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Evan Earwicker: Happiness Here and Now, Philippians 4:1-9

May 6, 2024

Audio Recording

Following Jesus doesn’t mean sacrificing our happiness. By focusing on the present moment in relationship with Jesus, we can find peace in God’s presence.

Westside Church Podcast
Evan Earwicker: Happiness Here and Now, Philippians 4:1-9

Sermon Transcript:

You're listening to a live recording from Westside Church in Bend, Oregon. Thanks for joining us.

We've been walking week by week, verse by verse, through the book of Philippians, this letter that was written probably just a few decades after the death resurrection of Jesus to a young church that Paul had planted.

And so he sent a letter from his prison cell in Rome, where he is encouraging the church in Philippi. He's showing and expressing his gratefulness as they've sent him a care package that has sustained him in prison. And so he's writing these words both to thank them, but then also to encourage and exhort them to continue in their faith. And as we'll find out today, to find this mystery of Jesus, that no matter the circumstance, we have joy.

Many have called this letter of Philippians the epistle of joy, because at the worst moment, potentially, of Paul's life, as he's chained in a roman prison, facing, potentially his own death, out of this letter comes an overriding theme of joy.

So I have a question for you today. Are you happy?

Evidently, no. Okay, good. So I wasn't expecting that. All right. So we know what my work is cut out for me today. Okay.

I think sometimes we have this feeling that to follow Jesus is to choose between faith and happiness, and that those two things, faith in Jesus, following after Jesus, and happiness in this life are mutually exclusive. That somehow, if we follow after Jesus, what we are signing up for is maybe something that looks a lot like misery in this life.

And I think, unfortunately, the message that we have sometimes been taught in religious places, like the one we're standing in today is that to follow after Jesus and to be miserable means you're doing it right. And I would push back today and say, God help us if that's the case, that it couldn't be further from the truth. That when we think that God is most pleased, when we're most unhappy, that that is not the gospel that was preached by Jesus or by Paul.

And I think that when we read and we hear these words from Jesus, that to follow after him is to take up our cross and follow him, or that to find our life, we first have to lose it. Or that when Paul says that it's actually in suffering, where he feels the closest to Jesus, where he feels participation in the sufferings of Christ, and that somehow that is where he experiences this deep and rich faith, that somehow, if we come to the conclusion after reading that that that means the life of following Jesus is one of unhappiness, we've actually missed the very thing that made the earliest church so compelling to the world around them.

Because in the early days of the church, to follow Jesus was to actually set aside a lot of the things that typically and logically would make one happy. Things like social standing in the Roman Empire, things like their jobs and their livelihoods, their titles cost them their stuff. They would lose homes and possessions. And after all these losses, people would watch, assuming that the result and the outcome of all this loss would create the most miserable group of people anywhere.

Instead, what they would find in these young communities of Jesus followers is that after the loss of all things, these communities were exuding and expressing consistently peace and joy.

And people were like, whoa, we took all their stuff. We burned their homes, we kicked them out of the public square, and yet they are still filled with joy and peace. We've never seen something like this.

And the compelling part about following Jesus, Paul would tell us, is that on your worst day, you can experience the greatest joy.

So we're going to get into this today.

Philippians four.

Paul writes this to the church. He says, always be full of joy in the Lord. I say it again, rejoice, and let everyone see that you are considerate in all you do.

You know what the most annoying thing if you're having a bad day is? Someone who's having a really good day.

Like, misery loves company. And so if I'm having a bad day, the last thing I need you doing is smiling at me, right? That's like.

And I think what Paul is saying here is, he's saying the nature of what's going to happen is you're going to walk through this life, and you're going to have this joy and this peace that passes all understanding. And if you're not careful and if you don't read the room, you're gonna be the most resented of all people, because the joy that God is gonna place in your hearts if you don't have the consideration for the world at large around you, it's gonna have the opposite effect of what I hope.

And so, right off the bat, Paul is saying, be full of the joy of the Lord, and also be considerate for all those who don't yet have it.

We could do well to read and listen to his words.

We find out very quickly, as we consider the life of Jesus and the life of Paul, that happiness certainly is not based on what we have possess or the circumstances that we exist in.

One person said it this way. They said, nobody on their deathbed ask for a moment alone with their shoe collection to make things right.

No one on their deathbed says, if you could just wheel me out, I just need ten minutes with my suv before I'm gone. You know why? Because in the end, we know this. We know this. In the end, it's not about the stuff.

It's about the who.

And Paul, he has experienced this relational connection both with the presence of Jesus, who encountered him on the road to Damascus, but also with these wonderful, lovely, imperfect people in places like Corinth and Philippi. And he's poured his life into them, and he's given them himself relationally, and he's invested in their lives. And so here, at the end of Paul's life, when everything has been lost and all the circumstances are going wrong, he is not sitting in prison saying, I just wish I could have my rights back.

