Rustling

I’ve heard lots of rustling in the woods lately.

leaves

Maybe it’s because the leaves on the forest floor are crispy and crunchy,
skittering and tripping over each other.

Maybe it’s because the woodland creatures are getting ready for winter,
digging holes and burying acorns.

Maybe it’s because the wind is rattling the trees while leaves hold on,
shivering together.

Or maybe I’m just listening harder.

Something is happening out there in the woods.
There is movement.
There is activity.
There is life.

autumn-path-in-the-woods

I’ve heard lots of rustling in my heart lately.

Maybe it’s the hint of a change of seasons.

Maybe it’s a reminder to prepare for what’s next.

Maybe it’s a whisper to hang on, or let go.

Something is happening.

Movement, activity, life — I’m listening harder than ever.

The Wind of the Spirit is out there.
And in here.

You know well enough how the wind blows this way and that.
You hear it rustling through the trees,
but you have no idea where it comes from or where it’s headed next.
That’s the way it is with everyone ‘born from above’
by the wind of God, the Spirit of God.” (John 3:8)

Shine Like Stars Week 6 Recap

The following is a brief summary of the discussion our Bible study groups had this week on Philippians 2:1-5. I hope this blesses you and inspires deeper study of this wonderful passage.

Paul expressed his desire for unity in the church at Philippi. Why would Paul need to address this idea of unity?

Remember the founding members of this young church? Lydia, the sophisticated, wealthy Asian business woman, the Roman military prison guard, and a young Greek slave girl who had been in the occult. They represent quite a spectrum of backgrounds, personalities and cultural perspectives. It’s easy to see how the church could divide up into cliques. Paul encouraged unity under the leadership of the Holy Spirit because that was the only way this group would be able to hang together and have a witness to unbelievers.

The church in Philippi was a good church, but it wasn’t perfect. (For a sneak peak at an issue, Phil. 4:2 gives a clue.) Unity doesn’t come naturally for us. We have human natures to battle and an enemy seeking to divide us. It’s a danger that threatened the early churches and remains a danger for every church. Unity is something to intentionally strive for as God’s people in a world full of disharmony.

What reasons are given for Christian unity?

  1. We have encouragement from being united with Christ.
  2. We experience the comfort of God’s unconditional love.
  3. We get to enjoy fellowship with the Holy Spirit.
  4. We have hearts that are tender and compassionate.

These serve as motivations for us to pursue oneness as believers. This idea was so important to Jesus, that on his last night with his disciples before being arrested and put to death, He prayed for His people to stick together. (John 17:20-23) Imagine knowing you are going to die and you have one last thing to say to your family. What would it be? Probably, “I love you,” and “Keep loving each other”. This was Jesus’ heart’s cry before leaving His friends. Why? Because our expression of love for each other is what makes the world take notice and be drawn to Christ. We are to be showing the world what a group of people united by the Holy Spirit looks like.

What does Paul ask the Philippians to do? What can they do to protect their unity?

  • Be like-minded
  • Love each other
  • Stay focused on their purpose
  • Exercise humility (Humility is not thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less.)

“Like-minded” is a fascinating word in the original language of the text. It’s a word that doesn’t appear anywhere else in the Bible, so it’s as if Paul had to make up a word to explain this idea. In the Greek, the word is “sympsychos” — “sym”= like, “psychos” = mind. But there’s more: we get our word “symphony” from this. To Paul, the church is like a symphony orchestra. Each instrument is unique and has distinct individual qualities, but when playing together they create something beautiful and moving. The violin cannot play off the tympani drum’s music. The flute is not looked down on for being quieter than the trombone. The cello cannot use a drum stick and the snare drum cannot use a bow. They all work differently and have diverse parts to play, but when in tune with each other and staying with the beat, the sound is overwhelmingly wonderful. Paul sees the Holy Spirit as the conductor, directing the people of God at work in the world. How important it is to keep our eyes on Him! The church can’t work as a bunch of soloists jockeying for the spotlight. The church works by each member staying humble and seeing the value of each one.

What does Paul ask the Philippians not to do? What destroys unity among people?

  • Don’t do anything out of selfish ambition
  • Don’t be driven by vain conceit
  • Don’t consider yourself better than others
  • Don’t look only to your own interests

Selfishness turns our eyes inward, focusing on our own wants and desires. Simply turning loving attention outward, toward others, will build oneness.

Have you ever observed a parallel conversation? One person tells about an experience they had and then the other person tells about their similar experience. They go back and forth, each talking about themselves. Each one is thinking about the next thing they are going to say instead of really listening. Looking to the interest of other people can be as simple as asking follow up questions instead of talking more about yourself. It’s a skill we can learn. You might try these:

“How did that make you feel?” 
“What do you make of that?”

