Paul and the Philippians

There is a “contagious joy” that overcomes the flesh.  This thought permeated the reading of Acts 16 and Philippians as I feasted on it numerous times with a prayerful heart before the Lord.  Nehemiah gives us insight into the believer’s strength.  Paul lives it out for us in the midst of persecution and trials.  Paul’s ability to rejoice despite the darkness of the inner prison cell, the open wounds on his back, and knowledge of false teachers distorting the gospel, makes his joy in Christ infectiously contagious.

A jailer desires it.  The Philippians seek to imitate it.  Anyone desiring to be released from captivity of the flesh must discover it.  It was revealed to me that before the hardships of real life come at Paul, he knows Christ in such an intimate way that he experiences enormous pleasure and satisfaction “in Him.”  Paul’s joy in Christ provides the magnitude of strength necessary for him to say that if he lives he receives more of Christ!  If he dies he simply gains Christ!  (This attitude is one of my goals for biblical change.  If it kills me, I gain Christ!)

Personally, there have been a few times I was somewhat “prepared” when life came at me.  During such times I have known the “rare and wonderful species of joy that flourish only in the rainy atmosphere of suffering,” as I read from the pen of John Piper years ago.  I find that if a trial is short-lived I seem to fare better than long trials that drain my joy and strength to endure.  More and more, however, I’ve learned to lift up my soul to the Lord, delight in His presence and learn to be completely satisfied, like a weaned child (Psalm 131:2).  The immense joy derived in experiencing the Lord Jesus through worship sustains me when I am betrayed, persecuted, misunderstood, or tempted.

Sustained joy is what I see and desire while pondering Paul’s misfortunes.  More than the ability to rejoice in all things, or the strength to endure trials, however, I am attracted to the profound defeat of flesh I see in Paul as I read Acts 16 and Philippians.  May the joy of the Lord be contagious and highly potent for overcoming sin so that I “put no confidence in the flesh” (Philippians 3:3).   There is a contagious joy found in Christ alone that overcomes.  This certainly provides reason to rejoice with Paul!

 

Dwelling Together in Community

It is grace, nothing but grace that we dwell together in community with brethren in Christ.

My heart delights as I reflect sweet occasions with brothers and sisters who share in faith and values. Together we have richly experienced God through His Word, through prayer and intercession, at the Lord’s Table, and certainly in lifting up our hearts in song as we worship our precious Lord.

As I learn to live this outrageously blessed life of unity with the brethren, Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s book, Life Together, could not have come at a more appropriate time.

Christ invaded my comfortable world as I read and pondered the fellowship of the cross: “The Ministry of Bearing.”

When has it been a sacrifice to help a brother precisely because he is a Christ- follower?  Do I effectively bear other’s burdens?  Little did I know the Lord was about to give me a major-league opportunity to discover the answer.

The very evening I asked myself these key questions, we received an email that sent my heart racing.  My husband and I received an email from a Christian brother that simply stated, “It’s all over” with a blank subject line.

I sat staring at the computer screen wondering what to do next.  What did it mean?  This 55 year old man, due to a lifetime of bad choices and alcohol abuse, had previously lost his job, his health, his wife, his relationship with his children, (for the most part), and now was about to lose his home.

The last we had heard, the mortgage company was foreclosing, and he had no place to go.  Soon after, we had lost touch with him.

I shared the email with my husband, and together we attempted to reach our burdened brother, (who had turned his life over to the Lord and been sober for approximately one year).  Although we had helped our brother financially before, we had made a firm decision that we could no longer do so.

We prayed while we waited to reach our brother by phone, (since he lives a couple of hours away).  During this time the Lord brought to mind the words that resonated with my spirit earlier that day, “Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ,” (Gal. 6:2).

I had just discovered that, according to Bonhoeffer, the law of Christ is a law of bearing.  Never before had I heard it worded this way.  The brother is a “burden to the Christian, precisely because he is a Christian,” (Life Together, p100).  Lord, what would You have us do?  What would most please you in this situation?

With great relief, having feared the worst, we did reach our brother in Christ that night.  We discovered he was to lose his home the following Monday morning, the power had already been cut off, and he had no money for food.

He even sold his refrigerator and other household items for money to live on, but all of it was now gone.

Because he had been visiting different churches, he had not yet connected with a local body of Christ, and therefore, did not have anyone he felt he could turn to at this critical time in his life.  Perhaps for the first time, he realized the importance of “dwelling together in community,” and having a church family where needs are mutually met.

The following day, my husband asked me what I thought we should do.  “Bear his burden,” was my response as I communicated what the Lord is presently teaching me.  We sought to help in a number of ways, but the most sacrificial of all was sending several hundred dollars that we do not have to give.

Several marvelous things occurred.  Less than a week later the Lord repaid our family the exact amount we gave!  This past Sunday the pastor of the church we were visiting, (Perimeter Presbyterian, in Atlanta), spoke on Philippians 4:18-19.  “God has always delighted in the appropriate sacrifices of His people,” he said.  “The Lord will supply all of our needs, and there is joy in giving and bearing other’s burdens.”  Our family experienced this joy together.

