Peace of God and Peace of Mind

Text: Philippians 4:1-7

Do you worry? There is so much to worry about, of course. The economy, foreign wars, a collapsing culture, your mother-in-law, his mother-in-law!—there’s no shortage of problems. How do you handle this kind of anxiety? Do you ever worry that you might be worrying too much? Anxiety is everywhere we turn.

Anxiety

Anxiety has been defined as “A feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease, typically about an imminent event or something with an uncertain outcome.” Anxiety has been with us since the Fall, but the aspect of anxiety that is particular and noteworthy today is precisely that we have named it and identify it even among very privileged and otherwise comfortable people. It makes good sense, we say, to be anxious when running from wild beasts or struggling to find the next meal. It strikes us as odd to continue to be anxious when we have a steady a job, a family, and plenty of toys. Of course, this new twist really just shows anxiety in a clearer way. It isn’t simply an estimate of risk and probability. Instead, anxiety is a deep longing of the soul. It is the photo negative of romantic sentimentalism. Just as people can project all sorts of hopes and dreams onto the future, anxiety projects fears and dreads. And both anxiety and sentimentalism, being connected in this way, share the same problem. They look to find satisfaction for the soul in the wrong place. Instead of saying “In Thee, my soul is satisfied as with marrow and fatness” (Psalm 63:5), we find ourselves constantly seeking, searching for more, but with no idea of where to look. Continue reading

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Pastor, Are You Talking About Me?

This post is a sort of detour from the game plan laid out at the end of my last post, and there will be at least one more detour on the way, but it isn’t actually changing the topic at all. You see, I’m not only talking about politics. I have been talking about Christian anxiety and the need to make Jesus your soul’s satisfaction. This whole series is secretly about pastoral theology. I’m trying to sneak soulcare into a conversation about worldview. Don’t tell anyone. And so, to the question at hand. Have I been talking about you?

This is something that pastors actually experience frequently. In sermons or other writings we use illustrations or we praise or critique something by description, and so the question arises, “Is he criticizing one person in particular?” I am not here talking about academic, formal, or legal cases. It is appropriate and necessary to name names and cite sources in those instances. But in pastoral contexts, things are different. We aren’t making charges against someone. We aren’t writing a book review. We are using illustrations and examples to prove a more general point about sin and righteousness. These can be tricky and even dangerous occasions, and they are why we have the expression “bully pulpit.” Using a sermon or pastoral essay to “go after” someone is a sort of power-play, and it is hurtful and unfair. Continue reading

When To Get All Political And When Not To Do That

So politics, however messy things get in real life, is a legitimate topic of conversation, specialization, and even vocation.  There is nothing necessarily immoral or even undignified about the art of statecraft.  And politics are necessary.  Whenever you hear a politician deriding politics, as when our President says that we shouldn’t let “politics” prevent Washington from “getting things done,” you should ask the very basic question– “What ever else are they supposed to be doing?”  It’s a silly rhetorical conceit, designed to capitalize on and manipulate the common man’s cynicism.  And sometimes politics directly affects people’s lives and livelihoods.  So it matters, and people should care about it.

On the other hand, the old Southern rule of etiquette still holds true.  Politics really isn’t a good subject to discuss over dinner.  It can be alienating and off-putting in a number of ways.  First, it can quickly become a specialized topic, leaving out those people who have not been keeping up with the latest news.  It can also be divisive, in that not everyone is going to agree (surprise!).  And as much as we like to assume that politics is about good and evil or absolute justice vs. absolute injustice, this is actually irregularly the case.  More often it is about efficiency and prudence, what will work and what won’t work, or perhaps, what will kinda work and what won’t work so well.  People often don’t admit it, but their political thinking is biased, formed by sociology and personal history as much or more than by objective positions and principled argumentation.  In the same way you judge others, you will be judged, so let’s consider ourselves and our neighbor and extend an extra dose of charity to political conversation, even if that means not having it right now.

And so there’s nothing terribly profound in this post.  Rather, I just want to give some good pastoral advice, otherwise known as common courtesy.  Politics is not always awful, but neither is it always awesome.  Keep it in perspective.  Also, for those Calvinists out there who claim to believe in divine sovereignty and that there is “no power but of God,” does your rhetoric and ordinary anxiety level line up with your claim?  If you are always worried about politics, always talking about it, letting it actually get you down- well, might that not mean that “where your treasure is, there your heart is also”?  Are you trusting in chariots, after all?

Politics can be good, but it is always earthly.  The heavenly king is King Jesus, and his throne is forever.  Let your light shine before men, starting with a sunny disposition.  Trust in him, let your hearts not be troubled, and tone it down a notch at the table.

Joy in the Valley of the Shadow

Philippians 4:4-7

Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice!

Let your gentleness be known to all men. The Lord is at hand.

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.

I prepared this sermon on Philippians 4:4-7 on Thursday, and I put the finishing touches on it early Friday morning. I then went out to work in my yard, only to return to my computer and see the news of the Connecticut elementary school shooting. I had been planning on addressing the problem of blue Christmases and the loneliness that modern man can feel, then offering up a happy message. The sermon was to be joyful and positive throughout, a nice message for the Holiday season. Now I look like a fool. Continue reading