Stay positive. That is the title of today’s message.
That is the title, despite the fact there are many, many things that can cause us to not stay positive. A couple weeks ago I made a list of some news items that appeared in a three-day period of time, all of them negative or scary things. Here is partial list.
In Brazil, a fire swept through the dorm of a soccer camp, killing 10 and injuring three young people.
In Paris, France, civil unrest continued, at that time for the 37th consecutive day.
There was a drug bust in Los Angeles that netted almost two tons of meth that was intended for Australia. the bust is good news, but it is a reminder of drug runners around the world.
In Lincoln, a 17-year-old father head-butted his crying two-month-old baby girl, seriously injuring her.
Shortly after 2:00 on a recent Sunday morning, there was a shooting in Lincoln, causing one man life-threatening wounds.
A huge storm was set to hit Hawaii, causing waves as high as 60 feet. Record coastal flooding was predicted.
An American Airlines flight scheduled for England to Philadelphia was canceled after the plane’s 62-year-old pilot was arrested on suspicion of being drunk.
There is a lot going on, all around us and all around the world, that can make it difficult to fulfill the title of today’s message, and the list just presented does not mention the personal things you and I face. Yet the call is to stay positive.
The call is not by me, though I of course am the one speaking today’s message, but by the Bible. The call is to stay positive, even in the face of all the bad things going on around us.
With that call, let’s consider a passage in Paul’s letter to the Christians in Philippi. A teaching in the letter about how to stay positive.
Before that, a couple preliminary comments, the first being the reminder that life will not always be positive. That reminder came from Jesus just hours before His arrest, which led to His crucifixion.
Talk about problems. What huge problems Jesus was about to face as He would be beaten and whipped and mocked and ridiculed, all that happening before He was crucified.
Listen to what Jesus said. John 16, beginning with verse 32. “The hour is coming, indeed it has come, when you [referring to His disciples] will be scattered.”
The result of that would be the abandonment of Jesus, which would add to His suffering leading up to and including His crucifixion.
But then in verse 33 is this sobering statement about what the disciples would face. “In the world you have tribulation.”
It is so easy to think that accepting Jesus should be the ticket to a wonderfully happy, peaceful existence day in and day out. A life devoid of problems of any kind.
It is easy to think that. However, Jesus taught that such is not the case. Again, in the world you - not just the disciples, but us as well - have - not might have or could have - you have tribulation.
Problems will come, even to Christians. In fact, I would suggest that being Christians might make for more problems than normal, the extra troubles coming from people opposed to Jesus and from Satan himself attacking us. If Satan and those who, with or without intent, followed Satan in attacking Jesus, how can we who follow Jesus even now expect a different reaction?
Life, even as, and maybe especially because we are, Christians, will have tribulation. Problems, troubles, issues.
But listen to what Jesus added. “Be of good cheer.” Good cheer? We are supposed to be happy? We are supposed to stay positive? Good cheer in the midst of problems? Yes - and possible - because, He said, “He have overcome the world.”
I think Jesus had already overcome the world mentally by deciding to carry out His God-given task of dieing on a cross. He was, in a few hours, about to overcome the world physically. An act that would, upon His resurrection, prove His power over death itself.
The point is that since Jesus overcame tribulation, so can we who are His followers overcome whatever problems, troubles, or issues we do or might face. Not easily maybe, but successful spiritually.
Stay positive. That is a challenge Jesus gave His disciples. In fact, in John 17, Jesus prayed for His disciples to be able to be of good cheer. In fact, Jesus also prayed for followers who would come later. Jesus said to God that He prayed not only for His disciples, who were His close followers at that time, but also for those who would believe in Him later because of the coming ministry of the disciples, on and on into the future to even now.
Yes, there would be, there are, and there will be problems, but stay positive anyway. That is a teaching of Jesus. It is also a teaching given by the apostle Paul, including at the start of chapter 3 of Philippians. Paul wrote, “My brethren, rejoice in the Lord.”
Those last three words are critical. “In the Lord” rejoice. As mentioned and as we know, there are problems all around. There have been, there are, there will continue to be problems. But in the Lord - focusing on and staying true to the one who has overcome the world - we can rejoice, which is needed in order to stay positive.
