Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Thanks

Philippians 4:10-23

It was July, and I was just getting situated in my new church assignment when the mission chair came up to me and told me she needed to step down. With that, she handed me the “mission chair folder.” When I looked at the folder, I realized one of the main reasons she had quit; the folder simply held envelopes of fund requests from various mission and ministry groups. This was all she had been given as the incoming mission chair, and it reflected the truth: that all we were doing missionally as a church was sending little bits of money to some of these groups. Now, I’m not saying that these groups didn’t need or appreciate the money. They all needed the money; otherwise they wouldn’t have sent out fundraising letters. But the problem was that we weren’t engaged in mission whatsoever. We felt like if we could send out some of our extra money, then our obligation to mission work was completed.

Moreover, our attitude was that we had an obligation to “do something” for the “less fortunate.” This put us on different levels – we, of course, were the top level, and the “less fortunate” – well, I probably don’t have to explain where they ranked. But as we come to the final section of Paul’s letter to the church in Philippi, we find that one of the main reasons that Paul wrote the letter was to thank them for their monetary gift. I love his fundraising letter: he says, “Not that I am looking for a gift…” Many of the fundraising letters I get come across as “well, if you won’t send any money, I guess you can pray for me.” Paul doesn’t have that attitude at all. He knows that the Philippian church is giving money out of their deep concern for him. He is not a “project.” He isn’t just somewhere for them to spend their mission budget. He knows why they gave – they gave because of their relationship.

This is a completely different paradigm than “giving to the less fortunate.” This is giving because “I love you and I want to be a part of the mission you’re on.” This is giving because we’re an important part of the mission. Remember that this was one of Paul’s church plants. We often think of places like this as being the ones who would be the recipients of a special offering, but that is a limited view. Consider the Vietnam initiative from the Shawnee Valley district*(see note below). We are the poorest district in all of West Ohio. Yet we almost singlehandedly funded the mission to Vietnam. The most recent number I have states that our district has given $579,000 to the Vietnam mission in less than five years. Five recession years in some of the poorest counties in Ohio.

Vietnam is the site of amazing church planting ministries – when our district went to Vietnam in 2009, there were 68 United Methodist Churches and now there are over 200. Yet they are not finished; there are 53 unreached people groups in Vietnam with a population of 15 million people. The Vietnamese United Methodists have presented a vision of reaching a certain ethnic group for Jesus Christ; when asked how many new Christians they want to see within that ethnic group, they said, “All of them.” Meanwhile, the Vietnamese churches are collecting missionary offerings for Laos.

I love the interactions here between Paul and the Philippian church. Now that Epaphroditus has come with their latest gift, all of Paul’s financial needs have been met, but through the scripture, it is clear that the relationship they have is more important to Paul than even the money they sent. I rejoice greatly in the Lord that at last you have renewed your concern for me. (Philippians 4:10)

Here’s the thing – sending money to missions is a good thing. There is no mistaking that. But it’s a first step. We can rarely say, “Well, I gave money – now I’m off the hook.” I won’t say “never” because maybe God is asking you to be more generous with the money he has given you to be a steward of. But usually giving money is a first step. Here’s how it often works: we start by sending some money. Then it grows to “let’s send somebody.” Maybe someone without the financial resources wants to go, so the church decides, “We’ll go ahead and help send him or her.” When they come back with the report about their trip, well, then we ought to get a team together. The team then goes and often builds something or leads something, often for the so-called “less fortunate.”

We can get stuck there, the one white face in a sea of nameless Central Americans or Africans. But if we are really astute, we can go back to the same place year after year and we can start to build relationships. You know, like when you go through the pictures of the mission trips and you can name the names of the people in the pictures with you… and you begin to really know them… and you realize that you have something to learn from them as well…

So you’re building relationships and encouraging the believers there, and meanwhile you’re learning from them and being encouraged by them. I don’t know how someone couldn’t be encouraged when they hear the stories of the Vietnamese Christians who are gung-ho about sharing Jesus with everyone they meet.

And here’s the thing – the outpouring of love we have for our mission partners will then drive the financial aspect. You’ll never go the other way round; giving money does not bring about love, but when you love somebody, things change. You actually want to give money. That’s why the Philippian church gave to Paul again and again and again.

I wonder what kind of mission we might get on board with. If you are someone who wants to participate in mission work with this kind of emphasis, let’s talk about it and let’s make it happen.

