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HAPPY: Whatever  Philippians 4:1-9

Have you ever had one of those moments where, as you’re doing something, you’re thinking to yourself, “What in the world am I doing?  Why am I doing this” or even “This could turn out really, really badly for me.”  This wasn’t one of those drastic situations, but this week I was looking in my office library for a particular book.  I thought it was on the very top shelf.  I got my office chair and I rolled it over.  I’m standing on my office chair {precariously} and thinking, “What am I doing??”  They’re going to hear a crash and I’m going to be lying on the floor.  I started to think to myself as I was reading this end portion of Paul’s letter to the Philippians, “I think a lot of people live life in sort of an unstable ground type of situation.”

Have you ever found yourself in one of those moments?  Here’s the hard part about them—we figure out that we’re standing on unstable ground when the storms of life hit.  Jesus tells this parable in Matthew 7:24-27, at the end of the Sermon on the Mount.  He says to his disciples who are there listening to him that there are two ways to live your life.  One way is to build your life on words that I’ve just said.  If you go back and read Matthew, chapters 5-7, you see Jesus inviting followers of his to a completely different way of living.  To a way of living where, instead of harboring anger we release it; instead of hating our enemies we pray for them and love them; instead of lusting after people and things we surrender that to God.  Jesus says listen, you have two ways to live. You can live and build your life on those words of mine and when you do that, when the storms of life come, you are going to stand firm.  The storms of life are going to beat against your life.  They’re going to push against you; the waves are going to come, the floods are going to rise, and if you’re standing on His words, Jesus says, you will stand firm.  He also says the storms are coming in every single life and, if you’re here this morning, you just have to know that the storms have either come or they’re coming.  They will always make you question your foundation.  What will determine whether or not your life continues to flourish and your life continues to stand is not how moral and how good you are, it’s not how many things you’ve done in your past and what your resumé looks like or what your bank account looks like.  What will determine whether or not you continue to stand is WHAT you’re standing on.

At the end of the letter of Philippians, Paul’s just poring out his heart to this church that he dearly and deeply loves.  Remember, if you’ve been with us over the last ten weeks, we’ve been studying this letter that the Apostle Paul wrote to a church that he planted about twelve years earlier.  As he’s writing this letter, he’s sitting in a Roman house on house arrest.  He doesn’t know, at this point, whether he’s going to keep his life or whether he’s going to lose it for the gospel, but he writes back to this church in Philippi to encourage them, to build into them, and to remind them that there is a foundation that, even if he loses his life, will not fail him. Listen to what he says:  Therefore, my brothers, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm thus in the Lord, my beloved.   It’s not just try your best when the storms of life come to stand firm.  He actually tells us HOW we stand firm.  It’s the same thing that Jesus taught.  Stand firm….where?  In the Lord.  Because the ground that you are standing on will determine if your house continues to stand when the storms of life come.  What Paul would say to everyone of his listeners in the original audience and what he’d say to us, too, is this:  If you want to live a life that’s unshakable, you’ve got to live a life that’s grounded in the immovable. Unless we want, when the storms of life come, to sort of be in that place of feeling like the ground is giving out on us and we’re drifting and things are just beating against our life and it has the potential to ruin us?  Paul goes no, no, no, no, no, build your life on something that will last.  Build your life on something that has staying power.  Stand. Firm. In. The. Lord.  Because an unshakable life is grounded in an immovable God.

So here’s what Paul does from here—he gives us this great challenge, this great invitation, that right in front of you is the work of Jesus, his grace that’s available, and you have the ability, as followers of His, to say THAT’S going to be the cornerstone of my life, THAT’S going to be the foundation of my life.  What Paul wants to do in the rest of the section of this letter is to say when that’s a reality for you, it opens up all sorts of possibilities for the way that you’d interact with the people around you.  If you’re grounded in the immovable One, you’re able to address life, to walk through life, to walk through challenging situations, in a completely different way. Paul wants to say hey, if you are standing firm in Jesus, you can change the way you interact with the people around you; your relationships can change if you’re grounded in Him.  If you’re grounded in Him, the way that your heart approaches life can change.  The things that you fear can change if you’re grounded in Him.  If you’re unshakable in the immovable One, the way that you think can be completely different.  But it’s what we’re standing ON that determines our approach to the life that we live.

