A Favorite for When You Can’t Sleep

Have you ever laid awake at night worrying about things? I know I have in the past, and I probably will continue to do so once in a while in the future. Each of us has a list of worries with the potential of keeping us awake at night: job worries, family worries, health worries, and financial worries just to name a few.

In my life, I have my own particular worries list.

As a pastor I find myself worrying about church matters. It is summer and attendance is down. That means the finances are down as well. I also have many members with problems, and I worry about them. I have a large staff, and I find myself worrying about them. Are they happy? Are they burning out? Will they stay on? We are adding a worship service this fall, and I worry about that change.

As I look at my personal life, I see changes going on that can cause worry. I am about to become an empty nester. That is a change and I don’t really like it.

Physically I am aging. I do not hear as well as I used to. I don’t remember names like I used to. I cannot lose weight as easily as I once did. That worries me!

You know what worry does to us, don’t you? It strangles the life right out of us.

Jesus talked about this subject in his parable of the sower (Mark 4). A seed fell among thorns and was choked out. Later he told the disciples that seed represented the Word being heard by a person, but the troubles and worries of the world prevented him from enjoying it and growing.

Worry can strangle us as well. It can harm us physically as we go without sleeping and stress out over things that might happen. A Greek proverb says, “The bow that is always bent will soon break.” How true that is for us. The person who is always under pressure will soon break into a million pieces. We get headaches, ulcers, and all sorts of serious ailments.

Worry can affect us emotionally as well. Being a loving person when you are tired and crabby is difficult. It can sour our attitudes and make us negative and emotionally weak. Author Corrie Ten Boom once said, “Worry doesn’t empty tomorrow of its sorrow. It empties today of its strength.” We just find ourselves emotionally strung out.

Worry hurts us spiritually. It shrinks our view of God and his greatness, his bigness, and his ability to take care of us. As we get caught up in it, we stop maturing and therefore cannot bear fruit to honor our heavenly Father.

This is really nothing new to God’s people. It has been around since the beginning in the Garden of Eden and that first sin. Jesus talked about it quite a bit in the New Testament. Now we hear Paul talking about it with the Christians in Philippi.

The Philippians had their worries list.

Factionalism existed in the congregation. Two women were fighting over something and caused a rift in the congregation. When people are fighting, it can be a very tense and draining situation.

Some strange teachings were floating around among the members. Outside teachings, which called into question the doctrine of the Gospel (saved by grace through faith in Jesus), were being passed around from member to member. Now people were getting confused. And when we are shaken or confused, we get anxious with uncertainty.

They had pressure from outside. The community was treating Christians with persecution and ridicule. People outside of that church saw the faith as

subversive and held them at arm’s length. That can be quite lonely. They probably feared for their well being.

So Paul wrote, “Do not worry.”

I can imagine that, as those first two words were read, people thought, “That is not good advice. He does not know what is going on here. ÔDo not worry.’ He has to be kidding. That does not help.”

However, Paul does not leave them there. He goes on to say, “Do not worry about anything, but in everything with prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God.”

In the vernacular he is saying, “Got worries? Hand Ôem over! Got a problem? Hand it over.” Do not worry about anything, but pray about everything. Turn to the one who loves you and knows what makes life work. Turn to the one who loves you, who sent his Son to die on that cross for your sins so you could have a relationship with him.

Paul uses three words for handing it over:

Prayer. In the Bible when prayer is talked about, it typically connotes worship. First, take some time to focus on how great and faithful God is in worship.

Supplication. Come asking Ð earnestly and sincerely. Lay these things at his feet.

Thanksgiving

¥ For the privilege of approaching the throne of grace.

¥ For the privilege of calling upon God as your Father because of what he did for us through Christ.

¥ For past faithfulness.

And the promise is some great things await you.

Paul, as if reading their minds about whether this does any good, goes on to say, “In case you are wondering if this will help:

¥ “The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

¥ The peace of God is promised to us as we worship, ask, and thank.

Handing it over to God leads to peace.

Are you lying awake in bed at night? Here is what to do: Slide those legs over the side of your bed, put your knees on the floor, and hand it over. The peace of God will come and guard your heart, feelings, mind, and thoughts in Christ Jesus.

Paul is not just waxing eloquently here. He is speaking from personal experience. Read about his life in the book of Acts or his letters in the New Testament. You find that Paul was a man of prayer. He believed profoundly in the power of prayer and that God could be counted on when he handed it over to Him.

Paul discovered first, that God is trustworthy. When God promises something, he comes through.

He learned that God is a lot bigger than any problem, situation, or circumstance in his life, and He could handle it.

