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Wednesday July 9, 2014

Photo by Sabra Penley
Photo by Sabra Penley

"A Lesson From Epaphroditus"

ListenListen to us read this message on your audio player.

"But I think it is necessary to send back to you Epaphroditus, my brother, fellow worker and fellow soldier, who is also your messenger, whom you sent to take care of my needs. For he longs for all of you and is distressed because you heard he was ill. Indeed he was ill, and almost died. But God had mercy on him, and not on him only but also on me, to spare me sorrow upon sorrow. Therefore I am all the more eager to send him, so that when you see him again you may be glad and I may have less anxiety" (Philippians 2:25-28).
"And He (Christ) has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9).

Jesus draw me ever nearer
As I labour through the storm.
You have called me to this passage,
and I'll follow, though I'm worn.

David and Sabra Penley in Amish dairy barn March 2011 In the course of life we meet friends in a variety of ways. It's great as you get older not only to keep friends from your younger years but to keep adding to your collection along life's way. Five or six years ago we connected with David Penley, a professor at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Texas who also pastored in Pennsylvania many years earlier. One day he was searching the web looking for scenery from our state when the web search brought him to our site since we often feature many photos from our area, in particular the Amish. He then read a daily encouragement message and after checking us out (always a good idea when receiving spiritual input from others) he signed up to receive our daily messages.

While traveling to our state several years ago he and his wife Sabra visited us here in Lancaster County and we took them on a brief tour of our area, including a visit to our Amish friends. Over the years we've written brief emails back and forth but early last year we received no correspondence for a long period.

Then we learned that David had endured a severe health crisis that nearly took his life in January of 2013. He was diagnosed with Sepsis, a potentially fatal whole-body inflammation caused by severe infection and complicated by organ dysfunction. It has left David with long-term physical impairment, similar to that of one who has had a stroke. His speech, memory and motor skills are greatly affected which has forced him to give up his position as a seminary professor.

David and Sabra Penley 5/4/14 (click to enlarge)In May we visited with David and Sabra when we were in San Antonio, TX and caught up with them on their new journey. Their lives are filled with major transition due to his physical challenges but they're both overcoming in faith and exploring how God may use them in this uncharted season of life. Both are interested in blog ministry and Sabra is regularly posting in a thoughtful blog titled, "Simply. ~ a blog of life in Christ." 

In Monday's message we explored a short challenge issued by our Lord in Revelation 3:2, "Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die." Of course this verse primarily refers to the spiritual state of the church in Sardis but we could also apply it to any church or individual.

In a figurative sense we
can also apply it to those overcoming physical afflictions. We considered the Penleys and how, in regard to their ministry, they remain faithful to God and are strengthening what remains as a result of David's affliction. God is now using them in ways they might otherwise never have anticipated. Over lunch, as we visited with them in May, we admired their brave determination to forge ahead; improvising as needed and exploring unfamiliar territory as the Lord leads them.

Today let us examine a little known Biblical character who also got sick and almost died. Epaphroditus blessed many in his generation, although we might never have heard of him had he not been afflicted.

Have hope (graphic by Sabra Penley)

Paul had established the Philippian church and had a rather rough time during his ministry there, being beaten and imprisoned during his short tenure before he was run out of town. However, in the midst of his burdensome ministry, he made an eternal impact, for God's Word does not return void and any labor for the Lord is not in vain.

He later wrote the letter to the Philippians to encourage these young believers while he himself was again imprisoned due to his faithfulness in presenting the Gospel.

The Philippians sent
one of their own, a man by the name of Epaphroditus, to assist Paul. He must have been characterized by dependability and caring, two ministry traits that aren't necessarily sought after but when you get right down to it it's the kind of people that bless us in the long run!

Epaphroditus is sick

While visiting Paul he got sick and almost died, although Paul is not specific about what his illness was. Paul was very appreciative and indicates his sincere love for Epaphroditus by writing that his death would have brought him great sorrow. He is anxious to send Epaphroditus back to his own people “so that when you see him again you may be glad and I may have less anxiety.”

Now we really don't know if there were any long-term effects or changes Epaphroditus experienced as he recovered from his near deadly illness. But many do experience life time changes that result from disease or accidents. Famously we think of Joni Eareckson Tada and her lifetime of overcoming after her near fatal diving accident forty seven years ago.  In fact we specifically consider readers of these messages who, due to their physical handicap, have come to rely on messages such as ours to be a daily spiritual stimulus.

Just this past week I (Brooksyne) made a new friend who's been reading Daily Encouragement for years. She's reliant on a wheelchair for physical mobility, but the web takes her places that her body doesn't have to go. Sharon lives less than a mile from our home and sees much of what is right around her through our camera lens. She commented that she feels like she's travelling as she sees photos of places we visit. As I biked home from her house I was refreshed in my spirit as I contemplated our visit on her back yard deck. One of the ways she overcomes her disability is by the friendly, pleasant outlook she has in life. Her neighbor who introduced us told me how Sharon has blessed her over the years with her joyful disposition and uncomplaining spirit.