After he gives that encouragement to stand firm, listen to what he says (Phil. 4:2) — I entreat Euodia and I entreat Syntyche to agree in the Lord. {Quick timeout.  How would it feel to get called out in a letter that ends up being read for a few thousand years??  This is bordering on a little bit of public shaming, but you can see his pastor’s heart.  Paul is like come on — entreat them.  Because they stand firm in the Lord, beg them, plead with them, challenge them to agree in the Lord.} Yes, I ask you also, true companion, help these women, who have labored side by side with me in the gospel together with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life.   He’s saying this — Because you ladies stand firm, because you’re grounded in the work of Jesus, you don’t have to continue to walk through life at odds with other people.  The foundation you have in Christ frees you to operate differently in relationships than anybody else has the capacity to do.  So step into that awkward place.  Step into that challenging place.  Step into that place of doubt and into the unknown and pursue unity deliberately.

Aren’t you glad, as a culture, that we’ve got this one nailed??!  So, I’m studying this week and you may have heard there was an election.  I’m thinking to myself, “Wow! I have never felt the visceral sense of division in our country like I feel it right now.”  That doesn’t mean it hasn’t been there, it just means that it’s on the service.  It means that, as a church, we’re going to need to deal with it.  {Friends, will you look up at me for a second?} The way that we deal with this is not by lobbing grenades onto those outside of us.  It’s by setting an example of the better way within us.  Here’s the beautiful thing about being part of a church, you guys.  There are people sitting in your section who voted differently than you.  Here’s what we need to do as a body of Christ:   We need to listen really well.  We need to listen without casting judgement and we need to hear people’s hearts. We need to hear their fears.  We need to hear their joys.  We need to hear their disappointments.  Then we need to come back together and we need to remind ourselves of what brings us together.  Here’s the thing:  No president in 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue is called to unite the church.  Jesus is!!  As followers of Christ, with people who voted differently, who have different political opinions….what a beautiful picture it is to link arms and say, “Oh man, we stand on Him, so we can pursue unity with people who think a little bit differently than us, with a ferocious tenacity because we believe that there’s a better way.”

Paul doesn’t just leave them there.  He doesn’t just go hey, ladies, pursue unity.  You need to really make amends.  He gives them resources.  He says hey, there’s things available to you.  If you go back and reread this it says:  Yes, I ask you also, true companion, help these women.   He’s saying there’s somebody in your body, there’s somebody in the church that if there’s a division they can probably help you work through it.  If this is something you’re wrestling through…..these are pastors, these are counselors….we believe in really good Christian counseling here that can help people work through things.  Maybe it’s a mediator.  Paul says, “It’s available to you.  Use the resources that are there; it’s that important!”

Second thing he says.  He’s not saying just try really hard, no.  There’s resources out there for you.  Remember, remember, remember, you guys have labored side by side for the gospel.  Isn’t it true that when we start getting pressed down by division, we forget the mission that’s in front of us?  Paul goes come on, come on.  I know you ladies and something happened and there’s a division amongst you, but will you just take a moment and remember the mission in front of you.  Will you remember why you’re together in the first place?  Finally, he says, your names are written in the book of life, as if to say, “You’re going to spend all of eternity together. You might want to figure out how to get along NOW!”  That’s his message.  Pursue unity with deliberate intention because Jesus is worth it.