He discovered how deeply God loved him as he came to know his Son Jesus Christ. And he again and again reviewed what had been done for him at the cross. God helped Paul to see, through that Gospel message, how much he loved Paul.

So as Paul lay awake at night worrying, he learned he could hand everything over and peace would be his.

My dear friends: God loves you. If you have trouble believing that, look at the cross. We were lost in our sins, far from God. God loved you so much he gave his Son Jesus Christ to pay the penalty for your sins, so that the relationship that was broken might be mended, and you could become a child of your heavenly Father.

You are loved. God loves you. Paul discovered that, and millions of others have since, as they have come to know Christ and place their trust in him.

Are you lying awake at night? Hand it over. Hand over that list. Take your worries list, turn it into your prayer list, and empty your heart to God.

I enjoy a psalm, written by King David. David had learned he could trust God, and he declares his dependence on God:

“Lord, my heart is not proud, my eyes are not haughty.

I do not concern myself with matters too great or awesome for me.

But I have stilled and quieted myself, just as a small child is quiet with its mother.

Yes like a small child is quieted is my soul within me.

O Israel put your hope in the Lord now and always” Psalm 131.

David had learned that God loved him, and He could take David’s worries and give him peace.

One last story:

A weary Christian lay awake one night, trying to hold the world together with his worrying. Then he heard the Lord say to him, “Now you go to sleep, Jim, and I will sit up.”

That is the promise. Our Lord neither slumbers nor sleeps. He is there for you.

So do not worry about anything. But pray about everything. Hand it over.

Dual Citizenship

After reading a text from the Bible, I ask myself how these words speak to our day.

As a young pastor, I once preached on a text from the book of Ruth. Do you recall the story? The land of Judah was experiencing a famine, so a man by the name of Elimelech took his wife, Naomi, and two sons to live for awhile in the country of Moab.

After arriving in Moab, Elimelech died and Naomi was left with her two sons. The sons married Moabite women, one named Orpah and the other Ruth. After living in that country for ten years, her sons also died, and Naomi was left without her sons and her husband.

Being lonesome for her family, Naomi decided to return to Judah, so she urged her daughters-in-law to remain in Moab and remarry. Orpah took Naomi’s advice, but Ruth did not. These are her famous works spoken to her mother-in-law: “Entreat me not to leave you or to return from following you, for where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there will I be buried.”

I was describing Naomi as a broken-hearted mother who was mourning the death of her son and Ruth as the distraught young widow who found comfort in being near her mother-in-law. Ruth’s words had grabbed my soul.

I recall applying this story to our day, making a strong point of the love and security we can enjoy as members of a Christian family and that Naomi’s words should speak to us. We must never forget the importance of family love. We need one another. How sad it is when families grow apart from each other.

In the congregation that evening was an older pastor who had words of wisdom for me after the service was over. “Don’t let your imagination go wild when retelling a Bible story and applying it to our day. You must remember that the two cultures Ð then and now Ð are not the same, and you might be misinterpreting the text.”

It was good advice, spoken in love, which I remember to this day. But it is a temptation to which I have often yielded, and today is one of those times. I believe a real application exists from what was happening in the Philippian congregation to what is happening in our churches today.

Let us turn to our text. Paul loved the congregation in Philippi, and they loved him. The Philippians sent one of their members, Epaphroditus, to Rome to minister to the apostle who was living under house arrest.

At this point that my imagination goes wild thinking about those conversations between Paul and Epaphroditus. It would be natural for them to talk about the people in the Philippian congregation.

I can just hear Paul telling Epaphroditus about the night they spent in jail for casting an evil spirit out of a fortune teller. After beating Paul and his coworker Silas, the jailer put them in an inner cell. That night they were singing hymns when there was an earthquake and all of the doors in the jail opened. The jailer was about to kill himself when Paul and Silas shouted, “Stop! We are all here!”

Hearing this the jailer, who had been listening to the witness of Paul and Silas, asked, “What must I do to be saved?” Paul said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved Ð you and your household.” Paul instructed him further in the Christian faith, and the jailer and his household were then baptized.

Sitting in the cell smiling, Paul look at Epaphroditus and said, “It was a wild night. I will never forget the smiles on the jailer and his family’s faces when Christ became theirs. Tell me, Epaphroditus, is that jailer still around?”

Another day, when they were having their afternoon chat, Paul asked about some of the women in the church. First there was Lydia, a convert to Christianity in Philippi and a dear friend of Paul and Silas. Then there were Euodia and Syntyche. They didn’t like one another very well. Paul listened to Epaphroditus tell him that they were still having trouble appreciating each other, and Paul replied, “I hope the stronger members of the congregation are helping them grow in Christ.”

