Sunday, January 31, 2010

Thriving In The Midst of Change
Philippians 4:4-9 and Romans 12:1-2

This is the transcript of the sermon that was preached by Pastor Debbie this week here at Druid Hills UMC. It is my hope that you all enjoyed the message and were enriched by it.


Life seems to be in turmoil right now – our country finds itself in a recession – businesses are collapsing, folks losing jobs, others are watching the investments that they had counted on to provide for them slip away with the bottoming out of the stock market. A lot of changes – how are we going to handle those – how are we going to face those – especially in light of our faith. Because the answer for how we handle and face change should be different that those who don’t have a belief in Jesus Christ. It really should.

LEARNING TO REJOICE (Philippians 4:4-9)
Back at the end of 2008, I started waking up early in the mornings. You need to understand a couple of things about me: 1) I don’t usually wake up before my alarm goes off; and 2) I’m a night owl, not a morning person. So I was a little aggravated the first morning when I woke up about 15 minutes before my alarm went off. I was even more aggravated the next morning when I woke up about 25 minutes before my alarm went off. But when it happened the third morning and I woke up 40 minutes before my alarm went off, I got the hint. I started praying – “Ok, Lord, what are you trying to tell me?” And the overwhelming impression that I got was one word – “Rejoice!” And then I started to get a verse, one of the verses from our Scripture lesson in Philippians this morning – “Rejoice in the Lord always and again I say rejoice!” And so I kept praying and I started listing off all the things that I was thankful for, all of the blessings in my life. Soon the alarm went off. And when I went to get out of bed and start going about my day, I realized I had a different attitude. The focus on rejoicing and thankfulness before my feet hit the floor changed my whole outlook for the day. The next morning I woke up 30 minutes before the alarm went off and this time I knew exactly what to do – I started praying and rejoicing until it was time to get up. Over the last year or so it has happened over and over again - not every morning, but pretty regularly. And I’ve started looking forward to that time of rejoicing and thankfulness in the morning. So much so that even when God doesn’t wake me up early for it, I’ve tried to make thankfulness my first reaction and thought even when I wake up in the morning.

Attitude can be key in how we approach situations in life. Think about the huge contrast between pessimists and optimists. Optimists look at a glass with some water in it and think “Oh, that glass is half full.” Pessimists look at the same glass and think, “Oh, that glass is half empty.” Now most of us waver between those two states of mind and spend some time as both, depending on the kind of day we’ve had. But haven’t you known people who have lived their entire lives at one of those extreme ends? And how their attitude colors everything that they do and say and how it affects the quality of the life that they live?

I’ve enjoyed the change in attitude that’s come from trying to focus more on thankfulness. You know I feel like this whole exercise in waking up early was the Holy Spirit’s way of convicting me about attitude. It’s very easy to focus on the negatives in life, the problems and the things that you don’t have. However, when we focus in on those things they oftentimes overwhelm us until that’s all we see and all we start looking for in life. Suddenly we’re incapable of seeing the good things and the blessings. Whatever you think about the most becomes your focus in life. I needed to adjust my attitude in order to start really living into the full and abundant life that God intends for us.

That’s what Paul is trying to get at in his letter to the church in Philippi. In our Scripture lesson, Paul is reminding them that they can rejoice and not be anxious because they turn their burdens over to God and receive his peace. And he cautions them to watch their focus - “think on things (that are) true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent and praiseworthy.” Why? Because what you sow is what you reap. What you put into your heart and mind is what you are going to get back out. Because your attitude is very important!

Our attitude is very important, especially when we are in a state of change. Change is hard and often scary. Most people don’t like change, they avoid it if possible. And the principle thing that most people don’t like is to change is themselves. We resist change even when it is in our best interests. For example: A woman bought a piece of needlework at a craft fair. On it was stitched these words, "Prayer Changes Things." Proud of the handiwork, she hung it up above the fireplace in the family room. Several days later she noticed that it was missing. She asked her husband if he knew what had happened to it. "I removed it," he replied. "Don't you believe that prayer changes things?" she asked, mystified. He responded, "Yes, I do. I believe in prayer. In fact, I believe that it changes things. I just don't happen to like change, and so I took it down."

Change is difficult. I think one of the things that makes change so hard is that the process of change usually brings with it some grief. And I don’t think we acknowledge that enough. As we experience changes, we grieve the loss of expectations for how we thought our life would be, we grieve the loss of certain hopes and dreams.

And how we handle change? Some people live in denial that things around us are changing. Others get angry and lash out at innocent people all around them. But I think a good many of us face the changes in our lives by becoming frozen and stuck - we shut down, we isolate ourselves, we go on autopilot just trying to somehow get through. But life in survival mode isn’t much of a life at all. And I can’t imagine that it makes God happy to see us – his children, those he created in his image - just muddling through life miserable.

To me, that’s the way of the world. But we are not called to be like the rest of the world in our response to life, let alone change. God has so much in store for us. In “The Message” version of our Scripture lesson from Romans this morning we find the key – “Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way that you think.” Hear that again – don’t miss a word – “Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way that you think.” Wow!

Paul’s letter to the church at Rome stands to remind us that belief and behavior are not separate, but rather interwoven – we are what we do, we are how we act, we are what we think. If we want to live a different life, if we want to thrive in the midst of change, then it starts with our attitude and carries onto our behavior. We’ve got to gear up with the right attitude in our mind to affect change in our behavior. Just like focusing in on the good and joy and thankfulness helps me get my day started off correctly.

And not all change is bad. You see, God is in the business of life transformation. You see the storyline interwoven throughout all of Scripture – New and Old Testament. He takes the pieces of broken people and creates something new and whole again. It’s no wonder that our two Scripture lessons this morning about attitude and change were written by the Apostle Paul. He had personal experience with the God of redemption, going from a man who persecuted Christians to becoming a man who was Christianity’ biggest champion and missionary.

A few chapters earlier in the book of Romans, Paul lays the groundwork for how and why we can thrive in the midst of change. In Romans 8, Paul asks a bunch of questions: “If God is for us, who can be against us? Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?” (vs 31, 35). These are the sort of things that were happening to Christians in Paul’s day. And then he goes on to answer with great confidence in the God we serve: “No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons,neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (vs 37-39).

Paul goes to great lengths in his questions and his answer to show that there really is nothing so horrible that could happen to us or that we could do which could ever separate us from Christ’s love. Jesus himself acknowledged this to his disciples when he said: “In this world you will have trouble, but take heart for I have overcome the world!” (John 16:33). Knowing these things should make a difference in the way we face the circumstances of our lives and even the changes we have to face.

Coming to a saving faith in Jesus Christ is just the first step in a lifetime journey of becoming more Christ-like – in our values, our attitudes, our words and actions. It’s a huge process of change and transformation. But one that results in a life that is more fully focused, more rich and fulfilling that we could ever imagine on our own. We need to keep that picture of Jesus first and foremost in our minds.

But as much as we want to change we can’t just think about it and will the change. Belief and practice go hand in hand and we need to do something. Want to gear up your attitude for change? Let me encourage you to take some time to rejoice. Start your mornings off with a focus on God. Count your blessings and be reminded of God’s amazing and un-changing love for you. It’s the most important step towards thriving in the midst of change.

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