Discovering Spiritual Truths & Celebrating God's Grace in the Every Day Happenings of Life.
My recent Bible reading brought me back into the book of Philippians. I have to say, everything started off OK. It is a short, simple book. I was reading along without a hesitancy in the world. But as I kept going, into chapter 4, things started to get dicey, a bit uncomfortable. It all started with 4:4, “Rejoice in the Lord always, I will say it again: Rejoice!” OK, that part is not too hard of a pill to swallow. The word ‘always’ raised a bit of a caution flag for me. But I just chalked that up to Paul being a bit overzealous, trying to make a point and stress some urgency to what he is teaching his beloved young disciples. A literary device so to speak, probably just an exaggerated attention grabber. It worked. Well done, Paul. But I do get the idea that he is trying to present here: with God we always have reason to rejoice. We are loved. We are forgiven. We are saved. Even when life is less-than-ideal, we need to rejoice over the blessings we do have. Perspective. It’s not necessarily easy; but I get it. No problem. Let’s move forward.
Paul goes on, “Let your gentleness be evident to all.” Got it. Don’t be a jerk. Be kind and compassionate. Love as we have been loved. To be sure, this is easier said than done. But being a good person is hardly controversial; it’s straightforward and clear. Point taken Apostle Paul. “The Lord is near.” Yes indeed, He is near. And those words ring somewhat ironic as we enter the season of Advent. The Lord is always with me. Moving on… “Do not be anxious about anything.” Still with you Paul, though the grip is loosening. The waves are getting a bit rockier. Even though we all worry and get stressed out about things, none of us would deny the fact that it not a healthy thing. Anxiousness does us no good. Hair falls out, tempers flare, nails get chewed. So much of life is wasted worrying about things beyond our control. Let go and let God. It makes for a good bumper sticker but it’s also a solid reminder. He is in charge. We are not. Trust Him.
Paul should have stopped there. The end of verse 6 is where the wheels come off… “But in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” This is where Paul seems to be getting a bit crazy. Perhaps he’s been locked up a bit too long. The prison bars were making him a bit cuckoo. Maybe he was malnourished. First, he suggests we are to rejoice at all times and now we must give thanks for everything? Mr. Paul sir—you have got to be kidding me!
Maybe I am the only one to have a problem with this text, but it seems a bit unreasonable—even in light of the pending holiday tomorrow where we “give thanks.” But this is outlandish, crazy talk! Paul seems to have lost touch with reality. There has to be an explanation because God knows what I’m dealing with right now and He can’t really expect me to take this passage seriously! Rejoice when times are tough? Give thanks in the midst of sickness? Rejoice as COVID numbers uptick again. Give thanks with all the corruption and discord going on in the world? Rejoice at the loss of loved ones? Give thanks for feelings of depression or loneliness? Rejoice for bills that pile up? Give thanks for an uncertain job status or rejoice over struggling at school? Give thanks for living in a country that is so bitterly divided? Rejoice amidst all the family and relational tension that especially ramp up this time of year?
This makes no sense. Paul has lost his mind; he’s off his rocker. Like I said before, those prison bars and shackled cells must have been causing Paul to go crazy. But I skeptically pressed on and came to verse 7, “And the peace of God which transcends all understanding will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Here it is; the heavenly nugget that ties it all together! We pray not to rejoice and give thanks for the stuff, but for Him who gets us through and helps us overcome the stuff. We do not rejoice because we are angry; we rejoice because God comforts us in our anger. We do not give thanks because we are sick; we give thanks because God alone can bring healing—physically, emotionally, spiritually. We do not rejoice because our lives are full of pain and hardships; we rejoice because God fills us with a peace that surpasses pain and a hope that conquers sorrow. We don’t give thanks for the trials and hardships. We give thanks, that in the midst of those trials we are brought back to God, brought back to the cross. Paul was in prison for his faith, yet he still found reason to rejoice in the power of the Gospel and give thanks for the hope he had in Christ.
In spite of everything, Paul found peace in Jesus—a respite and relief from the realities of a harsh and broken world. Let us also give thanks this week and always—for “the God of peace will be with you.”
“We give thanks to God not because of how we feel but because of who He is.”
I have my Christmas lights up on the outside of our house. Truth be told, I have had them hung for almost two weeks now. I couldn’t help but take advantage of the warm weather. As much fun as the ritual of freezing my fingers off while putzing around with exterior illumination is, it seemed far more enjoyable to be out on the rooftop in shorts and a t-shirt. That type of weather is always a blessing during the early weeks of November. In my defense, I did not turn them on right away. They were plugged in and the timer was set; but I couldn’t quite flip the final switch. Plus, I have added, tweaked, and tinkered with them at different times throughout the past week. But as of three nights ago, I have turned them on. You heard me correctly; I turned on our outside Christmas lights. Our house doesn’t quite have the Clark Griswold, light-up-the-neighborhood glow, but it’s not too shabby for the first time decorating our new abode. We’ve thrown in some holly-themed ribbon, red bows, and garland. I’ve made the necessary schematics for the yet to come addition of our festive inflatables. We do still have a few additions to make. But believe me when I tell you, “It’s a beaut, Clark. It’s a beaut.”
Because of this, I have received (and continue to receive) a bit of good-natured ribbing from people. Family, friends, and neighbors have all scoffed at my early November efforts to decorate. Sour grapes, perhaps?
“It’s not even Thanksgiving yet.”
“Isn’t it a bit too early for lights?”
“The leaves haven’t even all fallen yet.”
“Oh, you’re one of those families.” 😉
This past Tuesday, I spent the day at a pastor’s conference in Flemington. As part of our devotion/study for the day, we spent a good deal of time reflecting on the 1st article of the Apostle’s Creed. You know it well. We say it nearly every time we gather for worship. “I believe in God, the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth.” Even in a room full of pastors, who have spent years studying and teaching this very truth, it was a powerful moment to really let the weight of this confession sink in. The initial takeaway starts off very big. God is the Creator and He is almighty. We know this. We get it. Before Him there was nothing. Then, He spoke all that we see (and don’t see) into existence. God speaks and “bang” things happen. But we also acknowledge that this is a truth that speaks to a reality that is so big and beyond our human-limited comprehension. Have you ever stood on the edge of the Grand Canyon? Have you ever felt the rush and power of Niagara Falls? Have you sat on a sandy beach staring off into the endless ocean? Creation itself is a powerful testimony to God’s incalculable immensity. Undoubtedly, there has been a mountaintop moment that left you awestruck by the magnitude and power of God’s omnipotence, performative speech, and artistic authority. In this very first part of the creed, we rightly testify to the fact that God has made all things and He continues to give us everything we need for existence. Yet, we must be careful not to overlook or undervalue this word… Father.
What is the job of a father? It is to pick up a child after he/she has fallen and bandage up any scratches or scrapes. It is to run behind a child, tightly holding onto the seat of a bicycle as he/she learns to ride, to prevent any hard crash. It is to run ahead of his child, to step in front of any oncoming threat to his daughter or son. It is to care for and provide for his child, every need from food to clothing to home. It is to cheer for them the loudest during every great accomplishment. And to be just as devout and supportive when a child feels the pain of loss and defeat. It is to pick up his exhausted son or daughter when the physical demands or the
Pastor Steve Vera