Summer Study: Philippians 3

Before I share my thoughts about this chapter, I wanted to say that my heart is with those in Charlottesville, Virginia. And I pray that God’s love and mercy extinguish the flames of hate and fear throughout our country. I denounce the words and actions of white supremacy and racism that were on display this weekend. We are a broken people of a brokenhearted God.

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Paul continues his letter to the Gentiles about circumcision. This is a topic that permeates through most of his letters. There were groups of Jewish Christians who insisted that Gentiles must get circumcised in order to be truly saved (which was no small task), and Paul, again and again, refutes this.

What stood out to me the most in this chapter was how Paul makes the case that on paper, he’s pretty much perfect. He was a Pharisee. He was a Hebrew of Hebrews. Circumcised. Legalistically Righteous (following the letter of the law).

And yet, he would throw it all away, consider it rubbish, to chase after Jesus. Because the words on his resume are finite. Jesus is eternal.

The same could be said about us. We strive and pursue and pull up by our bootstraps and achieve. There is so much importance on the outer perceptions of our world, just like back then. But Christ is so much more interested in the inward – the putting to death of our old self to be renewed in him.

It’s easy to put to death my brokenness and my sin, but would I put to death my competence? Not just use my gifts for God, but consider those gifts temporary and finite. Those gifts, my abilities are not going to save me. Only Christ’s sacrifice on the cross and his victory over death save me in the end.

This year, I’ve been working on my people pleasing attitude. It is almost an addiction to receive attention, respect, admiration, and acceptance from others. And I have freely given my time and energy and abilities in the hope that I will receive these things from others that I so desperately desire. Would I consider these things I’ve been addicted to for so long rubbish in comparison the Jesus Christ?

Paul makes it clear that those who are focused on these earthly things are on a path to destruction. But we are destined for so much more in Christ. We will be transformed into his likeness. We can leave the past behind (even the accolades and good stuff) and strain towards the future with God. And through that vision of what is to come, we can see the reality of what is today. This world is not our home.

Paul even admitted, for all the knowledge he had obtained in his lifetime, he still didn’t have it all figured out. He was continually growing and maturing upon the foundation that Christ had built. And he encouraged the church in Philippi to do the same. Never give up. Keep the faith and keep going.

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Friday Ramble: Connection

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Several weeks ago, in another post, I can’t remember which one, I removed two paragraphs because I realized it didn’t fit with the rest of what I was writing.  I held onto those two paragraphs until I had another day to dig deeper into it.  And when I opened up the Word document to jog my memory on this topic, this is what I read:

It’s really, really easy to barrier yourself in this life.  All of our houses have garages that close, doors that lock, fences that border.  Our phones come with a do not disturb function on it and caller id, but before that, we were using voicemail to screen our calls (or was that just me?).  We have been moving towards isolation with furious speed for decades.  We blame the tools of this world – smart phones, social media, the internet – for all of it, but we, mankind, created those tools.

This is not a declaration against social media or cell phones or even the internet.  God is in every connection.  We can’t encrypt against his omnipresence.  We can’t go incognito from his omniscience.  And I believe he works as much in the virtual world as he does in the physical one.  You can’t block God.

This month has been particularly hard for me.  The end of this month will bring the one year anniversary of losing our second daughter.  And just like with our first, the weeks leading up to it have been hard.  Like I said earlier this week, I feel drained by any social interaction, so I’ve chosen to take some time to myself.

Then, I read these two paragraphs and realize how appropriate they are as a reminder. Even when I’m feeling the need to distance myself to work through grief, it is such good news that God remains connected.  And he has made himself known to me – through nature, my dogs, even conversations online with friends and strangers.  It’s so amazing to have people check in at random, but perfectly timed, moments.

So, thank you, friends.  Thank you to those of you who have commented on my blog recently.  You have made my heart smile.  Thank you to those who have sent private messages or small reminders to let us know that you are praying for us this month.  It has meant so much more than you will ever know.  In the midst of pain and grief, I can look to my Heavenly Father who provides for me, and I know that I am blessed.

Summer Study: Philippians 2

If you didn’t read last week’s start to this particular study, you can find that here.

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I am reminded, as I read these chapters just how much I love Philippians and how much it challenges me.  If I were to put a theme to chapter 2, it would be “It’s not about you.”

Paul starts by challenging the Philippians to unify in love, spirit, and purpose.  To put each other first.  To leave behind selfish ambition and vain conceit.  To be like Christ.

Because Christ was equal to God, but he didn’t come to the earth to teach us how to be equal to God.  Instead, he came to teach us humility and obedience.  To take on a servant’s role.  And it was through subservience that God exalted him in heaven.  Because you know God loves to turn societal definitions and expectations on their head.

And here’s my motto for the week:

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It makes me want to sing that “Shine Bright Like a Diamond” song.  But as I was humming the tune, I realized how different God’s shine might be from the world.

