Sunday, October 18, 2009

Sermon thoughts, 10/18/08

I think I'm going to begin making a regular habit out of blogging on the teaching at my church, Wildwood Community Church in Norman, Oklahoma. The more time I spend in the church, the better I like it and the more respect and regard I have for the elders and staff there. My goal in writing these posts is encouragement of the wider body of Christ with how God is working here - and perhaps a bit of self-instruction, as I remember to learn from the teaching. It's too easy to be overly critical of a sermon or a Sunday school class, and correspondingly to miss how God is speaking. We can quite easily confuse discernment and careful consideration with simply criticizing. I intend to combat that tendency in myself and hopefully encourage others by sharing what I learned from the preaching.

For today, you might find my wife's post on the same sermon to be edifying - I did!

If you find the material useful, I'd encourage you to check out the blog of Mark Robinson, our executive pastor. (I'll make a point to highlight his blog whenever I'm referencing one of his sermons, as he often has notes on his blog that tie in.) You may also enjoy Jeremy Horton, our college pastor's blog.

I'll quote whichever version the teaching pastor used in their sermon for the sermon text, and then summarize the sermon as well as provide some thoughts of my own if I have any that are relevant and hopefully edifying.


October 18, 2008 - Bruce Hess, "Right Choices, Choose to Focus Wisely"
Sermon Text: Philippians 4:8-9, NASB
Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things. The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.

I'll open this post the way Bruce did his sermon. (Note: this would ordinarily have driven me nuts, but, as I'll explain later, I think it was right on in this case.)

Bruce spent a few minutes talking about how much of our time we spend filling our thoughts with all that is wrong, negative, gloomy, unjust, and sinful in this world. He noted that it's not merely "sinful" movies, music, and so on that's at issue here, but the news media and most other sources of information in our day. Very rarely do we hear about, much less spend our time on good things.

This, Bruce pointed out, is thoroughly unbiblical. He then moved into the text and started unpacking for us why it is good to watch news stories like the one posted above. The passage breaks down neatly into two main points and a consequence.

The first point is that we need to think right. Bruce commented that "true" here means more than simply not false, but extends to thinking on more than mere opinion. Focus on the real truth - the word of God, and the good news of Christ (see John 17:17 and Colossians 1:5). Honorable things and just things are actions that match God's behaviors and His heart toward people. When we see people behaving with honor and executing justice and doing right, we should really let it sink in. Lovely things are gracious, beautiful, or winsome - his pictures were of a stunning sunset or a nursing mother. For commendable things, he noted that we should remember kindnesses and well-done deeds. Last but not least, he emphasized that the conclusion of the verse, "any excellence... anything worthy of praise" points us to exactly that: anything that is excellent and worthy of praise.

The second point, he noted, is that we should not only think right, but also live right. He didn't spend a lot of time on this, not least because there was a good deal more going on in our service than normal, though I wish he had!

Last but not least, he dwelt on the promise that concludes the passage: if you think on these things and practice as Paul did, the God of peace will be with you. It's a striking promise, and the more so in context. Only two verses earlier, Paul instructed the Philippians that if they chose to thankfully pray instead of being anxious, God's peace would guard their hearts and minds. Here, he goes a step further: not only will God give His peace, He who is peace will give Himself, His own presence. It's a stunning promise, and one that we would do well to dwell on. (It is, in fact, something true that we should think about!)

Bruce's points of application for the sermon were good and practical. First, we need to evaluate our intake - of media, of conversation, of anything that influences our thoughts. Second, we need to examine our own conversations and make sure that we are focusing on the good things listed above. As an aside during his walkthrough of the text, Bruce hit on the fact that we should make a point to commend what is commendable and comment on what is lovely - with families, especially.

To Bruce's application, I would add one point of my own, which is that we need to choose to actively meditate on these things and to imitate Paul (and the other apostles, and Christ Himself). This is why I liked his use of the video to open the sermon. It's immensely practical, and it's the sort of story that is out there. It's not explicitly Christian, but it definitely fits in the "if there is anything worthy of praise" category. The best way to meditate on these things is to find them and enjoy them, and remember them as we go throughout the day.

One thing that struck me as terribly important in the passage, and that I was sad we didn't have time to cover today, is that Paul strongly emphasizes following his example. The Philippians were to practice what they had learned and received from him, what they had heard him say, and what they had seen him do. We should, too. It's good to remember that we have Biblical examples on which to model our lives, and that Paul is not merely a teacher of good doctrine but also a model of good practice.

Last but not least, Bruce noted (and I agree) that the point of this passage is not to stick our fingers in our ears, saying "Lalalalalala" and pretending that bad things do not happen. We need to be wise, discerning, and aware of the world. However, we should make it our practice not to live there mentally. We need to spend our mental energy on what is good. That's a significant mindset change from most of what we see in our culture, even in the church, and it's a good reminder.

When we fix our eyes on Christ and think on things that are like Him, we will be actively pursuing the sanctification of our minds. We will be transformed as our minds are renewed. And God Himself will be with us!


  1. I think you did a great job of recounting the sermon here, my husband! You took some notes that I missed, apparently, so it was good for me to read this.

    I enjoy your writing more and more as time goes on! Thanks for linking Mark and Jeremy's blogs.

  2. Thank you for sharing. The same scripture was noted during our sermon today, though it was not the primary text. The story of the autistic young man is very moving - to the point of tears. ;)

  3. Sounds like a great message and it is extremely important that we think right. Thinking, or attitude, is a recurring theme in Philippians, and I'm convinced that it's part of Paul's "secret of being content". For more, you might enjoy Journey to Joy - an exploration of Paul's secret as revealed in Philippians. See


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