Think About These Things

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Don’t worry about anything.

Well, that may be easy for Paul to say.

But what about us? What about us who live in a world where nations are either threatening each other with war? Or are already at war?

Just last night I was at a vigil for the victims of the Las Vegas shooting rampage. I cannot count the number of times the past couple years I’ve said, “My thoughts and prayers are with the victims of ___________________.”

At first glance Paul seems to possess an unrealistic attitude toward life that doesn’t admit these harsh realities.

Paul does know about human suffering. He wrote this letter to the Philippian church from a prison in Rome.

He’s well aware that life is fragile. That there is injustice.

Nevertheless, he says, “Rejoice in the Lord; again I will say, Rejoice! Don’t worry about anything.”

Paul’s someone who doesn’t ignore human suffering, but someone who looks it straight in the eye, and then continues working.

He chooses faith over fear. And he invites the church at Philippi—and us—to do the same. He invites us to choose joy in the midst of uncertainty.

He tells them not to let a disagreement get in the way of the wonderful thing God is doing in and through them.

He tells them struggles are not an excuse to stop trusting in God, or to stop caring for one another.

As he waits to see if he will live or die, he talks about joy.

He does this for two reasons, which are still relevant for us today:

First, Paul found a source of true joy that will never fail. He knows that whether he lives or dies, whether he           has much or little, whether people treat him as a friend or as an enemy, he is never alone.

Second, he knows that how we think determines to a great extent, how we live. He knows that our thinking           shapes our life.

Your perceptions, your thoughts, your mental habits, determine to a great extent, your reality. The more good stuff we stick in our bodies, the better.

Our thoughts are kind of like a rudder that steers our ship. Be mindful that we are thinking thoughts that will take us where we want to go!

Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.

Think about the things that will fill you with light and joy. That’s the way to stay on course through life.

Advertisements

Run for Your Life

Philippians 3:4b-14

Sometimes we lack the proper wider perspective. We think we’re headed down the right path. But then we realize that we were mistaken.

Maybe you’ve been headed down the wrong path before. In a relationship. Or at work. Or with your family or friends. Suddenly you get that wider perspective. You realize that you’ve been doing it all wrong. You’re been running in the wrong direction.

If you have, you have something in common with Paul.

In our Scripture today he’s telling the church at Philippi that he used to run in the wrong direction in his relationship with God. But he didn’t know it.

He thought that a relationship with God meant doing all the things he was told to do by his society. Have the right family. Know Scripture. Keep God’s commands. Persecute the dangerous Christ followers. Paul was perfectly obedient and dutiful. He was running with all of his might. Until he meets Jesus.

He realizes that he had been mistaken. That he was wrong about Jesus and his followers. He discovered that there was real freedom and transforming power and community in the Jesus movement. And he’s overcome with sorrow.

He said he counts all the energy he spent being so dutiful and so proud as waste now that he knows the way of freedom.

That’s an intense feeling. That sense of regret—that you’re a failure.

If you’ve ever been mistaken about something important, or been betrayed by someone important, you know what Paul feels like here.

He’s at a turning point. A make or break time in his life.

Will he be overcome with regret and fall into despair? Will he lack the courage to begin again? Or will he realize he made a mistake, realize he was running the wrong way, and make a course correction?

He chooses the latter: but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.

He makes a serious course correction. He becomes a servant and a pastor to the community he used to persecute.

God allows course corrections.

Turnarounds.

Bind Us Together

Or, to be passive. To pretend that we weren’t really hurt. That doesn’t work either. And there’s no justice here, either.

Jesus and Paul teach us about an alternative between aggression and passivity, between violence and silence. Loving confrontation. Dialog. Engagement. That’s the way to resolve conflict and find justice.

When you view our passage in its larger context it becomes “You’ve become lost; you’ve left the playing field, and we’d like to invite you back into the game.”

It isn’t about punishment but restoration. It’s not about who’s wrong and who’s right. It’s not about winning. It’s about reconciliation.

It’s about choosing to remain bound together when a relationship is threatened.

If someone still isn’t reconciled after three attempts, Jesus says, treat them like a Gentile or a tax collector. Which sounds like an excuse to treat them like an outsider, but remember who it was who Jesus spent his time with.

Gentiles and tax collectors! He defended them against critics. He healed them. Gave them food. Ate with them. He helped their families. And invited them to make peace with their neighbor and God and become his disciple.

