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Questions About Spiritual Growth

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Today's sermon began by acknowledging that this is a tough time for our church with the passing yesterday of Tom Bellino, who had been serving as an elder for many years.  He had been suffering from an aggressive cancer.

Pastor Ed said that it's difficult partly because he really believes all this - and is profoundly confident that Tom is in a better place.  But it's still difficult for us who are left behind.  But Tom has already passed through the worst part.  Now it's all glory!  This will be the best Easter of Tom's life!

Then Ed finished our sermon series on Philippians and Spiritual Growth, looking at Philippians 4:8-20 with Four Organizing Questions.

1)  As we grow spiritually, what should we think about?

Philippians 4:8 -- Notice three things:

-- This instruction is comprehensive in its scope.  "Whatever..."!

This was a typical ethical list from that day.  Doesn't have to be Christian to be worth thinking about.

-- This is the front lines of spiritual growth.

Getting healthy spiritually requires the right mental diet.  For all of us, this is crucial.

-- You must choose the source of your thought-life very carefully.

This is why we dive into the Bible every week.  We do find what's true, noble, right, pure, lovely, and admirable.

2)  What should our rule of life be?  How should we live?

Philippians 4:9

This isn't as comprehensive as the last verse.  In terms of character, the scope is narrower.  There is a distinctly Christian way of living.  Though Christians should be the least judgmental people of all, tolerance isn't the highest virture, love is.

3)  As we grow spiritually, where are we headed?  What will this look like?

As we grow spiritually, we will become people who want, more than anything else, to know Christ.  Philippians 4:10-19

In that culture, orators got money based on how well they spoke.  But Paul was saying, It's not about me -- it's all about Jesus.  He wants to be sure they understand it's not entertainment.

4)  If this is where we end up, what is the by-product?

One word answer:  Contentment!

Paul's saying, I can take anything life throws at me, I can suffer, through Christ who gives me strength!

Our own lives are characterized by too much of too many good things.  We live in the capital of the treadmill world.  How about stepping off?  The treadmill does not take us to contentment.  We're designed to get contentment through a dynamic connection with God through Jesus Christ.

Spiritual Growth - Philippians 4

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Today's Sermon focused on the lessons of Philippians 4:4-9.

In the scripture Paul tells his readers that they should "Rejoice in the Lord Always" and he emphasizes this point by repeating himself "Rejoice!"
Paul's advice is given based both on his own experience -- and on his appreciation of God's peace which transcends all human understanding -- and is his gift to us through his Son, Christ Jesus.
For the "Lord is near"  Paul tells us, and he advises us that we should not be anxious about anything, but instead, in every situation, we should present our requests to God with both prayer and thanksgiving.
From our vantage point in the Washington Metro area in March 2018, it is difficult for us to fully appreciate whether Paul's words can be easily applied to our busy lives.  Although we can appreciate that Paul was speaking to a church that faced potential persecution -- does his appeal have relevance for our lives today?
The answer to this question is a resounding YES!
We live in incredibly stressful times -- and though we may not be faced with physical persecution for our faith, the rapidly shifting norms of our society make it increasingly difficult to hold fast to the virtues passed on to us by our Savior. 
Anxiety is a reality of our every day lives
So, given this fact, can Paul's guidance to us be of use?  and if so, what are the practical steps we need to take to follow his advice?
First and foremost, we need to recognize that God is in Control.  This can be hard for us to believe in a society that teaches each of us that we must be self-reliant.  It is this self-reliance that drives us to look for solutions to all of the ills that beset us -- and that puts us in search of the magic pill or silver bullet solution that will solve all of our problems.  Eventually, we will comet to realize that "there is no magic pill."
Secondly, we need to realize that our ability to deal with the challenges that we face, whether they be from anxiety itself, or from anxiety associated with loneliness, separation, the loss of a job, the failing of a business, or all of the above, are founded in our attitudes.  Current research in the field chronicled by Dr. Kelly McGonigal illustrates that our traditional beliefs about stress and its impact on our health and wellbeing may be fundamentally wrong.  Indeed, her TED talk and her book (The Upside of Stress) make a compelling case that stress may actually be good for us. If we reflect deeply on these challenges, especially in those cases where the challenges drove us to our knees in desperation, at some point, we may recognize that the problem actually helped us to recognize the limits of our capabilities living without the presence of God in our lives.  Indeed, though it may not be true for everyone, for some of us, the challenge is what actually drives us to seek out the loving arms of God.
Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, we must learn to rejoice and give thanks in every situation. Yes, we may face adversity -- after all we live in a fallen world.  Our bodies will eventually grow old, and weak, and we will die.  But the timing of this ultimate challenge is not under our control. 
What is under our control is how we choose to live in this present moment.  At one end of the spectrum we can choose to be stressed out of our minds with worry and doubt relying solely on our own capabilities and capacity for response. 
At the other end of the spectrum we can recognize the challenges we face an an opportunity to worship -- giving Thanks in a God who so loved the world that he gave us his one and only Son.  In this we can rejoice because we recognize that the Lord is near and the Lord is in Control.  All we need do is present our requests to God  through prayer and petition, and with thanksgiving, and the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard our hearts and our minds in Christ Jesus.