REST A WHILE (Article) by Abidan Paul Shah

REST A WHILE (Article) by Abidan Paul Shah

(Published in the newspaper Daily Dispatch, Henderson on June 24, 2017)

“Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Come aside by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while.’ For there were many coming and going, and they did not even have time to eat.” (Mark 6:31)

Summer is here. Those who can are taking every opportunity to get away to the lake, beach, mountains, or some place other than home. But will they truly rest? Most don’t. Many complain on returning that they need a vacation to recuperate from their vacation! Then there are those who are staying home and getting caught up on all the unfinished projects. No rest for the weary. I confess that I fall into the latter category. I enjoy work! It energizes me. It bothers me to see able-bodied people being lazy.

So who is better? The ones who get away or the ones who keep going? Neither, because both are still failing to rest. Here’s why:

God’s idea of rest is to cease from labor. In the Book of Genesis he set the pattern for us. After creating the world and everything in it in six days, he rested on the seventh day, and even blessed and sanctified it as a Day of Rest. Of course, God didn’t need to rest. “Behold, He who keeps Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep.” (Psalm 121:4) He did it to remind us that without adequate rest we will fail to function to the level of our abilities and even fall apart. As the old Greco-Roman saying goes, “If you keep your bow tightly strung at all times, it will quickly break, but if you let it rest, it will be ready to use whenever you need it.” True rest is complete cessation of work.

While it is obvious that those who stay home and keep working are failing to follow God’s mandate, it is not as apparent but many who are getting away are also just as guilty. The culprit is our world of hyper-connectivity. It’s no secret that technology has changed our world radically in the past decade or so, in some ways to our detriment. I’m not advocating abandoning our smart phones or deleting our social media accounts. We’re way past the exit ramp. What I am suggesting is taking breaks from our statuses and stories and allowing our minds to rest. Constantly checking and scrolling through updates is just disguised labor. Just like Jesus and his disciples were constantly bombarded by people coming and going, we too have people dropping in every moment, albeit behind a touch screen.

So, whether you get away or stay home, truly rest. If you’re on the beach or the lake, post pictures of how amazing it is to be you! But then put it away. Enjoy nature, God’s natural relaxant. Take the time to connect with the loved ones near you, especially the young. They’re not as addicted to social media as you may think. In the absence of genuine, fun, and meaningful interactions with the adults in their lives, they have defaulted to poor but enticing substitutes. I fear that if we don’t break our addiction, we’re headed towards a relationship precipice that will be much worse than Harry Chapin ever imagined in “Cat’s in the Cradle.”

By the way, don’t neglect the more essential spiritual rest which only Christ can provide, as he said – “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28)

Hoi Polloi 17 – Dr. David Alan Black

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In this episode, Abidan Paul Shah will be talking with Dr. David Alan Black about his newest book “Running My Race: Reflections on Life, Loss, Aging, and Forty Years of Teaching.” It’s about learning to deal with the pains of life in a way that draws us closer to the heart of God. Both laypeople and scholars will benefit from this book.

If you have any questions or topics you would like to be discussed, please tweet them to @hoipolloiradio.

Steer Your Thoughts by Pastor Abidan Shah

STEER YOUR THOUGHTS by Pastor Shah, Clearview Church, Henderson

steeryourthoughtsIntroduction: This is our 5th message in our series “PUTTING ANXIETY TO WORK” and this one is called “STEER YOUR THOUGHTS.”

Matthew 6   25 “Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27 Which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature? 28 “So why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; 29 and yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 30 Now if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? 31 “Therefore do not worry, saying, “What shall we eat?’ or “What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.

Bridge: Would you agree that worry is the result of unguided thoughts? Think about it – what happens to children who are left to themselves without proper guidance and discipline? They become monsters. So also our thoughts, if they are left to themselves without proper facts and supervision, they become monsters.

Background of the passage: So far in this series, which began in verse 19, Jesus told us that to deal with worry we have to change our thoughts: change our thoughts about wealth – “Don’t hoard but share”; change our thoughts about other people’s success – “Don’t let your eye be evil but good”; and change our thoughts about who controls your life – “Don’t have two masters. Only Christ.” But all that was to lead us to this section. To get to the heart of worry, we have to change what we fundamentally think about our relationship with God.