Questions like these can draw out a person’s heart and show that you are truly interested and listening.

“Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus.” Phil. 2:5

A friend of mine created the acronym D.R.A., which stands for Dirty Rotten Attitude, something I occasionally deal with. How about you?! Christ Jesus never had a D.R.A. He was selfless and humble and served. He was a perfect example of all the good things Paul encouraged the Philippians to do. Although we will never reach that kind of perfection on this side of heaven, we can move in the direction of unity, as we look to Jesus and stay connected to each other.

The symphony needs each of us playing our part!

Shine Like Stars Week 7 Worksheet

symphony

September Lit List

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See that green thing? It’s an ivy plant — the one and only living green thing in our house. I don’t do plants. They give me anxiety. Yet another thing to take care of. But this guy refuses to die despite my abuse. I do better with books. Here’s what has been on the shelf in September.

  • Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World, by Cal Newport — I heard the author of this book on a podcast and was intrigued. He said that people are losing their ability to spend extended periods of time on focused activity. Constantly responding to distractions is reprogramming our brains and robbing us of our capacity for deep work. Newport offers four startling rules to recover from this malady. I’m not going to list them, because then you might not want to read the book. I have implemented one tip: instead of planning my periods of focused work and filling up every other space with distractions (email, Instagram, Facebook, etc.), I schedule my time on social media (half hour in the morning and half hour in the late afternoon) and stay away the rest of the day. I dare you to try it.
  • Giants in the Earth, by O. E. Rolvaag — I read this book as a senior in high school. When picking out a read-aloud for PB and myself, I thought this would fit the bill. It’s about Norwegians homesteading in South Dakota in the 1800s. It’s a lot longer than I remembered. After renewing the book twice, I still had to photocopy the last 30 pages so we could finish it. My Norski husband would have been just fine out on the prairie, living in a sod house. I might have gone off the deep end, just like the wife in Rolvaag’s story.
  • A Place in Time, by Wendell Berry — Reading this was bittersweet as it is the last title from the pile of the Port William series of books I got for Christmas. I expect to read these again someday. After spending ten months living in the pages of 11 books, the characters are like family. Wendell Berry has renewed in me the love of story.
  • The Complete Book of Home Organization, by Toni Hammersley — This book was a feast for the eyes with so many beautiful pictures. I stuck post-it notes on all the pages that had ideas I liked. Then I took off all the post-it notes and returned the book to the library. Sigh. That’s what people used to do before Pinterest.

“I do not want to just read books;
I want to climb inside them and live there.”

~Unknown

Shine Like Stars – Week 5 Recap

In week 5 of our study on Philippians, we looked at Phil 1:21-30. We spent quite a bit of time on verse 21, “For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” Paul’s perspective on death was radically different than the way most of us think of death. All of us have experienced pain by the passing of loved ones – it was not glorious and we would not have chosen it. But in this passage Paul is showing us a healthy perspective on how to approach our own death. Not an easy conversation, but an important one.

For most people what does having a great life look like?
A big house, plenty of money, a good job, health, leisure, no struggles.
How would you fill in this blank? For me, to live is ___________________.
If the answer is money, then to die is to lose it all.
If the answer is possessions, then to die is to leave it all behind.
If the answer is health and fitness, then to die is the ultimate failure.
Anything that can go in that blank will end up a loss. Anything but Jesus.

What about Paul?
Paul defined a great life by the words “fruitful labor”. The only life that winds up with gain is a life of fruitful labor for Christ.

For most people what does death look like?
For some it looks like fear, an end, defeat, something to avoid, something to fight against. For others death looks like an escape. We never want to glorify death or take it into our own hands. “All the days ordained for me were written in Your book before one of them came to be.” (Psalm 139:16) God holds the keys to life and death – we need to leave the timing of these things to Him.

What about Paul?
Paul viewed death as a departure (“I desire to depart and be with Christ.”) The word “depart” is a nautical term for a ship lifting its anchor and sailing home. Paul saw death as more of Jesus, which was better than anything this world had to offer. Is it any wonder that heaven looked good to Paul? “Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked….” (Read the rest in 2 Corinthians 11:23-29.) 

Paul saw death like this:
1. We lose everything we don’t need (troubles, tears, fears, weaknesses, sin).
2. We keep everything that matters (our personality, the Word of God, people).
3. We gain what we never had before (face to face with Jesus, heaven, angels).

What was Paul’s dilemma?
He was torn between the two possible outcomes: life, which was a temporary mission for Jesus, or death, which was an eternal gain with Jesus. For Paul, it was a win/win situation.

