Tuesday, January 26, 2016

January 24, 2016 Philippians: Keep On Keepin' On!

I have long been fascinated by the psychology of groups of people, in particularly the way in which we do not realize how our thinking is shaped by forces in society.  I think this is particularly evident in the way in which we associate ourselves with sports teams.  There is a lot of psychology in wanting to be associated with those who are successful and those who are winners.  We live in a world that values those who are successful and those who are considered winners; no one wants to be associated with losers.  This is even reflected in our language.  Have you ever noticed how, when watching a ball game, we will say we won, but they lost. Or, we might jump us and say we did it!  We scored!  But we will say, I can’t believe they blew that play!  When something good happens, it’s we, but when it’s not good, it’s they, and we probably don’t even notice we use that kind of language.  Perhaps that it is the subconscious urge to be associated with winning and with success that blinds us to this use of pronouns.  We don’t want to be associated with losing and with a lack of success so even our language is affected, albeit in a way that we don’t even notice.

This is representative of the way in which we place value in our society.  Our society is so taken with success and with winning that value is attached to those who are winners, not losers.  Value is attached to those who can generate money, not cost money.  Value is attached to those who succeed in business and climb to the top of the corporate ladder, not to those who are consigned to the basement mailroom.
You might not recognize the name Tom Monihan but there is a good chance that at some time you have patronized the business he founded.  Tom Monihan founded Domino’s Pizza, building it into a very successful chain of restaurants.  Beginning with one store it eventually grew into hundreds and attained a value into the billions of dollars.  In the late 80s he attracted attention when he placed his business holdings up for sale, after deciding to devote his life to a different goal.  Upon selling his business empire, he would spend his time and money traveling the world building churches and chapels.

Why, many people asked, would someone walk away from such a successful business and spend his money building churches, especially when many of them would be constructed in remote and destitute corners of the globe?  Countless people worked hard in business without attaining even a fraction of his success, so why would he walk away?  It was, in the opinion of many, a backward step in life, and a loss.

How do you measure loss and gain, in any true sense of measurement?  What does it really mean to succeed?  What does it really mean to lose?  One of the great truisms of Scripture is that it upends so many of the ways in which society assigns value, how it defines value, and how it defines gain.

As we continue our series of messages from Paul’s letter to the Philippians we come to 3:7-14, where Paul writes –

But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ.
What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ
and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith.
10 I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death,
11 and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.
12 Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.
13 Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead,
14 I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.

This is undoubtedly a passage written by a man who knew he was very near to the end of life, as I’ve mentioned each week of this series, and it really brought to Paul a very sharp focus about his life, how he thought about his life and the things to which he had devoted his time and his energies.  It would appear, from the outside, that Paul was a loser.  He was in prison and close to execution.  Many of the churches he founded were struggling.  Perhaps there were those who found him to be an object of ridicule.

But Paul was not one to be pitied, and he certainly was not seeking anyone’s pity.  It is very obvious that Paul was completely satisfied with his life and how it had been spent.  Whatever looked to be a loss, Paul said it was a gain for him.  He hadn’t lost his freedom; he gained opportunities to share his faith in the capital of the Roman Empire.  He wasn’t about to lose his life; he was about to gain eternity.
To those whom Paul wrote, there might have been some sense of despair, as their friend and leader was soon to be lost to this life.  In this passage, there are so many themes upon which we could concentrate today, but I want to focus on just one.  With all the final words Paul offered, one of the strongest messages was, to paraphrase it, Keep On Keepin’ On! I press on, he says, toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.

In keeping with that theme, here are a few reminders this morning –

Keep On, Because You Are Not Alone.
Brothers and sisters, Paul says in verse 13.  That’s a phrase of friendship, of affection, and it speaks of a bond of faith.  Paul might have been absent from his friends, but he knew he was not alone.  One of the great blessings of being a person of faith is the bond we share with one another, and I hope and pray that everyone who walks through the doors of our church – or any church – will know the church to be a place where they can come and never be alone.

It’s an irony of our modern world, I fear, that while we are surrounded by people so much of the time, so many people are lonely.  They live in crowded neighborhoods and work in offices full of people; they walk down crowded hallways of schools or busy sidewalks teaming with people, and yet they feel alone

What were among the final words Jesus spoke to his followers?  I am with you always (Matthew 28:20).  It is a promise that we do not walk alone through this life.  The presence of God and his Spirit, certainly, are upon us but so is the presence of his people in our lives, those whom we can call brothers and sisters in faith, in hope, and in encouragement.

