Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Bragging Rights

People all need something to be proud of.  It may be their kids, grandkids, home, car, boat, or country club membership.  People need to have something to drop into conversations such as the college they attended or the company they work for.  Openly bragging about something is not usually accepted by others but quietly slipping it into a conversation is accepted modicum in polite society. 

My wife and I have two children but no grandchildren.  People our age usually have grandkids to talk about and to show pictures of to others they meet.  We have no grandchildren pictures or activities to recall but we can talk about our granddog Kiwi.  Kiwi is a Lhasa Apso and cute as a button.  She is so lively and quick and when she sees us after our not being with her for a while she immediately responds and runs rapidly around in circles and bows at our feet as if to show us how happy she is to see us.  She has beautiful long white silky hair that flows down around her head and toward the floor.  She is so human-like that we are always amazed by what she can do when we are with her. 

Is bragging on a dog equivalent to bragging about a child?  It is if it is your dog.  But is bragging even acceptable in society.  Well, we may need to ask St. Paul for advice about that because he brags to the Church at Philippi about all of his religious and spiritual achievements letting them know that he is very qualified to write to them concerning their own spiritual needs.  "If anyone has reason to be confident in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; at to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless."  (3:4b-6) 

In other words, Paul brags about all of his religious qualifications that he can rightly claim because he entered the Jewish world as a Jew who had all the right credentials based upon family heritage, training, following Jewish practices, and training, even to the point that he became actively involved in weeding out heresy among them and ordering the deaths of those in the Christian sect whom he saw as opposed to Judaism.  He had every right to be proud of himself as the role model for every good and righteous Jew who lived in his day. 

But, then he met Jesus Christ...in a mystical, strongly spiritual experience that no one else witnessed.  It had such a powerful effect on who he was and what he did in life that it negated all that he may had rightly claimed as his Jewish credentials and changed him into a Christian who could understand the hesitancy of Jews to embrace Jesus as Lord and Savior and Gentiles who may have thought of all this talk about Jesus as fanciful and imaginary. 

Paul's experience with Jesus Christ made him consider what he had bragged about in his past as "loss" or disposable.  His desire to know Jesus in a real and tangible way superseded his need to carry his credentials around as his membership in the religious community.  "I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the share of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death..." (3:10)  Even if Paul suffered in his body, he counted it worthy because it would bring him closer to the reality of the resurrection that Jesus experienced and that he preached would be given to all who would put their belief in Jesus as God's Son. 

Paul was not ready to give up and waste away but he was looking forward to the goal set before him so that he could obtain what was important to him.  He was not content to sit back and bask in the glory he may have achieved but was "straining forward to what lies ahead."  (3:13b)  That is what the Christian life is about, after all, keeping on keeping on, as the old saying says.  We continue to follow the truth we have learned throughout our lives and do what we believe is right to do as we serve God and our neighbors until finally we achieve the goal as we depart this life. 

The Methodists have a word for this process.  It is called Santification.  It means being made more holy (complete or perfected) throughout life until finally we "become" what we have believed when we exit this life and begin the next life.  We do not expect to become perfected here in this life but we continue to press forward toward that goal putting aside the cares of life that may try to weigh us down and look to Jesus who is the author and perfecter of the faith.