Can you imagine living without fear? No anxiety about the future. No obsession over the past. When I first started working in ministry, I would get so nervous before preaching that I would feel physically sick. I still get nervous before coming up here sometimes. What if I have nothing to say? What if it doesn't land? What if I stumble my way through the whole thing? What if I forget everything? I've always been a little anxious. At least that's what my dad tells me. I was a pretty anxious little girl. Pretty peculiar little girl, in fact. For a significant period of my childhood, when my parents would tuck me in at night, they would tell me they loved me and then say goodnight before turning and leaving the room. And every night I would respond with just a soft, unsure goodbye forever. Every night, goodbye, forever. When my parents asked me why I did that, I told them I just wanted to cover my bases in case one of us died in our sleep. Yeah, I actually had to be formally asked by my mom to stop doing that. She's like the one person that's supposed to value your quirks and love you unconditionally. I managed to creep out. Needless to say, I was anxious. I was anxious about what would happen tomorrow and what wouldn't, about who would be there and who wouldn't. Some of these anxious thoughts, they literally just grabbed hold of me from out of nowhere. They weren't really anchored in any particular threat or any real reason, but some of them didn't. My parents were often there, but sometimes they weren't. My parents were often sober, but sometimes they weren't. My parents were often out of prison, but sometimes they weren't. For reasons both real and imagined anxiety it got hold of me when I was a little girl and it's held on for a lot of my life. It's held on when I've had conflicts with people that I don't know how to resolve and I find myself rehearsing arguments and counterarguments to imaginary conversations while I'm brushing my teeth or riding a train. Until long when I can't get myself to start a project because I'm already afraid of failing at it. It's held on in nights when I cannot fall asleep because my mind is racing and there's just a dread in my chest for reasons I can't always name. Today's passage, which I believe might be the crown jewel of Philippians it's about where to find peace and what to do with anxiety.


Anxiety can be a loaded term, sometimes over-indexed in our culture turned into a joke or a meme to just describe ordinary inconveniences, like I almost had a panic attack last week when I thought I lost my phone. Or I think about Times Square and I just feel anxiety rise in me. And for some people that's true, but for many it's not.  Sometimes we can over-index the term anxiety, but anxiety can also be grossly underestimated, mostly unnoticed and invisible on the outside, while inside your chest tightens and your breath gets short and your pulse speeds up and your head gets a little dizzy.  It might come in this sense of unease that pops up just when a certain name pops into your inbox or your text messages. Maybe it comes in the moment where your stomach drops right before you log on to your online banking account. Even if you think you're doing okay, but maybe you're just never sure if enough will really be enough.  Or maybe it could happen to you walking into a room like this, not knowing where to sit or who to talk to. Dreading the worst. Fearing not being seen or being seen and not being accepted.  Anxiety, it can come from a lot of places and it could take a lot of forms. It can be the occasional malaise, or maybe it's a chronic and debilitating disorder.  Now, if you're here and you have a diagnosed or maybe even undiagnosed anxiety disorder, and I know that you're here because in a room this size, it would be mathematically improbable for you not to be here. If you're here and that's you, I want you to hear that empathy in my heart for you and also the hope in this text for you.  Now your path to freedom, it might look different from others. It could involve counseling and medication alongside prayer and meditation. It might require great endurance and the support of your community. But know that you are not exempt from the promises of God. That you are not too far from the God of peace. It might not be for years, and it might come in increments. But I believe there's hope in this text for you too.  And if you're here and you're already leaning out because you wouldn't identify as somebody who has anxiety, well, then you're probably watching online because surely you don't live in New York City. But seriously, if you're here and you've never experienced anxiety, you know someone who has.  According to the National Institute for Mental Health, it's estimated that nearly 50 million Americans feel the effects of panic attacks, phobias or other anxiety disorders.  The research group Barna, they did this study back in 2019 and they surveyed 15,000 people from 35 countries, and they found that for millennials and Gen Zers, anxiety is not only a common experience, it's one of the dominant experiences of their lives.  That was before the pandemic.  A psychologist, Robert Lee, he points out the average child today exhibits the same level of anxiety as the average psychiatric patient in the 1950s.