Jesus, of course, attracted people to him.  His words, his actions, the miracles, the kindness, and forgiveness.  He definitely shined.  Even experienced a bit of a celeb status at times, but it wasn’t something he was chasing after.  He wasn’t trying to shine for the world to see him.  He was shining on the world to let them know that God saw them.  That God saw their pain and their hurt, and Jesus was sent to give them rest, to extend to them forgiveness and healing, to die so that they may be saved.

And here, Paul is saying the same thing.  Don’t do things out of selfish ambition or vain conceit.  Don’t seek the attention, the acceptance, the praise of men.  Seek to submit to the will of God.  God will see you shine, even if men remain blind.  Complaining comes with a sense of entitlement, but we see reality.  We are chosen by God, true, and we are precious in His sight.  But we have done nothing to deserve that status.  We are not actually entitled to any of it.  But it’s given to us anyway.

So whatever it is that God wants me to do to further his Kingdom, I will try to submit and obey and remember the example of Jesus.  To not complain but encourage.  To not argue but submit.  To do nothing in selfishness or vanity, but instead, seek out the overlooked and ignored and isolated, and share the love of God with them.

May we all shine this week.

Songs for Pregnancy Loss

Lately, I’ve been in a very contemplative, and when I get into these kinds of moods, I like to listen to music that reflects that mood.  So, I just searched for Pregnancy Loss music playlists on YouTube and found a host of songs.  Not all of the songs really spoke to me, but I wanted to share a few that really affected me deeply.

Ed Sheeran – Small Bump

He wrote this song for a friend who lost their baby five months into the pregnancy.  It was the first song that spoke of the pain I was feeling in my own loss during my first miscarriage.  I had no idea how much more this song would mean to me now.

Hillary Scott & The Scott Family – Thy Will

I wrote about this last year, just a couple of weeks before I lost my second daughter.  I remember last year, in the months after my daughter was stillborn, I would be in the fetal position in the middle of the living room, ugly crying/screaming, while this song played through the speakers.  “Remember that you’re God and I’m not so, Thy will be done”.  That kind of desperate surrender is something I can relate to.

Beam Me Up – P!nk 

This is a song that P!nk wrote for a friend who had lost a child.  I heard this one more recently, but it definitely is relatable to pregnancy loss as well.  “Give me a minute, I don’t know what I’d say in it, I’d probably just stare, happy just to be there, holding your face.”  It talks about being in a parallel universe where the child doesn’t die.  What I wouldn’t give to spend just a minute staring into the eyes of my daughters.

I Will Carry You (Audrey’s Song) – Selah

This is the most recent song I’ve found, even though the song has been around for a while.  It perfectly reflects my feelings on most day.  And my favorite line is “I will praise the One who’s chosen me to carry you.”  I think sometimes it’s easy to just ask why my daughters were taken instead of realizing that I was chosen to carry these two very special girls for as long as they were on this earth.  It doesn’t diminish me as a mother or them as my daughters.  And that is simply beautiful.

I know that there are other songs that are written about pregnancy loss or other kinds of loss that have been helpful to other people.  But these are the ones that speak to me right now.

Do you have any special songs that help you get through tough times or give you peace during the storms?

Summer Study: Philippians 1

I completed the Ephesians study last week, so the plan is to finish the summer with a study in Philippians.  So, here’s what I learned from Chapter 1.

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I’ve always loved Philippians.  Finding joy in the direst of circumstances.  Plus, the love that is shared between Paul and this church.  It’s just something awesome.  Philippi was the place the Paul met Lydia, cast out the demon possessed, fortune-telling girl, and stayed put in a prison earthquake which led to the conversion of the jailer.  I can imagine that in verse 13 when he mentions the fact that the whole palace guard is aware that he is in chains for Christ, that the same jailer connected with that.

But the verse that really stood out for me, or verses, 12-18.

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What has happened to me.  This unfortunate situation has brought about great fortune.  Because of where he is, what he has experienced, doors are opening for Paul.  He speaks into the lives of those around him.  He makes a difference.  It gives purpose to his suffering.  That’s something that I realized when I wrote Scars after my first daughter died.  

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But the next few verses are really what threw me.

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It’s something that I have been learning recently, not just in my writing, but in all kinds of communication.  I have no control over how anything I say or write or do is received by others.  So much energy is used to try to edit and cultivate a message in order to control the outcome.  But the reality is I can try to be kind, try to keep in mind the feelings of others when I communicate, but in the end, they decide how to receive it and how they share it.  That is their right.

Everything I say will be filtered through other’s emotions, motives, and experiences.  If they are set on thinking I’m hateful, then what I say will be hateful.  If they were having a bad day, or if something I said was said in a way that has been hurtful to them in the past, it might not be taken well.  But if I know my motivations are true, and that I’m doing everything I can to honor God with my words, then I have to let go of the message and trust that God will work through it.

And in verse 18, Paul says, “What does it matter?  The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached.  And because of this, I rejoice.”  He knew that this wasn’t about him, that people were going to do what they were going to do, but he trusted the message.  The truth will always win in the end.  God is already on the throne.  And if I seek after Him, I cannot go astray.