One of the great truths of which we want to be assured in life is whether or not there will be someone who will mourn with us in our time of loss, comfort us in our time of need, and celebrate with us in our time of joy.  To know we are not alone is a great gift.

Keep On, and Don’t Quit.
It’s hard to be consistent with anything.  Here we are almost at the end of January so I’ll ask you this question – how are those New Year’s resolutions working out for you?  Anyone still managing to keep them?  Anyone remember what their resolutions were?  It’s hard to be consistent and to keep from quitting.  I’ve long said that if anyone were to build a monument in my memory they would get halfway through and quit.  And everyone who walked by that half-finished monument would immediately know it was for me, because it wasn’t finished.  Hey, look at that half-finished statue – that’s a monument to Dave, because he would give up halfway through a project.

It’s so easy to quit.  I used to run in a lot of 5K and 10K races, and I almost never ran by myself; I tried to always run with a friend, and I did so because it was easier to keep going when there was someone there to encourage you – come on, keep going, don’t quit!  That’s one of the great benefits of being among our brothers and sisters, isn’t it, people who will encourage us and remind us not to quit.

I know it’s easy to quit, but don’t quit.  I know it’s easy to say I’ve tried and tried.  I’ve tried to turn my life around.  I’ve tried to change.  I’ve tried to be different.  I try to believe harder, live better, and prayer harder, but I just can’t manage to keep at it.

Paul had so many challenges to face.  In II Corinthians 11:22-29 he offers a long list of challenges he faced – 23  I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. 24 Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, 26 I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers. 27 I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. 28 Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches. 29 Who is weak, and I do not feel weak? Who is led into sin, and I do not inwardly burn?  I would find it easy to quit after just one or two of those challenges!  It would have been easy, considering the challenges, for Paul to quit, but he didn’t.  We see this time and again in so many of the Biblical characters, as they suffered great difficulties to the point that most people would have given up, and yet they continued to persevere.  After the crucifixion, the disciples were back in the upper room, fearful for their lives, wondering what might happen next.  Peter, Andrew, James, and John, perhaps, were considering returning to their fishing boats.  Matthew, perhaps, was considering returning to the tax office.  But they did not.

All of us, at some point, consider giving up.  And certainly, as we move through Paul’s letter to the Philippians, the message we find from this one who writes at the end of his life, who continued to be faithful, was that I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus (verse 14).  Paul never quit.  He never gave up.  Don’t let life and its struggle wear you down to the point where of saying I quit!  Don’t quit.  Don’t give up. 

Keep On, Because You Are Loved.
Maybe sometimes we feel unloved; maybe sometimes we feel as though no one cares.  And the reality is that it’s hard to love some people and some groups.  At every point in history, and even in our age – when we believe we have progressed to a greater level of enlightenment and openness and acceptance – we’re still not very good at understanding how we label some groups as being lesser than others and less deserving of love and acceptance.  It’s just how, unfortunately, we operate as humanity.  We want to be the ones to have the privilege of passing judgment upon others and to have the right not only to say who is worthy or unworthy of our love but also who is worthy or unworthy of God’s love.  And yet the truth that always comes through loud and clear in the Scriptures is that God loves every person, no matter who they are and Jesus calls us to love every person as well, even those who would be considered our enemies – 43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47 And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that?  (Matthew 5:43-47).  It’s very easy to love those who love us, and I am grateful for those who encourage and love me and in return I am more than happy to love them and to be encouraging to them.  But we are called to go far beyond that level of love.  We are called to love every person.

In another congregation I served we developed a connection with a residential home for foster children.  There were cottages on the property and 15 or 20 kids could live in each one.  On the occasion of one of our visits we had a birthday party for some of the kids and one young lady read to us a poem she had written.  She was 15 or 16 years old and her poem was titled Welcome To My World, and it was a harrowing, heart-breaking journey through the struggles of her life.  It was a window that told us of the abuse, the struggles, and the difficulties she had experienced, and raised the question of who could love her.  It was hard to listen to her words and our reaction to her experiences was to question why any young person should have to experience such struggles.  What kind of world is it that would harm a young person in such a way and cause her to believe that she was not loved?  What she was asking was will anyone love me?  Will anyone take me into their lives and care about me?  In a world that assigns value according to winners and losers and the successful and unsuccessful, can I be of value to anyone?  What kind of world does this to a young person?  Our world does.

It’s easy to forget we are loved, but we need to remember that perception is not always reality.  We might think we are alone, but we are not.  We might think we can’t keep going, but we can.  We might think we are not love, but we are.