Question: What do you believe about God? Do you believe that He cares for your needs? Do you believe that He is a good Father who cares for His children? Do you believe He is a sovereign God who has the best in store for us? Are you saved? Romans 8:32 “He who did not spare His own Son…how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?”

So how do you steer your thoughts?

I. CHANGE WHAT YOU THINK ABOUT LIFE. 

25 “Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on.”

Background: When Jesus made that statement, He was not advocating some vagrant life, with no responsibilities. Neither was He suggesting some monastic life, all detached and otherworldly. Instead, He was teaching His listeners how to have the proper perspective on the daily necessities of life. Think about Jesus’ listeners. Most of them were the common people from first century Palestine. For food, they had to depend on the rainfall and even if they had adequate rainfall, insects, locusts, and wild fire could destroy their crops. For water, they had to rely on wells and springs but what if there was a drought? For clothes, the poor people generally wore woolen garments. At the most they would have one change of clothing but what if there was a fire? By the way, this is how most of the world still lives at this very moment, just day to day.

Jesus was not telling them not to plan for their lives. He was only telling them not to be overcome by “merimnaw.” It’s a Greek word for “worry” that’s much more than daily care. It is “paralyzing anxiety.” We find it used in Psalm 55 in the LXX where David is describing a time of deep trouble and anxiety in his life. In verse 22 he says, “Cast your burden on the LORD, And He shall sustain you.” The word for burden is “merimnaw”. The only way He could rid himself of this paralyzing anxiety is by casting it on God. We could substitute that word here. Jesus was saying – “Do not be burdened about your life.”

Question: Are you burdened about your life? Are you living under this paralyzed anxiety? With the election year upon us, many are wondering what’s going to happen. Is there going to be another financial crisis? Will we lose our jobs, our homes? Will we be able to meet our daily needs? What’s going to happen to our children, our grandchildren?

What is Jesus’ solution? “Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing?” Seems like an odd response but think about it for a moment – “Is not life more than our basic necessities?” Animals live only for their daily necessities, minus clothing. We human beings were created for things far greater. We were created in the image of God and with the ability to relate with Him. We were given the gift to create new things and solve problems and improve our standard of life. We were created with godly attributes of love and justice so we could help those who are weak and abused. We were created with a sense of purpose in life so we could go out and build God’s kingdom. One verse that comes to mind is Ephesians 2:10 says, “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.”

Application: What do you think about your life? Do you look beyond your daily necessities? Have you ever stopped and asked God – “Why did you create me?” “What would you have me to do in this world?” Most human beings will never ask that question. Have you? Are you living this life of paralyzed anxiety? Stop asking, “Are we going to make it?” and start asking, “What am I made for?” It’s only when your mind is on greater things that you can deal with the lesser concerns of life.

II. CHANGE WHAT YOU THINK ABOUT YOUR SELF.

26 Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them.

Israel Raven 1

Israel Raven 1 (All images © Abidan and Nicole Shah)

Background: Here Jesus appeals to nature to make a very important point. God didn’t just create this world and leave it to fend for itself. He’s not just the Creator of life but He’s also the Sustainer of life. It’s like in our culture today – “Any man can be a father but a dad is someone who sticks around to take responsibility and provide care after conception.” By the way, Luke in his gospel is even more specific about Jesus’ words and he identifies the birds as ravens. These were unclean birds but God cares for them too. The conclusion Jesus draws is “Are you not of more value than they?”

Israel Raven 2

Israel Raven 2 (All images © Abidan and Nicole Shah)

If that wasn’t enough, Jesus gives another illustration from nature. By the way, one of the best cures for anxiety and worry is nature. People think that rest and relaxation is watching TV or going shopping or working in the yard or playing golf. All those things are fine but that’s just substituting one activity for another. True rest is when you actually sleep and true relaxation is when you stop all activity and allow your body to return to zero. Spending time in nature will do that for you more than anything else.

