How Will You Measure Your Life? Week 1

From October 22, 2017
by Rev. Shawn Coons

We’re going to begin this morning with a reading from Philippians 3:1-11. This is a letter believed to be authentically from the Apostle Paul to the church in Philippi. 

In this passage, Paul is addressing the ongoing conflict between some Jewish Christians and some Gentile (non-Jewish) Christians. The argument is about whether Gentiles should be follow Jewish law and traditions, including circumcision. What should be the measure of one’s Christian faith. Is it, as some propose, how closely one follows Jewish law? Paul squarely confronts this issue of measuring faith by contrasting the measurements who used in his own life in the past vs. how he measures his faith now. Listen and see if you can pick out his old standard of measuring vs. his new.

Finally, my brothers and sisters, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things to you is not troublesome to me, and for you it is a safeguard.2Beware of the dogs, beware of the evil workers, beware of those who mutilate the flesh! 3For it is we who are the circumcision, who worship in the Spirit of God and boast in Christ Jesus and have no confidence in the flesh—

4even though I, too, have reason for confidence in the flesh. If anyone else has reason to be confident in the flesh, I have more: 5circumcised on the eighth day, a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; 6as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. 7Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ. 8More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard 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 one that comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God based on faith. 10I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, 11if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead.]

Did you hear it? Paul’s old unit of measurement vs. his new one? He recites his credentials as a, in his words, “a Hebrew born of Hebrews.”

circumcised on the eighth day, a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; 6as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.

That’s the old standard of faith: his Jewish credentials by birth and by practice. Then he says he considers all of that “rubbish.” The Greek word used here is stronger than rubbish. Trash, excrement, filth. And what is his new standard of measurement? The surpassing value of knowing Christ.

Paul addresses this conflict in the church by telling them that how they measure their faith matters. It matters what the standard of measurement is.

Ok, let’s put Paul aside for the moment. And I’m going to give you a pop quiz: what is pictured here? What is the metallic object inside these bell jars?

This is a kilogram. And I don’t mean it weighs a kilogram, although it does. I mean it’s literally a kilogram. It is one of a small number of official kilograms made over the last century and a half.  All of these officials kilograms are copies. Copies of what is affectionately known as “The Big K,” or officially known as the IPK, the International Prototype Kilogram.  The IPK is stored in the outskirts of Paris, at the International Bureau of Weights and Measures. It is kept in a safe, in a lower vault, in a basement at this international headquarters.

A kilogram is 1000 grams, and on April 7, 1795, the gram was officially defined as, “the absolute weight of a volume of pure water equal to the cube of the hundredth part of the meter at the temperature of melting ice.” A little unwieldy, eh?  By 1889, others thought so too. So the IPK was manufactured and the official definition of the kilogram was changed. “A kilogram is equal to the mass of an object known as the International Prototype Kilogram.”

There are copies of the IPK in various parts of the world to be used in calibrating tools and scales and other kilogram measurements. But on close scientific examination we’ve found that these kilograms all have slightly different weights!  Due to environmental conditions, various minute amounts of other materials have gathered on these copies, changing their weights ever so slightly.

In other words, the kilogram used by this part of the world may not weigh the same as the one in another part of the world, and so people are using different standards to measure by.  And if the difference is big enough, that can be disastrous.  Take the example of the Mars Climate Orbiter in 1999.

This was a 700 pound robotic satellite sent by Nasa to orbit around Mars.  Unfortunately, after years of planning, tens of thousands of work hours, and hundreds of millions of dollars it made it to Mars but was apparently destroyed in Mars’ atmosphere when it arrived.  It ended up descending too far into the atmosphere because one of the software programs was using U.S. standard measurements while another piece of software was expecting metric measurements.

Because one team in this project used the wrong standard of measurement, the whole mission ended in disaster. The standards we use to measure, matter. And I believe this carries over into our lives as well. If we use the wrong standards to measure our life, the results could be disastrous.

This is what we are going to be talk about over the next three weeks in this series, “How Will You Measure Your Life?”

This is the question asked in a book Clayton Christensen, entitled, “How Will You Measure Your Life?” Christensen is a Harvard Business School Professor and in one particular course he teaches his students about theories they can use in business. These theories offer explanations for why things happen in certain ways, and seek to help predict what the outcomes of various business practices and strategies will be. He instills in them the idea that specific outcomes in business are the result of specific decisions and actions.

But on the last day of the class each semester he asks them to apply this concept beyond the business world, and he asks, “How will you measure your life?” What results do you hope to achieve with the decisions and actions you make.  Christensen feels this is an important question to ask based on his observations of his own life over the years, and also his observations of his classmates.

Christensen went to Harvard and Oxford for his education. He was a smart, hard-working, motivated and accomplished young man with lots of potential after he graduated.  And the men and women he graduated were likewise filled with talent, intelligence and potential.  The schools he attended, Harvard and Oxford, both do a remarkable job of reuniting alumni and classmates, so over the years Christensen often got to see his classmates and friends and learn about their lives and accomplishments.

