Sunday, May 29, 2016

Good Medicine

A cheerful heart is good medicine,
    but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.

Proverbs 17:22  NIV

Read also:  Psalm 46:10

How many Christians do you know that are caught up in being negative?  So many who claim victory in Jesus live as if nothing good ever happened to them.

How many times is the word joy or rejoice used in the Bible?  The answer is about 180, depending upon the version.

It is mentioned twice as much in the Old Testament as in the New.

What about love?  Would you believe over 500 times, and get this—most of those are in the Old Testament if you go by the NIV or NRSV.

Remember that joy and love are not the original words, so the frequency of translation will vary.

Grace shows up about 150 times, and yes most of those are in the New Testament in all translations.

Sin shows up just over 400 times in most translations with a 3 to 1 preference for the Old Testament.

But if the blood of Jesus took away our sin, why do we dwell on it so much?  Yes, that question is most rhetorical for the blood of Jesus did take away our sin!

So why do so many Christians dwell on the negative—their own faults, the mistakes of others, what is wrong with the world?

We are told to have joy in the Lord.  Rejoice in the Lord!  We just finished a series with Paul’s letter to the church in Philippi and he used the words joy and rejoice 16 times in this very short letter.

God is serious about our joy and he has been telling us this for a long time.  But let’s consider the proverb.

It is less of a command than it is a self-fulfilling prophecy.  

What does it say?

A cheerful heart is good medicine,
    but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.

Remember that the Hebrew people loved parallelism in their writing.  That is, both phrases essentially say the same thing with just a little different twist.

This little quip of wisdom says a whole bunch about our free will.  We can choose to take our medicine or we can choose to suffer in our illness.

We can choose this joy, this happiness, this cheerful spirit or we can choose bitterness, despair, and hopelessness.

It is a choice.

One is good medicine and the other empowers the illness.  

My countenance surely influences my health.

But there are days that just hurt too much to be cheerful.  There are times when I cannot muster joy.  I have gone through things that just hurt too much.

I just can’t seem to honestly choose joy.

Then take counsel from the psalmists and be still and know that your situation goes beyond your understanding.  Just be in his presence—in the presence of God, knowing that he is God.  Accept his peace and take the promise that sorrow may last for the night, but joy comes in the morning.

Maybe we can’t always exude that cheerful spirit, but we must know that it is the correct medicine.

Our struggles and trials and pains are real, but joy—I am talking about joy in the Lord—is real medicine.

Joy treats the worst of the human conditions that we may know—sorrow and depression and just living without hope.

Joy, real joy, is available to all through Christ.  The world that lives without Christ only knows a little joy—that which comes from daily events and circumstances.

Some eastern religious look at the purpose of life as an effort to reduce suffering, a noble goal, but it falls far short of knowing the joy of the Lord.

If we would go back to some of our Presbyterian roots in the Westminster Catechism, we would find that the purpose of humankind—the chief end of man if you will—is to bring glory to God and to enjoy him forever.

We are to bring glory to God and enjoy him very much.  How can you enjoy God?

By taking our joy directly from our relationship with him.  Our joy is in the Lord!

But, but…

The world is a messy place.  People lose jobs, take pay cuts, get transferred, lose loved ones, lose all of their worldly possessions in a house fire, face illness and disease, fail tests and courses, get cut from teams, sometimes just have bad hair days.

Life is messy.

But for those who know God, especially those who know God through Christ Jesus, there is medicine for our messy lives that we live in this messy world.

It is a cheerful heart.  It is joy.  It is to rejoice in the Lord.

It is a choice.

We take our medicine every day or we subsidize the illness.
Sometimes it isn’t easy to take our medicine.  Sometimes it takes a little effort to choose joy.  Sometimes like the medicine that we get from the pharmacy, it sort of tastes bad or funny at first.

Sometimes it is tough to live in the words of Jesus when he told us that we would have trouble in the world but then said, “Take heart—be of good cheer—for I have overcome the world.”

We need to be people of joy and good cheer.  We need to live with cheerful hearts.  For some that comes easier than others; but for all, it is still good medicine.