How can we rejoice? That brings us to today’s passage, which is Philippians 4:4-9.
We are going to skip around in the passage, first considering Paul’s repeating of the challenge to rejoice. Verse 4. “Rejoice in the Lord always.” Not just when things are going well, but all the time. Rejoice in the Lord always. “Again, I say rejoice. Paul was very clear he wanted his fellow Christians to stay positive.
We are to be so joyful - so positive - that all men, as in other people, will know our “perseverance.” Our positivity in any and all circumstances. What a wonderful portrayal of Jesus we will be as we stay positive.
But how do we accomplish that? Verse 8. There are some things we are think about, all of which will help us concentrate less on the problems around us and more on Jesus. “Brethren” - fellow believers in Jesus - think about these things. There are eight things on the list.
Think about “whatever is true.”
There is plenty around us that is false, either by statement or by promising what cannot happen. One that comes to my mind right away is the promise that drugs will produce happiness. Another is that sexual sin will bring joy. Another is the proposal about killing already-born babies. The falsehood that killing already-born babies will bring relief from having to raise a child.
Those things promise happiness, but they are lies. In the cases mentioned, drugs skew what the world is really like and can fry the brain, sexual sin brings not only the threat of disease, but also the threat of breaking up marriages and families, and killing babies results in sometimes lifelong guilt and grief for at least many or most of the women who take that course.
There is plenty around us that is false. We can certainly dwell on the falsehoods. It is easy to do so. Or we can think about whatever is true, such as allowing God to give the strength needed to handle life without illegal drugs and honoring purity in and outside of marriage and recognizing the sanctity of human life.
Thinking about whatever is true - not ignoring the problems around us, but concentrating on what is true - can help us stay positive.
Think about “whatever is honorable.”
Another translation uses the word “honest.” The challenge is to think about what is holy, as in totally dedicated to God. That is necessary for us to be holy, as in different from other people. By thinking more about people and things that are honest rather than those who do not follow God, we will be more likely to try to be honorable as well.
Think about “whatever is just.”
That refers to living in ways that are right with God and with other people. Again, it is easy to concentrate on the bad things around us, but we are to instead think about the good in the people we know. We are to think about the love of God, which continues no matter how bad the things of the world become. We are to think about things that are just, the hope being that our actions will also be just.
Think about “whatever is pure.”
There is much in the world that is dirty or smutty. Our human natures might cause us to be attracted to such things. But we are to resist, thinking instead of what is pure in thoughts and actions.
Think about “whatever is lovely.”
There are people in the world who at least seem to have their minds set on vengeance. Those who are bitter.
Did you hear about the road rage incident near Minneapolis recently? There was a fender bender involving a school bus and another vehicle. When both vehicles stopped on the side of the road, the driver of the vehicle jumped out of his vehicle, holding a gun, which he shot into the bus. A student still on board was fine, but the bus driver was hit. He is going to be fine, but he needed surgery.
The vehicle driver was not lovely, but we are to be lovely. Lovely enough to attract others, not to our frustrations, but to our joy. The joy of faith based on the love of Jesus.
Think about “whatever is gracious.”
This refers to doing and saying things that are fit for God to see and hear. There are plenty of hateful, ugly, insulting things done and said all around us. It is easy to let such things affect us negatively. Instead, we are to think about actions and words that are good and positive. Inspiring. Encouraging. That will help us stay positive.
“If there is any excellence.”
The root word refers to excellence in anything, such as good soil in a field, a perfect tool for use in building things, how good an animal like an ox can be to do what it is supposed to do.
In the midst of the bad things around us, there are also good things. Positive things. Excellent things. We need to think less about the bad and more about the good around us.
“If there is anything worthy of praise.”
Anything that can be commended rather than condemned. Anything that requires looking for the good in others. When good is found, feel free to praise what is good, hopefully to those who are good, and to God.
I remember reading or hearing of something that happened some years ago. A teacher had two students with the same name. One was an excellent student. The other was a near-failing troublemaker.
It came time for parent-teacher conferences. When a couple sat down with the teacher and gave the name of their child, the name was that of the two with the same name. The teacher assumed the couple were the mother and father of the good student. For as long as the conference lasted, the teacher did nothing but praise who she thought was the son of the couple.
