Written by Dave Urbanski

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Pastor Scott delivered some compelling illustrations on Sunday to amplify the continuation of our study of Paul’s letter to the Philippians.

The first was the idea of baggage. You know what a pain baggage can be every time you carry multiple duffle bags, storage bags, suitcases, and other objects to an airport — and what a feeling of relief you get when you finally set them down. Now imagine carrying around a ton of baggage in your life all day, every day. Pastor Scott pointed here to the idea of emotional baggage — results of past trauma, abandonment, abuse — that can keep us from optimal emotional health. Now imagine the feeling of setting such baggage down … finally.

Pastor Scott also offered a great (and humorous) illustration of a spiritual “gas station” — a place where all of us need to continually go to “fill up” with God’s grace. The funny part (that has a serious side) was his question to all of us: “How long do you wait when you’re running low on gas to fill your tank back up?” And the truth is, most of us wait until we’re almost empty — even when the light flashes on that we’re almost out. That may be fine (albeit stressful at times) when we’re operating an actual car … but when it comes to our spiritual lives, Pastor Scott asked us how long we all wait to seek the Lord’s grace and power and covering. Is it when we’re running on empty? When it’s more likely we’ll make bad decisions in a state of spiritual exhaustion? Or will we get filled up frequently?

His illustrations were all connected to the themes found in verse 1 of Philippians chapter 2: “So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy…”

The word “so” — the very first word of the verse — indicates a reaction to Paul’s past instructions to his brothers and sisters in the church at Philippi, which described to them the idea that they (and we) are soldiers on a mission, marching and moving forward while engaged in conflict, both spiritually and sometimes even physically.

And in order to engage successfully in such a mission, our emotional health needs to be optimal, doesn’t it?

At this point Pastor Scott shared 5 ancient Greek words from the verse 1 that give a glimpse into what’s necessary to get that emotional health from the Lord.

The first word — “paragoleto” — is the idea of calling someone to come alongside you and help you. Of course, we can always call on Jesus to be with us and help us in times of need, but the Lord also gifted us with fellow Christians who can end up being his hands and feet for us — and as we’ve seen in previous studies, God designed his church to be just that: a body of believers working together and standing side by side, even amid the chaos of life.

The second word — “parmutheon” — is the idea of consoling others with our words and actions; asking “how can I help you?” Pretty self explanatory, as it goes without saying that such a call of duty must be part of our lives with fellow believers.

Then there’s “koinonia” — the idea of fellowship in the same spirit with other believers. But Pastor Scott said it can go much deeper than that. It can be the idea of getting alone with the Lord and asking him, “God, please fill me up.” It was here that Pastor Scott ramped up the idea of carrying emotional baggage — even to the point where it can become part of someone’s identity. And I believe his most compelling point was his commentary on Jesus’ question to a sick person: “Do you want to be well?” How interesting. On first glance, we see such a question, and it sounds like a no-brainer: Of course someone who’s sick wants to be well! But Pastor Scott noted that when we examine the subject in a deeper way, being unwell in one way or another can become part of our identities that we may have a hard time letting go of. It can even be attractive or enabling in some ways because of how others respond to us in our sickness. We’re used to the discomfort. We’re used to the baggage. We’re used to the constant weight we carry around needlessly. And then it can get scary when such oppressions are lifted from us: Now what do we do? Change, even positive change, comes with risk and uncertainty. May the Lord work on all of us who are struggling in that way!

The fourth term is “splonkna,” which Pastor Scott said means “from my gut.” Something we feel deep down. It’s the Greek word translated to “affection” in verse 1. The idea that God loves us and is just waiting to throw his arms around us in compassion. In Mark 1:40-41, a leper said to Jesus, “If you will, you can make me clean.” With that, Jesus “stretched out his hand and touched him and said to him, ‘I will; be clean.'” Pastor Scott connected such compassion to the Lord beckoning us to his spiritual gas station: “Come to this pump over here. I want to help you be stronger.” He also noted the widow in Luke 7 who also lost her son and was grieving — and the idea that we can rely on the Lord’s compassion so we don’t have to grieve alone.

However, Pastor Scott also pointed out that the hurt we feel as a response to pain can become baggage if we deal with it unproductively. And that can spell trouble for us emotionally over time, which is something we don’t want in our lives.