We need to take our medicine.

A cheerful heart is good medicine,
    but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.
Proverbs 17:22  NIV

Let’s take our medicine.

It’s good medicine.


Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Message for the Junior Delp Service held 25 May 2016

Last Sunday I remarked that preaching Junior’s funeral would be one of the easiest sermons that I ever preached.  It is not because I won’t miss him but because I have no doubt that he lived in the promises of the Lord and today his pain is gone.  The Lord has wiped away his every tear.

Junior was a man who had a tough life growing up as a child—one that most of us today could not understand; but as a man he sought God first.

As a married man, God and prayer were a part of his life from the first day of marriage.

As a family man, nobody ate until the prayer had been said.  And on Sunday morning, you went to worship.  There was no discussion.  There was no dissent.  You went to Sunday worship.

The special mealtime continued even when his children became adults.  The Friday evening gathering was a special time for this family, and it of course was prayer before dining.

Junior understood what it was to lay a foundation of godly wisdom.  Bring up a child in the way he should go and later on he will not depart from it.

The proverb didn’t say, introduce your kids to a variety of religions and philosophies and let their young minds decide.  It says bring them up in the way they should go.  Junior knew that part.

On any given day, Junior might stop by the church.  He would probably be wearing his cowboy hat and boots, but the hat would go straight to the hat rack when he came in the door.  On occasion, he might ask a young man to remove his hat as well, at least while he was in the church building.

Junior served this church body for most of his life.  He served over 4 decades as treasurer, was involved in building projects at the church on Webb Street, and served as an elder on the session multiple times.  He was also Sunday School Superintendent for many, many years—that is to say, I don’t know exactly how long.  He also sang in the choir and was on several occasions the choir director.

Junior had his own sign language.

In the old church it took me most of my first sermon that I preached from the pulpit to figure out what one sign meant.  Junior, seated in the choir, kept wiping two fingers horizontally across his forehead.

What did it mean?  Did he want me to throw a curve ball?  Was it time for the pick and roll?  Were these gang signs or what?  I’m filling the pulpit for Jim Fisk long before I was ordained, doing my best to proclaim the word of God and this man sitting in the choir keeps giving me this signal.

I will tell you that over the years, I have learned to contend with a lot of distraction while preaching:   4 people headed to the bathroom,  3 babies crying (or nursing if I was in Africa), 2 elders talking, and a partridge in a pear tree without missing a beat in my message; but I could not for the life of me figure out what this man wanted.

And there I was trying to stay on message.

Finally, Junior wiped his forehead one last time and pointed to the wall behind me.  There I noticed the thermostat and realized that whomever was in the pulpit was also guardian of the thermostat and Junior wanted some air conditioning. 

Junior had other signs.  On a couple of occasions years later, he would walk into my office and hold a blue Sunday school book in front of my face.  Only after a few perplexed looks on my part did I realize that I needed to reorder the books.

Over the years, I have warned a few people that filled the pulpit for me not to look at Junior while preaching your sermon.  Why would I say that?

Junior often had to invest a lot of effort to follow the sermon.  His look was one of being very intense.  Now, if you did not know that, you might wonder, “Is that man constipated or does he really hate my sermon?”

But it was just Junior trying to stay tuned in.  if I ever caught myself staring right at Junior for a moment—and that look was the equivalent of 6 babies crying or nursing, I would immediately shift to May Faye who wore a constant smile throughout the message, though I know that half the time she probably couldn’t hear much of what I said.  She just smiled knowing that the word of God was being preached.

Now in fairness to Junior, when I would get to the end of my message and start to bring it all together, which most generally involved how much God loves us and that we are to love one another, Junior would just work up this big, this gigantic smile.

It was the same smile that he had when the kids were up front singing or dancing or reciting a Bible verse. 

Junior and Mary Faye adopted many of you.  I know that Katy was their girl on Wednesday nights.  Junior would have loved to come to your graduation but I know that he was so proud of you.

Amanda you were their girl for a season over these past few months.  There are several more who over the years have been adopted into the family.