Israel Raven 3

Israel Raven 3 (All images © Abidan and Nicole Shah)

Israel Raven 4

Israel Raven 4 (All images © Abidan and Nicole Shah)

Listen to verse 27 Which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature? 28 “So why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; 29 and yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 30 Now if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Again, the point is that if God cares for the less desirable and less worthy things in creation, will He not care for the crown of His creation? This may be hard for some of us to understand. We’re living in a world where every effort is made to neutralize any distinction between the creation and us. I love animals and we need to treat them with kindness and compassion. Having said that, there is a world of difference between animals and us. Please don’t blur the lines that God has drawn. God made everything by the word of His mouth but He created us by His own hands. Yes – He gave them life but only we are made in His image. We are of far more value than animals and plants.

Question: Do you know how valuable you are to God? Psalm 8 says, 5 For You have made him a little lower than the angels, And You have crowned him with glory and honor. 6 You have made him to have dominion over the works of Your hands; You have put all things under his feet, 7 All sheep and oxen—Even the beasts of the field, 8 The birds of the air, And the fish of the sea… Psalm 139:14 says, “I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” This is biblical self-esteem.

Application: How is your biblical self-esteem? There’s a difference between self-esteem and biblical self-esteem. Self-esteem only asks – “What do you think of your self?” Biblical self-esteem asks – “What do you think God thinks of you?” Do you believe He cares for your daily needs? Do you believe that He has the best in store for you? Do you believe that He won’t abandon you?

III. CHANGE WHAT YOU THINK ABOUT BEING A BELIEVER. 

31 “Therefore do not worry, saying, “What shall we eat?’ or “What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For after all these things the Gentiles seek.

Background: The biblical concept of God as our Father is without parallel in other religions. Sometimes I hear people from other religions trying to claim it but they are forcing their view on their religious texts and making them say something they’re not. It’s only in the Bible (Old Testament and New Testament) and Judeo-Christian writings that we find the belief that God is the Heavenly Father of His people and as their Heavenly Father He provides for them and protects them. Since Gentiles or unbelievers don’t truly believe that God is their Father, it affects how they live their daily lives. They are vexed with worries and anxieties. They are burdened with paralyzing fears over daily necessities of life. They are out there fending for themselves, trying to survive.

Question: Are you constantly living in worries and anxieties? Then you are living more like Gentiles and unbelievers, than as the people of God.

So how should you live? “For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.” The Greek word for “seek” is “zeteo” and in this context it has the idea of “eagerly seek.” Meaning: Eagerly seek after what God is doing in your life and in this world. Submit to His will and purpose. Join Him in building His kingdom and spreading His righteousness in your life and in the world. As you work for Him, He will take care of you.

Invitation: Whose kingdom are you building? Yours or God’s. If it’s yours, then you will labor and sweat and worry and panic. If it’s God’s, then, as you work for Him, He will take care of you. Are you working for Him? Are you saved? Do you belong to Him?

Putting Anxiety to Work Part 1 by Pastor Abidan Shah

PUTTING ANXIETY TO WORK by Pastor Shah, Clearview Church, Henderson

puttinganxietytowork

Introduction: This morning we’re starting a brand new series from the Sermon on the Mount called “Putting Anxiety to Work.” So many have messaged me and told me how much they’re looking forward to this series! I am looking forward to it as well!

Matthew 6   31 “Therefore do not worry, saying, “What shall we eat?’ or “What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.

Overall Background: We’ve come to the section in the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus talks about anxiety. In fact, between verses 25-34, 6 times He uses the Greek word merimnaw, which can be translated as anxiety, worry, or care. The fact that Jesus used the word so many times implies that He was talking about something more than just casual concern. All of us have those but the repetition tells us that He had something deeper in mind. It’s also interesting to me that Jesus talked more about anxiety or worry in His sermon than He did about prayer. Could it be that it was a big issue for people back then? We will see more on that in a few minutes but here’s a question: If Jesus unabashedly discussed this subject, why is the church so reluctant to talk about it? Did you know that according to the National Institute of Mental Health, 40 million Americans or 18% of the population suffers from clinical anxiety disorder? According to surveys by Anxiety and Depression Association of America, 6.8 million Americans or 3.1% of the population suffers from Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), 6 million or 2.7% struggle with Panic Disorder, 15 million or 6.8% struggle with Social Anxiety Disorder, 19 million or 8.7% struggle with Specific Phobias, 7.7 million or 3.5% struggle with Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), and the list goes on. According to a study published in the American Journal of Psychiatry in 2006, each year Americans lose altogether 321 million days of work due to anxiety and depression, which ends up costing the economy $50 billion each year. By the way, women more than men face anxiety and 1 out of 8 children are affected by it as well. I can go on and on but the question is why aren’t we speaking on this subject when people and loved ones all around us are struggling? Jesus did!

