Chicago Cubs Rejoice
October 12, 2008
Therefore, my brothers and sisters, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, my beloved. I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. Yes, and I ask you also, my loyal companion, help these women, for they have struggled beside me in the work of the gospel, together with Clement and the rest of my co-workers, whose names are in the book of life. Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, 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 your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.
Drum roll please. This week contains a significant 100th anniversary. Are you ready for this? On October 14, 1908, the Chicago Cubs won the World Series by defeating the Detroit Tigers. They won the fifth and final game of the series by a score of 2-0. This was their second World Championship in a row. It was also their last. For 100 years, the Cubs have been in a World Series drought. Our country has changed radically over the past century, but the failure of the Cubbies to win a championship has been a depressing constant in American life. When they last won, Henry Ford was producing his first Model T. Orville Wright was demonstrating his flying machine to the U.S. Army. The First World War was still years in the future. Being “online” meant hanging your clothes out to dry. The Cubs have suffered the longest dry spell between championships in modern sports history. No one else in Major League Baseball, in the National Football League, in the National Hockey League or in the National Basketball Association comes close. In fact, the other three major sports leagues were not even in existence when the Cubs last won the World Series.
As you might imagine this long drought has generated jokes and stories. At one game, the public address announcer said, “Will the lady that lost her 9 kids come and pick them up at Wrigley Field. They are beating the Chicago Cubs.” That is kind of sad, really. And yet, despite the losing streak, Chicago fans remain faithful. They rejoice in the Cubs always.
This is the same kind of persistent faithfulness that Paul is calling the Christians of Philippi to show when he writes, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near” (Philippians 4:4). Notice that Paul says nothing about winning and losing. Instead, his focus is on rejoicing in the closeness of Jesus Christ, and on practicing the quality of gentleness. A person who is gentle is kind, generous, meek, humble, an agreeable person, a person you would like to be around. Paul says we should concentrate on being that kind of person and our motive is that Christ is with us.
Like long-suffering Cubs fans, the Philippians are not to obsess over wins and losses. Instead, they are to find joy in being a fan of Jesus, while behaving in a Christ-like way. Paul goes on to say, “Do not worry about anything.” Or to put it another way: there is nothing worth worrying about.
You have heard the saying, “Don’t sweat the small stuff—and it is all small stuff.” That is not exactly what Paul is saying. What he is saying is if you have Christ in your life, everything else is small stuff. So don’t worry, 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 your minds in Christ Jesus” (vv. 6-7). We Christians are to make our requests known to God, but to realize that God will not always give us what we want. Instead, he will give us what we need. God will give us what Paul calls “the peace of God,” a total sense of well-being that comes from the Lord and links our hearts and minds in Jesus Christ.
That is a great gift, even when your team is losing and you are waiting for a hundred-year drought to end. It is a a great gift when you are struggling in school, or feeling miserable at work, or failing at marriage, or dealing with deep anxiety and depression, or wrestling with worry. The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. That’s a promise, one that even the most despondent of Cubs fans can claim, the promise of peace.
That sounds pretty good to me, especially in light of what has been happening in the world this week. The housing market is in free fall. The economy is teetering on the brink of ruin. Our government is desperately trying to save the situation by putting together the largest financial bailout package in history. I can imagine you sitting there this morning and saying I don’t care about the Chicago cubs. We are fighting two wars, and the price of gas is through the roof. Most of us have retirement funds in some way or another in the banking system. If that system suffers a collapse, we are all going to be hurting. On top of that, we have a presidential election in less than a month. It is enough to tie anyone’s stomach in knots and keep us awake nights, our minds churning with worry. As one TV commentator put it, “If you are not worried, you just don’t know what is going on.”
Maybe there was a time when we could live in blissful ignorance of what is going on around us. We could say I am going to just live my life in my little town and collect my salary or run my business, and not pay much attention to anything else. That was long ago. Everything is so interconnected now, you cannot do that any more. If banks get in trouble that means you don’t get that car loan, or that student loan, or that loan on your house. And it effects everybody. There is talk now of a global depression. Unemployment is on the rise. It is already the highest it has been in years. When we start to put all this stuff together, it is scary.