One of the biggest hindrances we have to really sharing Christ is that we are so comfortable and we don’t want anyone to interfere with our comfort. Just coming to church is uncomfortable for some people – the seats are hard, the temperature is never right, the preacher preaches too long… but if you think about it, coming to worship is uncomfortable for a lot of reasons for other people as well. Walking for hours to get there; hiding in fear of government reprisal; not having access to scriptures in your own language. I hope you get what I’m aiming at; the fact that we have it really easy. We put such great emphasis on our own comfort that we forget that our neighbors are on their way to Hell while we have the key to Heaven. Puts things into perspective, doesn’t it?

Paul puts things in perspective when he writes this: I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. (Philippians 4:11-12)

I know circumstances are often very tough, but Paul is content no matter what. Prison? No problem. Being in need? Having plenty? Well fed? Hungry? Paul is content. Often we look at someone like Paul and think he’s a superChristian or something. Or that this kind of contentment is for a special breed of Christian or for clergy only. There is no way that ordinary people could live like this. Yes, it is true that as an Elder in the United Methodist Church I have agreed to certain standards including the itineracy, meaning when the bishop says, “Move” I’m packing. But it’s ridiculous the way that some people think a pastor is, by office, a better Christian than everyone else. And especially when that kind of thinking leads church people to believe that they can treat pastors worse than everyone else.

But the point here is that Paul isn’t commending himself for something extraordinary or amazing. This is part of the normal Christian life. Why is it part of the normal Christian life? Because of Philippians 4:13. I can do everything through him who gives me strength.

This verse is often appropriated for athletes who think it means that they can accomplish their goals on the sports field (or even win) because God gives them strength to do so. That isn’t what this verse is about at all. This verse is about God giving us the strength to not only survive but thrive despite difficult circumstances. If you remember way back to chapter 1, Paul trusts that he who started the good work in you will be faithful to complete it until the day of Christ Jesus. (Philippians 1:6). Of course we can do whatever it takes to complete the task God set before us, because God goes with us and gives us the strength to do that which he has created us to do, no matter what else is going on around us.

Furthermore, as Paul says in Philippians 4:19: And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.

God isn’t short on cash. We are guilty of acting as if everything is a Depression-era crisis; we can’t do this or that because the money and we don’t even think about what we might do if we had the money. I once served in a church that had a stripped-down budget with no money for ministry and the youth leaders had to come to the board and beg for money to take the kids to camp (not money for the campers – money for the adults who were giving their time and often their vacation in order to go to camp with a bunch of teenagers). Meanwhile the church was squirrelling away $7000 every quarter for the roof. Which didn’t need any work currently, but probably would in 5-10 years.

What if we worked from the assumption that if God wants us to do something, God will supply our needs according to his glorious riches? I know the answer to that; it’s because we would have to trust the Holy Spirit and obey him whenever he says whatever he says. It’s just too hard. Let’s just go with what we know, which is guessing how much money we’ll take in and limit our budget to that. That’s much easier. And I don’t know how it works here, but in another church when I suggested that we might fill out pledge cards, by the response I got, I might as well have been suggesting we sell our souls to the devil.

God entrusts us with money for a reason and that reason is so we can glorify him with it. So Paul wraps this letter up with a doxology: To our God and Father be glory for ever and ever. Amen. (Philippians 4:20)

And Paul concludes with greetings. Greet all the saints in Christ Jesus. The brothers who are with me send greetings. All the saints send you greetings, especially those who belong to Caesar’s household. His greetings are short and to the point for a couple of reasons. One is that a letter like this would be expected to be read first in one church and then passed along and read in another. How would you feel about getting a sermon in which I publicly thanked a bunch of people from my last church?

Another reason for the short greeting is that dear friends don’t require elaborate greetings. Besides, if Paul went long on the greeting, that would undoubtedly detract from the message he wanted to get across and what he most wanted to leave them with, namely God’s glory out of which he lavishes riches on them in Christ Jesus, to whom all glory is now due.

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. Amen.



