The 26th Sunday After Trinity November 13, 2005

INI

True Stress Relief Comes from Above

Philippians 4:4-13

Scripture Readings

Isaiah 25:6-9
Matthew 22:1-10

Hymns

30, 428, 427(1-5), 53(4-6)

Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice! Let your gentleness be known to all men. The Lord is at hand. Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy; meditate on these things. The things which you learned and received and heard and saw in me, these do, and the God of peace will be with you. But I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at last your care for me has flourished again; though you surely did care, but you lacked opportunity. Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content: I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.

Dear friends in Christ:

I recently read about the latest trend designed to relieve stress. In Chicago and elsewhere, you can go to what is called an “oxygen bar.” For around $7 you receive twenty minutes of pure oxygen. This is intended to revitalize and energize a person.

These days there is a big market for products and services designed to relieve stress. I don’t know that we have any more stress today than people did 50 years ago or 5000 years ago, but we sure like to find different ways to cope with it: There are over-the-counter and prescription medications. There are health spas. There are hundreds of books to read and radio programs that promise relief. The bottom line is that we all want to feel good. We want to have a worry-free life. The bad news is that you can’t buy freedom from worry and stress, not even at an oxygen bar. The good news is that you don’t have to buy it. It’s free! True and lasting relief from stress doesn’t come from this earth, it comes from above, from your Lord.

Today we are going to consider how the peace of God and the strength of Christ can relieve our stress and worry here in time, and for eternity.

I.

Each of us faces different fears and different types of stress. There is old age, loneliness, fear of death, job security issues, market prices, and even small things like a baby crying or a teenage driving by with loud music. If that’s not enough we have a habit of seeking out additional fear and stress. We may become worked up by fears of terrorism, natural disasters and unemployment. Some fear global warming (previous to this was a fear of an ice age) or other environmental disasters that don’t even have a basis in reality.

People have all sorts of solutions for stress. You can ignore the problem and hope it goes away. You can deny that there is a problem. You can try to escape reality by using mind-altering drugs and alcohol. Or you can simply give up and figure everything is hopeless. These are man’s solutions, but none of them really solve anything because the root of any problem is sin, and man has not yet found a solution for that…and never will.

A person may find a temporary fix for a problem and suppose that he has peace in his life, but true peace will only come from God. True peace can only come when there is forgiveness of sin. Sin separates us from God. By nature we are at war with God. A reconciliation between God and sinners would have to take place in order for there to peace. This peace occurred when Jesus reconciled the world to God by atoning for our sins by sacrificing Himself on the cross. When you have that forgiveness of sins won by Christ you are not at war with God. Even more than that you are God’s child!

You may recognize the seventh verse of the text as words that are often spoken at the close of a sermon. That is an appropriate place to speak these words because in the sermon we hear the good news of peace through sins forgiven. “The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard [keep] your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.[v.7] The peace which is being spoken of is proclaimed from the pulpit repeatedly because we need that reminder that God is for us, not against us (cf. Romans 8:31).

That peace does pass all understanding. The message of the cross is foolishness to our way of thinking. Why would Jesus die for me? Can it really be true that I am on the road to heaven? What’s the catch? You can’t get something for nothing, can you? And yet it is all true. As a gift from God you do have true peace. You can go to bed every night, and wake up every morning, knowing you are a redeemed child of God. The mercy of God does not change or wear out, so that peace which comes through Jesus is able to continually guard and keep your hearts and minds from anxiety. Knowing the peace of God is like having a huge weight removed from you. Your future after this life is secure. Any other problem is as nothing compared with the life and death struggle from which you have been rescued.

To continue in that peace, however, is a most difficult thing. When things start going well for us, the tendency is to forget about God. Any bit of reading about the Old Testament children of Israel will show you that is the case, and nothing has changed since then. We have that awful problem of forgetting about God and how we received that blessed peace in the first place.

The key is to remain in the things of God. “Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy; meditate on these things. {9} The things which you learned and received and heard and saw in me, these do, and the God of peace will be with you.[vv.8-9]

When you walk in the paths that God desires you will continue to have peace. Yet our first reaction is to look at the wicked who seemingly prosper, and imitate them instead. When there is a choice between having peace with God or the satisfaction of our flesh, quite often the choice is to satisfy sinful desires. Any little roadblock is an excuse for us to try new ways of solving problems, rather than the tried and true methods of seeking out our Lord.

