Written by Dave Urbanski.

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Sadness is an emotion we all experience in this world, and it’s always as a response to the loss of something we value. Depending on the severity of the loss, our sadness can manifest itself as disappointment — and then all the way up to despair or even depression when we’re dealing with things like the loss of a loved one, the loss of health, or the loss of a job. 

In a deeper way, the degree of sadness we experience indicates what’s important to us in the moment. And in a practical way, as Pastor Scott noted, Christians in the midst of sadness need a plan to deal with it.

In the passage we studied Sunday in the first chapter of Philippians, we find Paul encouraging the church members in the midst of sadness over his imprisonment — which can naturally lead to doubt, despair, and anger. But he told them there is much to be joyful about. 

Yes, Paul wants to help them — and help all of us as well — get a change in perspective.

Verses 12 to 14: “I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ. And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear.”

As Pastor Scott shared, Paul was living with the elite guards and soldiers of Rome during his house arrest — in fact, chained to them, shift by shift, 24/7. For most of us, that’s not an ideal way to live. But Paul sees this as a prime opportunity, and he probably spent most of his time with these guards sharing the gospel of Christ. Can you imagine? Those guards were a captive audience as much as Paul was a prisoner — and he turned what could’ve been a cause for disappointment, despair, and even depression into a cause for joy. Sure, he’s no longer traveling freely from city to city sharing Jesus, but because of his “new audience” there are converts to Christ in the imperial guard! And the impact they’re having on Roman leaders is profound.

It’s certainly an example of what happens, as Pastor Scott emphasized, when we hold on loosely to this life — and when we embrace the power and freedom and joy at our disposal that comes with setting our minds on “things above” (Colossians 3:2). Indeed Paul emphasized that “my imprisonment is for Christ.” It’s really the ultimate perspective of life itself for Christians, isn’t it? If our lives are “for Christ,” then the all the emotional bumps on the road are simply more opportunities to shine the light of the gospel.

Pastor Scott also emphasized another important point: All of the things that go into turning sadness to joy involve a DECISION to rejoice. It doesn’t just magically “happen.” But armed with knowledge and wisdom and examples from Scripture, part of our plan for dealing with sadness is recognizing that God’s in charge and then making a choice to put ourselves under the lordship of Christ, which will lead to joy.

Paul’s expectations had to change when he was under house arrest. And as Pastor Scott pointed out, when expectations change, often audiences change as well. It’s the same for all of us.

Another thing Paul rejoiced about was that his brothers in Christ grew bolder in their faith as a result of seeing him thrive in his imprisonment. It’s a testament to the fact that others are watching us and are affected spiritually by how we respond to adversity. And that can mean us delivering encouragement to other Christians by how well we surrender to the will of God.

Paul even refuses to be bitter over fellow preachers of the gospel who “proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely but thinking to afflict me in my imprisonment.” (v. 17) Wow! That takes some strength of emotion and steadfast decision-making on Paul’s part — but it all falls under him finding reasons to rejoice. In other words, these wayward preachers still might lead others to Jesus. And for Paul, that’s everything, so he puts away bitterness and finds a reason for joy in the salvation of others.

It all leads up to the final part of Sunday’s passage — Paul’s remarkable proclamation that “to live is Christ.” But before that point, we see he’s acknowledging the prayers of his fellow believers, which tap into the very power of God — and that he’s confident it will lead to his deliverance. However, it appears Paul doesn’t necessarily mean he’s confident he’ll be released from house arrest (although that certainly would be cause for much rejoicing). No, Paul realizes he’s already ULTIMATELY delivered. “Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death,” he writes at the end of verse 20. 

If Paul lives, his life is about Jesus; if he dies, he’s with Jesus in the deepest way possible: “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” (v. 21) Talk about the ultimate win-win.

Some of us have nonbelievers in our lives who seem very happy — and maybe it’s genuine. But as Pastor Scott pointed out, every nonbeliever experiences spiritual depression in some way or another without realizing it because their sin is not addressed by turning over their lives to Jesus in repentance — and they’re not maximizing their joy. But Pastor Scott also noted that even Christians can experience spiritual depression because they’re still tied in some way to the things of this world, and far too often Jesus is not primary.

Are there things in our lives that we’re grasping hold of too tightly? That we’re placing too much importance on? That have become, in a sense, “gods” to us? That block us from experiencing Jesus as completely as possible? Paul made his decision. Even his imprisonment was for Christ, and he turned it into an evangelism extravaganza. Amazing! But what about us? What have we decided? What do we value, ultimately?