Later, the teacher figured out her mistake. The parents were of the trouble-making student. However, the next day, before the teacher could correct her mistake, both boys with the same name entered the classroom. Both boys, that day and beyond, were perfect students. Yes, that included the one who had been a near-failing troublemaker.
You know what had happened. For perhaps the first time ever, something positive had been said about the formerly-poor student. The positive report was an encouragement to him to live up to the words of praise.
Yes, the teacher had made a mistake, but it turned out very well. What an interesting twist that not only will we be affected when we think about whatever is worthy of praise. The recipient of words of praise may benefit as well.
* * * * *
Think about - say it with me - whatever is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, gracious, excellent, and worthy of praise. That is one step to accomplishing the call to stay positive.
A second step is to follow someone’s example, that someone being Paul. Verse 9. “What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, do.”
At first glance, Paul’s words might be interpreted as bragging. Instead, they were a reminder to people Paul had helped spiritually that he had done his best to live out his Christian faith. That he had taught not only by his words, but also by his actions.
In fact, he had stayed true to Jesus. He had maintained his faith, despite a whole bunch of negatives, many of them caused by his faith in Jesus. By people’s negative reactions to his faith.
I am thinking of threats and then actual attacks of beatings, and times in jail, and being argued against and shipwrecked. Not as much as Jesus, but Paul had an overabundance of negative things that afflicted him. He could have concentrated on the problems. Instead, he thought about the joy of his faith. The joy of sharing his faith. The joy of leading others to faith in Jesus. The joy of helping his fellow believers to grow in their faith.
Think about what is good and follow Paul’s example of doing that. Those are two steps in the goal of staying positive. Another step is this. Verse 6. Pray. Pray to God to be able to stay positive.
Prayers are to be of three kinds.
“Prayer.” General talks with God, including praising Him for who He is and what He does. We know, do we not, that when we talk with God, our attention is on Him rather than the problems around us?
“Supplications.” Using some of our prayer times to ask for specific things, often for ourselves. Even though those things might be centered on the problems around us, talking with God about them will be a reminder that He is the source of help and hope. He is the one who can redirect our attention to what is positive, even in the midst of problems.
“Thanksgiving.” Being thankful leads to positive thoughts. That includes thanking God for the blessings He gives.
One more thought. It has to do with what will come to us when we stay positive in thought and prayer. We will have peace.
Paul wrote that twice.
Verse 7. Pray, supplicate, and give thanks, “and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” The peace of God will help keep the positive moods in our hearts and minds and the negative moods out.
Verse 9. Follow the example of Paul in thinking about good, positive things “and the God of peace will be with you.”
* * * * *
In the world, we have had, we do have, and we will have problems all around. As mentioned at the beginning of this message, they include fires, drugs, and abuse, along with other crimes, storms, and personal problems. Not only did Jesus predict troubles. We know it from experiencing life.
However, the call from Jesus is to dwell, not on the negatives, but to stay positive. Let’s do that, which we can do through prayer, through good thoughts, and through following the examples of people like Paul.
A song that came to me right away when I put this message together is the hymn Take Time to Be Holy. It is that hymn that will be our closing song for today.
Take time to be holy,
Speak often with God;
Find rest in Him always,
And feed on His word.
Make friends of God’s children,
Help those who are weak,
Forgetting in nothing
His blessings to seek.
Take time to be holy,
The world rushes on;
Spend much time in secret
With Jesus alone.
By looking to Jesus,
Like Him you shall be;
Your friends in your conduct
His likeness shall see.
Take time to be holy,
Let Him be your guide,
And run not before Him,
In joy or in sorrow,
Still follow your Lord,
And, looking to Jesus,
Still trust in His word.
In joy or in sorrow. Lord, we have some of each. No matter what we face, help us to keep our faith in You. Help us to trust in Your word.
By doing that - as the hymns teaches, by spending time with You and resting in You and Your word and fellowshiping with others who believe in You - help us to do what was taught by Paul in today’s passage, which is think less about the negatives and more about Your positives. Never ignoring the dangers. We need to be alert to dangers. But trusting that You and Your love will see us through.
Help us to stay positive. Thank You, Lord. Amen.