Word on the Street
(Philippians 4: 1-9)
Back when I was a practicing criminal defense attorney in Tyler, Texas, the competition for paying clients was fierce. There were pages and pages of lawyer ads in the two phone books of various size and design where lawyers would tout their experience and ability to meet your legal needs. For solo attorneys like me there was a strategy in advertising. You didn’t want a full-page ad because that could convey the image that you might be unaffordable. If you went with a one-color business card sized ad people might think you were struggling to get by and, therefore, not very good. The trick was to go with a nice color ad that was no larger than a quarter of a page. Just the right size to get their attention and not scare them off as being too expensive or too low-rent.
When people would call me, I would always ask how they heard of me because there were over 500 attorneys in Smith County. I wanted to know if my advertising was effective as I was paying quite a bit each month to both phone books plus internet advertising. Some would say they liked my ad but many would say that they were recommended to me by a friend or family member. I had represented somebody they knew and that person was satisfied with what I was able to do. They would say that I had a reputation as an attorney who would work hard for his clients, was respected by the judges, and could work with the district attorney’s office. Word on the street, or the jail as the case may be, was that I had “street cred”. I cared about my clients and would work hard for what was in their best interests.
Christian credibility is what I think may have been on the Apostle Paul’s mind when he wrote his letter to the church in Philippi. When Paul wrote the letter, he was imprisoned in Rome and word had gotten back to him that there was a problem in the Philippian church that was becoming a distraction. Two loyal and hard-working members of the church were in such a disagreement that it was affecting the work of the church. He points out that these two women struggled together with him in the ministry of the gospel right alongside the other coworkers. He’s asking the two women to put aside their differences and work for what is important to the spreading of the gospel and for the rest of the church to help them get past whatever the problem might be between them.
Paul uses this as a teachable moment to remind them of what is most important and how they are to conduct themselves as they work for the gospel, as they seek to take the Word to the streets of Philippi. He tells them to be glad in the Lord always and to let your gentleness show in your treatment of all people. Because the Lord is near, he tells them, don’t be anxious about anything; rather bring all of your requests to God in your prayers and petitions, along with giving thanks. If you do that, he assures them, the peace of God that exceeds all understanding will keep your hearts and minds safe in Christ Jesus. Paul is telling them to be God-centered and not to hesitate to go to God with what’s on their minds. Paul is telling them, and us, that there is a lot out there that we don’t understand but not to worry about it because the peace we get from God will exceed all of our understanding, keeping our hearts and minds safe in Jesus Christ.
Paul next tells them that if anything is excellent and if anything is admirable, focus your thoughts on these things: all that is true, all that is holy, all that is just, all that is pure, all that is lovely, and all that is worthy of praise. Focus your thoughts and lives on living a life worthy of God’s love and practice what you preach and the God of peace will be with you. Paul wants their lives to reflect the love of God and the peace of Christ. It is Paul’s desire that they be credible witnesses for Jesus Christ when they go out into the community.
We need to program our minds with thoughts that are true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, and praise worthy. We need to ask God to help focus our minds on what is good and pure. It’s not enough though to hear or read the word of God, or even know it well. We must also put what we know is right into practice. Doing what Jesus would have us do is so very simple and so very complete. Unfortunately, we go out of our way to make it complex, hard to understand, and easy to avoid.
So, how are we doing? What is the word on the street? The word on the street is that we are a church that cares. You may or may not know, but I keep a supply of QFC gift cards on hand in the office to give out to anyone who comes by that needs help. I have several of various amounts from twenty-five to forty dollars each. A couple of times a month somebody will call looking for assistance or will stop by the church unannounced hoping for a little help. I’ve noticed something interesting lately. Several of the people who have come by have volunteered that they contacted one or more of the other area churches and that they’ve referred them to us for assistance. At first, that kind of irritated me but now I think that, for whatever reason, they may not be in a position to help but that they know where to send them. They send them to us. I’m thankful we are in a position to help. God has been working overtime in adjusting my attitude and now I honestly look forward to the visits. When they come in I have them sit down. I tell them I’m not being nosey but, as a steward of church funds, I am required to get some basic information. We do have some frequent fliers and don’t want to become their personal ATM. I tell them that I do have gift cards and that we don’t give out cash. I ask them about their situation and preface it by telling them that I may have other resources that can help them also. I tell them that our church financially supports the Food Bank, OlyCAP and ECCHO and that we are partnering with Bayside Housing and Services to assist with housing for the homeless. Depending upon what they tell me I make the appropriate referral and tell them to make sure to mention CUMC sent them. I had a lady come by earlier this week for a gift card. She had come by in August needing gas money as she was living in her vehicle. I took that opportunity to refer her to ECHHO, OlyCAP and Bayside. I asked her if she had contacted any of the agencies I had previously referred her to. She happily told me that ECHHO had helped her twice get to the doctor and she had another appointment they were going to give her a ride for. She said she had gone to OlyCAP and they had helped her out with some more vouchers. She told me that she had gone to Bayside and they put her on their waiting list for housing. I then told her about the Food Bank and that they would give her food that would not spoil and, hopefully get her through the week. Like I said, God has been working on me, so before she left I gave her a copy of Here’s Hope, the New Testament I used to give my clients who were behind bars. She told me that we had the reputation of being a church that really helped people. So, if you come by the church looking for help, you’ll get a QFC gift card, a referral to an agency that can further help you, a prayer to God for sending you to us, and a New Testament.
I guess the point is, that if we are going to be relevant, if we are going to truly make a difference, we must practice what we preach. We have to program our minds to do the right thing at every opportunity. We have to let our gentleness be known to everyone. We have to be at peace with God and ourselves with the understanding that He is in control and He will guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. We must commit ourselves to do what we know is true, what is just, what is pure, what is pleasing to God, what is commendable in His sight, and what causes others to praise the goodness and love of God.
So, if we’re committed to putting the Word of God on the street, the word on the street has to be that we are a church that really cares about people, and not just the people who come to church on Sunday morning, but at any time of the day or week looking for help.
Please pray with me.
Most gracious and loving God, how grateful we are for the opportunities you present us daily to assist those who come to us for help. What joy we experience when we can be your heart and hands as we reflect your love for the homeless, the hopeless, and the helpless. Thank you for your gift of the Holy Spirit that guides us in your service. Ease our minds of anxiety so that we may focus on that which is true, honorable, just, pure, pleasing, commendable, excellent and worthy of the praise of men to you for your mercy and blessings. We thank you for the peace that passes all understanding. In the name of your son who loves us like a brother, we pray, amen.