No matter what, keep on keepin’ on!

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

January 17, 2016 Philippians: How To Be An Encourager

When I served as an associate minister back in the 80s, I often received phone calls from Lillie Franklin, a member of our congregation.  I was always happy to hear from Lillie, as she was a very kind, encouraging person.  Many of our conversations began with an invitation for me to take the short trip from the church to her house to enjoy some of her delicious, homemade fried pies.  We would sit on her porch, or at her kitchen table, and I would enjoy the conversation and one of her pies, along with a scoop or two of ice cream that made it even better.  Lillie always had a kind and encouraging word to share, and would often tell me how much she thought I looked like the actor Tom Selleck (which was never true, but I was always happy to hear the comparison).

All of us have encouragers in life.  Who have been your encouragers?  You were probably thinking of some of them as I talked about Lillie.  What a gift we have in our encouragers!  And let us not forget that we have the blessing of being an encourager to others.

We are continuing our series of messages from the book of Philippians, and today we come to a message title How To Be An Encourager.  Our Scripture text is not one that is often referenced when studying Philippians, but it should not be overlooked either, as it has some powerful words to offer about encouragement.  As we have journeyed through the book of Philippians we have found there to be a strong theme of encouragement, and tucked away in this passage are some words of encouragement.

Follow along as I read Philippians 2:19-30 –

19 I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon, that I also may be cheered when I receive news about you.
20 I have no one else like him, who will show genuine concern for your welfare.
21 For everyone looks out for their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ.
22 But you know that Timothy has proved himself, because as a son with his father he has served with me in the work of the gospel. 23 I hope, therefore, to send him as soon as I see how things go with me.
24 And I am confident in the Lord that I myself will come soon.
25 But I think it is necessary to send back to you Epaphroditus, my brother, co-worker and fellow soldier, who is also your messenger, whom you sent to take care of my needs.
26 For he longs for all of you and is distressed because you heard he was ill.
27 Indeed he was ill, and almost died. But God had mercy on him, and not on him only but also on me, to spare me sorrow upon sorrow.
28 Therefore I am all the more eager to send him, so that when you see him again you may be glad and I may have less anxiety.
29 So then, welcome him in the Lord with great joy, and honor people like him,
30 because he almost died for the work of Christ. He risked his life to make up for the help you yourselves could not give me.

Last week I referenced the story from Luke’s gospel that tells of Jesus healing the ten lepers, of which only one returned to offer his thanks.  As I spoke about that story I used the phrase be the one.  I appreciate that several of you mentioned that phrase after the service, and I’m going to use the phrase this week for each point I would like to make.

1.  Be the one to find something good to say.
In one of my D.Min. classes, on the first day, my classmates and I found ourselves finding a seat among the desks, which had been arranged in a circular pattern.  The professor began the class by asking one of the students to say something encouraging about the person sitting to his right.  At the time, none of us were acquainted with one another, and I felt a sense of relieve that the professor had not called upon me.  The student obviously struggled to find something encouraging to say about the other, and we all were asked, in turn, to do the same.  It was a difficult exercise, to say the least.  The professor was not out to make anyone uncomfortable; he was simply making a point.  Watch and observe other people, he said, and you can find something positive and encouraging to say about others.  It was a good lesson for us.

Paul writes in Ephesians 4:29 that we should not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen (Ephesians 4:29).  It is a much-needed reminder of our call to be encouragers to other.

In verse 20 of today’s passage, Paul writes of Timothy that I have no one else like him.  Imagine how that statement must have encouraged Timothy!  Paul knew a lot of people.  He worked with the giants of the early church.  He knew Peter, and most likely the other disciples.  In his travels, and his work with so many congregations, Paul knew many impressive and wonderful people.  And yet it is of Timothy that he says I have no one else like him.  Imagine what an encouragement that must have been to Timothy!

Be the one to find something good to say.

2.  Be the one who can go beyond your own struggles and be an encourager.
Sometimes we forget that when people ask us how we’re doing they are asking a rhetorical question, but we begin offering a long list of what is wrong in our world.  Please don’t hear me as being insensitive to anyone’s struggles, but we must remember that we are not the only ones who experience difficulties in life, and we cannot allow our struggles and our difficulties to keep us from encouraging others.