Question: Are you facing anxiety of some form in your life? Do you know someone who is struggling with it? How do you view anxiety? Do you view it as something that can just be shaken off? Do you view it as a result of some sin? Let me give you my approach in these messages – Much of what the Bible condemns is “worry anxiety,” which is more than casual concerns but not what we know today as “anxiety disorders.” In fact, it is hard to find “anxiety disorders” in the Bible but there are many powerful and life-changing principles in God’s Word, especially the Sermon on the Mount, which can help us deal with those anxieties. In fact, many ideas that are being sold in self-help books and bestsellers are actually found in the most distilled and pure form in the Bible. It’s like buried treasure in your backyard waiting to be found! But before we start digging, let me say a couple of things upfront – First, some anxiety problems do require antianxiety medications and tranquilizers. That’s not a sin but medication alone will not solve your problems; second, this is not a psychology class on anxiety. My purpose is to help you have a balanced biblical perspective that will enable you to live Christ-honoring, joyful, and productive lives.

Before we begin, let me ask you – “Are you saved?” Do you know Christ as your Savior?

Today’s message is the introduction to this series with several important questions:

I. WHAT IS ANXIETY? 

To understand it, we need to distinguish it from 2 other words: worry and stress. People often confuse them. Let’s look at each of them:

Worry – It is more than casual concern. It comes from the Old Germanic word “wurgen,” which meant, “to strangle.” Later in Middle English it took on the meaning of “seize by the throat.” At its core, worrying is refusing to trust God and trying to live independently of Him. It’s a sin. The Bible repeatedly condemns it. In His parable of the Sower or soils, Jesus said in Matthew 13:22 “Now he who received seed among the thorns is he who hears the word, and the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and he becomes unfruitful.” The same Greek word merimnaw is used but the idea is one of “worry.” So also I Peter 5:7 “casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you.” The Greek word switches from merimnaw to melei, which has the idea that “God takes interest in you.”

Stress – There are many ways experts define stress but the best definition that I’ve come across is that “Stress is any situation where a person feels that they don’t have the adequate resources to deal with their circumstances.” The situation may be physical threat like death or emotional threat like divorce or breakups or financial threats like deadlines or bottom lines. Life is full of stressful situations, especially in our world today. Did you know that it was back in 1983 that the phrase “stressed out” entered our vocabulary? And would you agree that life is more stressful today than it was 30 years ago? Dr. Archibald Hart in his book The Anxiety Cure” says, “Human beings were designed for camel travel, but most people are now acting like supersonic jets.”

Now comes Anxiety – Again, many definitions are out there but the most balanced one I have found is by Dr. Archibald Hart (Senior professor of psychology, dean emeritus at Fuller Theological Seminary, a licensed psychologist, etc.) – “Anxiety is a disease of stress.” He goes on to say – “It is clearly the consequence of too much stress acting on your highly vulnerable brain chemistry. And if you have inherited a weakness in your brain’s chemistry, you will have a much lower threshold for tolerating anxiety than others.” He even gives this formula – “High adrenaline, caused by overextension and stress, depletes the brain’s natural tranquilizers and sets the stage for high anxiety.” What are the brain’s natural tranquilizers? God has so designed us that when we face stress, there are natural tranquilizers in our brains, brain chemicals known as “neurotransmitters” that keep us sane in the face of stresses in life. Some people call them the “happy messengers” – Serotonin, Noradrenaline, and Dopamine. Stress depletes our natural tranquilizers. In essence, anxiety is not that something bad has entered the brain. It’s actually something good is now absent from the brain or it’s running low. By the way, it usually affects the tough people.