What many of you may not know is the love that Junior had for all of the children who would come on Wednesday nights.  There was a time a few years ago when I was not sure how we—the leadership of the church—would react to the kids who came on Wednesday nights.

Many of these children had not been brought up in the way they should go.  They were wild.  Throwing hymnals and hurdling pews was not uncommon.  I wasn’t sure how some of the oldtimers would take this.  Some of my contemporaries in similar situations found their elders not disposed working with kids who showed up broken.  I wasn’t sure how much time I had.

It would take time to replace some wildness with reverence.  We needed to meet these kids where they were but we needed to make sure we didn’t leave them in the same condition; and I did not know how much time I would have before someone said—that’s enough!  But Junior surprised me.

Junior became perhaps my best ally in continuing this special ministry to these kids.  Most of the direct interaction with these children was done by a dozen other folks but for the last couple of years, these children were very much on Junior’s heart.

Junior knew that he couldn’t do much, but he could be there, talk to some, be gentle to all, and just do what he could in these final years.

These children, many are the ones that I label Throw Away Kids because there just wasn’t much love at home, were very much on Junior’s heart.

I hope that in the years to come, if some of you are struggling with a difficult child, you will consider the patience and gentleness of Junior Delp who would not give up on these little ones.

Make no mistake about it, Junior could bark every once in a while, and every once in a while he might have got under somebody’s skin; but if you knew him, you knew it was mostly bark and not much bite.

Junior had a heart of mercy.  He had a heart of compassion and yes, sometimes he came off a little on the gruff side, that that was not his true nature.

His true nature was love.  Much like his heavenly Father, when you got past a few rough edges every now and then, you found a heart for the Lord.  You found a heart that had grown in grace.

Junior and I had a special relationship.  He barked at me a couple times and I barked back.  I don’t think he knew how to take me at first, but I will tell what few know.  For the past several years, Junior would stop by on many a Wednesday evening just to talk.

Talk about what?  Life, God, family, love, and those kids that didn’t seem to have a chance in the world but had a taste of God’s goodness whenever we had them. 

It is good to have someone that you can talk with on just about anything.  Sometimes it was pain or what he was going through, but mostly it was just life, the people who had crossed our paths, and the times when God’s Spirit spoke most clearly to us.

Junior and I shared one more thing in common—DISCONNECT NOTICES—these were the door hangers that I had made and we put up in Burns Flat and Dill City and even in Canute.

They were designed to get someone’s attention wondering what’s being disconnected, then they were to flip the door hanger over and it asked if you were disconnected from the body of Christ.

Junior loved to take these home and send them back with his bills.  He didn’t like getting all of that extra paper—mostly ads—with his bills, so he sent back disconnect notices, hoping that someone might look at it and wonder, “What in the world is this?”

Perhaps they might ask themselves if they were connected to the body of Christ.

There are many more things that I could say about Junior, but this one I just cannot leave out.  He loved his church family and they loved him.

But within that family was a special family that was his Sunday School class.  The class is titled “Senior Adults” but I will tell you there aren’t any adults in there.  Let me say this again--there are no adults in there.  They are just a bunch of big kids who love each other very, very much.

Junior loved all of you like family and very much missed being with you over the last weeks.  I won’t put words in his mouth, but I’m pretty sure he is saying, you keep that going.

I will miss Junior and especially our Wednesday talks but I won’t be sad for him.

I will pray for peace for the family, God’s peace that goes beyond understanding, but I won’t feel sad for you.

For Junior Delp had run the good race, he fought the good fight, and he kept the faith.

When I began, I said that this would be one of the easiest messages that I have ever preached.  That is not always the case.  I have done more than my share of funerals for people that when I asked the family, did he follow Jesus?  Did he ever profess Jesus as Savior?  Often the answer was, “Well, I think so.  I am pretty sure he had a Bible somewhere.”

You would like a little evidence—some visible fruit—to talk about when you preach somebody’s funeral.

One of my favorite quips is:  “If you were accused of following Jesus, would there be enough evidence to convict you?”