I don’t know where you’re at with that and how that sits with you today, but I’m guessing that in every single life in this room, there’s a place where we could have God speak to us over this area.  I would say back to us, one of the main ways the Enemy works in the lives of believers is by causing a “root of bitterness” to grow up.  In fact, Paul will say to the church at Ephesus:  Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity (foothold) to the devil. (Eph. 4:26-27)  What’s he talking about?  He’s saying that if there’s things unresolved that start to cause anger in your soul that you’re unwilling to forgive, the Enemy’s going to get a foothold in your life and potentially start to wreak havoc.  Do you know one of the best weapons against spiritual warfare?  Forgiveness.  Enemy hates when you forgive an audacious sin.  He then has no place in your life!  So, for you, what might it be today?  Luckily, none of us were called out in the Scriptures, personally, like they were, but as we read it we have to go alright, Lord, who do I have to make a phone call to this week?  Who do I need to humble myself, swallow my pride, and apologize to?  Who do I need to reach out to and say hey, let’s have a conversation?  When you stand firm in the Lord, you’re able to navigate relationships differently.

Second thing you’re able to do differently (verse 4) — Rejoice in the Lord always. {If you’ve been here over the last ten weeks, you’re going oh, Paulson, are we going here again??!!  The series is called “Happy,” you’ve taught on joy almost every week….  I’m not going there explicitly, I just want to point out….it’s in there.} ….again I will say, rejoice.  Let your reasonableness be known to everyone.  The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, 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 your minds in Christ Jesus.  How many love that passage??  {Oh man, that’s a tattoo passage right there!}  The word ‘anxiety’ in the Greek, literally means ‘to be torn into parts.’  It’s the picture of horses running in the opposite directions. Maybe for you it’s both fear and hope that are present and they’re just going in different directions in your life.  Maybe it’s a situation you have in your mind right now that you don’t know how it’s going to turn out and you don’t know exactly where that road is going to lead…..and anxiety just plays like a tape in the back of our minds and sometimes we don’t even know it’s there.  We just know that we wake up in the morning and our jaw hurts.  Or we’ve gone through the day and our fists are clenched and we don’t know exactly why, but we do know that there’s something off in our soul.  There’s a part of Paul’s command that is horribly unhelpful.  If he would have just stopped and said, “Don’t be anxious about anything.  Good luck with that.  Amen.”  Because we all know that as hard as we try to not be anxious about anything, there’s things that we’re anxious about.  There’s things that we have fears of.  Every single person in this room is wired a little bit differently.  There’s things we have unique fear towards or anxiety towards.  One author said that anxiety is like a sitting in a rocking chair.  You exert a lot of energy and you go no where.  It’s true.

You’re all wired differently.  In 1961, a psychologist named Fritz Riemann had a theory that each person who walks the face of the globe has probably a core anxiety or core fear.  Some people fear nearness.   They fear intimacy.  When people start to get close to them, they build walls and they say, in no uncertain terms—maybe not overtly or explicitly—you can’t get any closer to me than this.  Second is fear of distance, sort of the other side of that coin.  It’s that fear of being alone.  It leads us to places of possible co-dependency and “I need you, I need you, I need you”….in a really unhealthy way.  He says the next core anxiety people face is the fear of change.  If that’s you, control is a HUGE priority to you.  You want to make sure everything around your life is stable and unchanging, because if it does, fear or anxiety starts to rise up in your soul.  Or, the other side of that coin is the fear of permanence.  You’ve probably had a few different jobs in the last year and it’s hard for you to finish a project that you start.  Adventure is on the horizon and, heaven forbid, you are prevented from walking into it.  Here’s the thing:  There is extreme value of being self-aware, to the point where you can go, alright, this is me; this is who I am.  I love being in control and when I get out of control, I start to get on shaky ground, so, God, teach me how to ground myself in you in such a way that even when the winds come and the storms rage and the floods happen, I don’t revert back to spaces of fear in my life, but that I continue to charge forward after you.