His first choice, his greatest desire, was to depart and go be with Jesus. But Paul settled for his second choice — stay and continue to serve the church. His own personal desires were superseded by the needs of the body. What an example for us! What if the needs of my local church came before my own personal desires? Wow. As Steven J. Cole said,  “If everybody had this mindset, we’d have a waiting list to teach Sunday school.”

What was not an option for Paul?
DO NOTHING. The possible third choice of continuing to live without fruitful labor was not even on the table. As long as he had a physical body, Paul figured it was to be used for the sake of Christ. Spending his last days at a Mediterranean resort was not a consideration.

“Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ.” (verse 27)

The word “conduct” implies a citizenship. When people become citizens of the United States, they pledge allegiance to the country. They receive all the rights of an American and are responsible to uphold the law of the land. Their conduct when traveling abroad is a reflection of their homeland. Foreigners judge America based on the behavior of its citizens.

A friend recently went through boot camp and became a U. S. Marine. He has pledged to conduct himself worthy of the U. S. Marine Corps. Even when he’s not on base. Even when he’s not on active duty. He is expected to represent the USMC at all times.

It’s not enough for us to be Christians at church. That’s easy. We are responsible for our conduct outside those walls, as representatives of the gospel of Christ. What happens to the reputation of the good news of Jesus when we don’t conduct ourselves in a manner worthy of it? If we easily cave in to culture over and over, if we compromise our values on little things, then when we are in a situation to have to stand firm for Christ, we won’t have the courage to do it. We need to be unashamed, in any company, to be identified as followers of Jesus. We must not laugh at dalliance with sin or join in behavior that smudges the reputation of our great God.

Lord, may we grow in our faith and in knowledge of truth so we can say with Paul, “to live is Christ, to die is gain”. Amen.

What gave Paul joy? Helping others progress in their faith.
What do mature believers look like? They put aside their own desires for the sake of the gospel, the Kingdom, the church.
How can we shine like stars? By keeping an eternal perspective and conducting ourselves in a manner worthy of His gift of salvation.

Shine Like Stars Week 6 Worksheet

shine5

Captive Audience

Albert Pujols is a first baseman for the Angels. The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, to be exact. They pay him $250,000,000 to play baseball, which is not a bad gig. It’s hard to like a guy who makes that much money playing a game, but not Albert. It’s hard not to like him. He’s an upstanding, respectful. big-hearted man who loves Jesus.

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When an opposing player gets a single, Pujols makes the most of the few minutes they stand on first base together.

“Hey man, do you know where you are going to go when you die?”
“Huh?”
“Have you thought about what’s going to happen to you after you’re dead?”
“Ah…not really.”
“You should think about it.”
If the same guy happens to get another base hit later in the game, Albert will say, “So, have you thought about it?”

Or it might go like this:

“Hey man, what’s the most important thing in your life?”
“What?”
“What’s the most important thing in your life?”
“Uh… baseball, I guess.”
“So what are you gonna do when you can’t play baseball anymore?”
“I dunno.”
“Hey man, baseball is not going to last forever. You need something more in your life than baseball.”
If the same guy happens to wind up at first later in the game, Albert will say something like, “So, do you want to know what the most important thing is in my life?”

albert

The runner cannot take his foot off the bag.
He cannot escape into the dugout.
He is stuck with Albert.
Albert has a captive audience.

This makes me think of the Apostle Paul, tethered to a Roman soldier in a prison cell. One chain connected the two men to ensure that an earthquake or angel didn’t miraculously spring the prisoner. Every six hours a new guard showed up at Paul’s door to take a shift. Every six hours for two years. That’s 2,920 six hour shifts. I’m guessing there were a few repeat customers.

You and I both know that Paul wasn’t going to waste that opportunity. If he couldn’t be out on the streets preaching, then, by golly, he was going to give an earful of the gospel to every one of those guards. And then do a little discipleship training on their return visits.

The Roman Empire thought they were holding Paul captive,
but really they were giving him a captive audience
that made its way into Caesar’s household
and across the known world.

Shine Like Stars – Week 4 Recap

Here is a short summary of what we covered at this week’s Bible study on Philippians 1:12-20. Reading through this recap doesn’t come close to the rich discussion we have in our groups, but hopefully it spurs you on to keep digging.

What good things happened as a result of Paul’s imprisonment?

  • Paul was able to share the gospel with the members of the Praetorian Guard, the elite regiment of soldiers assigned to Caesar’s palace. As a prisoner, Paul was chained to a guard around the clock, getting a new man every six hours. For two years. The guard had nowhere to go and so Paul saw it as an opportunity to witness to people he otherwise would have had no access to. The word spread into Caesar’s very own household (Phil. 4:22). How else would that have happened?

A bit of background here is helpful. Paul had a strong desire to go to Rome and visit the church there. He did not start that church and had never been to the great city until he arrived as a prisoner. The church in Rome was firmly established and there were already people there sharing the gospel. But Paul longed to preach in Rome.