We experienced the Lord’s pleasure together as well in bearing another’s burden.  This led to a sweet sense of unity in this relationship and with others who know the story and are also praying for and attempting to help this dear man.

He who is bearing others knows that “he himself is being borne, and only in this strength can he go on bearing,” (Life Together, p103).  Bearing with one another is one of the essential elements of dwelling together in rich community and, I have discovered, is done through Christ alone.

A Timeless Sense of Honor

“To the One true King, through whom all good things come.
I bow my knee and await your command.”

iStock_000010834833XSmallI love this quote!  Found on the beginning page of a favored children’s trilogy, The Door Within (by Wayne Batson), it captured my attention recently.

When read carefully, we perceive a “hidden element” our heart desires to offer deserving individuals.  We uncover a timeless sense of admiration for people we hold in high regard, such as kings.  It’s called honor, of course.  I cannot read this quote without feeling a sense of honor in which the King is worthy.  Honor, when correctly placed, stirs our hearts and speeds our adrenaline.

When our children were young, we read a plethora of books about kings, princesses, kingdoms, and knights. We enjoyed medieval times and heroes.  One year, we even planned and entertained friends with a “medieval feast” complete with costumes, food, and games.  As fun as these stories and activities are, we discovered the more important thing to note is that there is an honored hero to any good story.

With a grateful heart, I have been privileged to know some incredibly outstanding young people who get this “honor” mentality right.  Through the years, I have worked with them as a college advisor, counseled them through difficult times, served with them in ministry, or have had the privilege to be friends with their family.

They have enriched my life.

With great delight, I have watched as they honored their parents, teachers, coaches, instructors, and ministry leaders. How do they practically do this?  How do they “honor” others, you may ask?

Well, it became apparent to me recently that all of them without exception shared certain additional qualities that set them apart from the crowd. Qualities that not only speak volumes of their character and values, but also support their desire to express honor to others. Qualities that will certainly serve them well throughout their lives!

A Teachable Spirit
The first quality is “Teachability”.  They are humble.  Many young people desire to learn and grow.  However, it is the humble young man or woman, exhibiting a teachable spirit who really shine.  As I thought of these young people I admire, I discovered not one of them has a “Don’t tell me what to do” or “Get out of my life” attitude with adults.

In fact, the opposite is true!  They desire wisdom and the vast experience of those beyond them in years and hope to learn as much as possible.  Recently, a friend told me that her young-adult daughter said, “Mom, all of my friends are actually your friends,” to which her mom replied, “It’s because you are mature, sweetie.”

No doubt, this is a correct response. In addition to being mature for her age, however, we adults enjoy spending time with this particular young lady because she has such a teachable heart. With delight, I often see her (and others like her) put into practice the advice they receive.

Although the original author may be unknown, I heartily agree with the following quote:  “He who has few skills, but a teachable spirit has far greater potential for success than he who has many skills but who is unteachable.”  Those who appreciate God’s Word also know that, “Without counsel plans fail, but with many advisers they succeed,” (Proverbs 15:22).  While this is certainly true, receptivity to advice and counsel is essential. Receptivity, however, is found in a teachable heart.

Honor Authority
Second, they respect authority – all authority. These outstanding young people submit willingly and with a grateful heart to authority.  If we (and our children) view all authority in our lives as given to us by a Sovereign Lord, we rest in the fact that there is a much bigger plan than we can fathom. Not all earthly authority is good or fair. However, there is Divine author in our story.  We are ultimately submitting to His plan.  He is the “Hero of our story.”

Let us highly encourage commendable behavior such as a teachable spirit and respect for authority when we see it.  May we be quick to acknowledge and applaud these timeless, honorable traits in young men and women.  Such behavior is pleasing to the King.  To the One true King, through whom all good things come!

Image Credit: iStockPhotos.com

His Presence in a Pear Tree

It all began in a pear tree.

CCSW_Logo_socialmediaBeing the eldest of three children, and very much a “country girl,” I often climbed a tree to simply be alone.  It was there that I first remember experiencing God’s powerful presence.

Somehow, I knew He “knew” me!  I was convinced He heard my prayers.  This began an exciting adventure as an eight year old.  I simply could not wait to meet with the Lord.

Today, I passionately desire to help others enjoy Christ’s presence and the precious heart-transformation that often occurs!  The opportunity to invite the Truth of God’s Word (and thus, His presence and grace) into your personal situation for healing and wholeness is exciting.

He delights in meeting with us.  In fact, fruitful lives and rich relationships are often the result of these close encounters with the Lord.  I look forward to meeting you and experiencing the Lord’s presence and His sweet grace… together!

In His Powerful love,
~ Sherri

Lunch Encounters (of the Spiritual Kind)

Her name is Sabrina.  I don’t even know her last name.  My two children and I were enjoying lunch at a local restaurant, when this attractive, beautifully dressed woman of color entered with her little girl.