*NOTE: For the discussion on missions, the movement from sending money to building relationship and learning from one another, and for the leadership of the Shawnee Valley District in spearheading the Vietnam Initiative, I give credit to Rev. Joseph Bishman, the District Superintendent of the Shawnee Valley.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Think About This

Philippians 4:4-9

I was sitting in the doctor’s waiting room, reading a book that was required reading for class: The Christology of Jesus. It was very heady reading, and I was struggling with it. A woman asked me what I was reading and I showed her the cover of the book and muttered, “It’s a chore.” She, having obviously misheard me, responded brightly, “Honey, any time you’re reading about Jesus, it’s a joy.”

I don’t know if she was an angel sent down from heaven or if she was just an angel stationed here on earth, but God had obviously sent her to give me a clear message. This is the same kind of message Paul is sending to the church in Philippi. There is always something to rejoice about! It doesn’t bother me that I read this first part of the passage in my last sermon, because, if Paul can repeat himself, so can I! Rejoice in the Lord always! Rejoice!

One of the things that Paul was sure of was that Jesus would return soon. I’ve seen a T-shirt that says, “Jesus is coming… look busy.” But what might our attitude look like if we actively believed that Jesus could be returning any moment? What might we not put off? How might we treat one another? How might we treat those who are outside of the church? Would it make any difference to understand that you might be the only Jesus they ever meet?

I’ve been approaching this in the realm of “how might your behavior look” if you realized Jesus was near, but what about our attitudes? Paul continues by reminding us that if Jesus’ nearness should affect our thought patterns as well. Do not be anxious about anything. Paul had every reason to be anxious. If people like the Philippian Church hadn’t sent him money, Paul would literally have starved in prison. At this point, he didn’t know whether he would live or die. Yet he wasn’t all bent out of shape with worry. In fact, this is a great example of what Jesus said about worry in Matthew 6:25-34: 

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?

“And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 

For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

Don’t worry about tomorrow; let tomorrow worry about itself. Some of you struggle with worry and you might be saying, “easier said than done!” How are we supposed to live without worry? Paul addresses this. 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. (Philippians 4:6-7)

Instead of giving in to anxiety, present every request to God. The formula is that in everything we bring our prayers to God – with thanksgiving. I want to bring a couple of things to your attention. Paul doesn’t ask us to bring “some” things to God. Paul doesn’t say, “When you’re at wits end, then pray.” Paul doesn’t say, “Do everything you can yourself and then pray.” Paul doesn’t say, “Only pray for the big things,” or “Only pray for the little things.” Paul tells us that everything is worthy of prayer.

But Paul also gives us the perspective for when we’re in prayer. Sometimes we are guilty of jumping straight in with our requests, which is understandable when you’re in an emergency situation and all you can do is just cry out for help. But in our daily prayer time, we’re called to present our prayers with thanksgiving.

Not only does Paul tell us to rejoice in all situations, but he also tells us to present our requests with thanksgiving. Sometimes it can be hard to give thanks in your circumstance. Things are going poorly. Money issues. Health issues. Job issues. Family issues. World issues. They’re all a burden. It’s hard to feel thankful in those situations. But here’s the deal, Paul doesn’t say “feel” thankful. Paul simply tells us to pray with thanksgiving. This isn’t about “feelings.” I don’t know how many times I’ve heard someone say they didn’t feel like praying or worship or singing praise to God. OK, but I didn’t feel like writing this sermon. I didn’t feel like getting out of bed this morning. I never feel like changing stinky diapers. What else? There are all kinds of things in life we don’t feel like doing, yet we do them all the time.

This goes right along with one of my biggest church pet peeves; someone will say they don’t want to force their child to go to church, yet they force them to go to school every day.

OK, that was off-topic. Back to Philippians – Paul doesn’t ever ask us to feel thankful; we are to give thanks as we pray. Why might that be? Because our emotions are fickle. They are swayed by all sorts of external circumstances. I once was prescribed a pain medication that made me feel paranoid. I really thought people, including perfect strangers, were doing mean things to me on purpose. Were they really? No. It was a nasty side-effect of a medication (which I trashed after I realized what was happening). I know I tend to be depressed when I don’t get enough sleep. I tend to be grouchy when I’m hungry or when I haven’t gotten enough exercise. I think you get the point. Our emotions are fickle, so why would we leave our relationship with God subject to the whim of our emotions?

Besides, have you ever thought that God might just have a plan? You might be a part of God’s miraculous and mighty plan, and even the difficult things you are going through could very well be a part of it as well. I’m not saying that God wants his people to suffer, but I’m certainly saying that God will use and even redeem our suffering. Every bit of it. God uses the difficulties of this earth to help shape us into the person he created us to be. Just as gold is refined in the fire, so are we refined by the struggles of this life.