May the answers to those questions lead us to a place where we’re living completely for Christ and maximizing our joy.

Written by Dave Urbanski

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As we make our way through the first chapter of Paul’s letter to the Philippians, we found ourselves on Sunday observing the apostle and evangelist right in the middle of a big case of “the feels.”

But the emotions Paul wrote about in verses 7 through 11 aren’t exactly like the feelings the world loves to elevate. In fact, they’re quite different and deeper — because what exists in the heart of the Christian has its roots in the love of Jesus.

Pastor Scott talked a lot about our hearts on Sunday. Not our physical pumping stations in the middle of our chests, but our eternal hearts that hold who and what we love. And in verse 7 Paul notes his deep love for the Philippians: “It is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace.”

Indeed, the main thing we all share as believers in Jesus is our salvation by his grace through faith — and Pastor Scott described the relationship we have with one another as us literally sitting around a big table and in a sense “eating” or “ingesting” grace. Sharing. Encouraging. Fellowshipping. Christ’s grace abounds, and there’s more than enough for all of us. And more than that, we’re not dining alone. No, we’re built for community, and we as the body of Christ get to go through this life in good times and in bad with other dinner guests at the Lord’s table. And we will feast forever — and without charge. An amazing picture.

But how does Paul — now imprisoned — feel such a connection to fellow believers in Jesus when he’s so often alone? As Pastor Scott pointed out, Paul learned that one key to being not just emotionally stable, but also spiritually and mentally well, is what we’ve chosen to place in our hearts. Certainly Paul could have been angry, sad, or anxious about his plight, but he holds the church in Philippi in his heart, and that is one important balm for his difficulties. And it’s certainly indicative of intense emotions, as verse 8 notes: “For God is my witness, how I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus.”

Paul describes another aspect of love in verse 9 when he tells the church, “And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment.” How interesting! Pastor Scott noted that the love Paul describes in this verse is none other than the agape love that God literally has for us — and at the center of it is what many might call rather non-emotional elements: Knowledge and discernment. But make no mistake: Our love must have both for it to be effective.

Pastor Scott offered a great reminder that increasingly in our world today folks possess a serious misunderstanding when they often declare, “My experience determines what’s true — for me.” But God’s love is absolute. And so is his truth. It’s true for me, for you, for everyone, yesterday, today, and forever. Therefore love in such instances means telling folks the truth, loving them enough to communicate to them that there is only one truth — and that’s found in Christ.
So it should come as no surprise that the love behind knowledge and discernment has nothing to do with gooey, gaga-eyed love that makes our hearts race, leap, and go pitter patter. It’s the love that will keep us in check, for instance, if there are things in our lives that are displeasing to God — and help us get rid of them.

Another cool bit of imagery Pastor Scott shared is the idea of the Lord’s agape love “abounding” — that there’s so much of it at the ready that it will spill over from our hearts to others. Abundance. Overflowing. We’re not love providers, just creations blessed enough to take part in sharing what God has freely given us so that we can freely give it to others. Exactly like the disciples amid Jesus’ miracle of feeding the 5,000. They first distributed the loaves and fish — and then came back with a dozen baskets of leftover food. Abundance. Overflowing. More than enough for everyone. That’s Christ’s agape love for us!

This week may we be patient and kind with people and then see what the Lord does in our hearts. May we venture out and practice the “distribution” of the Lord’s overflowing love, and in the process may we undergo God’s refinement as we use our knowledge and discernment to approve of what is excellent so that we may be “pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.” (Philippians 1:11)

Written by Dave Urbanski

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Did you grow up amid a “family business”?

When you think about it, most small businesses (and even big businesses) have their foundations in family. When one person starts a business and has a family, often sons and daughters and other relatives get involved and work for the family business. And it’s no surprise why: The owner of a family business can count on employees who are relatives to be particularly loyal, hard working, and in possession of a bigger vision than run-of-the-mill employees.

That’s because when you’re in the family — and the family business does well — you and every other family member benefits.

It was much the same for Jesus on earth. Growing up the son of a carpenter, Jesus most definitely learned his family’s business and helped his earthly father, Joseph, to succeed for the benefit of his earthly parents and siblings. But Jesus also was about the business of another family — the family of his Heavenly Father — which was about the spread of the gospel that would become the salvation of the world.

And just as it was for Jesus being about his father’s business, we believers in Jesus also must be about our savior’s business while we walk this planet. Some of us are students, others are employees, and still others are in charge of family businesses. But those statuses are secondary to our true vocation: Workers in our eternal family’s business established by Jesus Christ.