Here’s Paul’s encouragement to the church—Okay, there’s resources for you.  Combat that fear, that you sense rising up in your soul, prayerfully.  It’s interesting that this word ‘to not have anxiety’ is a present imperative command.  It’s this idea that not sort of pray and deal with fear….   That’s not Paul’s encouragement to us.  It’s every day you’re probably going to have to deal with this and when you find yourself carrying anxiety and when you find yourself carrying fear, you’ve got to be disciplined enough and stand in the Lord and say, “That’s not how I’m going to live and who I’m going to be.  I’m going to let that go.”  It’s not a one time decision, it’s a continual ethic of this is how I live as a follower of Jesus.  I’m no longer a slave to fear; I’m a child of the Most High God.

Paul says okay, here’s the way that you deal with it.  You deal with it prayerfully, and we’ll get there in just a second, but before that he says, “Rejoice in the Lord always.”  Did you know it’s hard to be anxious when you’re rejoicing.  Have you ever tried that?  We should have signs that say to anxiety: “Beware of Rejoicing,” because you have no place in my life, getting torn apart anxiety!  Paul says make that an ethic of your life.  The second thing he says in this passage is God is near:  The Lord is at hand.  So, whatever it is for you that causes anxiety, maybe it was the election that was going on, maybe it’s your neighbor, maybe it’s your marriage, maybe it’s your kids or your health or whatever, whatever it is that triggers our anxiety, we also have to trigger ourself to say, “God, in the midst of all that’s going on around me, I need to remember that you’re with me.”  When I’m anxious, I’m really just unaware.  I’m unaware that God holds this all together.  I’m unaware that He’s good.  I’m unaware that He loves me.  The psalmist will say:  The Lord is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth. (Psalm 145:18)

Finally, Paul says, the way we deal with anxiety is through joy.  It’s through awareness of God’s presence with us, but in everything, he says, with prayer and supplication with thanksgiving.  So here’s the process that Paul just went through.  When anxiety starts to take root in your soul, when you feel the inner parts of you getting torn in different directions, go to God in prayer and supplication (which means we ask God for what we feel we need).  So, he says, ask Him, cry out to Him.  Secondly, don’t forget this part, thank Him!  In anxiety, I get totally unaware of the way God has blessed me and the way that His hand’s at work.  Part of the discipline of following Jesus and becoming a disciple is learning to use those triggers of anxiety in our life to lead us to places of prayer.  As hard as it is to be joyful and anxious, it’s equally as hard to be prayerful and anxious.  Try it!  Peter would say in his letter to the churches:  …casting all your anxieties on him, because he care for you. (1 Peter 5:7)  See, you can cast your worry or you can carry your worry, but you can’t do both.  Either you carry it or He does.  If you’re an anxious person, if that’s sort of in your disposition or maybe you’re walking through a season of anxiety, can I invite you….this idea of casting would literally be like throwing a stone into the water. It’s just get this off of me!!  Maybe today’s the day you do that.

Paul finishes this up with a promise.  He says if you’re anxious about anything, pray, ask God, thank God, let your request be made known to God, and God will do exactly what you want!  Wouldn’t it be great if that’s the way the passage ended??!  This little equation….   That’s not the way it goes at all.   It’s let your requests be made known to God; God’s promise back to you isn’t I’m a genie in a bottle and I’ll do exactly whatever you want, however you want, whenever you want.  God’s promise back to you is I will give you my peace that surpasses any understanding that you could ever dream of having.  Which means you might still not understand why you’re walking through what you’re walking through.  You might not have all the answers but there will be an anchor in your soul to say, in the midst of the questions, “I am unshakable in the immovable.”

