Think on These Things “Whatever, Dear!”

I may not say this often enough. You inspire me. Often. Unexpectedly. You usually have no idea, me either, 'til a little later. Then it hits me. "Well, look there!" Something else I should've known, seen, done, you made plain and made real. This week begins a series of three messages, inspired by email from one of our young adults. A single person, wrestling with living our faith in a fickle, feckless, frequently faithless world. The request asks me to expand on one of my young friend's favorite Bible texts. We read it today. "Think about these things." So let me ask. What's on your mind? Your heart/soul. It matters!

'Ever have this happen? You're going on at a great rate with your husband or wife. At the end, you ask, "Well, what do you think?" Answer, "Whatever, dear!" (How "satisfying.") You're all over the kids or grandkids. They respond, "Whatever." We've all heard it, done it, felt it. The message is: it's really not important. It really doesn't matter. Nothing will change. What's in the mind belongs to me alone. In there, I can think what I want. See as I choose. Feel as I feel. And none will be the wiser. "Whatever" can be safe, disconnected, unaffected, and often, consequence free. OR…NOT! My young friend is on the right track. What we think on earth does matter to God in Heaven! It shapes (and sometimes distorts) the soul. It colors our discipleship, the way we follow Jesus. It sets the conditions of our love for God in Jesus Christ and the way we live-that-love with one another. So, let me ask again, "What's on your mind? Your heart/soul? What's in it? What lifts it?"

Paul teaches us: "whatever" in our hearts and minds is not good enough for Jesus. Joy in Jesus lifts our hearts and minds. And our steadiness-in-Christ will bring joy to heaven. Look at your life, our community, the world. Catch the news, or get all that voting stuff in the mail. See it on the lawns all over. Does a jolt of joy go right through you? Maybe not. Discouragement can dominate. Dejection. Weak resignation, not resonant wonder. That's if your party wins, much less the other! In old time Philippi, the sense of gloom and doom could be much keener. Paul wrote to them from jail-for-his-faith. Christ-ians knew the same awaited them or worse. Believing was tough! But Paul brings word. Take heart. "The Lord is near!" Now there's cause for joy, two-fold. We're not going through what we're going through alone. Hallelujah! And, we're not far from that time when God in Christ is gonna make all things right! (We're back to last week's message about end-times.) Here's the faith that sings for joy just what Paul writes to Timothy, "I know whom I have believed, and I am persuaded that he is able to guard until that Day what has been entrusted to me." (II 1: 12) What lifts your mind? The joy that Christ is near, and with him, what he intends. Tim Russert tells of James Craig and his dad, a taxi driver. 'Worked every day but Christmas with a dented, scratched lunch box. Sr. is now 20 years retired. Frail. Failing. But his lunch box is still atop the kitchen cupboard. Jim remembers his mother (now gone) filled it daily with 2 sandwiches, an egg, fruit. Young Jim always added 2 cookies and a napkin. Sr. would grouse, "If God meant me to use a napkin, he wouldn't have invented long sleeves!" This nightly ritual went on for years. In the pain of watching his father fail, Craig says, "That box still sits on the cupboard, latched, with all the smells still inside. 20 years I've left it unopened. But there will come a day. I'll pop the latches, lift the lid, and catch the scent of 1 last lunch. And I'll find the napkin God didn't want him to use." Love abides. God's love better. Best of all. When all seems lost or lonely or forsaken to us, the Word lingers like the love in a lunch box. And brings us joy and power to move out, move on, move up!

What's lifts you? The joy of Jesus. What lifts heaven? The joy of our steadiness-in-Christ above all. Paul's word to Philippi's tough to translate. It comes out moderation, patience, softness; modesty; forbearance, gentleness, meeting another half-way. It means, having uppermost in your mind not just the rules Christ taught but the Way Christ walked. Yea, you can stone the lady who wasn't one (Remember the story?), or you can ask whoever hasn't sinned to throw the first stone. When they leave, you can tell this fallen soul to go and sin no more. You can be dainty, driven or disdainful, like those who passed the poor fellow in the ditch, or, like the Samaritan in Jesus' story, you can go out of your way, for mercy's sake. Our choice, yours and mine. But our Lord leaves little doubt about what pleases heaven. So: what lifts your mind, and heaven's …in who you are?