Pastor Scott offered us a great tip in this regard from John 5 after Jesus healed a man on the Sabbath and was then accused of wrongdoing. Jesus’ response? “My Father is working until now, and I am working.” In other words, if we put our efforts into what we can see God already doing, we will have success. Indeed, that’s part of where the excitement of the Christian life dwells.

And what kind of workers are we in God’s “family business”? Well, Pastor Scott defined our vocations as “distributors of the gospel” — the Good News. We don’t “convert” anybody. We have no power to make anyone believe Jesus is the Son of God. No, all that power belongs to the Lord alone. All we have to do is plant the seeds of the gospel so that those who ARE ready to receive the words of life can do so and believe.

But have you noticed that despite our very limited responsibility here, being a “distributor” of the gospel is far from an easy task! Sharing the gospel with others can be HARD! Personal sin and needing an eternal savior is not something most folks are ready to hear — or want to hear. Evangelism is not viewed by non-Christians as a good thing. Christians who spread the word of Christ often are viewed as “holier than thou,” “close minded,” “judgmental,” and even “hateful” — hateful that we believe the words of Jesus, who made it clear that he is the only way to heaven. No other belief, no matter how sincere, will cut it. (Not the basis for winning popularity contests, is it?)

So while God is ultimately the one who changes folks’ hearts, the Lord wants to bring us along in partnership and speak his words to others so that they might believe. And no, it’s not an easy job — but man, what an exciting and adventurous job it can be! Think about it: Carve out some free time in your day and then ask God to lead you to others he wants to hear the gospel — and watch what happens. I know from personal experience that such a prayer is the world championship winner of affirmative answers from the Lord. And where will that lead you some random afternoon? Only the Lord knows! Perhaps it will end in conversations that never get off the ground because folks you meet aren’t interested in Jesus — but maybe you run into one person who is ready. And wow — such an encounter will be life changing, not only for the hearer, but also for you. That’s part of what an adventurous Christian life can be!

We know from last week’s opening study of Philippians that it was like that for Paul in his evangelistic efforts. Every encounter for him — Lydia, the jailor — was an opportunity to spread the gospel. 

And this past Sunday, we saw a bit more of Paul’s heart in verses 3 to 6: “I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now.And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.”

Here we see three attitudes that make our family business more effective: Thankfulness, joyfulness, and confidence.

Paul in this passage talks about remembering — and Pastor Scott reminded us that our memories may not so pleasant and create problems for us in the here and now. They can make us angry, sad, and anxious depending on what kinds of negative things we’ve gone through. But Paul had what Pastor Scott called a “selective memory.” Paul certainly had some painful memories of his own to deal with, but still he made a decision to thank God amid his memories. Thankfulness and gratitude, as we’ve been learning, are key processes on the way toward spiritual health. Paul CHOSE to remember thankfulness and gratitude; and only the Lord knows how many things we could name on a gratitude list if we placed pen to paper. (Speaking of — what’s stopping you from making that list right now?)

Paul follows that with the second crucial attitude: Joyfulness. As we were reminded of last week, joy is much deeper than happiness because joy can happen no matter how difficult our present circumstances are. Let us, therefore, focus on joy as we express our gratitude for how much the Lord has given us.
Third up is confidence. There’s nothing wrong with having confidence in yourself — but watch out! If you become too “successful” in the process, you might begin to think, “What’s the point of God when I can do it all on my own?” And of course, none of us can go through life that way. Instead we must learn the humility of getting out of the way and letting Christ’s light shine. But Paul was confident solely in the Lord: “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” Such an attitude produces hope — the idea that none of us are “done” while living on earth. Yet God knows all of this is working within us and will give us opportunities to grow.

Pastor Scott also pointed out the “God factor” in each of the three attitudes (thankfulness, joyfulness, confidence). Each is based in what the Lord can do through us. So if you’re discouraged today about anything falling under this umbrella (finances, work, etc.) then we must always come back to the idea that each of us is in possession of a partnership in the gospel with the Lord. And then when we get together as a church body — watch out! When we’re actually being the church, great things can happen. The kind of genuine “real church” stuff that leads to growth and service and actually being the people of God.

Who doesn’t know Ephesians 2:10? “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” That potential block of free time you can spend spreading the gospel. How great is it that the Lord already knows about “your idea” and is setting up every encounter for you in advance! 

Indeed, God is at work — and all we must do as workers in his “family business” is follow his lead.