Paul himself had some difficulty overcoming
, although unspecified in nature, in that which he called "a thorn in the flesh". Now Paul was certainly not a whiner and had endured much, so this must have been a very significant issue to him. He prayed for God to deliver him but the issue was not removed. Rather, Paul writes, "And He (Christ) has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9).

We think of God's grace concerning salvation but here it is speaking of God's grace for enduring hardship. Today we encourage all our readers going through an extended time of adversity. God continues to distribute sufficient grace to overcome, no matter the circumstance or how long its duration.

Through many dangers, toils and snares,
I have already come;
’Tis grace hath brought me safe thus far,
And grace will lead me home.

Be encouraged today,

Stephen & Brooksyne Weber

Thankful manDaily prayer: Father, when we're hurting, confused or emotionally paralyzed we're unsure of the first step to take. But our fears diminish when we recall the words of Scripture,  "For I hold you by your right hand--I, the LORD your God. And I say to you, 'Don't be afraid. I am here to help you." The songwriter also reminds us, "Each step I take, I know that He will guide me; to higher ground He ever leads me on, until some day the last step will be taken. Each step I take just leads me closer home. At times I feel my faith begin to waver, when up ahead I see a chasm wide. It’s then I turn and look up to my Saviour, I am strong when He is by my side." Since You promise never to leave us nor forsake us, help us to remember that we never walk this journey alone, but we take each step by faith with You at our side. How grateful we are to be Your children. Amen.

Isaiah 41:13
"Each Step I Take" by Elmo Mercer

The only other reference to Epaphroditus in the Bible is later in Philippians where Paul points out that Epaphroditus had delivered a gift from the Philippians when he came. "But I have received everything in full and have an abundance; I am amply supplied, having received from Epaphroditus what you have sent, a fragrant aroma, an acceptable sacrifice, well-pleasing to God. And my God will supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus" (Philippians 4:18,19).

In our present world much of what we do is motivated by “What’s in it for me? How do I get ahead?” Paul, Epaphroditus, and the Philippian believers' attitude is a stark contrast to the mindset of so many in our own generation. Paul’s eagerness to alleviate the distress of the Philippians concerning Epaphroditis exceeded his own personal needs to have a comforting, believing friend by his side in a prison cell where he was surrounded by discomfort and godlessness.

Let's consider the many people who have made a spiritual impact on our own lives. Most are not famous but just ordinary, dependable, caring people like Epaphroditus who allow the Lord to use them. This impact has resulted in our making a spiritual impact on others as well. But perhaps we may also need to make a circular impact by giving back to those who initially invested in our lives. If possible let's tend to their needs (spiritual, emotional, or physical). It may be that they have a need and God has commissioned you to meet it.

David and Sabra Penley 3/18/11
March of 2011 when the Penleys visited our Amish friends.
The reflectors on the buggy are bright due to the sun shining in the barn!

Penley family 1990
Penley family photo about 1990. David and Sabra are a few years younger than us. After pastoring for several years including a pastorate  in Pennsylvania he became a seminary professor in the late 90's.

Recent Penley family photo
A recent Penley family photo

Yesterday we saw two Amish scenes directly across from each other on Butter Road, in Lancaster.

Amish farmer in Lancaster County PA 7/8/14
In this scene we especially liked the old barn in the background!
(I suppose we get pretty used to seeing the Amish doing field work although it was nice to get a big friendly wave as we passed.)

Amish women working in field in Lancaster County PA 7/8/14
These Amish women appeared to be making sweeping motions.
We assume it was some type of raking or hoeing.

Today's Suggested Music and Supplemental Resources

"My Grace is Sufficient for You"  Video  Elizabeth Christopher

"The Benefits of Adversity (My Grace is Sufficient for You)"  Video  (Not a song but a very moving and interesting approach to today's second Scripture.)

"Jesus, Draw Me Ever Nearer"  Video  Kristyn Getty

"Jesus Use Me"  Video  The Cathedrals  This was a popular chorus when we were in Bible College often sung around the altar during times of prayer and consecration. You can even hear the distinct sound of an old lp record in this recording.

"Simply. ~ a blog of life in Christ."

Here's her testimony regarding David's affliction in Sabra's very first blog post.

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Scripture references are from The Holy Bible: New International Version. © 1984 by International Bible Society; NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE®, Copyright © 1995 by The Lockman Foundation, New King James Version (NKJV) Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. and the King James Version.

Personal Mission Statement: "I am created by God to bring Him glory. Through God's Son Jesus Christ I have been redeemed and I make it my life's goal to please the Lord. My mission in life is to honor God through my faith and obedience and to prepare myself and all whom I may influence for eternity."

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