The truth is that no matter how bad off you think you are, the Lord is there for you, and that security and peace is a cause for joy. “Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice! Let your gentleness be known to all men. The Lord is at hand. Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God.[vv.4-5] You can take problems to God and leave them for Him to solve, “casting all your cares upon Him, for He cares for you(1 Peter 5:7). I’ll admit that I have not mastered that yet. Perhaps each one of us assumes that if there is a problem in life it is up to us to fix it. But God can do such a better job of fixing it…and He will. You can give your problems to God. If He does not change the situation you are in, surely he will give you the strength to bear up under it. His peace, which the world cannot give, is there for you to take advantage of and to bring you relief.

II.

The relief of stress is not a pie-in-the-sky ideal or some new age gibberish. As a Christian you have it, though it is at times forgotten. Yet even as a Christian you still feel stress in your life. You have peace, but still have your sinful flesh. The question then is, “How do I cope?”

Any honest examination of yourself will find weaknesses, and in an examination of God you will find strength. God’s strength is present for us. We again have the positive example of the Apostle Paul. When he was in prison he evidently had received a gift of monetary help from the Philippians. He responds to this by writing, “But I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at last your care for me has flourished again; though you surely did care, but you lacked opportunity. Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content: I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need.[vv.10-12] Paul was not trying to sound ungrateful for what they had given him. It made him happy to see their care and concern for him, and that was more important to him than the money itself. Paul had been on the top and on the bottom, and he had learned how to be content in any situation.

Paul once had power and prestige as a Pharisee, yet Jesus turned his life around on the road to Damascus. As an apostle of Christ it sounds like there were good financial years and happy times, and yet more often than not he had nothing but pain. He was whipped, stoned and left for dead, shipwrecked (twice), a most hated man, and yet he calls himself content. Having peace with God he could be satisfied in any situation.

Paul says, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.[v.13] He readily acknowledged that his power to be content and to do the Lord’s work came from the Lord Jesus Himself. We all know very well that such strength is needed. Usually we’re not content in any situation rather than being content in every situation. After all, it is much easier to be content when we’re rich and full than poor and hungry. When we do complain about the circumstances we’re in, and express discontentment we are, in fact, complaining against God Himself. God, knowing what is best for you, has put you into your station in life.

Our model is Christ who would have had every reason to complain but never did. As the Son of God He had every right to be discontented about the lack of praise given to Him during His ministry. Beyond that He was treated as a criminal. As He was on trial He was slapped, and spit upon, and mocked, and not one single time did He open His mouth to complain. Isaiah prophesied, “As a sheep before its shearers is silent, so He opened not His mouth(Isaiah 53:7). The book of Hebrews tells us that Jesus did all of this for the joy that was set before Him. He even underwent the greatest punishment of all. I’ve often heard people say, “I went through Hell,” but none of us can even grasp how bad Hell is. The worst thing to happen to us on this earth is a walk in the park compared with Hell. Jesus can say, “I went through Hell” because on the cross He did, taking on your punishment. Still He did not complain.

In Christ you have the greatest resource for help. Sadly He is often our last resort rather than the first option. As true God, Jesus not only has the power to help, but He also wants to help. He’s been through it all and He wants to hear about your problems. He wants you to cast your cares upon Him. He wants to remind you that He is the solution for the biggest problems of sin, death, and Hell. He has other things He wants to tell you as well.

In this life it’s easy to say, “I can’t.” I can’t take the stress of living from paycheck to paycheck. I can’t stand having pain from the time I get up to the time that go to bed. I can’t hold off from the Devil’s temptations. But through Christ you can say I CAN! I can make it through another day or another month because Jesus is with me. I can cope with life’s problems because Jesus has solved my spiritual problems. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.

Perhaps the oxygen bar is a helpful, good idea, but I can guarantee that the effect of it is only temporary. This is the truth about every man-made solution for stress. There is a permanent solution. In Jesus alone you will find true peace and true relief from stress. Take advantage of that peace and remain in it. Amen.

—Pastor Michael M. Schierenbeck


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