This word ‘peace,’ in the Greek, has this idea of bringing the pieces back together into a whole.  If you look at the word ‘anxiety,’ which is division and ‘peace,’ which is a bringing it back together…..God says okay, everything you’re walking through, every fear that you have, the anxieties that you have, all the things swirling around in your life, if you’re willing to hand it to me, I will be bigger than it all and in some way I will bring it back together in your life.  I’ll give you peace, wholeness.  The Hebrew people of God will call this ‘the shalom,” the healing of God.  So, as you’re walking through life right now, maybe there’s an issue relationally,  but maybe there’s an issue of your heart, because that’s what’s going on in this passage.  Anxiety is a heart issue.  Is there anything you need to bring to the Lord and say, “God, here it is.  I’m not going to try to hide it from you, you’re God.  I need your peace.”  What might that look like for you?   Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in 1945, was walking to his death, and he knew it.  It was three days before the Nazi prison camp that he was in would be freed. One of the greatest, in my opinion, theologians of the 20th century.  As he’s walking to his death, he turns to a friend and says, “This in the end, but for me…just the beginning.”  How can he do that?  This guy is unshakable in the immovable.  Do you think he’s anxious?  He’s human!  He’s walking to his death.  Did it control him?  No!  Did he cast it?  Yes!  Did he get God’s peace?  This is the end, but for me this is the beginning.  If you’ve ever been around somebody who knew Jesus and who was facing death, you’ve seen the type of peace that passes any understanding.  Friends, you don’t have to just have it as you face death, you can have it as you walk through life.

Here’s the way Paul ends this section.  Finally, brothers, {Which is the second time he’s said ‘finally’ in this letter.  He said it in chapter 3, verse 1.  He’s a preacher!!  He’s landing the plane, right?! The word could also mean ‘in addition to this’ or ‘also.’}  Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.    I can remember being in church as a middle-schooler and high-schooler and reading this passage and going, “Man, that’s so narrow.”  I read it….whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is noble…think about these things.  I read it completely different now.  Now I read it: whatEVER is true, whatEVER is noble, whatEVER’s lovely, whatEVER is beautiful, whatEVER is good, THINK about these things.  In the Greek, it’s this word not like think as in let it pass through your brain, but sink an anchor into it, camp out there for awhile.  Some translations will say ‘dwell’ on it or ‘meditate’ on it or ‘take it into your life.’  The really fascinating part about this is what Paul just did.  He draws out these six characteristics that were Hellenistic, or Greek, virtues.  They were not unique or distinctive of just the people of God, in fact, just the opposite.  They were cultural virtues that Paul looks at and goes, “These are really good things.”  Whatever’s good, whatever’s noble, whatever’s pure…..as if to say, every good thing is owned by our great God.  So we don’t have to limit ourselves, when it comes to being followers of Christ, to just sing “Christian” songs to worship God.  Whatever’s beautiful can point us back to Him.  Paul is this beautiful, wonderful, absolutely astounding cultural architect, where he’s going hey, as you walk through Philippi, you are a citizen of the Kingdom of Heaven, but as a citizen of the Kingdom of Heaven every good thing is yours.  So what around you do you see is good?  What around you do you see is beautiful?  Think about those things, dwell on those things, take those things in.  He wants to encourage them hey, focus your thinking intentionally.

Pursue unity deliberately, yeah, absolutely.  Combat anxiety prayerfully.  Yes.  Focus your thinking intentionally.  You are in complete control of your thoughts.  100%.  Have you ever thought about what you’re thinking?  Have you ever stepped back and gone, “Where am I going with that and WHY am I thinking that and why am I going down that road?”  Ralph Waldo Emerson said: “Sow a thought, reap an action.  Sow an action, reap a habit.  Sow a habit, reap a character.  Sow a character, reap a destiny!”  As if to say this will determine the course of your life.  The great theologian, pastor and preacher, Jonathan Edwards, said it like this: “The ideas and images in men’s minds are the invisible powers that constantly govern them.”

