A Dickens of a Year

2018 started over a week ago, but I’m barely out of the gates. Usually I’m off and running with new goals and new plans for a new year. It’s been a slow start — I’ve been more like a tortoise than a hare.

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What the dickens is wrong with me?

I got behind on my Bible reading plan in the first week.

I slept through my extra early morning alarm on January 2.
Then I turned off my alarm altogether.

I didn’t do one sit-up,
drink one smoothie,
or eat one vegetable
for the first 7 days of 2018.

I haven’t read one book.

My list of goals is remarkably shorter than in years past.

But you know what?
I’m ok with all that.
I’m giving myself grace.
And embracing “slow” —
as long as it’s teamed up with steady.
Slow and steady, steady and slow.

A dear friend of mine gave me this beautiful book for Christmas.

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Months ago I must have mentioned that I’ve never read any classics by Charles Dickens.
She’s that kind of friend.

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Instead of trying to repeat last year’s record of 52 books,
I’ve decided it’s going to be a Dickens of a year for me.

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Only 889 pages to go.
Slow and steady.

2018 Bible Reading Plan

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It’s the most wonderful time of the year!
The days between Christmas and New Year’s are my favorite days of the whole year.
They are slow and quiet — perfect for reflecting on the past and pondering the future.

The new Bible Reading Plan is ready to go! Just click on the link at the top of the page.
We are starting in James this year. May God bless the reading of His Word!

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A Grand Nativity

What do you do when you’ve got eight kids
ages five and under
in your house on Christmas morning?

Dress them up in biblical costumes, of course.

And have them stand in front of the Christmas tree
while ten adults go to great lengths
to have all eight children look at ten cameras
and smile at the same time.

We had a proud Joseph and a lovely “Momma Mary”.

We had two beautiful angels and two handsome shepherds.

We had a precious little lamb.

And we had a sweet baby Jesus. Wearing Pampers.

It was a bit chaotic and unpredictable.

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Joseph and Momma Mary kept a close eye on the baby.

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The shepherds had to work hard to keep the lamb from crawling away.

Mary was so happy. (And a little surprised.)

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The angels rejoiced and played with the baby’s toes.

Baby Jesus cooperated with the whole enterprise.

I don’t imagine it was much different that night in Bethlehem.

Except for the Pampers.

Shine Like Stars Week 14 Recap

Here is the final installment of recaps from our Women’s Bible study on Philippians. Thanks for coming along on this journey!

Philippians 4:14-23

In this passage, Paul stated that the Philippian church was the only church to consistently support him in his ministry. The congregation in Philippi was also the poorest group of believers, yet the most generous. These friends also stuck with Paul over the long-haul and Paul was so grateful for the commitment of these people. Paul mentioned that he received aid from Philippi while he was in Thessalonica.

What was going on in Thessalonica? There are some clues in Paul’s letters to the Thessalonians.

  • “Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business and to work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody.” (1 Thess. 4:11-12)
  • “And we urge you, brothers, warn those who are idle…” (1 Thess. 5:14)
  • “We hear that some among you are idle.” (2 Thess. 3:11)
  • “For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: ‘If a man will not work, he shall not eat.'” (2 Thess. 3:10)

It seems the Thessalonian church had an issue with laziness. They couldn’t support themselves, much less Paul. So the Philippian church kicked in to help Paul financially. In fact, it was the church in Philippi that enabled Paul to give up his trade and preach full time. Bless them. (See Acts 18:1-5) If Paul had been forced to keep making tents, it would have been such a waste of his giftedness.

Why is the giving of offerings so important in our walk with the Lord?
God looks at our offerings as a sweet fragrance, much like the Old Testament priests who went into the holy place to put incense on the altar. Our offerings are not donations — they are “acceptable sacrifices, pleasing to God” and they reflect the state of our hearts. That’s why it’s important to give to God right off the top instead of giving Him the leftovers. The only time in scripture God says, “Test me,” is in regard to giving. (See Malachi 3:6-12)

Paul had confidence that God would respond to the Philippians and provide for them as a result of their generosity. That is God’s way. Even Jesus stated, “Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” (Luke 6:38) We can never outgive God.

“When God’s word is done in God’s way for God’s glory, it will not lack for God’s supply.” (Hudson Taylor)

Paul ended his letter with greetings to all the saints, especially those in Caesar’s household. Nero was the reigning emporer, or Caesar,  at the time. He was a cruel, brutal leader who tortured Christians in bizzare and grotesque ways. Yet in Nero’s very household there were believers and Paul sent his greetings and encouragement to them.

Paul began his letter with a greeting of grace (Phil. 1:2) and ended his message with grace (Phil. 4:23). Paul gave us a glimpse of his heart in the letter to the Philippians. Although he was a great thinker and theologian, Paul loved people and rejoiced over and over in his relationships within the body of believers. He showed us what a mature believer looks like and how to shine like stars in the midst of a perverted and crooked generation.