I just wish I could have my stuff. He's saying, if there is any part of me that has mattered to you, I want you to know that my joy is being made complete, because I know I have the who, not the stuff, not the circumstance. But I know you are with me in spirit, and I know that right here in this prison cell, I have the presence of a risen Jesus.

And it's from that place of the who that comes this joy that Paul is experiencing.

Not about the what happiness, not about the what if, but about the who.

Paul goes on and he says, remember, the Lord is coming soon, so don't worry about anything. Instead, pray about everything.

I don't know if we have any worriers in the room.

You're like, I'm not happy, but I do worry.

I know Paul, when he's saying this immediately, what the earliest readers of this letter would have immediately thought of was Jesus words in the sermon on the mount.

They would have thought back to when Jesus with his disciples, was sitting on the side of the mountain and he was teaching, and he said, don't worry about your life.

At the heart of following Jesus is this reminder again and again not to worry about the future, that somehow in the way that we believe, about who God is, somehow in the way that we follow after Jesus. What comes with that is an encouragement over and over again that when our mind wants to go to the anxieties of the future, that we are brought back to this present moment and reminded that worrying is not.

Well, I'll say it this way. Worrying is not only not helpful, but also it takes us to a place where we worry about things that may or may not even come to pass. Have you noticed this when I was a kid, one night, probably, I don't know, late middle school, early high school, I got dropped off at home, and it was late at night, and my oldest brother was there, and he was under the impression that everyone was already at home in bed because of when he got home. So he's awake, and he hears the door open and someone walk in. He thinks, I'm already home in bed. And so he immediately assumes, like, someone's here to rob and kill us. Which is amazing how quickly he jumps to that, right?

No other possibilities.

He told us the story afterwards. So he hears these footsteps. The door opens, footsteps come in. And I go into the kitchen, right? And so I go into the kitchen to get something to drink. And so Ben, my oldest brother, he's thinking, okay, what do I do? So he goes and he grabs the only kind of weapon he can find, which is a plunger, not exaggerating, has a plunger. And he's cowering in the stairwell, trying to get up the courage to, like, I don't know, plunge this guy to death.

A rubber plunger. Doesn't that kind of defeat the purpose of a weapon if there's a soft, you know. Anyway, he's crouching in the stairwell, holding a plunger, and he's listening to me as I walk in the kitchen, open the fridge, and, you know, pour myself something to drink. And he would tell us later that going through his mind is this thought. He goes, what kind of sick freak stops to drink our orange juice before he attacks us?

And we're glad. I mean, we're glad, right, that our worst fears actually don't often come to pass.

Like, thank God.

But oftentimes, you know, that doesn't change the fact that our fears have a real effect on the peace or the lack of it in our lives.

And I feel like so oftentimes I can find myself when I live in the worry of the future, that, much like my older brother, I find myself cowering in stairwells, so to speak, waiting for the worst to happen.

And there is a reminder from Paul that that's no way to live.

That instead, we are invited into a different kind of way.

That we are invited into this elimination of worry. Not because there's not things to worry about, but because we have a father who is aware of what we need.

Paul will go on. He says, tell God what you need and thank him for all he's done. And then you will experience God's peace, which exceeds anything we can understand.

And his peace will guard your hearts and minds. As you live in Christ Jesus, isn't it wonderful to have something guarding your heart when your heart is broken? Isn't it wonderful to have something guarding your mind when your mind wants to race ahead into all the what ifs?

Paul calls this God the God of peace.

So here's the process.

I think this is, in all the different philosophies and ideologies that would say this is how you get happiness in your life. I think, actually this is Paul's roadmap to happiness. Number one, that joy is a choice.

It's not automatic. It's not something just, you know, naturally happens. But in every circumstance, because of the who that is with us in Jesus and the community we belong to, we actually have this beautiful option to choose joy. Number two, prayer is an action. Prayer is the action we take when worries want to steal our joy and our peace. And then finally, peace is the gift of God.

Peace is the gift of God.

Jesus was prophesied to be the prince of peace.

Paul calls God the God of peace.

This is not some kind of side part of God's character. I think this is primary to the nature of God in Christ Jesus is that he brings us peace.

This is really important because of the ways that we get so off track, we get so far ahead into the what ifs of tomorrow, the regrets of the past, that worries can take over.