On another day, Paul talked to his friend about others in the congregation. This was his description of them: “Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is on earthly things.”

These people would say that they are Christians, but their first concern is to satisfy their appetites. What they want, they are going to get, and their commitment to Jesus Christ could be put aside for awhile. They glory in human accomplishments and earthly things, including wealth, prestige, and honor, no matter how they attain it.

However, in the same congregation were those who could say, “Our citizenship is in heaven. We are Romans, but our greater citizenship is God’s Kingdom. We are awaiting a Savior who will one day give us a glorious body in the eternal mansions. Life now is partially under his control, but then he will have complete jurisdiction over us.”

Now take Paul’s evaluation of that congregation and ask if the Apostle is describing our congregations today, or is my imagination going wild? I yield to the temptation and say this is a description of a typical congregation in our day.

We have a dual citizenship: living in God’s Kingdom and living in the United States. They are quite different. In our earthly kingdom we are free people as long as we do not break the laws of the land. We can satisfy our appetites. For example, our government says that we must not drive if we are drunk. But God tells us to not get drunk; it is a sin.

As American citizens, we are free to satisfy our sexual appetites as long as we refrain from rape, prostitution, and assaulting children. God says that any sexuality outside of marriage is lust, not love. It is sin.

In our everyday life, we can be dishonest as long as it is not stealing, according to the law of the land. God says no to all dishonesty.

Which citizenship guides us in our living?

Paul calls for consistent conduct with commitment to Christ. Notice Paul’s love for these Philippians and concern about their eternal destiny. “As I have told you before and now say again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their destiny is destruction.”

It would be well for us to ask, do Paul’s words to the Philippians church apply to our churches today?

What About the Rest of Your Life?

You are 50, 60, or 70 years old. What plans do you have for the rest of your life? That is not an uncommon question, is it? We make plans that affect our finance, retirement, housing, and physical needs, just to mention a few concerns that call for serious planning. What about your relationship with the Lord in the years to come?

You ask where I got this thought for my sermon. St. Paul tells us in our text what he wants to happen in his relationship with the Lord Jesus, and I believe it is good advice for all God’s children.

First, Paul wants to be a righteous man. He writes, “I do not want a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ Ð the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith” (9). This means I live out of love for Christ and not by trying to obey the law. As the spiritual relationship with Christ grows, he motivates us to live according to his will. A righteousness that is based on keeping the law says that I must do this or that, because it is what God wants me to do. I am fulfilling an obligation. Sometimes this obligation gets quite heavy.

A righteousness that comes from God and is by faith says that I want to do this or that. Let us take something as simply as going to church on a Sunday morning. When I am living under the law, I go to church because I have to if I am a Christian. It is an obligation. That is what his law tells me to do. When my righteousness is a fruit of the Gospel, I attend church because I love him who first loved me, and I want to be in his house so that I may be fed by his word and fellowship with other believers. Again, it is not that I have to, but that I want to.

Paul knew what a man-made righteousness was. That is what he had experienced in Judaism. It could often be burdensome. When Christ had captured his heart, it was a love relationship and he wanted to please him.

Second, Paul writes, “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection.” Paul had known Christ and lived in a close relationship with him for many years, but he wanted to know him better. Is that our desire?

For us it means spending time with Jesus in his word and prayer. Through Christ’s resurrection, the Savior has won victory for the believer over sin, death, and the devil. This affects our lifestyle. It means that, when temptation confronts us, Christ gives us the power to overcome it. When life seems like it is coming apart, the Holy Spirit is there to lift us up and assure us that “though we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, we will fear no evil for (he) is with us.”

Obviously Paul is talking to the Christians in Philippi. These people were aware that they were terrible sinners, but Jesus was a mighty Savior. When they received Christ as Savior, they were justified by grace through faith. Now they were committed to spend the rest of their lives growing in this relationship with God.

This is the desire of every Christian who truly knows the Savior. However, while justification is instantaneous, sanctification is lifelong. We say with St. Paul, “Not that I have already obtained all of this, or been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.” Is this not our desire also?

Each day we see the need of that power that only the Holy Spirit can give us to press on. Satan has a new set of temptations to confront us with each day of our lives. He never stopped attacking Jesus while he was here in the flesh. Only hours before he was crucified, the tempter was trying to convince our Lord that there was still time to escape this suffering and death. Yet Jesus, empowered by the Holy Spirit, was given strength to pray, “Not my will, but yours be done.” With that power he set his face toward Calvary where he died for the sins of the world.

