Your love, Lord, reaches to the heavens, your faithfulness to the skies. Your righteousness is like the highest mountains, your justice like the great deep. Psalms 36:5-6Six years ago, Michael and I went to Paris, France for our wedding anniversary. I remember the first full day, we got on the metro to go to the Eiffel Tower. We entered a tunnel during the trip into the heart of the city. As we left the tunnel, the Tower came into view. We were in a train car with other Americans, and there was an audible gasp as we all looked at it. We left the metro and walked to the tower. We stood under it and looked up. The sheer size of it left me speechless and overwhelmed. I’ve had similar experiences underneath the Arizona sky at night, how the entire sky seems massive, stretching from one end of the earth to the other. Also, looking out over the ocean on a cruise ship, how tiny the boat feels (which isn’t tiny in the least) compared to the unending water around us. This verse reminds me just how small I am compared to the love, faithfulness, righteousness, and justice of God. It is the tall tower, the evening sky, the expansive ocean. It’s overwhelming and awe-inspiring. I am so thankful we serve a God like our God.
We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain, where our forerunner, Jesus has entered on our behalf.Hebrews 6: 19-20
I like the idea of hope being an anchor, something that remains steadfast in the winds and waves of life and its cruelties. But the next part of it is pretty amazing too.
The inner sanctuary was one that not a whole lot of people could get to in Jewish times. You were going into the presence of God and had to follow a number of rules and requirements in order to be there.
But our hope is that Jesus took care of that. He is our forerunner. According to dictionary.com, a forerunner can be a sign or warning of something to come. It is an advance messenger.
The glorious wonder is that one day we will enter into the inner sanctuary into the presence of God. Jesus has prepared that way for us. And we can have a close and intimate relationship with the Creator of the universe. All the rules and regulations have been taken care of by Jesus. The invitation is there.
And that’s pretty cool.
Gracious words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones. – Proverbs 16:24
It has not been hard lately to be grateful. Sun is shining. My relationships are going pretty well. And I have a son. And he’s pretty spectacular, though I’m pretty bias.
I think back to the moments that weren’t so sun-shiny. The moments when my life was turned upside down by the loss of a heartbeat. The moments when I laid in the middle of the floor in the fetal position crying out to God.
In those moments, I still practiced gratitude. And I had one incredible thing to be grateful for that I couldn’t forget.
I had a God to cry out to. And he would hear me. And he wouldn’t forsake me.
And that was healing for me. I would name the ways God has shown up in my life, big and small, and remind myself that he would do it again and again. And I would praise him. I would tell him how grateful I am to have him in my life. That he chose me. That he loves me.
This verse in Proverbs reminded me this week how important it is to continue practicing gratitude every day. It’s not about being optimistic and smiley. It’s about making a habit for the hard days ahead. Because they will come. But God will be there in the storm, just as much as he is here today in the sunshine.
Today, Facebook will remind me of when I went to the hospital to confirm that our daughter had passed. Facebook will remind me of how I numbly pulled out my laptop and typed words on a screen. Facebook will remind me of how I got back onto the familiar road of grief one year ago.
I know that you can remove memory reminders on Facebook. You can remove whole chunks of time if you want to. But I don’t want to. I want to remember the sweet nurse that kept hope for us as each medical device came back negative for a heartbeat. I want to remember how the moment the ultrasound confirmed our worst fears, my OB turned around and created a new game plan. If her sleeves weren’t already rolled up, I know she would have in that moment. I want to remember my talk with Jesus, how I re-engaged my stubborn and desperate love in the middle of chaotic grief.
I thought I would be pregnant by now, though. I hoped I would be, that maybe a new pregnancy would lessen the blow of grief that this week will bring. But I do have my husband, God, friends, family. And I’m so thankful that God has created these hedges of protection during one of the dark moments in my history.
God is good. All the time. Even in the darkened sad moments. Especially then.
The final chapter of the final book of my summer study. I can’t believe I’ve already arrived here. This has been fun, fascinating, convicting, and amazing. So let’s get into chapter 4 of Philippians!
In this final chapter, Paul is saying his farewells. In this letter, he’s covered how to remember the big picture, of the spiritual warfare that is prevalent though unseen, how to stand firm but be humble, knowing that we don’t have it all figured out. But instead stay steadfast in Christ. He continues along these lines pleading with specific people to stop fighting and unify for the sake of the kingdom.
But if I were to boil down the last chapter into one word, it would be “contentment”. And there were two things that Paul felt would help the people of this church find contentment. Praying with thanksgiving (meaning asking requests to God in the same breath as thanking him for what you have already received) and leaning on the strength of God.
He even uses himself as an example. In whatever situation he is in, he has learned to be content. But he also recognizes with thankfulness the generosity from this church that has enabled him to reach so many others. But even in that gratitude, he acknowledges that his contentment comes with the help of his Heavenly Father.
Because it’s not always easy to be content in our circumstances. And while gratitude journals or using other ways to instill gratitude into our lives is helpful, I think it’s also helpful to acknowledge that we are weak in our humanity. We are not going to have this all figured out. We are not going to be perfect, even through practice. And when we come up short, God’s grace and strength can fill in the gap.
I don’t really like thinking of myself this way. Weak. Failure. Chaos. Fumbling. I like to think that if I follow the rules long enough, make the right choices every time, and envelope myself in the right environment, that I will have it figured out. But if anyone could have filled out that resume, it would be Paul. And as I learned in chapter 2, he considered all of his abilities and gifts and strength rubbish compared to what God had.
And God knows this, and he wants to use this. He’s like “Give me your weakness and I will give you my strength.” Because he doesn’t want people who have it all figured out because those people’s followers will just want to follow those people. But when our weakness is exposed and God’s strength shines through, the followers and onlookers see only God.
It lifts off some of that responsibility we try to hold on to. I thought for years that it was my job to convert the hearts of others, but instead, I’ve learned that I just need to love them. But in order to do that, I have to get that love from God, so I need to be in a relationship with him so that he fills me up with love to the point that it overflows to others in my life. Hence, love God, love others.
Thank you so much for following me through this summer study. It’s amazing the little things, little reminders, that shine through the text that I’ve read so many times before. I look forward to new things and ideas this fall!
If you didn’t read last week’s start to this particular study, you can find that here.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
But the next few verses are really what threw me.
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.