When Jesus says to treat someone like a Gentile or tax collector, he’s saying they need to hear the liberating good news of God’s love, because they’re stuck in the old creation.

When a conflict arises, don’t ignore it. Don’t retaliate either. Talk about it. Grow through it. Your covenant with one another will be strengthened.

In our day, unresolved conflict is tearing apart relationships and families. It’s tearing apart communities. It’s tearing apart our country and our world.

Our world needs to see a group of people who can overcome their differences and their conflicts and treat each other with respect and dignity.

Our world needs to see that people can remain bound together even in difficult circumstances.

It needs to see that conflict is inevitable because we’re all so different, but that we can remain bound together.

Conflicts do not kill churches. Refusing to deal with conflict kills churches.

But dealing with them gives churches life and vitality. And it helps the world see that we can live together in peace.

May we bind our selves together. May we discover that all we need is one another. May we discover that what is most needed and most sacred is right in front of us.

 

Thinking of Ourselves Less

In “The Book of Joy”, Desmond Tutu and the Dalai Lama tell us that humility is one of the pillars of joy.
Now if you’re like me, you might think, yuck, humility? You mean having a low concept of myself? Thinking that I’m a nobody? Why would I do that on purpose? I think we misunderstand true humility.
True humility is remembering that others are just as important as us. It means not having to have the last word. Or have our own way all the time. Humility isn’t thinking that we’re no good. That we don’t have gifts.
True humility is thinking of ourselves less, not thinking less of ourselves.
The Christian tradition has a long history of confusing these two. When Christians say that they can do no good thing, or that they are a sinner, or a worm. That’s not humility. That’s denying our human dignity. That’s denying that we bear God’s image.
Humility isn’t denying this light. It’s remembering that others bear it, too. When we remember that about others, and treat them with dignity and respect, and include them, we are in a place where we can experience joy.
Humility turns strangers into friends. It turns friends into families. It unites us with others. It makes us one. Humility is necessary for unity and joy. And that’s why Paul is urging the Christians at Philippi to be humble. They’re struggling because they’ve lost their unity. They’ve lost their joy. Paul says, “The way to restore both is through humility. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.”
Imitate Jesus, who sought us out. Imitate the one who never spoke poorly of himself, but lifted others up.
Maybe you’ve experienced a time when you were united. People didn’t necessarily all think the same thing. They didn’t look alike. They didn’t act alike. But they were humble enough to allow each other room to be who they were. That’s unity.
We need to be humble enough to say, “I need you. I can’t do this on my own. I can’t solve this on my own.”
Start writing your post here. You can insert images and videos by clicking on the icons above.

The Overcoming Life

Paul says, “Love genuinely. Hate what is evil. Extend hospitality to strangers. Bless those who persecute you. Associate with the lowly. Be humble. Don’t repay anyone evil for evil. Live peaceably with all if you can. Don’t seek vengeance. Don’t try to overcome evil with evil. Overcome evil with good.”

Jesus taught forgiveness instead of vengeance.

It’s easy to forgive when it’s a little something.But what about when you or someone you love is seriously hurt or even killed by someone. Intentionally.

I think most of us remember the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. When a man set off a bomb in Olympic Park.

A woman named Alice Hawthorne was killed in the blast. And her daughter Fallon Stubbs was wounded by shrapnel.

Fallon Stubbs appeared at the trial to offer, not condemnation, but forgiveness. She said, “Because of you, I have become a tolerant person. Not for you, but for me, I forgive you. I look at you. I love you … and if I cry,” she added, “it’s not for me. It’s not for my mother. It’s not for my father. It’s for you.”

Memrie Creswell was also injured by the. She told reporters after the sentencing, “He rolled his eyes when I said that I’m going to trump his evilness with love for the rest of my days.”

That takes guts. Real courage.

These two women knew what Paul knew. That evil must be reckoned with. That it needs to be named. That it needs to be confronted.

They know, like Paul did, that love which does not reject evil is not genuine. Genuine love must confront individuals who spread hate and violence. And that it must reject systemic evils in culture and society.

But it doesn’t mean returning evil for evil. Hate for hate. Violence for violence. That never works.

Fallon and Memrie and Paul suggest a third way between the usual choices of seeking vengeance and pretending that someone didn’t hurt us.

The first option—seeking vengeance—is too aggressive. It just perpetuates the cycle of violence. It inflames hate.