If it seems impossible to thank God for the not-the-greatest aspects of life and you think it would be impossible to thank him for the bad times, you’re probably right, so you’re going to have to count on him to do it. Remember, this is the God who started a good work in you and who will be faithful to complete it until the day of Christ Jesus (Philippians 1:6). This is the God for whom nothing is impossible (Luke 1:37).

When we get to the point when we allow the Holy Spirit such control that we can even thank God for the adverse circumstances, then is it any question that God’s peace that transcends all understanding will guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus?

So many times we try to manufacture our own peace or define peace as an absence of conflict, when really our God is sufficient to give us peace in the face of the most difficult conflict. Consider the German martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who died as a traitor to Nazi Germany, and of whom the camp doctor who witnessed his execution noted, “I have hardly ever seen a man die so entirely submissive to the will of God.” (Foxe: Voice of the Martyrs, p. 237)

The reality is we are never alone. God is with us. If you’ve ever gone rappelling, you might know the feeling – you’re standing, leaning over a cliff, and the last thing you want to do is lean back more. But that’s exactly what you do, trusting that your harness and ropes and spotter have you. We sometimes get so caught up in trying to keep things under control that we forget that God already has it under control. So with that said, we focus on our minds.

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things. (Philippians 4:8)

Paul has said elsewhere (Romans 12:2) that the key to not conforming to the world is through renewing our minds. If you’re anything like me, you think, “easier said than done.” But Paul won’t have any of that and I won’t either. If it’s worth doing, it’s worth working at. And training your mind to think godly thoughts is no different. You can’t fill your mind with garbage and expect goodness to just flow out. At scout camp two weeks ago, a little boy told me he didn’t think it was fair that his parents wouldn’t let him watch certain shows because they used bad language. “I hear that stuff all the *f-in’* time,” he explained. He didn’t abbreviate the word.

So how do you train your mind to think differently when we’re immersed in a world that doesn’t? The key is in training. A non-runner doesn’t just wake up one day and say, “I think I’ll run a marathon,” and just go out and pound 26.2 miles of pavement. No, the non-runner starts with a few steps and extends that to a mile, then a few miles, then 10 milers then 20 milers, then runs a marathon after training and training for it. And if we want to have transformed minds that conform to that of Jesus Christ, we have to practice thinking about godly things.

Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things.

Practice that. Mark it in your Bible. Especially if you’re a worrier or a negative Nelly, mark this. We have the power to control our thought lives. I think I’ll need to say this again – we have the power to control our thought lives. But here’s the problem; we often find ourselves wallowing in negative and unhealthy thought patterns and we don’t do anything about it – maybe we don’t think there’s anything we can do about it. That’s a lie. We can change our thoughts. But it takes time and work and practice. We don’t think about what we’re pouring into our thought lives – the movies and shows we watch, the websites we frequent, who we follow on Twitter and Facebook. It can be easy to go with the flow and never evaluate what we’re thinking about. Think about it.

If you can’t find something to think about, something true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent or praiseworthy, try reading Scripture. God has given us His Word and it is all these things. Instead of turning on a show that might not fit into any of these categories, read the Bible. Look for something positive to think of. If you look for something positive, chances are you will find it, and it will transform you. When I was in eighth grade, I had a teacher who gave me lots of trouble. Well, more accurately, my teacher had a student who gave her lots of trouble. Anyway, I got in trouble at home and my punishment was that I had to tell my mom something nice about this teacher every day. And it couldn’t be a backhanded slam. Not only did I stop getting in trouble in her class, but as I strained to think of something nice to say about her, I had to look at this teacher in a whole new way.

The idea that we can’t change our thought patterns is ridiculous. But it takes work. If you’re not willing to do the work, don’t expect to see results.

And as our thought patterns are changed, our behavior will also change. So Paul says: change your thought patterns and Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, seen in me – put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.

Here’s the thing: we can think all kinds of things, we can learn all kinds of things in church and in sermons and in our Bible reading, but if we don’t put it into practice, we’re stupid.

Jesus says the one who hears his words and doesn’t put them into practice is like someone who builds a house without a foundation. Whenever a torrent strikes the house, its destruction is complete. (Luke 6:49). Indeed, Jesus goes so far as to say that his mother and his brothers are those who hear God’s word and put it into practice. (Luke 8:21).