Junior Delp today stands guilty as charged.  He was a disciple of our Lord and Savior and there was plenty of evidence.

He has run the good race.  He has fought the good fight.  He has kept the faith.

Now there is for him a crown of righteousness which the Lord himself will award him.

If Junior were here today, he would remind us to finish the verse—go on and read the rest of that—for this crown of righteousness is not just for him but for all who seek and wait upon the Lord.

Junior’s race wasn’t over when he went in the nursing home.  I brought 2 prayer blankets only to find out that they already had some.  I left them anyway.  I expected that he would find someone to give them to.  He did. I also left a handful of blue wrist bands.  Junior just smiled.  I knew that they wouldn’t last very long.

If you came to see Junior, you would get to read his Jesus Calling devotion for that day, even if somebody had already read it to him.  Junior wasn’t quite through running his race.

He still had good news to share and encouragement to receive.

If Junior could add anything to what I said this afternoon, I think he would remind you to run the good race, fight the good fight, and to keep the faith.

Junior, we will miss you, but today we are a little envious of you for you are in the presence of your Lord wearing a crown of righteousness.

Run the good race.
Fight the good fight.
Keep the faith.


Friday, May 20, 2016

Laboring with His Energy

If you have to sit in prison, you had just as well write a few letters.  This time Paul writes to the church in Colossae. 

This city was about 100 miles east of Ephesus and situated in the fertile Lycus valley.  It was near the cities of Lacodicea and Hierpolis.

Paul did not plant this church but was very much involved in its beginnings.  On Paul’s third missionary journey, he spent about 3 years in Ephesus.  From this ministry, churches emerged in the surrounding area.

A man named Epaphras likely took the gospel that he had heard from Paul and spread it to the surrounding areas, including these cities 100 miles away.  This church is special because as far as we know, none of the apostles had been involved in getting it started.

This was the next generation of church bodies that emerged not from eye witnesses to the resurrected Jesus, but by those who had not seen but believed and carried the good news to the world.

This church faced some external challenges.  First, this was pagan country.  The Jewish influence was minimal.  Next, the Jewish believers were likely hot on the trail of this Christian faith even here.  These Jesus followers had broken new ground, now it was time to bring in the Law of Moses.  Finally, the Gnostics—those folks that didn’t fully believe that God would come in the flesh and live among sinful men—were spreading their wings wherever they could.  The Gnostics were more about knowledge than transformation.

So Paul made sure that Christ was not only central in this letter; but noted that true knowledge came only through him.

Christ is the image of the invisible God.
The fullness of God lives in Christ.
The reconciliation of all things comes only in Christ.
Christ is the head of the body, of the church.
Christ is the beginning and the first born from among the dead.
Christ reigns supreme.

Paul proclaimed Christ central to everything, but also challenged his readers to respond in conduct, obedience, practical behavior, and living worthy of our Lord.

It’s not just knowing, it is responding to what we know.

So Paul begins this short letter in thanksgiving and prayer.

So we have not stopped praying for you since we first heard about you. We ask God to give you complete knowledge of his will and to give you spiritual wisdom and understanding.  Then the way you live will always honor and please the Lord, and your lives will produce every kind of good fruit. All the while, you will grow as you learn to know God better and better.
 We also pray that you will be strengthened with all his glorious power so you will have all the endurance and patience you need. May you be filled with joy, always thanking the Father. He has enabled you to share in the inheritance that belongs to his people, who live in the light.

This should all sound quite familiar.  Paul is beckoning these believers to live up to the people that God has already made them to be.  He wants them to live in the fullness of knowing God’s will.  Elsewhere we might refer to this as his good, pleasing and perfect will.

