Paul’s Unusual Thank-You Letter

Image result for google image thank-you noteWhen I was a young girl, my mom (bless her heart) impressed upon me the importance of writing thank-you notes.  After each Christmas or birthday, I had to sit and write individual letters – mainly to my grandparents — thanking them for their gift and letting them know how much it meant to me.  Even though my letters were somewhat formulaic, my grandparents seemed to appreciate them.  At least they kept giving me presents!

Philippians is Paul’s thank-you letter to the church at Philippi.  Paul was imprisoned, perhaps under house arrest, in Rome (Philippians 1:13-14).  The Philippian church heard about Paul’s situation and sent Epaphroditus with a gift of money (Philippians 2:25, 4:18).  Paul writes to acknowledge this gift, and to let the Philippians know how much they mean to him (Philippians 1:3-8).  Of course, Paul also takes the opportunity to give rich pastoral instruction.

In this passage, Paul says that the gift made him very happy: “I rejoiced in the Lord greatly.”  (Philippians 4:10).  But he was careful to make clear that his happiness was not due to the money itself.  He treasured the gift as a concrete expression of the Philippians’ concern (Philippians 4:10).  This was not the first time that the Philippians had supported Paul; they also provided funding for his ministry in Thessalonica and Corinth (Philippians 4:16; 2 Corinthians 11:9).  So Paul knew that the Philippian church cared for him, and he rejoiced that they had this opportunity to express their support monetarily.

Paul goes on to praise the kindness of the Philippians in sharing his trouble (Philippians 4:14).  But ultimately, Paul says he is not seeking the gift itself.  No, Paul seeks the spiritual growth that the Philippians receive from their generosity (Philippians 4:17).  In other words, Paul is glad the Philippians have the privilege of supporting him.  This is not your typical thank-you letter!

Paul goes further, telling the Philippians, “It’s not like I needed your gift!”  (Philippians 4:11).   Although it sounds a little rude, Paul is actually giving the Philippians a great lesson.  Paul says, “I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.”  He knows how to face humiliation, hunger and need, as well as abundance (Philippians 4:11-12).  And now Paul shares his precious, hard-won secret with the Philippians:  “I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13).

I’m afraid this verse is often quoted out-of-context, as a feel-good affirmation for taking on big challenges.  Apply for that prestigious degree program!  Ask for a raise!  Run a marathon!  But Paul’s instruction is both more ordinary, and more deeply transforming.

Paul assumes that the ordinary Christian will experience low times, even hungry times.  He also assumes that the ordinary Christian will experience times of plenty.  And in all of these times, God promises his strength to remain faithful.  If difficulties tempt you to grumble, God will help you hold your tongue (2:14).  If success pulls you toward conceit, God will lead you back to humility (Philippians 2:3).  He will bring his work in your life to completion (Philippians 1:6).

The secret of contentment is walking in obedience, no matter what, trusting that God is always working for good.  (Philippians 2:12-13).  The secret of contentment is remembering Christ, who emptied himself, took human form, and obeyed to the point of death (Philippians 2:6-8).  The secret of contentment is keeping our eyes on the goal, the coming kingdom of Christ in glory (Philippians 3:14, 20-21).  The secret of contentment is turning our requests over to God with thankfulness, even as we wait for an answer (Philippians 4:6).

Although Paul did not need the Philippian gift, he recognized the sacrifice they made.  (Philippians 4:18).  Most of all, he was thankful for the Philippians themselves, his partners in the gospel (Philippians 1:3).

Thank-you letters are becoming a lost art.  Some young people have never even addressed an envelope!  But we can still meditate on Paul’s thank-you letter to the Philippians.  Whether we are in need, or have the opportunity to help, we can partner with other believers from a place of contentment.

[The above article was written for the Servants of Grace series on Philippians, which you can find here.  Philippians is only four chapters, so take some time this week and read it!  It gets better every time!]

Gold Star Friday

Image result for Gold StarFinally, 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.  (Philippians 4:8)

FROM AROUND THE WEB:

Rosalind Goforth served as a missionary in China 100 years ago.  The story of her family, especially how God answered prayer through many hardships, is inspiring and challenging, to an almost painful degree.  I recommend any books by her or about the Goforths.  The poem “Call Back” below is from Rosalind’s book, “Climbing.”