Anxiety has a hold on our world, has a hold on us, it has a hold on the church. Several years ago now, Amazon released data from its Kindle readers on the top highlighted passages in the world's most popular books.  And they found that this passage in Philippians four was the number one most highlighted passage in the entire Bible. More than the Lord's Prayer, more than the Great Commandment and the Great Commission, more even then, "for God so loved the world."  The passage that weary believers turn to for strength most often was this: "rejoice in Lord always. I will say it again, rejoice. Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything. But in every situation by prayer and petition with Thanksgiving, present your request to God and the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus."  The peace of God, which defies explanation and transcends understanding, is sent to guard your hearts and your minds. And somehow this will take place in the power of the person of Jesus, the living Son of God. That's a life changing promise, an unbelievable exchange. That we can exchange, rejoicing for sorrow, that we can exchange our fear and get gratitude, that we can get peace in the place of anxiety.  And yet so few of us live that way. Why? As Sheila Walsh [wrote] in her book Holding On When You Want to Let Go, she piercingly wrote, "Why are so many of us who love Jesus so unhappy? Why are so many of us hanging on by a thread? Why do we struggle in our relationships? Why is everything a little disappointing? Why is nothing quite as great as we thought it would be?"  This is gutting because if you're honest, not in the whole of your life, but maybe in the parts of it, in the corners and at times, this feels true, doesn't it? But why, when we've been offered abundant life, are so many of us living half hearted? This is what Paul was speaking to in his letter. 


As you've heard in previous weeks, the church in Philippi was doing generally pretty good. They didn't get the harsh rebuke of idolatry or heresy that other churches received. This is a letter of a spiritual father writing to commend and encourage the faith and work of the children he loves. The Philippians, they were walking in the ministry of Jesus so beautifully that Paul even uses them as an example to other churches.  They were extravagant in their care for Paul and his sufferings, and despite their poverty, they gave generously to the needs of other churches, without question, without even being asked.  And yet, as they walked in faithfulness to Jesus and devotion to others, pressure on the Philippian church mounted. In Philippians 1, Paul acknowledges that the church is facing persecution. He tells them not to fear those who oppose them. And he encourages them as they take part in the suffering he's experiencing and participate in the suffering of Christ.  The Philippian church, it began with a wealthy woman who worked in fashion, a prison guard, and maybe a slave girl along with their families. As Pastor Darren preached last week, this intergenerational, multicultural community that reached across divides of wealth and class, it was a breathtaking witness to the power of the Gospel.  Things had began so good, but they were getting so hard. They were facing growing external oppression and internally there is beginning to be division in the church. Life got hard for the Philippians. Perhaps it was a little disappointing. Maybe not all they imagined it would be when the gospel was fresh in their ears and prison doors were literally being broken open and those oppressed by demons were being delivered.  Paul was gone, and now the pressure was on. And so Paul's writing to give them access to peace, access to abundant living, to wholehearted life right in the midst of their pain.  He begins this passage with three instructions. Rejoice. Be gentle. Do not be anxious. The order here is significant. Before Paul addresses the anxiety of the Philippians, he tells them to rejoice in God and be gentle to others.  First, to rejoice in God, to take their eyes off of their circumstances, and to place them on Jesus. To delight in his character and remember his track record of faithfulness and who he is and what he's done. The Philippian church had reason to rejoice.  This church was literally began when the manifest presence of God showed up during worship and prison doors opened wide, and it was also built on the grace of that God who kept those prisoners in their cells as a sacrificial act of love and mercy to save a prison guard from death by suicide.  They had little financially, but they had much to rejoice in. The faithfulness of a God who would break into the continent of Europe through their town of all places. Paul was reminding them that God had been so good to them that they had to remember their story and remember they had reason to rejoice.  Now Paul goes on to tell them, Let your gentleness be evident to all. Here gentleness, it doesn't mean just being polite or courteous, it is a total emptying of oneself on behalf of another. There's no one English word that really captures the meaning of the Greek word API case, but many commentators, they think that the word contains an element of selflessness and not insisting on one's own rights. In the face of your enemy, it's a gentle non-retaliation.  Now this is only possible because of what follows. Paul says the Lord is near. This is the only way that you can actually lay down your rights is if you know you're in a presence of a God who picks them up as you lay them down.  