Matthew 625. This is where Jesus was talking in his sermon on the mount about this idea of worry versus peace. He says, I tell you not to worry about everyday life, whether you have enough food and drink or enough clothes to wear. Isn't life more than food and your body more than clothing? Look at the birds. They don't plant or harvest or store food in barns, for your heavenly Father feeds them. And aren't you more valuable to him than they are? Can all your worries add a single moment to your life? And why worry about your clothing? Look, the lilies of the field and how they grow. They don't work or make their clothing. Yet Solomon, in all his glory, was not dressed as beautifully as they are. And if God cares so wonderfully for wildflowers that are here today and thrown into the fire tomorrow, he will certainly take care of you.

I read this, and it's beautifully spoken by Jesus. It's beautifully retold by Matthew.

And yet there's some big question marks that come up when I read this instruction of Jesus, this teaching of Jesus saying not to worry because he's saying, God's going to take such good care of you. I mean, look at the birds.

And an astute listener would be like, but birds don't live that long and they don't even have shelter.

And then Jesus goes on, he says, and consider the flowers. Aren't they beautiful? You're like, yeah, they're beautiful, but they have a shorter lifespan than the birds. Like, oh, where is this going? Jesus? You know, it would be better if you, like, compared you to cockroaches or something. That at least has a longer lifespan.

Doesn't have the poetic effect, right? Matthew's like, look at the cock. No, that.

And I think what this does actually for me is it's really beautiful. The idea that God cares for us, and Jesus, I think, intentionally points to examples not of guaranteed circumstantial perfection, right? He doesn't point to things that are, like, locked in. Everything's going to be fine.

Birds can have a really rough life.

Flowers cannot last long. And yet what Jesus is saying about his father, he says, and the father knows exactly what's going on at every moment for them.

And so you're going to face circumstances and life's going to have good moments and it's going to have bad moments. That comes with the deal. But here's my promise. Jesus says the reason you don't have to worry is not because it's guaranteed that everything always is always going to work out fine. And plenty of preachers have preached that it will.

And not surprisingly, people get really disillusioned when life actually happens.

But what he's saying is, the reason you don't have to worry is because if my father is aware of the plight of the birds, of the air and the flowers of the field, how much more is he invested and involved in your life? How much closer is he to you that if you've worried that God has checked out of your situation and your life, Jesus is saying, listen, God is close to you, intimately concerned and involved in your life on the good days and certainly on the bad ones, that it is not the promise of perfect circumstances that can continues to encourage us to not worry. It's this confidence that God himself is close to us, even on our worst days.

Nothing is going to happen to you. Jesus and Paul would say, that is outside my knowledge and my care.

And oftentimes I can feel this gnawing sense that maybe God is out of touch on the worst days and that leaves me on my own to worry about tomorrow.

But we have this encouragement today that God is not out of touch, but that he's close. And what this does is it allows us. It gives us permission to stay here in the present moment.

We're headed into wedding season.

I had the opportunity, usually, to marry and officiate the weddings of several couples each year. And one of my favorite parts of officiating a wedding is there's usually a moment, you know, there's all the pomp and circumstance and the bridal party and the walk down the aisle and all this. And you can see it on the faces of these couples, just kind of the glaze over of, like, how much stress it was to get to this day and how much stress it's going to be after this day. And they're just kind of. It's almost, you know, just kind of, like, in a state of shock through the ceremony. And oftentimes they're facing me away from the crowd, and so only I am seeing the terrified expressions on the face of the couple.

And there's this moment in most of the ceremonies, whether it's a time where the couple wants to pray together or take communion together, but where I'll take the couple aside, then a music plays or whatever. And oftentimes, what I'll say to these couples is, okay, just for a moment, pretend we're not here.

And look at me. Look at me. Stay here right in this present moment. Forget about all the stress that you've just walked through. Forget about worrying about how the rest of this is gonna go. Stay with me right here. Cause right here and right now, something special is happening.

And I don't think they ever listen. They still look glazed over and whatever.

But there is something sacred and holy about staying in the present.

And I know the temptation in a busy world and with lots to worry about is to always either be looking back at the past or be anxious about the future. And I feel like Paul today would say, hey, look at me. Look at me.

I know there's a lot going on.

I know it feels like you're in a whirlpool right now, but listen to me. Right here and right now, the God of all peace is close.

And something is happening in this moment.

Something holy.

I think this is why there was a long tradition in the Middle ages in monasteries that monks, as they were trained for their service, were constantly being brought back to this idea that there was only two moments in time to focus on. One moment was eternity. That time when God would make all things right and that they would be with Christ in eternity. And then the other moment, the only other moment, was the present.

They only had two moments that day when God would make all things right and this day.

And so I would imagine as these monks in the Middle Ages, you know, they had stresses and worries like everybody else. Oh, I don't know how. The barley crop's not looking good this year, brother. You know, I don't know. What's a medieval name?

Seamus. Seamus. Oh, I don't know. Seamus. The barley crop's not looking good.