Sometimes we need to be encouraged, and sometimes we need to be an encourager.  Paul was someone who, considering his circumstances, needed to be encouraged.  But Paul wasn’t lost in his own problems.  Each week, as we’ve traveled through the book of Philippians, I’ve mentioned Paul’s difficult circumstances.  He was in chains, under arrest, and awaiting his execution.  It doesn’t get much worse than that!  And yet it’s really rather miraculous that Paul could so clearly see beyond his own struggles to be an encourager to others and not seek encouragement solely for himself.

Paul even decides to send his friend Epaphroditus back to Philippi to encourage the congregation there.  I’m sure Paul could have greatly benefitted from his continued presence, but he was worried about the members of that congregation and about Epaphroditus.

I’m often touched to enter a hospital room to visit someone, attempting to encourage the person, and they become an encourager to me!

Be the one who can go beyond your own struggles and be an encourager.

3.  Be the one who encourages – today!
I have hear people speak of their regrets in life, and many of those regrets have to do with missed opportunities to speak with someone about important matters.  In a previous congregation Tanya and I were blessed by a couple who were like second parents to us.  They were such wonderful encouragers to us and meant a great deal to us.  The husband, unfortunately, was diagnosed with terminal cancer.  After some months, he was in the hospital and had been unconscious for a number of days.  His weakened condition and the amount of medication needed to manage the pain had caused him to remain unconscious.  His wife expressed to me on several occasions of how she wished she had the opportunity to speak with her husband one more time.

Miraculously, she was given that opportunity.  One day, late in the afternoon, I walked into his hospital room to visit with her and she told me an amazing story.  Just after lunch, her husband suddenly awoke, sat up in bed, and they talked for about an hour.  In spite of his weak condition and the amount of medication he had been given, he was able to speak clearly, with the opportunity for both of them to say their final words to each other and other important matters.  After about an hour he put his head back on the pillow and never regained consciousness.  It was an opportunity few people receive.  It was, I believe, a miracle. 

Do not put off what you need to say.  Say it today.  We are not guaranteed tomorrow.  Paul knew he did not have a lot of time left, and I that realization certainly puts life into perspective.  I’m not trying to be morbid, but time is a precious gift and we have no idea how much time we have in this life.  Paul did not put off until later the encouragement he was able to offer in the moment.

Be the one who encourages – today!

4.  Be the one who understands the power of words and actions.
We must understand the power of our words, to build up or tear down.  The book of James talks very powerfully about the power of words and the manner in which they can be a blessing or a curse.  In James 3:3-12 we read –

When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal.
Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go.
Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark.
The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.
All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and sea creatures are being tamed and have been tamed by mankind,
but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.
With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. 10 Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be.
11 Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? 12 My brothers and sisters, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water.

Our words can build up or tear down.  And allow me to add this – it’s not just the right words that we must offer, it’s also being willing to speak out when the time calls for us to do so.  There are times when silence is as unfortunate as the wrong words.

When I was in high school there was a student who received a lot of harassment.  There was a great deal of speculation about him and some hurtful rumors spread about him.  It was difficult for him to walk down the hall without hearing hurtful and insulting comments.  This young man and his family attended my church, though he never sat with the rest of us.  A few times I wondered why he never associated with us and it took me some years to understand why.  For one, we never invited him to sit with us and, secondly, I never stood up for him.  While I never participated in the name-calling and insults that were hurled his way, neither did I speak up.  Too many times I stood quietly and failed to come to his defense.

I very much regret that now.  I wish I could turn back time and have the opportunity to come his defense.  Navigating the social scene in high school is difficult for anyone, and my silence contributed to the difficulty faced by this young man.  I could have been an encouragement to him by standing with him and standing up for him.

You will recognize, no doubt, the name of the Biblical character Barnabas.  Did you know that was not his given name? Acts 4:36 tells us that his given name was Joseph.  Barnabas was a nickname, and means Son of Encouragement.  Isn't that a beautiful fact to know, that Barnabas was such an encourager that it became his name!  What would people choose as our nickname? Unfortunately, I did not earn the name of encourager with the young man from my high school and my home church.  I imagine Barnabas would have quickly stood up for him, encouraging him in both word and deed.
Be a Barnabas.  Don’t be silent when the moment calls for you to speak.  Be willing to speak up for the ones who need an encourager.  Be the one who understand the power of words and actions.  Be the one who can go beyond your own struggles and encourage others.  Be the one with something good to say.

Monday, January 11, 2016

January 10, 2016 Philippians: Have I Told You Lately?

