While enjoying Disney World and Universal Studios recently with my family, we paused the almost overwhelming fun and adventure for a snack at an indoor shop. Near our table a child was playing an air-hockey game. The game ended. His father beckoned him so they could return to the attractions outside. But the son refused. “I want to play this game again!” he whined. “I want to play air hockey!” he protested. Some of the most creative, unique, and awe-inspiring rides awaited him just outside the door. But all he could focus on was a tired old game that floats a plastic disc on a bed of air.
Sometimes I’m just like that boy. I focus on things that, in the big picture, are ordinary and common and not likely to lead to any true measure of fulfillment. I focus on a life that is average and run of the mill. That’s why Jesus beckons us out to the most thrilling and uncommon life ever imagined. Through his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus invites us to experience a unique, creative, and transforming life with God, with others, and with possessions. He paints a vision of a life that makes the one we’re living look as pathetic as the life of a boy who won’t leave his air-hockey for some of the world’s greatest attractions.
But how does that vision become a reality? How do we put down the plastic paddle and walk with Jesus into this exceptional and matchless life?
One way to answer these questions is to look at and listen to one who has done just that. Paul is a perfect example. There was a time when Paul chose a life that was selfish, arrogant, violent, intolerant, judgmental, and impatient. He couldn’t see it, but this was a life that fell immeasurably short of what God had created him to live. It was a stunningly unproductive and unfulfilling life. But over time, Paul left that life. He laid down the plastic paddle. And he embraced a life that was generous, humble, gentle, welcoming, accepting, and patient. He entered into a way of life that was uncommon and world-changing. In almost every possible way, Paul began to live into the Sermon on the Mount.
And in Philippians 3 Paul shares some hints regarding this transformation. He reveals in broad strokes what led him from one life to the other:
7But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. 8Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ 9and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— 10 that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. 12Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. 13Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, 14I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. 15Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. 16Only let us hold true to what we have attained. 17Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us. (Phil. 3:7-17 ESV).
Paul points to at least four general principles which allowed him to take Jesus’ hand and leave the air hockey behind. He testifies to at least four wide-ranging truths that are necessary if we too wish to start living into Jesus’ Sermon-on-the-Mount-life. Contemporary authors like Richard Foster, Dallas Willard, John Ortberg, Marjorie Thompson, Jan Johnson, Tony Jones, Mark Buchanan, and Henri Nouwen have helped me to identify and name these principles.
Stay tuned as we explore these principles over the next few days…