Paul understood what these young believers were facing, so early in his letter he begins to reinforce the supremacy of Christ. 
·      He is the image of the invisible God!  Sinful human flesh cannot look upon God the Father so God came in the flesh where we could not only see him but see God—Holy God, God the Father, Yaweh, Elohim, Abba—through him.
·      He is the firstborn over all creation.  He was not only present at the creation but it seems that he had to do most of the work.  The gospel author John would say that everything that was made was made through him.
·      He is the beginning of all things and the very glue that holds all things together.
·      He is the head of the church.  Remember what Jesus said to Peter:  On this rock I build MY church.  The church belongs to Jesus and he is the head.  On a few occasions I have responded to someone who did like a change or something new and told me, “It doesn’t feel like my church anymore.”  I said, “It never was.  The church belongs to Jesus.”
·      He is the first born from the dead.  In him we have victory over death.  Death is defeated!
·      God was pleased to put all of his fullness in Christ Jesus.
·      God reconciled all things to himself through the shed blood of Jesus—all things!

Paul conveyed a very basic message:  It is Christ and Christ alone that saves you from your sin and from death.  Don’t make the simple complicated.

You were once strangers, aliens, outcasts from God, but through Christ you have been made holy, without blemish, and free from accusation.  While Paul wrote to church bodies far and near, this message remains constant.

Jesus paid it all.

On Christ the solid rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand.

Jesus name above all names.

One day, if you are taking a test on Colossians and you have to fill in the blank, chances are the answer is Christ.

If it is a multiple choice test, choose the selection that reads “Christ.”

If it is an essay, start and begin with Christ.

Paul is telling these believers, you got it right the first time.  It is Christ and Christ alone.  Don’t be distracted.  Don’t be dissuaded.  Don’t change your focus.  Christ is supreme.  He is central.  He is the answer.

Now we get to the fun stuff.  Paul talked about his service, sometimes suffering service, in the name of Christ.

Paul explained that he wanted everything for these believers.  What had been a mystery was now revelation.  God’s love was for all.

Paul said he was commissioned to take this word to the world striving to fulfill the desire of God’s heart, but here is the fun part.

First, let me explain my job as manager at the Oklahoma Publishing Company, you know it as The Oklahoman.  This was from another lifetime.

I was responsible for circulation and sales in the southwest fourth of the state.  This was not my favorite job, though I did very well at it.  My managers contracted carriers to deliver papers.  Their earnings were pitiful and often we could not attract the best carriers.  Carriers would quit without notice.  Service was disrupted.  It was ugly.

I spent almost 5 years trying to fix things that the organization did not want fixed.  After several pilot cases where I showed that by paying the carriers a little more and keeping them on the job, the company made more money—actually a lot more money—and having these rejected again and again, I decided it was time to do something else.

I had never been in an organization where I was not effective with continuous improvement and I found myself in the middle of a culture that didn’t care.

But there was the company car, and not just the car but the fuel card.  During my time with the paper, we probably spent $50 a year on gas.  If we were going somewhere, we took the company car and burned the company’s fuel.

As far as the job, you can have it.  I was burned out trying to convince circulation directors and vice presidents that people with no phone service were not signed up for a subscription by a telemarketer.

But the car, and oh the fuel card, those were nice.  Being fueled by somebody else’s energy, now that was something.

We who follow Christ are sent into the world but we are using God’s fuel card.  We are using God’s energy!

Our response to God’s incredible love that we know in Christ is to take that love to the world.  It might seem an exhausting task, but we use God’s energy and his strength.

Think on this provocation for a moment.  Why don’t we use God’s strength and his power and his energy more often?  Why do we burn our own fuel so much instead?

Have you ever seen an exhausted basketball team outplay the better rested one?  Where did their energy come from?

Have you ever dragged yourself to Bible Study on a Wednesday night wishing you had just stayed home and gone to bed early, but left feeling full of energy?  What happened?

If the camaraderie and loyalty of the sports team can sustain them beyond their limits, how much more will the energy of God fill and sustain us?

Paul tells us that he is running the good race, fighting the good fight, and keeping the faith but God gave him his fuel card.

Listen to how Paul concludes this first chapter in The Message translation.