Say, oh, brother, come back to the present. That's horrible.

Pastor Ben will be back in a few weeks. He does a way better accent than I do. My goodness.

They're constantly saying, come on, back to the present. Just like those couples at the altar. Come on, focus. Right now, right here, something is happening.

And here's a quote from Father Jacques Felipe. I assume that's French. If not, it would be Jacques Philip E.

I need to stay far away from foreign languages during my sermons.

Here's what Father Jacques said. He said, hearts anxious about tomorrow can't be open to the grace of the present moment.

And this is the constant encouragement, even as we read the words of Jesus and we study the way of Jesus and we lean into what it is to be a disciple of Jesus, that constantly we're being brought back to the present moment. Listen, I know you want to go ahead into the future, but I promise you this. Your father's there and he's gonna be there when you get there. But right here, right now, this is where the presence of God and the grace of the present moment, this is where it intersects your life.

Right here.

Stay here. Stay here.

Stay right now.

20 years ago, I traveled with a friend to the most easternmost peninsula in Russia. It's called Kamchatka. And we flew there to do some ministry at a Bible school up in the mountains. It's very remote, right next to Siberia. It's like frozen tundra out there.

And this is 20 years ago. And so we boarded a flight in anchorage, flying west. And the plane was one of just a few from Kamchatka air, and they only flew one flight a week.

And this is 20 years ago. And the plane at the time was probably 20 to 30 years old. So you can imagine, full on soviet era, it's a smoking flight. Do you remember smoking flights? Like, this was the thing. It's like you want to hop in a metal tube while I light up.

That was like how people lived.

So we get on this flight in Anchorage at night, and we take off in this old, old plane. And as we get on our way, very quickly we experience turbulence. And the turbulence is bad. Enough to where, you know how when parts of the plane are moving in opposite directions, you're like, this is bad turbulence. The bulkhead and the seats, they're not in sync anymore, right? And so I'm getting nervous, right? This is an old plane. The turbulence is as bad as I've experienced it. I'm sitting there in my seat, and I have my hands on the armrests, and I'm white knuckling these armrests, and I remember I look down the aisle, and there's this older russian woman sitting in the seat over here, and she looks over at me like, first time, huh?

Welcome to Kamchatka air.

And so I'm trying to, you know, just make it through this turbulence.

And after about ten minutes, I'm just like, okay, I guess this is how it's going to be. And I'm in the window seat. And so I go over to the window, and I raise the shade. And as I lean towards the window and look out, what I see as we are headed over the north Pacific Ocean, I see spread across the whole horizon is northern lights.

There's no moon, all dark. And then this band of glowing lights across the whole horizon.

And in that moment, nothing changed about the circumstance, right? The plane is still shaking, the smoke is still hanging in the air.

There's nothing different about the circumstance, and yet that beauty.

I was caught up.

Something changed. Not about where I was at or what I was experiencing, but my perspective.

This is the heart of Paul for us today, guys, is that when life is shaking, when all the things that you have relied on for a sense of stability and peace in your own life, when those things begin to fail you, Paul is saying, I want you to lift the shade.

And when your focus is solely on the troubles of your present moment, I want you to look and lift up your eyes to the hills, as David would say in the psalms, look out at the horizon and notice and see and experience a beauty that has been here long before you were here and long after you will be, it's the beauty of Christ.

And I think, as much as I'd like to promise that all your circumstances are going to turn out just fine, that somehow the plan of God for each one of us is that we get whatever we hope for and want, always. I wish I could say that, but I think I can say something with such confidence that's far better, is that when circumstances are up or down, we can look out and be swept up by the beauty of Jesus.

And it's in that understanding of the eternal nature of the promises of God and the closeness of his presence to us that we can stand when all is shaken and say, I got joy. I don't know why, but I've brought my request to God. And in response to that, I've maybe not received every answer I've been looking for, but I have this peace.

Peace is a gift.

It's not a prize.

It's not God's response to how hard you've worked.

It's not a trophy for how well you've performed.

It's a gift.

It's a gift for troubled minds. It's a gift for anxious hearts. Today, it's the peace of God. From the God of peace.

And so today I would invite you, can we just close our eyes for a moment? We're going to just take a few moments. And here in the presence of God, we're just going to ask for his peace, for where we're anxious, where we're worried, where we have fears about tomorrow.

We're going to stay in this present moment. We're going to lock ourselves and anchor ourselves to this moment where Jesus is present.

And so, Lord Jesus, prince of peace, the perfect expression of the peace of God, would you come close to us today for those who are so burdened or weary from carrying the weight of anxiety of what tomorrow or the next day or the next day might bring? Today in this moment, Jesus, we pray for a peace that passes understanding.