II. WHAT IS ANXIETY DISORDER?

Now, please don’t walk out and start telling people that you have an anxiety disorder and you need some medication. Most people don’t. Let me clarify a few things again:

  • Anger is not anxiety disorder. You are facing a threatening situation and you go on the attack. It may be wrong, depending on the situation, but that’s not anxiety. Sometimes the Bible tells us as in Ephesians 4:26 “Be angry, and do not sin” and then in Ephesians 4:31 tells us “Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you…”
  • Fear is not anxiety disorder. You are facing a threatening situation and you retreat. That’s normal. In fact, some fear is actually commanded. Psalm 34:9 “Oh, fear the LORD, you His saints! There is no want to those who fear Him.”
  • Panic is not anxiety disorder. Panic attack is a body’s smoke alarm that is warning you that something is not right. What does it feel like? According to the American Psychiatric Association 1994, typical symptoms include “pounding heart, sweating, trembling, shortness of breath, chest discomfort, nausea, dizziness, lightheadedness, dispersonalization, numbness, tingling, chills, or hot flashes.” Some of you have shared with me that it feels as if you are having a heart attack or going crazy. Your brain is trying to tell you that have too much stress in your life. It’s time to take some actions and make some significant life changes. When does it become a disorder? When they are recurrent, unexpected, and you become preoccupied with them and start making significant changes in your lifestyle.

There are other types of Anxiety Disorders like “event specific,” “phobia induced,” “ruminative or focused attention,” or “generalized anxiety.” As I mentioned earlier, this is not a psychology class. My purpose is to simply introduce this subject and educate the church.

III. WHERE DOES THE CHURCH COME IN? 

For anxiety disorder, you will need professional help. You may need medication to bring the natural tranquilizers back to their proper level but that’s not enough. This is where the church body is vital. There are 2 other ways that the church can help –

  1. Connecting with others facing similar struggles. Communication with others who have similar convictions and have gone through similar struggles helps. We are planning on starting something like this soon. Let me know if you are interested.
  2. Biblical Preaching: Even though the Bible doesn’t talk about “anxiety disorders,” it has much to say about how to reduce stress and start living a balanced life. The reason I chose to do this series is because in His Sermon on the Mount Jesus tells us how to do this. In Matthew 6:21 He says, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” In other words, ask yourself – “what is driving you?” Is money driving you? It will drive you mad. Money is not evil. It’s a great servant but a horrible master. Matthew 6:22 “The lamp of the body is the eye. If therefore your eye is good, your whole body will be full of light. Is there darkness inside, then it’s time to check the windows of your souls. Matthew 6:24“No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other…” How many things are controlling your life? Matthew 6:26 Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? When was the last time you took time to enjoy the beauty of God’s creation?

I can go on and on. The point is this – preaching brings these truths to the minds and the hearts of the people. Let me say something here – Sometimes people have a very dismissive attitude towards preaching. We don’t need any more preaching. It’s about connecting with each other in small settings and then going out there and doing ministry. I guess the Holy Spirit made a mistake in telling us that preaching is important.

Mark 3:14 “Then He (Jesus) appointed twelve, that they might be with Him and that He might send them out to preach…”

Acts 8:4   Therefore those who were scattered went everywhere preaching the word.

Ephesians 3:8 “To me, who am less than the least of all the saints, this grace was given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ.”

Romans 10 14 How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? 17 So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.

2 Timothy 4:2 Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching.

“Well…the preacher has to say that. That’s his bread and butter.” Not true. This is God’s appointed means by which He speaks to His people. This does not take away from personal bible study or small groups (we have Clearview Circles and you should join them). Preaching is the way He has chosen to speak through earthen vessels. This is the hour when my best counseling takes place.

Are you saved? Are you ready for the life God wants you to live?

