February 8, 2015
Excellent In Thinking
Our scripture lesson for this morning is one we could be tempted to dismiss without much thought, because we can assume we are doing all we should to walk the Christian walk and follow the commands God gives us. We can hear these words of Paul and say, of course my desire is to rejoice and be gentle in relationships, avoid being worried, pray with thanksgiving, and embrace God’s peace. I try to keep in my mind what is true and noble, right and pure, lovely and admirable, excellent and praiseworthy, and put these things into practice. I know God’s peace surrounds my every waking moment.
However, I think it is a disservice to these words to glance over them and presume we are good to go. In a few words, Paul manages to touch upon the essence of putting the Christian faith into practice. The first section is a matter of trust and the second section is that of making good choices and modeling our behavior after those who endeavor to walk in Christ’s footsteps.
Paul begins by saying to rejoice in the Lord always, and again, rejoice. You and I know those who have a sunny disposition and tend to be what we might call “half-full” people. We don’t rejoice because we cultivate a positive mental attitude; we are to rejoice because God is in control and wants only the best for us. Our joy is in the Lord.
Some days we manage pretty well and say thank you, God. No crises loom on the horizon, the family is healthy, the job is going well, and we have no financial hardships. But what Paul is talking about here is trusting God enough to rejoice even on terrible days, how to pray with thanksgiving when your world has fallen apart, and how to continue to act honorably even when we are treated unfairly. That is really hard to do, and almost impossible without God.
There are days when I get really stressed, as I’m sure you do too. I want to blame someone or find a way out of the stress. It takes a whole new perspective to rejoice and thank God in the midst of these trials. This is what Paul is talking about here. Paul wants to stretch us and encourage us to follow these commands of scripture, not when it is easy to be a believer, but precisely when it is most difficult.
I am reminded of a story from Acts chapter 18 when Paul was preaching in Corinth. Initially he preached in the synagogue, because his intent was to persuade the worshipers there to believe that Jesus was the Christ. When they became abusive towards Paul, he left the synagogue and began preaching at a believer’s house next door. A prominent leader of the synagogue, Crispus, became a believer, along with many others in Corinth. Paul stayed in Corinth a year and a half, preaching Christ. Paul persevered through the conflict he faced and continued to be trust in the Lord’s plan.
Psalm 55:22 says, “Cast your cares on the Lord and he will sustain you.” With similar words, it is written in 1 Peter 5, “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.” Let’s be real for a moment. Granted, sometimes we like to complain or whine because we have an audience. On the other hand, when we hold on to our stress and anxieties, what are we saying but that we don’t trust God to handle our problems? Lord, I’m really worried about… and you fill in the blank. I have a hard time with… and tell God what is going on with you.
John’s gospel gives us a beautiful illustration of staying linked in with the Lord, and it’s not through a social network. Jesus says he is the vine and we are the branches. Branches do not exist floating off by themselves in space; they live and thrive by remaining connected to the vine, and receiving nourishment from the vine. When we choose to hold on to our worries and fail to give them to the Lord in prayer, what are we doing but demonstrating a lack of trust? We cannot find peace in the midst of a conflict if we refuse to hand our problems over to the Lord.
I share with you a story that comes from Bill Bright, founder of Campus Crusade for Christ. He spoke about a young woman who came in for counsel following the death of her fiancé in a car accident. She was driving and he was in the passenger seat. An oncoming car crossed over the center line, forcing her to swerve to avoid a collision, but her car hit a telephone pole and her friend was killed. She was devastated and wracked with guilt because she was the one behind the wheel and responsible for his death.
Months passed and she could not recover from the loss, despite seeing a number of mental health professionals. Talking with Bill Bright, he asked her if she was a Christian, and she said yes. He read to her Romans 8:28, which says, “We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” He asked, “Do you believe that all things work for good?” She replied, “Yes.”
He then turned to 1 Thessalonians 5:18. It reads, “Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” He looked at her and said, “Have you thanked God since the loss of your loved one?” Please note he did not say to thank God for the loss of her loved one, but whether she has thanked God since that loss.
Even so, the young woman was shocked, and could hardly believe her ears. She said, “How can I thank God when I have experienced such a tragic loss?” Bill Bright replied, “Do you trust God?” “Yes,” she said, “I do trust God.”
Bill Bright asked, “Then why not show him that you do?” He went on. “I know it will be difficult and may seem ridiculous at first, but will you pray and tell God that you trust him and give thanks in everything even though your heart is breaking?” Then they prayed together.
The next day the young woman returned to Bill’s office and said with joy that last night was the first night she was able to sleep through the night without medication. She woke with a heart filled with praise and thanksgiving to God.
When we trust in God we can rejoice in the Lord in all circumstances. When we trust in God we can give our stress and anxiety to God in prayer with thanksgiving. The outcome of our trust is the peace that passes all understanding to guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.
Secondly, Paul asks that we think about what is excellent and praiseworthy. Whatever the people of Philippi have learned from Paul, put it into practice, and God’s peace will be with them. Our walk in faith is a walk that mirrors Jesus. God knows we love him if we do what God asks. We are reminded with words from 1 John chapter 2: “We know that we have come to know him if we obey his commands. The man who says, ‘I know him,’ but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But if anyone obeys his word, God’s love is truly made complete in him. This is how we know we are in him: whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus does.”
A little self-inventory is a good thing. How’s your walk doing? In what areas can you improve? I don’t say this in order to beat on yourself, but to encourage you to bring it to God for help. Jesus came, not to point out how awful we are, but to sympathize with the messes we get ourselves into, and be a sacrifice for our sins. So we may approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, as is written in Hebrews 4. There we will find mercy and grace to help us in our need.
Think about what is true, which is God’s truth given to us in his Word. Jesus prays in John 17, “Your word is truth.” Think about what is honorable and worthy of respect. The word honor comes from a term meaning to worship. Consider what is worthy of awe.
We hear a lot on the news about what is dishonorable – like doctors ordering unnecessary testing just to increase their bottom line financially or makers of foods for toddlers containing way too much added sugars and sodium. I read a funny story about a man from Virginia who decided to impersonate a cop and pulled over a driver who happened to be an off-duty policeman! You can only guess the trouble he got in for that!
But then I read about an ordinary man from Detroit named James Robertson who works at a factory. His car died about ten years ago and he works some twenty-three miles from his home. Some of his way he can catch a bus, but most of the route he walks. Even so, he has perfect attendance at the 2-10 shift at work. He gets there in the morning walking seven miles, but by ten pm when he gets off, some of the buses have quit running, so he walks twelve miles to get home. His commute is four hours long. He says that faith keeps him going, along with determination.
The rest of the story? Another man, a banker named Blake Pollock, kept noticing this man walking by day after day, and finally struck up a conversation. It got so Blake would watch for James, and pick him up if he had time. This winter with its frigid temperatures, he takes him home several days a week. He admires James’ work ethic and determination.
This is what Paul says to us today: Think about what is honorable and true and put it into practice. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.