June 2, 2020

Occidental Community Church family,

Philippians 4:8. "Finally, brothers, whatever is TRUE, whatever is NOBLE, whatever is RIGHT, whatever is PURE, whatever is LOVELY, whatever is ADMIRABLE - if anything is excellent or praiseworthy - think about such things."

There is a cartoon which pictures a man standing behind a podium under a sign that reads:  "WELCOME TO STRESS MANAGEMENT WORKSHOP"  The man is nervous, shaking, perspiring, and looking out at the crowd with bloodshot eyes, as he says, "I hope this conference helps you, because I just about went nuts planning it!"  It is not uncommon to find the very ones engaged in helping others overcome stress unable to deal with similar stress in their own lives.  The marriage counselor is going through a divorce; the psychiatrist is becoming paranoid; the minister is suffering from a bleeding ulcer. Why is this?

The answer is simple.  Knowledge alone does not bring peace into one's life.  In fact, it often has the opposite effect.  Knowing what we ought to do and realizing how far short we fall, we become emotionally strung out over the futility of it all.  Hence, the saying, "Ignorance is bliss."    But ignorance isn't the responsible alternative.  For the one who believes and trusts in God there is a better answer.  His Word guides us to that answer here in the 4th chapter of Philippians.

Stress isn't a cause.  It is an effect.  It is a result, a consequence.  The cause of stress is centered in the mind.  When I set my mind on the wrong things, I become anxious, worried, and stressful.  Most of the time these thoughts relate to things I don't have any control over or can't do anything about.  This realization only adds to my anxiety and stress.  It's a vicious cycle, isn't it?

During this current coronavirus pandemic we are regularly updated on the number of deaths caused by COVID-19.  In the U.S. the number of deaths now exceeds 100,000.  What we are not being told, however, are the number of deaths resulting from suicide, drug abuse, and alcohol-related causes.  These deaths are what mental health experts call "deaths of despair."  They are related to three things primarily:  (1) Unemployment  (2) Isolation  (3) Uncertainty.  Predictions as to the number of "deaths of despair" that will occur range from a low of 28,000 to a high of 150,000 in the U.S.  The most reasonable estimate is somewhere in the middle - 75,000.  Only time will tell what the final number will be.  And there is no vaccine that will make one immune to despair.

Does God offer a remedy?  Yes, He does.  In Philippians we are told to do two things to deal with anxiety and the resulting stress which leads to despair.

Philippians 4:6. "Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  7.And the peace of God which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus."  We do this through prayer.  But we must believe that there is a living God who hears and answers, or else even prayer becomes a futile exercise.

Philippians 4:8. "Finally, brothers, whatever is TRUE, whatever is NOBLE, whatever is RIGHT, whatever is PURE, whatever is LOVELY, whatever is ADMIRABLE  - if anything is excellent or praiseworthy - think about such things."  This does not imply that we are to bury our heads in the sand in denial of reality and shut out the world.  On the other hand, we can be aware of what is going on around us without dwelling upon it.  

This is more than "the power of positive thinking" which is often taught in the self-help books and tapes flooding the market today.  The power isn't in the mind.  It is in God who alone can give peace to our souls, " . . .and the God of peace shall be with you." (v.9)  Let us not forget that when Paul wrote these words he wasn't cloistered safely in a monastery somewhere.  He was imprisoned in chains, not knowing if he was about to be executed that very day.  And yet, he found God's peace.  We cannot deny that the issues surrounding the "deaths of despair" taking place today in our society are challenging and complex.  And we should not suggest that Bible reading and prayer are a panacea for all stress-related problems that people face.  But to leave God out and look elsewhere for a remedy is foolish and short-sighted to say the least.  

Don't despair!  Trust God!  He will not fail you.

Jeremiah 17:14. "Heal me, O Lord, and I will be healed; save me and I will be saved; for you are the One I praise!"

Trusting in Him,
Pastor Rick

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Pastor Rick will be posting a video sermon every Sunday on our church website until we are able to meet together again for worship in our sanctuary. Pray with me that will be soon!
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