From Chris Ash, one of my favorite Bible teachers:  https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/how-to-pray-the-psalms

More on suffering by Vaneetha Risner:  https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/can-sickness-be-better-than-health

Several articles came out this week on the wrath of God, a difficult topic:  https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/satanic-doctrine-wrathless-cross/, https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/can-an-angry-judge-be-just, https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/the-wrath-of-god-was-satisfied

How do believers experience real change?  Piper and Sproul discuss:  https://www.desiringgod.org/interviews/why-is-my-theology-not-changing-my-life

An interesting article by Oren Cass, comparing the ability of a father to support a family of four in 1980 vs. 2020:  https://americanaffairsjournal.org/2020/02/the-cost-of-thriving/

YOU MAY ALSO LIKE…

I am so thankful for your prayers for my son Z.  Someday we will tell his story of surviving severe mental illness.  If you like fantasy, please support him by checking out his Amazon page.  He has also started a new, serialized story on his blog which is a fun read.

Please join our Psalm 119 study group for the month of March!  https://www.wbgl.org/psalm-119-study/

For my articles, check out: The Federalist,  The Gospel Coalition,  and Servants of Grace.

For my books, check out: I Will Mediate on Your Precepts (Psalm 119) and The Passion of Job.

Gold Star Friday-ish

Image result for Gold StarFinally, 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.  (Philippians 4:8)

LINKS

Can’t get enough Psalm 119:  https://www.wbgl.org/psalm-119-study/.  Please join our study group!

Can’t get enough Job: https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/ray-ortlund/book-of-job/

Reading your Bible with anticipation:  https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/4-things-pray-bible/.  Related:  don’t apologize for the Bible:  https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/trevin-wax/when-the-church-apologizes-for-what-we-believe/

Nancy Guthrie on suffering, always good:  https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/to-those-who-send-good-thoughts.  Related: a youth pastor morns the loss of his unborn daughter, https://www.samstorms.org/enjoying-god-blog/post/ellie-s-song.

Sobering message on the true meaning of Valentines’ Day, https://thefederalist.com/2020/02/11/what-kids-need-this-valentines-day-isnt-chocolates-its-understanding-suffering/

Excellent podcast on the New Age with Allie Stuckey and Doreen Virtue, https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/relatable-with-allie-beth-stuckey/id1359249098?i=1000465143839

We need separation of powers because we are sinful: https://amgreatness.com/2020/02/09/the-system-worked/

What are conservatives trying to conserve?  https://amgreatness.com/2020/02/11/conservatism-is-the-real-resistance/.  Related essay by Anthony Esolen, https://amgreatness.com/2020/02/11/you-cant-have-representation-without-first-having-a-people-to-represent/

YOU MAY ALSO LIKE…

New article on Psalm 119 and suffering:  https://servantsofgrace.org/the-bird-and-the-stone/

New article on Job: https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/job-jesus/

More articles: The Federalist,  The Gospel Coalition,  and Servants of Grace.

Books: I Will Mediate on Your Precepts (Psalm 119) and The Passion of Job.

And for all you fantasy readers — please support young author Zeppy Cheng (my son) by checking out his books on Amazon.

Just Can’t Get Enough Psalm 119

So you all know I am passionate about Psalm 119.  By the grace of God, others are catching the vision as well!  Christian radio station WBGL (“Afternoons with Eric & Danielle”) will be featuring devotionals on Psalm 119 plus discussion over the month of March.  I am super excited to be a part of that.

Please join our facebook discussion group at  https://www.facebook.com/groups/603783030463222/.  The study schedule is below.

Psalm_119_Study_Calendar

For more info:  https://www.wbgl.org/psalm-119-study/

What do Christians believe?

Image result for questionWhat do Christians believe?

We believe that God exists, that he is all-powerful, and that he is all good.  We believe that God is an eternal unity of three distinct persons:  Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  We believe God made the world and continues to sustain it.  Because of who he is, God deserves the loyalty and obedience of all creation.

We believe God made mankind in his own image, with free agency.  We believe mankind rebelled against God, and continues to rebel against God.  We believe this rebellion against God is the root cause of the misery of the world.  Because of who God is, our rebellion doomed us to die.  Furthermore, we were so corrupted in our rebellious state that we were unable to change ourselves.

We believe that God, in his great mercy, entered space and time to rescue his people.  More specifically, God the Father sent his Son, who is also God, to be born as a baby named Jesus.  Jesus walked in perfect loyalty and obedience, the way we should have done.  And Jesus died a criminal’s death on the cross, the way we should have died.  The good news is that Jesus did not stay dead, but rose from the grave on the third day.