This mystery has been kept in the dark for a long time, but now it’s out in the open. God wanted everyone, not just Jews, to know this rich and glorious secret inside and out, regardless of their background, regardless of their religious standing. The mystery in a nutshell is just this: Christ is in you, so therefore you can look forward to sharing in God’s glory. It’s that simple. That is the substance of our Message. We preach Christ, warning people not to add to the Message. We teach in a spirit of profound common sense so that we can bring each person to maturity. To be mature is to be basic. Christ! No more, no less. That’s what I’m working so hard at day after day, year after year, doing my best with the energy God so generously gives me.

If you will step forward in your commission to take God’s love that we know in Christ Jesus to your neighbors and to the people you see at Walmart or Hutch’s or the Post Office, God will give you the energy to keep going.

Our message is simple—we know love and life in Jesus Christ.  Sometimes we just start the conversation with “God loves you.”

You don’t have to memorize a script.  You just take God’s love with you wherever you go.  Let people taste God’s goodness whenever they cross your path.  Be a light that shines in the darkness.

Know that God will fill your tank again and again.

Yes, we are called to labor in service to the Lord, but he gives us his energy.  His yoke is easy.  His burden is light.  

He gives us his fuel card.

Let’s labor with joy for our Lord!


Thursday, May 5, 2016

Flying through Philippians

Wow!  What a jammed packed letter.  One could spend a year preaching from this text.  It is so rich; however that is not the task at hand.

This is a 10,000 foot fly-over of this fantastic letter to the first congregation that Paul established don the continent of Europe.  If you are part of a healthy congregation that contends with only the occasional squabble, this short epistle will seem like it was addressed to you and your congregation.

As you fly through Philippians, realize that you are truly free to be the people that God wants you to be.  He has done it!  All we need do is take hold of that which we have already obtained in the blood of Christ Jesus.

Chapter 3 – Profit and Loss

Be Anxious for Nothing!

The first verse of the fourth chapter reminds us that Paul was writing a letter and not a chapter book.  It connects not only the previous chapter but much of the letter with how Paul concludes this short epistle, and this last chapter is surely fully packed with precious counsel.

My dear friends, stand strong in the Lord!  Stand!

The original word is στήκω (stékó) and it means to stand fast, stand firm, as well as to persevere.  It’s less about staying in one place geographically as it is to staying the course, keeping your eyes fixed on Jesus, and being strong—in this context to be strong in the faith that you know and be strong as the people that God has already made you to be.
It doesn’t mean, stand strong until you get your way.  Paul charged two women to resolve whatever had them at odds.  Paul doesn’t go into it.  He doesn’t present the pros and cons of each side.  He just says, “Agree in the Lord.”

Think back to his letter to the Ephesianssubmit to one another out of reverence for Chirst.  We live in one accord out of reverence for Christ.

These two ladies must have stirred up something in the body.  For as much as Paul loved these people in Philippi; they needed a little admonishment here.  Paul not only charges these two women to let it go, but reminded the body of Christ that they are in this whole one accord, one Spirit, one body business as well.

Paul told his Philippian friends that this family of faith business is not a spectator sport.  Get in there and help them.  These two ladies worked with Paul previously in sharing the gospel and now they needed some godly guidance, direction, correction, encouragement, and just some good ole help from this body of believers.

They needed help in achieving reconciliation.  The peace and harmony that this body had surely known for a time needed to be restored and Paul ignored the merits of either’s case—which Epaphroditus had surely explained-and just told them to sort it out in the Lord.

“Y’all submit to one another out of reverence to Christ and get this sorted out.”  It does not help you press on towards the goal.  It does not help you take hold of what you have already attained—being made holy and blameless in the eyes of God.

Had Paul been writing to the Galatians, he would have said, “You were running a good race, who cut you off?”  Here he just says get it worked out in the Lord and get back in the race.

We could spend some days, weeks, or even months in this counsel.  How many times do the little things keep us from accomplishing the big things—the things that God has set before us.

How many times do we get wrapped up in being right instead of being on track?

How many times are we insisting on our own way instead of submitting to one another out of reverence to Christ?

But what I think or have to say is IMPORTANT!  I wouldn’t be making a big stink if it wasn’t important.