He's assuring them that they actually did not have to defend themselves under oppression because God was their defender, that he knew what they needed before they even asked.  So be gentle for the Lord is near. This is not Paul telling the Philippians, "be on your best behavior because God's looking over your shoulder with a scorecard." No, he was reminding them that they didn't have to be on high alert at all times, that they didn't have to be ready to retaliate or defend, that they could relax and even let down their guard and give of themselves because God was there and he was their defender.  These are less of commands and more permission, in the midst of pain you're allowed to find joy. You can be gentle because you are safe. God is close. Before he reminded them that they didn't have to be anxious, he explained why. That they could rejoice in the Lord and they were secure. And now, because of all of that, do not be anxious about anything.


What would it look like to live on anxiously? What could you do? What could you give away? Who could you serve? What could you overcome? If you were not overcome by fear? This could be a game changer. It could be a life changer.  Pastor Darren, when he spoke last week, he said that peace when it comes to relationships is not the absence of conflict, but rather the presence of a reconciling spirit. The same is true here that peace is not the absence of anxiety, but it is the total reorientation of every circumstance in the presence of Jesus.  The reason that Paul calls this a peace that transcends understanding, that defies understanding is because true peace, it doesn't always change our circumstances, it just reorients them in our confidence of who God is.  This was the number one barrier for belief for the people of Israel. They're expecting a messiah that would bring shalom to their land, but they thought that would come in the form of a new government and a redistribution of boundary lines. They thought that peace would change their politics. They did not know that peace was going after their hearts.  And Jesus, when he came, things actually got more chaotic, not less. He did move through their towns, bringing restoration and shalom. He restored the identity and the dignity of those he encountered. He restored the sick and the dead to their families. He restored the minds of those who are tormented and the sight of those who were born blind.  And yet the peace that Jesus gave them, it often complicated their lives. To the man who was born blind, he was thrown out of the synagogue for testifying to Jesus. And then there's Lazarus, who Jesus raises from the dead, but then political and religious leaders, they began to plot to kill him and put him back in a grave.  Their problems didn't always disappear, but in the presence of Jesus, they just got lighter. It's almost like when Jesus walks into the room, there is zero gravity and all of a sudden the things that once felt heavy feel light because they're pulled into the orbit of God and they might still hover around you, but they are no longer crushing you.  And on the outside, it might look like chaos, but on the inside it feels like peace. The disciples, on the Sea of Galilee, they got caught in a storm at least twice. Once, Jesus was with them, asleep in the boat. And another time, Jesus approaches them in a storm, walking on water.  Both of these situations, they give us an idea of what the presence of Jesus does in the middle of our distress. Matthew 8:23-27:  Then he got into the boat and his disciples followed him. Suddenly, a furious storm came upon the lake. So the waves swept over the boat. But Jesus was sleeping. The disciples went and woke him, saying, Lord, save us. We're going to drown. Mark in his account, he added a little more color.  He reports that the disciples woke him and said to him, "Teacher, don't you care if we drown?" He replied, "You of little faith. Why are you so afraid? Then he got up and he rebuked the wind and the waves, and it was completely calm."  The men were amazed and asked, "what kind of man is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him."  Our second account, Matthew 14:22-33 reads, "immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up to the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone. But by this time the boat was a long way from land, beaten by the waves, for the wind was against them. And in the fourth watch of the night he came to them walking on the sea. But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified and said, "it's a ghost!" They cried out in fear.  But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, "Take heart. It is I, do not be afraid." And Peter answered him, "Lord, if it's you, command me to come to you on the water." He said, "Come." So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus.  But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and beginning to sink, he cried out, "Lord, save me." Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him saying, "Oh, you of little faith. Why did you doubt?" When they got into the boat, the wind ceased and those in the boat worshiped him, saying, "truly, you are the Son of God."  In both accounts, the disciples are anxious and rightfully so. They're in the midst of a brutal storm and a boat that is not measuring up to the size of the waves. Now the Sea of Galilee, it's more like a lake than a sea. But because of the topography, wind can sweep across the surface of the water at really high speeds. And because the sea is so shallow, it's only about 200 feet even gentle winds can turn up big waves.