But pretending someone or something hasn’t hurt is too passive. It is unhealthy to allow unresolved conflict in ourselves. It further hurts individuals who have been victimized.

We need to practice a third way—loving confrontation. Honest dialog with someone who has lost their way. An invitation to rediscover healthy relationships and community. That’s the key to an overcoming life.

Letting God’s love transform our own self-concept, our relationship with others in the church or outside of it. Loving people back into community, either through collaboration or through loving confrontation.

Transforming Powers

I’d like to share a personal story about how my life has been transformed by changing my mind.

I’ve shared before how I used to be afraid of flying. Well, I was more than afraid. My palms sweat when I took a friend to the airport. I got the creeps just thinking about being on an airplane.

In 2008 I had an opportunity to travel to New Orleans for the Starbucks Leadership Conference. Between workshops we were going to help with reconstruction efforts around New Orleans, which had been devastated by Hurricane Catrina.

I’d won a major award that year, and was hoping I’d get to meet Howard Schultz.

But one thing stood in my way: I had to fly there. I weighed the pros and cons and decided that it was rational for me to get on the plane. I got on it just fine, but as soon as the door was shut and the engine started, I panicked.

I told the flight attendant that I had to get off the plane. She asked if I was having a medical emergency and I said, “Yes, I’m having a medical emergency!”

The captain let me off. Thank goodness. But I missed a huge opportunity. To work for good in New Orleans, to push myself, and to do something new.

It was disappointed in myself. But I was determined to grow from the experience. With help, I was able to transform my thoughts about flying. In my mind airplanes were something to be afraid of. But now I saw airplanes as a way of expanding my world and my freedom.

Flying made it possible to travel to all kinds of incredible places that I couldn’t have traveled to before, like Europe and Hawaii.

But it took transforming my mind and plugging in new thoughts about airplanes. That was what ultimately made a new way of life possible.

Our Scripture  says being transformed by renewing our minds. In order for us to change, we must change our thinking.

If we look a little closer, it’s also telling us what it is that we need to change about ourselves as people who follow Jesus. He offers a different paradigm to the earliest followers of Jesus, one which is of great value to us today.

Instead of seeing yourself in competition with others, see yourself in collaboration with them.

Competition is a natural human mindset. It’s natural to see the “other” as competition for whatever good you’re both after. Paul here says, “You’re not in competition with each other. God has enough grace and mercy for all of us.”

Collaborate with each other to reveal the fullness of God’s creativity and diversity. Only through collaboration will you discover God’s intentions for creation.

We have different gifts. Don’t compete with each other, instead, collaborate with each other. Be in relationship with each other. Work together for the common good. There are as many gifts as there are people here.

May we learn to collaborate with others who have different gifts. May we reject the way of the world and all of its competition.

Revenge or Renewal

Joseph  had a choice. To seek revenge on his brothers, or to start a new chapter in his life.

When he was young, Joseph’s brothers were jealous of him. Joseph’s brothers sent him to Egypt to be a slave or to die. But Joseph didn’t accept that. He refused to allow someone else to decide his fate. And he became the second to the throne.

Many years later, when his brothers traveled to Egypt looking for food, they are reunited with Joseph. He doesn’t reveal who he is at first, but then he finally breaks down and says, “I’m your brother Joseph, whom you sold into slavery.”

They have every reason to fear Joseph. He’s now a powerful leader in Egypt. As Israelite’s in Egypt, they are pilgrims in an unholy land. Joseph could have enslaved them or worse—just like they had done to him.

But Joseph chose to renew their relationship instead of seeking revenge. In the heyday of “an eye for an eye” Joseph chose forgiveness over retribution.

Why? Why did Joseph seek a new chapter in his family’s life instead of extending the one they were in?

He knew that violence and hate weren’t the answer. Anger and retribution seem like the way to experience healing, but it’s not. They intensify pain. They prolong pain. They prevent shalom.

Joseph overcame his hostility to his brothers, and their relationship was renewed. Our text ends with this beautiful line: he kissed all his brothers and wept upon them; and after that his brothers talked with him.

All because he chose to forgive. Forgiveness brings freedom and reconciliation. Forgiveness says, “I don’t want our relationship to end this way. I want to start a new chapter with you.”

It doesn’t deny that there is pain. Or anger. Or disappointment. It doesn’t deny that another person has acted improperly. It just says that the possibility of a restored relationship is more important.

Forgiveness acknowledges a bump in the road but says we want to continue traveling that road together.