Summer Study: Ephesians 6

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We’ve come to the end of the Ephesians study.  Chapter 6 has some pretty memorable and quoted verses.  I remember learning the different parts of the Armor of God when I was a kid.  I also remember using “Father’s don’t exasperate your children” as a teenager with my dad.  But as I was reading the chapter as a whole, I realized a neat transition that I hadn’t noticed before in this verse.

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If I could re-chapter the book of Ephesians, I would start with 5:21 and go through 6:12.  Paul was talking about relationships – wives and husbands, children and parents, even masters and slaves.  And in verse 12, this is why we should submit to one another, why children should obey and fathers shouldn’t exasperate, why masters and slaves should serve wholeheartedly and remember who the true Master is.

We are at war.

And we are still at war.

Marriages are under attack.  Abuse is prevalent in our families, our relationships, our work environments.  There is so much in-fighting that we forget we have a much bigger battle to fight.

I don’t watch Game of Thrones, but someone recently was talking about the series, how there were these five families that keep fighting over this throne, fighting and killing one another, and all the while winter is coming.  There is a bigger force that is just beyond the wall.  And they need to work together to defeat this coming assault, but they haven’t been able to rise above the infighting.  And because of this, it’s quite possible that they will all fail.

The difference between that story and our story is that this war has already been won.  Jesus defeated the darkness by dying on the cross and rising again that third day.  In the end, we win.  But that doesn’t mean evil isn’t active in our world today.  We are just so caught up in our own customized need to be right that we forget the havoc that is right over that wall, headed our way.

When you face your demons, whether that’s addiction or loss or cancer or something you don’t even see coming, you gotta have your community.  We weren’t meant to fight these things alone, no matter how the other side tries to convince us we are isolated, God brings it to light that we are not.

At the end of the chapter, Paul names the tools our community can put on for protection against the evil that will come – truth, salvation, faith, the gospel of peace, righteousness. And the only offensive tool in our arsenal is the sword of the Spirit.  We allow the Spirit to fight these battles.  We pray in the Spirit “on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests”.

We keep our head up.  Be alert.  Stop fighting each other and start protecting each other, especially those you don’t completely agree with.  Bring forth a solidarity that can only come through the Spirit of God.  Start fighting the evil in this world that longs to make us feel less than and alone.

Don’t be Jonah, waiting on the side of the mountain for God to smite the heathens.  Be the one in the streets, spreading love and mercy to those who are aching to listen.

Summer Study: Ephesians 5

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The chapter starts out with a list of “dos” and “don’ts” for the people of Ephesus.  Don’t have a hint of sexual immorality or impurity.  Don’t engage in obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking.  Don’t get drunk on wine.  Do speak with Thanksgiving.  Do make the most of every opportunity.  Live wisely.  Be filled with the Holy Spirit.  Speak to others with psalms, hymns, and songs of the Spirit.  Sing and make music from your heart.

Don’t get distracted by the darkness.  Instead, live as a child of the light.

I struggle with the feeling of being left out.  It’s actually its own acronym now – FOMO, fear of missing out.  I want to be engaged in what’s going on around me.  I want to be reading the books, watching the movies, listening to the podcasts or music that are popular.  I want to know every word to every song that plays on the radio because I love to sing along.

And this FOMO can get me distracted by the darkness.  I’m not saying that every TV show, song, book or podcast is coming from the devil.  I actually think it is a balance for each person to decide on their own.  And if I trust the Holy Spirit is working within me, then I can trust that the Holy Spirit is working in others to help make that discernment.  This is not a place of judgment, but an opportunity to tap into the gift that is the Holy Spirit to reveal to you where your distraction may be.

Because we are supposed to live differently than who we were before.

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Can I trust God to give me a life that is fulfilled?  Or do I try to find that fulfillment on my own?

And then, the chapter turns to submission.  I’ve heard preachers in the past say that while it does say that wives submit to their husbands, it also talks about husbands laying down their lives for their wives.  And the verse right before all of that says that we are to submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.  So the question that comes to me there is…

Can I trust God with my relationships?  Or do I try to control them so I don’t get hurt?  Can I depend on God enough that I don’t depend on others too much?  We are made for relationship with each other, but God needs to be the center, the fulcrum of that relationship.

Jesus was fully present in the lives of the people around him.  He had deep relationships, healthy relationships with his friends and followers.  He is the example of a good friend.  And yet, his relationships weren’t perfect.  His closest friend, Peter, denied him when he needed him most.  But Jesus trusted God with all things, even his relationships, and after he resurrected, he was able to redeem that relationship.

Trusting God doesn’t mean that we will never miss out on opportunities or that we will have perfect relationships.  But it does mean that His promises to us will be fulfilled.  It means that we don’t have to navigate this world or this life alone.  It means that He won’t forsake us and that He will guide us every step of the way.