Grace and Peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all .
Paul writes to us from his letter to the church at Philippi.
‘whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.’
Let’s join in a word of prayer:
O God our Father, we give thanks for the life and ministry of Your son, our Lord Jesus Christ. Help us to hear his words, think of these things, and express the joy we have in Him, even in the continuing upheaval of our broken world. Guide our time together, at this Sunday of Joy, that we may rejoice together in harmony as we listen to your message for us with our attention toward all that is worthy of praise about our relationship with you and with each other. Gracious heavenly Father, hear our prayer for the sake of our risen Lord, Christ Jesus, Amen.
Advent gives us a unique opportunity to visit Jesus in a cradle in Bethlehem, through the lens of Jesus Christ the ascended Lord of all creation. We find the joy of Jesus, as we are reminded of the wondrous birth in Bethlehem and we worship him. We also find the joy of our life in Christ, with the Disciples as they witnessed his ascension, and ‘Then they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy.’
I find so much joy as I join in worship, with our songs, Scripture, prayers, and fellowship. But what about those times outside of our worship, as we face the challenges of living together in a broken world. Where do we then find the joy of living. I suggest that we find this joy in our fellowship, our mission in the community, and our growing together in faith.
One pastor once formed a “mutual encouragement” fellowship at a time of stress in his parish. The members subscribed to a simple formula applied before speaking to any person on any subject.
To think about what they were intending to say:
- T – Is it true? · H – Is it helpful? · I – Is it inspiring?
- N – Is it necessary? · K – Is it kind?
If what they were about to say did not pass these tests, they were to reframe their thinking into something commendable, excellent and encouraging.
Paul encourages us not only to reframe our thinking on what we will say to one another, but what we will hear from one another. What we will say and hear in the world around us. Just think of how many disagreements and misunderstandings we can avoid if we simply reframe what we hear and what we say.
If we determine not to listen to all the things that are not worthy of consideration. If we determine not to say all the things that would only stir up unhealthy dialogue. By doing this, the peace of God will be with us, as Paul says.
Every word that we speak or write originates in a thought – whether consciously or unconsciously. Our thoughts, formed from our attitudes, will make friends or turn people away. God created our minds with incredible power. But he gives us free will about what we’re thinking. If we think good thoughts, our words will be positive. And we can experience joy of sharing those words.
Each of us has a unique perception of the world we live in. This is because our perceptions are formed from our past thoughts. Thoughts introduced by what we have seen and what we have heard. The Bible tells us in Proverbs that “As a person thinks in his heart, so is he.” (Proverbs 23:7)
Our spiritual battle is most often in the world of our thoughts. Overcoming the unhealthy perceptions of our past by filling our minds and hearts with healthy perceptions created by faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. By the joy of our salvation.
The Holy Spirit creates and strengthens faith in our world of thought, as we hear the word of God, share in the sacraments of Christ Jesus, and experience life changing fellowship with like minded Christians. But the battle only begins there.
The battle continues with the Holy Spirit training our conscience with ‘whatever is true, honorable, excellent and worthy of praise’. The Holy Spirit training our conscience to filter out all thinking that is not in line with God’s will for us. Forming us into the best people that God wants us to be. Joyful people. But be sure this training will not always be easy or painless.
The key to triumph in the challenge of Christian living is learning how to let God guide the free will of our thoughts and align our attitudes with his Word.
While it is important to speak in line with God’s will, it is also important to listen in line with God’s will. To have strong faith, and operate in the Christian principles that will empower us to be victorious in the way we think, and live.
Psychologists tell us that our life goes in the direction of our most dominant thoughts. We cannot expect to be kind, gentle, loving, or patient without thinking the right things. Without hearing and experiencing the right things. Without speaking the right things. The Scriptures agree with these Psychologists, in describing the fruit of the Holy Spirit imparted to us by faith.
Praise God. God knows that we will always make mistakes. He gives us permission to fail, to repent, to be renewed, and to learn the discipline that comes with failure and forgiveness. Training us to look at others with joy in our heart.
That is why we celebrate the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ, the life he lived, the sacrifice he made to atone for our failure, and the resurrection that gives us victory of life in eternity.
But we still need to be active in the process to gain control over what we hear, what we think, and what we say. Trusting in Christ Jesus, and listening to the Holy Spirit, is active Christian living. Not passive living with a ready excuse for our human behaviour.
There is really no excuse for ignoring the Holy Spirit as he trains our conscience. There is every reason to rejoice when we feel the sharp tinge of reprimand within our conscience for the angry words that we say with intention, or the wicked things we accept to hear and view with interest.
This rebuke witnesses to us that the Holy Spirit is active in moulding us into the person that our Saviour wants each of us to be. And so, we can hear the words of Paul in Philippians with a new insight. ‘Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.’
We can follow the advice of Paul when he encourages us to ‘ Let our gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near.’ Our Saviour smiles every time we speak with gentleness, respond with gentleness, act with gentleness. Because this is how we witness the hope, peace and joy that are the core of our Christian character.
And even when we do slip, and need reprove, Paul encourages us ‘not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let our requests be made known to God.’ Because we have his assurance of forgiveness and renewal every time we come to him in repentance. And, thank God, his peace ‘which surpasses all understanding, will guard our hearts and our minds in Christ Jesus,’ restoring the joy of our salvation.
As we turn our thoughts to all the good things that captivate our attention, we can follow the advice of Paul and ‘rejoice in the Lord always’. We can set our will to celebrate our Christianity. We can make the choice to live our life of faith in Jesus with joy, even in the face of life’s cruellest disappointments and heartaches and grief’s. We can face each new day, with a sense of victory and energy, as we speak with encouragement and listen to others with gentleness, as we cling to the character of Jesus Christ.
The grace and peace of our Triune God keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. AMEN.
Rev David Thompson