Now, I've never been in an ancient boat in the middle of a storm before, but I have been scared in the ocean. Some of you know that I have a joy/fear relationship with the ocean. I am an avid scuba diver and my favorite kinds of dives are the ones where you run into sharks.  But I've only ever done this in really clear waters with only medium-sized sharks where you can see them from far, kind of keep an eye on them. But this past summer, I was back in California visiting family, and I was spending a few days with my spiritual parents, and they're a big diving family. And so one day we took their boat out to the Channel Islands, and I did my first ever dove in the Pacific and the water was cold and it was murky. and I watched it just enough Discovery Channel to know that there are great white sharks down there sometimes.  I was scared and I got into the water first and immediately my heart is racing and I can't catch my breath. But I'm also trying to play it cool. And so John gets into the water. He thinks I'm good to go and we begin to descend. But I am not good to go. Like I am terrified.  But I'm also blowing through the air in my tank really fast. I actually have to calm myself down or I'm going to be in trouble. After what felt like an eternity of swimming through silty water and kelp and only being able to see like a few feet in any direction -- John, he began to swim ahead of me and I lost sight of him.  So I'm wondering where he is and if the direction I'm swimming is still down, or if I had gotten turned around and if there was a white shark just outside my field of vision. I was getting tired and ready to try to give up. Find my way to the surface, when all of a sudden we broke through the murky layer of the ocean and we got to a crystal clear bottom.  And as soon as we did and I could see John again, I caught my breath. I was able to relax and take it all in. And it was beautiful. There were rock formations and coral and big fish and no sharks, at least that I know of.  Now just because I could see John, it didn't mean that there was not a white shark present. But whether it was rational or irrational, I trusted him and I felt safe in his presence. So for the whole rest of the dive, as long as I could see him, I felt peace.  And maybe you've been there and maybe you've gone through something horrible. But as long as you can see someone you trust, you feel safe. How much more should we feel peace in the presence of Jesus. The one who the wind and the waves and even the sharks obey.  This was Paul's invitation to not be anxious, to not be full of dread or fear because the person of peace was with them and in the presence of Jesus everything shifts.  This passage is often broken up into two halves. At the end of the first half, there's a promise that the peace of God would guard their hearts and minds. And at the second half, at the end, there's also a promise. But this time Paul inverts it. He makes it even better.  He says, "you will not only have the peace of God, but that the God of peace would be with them." Brothers and sisters. Today, the peace of God and the God of peace are available to us. All we have to do is lock eyes with him. All we have to do is reach out and grab it.  According to Paul, in order to take hold of peace, we must embrace lives of interior examination, prayer and petition and taking our thoughts captive. 