We wonder what is going to happen. We don’t know. But before we totally panic and run screaming out of the church, we need to put some things in perspective. In all of human history, we have never known what was going to happen. We have often thought we knew, but really we did not. To take a small example, back when the primary season began a year ago, everyone was certain that the democratic nominee would be Hillary Clinton, and the Republican nominee would be Rudy Giuliani. We all know how that worked out, or did not work out. If you like sports analogies, back in 1980, at the winter olympics, everybody knew that the Russians were going to win the gold medal in hockey. The Russian team had not lost a game in so long that many people did not believe that they could ever be defeated, but a group of American college kids did just that, and won the gold medal in what is now called the biggest upset in sports history.
My point is we don’t know the future, even when we think we do, so, you might ask, what can we do? We can have faith and hang in there and see it through until the end.
But I need to backtrack a little here and note that what I have just said is not what Paul is saying in Philippians. Not that what I said is wrong. We have to think positively about our situation and keep on keeping on, and things will probably be ok. That is true, but that is not what Paul is saying.
Paul is saying that whether things work out, whether things will be ok, is not the source of our joy or our peace. All worldly prizes or rewards have no real significance compared to the Savior who emptied himself, humbled himself “and become obedient to the point of death — even death on a cross” (2:8). Any true victory in our lives is going to come from God, who raised Jesus from the dead and highly exalted him.
Any lasting achievement is going to come from living in ways that are true, honorable, just, pure, pleasing, commendable, excellent and worthy of praise. As Paul says to the Philippians, and to us, “Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you” (4:9). Notice what he did not say. He did not say keep on doing what I have taught you by word and example and the economy will recover and you will make lots of money. That is not important. This is a hard idea for us to get our minds around, but God might not care how much money we have or don’t have. What is important is that Christ is near.
And what makes us successful people is not how much money we have and not whether we win or lose at the games of life. Paul is saying, you need to get this: Your circumstances or situation can never make you happy or give you peace. Paul is not endorsing what we call today “Positive Thinking.” If you are in a terrible situation, thinking positive about it is just dumb.
Everything is going to be all right. Tell that to Christians who were thrown to lions or burned alive in Nero’s arena. Tell that to people in Hitler’s concentration camps. Everything is not always going to be all right. But even so, you can have the power of God in your life and you can have the peace of God in your life.
John Newton (July 24, 1725 – December 21, 1807) lived back in the 1700’s. He was a slave-ship captain who was became an Anglican clergyman. He is the author of many hymns, including, most famous of all, “Amazing Grace.”
John met Mary Catlett when he was 14 and she 12. They loved each other ardently. They were married in 1750, but Newton spent years at sea on merchant ships, warships, and slave-ships, and saw Mary infrequently. Yet their love for each other was undying. By age 39 Newton had become a Christian. He had received that “amazing grace” for which he would be known ever after. For the rest of his long life, he was a pastor. He had always assumed that he would die before his beloved wife, because he was unable to imagine living without her. She, however, died first. Mary was buried on a Wednesday.
Four days later, on Sunday, Newton stood up in the pulpit of his church in London. Some said it was unseemly for him to preach so soon after his wife’s death. Some wondered how the broken-hearted man would be able to preach at all. Accounts of those who were there that day say that it was difficult for him at first, but he “warmed to his subject.” He took as his text two verses from Habakkuk: “Although the fig tree shall not blossom, neither shall fruit be in the vines; the labor of the olive shall fail, and the fields shall yield no meat; the flock shall be cut off from the fold, and there shall be no herd in the stalls: Yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will joy in the God of my salvation” (3:17-18).
Habakkuk was saying, I will not rejoice in my circumstances, because my circumstances are awful. Many scholars date Habakkuk to about the time of the Babylonian invasion of Judea, which was a time of total collapse. Habakkuk’s whole society was coming unraveled. He says I am not happy about that. But I am happy about God.
John Newton when he took Habakkuk’s verses for his text was saying my circumstances are totally awful. I have lost my wife of 40 years, but I will rejoice in the God of my salvation.
In Philippians, the apostle Paul says Rejoice always, not because the world is always great. It is not, but don’t worry about that. Rejoice because you have the lord of salvation, Jesus Christ.
If you have questions or comments, email Tony Grant
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