Fair enough, but submitting to Christ in all things is more important.  Regarding others more highly than our selves; that’s important as well.

Paul is not saying that we will never disagree.  He is saying that there must be unity in the body.  If my argument causes division in the body; my reconciliation with the body is more important that my idea or my way or my anything that seems to be stirring up dissension.

“I” am not first in all things.  Christ, others, and then me is the model of humility that we should take from this letter.

Next Paul speaks of joy and not just joy, but joy in the Lord.  Rejoice in the Lord all the time.  Hey guys!  This is really important, so I will say it again, rejoice!

Paul uses the word joy or rejoice sixteen times in this short letter that we break into four chapters.  Four times he mentions “rejoice” twice in the same verse.

Joy and rejoicing is not unique to this letter, but it is very important to Paul, and important that he share what he understands about joy.

Joy is part of our spiritual harvest.

In this particular pericope, Paul notes that we should rejoice always.  Joy is not contingent upon our circumstances or our emotions or the fact that the tornado siren is making a lot of noise.  Our joy is in the Lord and this special gift from God is the gift that keeps on giving.

It might seem a little ironical that Paul did a little chewing out with Euodia and Syntyche and the body of believers that should have been stepping in to resolve this matter in the Lord and then jump right into his exhortation to rejoice in the Lord all the time.

But it is neither irony, nor or Paul’s words poorly placed.  In the middle of the worst issue the church might be sorting out, they must never lose their joy that comes from the Lord.  

Remember the words of Jesus that we get from John’s gospel. 

Jesus told his followers that they would have trouble in the world, but he didn’t leave it at that.  He said, take heart, cheer up, put a smile on your face, have some joy in your lives because “I have overcome the world.”

Paul is saying that we can’t be hanging our heads while we are singing Victory in Jesus!   Rejoice!

Paul next mentions something that is often overlooked in this passage.  He says the Lord is near so let your gentleness be known to all.  Gentleness is a good translation of the Greek word ἐπιεικής (epieikés).

But we should understand that this word also includes the meanings of fairness and justice and truly speaks to living by the spirit of the law over the letter of the law.  In very dynamic translation, it means justice that goes beyond ordinary justice. 

Paul is saying start living in the fulfillment of the law—in the divine heart and grace that desires mercy over sacrifice.  Think to the prophet Micah who wrote:

What does the Lord require of you but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?

Paul just rewords this a bit.  The essence of the fifth verse is that before everyone we seek justice, love mercy, and walk humbly because we live in the presence of our God.

And now we come to verses that so many know so well.  If we listen to them or read them with an open mind, we will be empowered.  If we invite the Holy Spirit into our reading and listening, we can know a peace that is unobtainable by the world’s standards.

Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.

Jesus told his followers that worrying doesn’t do any good.  You can’t add a single day or even an hour to your life by worrying.  Paul said, “Let’s taken him at face value.  Do not worry about anything!”

Peter would add, even if you are threatened, don’t worry.  Stand ready to make a defense for your faith.

The first part of Paul’s counsel is in the negative—don’t be anxious—don’t worry; so what are we to do?

Here we are directed to pray.  If we kept reading our Bibles and seeking the counsel of other believers, we might also be challenged to worship.  Paul’s direction is to pray, make petitions to God, and do it in thanksgiving.

In your worst predicament, be thankful.  If you have ever noticed, I have something of a sequence to my prayers.  I begin with thanksgiving and then get to everything else.


Thanksgiving is the perfect place to begin.  You might think that the prayer begins with Father, or Holy God, or Holy and Gracious God, or just Lord, and you would be right; but I am certain that God knows who we are talking to when we pray, even if we just say, “Dad.” Our Father in heaven knows that we are calling even before the words reach our lips.

But God wants to hear us acknowledge him in thanksgiving.  Thanksgiving says that we are not trying to live apart from God.  We are not trying this whole life and salvation thing on our own.  We are thankful for life, life abundant, and life eternal—all of these we know because of our Father in heaven who loves us more than we will ever comprehend.