Finally there’s the word “oiteirmoi,” which is the idea of grace and mercy. We can always come to God and say, “I feel inadequate today, Lord. Please give me your grace.” And indeed, Scripture says the Lord’s “mercies are new every morning.” So why don’t we take advantage of that? Let’s deal with the baggage we’re carrying and fill up on God’s grace and mercy every day, every hour, every minute. Or else it will be much more difficult for us this side of heaven and perhaps greatly hinder the effectiveness of our relationships here and now.

Do you have emotional baggage strapped to your shoulders, in your hands, and under your arms as you wobble down life’s path? Is your spiritual gasoline down to the “E” with the red light on? May the Lord help all of us to set down the baggage and fill up with his grace, mercy, and power each and every day.

Written by Dave Urbanski

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It’s not easy to take a stand for Christ when others pressure us to sit down and keep quiet. But fortunately the Apostle Paul has a solution for us in the final four verses of Philippians chapter 1.

As Pastor Scott pointed out Sunday, Paul offers four principles — or pillars — that hold us up in a sturdy way as we step out and up for Jesus in all circumstances. It’s instructive also to notice that Paul in verses 27 through 30 uses terminology that reflects soldiers in the heat of battle: opponents, destruction, conflict. Certainly we’re not wearing uniforms and carrying real weapons as we contend for the gospel, but Pastor Scott noted it sure can feel that way sometimes — which is why we need to know how to equip ourselves to successfully stand.

First of all, we must maintain a clear FOCUS. “Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ,” Paul writes in verse 27. The key words here are “manner of life.” It’s an all-encompassing phrase reflecting how wide and deep and far Christ can go in our lives — if we let him. And it challenges us to live up to the words we speak about Jesus. Do things in our lives match up with Christ’s message? It’s a question we must continually ask ourselves — a constant self-check and FOCUS — because others are watching us and asking that same question.

Secondly, we must BE PART OF A TEAM. Christianity isn’t a solo sport, ideally, and Paul knows this. He tells the Philippians that he wants them “standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel.” Think about it: If you’re facing a really difficult, hard, scary situation, what would you prefer — standing in front of it alone … or with fellow believers in a big line right next to you? No contest, right? Pastor Scott offered an eye-opening illustration about how redwood trees grow hundreds of feet tall yet with very shallow root systems. Standing alone these trees would get knocked over by strong winds — except that their roots grow OUTWARD and join the roots of fellow redwoods, forming an incredibly strong base upon which they can stand up against almost anything. Few things are more inspiring or confidence instilling than being with a bunch of brothers and sisters engaged in the same battle — in fact, joined at the hip with the same root system. Going it alone? That’s for the birds!

Third, we must not be frightened by those who stand against us and against the gospel. We must BE COURAGEOUS! Why? Well, A LOT of people don’t like the gospel message. It’s offensive. It tells people they are sinners who need saving. For that reason, maybe they’ll ridicule you, put you down, and laugh at you. Such treatment is hard for some Christians to take. The easier route is to fit in to what society deems acceptable and “cool.” And as we’ve seen over and over again, the world generally is not kind to Christianity or Christians. Jesus, as we know, predicted such treatment — and he experienced the worst of it. Have you ever noticed that folks can bring up pretty much any other religion or religious figure in conversation without much of an issue — but when Jesus is mentioned, sparks fly? Why is that? No matter what language is spoken, there’s power in Jesus name — and authority — even 2,000 years since he departed this world in bodily form. And folks either embrace or bristle at his name. The question is, do we have the courage to speak his name to others? 

Finally, in order to successfully stand even when others want us to sit down, we must RECEIVE THE GIFT. What gift? Well, Paul uses the phrase “it has been granted to you” — an act of grace toward us — and then continues saying “that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake.” (verse 29) So how is suffering for the sake of Jesus a gift? It’s a great question, and the answer is that while no one relishes the idea of suffering — in fact, if we’re living life correctly, we do plenty of things to PREVENT suffering! However, amid our collective existence on a broken planet, suffering inevitably will come our way in one form or another, no matter how diligently we strive to prevent it. And for Christians, when suffering happens, the Lord uses it as part of a refining process. As Pastor Scott pointed out, we can’t really learn patience until we’re faced with a person who tries our patience. And it’s a learning process. It takes time and walking through it before we emerge on the other side a different person. And also, experiencing suffering provides windows to our hearts and souls through which others will see how we respond to difficulties, pain, and loss. Not that we have to pretend or act like we’re happy when there’s good reason for sadness, not at all. But others’ faith in Christ — or interest in him — can be increased if they see we’re handling suffering honestly with Jesus in the center of it.