Several years ago, on a Sunday when I had an opportunity to visit in another church, I attended a service where the minister had been using song titles from the Beatles as the basis for his messages.  I thought it seemed like a good idea, and so for some time I have been thinking about a sermon series using song titles.  I still haven’t decided whether or not to do so, mostly because I’m having a hard time coming up with a sermon to match the titles of the songs I listen to.  I have yet to figure out how to build a message on Smoke On the Water, Wild Thing, or Born To Be Wild.  But I am borrowing a song title today, from a Van Morrison song, later covered by Rod Stewart – Have I Told You Lately?  It’s a great song, with a great message that echoes one of the sentiments of Paul in his letter to the Philippians.

You will remember that the book of Philippians is the last of Paul’s writings, penned as Paul is under arrest in Rome, facing his execution, so it was natural for him to begin thinking about the people in his life who have been important to him.  As Paul had founded many churches and worked with countless individuals, I imagine it was quite a long list of people who meant a great deal to him.  It was to his brothers and sisters in the Philippian church that Paul turned to in his final days, cementing a bond that had undoubtedly grown deeper in the latter stage of his life.

After a brief greeting in verses one and two, Paul’s thoughts quickly turn to those in Philippi who meant so much to him, writing that I thank my God every time I remember you.  One of the dynamics that comes into play as one stares into the face of their own mortality is to speak to others about important matters, and Paul does this throughout his letter.

I want to use the title of the song – Have I Told You Lately? – as a way of highlighting some of the themes of Paul’s final words, but first, let’s read the Scripture passage – Philippians 1:3-11, 18b-21 –

I thank my God every time I remember you.
In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy
because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now,
being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.
It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart and, whether I am in chains or defending and confirming the gospel, all of you share in God’s grace with me. God can testify how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus.
And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight,
10 so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ,
11 filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God.
18 And I will continue to rejoice,
19 for I know that through your prayers and God’s provision of the Spirit of Jesus Christ what has happened to me will turn out for my deliverance.
20 I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death.
21 For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.
1.  Have I told you lately that you are important to me?
Paul used a very ancient, outmoded technology – letter writing.  I am saddened that letter writing is a mode of communication that has largely passed into history.  I know it is far more convenient to send texts and emails and to post on Facebook, but I don’t think it’s the same.  When I receive a hand-written letter I am touched that someone took the time to sit down and actually compose their thoughts and write those words.

For many years I was very negligent about writing letters, but in more recent years I have tried to do better.  I do use email and other forms of electronic communication, but as often as possible, I take out a piece of paper and a pen and write out a letter or note by hand.

I also keep all the letters I receive and have folders going back quite a few years.  I even keep the negative letters I receive, although I almost never read them and probably should just throw them away.  But I do read many of the letters on numerous occasions.  Those days when I feel that nothing is going well and those days when discouragement wraps around me like a blanket are times when I’ll take out one of the folders and start reading through them.  And I’ve told you, I believe, that I always keep a few letters in the back of my Bible, rotating them every so often.  I have six in the back of my Bible now and three of the six letter-writers are gone, so I can’t bring myself to remove them and file them away.  I don’t have much of a portfolio of stocks and bonds, and that’s okay.  Those letters are my portfolio and their value has greatly increased with the passage of time.

To express our thanks to God for the people who are important to us, and to express our gratitude to those individuals is one of the most holy acts that we can practice, I believe, because it reminds us of what binds us together.  Did you know that the word religion has its roots in the Latin word ligere, which means to bind?  Anything we practice that helps to strengthen and affirm that bond is a great act of faith, and it reminds us of our need for one another.  God created us as social, not solitary creatures.  We Americans are so quick to pride ourselves on being self-made people.  We’ve pulled ourselves up by our bootstraps and made something of ourselves.  Actually, that is rarely, if ever true.  We all get to where we are in life through the help of others, and expressing gratitude for that help and care is a great act of faith.

In Luke 17:1-19 we find the story of the ten lepers –  
11 Now on his way to Jerusalem, Jesus traveled along the border between Samaria and Galilee.
12 As he was going into a village, ten men who had leprosy met him. They stood at a distance
13 and called out in a loud voice, “Jesus, Master, have pity on us!”
14 When he saw them, he said, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were cleansed.
15 One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice.
16 He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him—and he was a Samaritan.
17 Jesus asked, “Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine?
18 Has no one returned to give praise to God except this foreigner?”
19 Then he said to him, “Rise and go; your faith has made you well.”