First, interior examination. Implicit in the command be anxious about nothing is a reality that we actually have to know when and why we're experiencing anxiety. This part's easy to miss. I think a lot of us, at least myself for a lot of years, I read this and I said, do not be anxious about anything... great done. I will decide not to be anxious and move on to the next step.  But that's actually not how emotions work. That is not true peace. That's pseudo peace. It's not real. It's make believe. Because emotions actually have to be acknowledged before they can be moved through any attempt to bypass or dismiss them or only add pressure to the signal that says something is not okay. And eventually they'll make their way out. And when they do, it'll probably be sideways.  I know this because this is what my therapist and I are currently talking about. This week she actually assigned me a feelings chart and every day at some point during the day, I meant to identify one emotion that I'm experiencing. I'll put the chart up on the screen.  This is the one that I've been using and it has core emotions at the center. And you could trace the emotion that you resonate with all the way out to the edge to decide in that moment what you might be feeling. And this week I have felt thankful and inspired and worried and distracted and curious. And in the beginning of using this, it felt extremely silly, but it was actually embarrassingly helpful.  It turns out without examination, I do not know what I'm feeling most of the time. I think a lot of us don't, actually. We graduate out of kindergarten classrooms and we leave the tools behind because they seem childish. But we don't recognize that those are actually the keys not only to adulthood, but to our humanity. To deny our emotions is to deny a part of our humanity, a part of how God created us. Let me anchor this in Scripture for us. Psalm 139:23-24 says:  "Search me O God and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. Point out anything in me that offends you and lead me along the path to everlasting life." David's asking God to search his heart and show him what's inside of it. Now, this journey of interior examination, it's not meant to begin with or end with you. Nobody knows your heart better than its creator. So start there. Ask him to show you what's inside of it. And the goal of this is not hyper enlightenment or project self-awareness.  The goal is deeper communion with the God that you love. Because you cannot cast your cares on God and allow him to care for you if you do not know what they are.  Pastor Rich Villodas, in his book Deeply Formed Life, he talks about living lives of interior examination as a key practice in spiritual formation. Villodas, he examines not only his emotions, but also his reactions to see how his heart is doing.  If you're not sure if you're anxious, look at your reactions. Pay attention to how you behave in meetings. If you start to get really big, or if you start to get really small, you might be feeling anxious. Now Villodas would check in any time he saw himself disproportionately reacting to something or avoiding it, and he would ask himself five questions.  What happened?  What am I feeling?  What's the story I'm telling myself?  What does the gospel say?  What is the counter instinctual action that's needed?  Let's use this hypothetical example.  What happened? I was overlooked at work.  What am I telling -- or what am I feeling? Insignificant.  What's the story I'm telling myself? If I'm not valued at work, I'm not valuable.  What does the gospel say? My identity is secure and it's anchored in what God says about me.  What counter instinctual action is needed? Die to selfish ambition. Find ways to serve others.  This is purely hypothetical, right? Not applicable at all to New Yorkers. I'd encourage you to take a picture of this slide and practice this this week before you react. Ask yourself these five questions. See what comes up.  I think sometimes we're tempted to ignore our emotions because we don't want to give them power over us. But naming our emotions, it doesn't give them less power. It gives them -- it doesn't give them more power, it gives them less.  Archbishop Desmond Tutu, in his book on forgiveness, he wrote, "we give voice to our hurts, not to be victims or martyrs, but to find freedom from resentment, anger, shame or self-loathing festers inside of us.".  In both the storm accounts that we looked at, Jesus responded to the disciples’ reaction with a question. He asked them, "Why did you doubt? Why are you so afraid?"  And these questions, they could be rhetorical, but they could also be genuine. Meant to spark an examination, just like the questions that God asked Adam and Eve in the garden. Where are you? Who told you you were naked? He didn't ask because he didn't know. He was giving them an opportunity to search their hearts, identify the lie and repent. And eventually that would lead to peace.  As we enter in the presence of God into daily rhythms of interior examination, we are daily being set free from bondage to unnamable fear and unknowable worry.


