half-full, I still don’t own a house. It’s half-full, I have had this physical problem, this ailment, I have prayed, I have been to doctors. Guess what, I still got it. I want you to know that part of God’s agenda is not just the gospel going out and not just the Church getting stronger. Part of what He does is He transforms you and transforms me and sometimes pain, challenges, difficulty.
I’ve got a testimony of a couple years of my back that have drawn me to Christ in ways that, and I already thought I was pretty close.
Notice what Paul says. He says, “Some to be sure are preaching Christ, even from envy and strife, but some from goodwill.” Then he goes on to talk about the latter do it out of love, but the former are, they are messing with me. He’s in prison. The rumors are, here’s what it is: guess what, if Paul had more faith, he wouldn’t be in prison. He can’t be God’s man.
And people, out of strife and envy and ego are, “We are the new leaders in the Church. We are God’s spokesmen. It’s not Paul.” Their doctrine was right but it was political, it was a power play, it was an agenda.
And Paul is in prison and going, “Really, guys? Are you kidding me?” “Well, I mean, God blesses people, right? And if He is blessing you, you’re in His will, and Paul is in prison, you know what? We don’t think he has enough faith. He’s not the real leader. We are.”
And Paul said when all that was happening, his reputation is being attacked, he feels, some of the people that he probably discipled are betraying him now. This is a really difficult, where do you go with all that, Paul?
Notice what he says. He says, “Some good motives, right. Some bad motives.” Are you ready? What’s the purpose? What’s his lens? What is my purpose? What did God tell me to do? Why am I here? I am here to take the gospel to all the world. I am here to disciple people to be mature so they are like Jesus. That’s my mission. So, I am being attacked, I happen to be in prison; yes, these rumors about me are this or that.
He said, “What,” literally it’s, “what does it matter to me if Christ is preached?” He goes, “Whether their motives are good or their motives are bad, my purpose and my mission is to preach the gospel and disciple people who disciple others.”
Guess what – that is happening. He grows deep. You know what? Sometimes the apostle Paul or some of us that grew up in churches where all these twelve guys were in stained glass or some of us grew up where the pastors or the clergy or the priest, they are way up here and we are all these regular people.
I’ve got news for you. There are no superstars. Paul, you, me, everybody. He’s got an ego. He had to wrestle, he had to struggle, he had to feel like this isn’t fair. But he had to come to the point where he would say, God, what do You want to do in me?
And I think some ego issues: my reputation. You know what? You have my reputation. What people think of me, God, it’s what You think of me. In pain, in difficulty, that’s where God gets our attention.
I want you to know that when you are going through pressure and it’s difficult and it’s hard and you’re angry and you want to give up, ask this question: God, what do You want to do in me? God, how do You want to use this to help other people? How do You want to grow Your Church? But what do You want to do in me? Don’t miss out. Don’t waste the pain. Because if you meet very, very, very godly people who have amazing walks with God, what you’ll find is they have been through a lot of pain.
A very, very close friend he has a physical issue going on right now that prevents him from driving. He runs a business, he’s got, and it is just, they have tried everything and there is no cure.
And I am around this man and I will ask him, “So, how is it really going and how are you doing? And they have tried a couple things and they give you a little temporary relief.” And his attitude makes me want to just be like Jesus. His perspective, his attitude. “You know, the Lord is teaching me a lot. And because of this, my wife is getting up at five in the morning and she is driving me to all the job sites. And it’s a great time together.” And he goes, “I have seen some things about myself I don’t think I would have seen.”
And he’s just saying, “God’s purpose is to make me like Jesus! Do I like this? No.” But he doesn’t complain. How about you? What’s your purpose, and what if you started looking at what the half-full issues in your life were through the lens, not just of focus, but of purpose?
I want you to ask yourself three important questions. Three purpose statements for every, single believer. This is true of all of us.
Purpose statement number one: I am an ambassador or messenger of the gospel. The gospel, the good news won’t go anywhere in your relational network, where you live, where you work, if it doesn’t come through you. Not just your life, but your words. The purpose is to reach the lost. The people out there aren’t bad. They’re lost! They’re lost! They don’t know.
I grew up in America. I had no idea what the gospel was. Someone shared it with me. Here’s the question: How could God use a difficult circumstance in your life to advance the gospel? Are you taking advantage of it? Advance the gospel.
Purpose statement number two: I am called to encourage God’s people to help them grow to full maturity. Every, single one of us. Why we talk about getting involved in ministry and talk about getting in groups and God using you where you’re at – here’s your purpose: it’s to build the found.
No one grows on their own. Someone came up next to my life, multiple times, in different stages of my life, and in your life if you have grown, and they helped you. Here’s the deal: who are you helping? Who are you discipling? Who are you mentoring? Who are you coaching? Who do you care about that their spiritual growth, well-being, quality of life, walk with God matters and you are building them up.
Question: how could your adversity, how could your circumstances, how could your current difficulty build up a brother or sister in Christ? I want you to really think about that.
Third purpose statement: I am a servant of the living God. A servant! Jesus called Himself a servant. Here’s your purpose: become like our Master. I don’t know what you’re going through, but I can tell you the will of God for sure. You got this? Here’s the will of God for sure: whatever you’re going through, no matter how good or how bad, God’s agenda is to make you like Jesus.
So here’s the question: what might God want to do in me, through my present circumstance? Some of you might learn to pray like never before. Some of you might learn to love God’s Word like never before. David, in Psalm 119 said, “If I had not been afflicted, I’d have gone astray. But when I was afflicted, now I keep Your Word.”
Some of us need the difficulty we are in to woo us, to make us dependent, and to bring us back into vital relationship with Jesus.
Because it’s not hearing God’s Word that changes things. It’s hearing with a heart that says, Lord, You see it all. You love me. I am going to take a step towards You, by faith, I am going to take a step of faith. I am going to believe You to the point of acting. I am going to believe Your promises are true. I am going to believe You are using the zig-zags and the circumstances for my good and for Your glory.
And so the question I would ask you is: whose purpose and agenda are you most eager to fulfill? When you look at your time and your schedule, your money – whose agenda? Whose purpose? Yours or God’s? That’s heavy. But God is working in our life, He is doing a great thing.