Early on, there was much for people to be proud of. High paying positions in Fortune 500 companies. New marriages and families. Book deals, big houses, semi-annual trips to Europe.  But as the years went on, Christensen noticed that some of his classmates didn’t seem to be happy with their lives. Other classmates were struggling in their marriages, had gone through multiple divorces, or felt distanced from their children. Some of his colleagues had even ended up in jail for business fraud or embezzling.

Christensen began to wonder how this had happened to so many of these bright, talented and driven people. They had so much potential but so many of them, sometimes including himself, had ended up in places they never intended.

So he began to think in terms of his education in business theory. A business theory seeks to make sense of how certain actions and decisions are translated into specific results. It says that if A and B happen, then the natural results will be C and D, but if E and F happen, then expect G and H to happen.  And what he saw is that many of his classmates had a sound theory for their businesses, but they didn’t apply a sound theory to their life.

They put great thought and effort into a strategy for business, but not into a strategy for life. In his words:

I know for sure that none of these people graduated with a deliberate strategy to get divorced or lose touch with their children—much less to end up in jail. Yet this is the exact strategy that too many ended up implementing.”

So how did they do this? How do we do this? How do we have the best of intentions? Want the best for our life? But end up choosing a strategy, making decisions, that lead us to different results?

Let’s go back to Paul, and let’s go back to our question for the day, “How Will You Measure Your Life?” A few moments ago I said, if you use the wrong standards to measure your life it would end up being disastrous. Too often we have the best of intentions. To live a generous life, to have a thriving marriage, to be close to our children, to go to bed happy and fulfilled each day. We have the best of intentions, but we choose poor standards of measurement.

And I don’t believe we do this because we are dumb, or because we are short-sighted. Rev. Adam Hamilton, in preaching on this same subject, suggests that the reason we choose the wrong standard of measurement is because some things are easier to measure than others. 

Think about it. If I’m building something with lumber, and I need to cut a piece of wood to a certain length, I’m going to use a tape measure and measure in inches.  If I’m trying to lose weight, I’m going to use a scale and measure in pounds. If I’m cooking at home, I’ll use a measuring spoon and measure in teaspoons.

But what do we use if we are measuring more intangible things?  Can we use a scale or a yardstick to measure how happy someone is? What tool should we use to measure the enjoyment that comes from reading a good book or coming home to your dog?  So when it comes to measuring our life we tend towards measurements that are easier that we can understand, even if they are the wrong measurements.

So what is easy to measure?  How much money you make. Your job title. A promotion. How many hours you work. How big your house is. The clothes you wear. The degrees you hold.

What’s not so easy to measure? How close you are with your spouse. Your presence in the life of your children. Care and compassion for others.

See the difference?  I certainly fall prey to this.  I’m a pastor, and there are multiple standards I could use to measure how our church is doing. But do you know what’s easiest? Nickels and noses. How much money is in the offering plate and how many people are here on Sunday. Do you know what’s a harder standard to measure? If someone came in this morning feeling low, and somehow had their spirits raised enough to get through another day. It’s hard to measure the amount of times one of you is inspired by a song, a sermon, a prayer, a bible study, and shares a word of care or an act of hope with someone you meet. 

But there are times when we can see clearly what is important to measure in life.  For me, one of those times is when someone dies.  I’ve done many funerals over the years, and one of the privileges I have in this role is to meet with the family of the person who died to hear about their lives and who they were.

And without fail, as I sit down with the family, do you know what they tell me first about their loved one?  It’s not how much money they made. It’s not their job title. It’s not what they acquired in life or the degrees they held. It’s statements like:

She loved her family so much.
He was always there for me.
He was so proud of his children.
She was so generous and caring.
He always had time for me.

It is always some form of how much the person loved others and how much the person was loved by others. How we love. Who we love. Those are how you measure a life.  Are you familiar with the song from RENT, “525,600 Minutes?”  The lyrics are:

525,600 minutes. How do you measure a year in the life? How about love? Measure in love.

We measure in love. Chet read from 1 Corinthians 13 a little bit ago. A familiar passage to many, but it speaks to this exact question: “How Do You Measure Your Life?” Allow me to paraphrase:

If I measure my life by being able to speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not measure my life by love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2And if I measure my life by my prophetic powers, and my understanding all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I measure my life by having faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not measure my life by love, I am nothing. 3If I measure my life by giving away all my possessions, but do not measure my life by love, I gain nothing.

So here is your homework for today. Ask yourself “How do I measure my life?” And be honest with your answer.  I would encourage you to make this a conversation with others. Parents, ask your children to answer this question for you. How are you showing them what measurements are important in life. Ask this question of each other at coffee hour after the service, on the way home in the car, at lunch or at dinner. Ask your friends, classmates, co-workers, neighbors.

And if you are unsure of the answer, or unhappy with the answers you get or arrive at. Then you won’t want to miss the next two weeks. Because we will be going deeper into what exactly it looks like to measure your life in love.

“How will you measure your life?”