How to Enjoy the Holidays

HOW TO ENJOY THE HOLIDAYS? by Pastor Shah, Clearview Church, Henderson

howtoenjoytheholidaysToday I’m preaching a message titled, “How to enjoy the holidays?” Thanksgiving is upon us and Christmas is not too far behind. If your family is like ours, starting now, the next 2 months are crazy busy and stressful. We can’t wait for January to get here. This should not be the way.

Philippians 4   4 Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice! 5 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; 7 and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.

Overall Background: The central theme of the book of Philippians is joy. Paul mentions it about 16 times. Sometimes it is either the noun “chara” that means joy and other times it is the verb “chairo” that means rejoice. Here are some examples:

  • 1:4 in every prayer of mine (I’m) making request for you all with joy,
  • 2:2 fulfill my joy by being like-minded,
  • 3:3 rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh,
  • 4:1 Therefore, my beloved and longed-for brethren, my joy and crown,
  • 4:4   Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice!
Caesarea

Caesarea – Possible location of Paul’s “I appeal to Caesar.” (All images © 2015 Abidan and Nicole Shah)

Caesarea 2

Caesarea – Possible location of Paul’s “I appeal to Caesar.” (All images © 2015 Abidan and Nicole Shah)

Caesarea 3

Caesarea – Possible location of Paul’s “I appeal to Caesar.” (All images © 2015 Abidan and Nicole Shah)

The point is – Philippians is the letter to read if you want joy in your life. But there’s something more. Listen to Phil. 1:12  But I want you to know, brethren, that the things which happened to me have actually turned out for the furtherance of the gospel, 13 so that it has become evident to the whole palace guard, and to all the rest, that my chains are in Christ; Not sure if Paul is in Rome or Ephesus, or Caesarea. If Caesarea, then Nicole and I stood in the very room where Paul’s trial took place. Either way Paul is in prison writing a letter on joy! Here’s the point: Joy is not hinged on your circumstances.

Question: How is the joy level in your life? Here’s another question – would people around you call you a person of joy? Here’s a better question – do you bring joy or do you bring pain in the lives of people around you? Are you saved?

5 things we will learn from this passage about how to enjoy the holidays:

I. FIND JOY IN EVERYTHING. 

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

Background: If you read this verse out of context, you will miss the reason why Paul stressed, “always” and repeated, “Rejoice.” Read the 2 prior verses – Phil. 4:2  I implore Euodia and in the church I implore Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. Meaning: There was a conflict between 2 women. Who were they? 3 And I urge you also, true companion, help these women who labored with me in the gospel, with Clement also, and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the Book of Life. Meaning: These women loved the Lord and helped Paul in his ministry. For some reason, they were in a conflict and it was tearing the Philippian church apart. It was stealing their joy. Hence Paul says “Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice!”

Would you agree that life has many unexpected joy stealers? Relationship conflicts, health, finances, crime, morality, bad news, and the list goes on and on.

For e.g. As I was typing this message, all of a sudden the word file closed. It does that once in a while. Only problem – I hadn’t saved it in the past 5 minutes. It was frustrating because now I had to remember what I had written and retype. Such is life.

Here’s the bottom line: You have a choice. You can either choose to be hateful, painful, or sorrowful or you can choose to be joyful.

Application: What is your choice this holiday season? What joy killers are lurking in your life? Is your heart full of the Holy Spirit? Because joy is also a fruit of the spirit. Show me a person who is void of joy and I will show you a person who at that moment is not filled with the Holy Spirit.

II. FOCUS ON BEING GENTLE.

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

Background: The word for gentleness can also be translated “kindness” or “tolerance.” It has the idea of being willing to bend. Bending does not mean compromising. It means learning to get along. In other words, don’t be rude, hateful or impatient but be kind, gentle, and patient. What is your motivation? “The Lord is at hand.” In other words, Jesus is near you and watching your behavior. You better be nice.

Illustration: Remember that old joke – Children were lined up in the cafeteria for lunch. At the head of the table was a basket of apples with a note – “Take only one, God is watching.” Moving through the line, on the other end of the table was a tray of chocolate chip cookies. Some smart aleck wrote a note and put it next to the cookies – “Take all you want, God is busy watching the apples.”

Bottom line: God sees everything. He sees when were being judgmental rather than gentle. Live every moment as if God is watching you because He is.

