Is Thanksgiving a Radical Choice? by LaVerne Biel, November 13, 2022                 

 Philippians 4: 1-9 NIV

1 Therefore, my brothers and sisters, you whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, dear friends!

I plead with Euodia and I plead with Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. Yes, and I ask you, my true companion, help these women since they have contended at my side in the cause of the gospel, along with Clement and the rest of my co-workers, whose names are in the book of life.

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Finally, brothers and sisters, 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. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.

When I was asked to give the morning message I thought, what would I talk about? How can I choose just one thing?  Do I discuss the most recent book that challenged me?  What can I focus on?  Then Kent reminded me of the impact the story that I’ll share at the end of this message had on me.  The story was/is profound.  The scripture that came to my mind after reading the story was Philippians 4:4-8. 

Why Philippians 4?  When I was young (6 years old) my parents adopted my sister, Melody.  It was shortly after that adoption that my mom discovered she was pregnant with John after being married for 21 years.  She was overwhelmed with two small children.  She did what any overburdened mom would do and enrolled my older brother and I in every Daily Vacation Bible School that she thought was appropriate during the summer.  Admittedly, I was a willing participant because Daily Vacation Bible Schools had everything I loved.  It had cookies, Kool-Aid, crafts, and games.  What’s not to love!

It was during one Vacation Bible School’s (I was around 8 years old) that I learned to recite Philippians 4:4-8 (probably with cookies and Kool-Aid as a reward).  This scripture has guided me and influenced me throughout my life. 

Let’s dig into Philippians 4:1-9

First, Paul is speaking from prison to people he deeply loved.  You can hear it through his tone and gentleness.  Philippians is a love story of sorts.  While Paul is writing from prison he is speaking from his heart with raw physical constraints, he is deeply reflective on how he handles adversity.  His approach is very radical.  Webster’s definition of radical = favoring extreme changes in existing views, habits, conditions, or institutions.  

  • How can I change my existing views and habits?
    • Look to what’s driving my anxiety?
      • Finances
      • Work
      • Overcommitment
    • What drives your anxiety?
    • Where am I focusing my attention?

Sometimes my focus is on the wrong direction, I feel that other people are not listening to me, and I have little patience to listen to them.  This brings me to the story of the battleship. 

Story of the Battleship

In the darkest part of the night, a ships captain cautiously piloted his warship through the fog-shrouded waters.  With straining eyes he scanned the hazy darkness, searching for dangers lurking just out of sight.  

Then his worst fears were realized when he saw a bright light straight ahead.  It appeared to be a vessel on a collision course with his ship.  To avert disaster, he quickly radioed the oncoming vessel.

“This is Captain Jeremiah Smith “his voice crackled over the radio.  “please alter your course 10 degrees south!  Over”. 

To the captain’s amazement, the foggy image did not move.  Instead, he heard back on the radio, “Captain Smith.  This is Private Thomas Johnson.  Please alter your course 10 degrees north!  Over”.
Appalled at the audacity of the message, the captain shouted back over the radio, “Private Johnson, this is Captain Smith, and I order you to immediately alter your course 10 degree south!  Over”.
A second time the oncoming light did not budge.  “With all due respect Captain Smith“, came the privates voice again, “I order you to alter your course immediately 10 degrees north!  Over.”
Angered and frustrated that his impudent sailor would endanger the lives of his men and crew, the captain growled back over the radio, “Private Johnson.  I can have you court-marshalled for this!  For the last time, I command you on the authority of the United States government to alter your course 10 degrees to the South!  I Am A Battleship!”
The private’s final transmission was chilling:  “Captain Smith, sir.  Once again with all due respect, I command you to alter your course 10 degrees to the North!  I am a lighthouse!”

Talk about radical change!  Okay.  Real lasting change happens when I focus on a different target and change my choices.  I find that I learn more when I try listen to others by taking a humble position, and not one of authority (like the Ship Captain)

What do these verses say about changing my choices?

  • In verses 1 through 3 Paul states that the church of Philippians is his joy and his crown.  Interesting enough when Paul is talking about the crown he is not talking about a kingly crown.  He used the Greek word “stephanos (stay fanous) ” a crown of achievement.  This stephanos crown was given to athletes.  It was made of wild olive leaves, interwoven with green parsley, and bay leaves.  Herbs.  Very earthy.  Very spicy.  Perfect for Thanksgiving 😊!