Something more than her appearance struck me.  Her girl (perhaps 3 years old) tried desperately to capture her mother’s attention, but to no avail.  “Something is wrong with this picture,” I thought.

Understanding suffering helps to identify it, perhaps.  I recognize it well.  So, I began to pray for an opportunity to speak with this lady, whose daughter was now twirling down the aisle in a ruffled dress.

We finished lunch.  The kids took my keys and headed to the van to read.  My plan was to initiate conversation with this new friend who had spoken to me when I went to the counter.  She liked my “Fruit of the Spirit” bracelet.  I thanked her, and began to listen to her story.

I learned that Sabrina had flown back home to Georgia for a funeral that very day.  One of her parents died years ago.  Now the other was gone, too.  Then she said, “Two weeks ago, I buried my husband.  He committed suicide.”

There was a long silence. Sabrina motioned toward her precious little girl and continued, “She doesn’t even know her daddy’s gone.”

We sat there for what seemed an eternity, saying nothing.

For years I have shared my faith in Christ, and knew countless methods by which to do so.  At that moment I felt compelled to simply tell my story.

Although very different, our stories had one thing in common.  We both realized that sometimes life comes at you. Before you can catch your breath, the wind is knocked out of you.

Sabrina wanted to hear.  So, I shared wave after wave of painful events I experienced as a young person.  That was the hard part.  Then, I was able to share the good news!

One night in my apartment in Athens, Georgia, I gave my life (and all my hurt) to the Lord.  A poem called “Surrender” in a Home Life magazine riveted my heart.  Immediately, it was as if my Heavenly Father whispered, “Baby girl, I know all your hurts. You are trying to be strong.  Just give up.  Rely on Me.  Surrender everything to Me.”

iStock_000025148304XSmallThe flood gates opened!  I got on my knees.  I gave Christ control of my life. Running from God was wearing me out, anyway!  No longer desiring to lead my own life and make poor decisions, I surrendered my past, present, and future to Christ in a radical abandonment of self.

I told Sabrina that although I knew nothing about living the exchanged life with Christ, as Galatians 2:20 offers, this is exactly what occurred.  I have never been the same! There was an unexplainable freedom and joy.  Christ overwhelmed me with His love and peace.

I will never forget the hopelessness in her eyes when she asked, “What does it mean to surrender?”  I told her about God’s love for us through Christ’s death on the cross and His power over death in His resurrection.  To my amazement, I found myself offering my treasured bracelet to Sabrina. Tears filled her eyes as we parted ways.

Sabrina’s question haunted me for days. “What does it mean to surrender?”  At that time, I only understood what it meant to me personally.  It was a radical abandonment of self to Christ.  As I searched Scripture, words like “submit,”  “yield,” and “offer up” ourselves took on deeper meaning.  Ultimately, surrender is the posture of our heart humbled before Christ’s Lordship.

Because Sabrina was experiencing complicated grief, and was still somewhat in shock, I did not expect her to make a decision to follow Christ immediately.  I did, however, envision that she would benefit greatly from our divinely-orchestrated conversation later in her journey.

Although there are many benefits to a “Surrendered life” to Christ, three obvious benefits are:

Healing Begins – We literally change focus from self to Christ, and He sets us free! John Piper says, “The healing of the soul begins by restoring the glory of God to its flaming, all-attracting place at the center.  We are all starved for the glory of God, not self.”

1 Peter 5:6-7 (NASB) encourages to “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God… casting all your anxiety (cares) upon Him, because He cares for you.”

In the gospel, we “see and savor the glory of God in the face of Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:6).  This kind of “seeing” is literally the healing of our disordered lives.

Maximizes Study of God’s Word – The attitude and posture of our hearts, a “yieldedness” to Christ through faith, increases our receptivity of God’s Word.  When our hearts are receptive, we gain clearer understanding.

In Romans 12: 1-2, we are encouraged to “Offer yourselves to God” first, that we may be “transformed by the renewing of our minds.”

Overcomes Deceptive Thinking – Truth always trumps deceptive thinking.  Jesus, in fact, defines reality!  For years I have had a front row seat in the counseling office to witness the truth of God’s Word (when applied to receptive hearts) expose and overcome deceptive thinking.

Submission is a protection against deception. “Submit therefore to God.  Resist the devil and he will flee from you” (James 4:7, NASB).

Christ transforms people by exposing the blind spots and disconnects in our lives and relationships.  Our goal is not to overcome our issues necessarily, but rather to engage them with a growing knowledge of Christ.  It begins by bowing to Christ’s Lordship.

Although we may never meet again here on this earth, I hope to see Sabrina again one day!  She’ll probably be wearing the bracelet I gave, or should I say, that I “surrendered,” to her.

Question:  How would you have answered Sabrina’s question, “What does it mean to surrender?”   Do you remember your own radical abandonment of “self” to Christ’s Lordship?