And then we enter into prayer and petition. So the central theme of Paul's invitation to the Philippians church to find peace is found in verse six. It says, "do not be anxious about anything. But in every situation by prayer and petition with thanksgiving, present your requests to God."  So once you examine your emotions, examine your heart, you can lay them before God and present prayers and petitions. And I think we can sometimes read that as repetitive. Do not be anxious about anything but with prayer and also prayer... present your request to God.  But prayer and petition, they're not synonyms. Did you know that? They have distinct meaning. Now prayer can take a lot of forms, but the type of prayer that Paul's talking about first is just intimacy with God. And second, in petition, it's asking God for something, presenting a need or a desire to him.  Ashley Hebert, she talks about these types of prayer really beautifully as communion and contending. So first it's communion with God, which is entering his presence and enjoying it. It's rejoicing in God, praising him for who he is, worshiping him, listening to what he has to say. That's communion.  And then there's contending. It's asking God to move on our behalf or on the behalf of others. It could be as simple as God take this pain away or as big as God bring peace to the people of Ukraine. God invites us into peace and into union with him through communion and contending.  Back to the storm accounts that we read. In the first one, the disciples are not just scared, they're desperate. They think that their lives are hanging on the line. And in the wake of that, they wake Jesus up and they ask him if he even cares. And I think that we judge the disciples for their reaction in that moment as we read about it with the privilege of hindsight and from the safety of our quiet time with a single origin coffee and an Anthropologie candle burning.  But the disciples, they were in real distress. They were wondering if the next wave that came was going to wash them out of the boat. And if it did, if they would ever make it back to the shore. And so the disciples were honest with Jesus about their fear, and the only way they could communicate that was in fear.  But Jesus responded with three words. He calmed the storm. "Peace, be still." And all of a sudden they were out of danger and onto calm waters. So sometimes our prayer, sometimes our contending is going to be messy. But that's okay. Jesus still hears you.  In the second account with Jesus walking on water, Peter calls out to Jesus in the middle of the storm and Jesus does not calm the storm this time. He just invites Peter to draw near to him in the middle of it. And for just a few moments, Peter walks out to Jesus and they stand on stormy waves together. It's communion.  Dr. King, in his sermon titled Our God is Able, he told a personal story about a dark day in Montgomery. After a large protest -- King -- he started receiving death threats both day and night. And after one particularly disturbing call, he said:  "I felt myself faltering and growing in fear. I got out of bed and I began to walk the floor. Finally, I went to the kitchen and I heated a pot of coffee. I was ready to give up. I tried to think of a way to move out of the picture without appearing to be a coward. In a state of exhaustion, when my courage had almost gone. I took my problem to God, my head and my hands about over the kitchen table and prayed aloud. I am at the end of my powers, he said. I have nothing left. I've come to the point where I cannot face it alone."  And at that moment, King said, "I experienced the presence of the divine, as I had never experienced him. Almost at once, my fears passed from me. My uncertainty disappeared. I was ready to face anything. The outer situation remained the same, but God had given me an inner calm."  King went on to say that three nights later, "our home was bombed. Strangely enough, I accepted the word of the bombing calmly. My experience with God had given me a new strength and trust. I knew now that God is able to give us interior resources to face the storms of life.".  "Let this be our ringing cry," he says, "that there is a great benign power in the universe whose name is God and he is able to make a way out of no way and transform dark yesterdays into bright tomorrows."  King confessed his weaknesses and his fears to God, and he asked for help. And all of a sudden he felt something come over him at a kitchen table in the middle of the night. Zero gravity. His situation didn't change. In fact, it got much, much worse. But God had deposited a peace in his soul. As King says it, God gave him an internal peace to face the storms of life.  Charles Spurgeon once said, "turn into prayer everything that is care. Let your cares be the raw material of your prayers. And as the alchemists hoped to turn dross into gold, so do you by holy alchemy, turn what naturally would have been a care into spiritual treasure in the form of prayer. Baptize every anxiety into the name of the Father and the Son, and the Holy Ghost. And so make it a blessing."  Allow our cares not to draw us from God, but to draw us nearer to God. We have to be honest with him, admit our worries, our fears, our need, and then turn all of that into prayer. Holy alchemy. All the while enjoying God's presence. And we do this with thanksgiving.