So will we be broken, completely destroyed houses, or will we be counted among Jesus’ immediate family?

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Why Can't We All Just Get Along

Philippians 4:1-7

Last week we looked at the concept of already/not yet, that Jesus already did everything that is needed for our salvation, but that we are not yet in heaven. Jesus already paid the price for our sins, and we await heaven and the transformation of our lowly bodies so they will be like his glorious body. As we begin chapter four, it really belongs with last week’s message – a summary, starting with a “therefore” and reiterating the main point: that Paul dearly loves the people of the Philippian Church and dearly desires that they stand firm in the faith, knowing that Jesus has already paid their price and that their future is secure in Him.

And so, with this in mind, Paul addresses an issue in this church. I plead with Euodia and I plead with Syntyche to agree with each other in the Lord. Yes, and I ask you, loyal yokefellow, help these women who have contended at my side in the cause of the gospel, along with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life.

It can be easy to think of these women as troublemakers, as those who would sow seeds of dissention, as those who would drive a church to ruin with their fighting. I have known various people in various churches who seem to always be fighting with someone and the common factor is always them. As I read over this, I have to admit that I wanted to rail on some people who seem to be out for the demise of the church. But Paul has already addressed that type of person last chapter, those who live as enemies of the cross of Christ. So what is going on with Euodia and Syntyche? Notice that the context in which Paul addresses them is immediately following an appeal to his dear friends. Paul does not break context here. He does not say, “On the other hand…” He does not say, “But there are some, such as Euodia and Sytyche…”  So remember that these are two of his friends, those who have contended alongside him in the cause of the gospel.

Sometimes we can get the wrong impression of the place of women in the church. Historically there are some who have used the Bible’s teaching to keep women silent and even to justify the abuse of women and to ignore their unique call to ministry. The church in Philippi was no such church. When you look back at the founding of this church, you’ll find that Paul founded it with Lydia and a group of women who gathered outside the city gate by the river (Acts 16:13-14). Women were afforded much more opportunity in Macedonia, and Paul’s admonition to these women was not that they stop teaching or anything else. These were two women who Paul describes as having contended at his side for the cause of the gospel. So his goal for them was that they would get agree with one another in the Lord.

Does this mean they have to be 100% in agreement on everything? There are some things that are essential and some things that are not. For Christians recently, it seems like the essentials are often viewed as “suggestions.” That you can view Jesus as merely a “good teacher” who died a martyr’s death, that there was no virgin birth, no miracles and no bodily resurrection, and that he is not returning for his people. How exactly is this Christianity?

There are some who believe that as long as you’re “good enough” then you’re fine.  Or that there is no Heaven or Hell, or afterlife at all. I have a friend who is a Universalist; he believes that God would never send anyone to Hell. But he also admitted to me that he didn’t come to that belief from the Bible and he agreed that the Biblical authors believed something else; that they were clear that salvation only comes through Jesus Christ, the one way to the Father. If it’s not true, then Jesus was, as C.S. Lewis put it, a liar or a lunatic. The point here is that there are essential doctrines – if we undermine them, we undermine the entire faith.

When it comes to Paul, you’ll find that he was extremely forceful when it came to people who messed with essential doctrines. Just read the letter to the Galatians and you’ll see how he felt about essential doctrines. Hint: he comes out and tells those who are forcing circumcision to go ahead and emasculate themselves. Yes, it’s in there. Galatians 5:12 One of those verses we don’t have our kids memorize in Children’s Church.

But there are other doctrines or practices that are not essential. By this I mean there are things where the Bible is not completely clear, and our salvation does not hang on which side we fall. For example, one big debate I see all the time is between predestination and free will. Predestination is the idea that God, in his sovereignty, decided in advance everything that would happen, including who would be saved and who would not be saved. Thus there is nothing we can do to affect our salvation. We may think we have a choice, but it’s really God’s choice alone. This would include Presbyterians, Reformed Christians, UCC, and some Baptists. Free will, on the other hand, suggests that we choose whether or not to follow God. The Holy Spirit woos us and draws us to Himself, but we have the ability to choose.

Who is right? The answer, though this might be offensive to some of my hardcore Calvinist friends, is that it is not essential to salvation.