So as we stand firm in the Lord, we’re able, Paul says, to change the way that we think.  Instead of allowing things like despair, cynicism and fatalism to occupy our lives, as followers of Jesus, we can think differently about the world we live in.  {Look up at me for a second.}  You cannot change the world that you live in, but you can change the way that you live in the world!  As followers of Jesus, what if we became the type of people who, instead of just judging everything outside of the church or outside of our pocket of faith, took the things that we saw as beautiful, good, noble, pure, praiseworthy and said, “I just want to put a magnifying glass on those.”  Whatever you magnify in your life, you will multiply.  Whatever you put your focus on, you’ll start to see more of in your life.  It’s just going to come out of you.  The Apostle Paul wants us to be the type of people who see and appreciate and think about good.  Here’s just four examples.  I think music is a great example. Have you ever just put on a piece of classical music (or whatever floats your boat) and just had this awareness of how big and beautiful and majestic God is!  Yesterday, I had the chance, with our elders, to stand on Bailey Peak and look out over the vast and beautiful creation that God’s woven together by his handiwork.  Whatever is lovely!!  Whatever!  Think about it.

This is whatever is just:  One of my favorite organizations that I follow is an interfaith organization called Preemptive Love Coalition.  It’s a group of doctors that got together and they started to do work in areas that were attacked by ISIS.  They started to go in and care for kids.  They have these six values they hold.   Lifesaving heart surgeries for children.  Emergency relief effort for families victimized by ISIS.  Empowering grants for small business owners.  Education for at-risk children.  Peacemaking in conflict zones.  Counsel to policy makers in Washington, D.C., London, Bagdad and beyond.  That’s whatever’s just!  I’ve followed them on Instagram and every time I see one of there little pictures, I pray.  As you see these kids going in for surgeries in war zones that are going to save their life, you go, whatever’s just, I’m for that.  I’m not for “Christian” justice, I’m for justice PERIOD!  Because it’s all God’s.

Here’s the second organization.  It’s a group called Charity: Water and it was started by a guy named Scott Harrison a number of years ago.  It’s an interfaith organization.  Scott Harrison is haunted by the fact that 663 million people still live in the world and have no access to clean drinking water.  That’s roughly ten percent of the world’s population.  The need for water is such a human need that it affects every single area of our life, so if we can get people clean drinking water, we can improve their health, we can give them more time to work. Kids are walking miles every day to get water, if we freed them up think of what their future might look like. Women that are doing the majority of the water gathering—what if they didn’t have to walk for miles and miles and hours a day, what might their lives start to look like?  He (Scott) says that we’ve got to change that. Whatever is noble….is God’s.  So think about it!  Invest your time in it.  Invest your energy in it.

I think what Paul wants to do is say to a church that was getting bombarded by a world around them and had the tendency, probably because of that, to say we’re going to get really ingrown and everything outside of us is evil and wrong and bad.  Paul says, oh no!  To that type of a church culture, he says, “WHATEVER!”  Whatever is good is God’s.

Here’s what I want to do.  I want to end our time by going back to the Lord in worship.  I want to end this time by inviting you to do a little bit of “whatevering.”  I want to remind you that when we stand firm in God, we experience the Shalom of God.  That needs to be the foundation.  Then I just want to invite us back to this idea that the world we live, as Dallas Willard says, is God-bathed!  How might we, as the church, become excavators of the good?  How might we start to see it and point it out and think about it and allow it to turn in us in such a way that it starts to change us?  Aaron graciously put together a short little video that’s about whatever. There’s a whole lot of whatever around you!  This is just an example.  But as you watch it will you think about the whatever that’s around you and how you might turn it into worship?  {Video shown}

I don’t know what it is about us as people that makes it far easier to dwell on the negative and to let it dwell in us, than it is to see the noble, the pure, the good, the just, the honorable, the praiseworthy that’s all around us.  Friends, this is our Father’s world; everything in it is His.  As His followers, may we become the people who look and see the good, who dwell on it and think about it and, as Paul says at the very end, practice these things.  Let’s make it a part of our life, because whatever you magnify, you will multiply.  {Stand with me to sing one last song together, reminding ourselves of that great truth.