“After all this happened, Paul decided to go to Jerusalem, passing through Macedonia and Achia. ‘After I have been there,’ he said, ‘I must visit Rome also.'” (Acts 19:21)
“I am so eager to preach the gospel also to you who are at Rome.” (Romans 1:15)
“I have been longing for many years to visit you.” (Romans 15:23)

Then one night, while Paul was in jail, the Lord came to him and said, “Take courage! As you have testified about me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify in Rome.” (Acts 23:11)

Paul’s dream of going to Rome was going to happen! But he was probably expecting to go as a preacher, not as a prisoner. This could have been a great disappointment to him. Do you know how hard it is for a preacher not to preach? Yet God gave Paul an audience — one soldier at a time, and that advanced the gospel more than he could have imagined.

Sometimes, our disappointments turn out to be God’s appointments. 

  • Another good result of Paul’s imprisonment — it empowered others to speak out with courage. (v. 14)
  • Paul wrote Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians and Philemon while sitting in that Roman prison. Paul probably wouldn’t have stopped to write those letters unless he was forced to sit still somewhere.

What not-so-good things happened as a result of Paul’s imprisonment?
Some local preachers may have been threatened by Paul’s popularity or jealous of his effective ministry. It seems they had some bad motives and were out to tarnish Paul’s good name. Even so, they were preaching the gospel and not some heresy, so Paul said, “As long as they are preaching Christ, I don’t care what they say about me.” He was unoffendable. This is a man who didn’t let his ego get in the way. Paul knew he was in prison for the defense of the gospel, not to defend himself. That takes maturity.

Paul didn’t condemn those preachers who were stirring up trouble because he didn’t want to give life to that distraction. Of supreme importance to Paul was that Christ was being preached. Period.

Why was courage needed by the believers at this time?
They were in the capital of the Roman Empire, where Caesar declared himself to be a god and demanded worship. A group of people showed up who called Caesar’s deity into question and introduced the God of Heaven and Earth. That was risky business. It took great courage to speak about their beliefs in that pagan culture. For many, it took even greater courage to die for their faith.

What about us? Francis Chan asked, “Why are we cowards when it comes to speaking the gospel? Jesus is a name we claim to love. Why wouldn’t we want to speak about the Person we love the most?”

Paul asked his friends in Philippi to pray for him to be courageous in the face of uncertainty. He never considered himself too big or important to need and depend on the prayers of other people. Maybe he would be released or maybe he would be sentenced to death. Either way, he determined ahead of time to magnify God, to make Him great.

The last half of our study was spent on looking deeply into verses 18-20. What a joy to hear the many ways God’s Word was speaking to the women in our groups!

What should give us joy? The message of Christ getting out, no matter the method used.
What does a mature person look like? A mature person leaves his ego at the door.
How can we shine like stars? By taking a disappointment and watching to see how it might lead to a divine appointment.

Shine Like Stars Week 5 Worksheet

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Howdy Pardner

“Gunsmoke” was my favorite TV show when I was a kid. Every Saturday night, I would sit with my bowl of popcorn and watch Matt Dillon restore order to Dodge City while my mother did up my hair in pin curls. I loved Matt and Miss Kitty and Doc and Festus. Especially Festus.

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Long before cowboys shortened “How do you do?” to “Howdy!”, and centuries before Louis L’Amour turned “partner” into “pardner”, the Apostle Paul wrote a letter to his friends in Philippi saying, “Howdy, pardners!” That’s a loose translation. He actually said,

“In all my prayers for all of you I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now.” Phil. 1:4-5

Paul was no Lone Ranger. He knew he needed partners in this endeavor to win the world for Christ. One reason Paul loved the Philippian church so much was because they were all-in — they participated in the mission, they contributed to the cause, they were committed and involved at every level. They didn’t start strong and then wimp out. They didn’t call themselves partners and then leave all the work to somebody else. They had signed on the dotted line — with all their heart, mind, soul and strength.

The word “partnership” has reverberated in my soul.

The question begs to be asked:

What kind of a partner in the gospel am I?

Am I a hang-on-the-fringes-show-up-when-it’s-convenient partner?

Am I a hot-when-things-are-going-good-but-cold-when-things-aren’t partner?

Am I a someday-I’ll-get-involved-when-I’m-not-so-busy-with-life partner?

Or am I a get-in-the-trenches-and-give-what-I’ve-got-even-though-it-doesn’t-seem-like-much-but-I-can’t-be-half-hearted-about-this-because-Jesus-gave-his-life-to-offer-me-full-partnership kind of partner?

howdy

In the words of Festus,

“The onliest thing you get from stradlin’ the fence is a sore backside.”