Don’t Stress Out!

Philippians 4:4-7

Let Jesus make you into joyful people. Rejoice, I say! Be gentle with people. Jesus is right there, so don’t stress out! Bring what’s on your mind, along with your gratitude, to prayer. When you do – it’s beyond explaining how it happens – your mind and heart will be at peace, in touch with Jesus and with the eternal.

My mother used to say you get more flies with honey than with vinegar. Behind all the excuses people give for not wanting any part of Christianity may well be that so many Christians tend to be dour, pessimistic folk. Sometimes its the feeling that you have to watch your step or someone will get upset with you. Other times it’s all the talk about how hard it is to keep the church up and running. “Maintenance mode.” Nobody wants to sign on for that!

Dour Christians and stuck churches are not what Paul had in mind. Despite his reputation, Paul, like Jesus, wanted people to enjoy life. And it’s hard to enjoy life when people are so rough on each other and so stressed out about so many things. In this regard, prayer helps. For one thing, it can help balance what we need with what we already have. And, though prayer is not a substitute for actually dealing with the problems that face us or for doing the work that needs done, regular meditation provides a space to expand our vision, explore new approaches, and gather strength for the tasks at hand.

Stop. Don’t take it out on someone else. Don’t freak out!
Clear your mind. Relax. Breathe. Be grateful.

Beware the Dogs!

Philippians 3:2-3

Beware the dogs. Beware those who do evil. And especially beware those who insist that any ritual that leaves a scar is better than spirited action where Jesus is concerned.

In Paul’s original, the ritual some people insisted on was circumcision. To be a Christian, they said, one needed first to be a proper Jew, and that required circumcision. Paul correctly saw past that kind of nonsense. It’s not what your penis looks like that determines whether you can be right with God.

Today, though, we have all kinds of other external marks and ceremonies,  rituals that leave scars, that people will tell you are critical to gaining God’s acceptance.

Sometimes the scars are physical. A woman is told she must return home to her abuser because that’s what God expects of her.

Sometimes they are emotional. Boys are told they have to suck it up if they want to be a real man.

And both physical and emotional scars are often connected to spiritual scars. A family is told that if they don’t tow the Pastor’s theological line, they’re all going to hell. Of course, it isn’t true. It’s nonsense.

Paul’s advice: beware people who insist that scarring you is a requirement for God to accept you. Paul doesn’t say hate them back. But beware.

Most of the time people who insist on these things are probably well-intentioned, or perhaps they have been so deeply scarred themselves that they are beyond knowing better. Just like the dog that bites you is either well-intentioned, guarding the family home, or else has been beaten to the point of meanness. There’s a reason for the phrase, “rabid fundamentalists.”

The Universe Is Waiting for You

Philippians 2:13-15

God’s desire for good finds expression in your longings and in your work. So don’t complain and argue about things. Then, when you willingly do what’s right, in comparison with the usual corruption people see, it will be as clear as a starry night that you are children of God.

Admittedly, we’re in the realm of the metaphysical. Still, you don’t have to believe in God to get the point of comparison. When someone does something that’s good and right, it stands out. Clearly. A virtuoso performance elicits applause, and you don’t have to be a virtuoso yourself to appreciate it. Nor do you have to agree with Paul’s understanding of God to recognize that doing something to improve a situation trumps standing around complaining and arguing about it. Every time.

Now, added to this, it’s worth pondering that God (or as Douglas Adams might say, “Life, the Universe, and Everything”) –  that what’s good about anything – finds its expression in your longing and working for it. And, if you are an instance of the goodness of the universe, isn’t that all the more reason to take your longings for good (for justice, for peace, for joy, for health, for fulfillment) seriously enough to work at them?

Or, to put it another way, every instance of someone doing something to make the world a better place is an instance of divine incarnation, and inasmuch as you are a divine incarnation, you are a child of God. So, what are you waiting for? Do the work. Rise above the ordinary, be a star, and we will applaud. You are a child of God, and the universe is waiting.

You Are Essential

Philippians 2:1-4

So then, if Jesus encourages you, if love comforts you, if you would share a greater purpose, if you yearn for community, then I’d rejoice to see you work through your differences, love one another, stick together, and find points of agreement. Don’t do things just to promote yourself; try to give someone else a lift. And, among you, it’s not “every man for himself,” rather seek the common good.

Two thoughts.

First, a movement isn’t about getting people to march in lock-step, or to encourage group-think, as translations of these verses often imply. Rather it’s about a community that commits to care about each other, and then pull in the same direction. And the basis for this kind of commitment and effort is never found in coercion, guilt, fear, or some robotic sense of duty. It comes from the positive primal human needs for affirmation, love, purpose, and connection.

Second, self-promotion never works for long. People will see through those motives, even as they go along with you for a while. Loyalty never comes from giving people a good deal; a good deal is the minimum expectation. Loyalty is earned by giving people gifts with no strings attached. But as soon as you give with the intention of earning their loyalty, that’s a huge string. The only way through the paradox is simply to do what’s right because it’s the right thing to do. If you don’t give yourself to the world, the world will miss you.