“Rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things to you is not troublesome to me, and for you it is a safeguard.” Philippians 3:1
It’s always amazing to me, how God speaks to us in scripture in new ways. More times than I can remember I have read this verse from Paul’s letter to the Philippians and yet I had never noticed the word ‘safeguard’ before.
--Rejoice in the Lord. Not just because we have lots of things to give thanks for
(although we/I do)
--Rejoice in the Lord. And not just because God somehow needs us to sing his
praises (He doesn’t)
--Rejoice in the Lord, because it is a safeguard for you!
I have a confession to make. I am not always the most joyful person; in fact, I can be downright negative and judgmental at times—you may not have seen that side of me, yet—for which I am thankful—but it’s there. Chris will vouch for me on this, I promise you!
So, these words from Paul, struck a chord in me last Friday as I read them in my morning devotions. As I read them before going to spend the weekend with all of Chris’ family for our nephew’s wedding—knowing that I was going to have to deal with one of his family members who has this almost inherent ability to get under my skin! And let’s just say my attitude in the build up to the wedding weekend was not very joyful.
--Rejoice in the Lord, Paul says, it is a safeguard for you…which made me realize that I needed an attitude adjustment before I even got to the wedding rehearsal! After all, why was I focusing on one person, instead of giving thanks in being able to spend time with Chris’ family in celebration of our nephew’s wedding?
Well, the wedding went off without a hitch and I am glad to be able to say that God’s word, spoken to me through Paul, did indeed bring about an attitude adjustment—so much so that not only did I enjoy the weekend, but I found myself with a more forgiving and loving attitude toward the person I was dreading the most.
Count your many blessings, name them one by one, the old song goes. Rejoice in the Lord, Paul writes multiple times. Why? Because there is power in the things we focus on. When we only look at the negative. When we only look at what we don’t have. When we dwell on what we are lacking. It depresses us—makes us negative people--make us less than what God intended. But when we focus on the blessings. When we focus on what we have. When we dwell on what we have been giving—we will find ourselves rejoice and even more importantly we will find ourselves strengthened for the road ahead!
Chris I have been in Denver all week at a continuing education event called ‘Festival of Homiletics’. It’s an annual event that’s held in different cities around the country, so we try to attend when it’s within driving distance which means we get to one about every 3 or 4 years.
It’s a preaching conference for preachers. But it’s not really a how-to conference so much as it an opportunity for us as preachers to sit back and hear someone else preach-to hear the gospel of Jesus Christ preached to us, rather than having to preach the sermon ourselves. It’s a chance to be re-filled and re-energized so that we can return to our pulpits and congregations with a renewed passion for proclaiming the gospel.
It's also a chance for us to slow down and find times to worship God; the organizers of the conference build in lots of opportunities for worship and each time I come to one of these, I come away wishing I could find ways to slow down and rest in God’s presence on a more daily basis. I come home wanting to be more connected to God because it was my love for God and my desire to share that love for God with others that got me into the preaching business in the first place.
But this conference always reminds me, it’s hard to be effective at what I have been called to do if I’m SO busy that I don't have time to be refreshed and renewed, refilled by the Holy Spirit’s presence.
And I imagine that the same might be true of you as well. Oh, maybe you haven’t been called to preach, but you have been called to teach and to care and to serve and to love as Christ loves us, wherever it is God has placed you. And the work you do is just as important as the work I do, and I imagine that sometimes you feel as if the well has run dry, just like I do. So, how do you refuel? Re-energize? Re-fill?
So, as I come back with a renewed commitment to carving out times and places and ways for me to reconnect with and be filled by God, I hope and pray that you might also find ways to do the same, whether it’s worship, reading the Bible or simply making time to sit quietly in God’s presence so that you too might be filled with passion for the work and ministry to which God has called you.
“Blessed are those who trust in the Lord, whose confidence is in him. They will be like a tree planted in water that sends out its root by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; it's leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit.” Jeremiah 17:7-8
Spring is my favorite time of the year. There is something exciting about watching the long, dark nights of winter gradually recede to the increasing daylight of spring. I am always awestruck as I watch new life come forth from the barren ground, and I wait with eager longing for that first blossom of spring.
Spring, for me, is a physical sign of the new life which God gives to all of us through the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ. This new life is not something that awaits us off in the distant future, but is a reality present in us today.
Walt Wangerin, in his book, Mourning into Dancing, states that we need to broaden our definition of death beyond that of a physical death at the end of our lives. He argues that every time a relationship is severed—every time we experience loss—that is a death, and he argues that only when we accept this broader definition of death can we truly understand the reality and power of Jesus’ resurrection in our lives.
“If the Gospel seems irrelevant to our daily lives, that is our fault, not the Gospel’s. For if death is not a daily reality, then Christ’s triumph over death is neither daily nor real. Worship and proclamation and even faith itself take on a dream-like, unreal air, and Jesus is reduced to something like a long-term insurance policy, filed and forgotten—whereas he can be our necessary ally, an immediate, continuing friend, the Holy Destroyer of Death and the Devil, my own beautiful Savior.”
If we accept Wangerin’s definition of death and his understanding of Jesus’ triumph over death, then we begin to realize that whenever forgiveness is offered and received; whenever a relationship is mended; whenever a crippled body is healed; whenever a broken spirit is restored to wholeness—Jesus’ power over death has become a present reality in our lives—a reality like spring that happens over and over again. Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!