Christianity, church, god's peace, lectionary year a, mind body connection, norman vincent peale, Paul, philippians 4:1-9, positive attitude, positive thinking, power of positive thinking, sermon, Sermons, Worship
Good Thoughts Bring God’s Peace
1Therefore, my brothers, you whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, that is how you should stand firm in the Lord, dear friends!
2I plead with Euodia and I plead with Syntyche to agree with each other in the Lord. 3Yes, and I ask you, loyal yokefellow, help these women who have contended at my side in the cause of the gospel, along with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life.
4Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! 5Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. 6Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
8Finally, brothers, 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. 9Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.
The Power of Positive Thinking
Peale applied Christianity to everyday problems and is the person who is most responsible for bringing psychology into the professing Church, blending its principles into a message of “positive thinking.” Peale said, “through prayer you … make use of the great factor within yourself, the deep subconscious mind … [which Jesus called] the kingdom of God within you … Positive thinking is just another term for faith.” He also wrote, “Your unconscious mind … [has a] power that turns wishes into realities when the wishes are strong enough.”
- Decreased negative stress
- Greater resistance to catching the common cold
- A sense of well-being and improved health
- Reduced risk of coronary artery disease
- Easier breathing if you have certain lung diseases, such as emphysema
- Improved coping ability for women with high-risk pregnancies
- Better coping skills during hardships
“There is a science that is emerging that says a positive attitude isn’t just a state of mind,” she says. “It also has linkages to what’s going on in the brain and in the body.” Ryff has shown that individuals with higher levels of well-being have lower cardiovascular risk, lower levels of stress hormones and lower levels of inflammation, which serves as a marker of the immune system.” USA Today, Oct 12, 2004
- their destiny is destruction: The purpose of the empire was power and conquest. It’s destiny was both to destroy and to ultimately be destroyed. The founding of Philippi itself was testament to that destructive power. The conflict that brought the end to the Roman republic, and saw the rise of the Roman emperor was marked by the founding of the city of Philippi as a colony for retired Roman centurions and commanders.
- their god is their stomach: Appetites for the Roman life is what Paul is referring to here. The Philippians live to consume; to eat more than they need; to satiate, not just satisfy, their passions and longings; and, to do so with the approval and encouragement of the Roman empire.
- their glory is their shame: The glory of Rome, a familiar phrase, was based on power, wealth, excess, and corruption. Living by the Roman system made them partakers of the glory that was Rome’s — the pax Romana — which brought death, destruction, cruelty, and inhumanity to the cultures Rome conquered and ultimately it’s own citizens.
- their mind is on earthly things: Everything Rome stood for, and by extension Philippi, was fleeting, earthbound, and tenuous. They worshipped gods they make fun of, jockeyed for power and position, and sought their own good at the expense of those who were most in need.
“Therefore, my brothers, you whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, that is how you should stand firm in the Lord, dear friends!”
So, the idea is this — the way you are to stand firm in the Lord is to realize that 1) there are those who live as enemies of the cross, and 2) you are to live as a citizen of heaven.
How Do We Then Live?
Alright, took us awhile to get here, but what does that mean? How are we to live if we are citizens of heaven? That’s exactly what Paul tells us and the Philippians in Chapter 4.
First, Paul encourages them to agree with one another — to be united in their community of faith.
Secondly, Paul encourages them to rejoice in the Lord, be gentle to others, don’t be anxious, but pray.
Finally, think good thoughts —
Finally, brothers, 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. 9Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.
One of my favorite writers, Thich Nhat Hanh, Nobel Peace prize nominee and Buddhist monk, says that the things we take in to our lives are important. Nhat Hanh says that those things include parts of our culture like TV, movies, books, media, and other intellectual things we consume that affect our lives. There are times, he says, when we need to turn off those programs or songs or movies that do not help us to live lives of peace and well-being.
Paul’s version of the power of positive thinking isn’t wishful thinking. In Paul’s mind we are not building castles in the sky, but are living our lives by an alternative vision — the vision that God has sent Jesus and that through Jesus, God is making all things new.
Followers of Christ are hopeful, positive, and good, not because thinking like that will make us rich and powerful, but because those are the attributes of the kingdom of God. We think about beautiful things because the Creator of the Universe is the author of beauty. We think about good, true, noble, pure, praiseworthy, and admirable things because these are part of the image of God in us. An image that Christ is coming back to complete in resurrection power.
We think this way because we serve a living Christ, a risen Lord, who has defeated the most negative, destructive force in our world — Death. And if death is dead, then life abounds.
But, Paul also reminds us that we think positive, good thoughts because we have seen others do think that way. Paul makes the bold assertion —
“Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.”
Wow. Would you say that to someone else? Anything that you have heard me say, or seen me do, or learned from me, put it into practice? We learn from others whose faith has enabled them to think differently. To embrace a hopeful vision of God and his plan for all mankind. A positive message of good news for all people. A counterpoint to all that the empires of this world present as a competing vision.
Christian Thinking Is Centered in Christ and Learned from Others
So, that’s it. Paul’s take on the power of positive thinking. And the amazing part is that all humanity seems to be hardwired to think positively. When we do we are healthier, happier, more faithful, and more hopeful. Our reason to think good thoughts is in Jesus, our example comes from others.
Let me tell you a story that will help you understand how all this works together.
In south Florida, a pretty typical American family composed of mom, dad, and four kids was living a pretty typical American life. Until their oldest son, CJ, started complaining with stomach and back pain. CJ’s parents took him from one doctor to another. Tests were ordered — x-rays, blood work, examinations — but the pain would return and the cycle would start all over again. Did I tell you that CJ is 9 years old? And that he plays flag football, loves his dog Diamond, and is a pretty typical 9-year old boy.
One doctor ordered an MRI for CJ, but in its infinite wisdom, their insurance company denied the doctor’s request. So,two more months’ of pain and doctors’ visits continued. Finally, an orthopedic specialist ordered the MRI, and this time the insurance company okayed it.
The results were bad. CJ was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic lymphoma, a very serious, but treatable form of cancer. We heard about CJ from Debbie’s sister, Christy, who sent us the link to the family’s website. The website has morphed from being about typical family stuff, into a journal of their walk through CJ’s battle with cancer.
As in any case where a child is sick, their story is heart-wrenching. But, CJ is amazing. This little 9-year old boy has become the encourager of the family. And he’s a poet, too. CJ’s mom has posted several of his poems, and the grace and courage of this little boy is astounding. I want you to listen to this poem by CJ. It’s titled “There Was God.”
There was God….
God created the Universe.
Inside that universe was a solar system;
inside that solar system was a planet,
inside that planet was a continent,
inside that continent was a country;
inside that country was a state;
inside that state was a city;
inside that city was a county;
inside that county was house;
inside that house was a boy;
inside that boy was a heart;
inside that heart………
There was God. —by CJ George
CJ understands what Paul meant —
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 —
Because CJ knows that God has a plan, and that plan includes him.