My young friend invites us to "Think about these things," as Paul directs. Is what's on your mind true, honorable, lovely, gracious? That's a tough question. A tall order, unless our faith is deep and our commitment to walk the Way of Jesus is wide indeed. Is worry what's on your mind? On stage, at the forefront of your day? Fear? A misplaced independence? Grief? Loss? One thing common to all: they don't "get it" that God in Christ is near, powerful, in love with you personally, and determined with all the power of God's will to bring you through to a good end. I didn't originate the phrase, "His will is ever directed to his children's good." The Good Book did. I do believe it, even if I need some of you to remind me of it now and then, and help me act like it. Today's my turn to do that for you. Paul's right. Prayer helps. Constant prayer to keep what is true, that God is with you, God is for you, front and center. (All the other messages that contradict that in this life are UNtruths.) I love the old line that goes, "There is nothing too great for God's power; and nothing too small for his fatherly care." I love the little "Family Circus" cartoon that shows all the little tackers lined up outside an obvious bedroom door ajar. All you see inside, the bear legged, slippered form of a mama on her knees, clearly at bedside. The oldest child looking in shushes all the rest, "Shhh, mama's prayin' for us!" Pray like that and peace will come to you. It's true. Better, like that mamma, Christ will, no, he does pray for you, every hour. "And the peace of God, which passes all understanding, will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus." Have this on your mind, and so much else that troubles so, will fade away.

Whatever is honorable, lovely, gracious. On your mind? That's what's on Christ's mind for us! That requires putting some other things off of our minds. Is the anger you harbor, toward me, maybe, or who's beside you, or a few seats or rows up or over, or at home or work or school, something God will choose to honor? Is what you stare at, or pull down off the internet pulling you down? Would it seem lovely to Christ? Are you gracious, grace-filled, even when you're upset, in a hurry, pressured, provoked? Paul asks. But it's Heaven that wants to know. It's true. We are what we think. (At least a lot.) Honorable, lovely, gracious Hmm…?

So much for what's on your mind. What's in it. Embedded. Deep down. Non-negotiable. The you-nobody-knows…but Jesus? Here's what Paul says only Jesus can give: excellence, worth that's worthy of praise, lessons that bring real, eternal peace. Are you interested? Would you be willing to commit yourself to more than just an hour in worship once a week, or once in a while, to find that kind of peace? The world has a way of telling us what's excellent. Good work at work or school. Certain products, and of course, all today's latest electronic toys. A man or woman's form, what's hot and what's not. The correct politics or people-who-are-in. Believers get a different image in their minds. "I will show you a still more excellent way. If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love… I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. … if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing." Is this the excellence in your mind and mine?

Praiseworthiness. You got that in mind? When you pick what to watch on the tube? Surf the net? Talk about the girls at school? Or the guys? Would you like Christ himself to read the email you sent last week?

We tell kids all the time to do their lessons. We need to look at the lessons we do, from deep in our minds. It's All Saints. Remember those who've graced and touched us with their love and faith. It's a football day, too. I read this story. 'Reminded me of my own dad. He turned down many a game. Wouldn't go with out me. I didn't see it then as a "Jesus thing', I may need to rethink. The story: a New York dad with extra tickets to a championship game and his son in tow. At the park, going in, folks offering big money to snarf the extra tickets. The dad walked by them all, his son amazed. Nearing the entrance, he spied another Father with a boy about his son's age. They'd abandoned hope of an affordable treat. Our Father picked them out, sold them the tickets at face value, reveled in giving another pair the same joy he'd know with his boy. 'Might be a stretch, but this now grown man recalls the lesson he learned that day, "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God." What's the lesson folks will learn from you?

Paul's right. It's a good favorite verse. "Think about these things!"

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