Jesus healed all ten, but only one returned to thank him.  Imagine that!  Lepers, in the time of Jesus, had a dual death sentence that hung over them.  Banned from society, they were cut off from their friends and families, so they received a social death sentence.   They also had a very real death sentence that hung over them, with a slow, difficult descent into death.  By healing them, Jesus removed both the death sentences, but amazingly, only one returned to thank him!  Listen to what Jesus said, in response – Were there not ten cleansed?  But the nine –where are they?  Were none found who turned back to give glory to God?  There is a sound of sadness in the voice of Jesus, a tone of disbelief that only one of the lepers would take the time to express gratitude for such a great miracle.

Be the one.  Be the one that expresses gratitude.  The other nine may go their own way and withhold gratitude, but be the one.  Be the one from whom gratitude always flows.  Be the one to express gratitude for the people who bless your life.  Be the one to express gratitude to God for what he has done for you.  Be the one.

2.  Have I told you lately that I pray for you?
I hope that we never use the phrase I’ll pray for you lightly, as just a toss off phrase without any real meaning or practice.  It’s a big thing to say I’ll pray for you.  

In 1:9-11 Paul writes and this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God. 

My prayer, he says.  My prayer.  Those are beautiful words, for Paul to tell his friends that they were in his prayers.  Paul had a lot of things for which he could pray.  He could pray to be released from captivity.  He could pray for his life to be spared.  I sure would be if I were in his place.  But Paul was praying for others, not himself.  Isn’t that amazing!

Don’t you like to know that someone, at sometime, somewhere, is praying for you?  We have a small group that gathers here at the church on Thursday mornings to pray through a list of names.  I am grateful for the times I am able to sit with them and to listen to them pray.  Did you know they pray for you, by name?  Maybe there are moment when you sense the power that come from those prayers.  It’s a beautiful experience to hear someone pray for another person.  I’m grateful to know that people pray for me.  I want you to know that I sense those prayers, and I appreciate those prayers.  Those prayers are what keep me going many days, so please keep offering them!

3.  Have I told you lately that I’m not angry, bitter, or frightened?
David Brooks, writing last week in the New York Times, spoke about the sense of fear and anxiety that permeates our world at our historical moment, writing that – These diverse acts of small terror have combined to create a general state of anxiety.

Fear is an emotion directed at a specific threat, but anxiety is an unfocused corrosive uneasiness. In the age of small terror this anxiety induces a sense that the basic systems of authority are not working, that those in charge are not keeping people safe.

There seems to me to be a very strong undercurrent of dissatisfaction, anxiety, and fear in our society that creates a sense of discontent that runs very deep.  And, to be honest, there are many good reasons to be fearful and anxious because of what is happening in our world.  But acknowledging that great difficulties and problems and violence exist as a reason for feeling fearful is one thing; allowing that fear and anxiety to control you is something different entirely.  There are many people, in the realm of politics in particular, who often push that button of fear, because they believe they can use it for their gain, but listen to what Paul writes in chapter 1, verses 27 and 28 –

27 Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Then, whether I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence, I will know that you stand firm in the one Spirit, striving together as one for the faith of the gospel
28 without being frightened in any way by those who oppose you.

Don’t be angry, don’t be bitter, and don’t be frightened.  It’s not hard to be bitter about life.  After a certain age – and for some people it’s far too early – there are things that can certainly cause bitterness.  But that’s a hard way to live.  It will eat away at your soul and come to no good end.

What is really interesting about the book of Philippians are the things that are not there, one of which is, the condemnation of the Romans.  Paul is under arrest, and he knows his end is coming, and yet he doesn’t turn his letter into a rant against the Roman Empire or the emperor.  Isn’t that interesting?  I’d sure have a few things to say!  Wouldn’t you?  But Paul doesn’t.  He is a man at peace.  He is a man who is not angry.  He is a man who is not bitter.  He is a man who is not frightened.  He is a man who is not at the mercy of his circumstances, but is one who is in control of his heart and mind.

Philippians is a beautiful letter, full of beautiful sentiments that I hope we can emulate in our own lives.  I imagine that when the church first heard the letter many people asked, could I get a copy of that letter?  Surely they wanted to read over it time and time again in order to be strengthened and encouraged in their faith.

That’s why I keep the letters I receive.  One of the ones in the back cover of my Bible dates back to 2008.  It is very brief, but contains a powerful message.  It says simply, Dear Dave and Tanya, I love you and pray for you.  It was not too many months after receiving that letter that I officiated at that person’s funeral.  I am grateful to have their letter, and it continues to provide me strength and encouragement.

Have I told you lately?  Paul did not hesitate to tell others what was important to him, and may we ever follow his example.