Thanks be to God!

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Shine Like Stars Week 13 Recap

Here is the recap from this week’s study on Philippians 4:10-13.

Paul was sitting in a Roman jail with only a Roman soldier for company. Then one day Epaphroditis showed up, his friend from far away Philippi, with gifts and encouragement from the Philippian church. That must have meant the world to Paul. It had been ten years since he had heard from these friends as they had lost track of Paul. This visit and gift made Paul “rejoice greatly”. (The word for “greatly” in the Greek is “mega”. Paul had mega-joy when Epaphroditis came.)

The Philippian church was held up as a model in Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians.  “In the midst of a very severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity. For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own, they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the Lord’s people.” (2 Cor. 8:2-4)
These were people who experienced severe trials, yet had overflowing joy. These were people who lived in extreme poverty, yet gave beyond their means. In fact, they begged Paul to let them give!! Can you imagine someone standing up in church after the offering and saying, “Pastor, please pass the plate again! Please let us give more!” 

Paul talked a lot about contentment in this passage. What is contentment?
Dictionary: – satisfied with what one is or has, not wanting more or anything else.
We tend to think of contentment as that feeling when our stomachs are full and we can relax and enjoy a day off. That’s not the kind of contentment Paul was talking about. Paul said he “learned” to be content in times of plenty and in times of great need. He even said there was a secret to being content, which means it’s not easily found in this world. Contentment is something that has to be learned over a long period of time through many experiences, as God shows Himself faithful to provide.

This world is set up to make us feel dissatisfied. That’s what the advertising culture is all about — to make us believe that happiness is hinged on having a Lexus with a bow on top sitting in our driveway on Christmas morning. The truth is, God is the One who set it up this way, making sure that the accumulation of satisfactions other than Him will NEVER satisfy. We are made for more than this earth. We are made for eternity. That longing for more is really our longing for relationship with the Creator and the promise of spending a mind-blowing forever on a new earth.

Paul spoke from experience. In 2 Corinthians 11, he recounted some events from his life in ministry:

  • 5 times he was whipped 40 lashes minus one. (It was believed that 40 lashes would kill a man, so 39 were given to ensure maximum suffering. Paul endure five of those violent floggings.)
  • 3 times he was beaten with rods. (He remembered exactly how many times — you don’t forget things like that.)
  • 1 time he was stoned. Paul knew what the intended result of stoning was: death. He himself had watched over and approved of the stoning of Stephen. People hated him so much that they threw rocks at him to kill him. (Read about it in Acts 14.)
  • 3 times he was shipwrecked. What is it like to have your ship go down? (Personally, after the second shipwreck, I probably wouldn’t get on a boat for a third voyage.)
  • One of those shipwrecks put him out on the open sea for over 24 hours.
  • He was constantly on the move. No home, no bed of his own, no vacations.
  • He was constantly in danger.
  • He went without sleep, food, and adequate clothing.

How many of us would keep going in the ministry
if we had to put up with this? 

Yet, it was through these very experiences that Paul learned contentment. It didn’t matter what was going on externally. Contentment came from the inside — a peace from God that never quit even if there was chaos all around. The reason many of don’t have that kind of contentment is because we give up when things get hard and so we don’t get to experience God coming through for us in the midst of trials. If God let His chief apostle experience times of great need, we should expect to go through a similar training process “for, as citizens of heaven, God wants to wean us from dependence upon the decaying delicacies of earth.” (Spurgeon)

Paul was a thermostat. He set the temperature and made everything around him conform to his setting. Most of us are more like thermometers. When circumstances are good, we ride high. When situations are troubled, we sink down. Up and down, up and down we go, depending on the externals.

This passage ends with a “coffee-cup verse” — one that is often taken out of context. “I can do everything through him who gives me strength.” This is often used by athletes to inspire them to run fast, jump high and score lots of touchdowns. Unfortunately, that’s not what Paul had in mind. Instead of claiming this verse to enable us to do whatever we set our minds to, the context is saying, “I’ve learned to be content when I received everything I want; I’ve learned to be content when I got nothing I wanted. I can do either one by the power of Christ.”

God will indeed give us the strength to do the things He asks us to do with the power available through Christ.

What does a mature believer look like? A growing Christian is learning how to be content in any and every situation.

How can we shine like stars? In this world of greed, dissatisfaction and materialism, a contented person will stick out like a beacon in darkness.

One more week and our study of Philippians is complete. It takes 15 minutes to read the entire book of Philippians, but it has taken us 15 weeks to dig deep into Paul’s letter. I’m sure we could keep going for 15 years and still find treasure there.