When we put our faith in Jesus – meaning that we accept the substitute of his life for our life, his death for our death – we experience spiritual re-birth.  The Holy Spirit comes to live in us, helping us turn from our rebellion and live a life that pleases God.  As this happens, we experience the joy of a restored relationship with God, both individually and as a community.  This community of believers – represented by local churches – works to bring restoration to our broken and rebellious world.

We believe these things because God has revealed them to us in his word, the Bible.  We treasure the Bible as the primary means for knowing God and how we should live to honor him.

Finally, we believe Jesus will return at a time that only God knows.  Jesus will judge those who remain in rebellion and reward those who are loyal to God through faith.  This world will come to an end, and God will re-create heaven and earth with a beauty that we cannot imagine now.

So how does this affect me personally?

Day by day, I recognize and savor the handprint of God in his creation.  I honor the image of God in other people.  Step outside to enjoy the sunset.  Appreciate my husband. 

Day by day, I remember with gratitude that Jesus saved me.  I don’t belong to myself.  I don’t belong to this world.  I belong to Christ.  Meditate on the love of Christ.  Thank God often.

Day by day, I trust the Holy Spirit to continue his good work in my life.  Through prayer and reading the Bible, I seek to walk in a way that pleases God.  I fight against the rebellion still inside of me.  Click away from content that triggers greed or envy.  Pray before I criticize.

Day by day, I move toward community with other believers.  I look to them for words of truth and love.  I seek to encourage them with the encouragement God has given me.  Together, we work to meet the needs of others inside and outside the church.  Be fully present at church.  Really listen when others talk.

Day by day, I remember that the sufferings of this world will come to an end.  I hope for the time when Jesus will make all things new.  I trust in God’s plan for me and for his world.  When tears come, remind myself of what I believe.  Marinate my brain in Scripture so I can endure to the end.

How would you answer the question, “What do you believe?” 

Gold Star Friday

Image result for Gold StarFinally, 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.  (Philippians 4:8)

LINKS

Excellent article on the prosperity gospel heresy, which is prevalent here and in Africa:  https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/the-gods-of-the-prosperity-gospel

When our kids are difficult, could God be working in our own hearts?  https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/4-ways-changing-you/

The older I get, the less I idolize efficiency:  https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/the-inefficient-ministry-of-motherhood.  A somewhat related (but secular) article by Victor Davis Hanson:  https://amgreatness.com/2020/01/12/remembering-the-farming-way/

Great article on Job:  https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/5-ways-read-job/

Following Jesus means doing hard things, including firing people:  https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/fire-someone-jesus/.  As an employment law attorney, I couldn’t agree more.

Neighbors and neighborhoods are important, who knew?  https://www.city-journal.org/high-amenity-neighborhoods-civil-society

ASKS

I am so thankful for your prayers for my son Z.  Someday we will tell his story of surviving severe mental illness.  If you like fantasy, you can support him by checking out his Amazon page.

For my books, check out: I Will Mediate on Your Precepts (Psalm 119) and The Passion of Job.  These are self-published with help from Z.  In fact, the artwork for my Job book was painted by Z., while he was mentally ill.

For my published articles, check out: The Federalist,  The Gospel Coalition,  and Servants of Grace.  New articles coming out in February!

Taw (Psalm 119:169-176)

cwvDm9asA3Lw9btmgfl5esWDJpo“Let my cry come before you, O Lord; give me understanding according to your word.”

Here we are, at the very last stanza of Psalm 119, and David is still crying out to the Lord.  He pleads to the throne of the Almighty in heaven, “Let me in!  Hear my prayer!”  We have seen how David prays without ceasing, at all hours of the day and night, in tight spots and in moments of delight.  David and his God engage in a continuously-running conversation: David prays, and God answers, primarily through his word.

David’s final prayer should be familiar by now:  he asks for understanding according to God’s word.  You would think, after all this time reading and studying and meditating, that David would have reached some satisfactory level of understanding.  You would think that David would be able to “test out” at some point, that he would reach competency and move on.  But the more David learns, the more he longs to learn.

No matter how long we have believed in Christ, we must never think that we have arrived.  There are dark forces – from within and without — that continually threaten our physical and spiritual life.  As long as we are on this earth, we must never stop crying out, never stop asking for greater understanding of God’s ways.

Next steps:  Take time to read the rest of Taw, in Psalm 119:169-176.  What verse or phrase encourages you, challenges you, or piques your interest?  Write it down and return to it throughout the day.  Note the surprising final verse of this Psalm, and think about what it means.

And for further study, please consider my devotional on Psalm 119, available for cheap on Kindle.