Besides non-essential doctrines, there are practices held by churches that are not essential. The Bible doesn’t tell us exactly how to organize our services. It doesn’t say what kind of instruments we should use – I couldn’t find “guitar” or “drums” in the Bible, but I couldn’t find a piano or pipe organ either. Sometimes we get so fired up over the non-essentials that we completely forget about the essentials. We fight with each other about what kind of music is in the service and we neglect the poor and needy. We debate endlessly about predestination versus free will, while we fail to take the gospel to those who don’t know Jesus.

So Paul sees his friends, fellow workers in the gospel, engaged in some sort of disagreement, so what does he do? He calls them out! By name!

I have only named names once in a sermon, and that was when leaders in the church were sinning, and only because the Scripture tells us when a leader sins, the rebuke is public. But Paul’s goal here is not public rebuke. His goal is for the church to help these two women reconcile and to thus get back on track with being the church.

So I want to ask this: How do we respond when we have disunity? When it comes down to it, we tend to be pretty dysfunctional. We often base decisions on rumors and the hope of not offending anyone. We beat around the bush and pretend that conflict doesn’t happen. Sometimes there are bullies who are used to getting their way. Other times there are clergy persons who distort the Word of God for their own good or use the pulpit to massage their egos or build their own following.

I don’t like conflict. In fact, as a rule, my default setting is “conflict avoider.” But one thing we can be sure of as humans is that before we die, we will have conflict. Euodia and Syntyche were in the midst of conflict, and Paul addresses it. Even he knows that there are areas of conflict in which there might not even be a “right” and a “wrong” side! But

And Paul does not forget that these two women are not the enemy! Besides saying that they contended at his side for the cause of the gospel, Paul includes them in the category of “fellow workers” and, furthermore, he includes them as those whose names are written in the book of life.

This is a reminder that we can have disagreements in church. When our church council met to discuss if we would continue to withhold a portion of our conference apportionment I was actually happy that the vote wasn’t unanimous. We didn’t all agree, but neither did we pretend to agree for the sake of the meeting and then whine and moan about it out in the parking lot. I always ask a couple in pre-marital counseling how they fight. This almost always gets interesting responses from the couple – sometimes they’re all, “oh, we never fight!” in which case I tell them that their assignment is to have a good fight before the next appointment so they can tell me how they fight. Now, there are good and bad ways to fight, but there are basically only two reasons why a couple wouldn’t have disagreements. The first is because one is so forceful in his or her opinions that the other wouldn’t dare state anything contrary for fear of being put down. The second is because they don’t care enough about anything to disagree.

The big question is: can we disagree and still love one another? Can we disagree and put the disagreements that are non-essential for salvation aside and work together for the cause of Christ? It can be easy to forget that the other is not your enemy but is rather a brother or sister in Christ.

And so Paul continues: Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!

I was going to end this sermon right after we got through the disagreement between these two women, but I thought about the way the scripture is organized and how it is organized this way not just on purpose, but by the Holy Spirit.

Paul wants the church to be clear on this point: rejoice in the Lord always. He says it again. And again. And again. This is one of the main themes of the letter; to rejoice even when things aren’t going the way you want them to go. But now I believe that this section also has to do with how to deal with disagreement in the church as well.

When we disagree with one another about the non-essentials, what would happen if we stopped and rejoiced in the Lord? What would happen if this were our first response? To rejoice in the Lord with one another? How about if that was what drove all of our Christian interaction – how good God is?! I have tried to emphasize the first part of our prayer time when we rejoice with how God has been at work in the previous week; if we sincerely take notice of what God is doing and gave that first priority, everything else might look a little different.

And as we rejoice together, Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Of course we are going to be gentle with one another when we are rejoicing and actively looking for things to rejoice in. They say if you look at things like a hammer, everything looks like a nail. But conversely, when your mind is set on positive things, you begin to see everything in a positive light. And reflecting that the Lord is near is key. I remember in college, one day a fraternity brother ran into me after a terrible class. He told me I looked terrible, to which I responded by telling him how awful the class was. Then I realized that my professor was standing right behind me. Yeah, that was awkward. But how might our behavior change if we were to reflect on the nearness of the Lord?

Paul gives a good clue: 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.


God’s got it all under control. Everything. This is how God’s people can be peaceful in times when it doesn’t seem like you should be. Again, it’s all about Jesus.