And then we take every thought captive. Paul concludes this passage with this, "finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable, if anything is excellent or praiseworthy, think about such things."  Here, Paul tells us that embracing peace is not just about laying down anxiety, it's about replacing it with something better. It's meditating on who God is and what God loves.  Spiritual wars are won or lost in the battlefield of our minds, right? 2 Corinthians 10:5 says, "we demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every sign and make it obedient to Christ."  Paul is telling the Philippians church that the content of their thoughts would determine the nature of their peace. Paul is likely contrasting two words in this passage. He tells the Philippians not to merimnao which translates to be anxious. But it's not just like a one-time fleeting anxiety. It's choosing to dwell in and meditate on anxiousness. But instead he invites them to logizomai or dwell in and think about and meditate on things that are true and noble and pure and lovely, admirable, excellent and praiseworthy.  Paul tells them to change the scripts of their thought life and to trade anxious thoughts in for redemptive ones. Because God knows that you're going to experience thoughts that are anxious of fear, of doubt, of temptation. He's not asking us to turn them off. He's asking us to turn them over, because the danger is not in the presence of a thought. It's what we do with it. When we have thoughts, what can happen in the thought's life-cycle is we could choose to dwell on them. And what you dwell on you'll believe and what you believe has your heart and what has your heart you will give your life to. But -- when unwelcome or anxious thoughts enter our minds, we can also disrupt that cycle. We could choose to take them captive and surrender them to Christ.  But we also -- we can't just rid our hearts of false beliefs and fears and anxieties and leave them empty. That actually makes us hollow. It does not make us whole. We have to finish the work by filling our hearts and minds with things that are good. This pattern of thought to belief to action, it works with anxiety, but it also works with the list that Paul gave them.  If we give ourselves over to these things, choosing to meditate on them, dwelling in the possibility of them, they'll not only take up room in our hearts, they will begin to shape our lives.


There is a young leader in our church who's walking through tragedy right now, and he's doing it with so much integrity and so much hope. With his permission, he gave me this story to share with you. Noah wrote: "Three weeks ago, my father passed away from stage four pancreatic cancer. He passed away exactly three weeks after his diagnosis. During his last several days, my wife and I were able to spend time with him in prayer. We were backed by countless others, from Church to the City, crying out to the Lord for his heart. On his last night, we shared with him the many prayers made on his behalf and the good news that God could fully renew his body in eternity. Even with limited verbal communication, He was able to share with us that he could feel the prayers. He said his body felt strong even as we watched it wither away. We knew God had met him in the hospital bed and in doing so gave us a transcendent peace in the midst of our pain, grief, sorrow -- the Lord broke through. He's brought peace and even joy in the midst of suffering. God has given us an amazing perspective that the 25 years I got to spend with my dad were an incredible blessing and should be celebrated as such. Even as we mourn what feels like time cut short, we grieve differently as Christians in the pain we know there is still hope. Through it all God has given me and my wife so many opportunities to pray, share the gospel, and to point to the one at the center of it all with family members who don't yet know Christ."  He says, "we believe he's still moving." This is Noah and his dad. Noah is 25 years old. I actually officiated his wedding earlier this year and his dad was there and he was so proud and he seemed so healthy. But before Noah's six month wedding anniversary, he and his new bride had to bury his father.  There are no words to describe their pain. And yet Noah's choosing to look for God, even in this situation, to sift through the ashes of this story and to find redemption. He's choosing to rejoice in the presence of God and receive the peace of God, even when He does not understand the plans of God. What Noah is doing, it's bigger than himself. It's blessing his entire family.  These instructions given by Paul, they were not meant for each individual Phillipian Christian to have a personal practice for dealing with their pain. This was actually a communal practice. This was meant so the entire community could actually become a bastion of peace in an anxious world. This was meant so that the church could focus their collective attention on these things that are lovely, pure and beautiful, and in doing so, become an alternative society, a people of peace with whom others could take refuge. 


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