This crown is also temporary.  It is not intended to be a permanent crown.  It is not a diamond or gold crown.  The stephanos crown will only last a little while. When I plan something long range, I need to prepare myself differently.  I need to look at what surrounds me.  My short-term goals are important because sometimes they are not temporary and will last a lifetime. 

  • What am I doing currently to implement my long-range plan
  • How do athletes prepare?
    • They continually practice and look at the short-term gains
    • They measure how their doing by participating and competing with others
    • They continually hone their skills to perfect them (a work in progress)

This spicy congregation in verses 1 through 3 had two women that he mentioned by named to make peace with one another.  He then asked a silent companion to help these women to focus on the Lord.  This powerful friend “companion” doesn’t have a name.  It’s open ended…. Interesting……….. 

  • It could be anyone or everyone
    • It could be you or it could be me
    • It seems radical because it means that we work behind the scenes and not seek recognition for to ourselves

It’s about how we respond to people who disagree with us or others.  It could be that they are using the wrong spice, or maybe they are out of focus – and it’s possible that it could be me?  Maybe, I’m only looking inward and not towards what other people are feeling.  I need to be pursuing the goal of reconciliation.    

How do we perfect our skills in handling these situations?

  • In Verse 4 & 5 Remind us to rejoice and let Christ’s gentleness be evident to all.  How can I manifest gentleness?
    • It is through my word and actions.  This reminds me of the picture we have in the foyer, Christ in our midst.  Christ is always present. 
    • Rejoice we don’t have to do it ourselves!
    • Through prayer.  Really, Prayer?  Why do I need to pray?
      • I hear this a lot from parents “use your words” (I have used this once or twice myself and maybe to myself)
      • God knows our thoughts but wants us to use our words
      • Why?
        • To acknowledge his presence
        • To focus our attention to him/her
  • Verse 6 – 8
    • Be anxious for nothing
      • Really nothing?
        • If I don’t have anything to be anxious about then what do I do?
      • Pray about everything with thanksgiving and gratitude
        • To find the peace from God (a gift)
        • To find peace with God (working relationship)
        • To find the peace of God (beyond our comprehension)
        • Which guards our hearts and minds through a living Christ (penetrating)
      • Focus list:
        • True
        • Honorable
        • Just
        • Pure
        • Lovely
        • Commendable
        • Excellent
        • Worthy of Praise
        • Ponder these things
  • Using the stephanos crown description we can weave the spices into a Venn Diagram – Learn (knowledge) – use sage which is appropriate for thanksgiving, Received (heart) – bay leaves for depth, Heard (listen) – parsley to brighten our focus, and Seen (visualized) – the olive branch for substance – Spicy would be the center of the diagram.   
    • How to get there – be an athlete
      • Practice
      • Participate
      • Perfect
    • Be spicy (tasty)
  • The result is that the God of Peace will be with you
  • This scripture had a profound impact on me as an eight-year-old.  It continually influences me.  It really hit home to me after reading this Story:

  • An Old Cherokee Tale of Two Wolves  

One evening an old Cherokee Indian told his grandson about a battle that goes on inside people. He said, ‘My son, the battle is between two ‘wolves’ inside us all. One is Evil. It is anger, envy, jealousy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego. The other is good. It is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith.’ The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather: ‘Which wolf wins?’ The old Cherokee simply replied, ‘The one you feed.

This was on a plaque at a local store.  When I read this story, it had a profound effect on me.  I had to find a chair and sit and read it over several times.  Philippians 4:4-8 came to mind.  What are my thoughts and emotions feeding?  What are my feelings feeding?  After reading this scripture again, it’s:

Focus on the Christ

Turn my anxiety over to Him

Continually practice and perfect my faith

Rejoice because God is with me and around me

Feed my thoughts and feelings with the right spices of God’s clarity

Philippians 4:1-9 challenges me to make Thanksgiving (and everyday) a radical choice.  I hope it challenges you too. 

This message was given to Spokane Friends during Sunday morning worship by LaVerne Biel on November 13, 2023.

This entry was posted in Messages. Bookmark the permalink.