Summing things up in verse 30, Paul says our job is to be engaged in the same conflict he’s endured. And Paul faced down a LOT of conflict for the sake of Christ. A lot of ridicule. A lot of suffering. Indeed, it takes FOCUS and COURAGE to walk the path Paul took. But it can be more successfully navigated when we’re part of a TEAM that engages with the battle at hand and thrives amid receiving the GIFT that comes through suffering for Christ. That’s how we move forward, and that’s how we grow. 

Written by Dave Urbanski

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Did you know there’s a secret ingredient to staying emotionally healthy?

Paul describes it in the first chapter of his letter to the Philippians, and it was the main thrust of our study of verses 20 through 26 on Sunday.
“It is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death,” Paul tells his brothers and sisters.

As we know, the apostle is very much in danger of execution. In the very moment he pens his letter, he’s under house arrest in Rome and could at any minute succumb to the axe by the emperor’s decree.

Like any of us, the possibility of death dials into focus what’s truly important to Paul, and he’s determined to live whatever number of days he has left on earth by honoring Jesus “whether by life or by death.” Whichever outcome is fine by him. There are advantages to both. If he lives, he will continue to preach the gospel and lead others to Christ; if he dies, he will be with the Lord for all eternity.

“For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain,” he continues in verse 21. “If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account.”

The ultimate win-win. And as Paul embraces this truth, his emotional life follows suit and stabilizes. Pastor Scott expanded on this idea by describing to us our hearts as the place where our emotions dwell. One part of the heart contains the “desires of our heart” — our longings, hopes, and dreams. Another is where raw emotions dwell (happiness, sadness, anger, etc.). Yet another is how we react to circumstances and develop beliefs. But in the center of the heart is a space with a chair … and if we’ve invited Christ into our lives and let him guide us, he’s sitting in that chair and running our whole emotional show.

However, Jesus only sits there if we let him. He’s not a party crasher. He wants to be invited to sit in that center chair — and take center stage. And sometimes he’s not sitting there because we’ve squeezed him out when we give reign to ungodly desires and emotions, which typically lead to sinful behavior.

So, when Paul notes that he wants to honor Christ in his body, Pastor Scott said the idea is to magnify Jesus — to make him bigger. To have him sit in the center of our hearts.

One of the coolest parts of Pastor Scott’s sermon was his breakdown of another verb Paul uses in this passage: to depart (“My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better.”) He explained that “depart” in ancient Greek can be viewed illustratively in a number of ways: A soldier leaving a camp and going off to the next place; the ropes holding a boat to a dock being released so it can sail away; a farmer removing the yoke of the oxen when their work is over. It’s quite the image. It signifies the end of work labor and movement toward something great.

If we’re believers in Jesus, like Paul we know where we’re headed when we die. And like Paul, we need to be about making a difference for Christ’s glory while we’re still walking on this planet. How do we do that? Well, Paul explains toward the end of the passage in verse 25: “I know that I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith, so that in me you may have ample cause to glory in Christ Jesus, because of my coming to you again.”

For Paul, it is a joy to see his fellow believers grow in their faith. And he longs to be with his brothers and sisters in Philippi. It should be the same with us. We should be about devoting our time and energy and resources to others, believers and non-believers alike, and encouraging them toward Christ. And such actions naturally lead to joy. 

Pastor Scott also rightly pointed out that when we give too much time and attention to our difficult emotions, we become more self-focused. Life becomes all about me and my pain. But when we make the active decision to let Jesus sit on the throne in the middle of our hearts, our emotions can be in check, and we can become more useful to him.

Many people — even some Christians — live life mainly to be entertained until it ends, Pastor Scott added. So … how are you living your life today? May we all be locked in on our mission to magnify Christ in our bodies, place him on the thrones in our hearts, and devote ourselves to making a difference for him as we reach out to others.