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Summary: Third in a series on balance based on the sermon titles from Outreach.com. [Note: I switched the order of the three sermons from that which was given by Outreach.com and the middle sermon on the peace of God (Phil. 4:1-7) was given by a guest preacher.]

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The Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost

October 2, 2005

St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church

The Rev. M. Anthony Seel, Jr.

Philippians 4:8-13

“The Feel of Balance: Coping with Stress”

A while back, a Tahoma, Washington newspaper carried a story about Tattoo, a basset hound. Tattoo didn’t intend to go for an evening run, but when his owner shut the dog’s leash in the car door and took off for a drive – with Tattoo still outside the vehicle, he had no choice. Motorcycle officer Terry Filbert notice a passing vehicle with something dragging behind it. He commented that the poor basset hound was, “picking them up and putting them down as fast as he could.” He chased the car to a stop, and Tattoo was rescued. But not before the dog had reached a top speed of 25 miles per hour, falling down and rolling over several times.

Many of us live our lives like Tattoo, picking them up and putting them down as fast as we can – feeling that we are being dragged and rolled around by life. Dr. Richard Ecker, the founder and director of the Life Management Institute wrote a book twenty years ago called The Stress Myth: Why the Pressures of Life Don’t Have to Get You Down. Ecker says, “Unquestionably, stress is the most significant negative health influence at work in American society today, and the problem grows more serious every day.” [The Stress Myth, p. 10]

Unfortunately, stress is not a problem that we solved twenty years ago. The American Institute of Stress notes that stress has been described today as “America’s #1 health problem.” Today, we complete our three-part series on “Finding Balance in an Unbalanced World.” [www.stress.org] This morning’s sermon is on “The Feel of Balance: Coping with Stress.”

“Why is our society so devastated by stress? asks Richard Ecker. He suggests that

We like to believe that stress in inevitable – that life is so much

more complex these days, that we’re being dragged along by a

run-away world which offers us less and less we can depend on.

But Ecker disagrees with this view. He believes that we can manage unwanted stress. The reason that he believes this is that stress is not something that happens to us from the outside; it is a biological response inside us that helps our bodies deal with what our nervous system takes to be a threat. It is a physical reaction to perceived danger, and it is based on our perceptions. Some of our interpretations of what is happening to us trigger a stress response.

The truth is that we can decide how we are going to respond to life. With God’s help we can retrain ourselves to respond appropriately to what we perceive to be stressful situations. To that end, let’s look at our New Testament lesson this morning where the Apostle Paul gives us some godly advice on handling stress. We know that good rest, good exercise and a good diet contribute to our mental health. Our epistle reading starts with an exhortation about our thought life. Paul writes,

vv. 8-9 Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me – practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.

In his book, You & your thoughts: The power of right thinking, Dr. Earl Radmacher, a former seminary president and professor says in a chapter titled, “What you think is what you are,” compares people to pressure cookers. What we allow into us through our eyes and ears increases the pressure on our hearts and minds.

Some Christians try to control the pressure by strong will and personal disciplines. These restraints might be personal moral values, as in “I won’t do this or I won’t do that.” But through our eyes and ears our values are pummeled daily. Through advertising, media, computers, books, all kinds of means, the values of the world are presented to our eyes and ears. In sometimes subtle, imperceptible ways, our values are challenged, influenced and modified by what we allow into our hearts and minds. Our personal values get mixed up with the values of this world and the mixture makes a mess of our souls.

However, there is an approach to life that can release the pressure that can build up in us.

In today’s second lesson, the apostle Paul exhorts us to reprogram our mind, and he provides us with a list of virtues to do so. These virtues can be thought of as a grid to determine what we should be putting into our minds. Reprogramming our minds, as Paul suggests, can lower the amount of undue stress that we experience in life.

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