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Pastor Mike’s Blog: Encouragement from the Letter of Joy

From time to time, we need to re-calibrate our hearts, to make sure our souls are still tuned in to God, to clear away the debris left by life’s storms, and to shake out the dust that settles in our minds as we live in a culture that so often rejects the good news of Jesus.

In large part, that’s why Paul and other early church leaders wrote the epistles, which make up over half the New Testament. They wanted to encourage the believers in those ancient church bodies to keep their hearts focused on Jesus. They knew Jesus’ followers were pushed and pulled by all the distractions, temptations and turmoil of life, and just like us, they needed to be drawn back to the center.

This fall, I have been preaching from Philippians, Paul’s “letter of joy” written from a Roman prison to a church a lot like ours. Paul knew his life hung in the balance of Roman justice and that he would soon “win the prize for which God has called [him] heavenward in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:14). So, he wrote to encourage his friends to “be pure and blameless” (1:10), to “conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel” (1:27), and to “press on” toward Jesus (3:12).

All these centuries later, Paul’s words, inspired by the Holy Spirit, continue to help believers like us re-calibrate our hearts, especially as we live in a culture that, in so many ways, tempts us to follow paths away from God and the teaching of His word.

For example, in chapter 2 we are called to “do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit” (2:3). The world around us celebrates people who are brash, bold and boastful. The winners in our culture are deter-mined by fame, fortune and power. But the Spirit invites us to behave differently, and as we do, the reflected image of Jesus will shine brightly in our lives, “like stars in the sky” (2:15).

While others honor achievement and success, we are called to join Paul in turning the world’s value system upside-down. He wrote, “Whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ… I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ” (3:7-8). Achieving greatness in the eyes of the world is a fleet-ing accomplishment. Titles and awards and bank accounts make people feel important, but none of these things will last; they will all end up on the garbage pile of eternity. Loving and honoring Jesus lasts forever.

The best known verse in Philippians is another counter-cultural calling: “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” (4:4). So many people these days seem to revel in resentment, outrage and cyni-cism. It’s so easy to point out the flaws in others and to make yourself feel better by pushing others down. The Spirit invites us, however, to rejoice in God’s goodness, to worship the only One who is truly worthy of wor-ship. Rejoicing in the Lord turns our hearts away from the world’s vainglory and directs our devotion instead to the God of glory and grace.

In the same way, we are encouraged to fill our hearts and minds with good things in place of worthless things:

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. (Phil. 4:8)

I hope you will take a few minutes to read through Philippians and allow the Spirit to reset your heart to its true center where Jesus reigns.

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