Shine Like Stars Week 14 Worksheet

 

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November Lit List

In the spotlight are the books I read in November. Reading will slow down for me in December, but I expect to roar into the new year with renewed enthusiasm.
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One Summer: America, 1927, by Bill Bryson — I’ve been enthralled by the 1920’s ever since I found my cousin’s diaries and letters written in 1927. Then I found Bryson’s book, which documents some of the significant events of that year: Lindbergh’s flight across the Atlantic, Babe Ruth’s 60 home runs, the sculpting of Mount Rushmore, the release of “The Jazz Singer” — the first “talkie” — to name a few. Unfortunately, my cousin didn’t make the pages of One Summer, but reading this provided a wonderful backdrop to her preserved memories.

All Things New, by John Eldredge — I listened to the author read a few chapters of this book on his podcast (Conversations with John Eldredge and the Team at Ransomed Heart) and had to read the complete book. Not many non-fiction books can make my heart race with excitement, but Eldredge’s beautiful portrayal of the future new heaven and new earth was thrilling.

Holy Roar, by Darren Whitehead and Chris Tomlin — For our one word “praise”, the Hebrew language has seven words. In this small volume, Whitehead breaks down praise into seven different ways it can be expressed. God enjoys them all. Some of Tomlin’s lyrics are included at the end of each chapter that embody the kind of praise described. I hope in heaven we get to speak Hebrew and Greek. They are such rich languages with layers of meaning and beautiful depth.

“I will honor Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year.“
A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens

Shine Like Stars Week 12 Recap

Here is an abridged version of our discussion on Philippians 4:2-9. I wish I could include all the wonderful insights and comments from our group gatherings!

It seems the church in Philippi had an issue that Paul needed to address. Two women, Euodia and Syntyche, were in conflict over something — we don’t know what — but Paul had to nip it in the bud, so he called them out on the division they were creating in the church. I wonder how these two ladies felt when they heard their names being read in public. I imagine they might have sunk down in their pews a little bit. It probably wasn’t a doctrinal issue, or Paul would have addressed it sooner. Most likely it was a silly argument that was getting blown up, but was having a negative influence on the church.

Paul didn’t say, “Agree with each other.” He said, “Agree with each other in the Lord.” There’s a difference there. Bringing the Lord into the problem puts things in perspective. He also asked a mediator to step in and help them resolve the issue. Then he complimented these ladies for being hard workers for the gospel. This shows that women in the early church were an essential part of ministry. Just the fact that Paul used their names shows how prominent they were at Philippi.

Here’s a not-so-fun fact: 74% of people who leave the church, leave because of disagreements with other church members. A divided congregation is a poor witness to the world and can’t expect growth or God’s blessing.

“In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity.” St. Augustine

Is it really possible to “rejoice in the Lord always”?
Again, Paul didn’t say, “Rejoice always.” He said, “Rejoice in the Lord always.” There’s a difference there, too. Even in the midst of conflict or chaos or trauma, we can rejoice that God is with us, that He hears us, that He loves us. This was so important to Paul that he repeated the command — “I’ll say it again — Rejoice!” Remember, he is sitting in a jail, waiting to hear if he’s going to the gallows.

In our study groups, we talked about how important it is to have some truths so ingrained in our souls that when the crisis hits, we don’t collapse, but have a firm foundation to stand on. That can be as easy as making a list of things that are true about God and pulling it out when we need to “preach the gospel to ourselves”.

Is it really possible to “be anxious for nothing”?
We live in a very anxious time. Anxiety is a huge problem in our culture. Paul offers a way to handle stress — “Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers.” (Message) 

We can’t stop anxious thoughts from going through our minds, but we can choose whether or not to let them stay there. Martin Luther said, “You cannot keep birds from flying over your head, but you can keep them from building a nest in your hair.” Most of the things that cause us to worry are the “what if’s”. But when we give ourselves over to worry, we are forgetting that “God is near” (v. 5). Continually stressed out believers actually make our God look bad and demonstrate lack of trust.

There are times when we need to “take captive every thought and make it obedient to Christ.” (2 Cor. 10:5) Sisters, we have the right to use the authority of the name of Jesus to tell a negative thought to leave. We need to use that weapon!

If we know how to worry, then we know how to meditate. Worry is just meditation on the negative. If every worry drove us to prayer, a supernatural peace that stands guard over our feelings and perceptions is promised by God. It’s worth a try, don’t you think?

The battlefield is the mind, so Paul tells us what we need to be focusing our thoughts on: whatever is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent or praiseworthy. The world gives us a steady stream of the opposite: lies, corruption, immorality, obscenity, unpleasantness, mediocrity, dishonor. It will take intentional effort to swim against that stream. It does explain the lack of peace in this world, though, doesn’t it?

Anxiety is defined like this: being pulled apart in all directions.
Peace is defined as: getting put back together into wholeness.

Paul asked the Philippians to practice these things, to make them habits. So there’s our challenge. Can we learn to do things God’s way and handle what life gives us so that we can show the world what His “peace that passes understanding” looks like? It’s easy to talk about — not so easy to implement — but it must be possible if it’s in God’s Word.

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Shine Like Stars Week 13 Worksheet