Application: Are you a gentle person or are you a judgmental person? Beware of self-righteousness. Is your heart full of the Holy Spirit? Because gentleness is also a fruit of the spirit. Show me a person who is void of gentleness and I will show you a person who at that moment is not filled with the Holy Spirit.

III. FIGHT ANXIETY WITH PRAYER. 

Be anxious for nothing,

Background: The Greek word for anxious is “merimnao.” It’s origin is from two Greek words – “merizo” = divide and “nous” = mind. In other words, anxiety is a mind divided. Another synonym for anxiety is worry, which comes from the German “würgen.” It means to strangle or to choke.

Listen to what Chuck Swindoll said about worry – “Stress and worry break us down. They are the unseen source of our headaches, backaches, heartaches, and belly aches. They produce everything from obesity to obscenity, from constipation to diarrhea, and from impatience to impotence. They give us knotted stomachs, sleepless nights, high blood pressure, low morale. They make our tempers short and our days long. They cause indigestion, irritation, chest pain, and muscle strain. “You do not get stomach ulcers from what you eat,” said one doctor. “You get ulcers from what is eating you.”

What’s the solution? It’s not enough to say – “Don’t worry. Be happy.” Listen to what Paul says Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; Meaning: The antidote to worry is prayer. What will happen? 7 and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.

Once again, an old illustration: Frederick Handley Page of England was one of the pioneers in the early days of aviation. The story is told of how once he was flying and he heard the sound of gnawing. It was a rat. This was before autopilot so he could not do anything. He knew one thing – rat is a rodent that is not bad for heights. He began to climb higher and higher until it stopped.

Anxiety is also a rodent that cannot live in the secret place of the Most High.

Application: How is your prayer life? Are you daily grateful for what God has already done for you? Are you making your requests known to God?

IV. FIX YOUR MIND ON WHAT’S POSITIVE.

8 Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things.

Some people think that Christian life is simply a list of don’ts, all negative. Christian life is also positive. We have to focus on what is good. You’ll become what you focus on.

For e.g. One time this lady came to me and complained about how she constantly had bad dreams. I told her to read her Bible and pray before she goes to bed tonight and see if it makes a difference. She thanked me and as she leaves she tells her friend – Can’t wait to watch “The Evil Dead” or some movie like that!

Then Paul adds in verse 9 The things which you learned and received and heard and saw in me, these do, and the God of peace will be with you. Meaning: If you need help finding positive things to focus on, copy me.

Application: What are you focusing on right now? Is it on Christ? Is it on the good that God has done in your life? Is it on the positive? Who are you copying?

V. FILL YOUR HEART WITH CHRIST.

10 But I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at last your care for me has flourished again; though you surely did care, but you lacked opportunity. 11 Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content: 12 I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. 13 I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.

This is one of the most misunderstood and misquoted verses in the Bible. Paul is not saying – “With Christ I can take over the world.” He is saying – “With Christ I can face the ups and downs of life, the time of abundance and the time of hunger.

Illustration: Several years ago I was in Mexico on a mission trip. We were up in the Yucatan peninsula where they still didn’t even have electricity. The people lived in these tiny homes and had hardly anything. All day long we had activities for the kids and in the evening we had songs, movies, and message for all the people in the village. On the last day we had a final activity in the morning and we were going to leave after that. As we were breaking things down, I thought came to my mind – “Is this worth it? Yeah…we spent all that money and came, went somewhere we’ve never been, learned a new culture, grateful for all we have back home, gave these kids something to do for a week but is this worth it?” As the thought was still in my mind, a man approached me. I had seen him several times in the week. He had a wife and couple of little kids. He asked me something in Spanish, thinking I knew the language. I asked the translator to help. The man was asking for a Bible. Of course, we had bought a bunch from the church. I opened my bag and gave him some. No sooner had I done that, 3 more people asked me for one. By the time we left, all were given.

The point is – those people didn’t have much but they were not hungry for stuff. They were hungry for the truth.

When your heart is full of truth, you will be content no matter your circumstances.

Are you ready to face the holidays? Are you saved?

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