What about the rest of our lives when we know that it cannot be long before we will die? Our bodies tell us that they are wearing out. We cannot do the things we used to do. We even sell our houses to escape the chores that go with owning property. We are tempted to become very apathetic about carrying any responsibilities in our community or church.

Satan finds a powerful servant who is twenty-five or thirty years younger than you and they suggest that you and your peers move out of the picture and let the younger generation take over. You find yourself saying, “Yes, he is right. It is time for us to quit giving of our time and experience of past years.” It is time to withdraw and bring younger people into places of responsibility. However, it is also possible that it is not an “either-or” but a “both-and.” The old need the young, and the young need the old. There is no substitute for youth, and there is no substitute for age and experience.

The time comes when retirement is in order. However, there is no retirement from serving Christ and his kingdom. Now that is not pious prattle. I am willing to admit that we do not have the strength at age 80 that we had at 50. However, I am also convinced that walking with our Lord for those extra 30 years has equipped us to share insights into God’s plan that will bring blessings to Christ’s church and other people.

What about the rest of your life? I like the counsel given to me by an old man when I was in my 20s. I pass it on to you. “It is better to wear out than to rust out.” Let us keep on growing spiritually until we die.

Is Christianity Divisive?

Is Christianity divisive? It can be. That doesn’t seem right, does it? We shy away from people who cause dissension and admire people who are able to unite a group of people.

Well then, what do we mean by saying that yes, Christianity can be divisive? Let’s take a look at our text.

When Paul came to Philippi he came with the Gospel. He told the people that we are sinners. However, God has come into this world in the person of Jesus Christ, who died on the cross as a payment for our sins. He then personalized the message by saying, “If we repent of our sins and trust Jesus Christ as our Savior, we will be forgiven and restored into a personal relationship with God.”

While some people in Philippi believed this Gospel, others bitterly opposed St. Paul’s teaching. They insisted that in order to be saved it was necessary to obey the Jewish laws, such as circumcision, eating special foods, and celebrating Jewish holidays. This group also told the people that Paul was a false prophet and should not be heard.

Paul’s response was, “Watch out for these dogs.”

This strong statement showed that the Gospel had brought division to the people in Philippi. I can well imagine that families were divided. One would say, “I believe we need the Law of God to be saved.” Another said, “I have found comfort in trusting Christ as St. Paul has presented him to us.”

It was divisiveness that caused Pontius Pilate to be concerned about what this Christian movement could become. He did not believe the followers of Jesus were any match for the mighty Roman Empire in his day, but what could it become? Was Jesus a threat to Caesar?

The concern never went away. If there was no concern or anxiety about Jesus overthrowing the Empire, the Christian message could cause divisions among the people in the Empire and take away from its strength.

The very thought that Jesus was God made Nero anxious to kill His followers, for he believed that only Caesar was god. “Get rid of these Christians,” was the cry until 312 A. D. when the edict of Milan gave complete freedom to Christianity, and it was placed on legal equality with any other religion of the world.

Is Christianity divisive today? Though we do not like to think in these terms, we know that it is. Christians are often labeled as being opinionated, bullheaded, bigoted, dogmatic, and other choice adjectives used to describe the followers of Jesus Christ.

We prefer to be one happy family. We teach our children that sometimes we have to give in to others. Life is made up of compromises. Often this is excellent advice, because what divides us is ridiculous. That is true when it comes to the minors in the Christian faith. But when it comes to the basics of our Christian faith, there can be no compromise. This is what Jesus taught: “He who stands firm to the end will be saved” (Matthew 10:22).

What are these Christian essentials that are divisive in America today, even in the Church?

1. Jesus Christ is God and the only Savior of the world.

2. I am not basically good, but a sinner who is out of relationship with God.

3. Because of his love and mercy, God sent his only begotten Son into this world to take our sins upon him, and through his vicarious suffering and death, Jesus paid the price for the sins of the world. On the third day he was raised from the dead, and through his resurrection won the victory over sin, death, and the devil. Believers walk in a personal relationship with Jesus while here in this life, and at the time of their death are brought into the Kingdom of Heaven, and are His forever.

4. God created me in His image. This is a basic to which we hold firm. How did he create us? This is a question that can be discussed and the “how” cannot divide us.

5. Our Lord Jesus is going to return to this earth. It is commonly called His second coming. This is a basic that cannot be compromised. How and when he is coming can be discussed and must not divide brothers and sisters in Christ.

Stand firm but remember this: before you speak on the basics with strong convictions, unwilling to compromise anything, the same inspired person who was labeled a divider wrote, “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking. It is not easily angered, it keeps no records of wrongs.”

Remain true to your Savior and walk in love with your fellow men.