A few years back I was volunteering at a Christian music festival in New Hampshire called Soulfest. I had been a couple of times before but that had been when I was in high school. Now I was living in an apartment, working a part time job and going to school full time. So, needless to say, things had changed.
I was on Facebook and I stumbled across a post from Show Hope, a non-profit organization that helps orphans find forever families. The organization also assists with financial costs in the adoption process and helps to provide medical care for orphans. I had been supporting them for a while and I noticed that they were looking for help (volunteers) to help out as they would be at Soulfest.
I quickly e-mailed them and got my name on the list. I went ahead and took a few days off from work and I was able to help them out. To be honest, it was a win-win situation because I was not only able to volunteer with an organization that I truly believe in but the stand was next to the main stage so I was able to listen to some really good music while I worked. I enjoyed being able to listen to Gateway Worship, Thousand Foot Krutch and Tenth Avenue North, just to name a few.
One band I had not previous heard before took the stage and began playing. I heard them in the background and I thought it was decent. The band turned out to be, Ascend the Hill. I remember one song they began to play was a modernized version of “Take the World & Give me Jesus.” That song captured my attention.
I stood next to the tent where I was serving as a volunteer and looking around at people walking by, girls were holding their boyfriends hands, people were listening to music on their iPod (what a strange thing to do at a concert/festival right?), and checking their cell phones. I then glanced up to watch the band play this song. I began to think about the lyrics, take the world and give me Jesus.
I found myself realizing just how much attention I don’t give over to God. I realized that I am often guilty of loving the world more than loving Jesus. I get excited when I get paid from work; I get excited when a good album or a good movie comes out. I get excited when good things happen to me. I am happy when I step on the weight scale and I discover I have lost weight. But…do I rejoice when I wake up, knowing God is in my life? Do I rejoice knowing I am forgiven? Do I thirst for God?
Let’s be honest: Paul was a remarkable person in history. He had everything going for him as well. He had a dual citizenship (Israelite and Roman), he was from the tribe of Benjamin (the one tribe that did not bow down to the golden calf at Mount Sinai) which allowed him into the priesthood, he had a solid occupation (tent-maker) and many biblical scholars believe he was heading towards the position of being High Priest. What Paul was learning was this…
[When Jesus comes into your life, he often messes up your plans.]
Paul was transformed by the gospel of grace. His life was based on pleasing God through obedience alone and he replaced his efforts with faith. Paul was transformed by the gospel of peace. He sought to destroy the church but he changed and was seeking to plant churches and builds them up. Paul was transformed by the gospel of love. He was once an enemy of God but had been reconciled and was a friend of God.
The transformation which came through the saving power of Jesus came at a great cost though. While he was still able to maintain his occupation and have an income, he lost his seat in the religious community. The idea of becoming high priest was gone forever. He lost a lot of friends and possibly even family. He would no longer be considered a true Israelite. He would find himself on multiple occasions fighting against his own people and he would be beaten and imprisoned. Some biblical historians have Paul being executed for his faith while others maintain that he died while in Rome under house arrest but again, he died for serving Jesus. What Paul was learning was this…
[When life gives you lemons, live for Jesus.]
-The Person of Jesus-
“Yes, everything else is worthless when compared to the infinite knowledge of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I could gain Christ.”
Paul’s mission in life became about pursuing the Person of Jesus. It’s not about a religion it’s about a relationship. That is a phrase I bet Paul coined. In everything he faced in his life, from the pursuit of almost becoming a high priest to the imprisonment he faced, lost all value when he compared it to knowing Jesus. Nothing compared to knowing the life and love of Christ his Savior. He knew Christ as Lord, which meant the totality of his life revolved around Jesus. It was all about Jesus and it always was about Jesus.
Paul studied the Scriptures, Paul prayed, Paul loved and Paul served because in all of those things, he learned more about the Person of Jesus. Paul encouraged and intervened for others. Paul planted churches and Paul built relationships all for the glory of God the Father in heaven.
Paul faced good times in ministry as well as hard times. Paul gave himself for the sake of knowing the person of Jesus. For Paul, there was nothing more valuable than that. Paul freely gave his life, his money and his resources for the sake of pursing a relationship with Jesus.
-The Power of Jesus-
“I want to know Christ and experience the mighty power that raised him from the dead. I want to suffer with him, sharing in his death, so that one way or another I will experience the resurrection from the dead.”
Paul was an ordinary man. We might see him as an educated bachelor but he was ordinary nonetheless. He had issues, he had problems and he had anger issues. Paul is even recorded to complain about the ‘thorn in his side.’ So he had issues that lingered over his head.
What Paul discovered though was he wasn’t capable of doing anything for God. He realized that no matter how hard he tried to keep the Law, he couldn’t do it! He faced the nightmare of his failure daily. At the end of his road, Paul found himself in a losing battle. He found that while he wanted to do good, he did what he did not want to do. The answer to his struggle found him. Jesus was, is and remains the answer. (Romans 7:14-25)
As Paul’s life transformed, he rested upon the power of Christ to give him the strength he needed to endure anything and everything. Paul was able to endure because Jesus gave him the strength to endure. Paul suffered through trails, pursuing the person of Jesus and rested upon Jesus’ strength to overcome any obstacle.
-The Participation of Christ-
“I don’t mean to say that I have already achieved these things or that I have already reached perfection. But I press on to possess that perfection which Christ Jesus first possessed me. No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ, is calling us.”
– Phil. 3:12-14
Paul gave up, Paul quit and Paul let everything go. He pursued Jesus in the midst of the storms know Jesus doesn’t always calm those storms but calls us to trust him. He pursued Jesus knowing he would suffer for doing so. Paul quit on life though, giving it up and pursued Jesus, knowing that while he was on this side of heaven, he had a calling. If he was breathing, he wanted to speak Jesus’ name. If he had something to give, he gave it over to experience Jesus.
Paul knew that while he had peace in his life because of Jesus, there was still more of Jesus to know, there was still more of Jesus to pursue. Paul knew the race hadn’t been won. There was more suffering ahead and there was pain and more joy and more victories ahead.
[Jesus participated in humanity and suffered alongside us. Jesus experienced humanity and died for us. Jesus embraced humanity and redeemed us.]
Are we in pursuit of the person of Jesus? Do we desire to experience all that God has for us including the suffering? Do we desire to participate with Christ Jesus, knowing that everything else is a loss when compared to knowing him? Are we standing against the darkness screaming out, take the world and give me Jesus!
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