We may not figure it all out but we know enough to be thankful.  Then we ask for what we need and we are not ashamed to ask our Father for anything.

We may not always get the items on the request list but we are promised God’s peace.  It is peace that is bigger—way bigger—than what we can comprehend.

What does this peace do for us?

It guards our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.  It is real peace granted to us in the middle of a troubled, anxious, and chaotic world.

In the middle of this craziness that we call the world, we can have God’s peace that goes far beyond what we can comprehend.  It is a promise that goes all the way back to a very familiar proverb

Trust in the Lord with all your heart
    and lean not on your own understanding;
 in all your ways submit to him,
    and he will make your paths straight.

So many people today deny themselves God’s peace that passes all human understand because they insist upon their own understanding.

Next we come to some mental gymnastics.  Elsewhere, Paul directs believers to defeat every argument against the truth that we know in Christ; and for those thoughts that just pop into our heads, capture them.  If they don’t line up with the truth, boot them out without any consideration—end of story.  Don’t give them time to take root.

Some of you may have heard the saying, “An idle mind is the devil’s workshop.”  That’s a stretch to make any translation of the Bible include that wording; but it is not contrary to what Paul is telling us.  Proverbs 16 gets close.

Paul is saying, “Don’t leave your mind in neutral.  This thinking business is a proactive thing.”

Instead of just waiting to see what pops into that mind of yours next, give it some specific subject areas.  If God is not doing all of the talking at the moment, here are some things to meditate upon.

Whatever is:
·      True
·      Noble
·      Right
·      Pure
·      Lovely
·      Admirable
·      Excellent
·      Praiseworthy
If we are thinking on these things then we are not thinking on whatever is:
·      False and deceptive
·      Dishonorable
·      Just plain wrong
·      Dirty
·      Morally ugly
·      Disreputable
·      Shoddy
·      Shameful

We are to take charge of our thinking and think on good things.  On another occasion, Paul told believers in Rome that the sinful mind is hostile to God but the mind controlled by the Spirit leads to life and peace.

Paul wraps up in familiar style.  He talks a little about himself, a little about the church body, and a little about what they share in common.

To the final point first—Paul thanks the congregation for the gift that they sent, probably with Epaphroditus—though this may have been one of several gifts over the years.  Paul explains that he is in pretty good shape now and that the folks at Philippi didn’t have to do this.  Paul knew how to get by on his own, but as they were generous, Paul simply says thank you for the gift.

He knows that these believers will be blessed for having a giving heart and giving spirit.

In so doing, he also gives us some insight in his circumstances and surely our own as well.  Paul said, I know what it is to have next to nothing and I know what it is to have more than I need.    Been there, done that, and got the tee shirt; but it is neither the stuff nor the circumstances that govern my joy and my peace.

I have learned to be content with my circumstances.  In whatever situation I am in, my joy and my peace come from the Lord.  If I am dining with the Emperor or stuck at home eating Ramen, I am just fine.  Paul states that he can do everything that God has purposed him to do in the strength of God.

My joy and my peace come from the Lord, not whether I have a lot or a little.  The Lord meets my needs.

Paul next tells the church in Philippi that the Lord will meet and exceed their needs.  God doesn’t have to scrounge around to see what he can put together to help this church get by.  He will bless them out of his richness and his riches.

So Paul concludes this short letter to a church that he loved.  He had to be a little terse here and there but mostly he is telling these people to have joy and accept God’s peace and be confident of his provision.

He has been coaching, guiding, and mentoring these people to be the people that God had already made them to be.

Paul told the Philippians and he is telling us that we are free to be God’s people.  There are no qualifying rounds.  

Through the blood of Christ we have been made the exact people that God wants us to be.

We are now free to live up to and be the people that we really are.

I think that if I had written this letter, I would have used the word rejoice at least as many times as Paul did and surely counseled all who would hear, not to worry—to stop being anxious about anything.

Friends, Paul is indeed writing to us.  Be anxious for nothing.  Be joyful.  Know the peace of God that goes beyond our understanding and guards our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

And think on good things.