Reflections on Philippians 2

If I have any encouragement, comfort in His love, relationship with the Spirit, if any affection or mercy, then may His love guide my life as I act on what I have believed in my heart and spoken with my mouth.

May my spirit not be motivated by competition with others or my own vanity, but instead consider others before I focus on myself. I should try and be attentive to others’ needs instead of just worrying about my own.

Father, change me to be more like Your First Son in all my being. Even though He could have used His power for what He deserved, He didn’t; He was humble, loving You by serving wholly. I want to remember who You are in how I live daily. Empty me of the things I try to use to fill the void inside myself that You created in me solely to be fulfilled by You. May I not just act obediently sometimes, but be obedient in my lifestyle. I need help with that. Why do those who know God desire all this? So others may learn who You are, and bring glory to Your name. That’s what I want in my life.

 

Love & Adversity in Faith

Ok, bear with me, but take a moment to read the following passage:

2 Corinthians 1

1 Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother,

To the church of God in Corinth, together with all his holy people throughout Achaia:

2 Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Praise to the God of All Comfort

3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. 5 For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ. 6 If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer. 7 And our hope for you is firm, because we know that just as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our comfort.

8 We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters,[a]about the troubles we experienced in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself. 9 Indeed, we felt we had received the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. 10 He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us again. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us, 11 as you help us by your prayers. Then many will give thanks on our behalf for the gracious favor granted us in answer to the prayers of many.

I was reading through this passage while riding home from a funeral Tuesday. No, no one in my immediate family passed, but rather I was there for support for the family of the deceased (my future in-laws) and I kept thinking about how differently people view life and death with or without a relationship with God.

Funerals are naturally a parting of the ways that comes to everyone, but it is the nature of the passing, and the outlook of the living that transforms funerals from sorrow to mournful peace. It is certainly alarming to understand the reality of the gap an individual occupied now empty, and it’s not wrong to mourn by any means, but the real question is, are you hopeful or hopeless? Are you comforted or uncomfortable with regret?

The passage above was timely, because it was a snapshot of Paul being uncharacteristically vulnerable. He so often bore the kind of reputation Christians can easily covet today (super exciting God story, passionate preaching, extroverted teaching, fearless leadership and determination), but in this moment he admits that he wasn’t so strong. He says he was in over his head and despaired being alive.

Now it makes sense why he prefaced this confession with truth from God. To be honest, I can identify with that through times I was shaken but not forsaken- I had nothing left but to look at the Word and pray for its truth to fill up my life again. I told myself what was true again and again because it was all that got me through when people were failing, and my life was shredding itself to pieces.

But that pain wasn’t the end of it. Indeed, it was more like the beginning. God saved me from that dark time, and it was to be expected because He promises help (I always recall Psalms 131, 136, 139), and it’s exactly what He did for Paul in this passage.

“Indeed, we felt we had received the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. 10 He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us again. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us, 11 as you help us by your prayers.”

The darkness isn’t to ruin us, but rather to refine us. I love how Paul points out that this time was an opportunity for them to “not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead.” I know that most of my feeble spiritual insight isn’t something new, but I would encourage you to remember that the Christian faith is tried and true, even when the basic tenets of what we believe are forgotten in the daily wear of life. Remember who you are in Christ. Remember your purpose. But most of all, remember that you are loved. God does not want you to fail, but to learn to have greater faith in Him, nurtured by His love, that in turn we can give to others:

“3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. 5 For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ. 6 ”

The Sermon on the Mount (Matt 5:9)

This past weekend I had the pleasure of celebrating two wonderful friends becoming one in marriage. It was up in Minneapolis and, despite my best efforts, I got terribly lost and missed the wedding completely. My wonderful brother was kind enough to direct me via cell phone and internet, so I eventually made it… after a trip out to stillwater and a couple of scenic loops through Minneapolis.

I ended up watching the recording online last night. But despite missing the wedding, I was challenged by the groom’s father. He is a retired pastor from Puerto Rico who emanates wisdom and compassion. Not very many people have this quality; it is something of a strong gaze that seems to bore right into you, see you exactly as you are, and not flinch whatsoever. He spent some time talking with Chris topher who was in the wedding party and spent half of last week helping everyone get ready.

The challenge he gave Chris was one he gave his oldest son; read Matthew 5 (the Sermon on the Mount) every day for two weeks. Now I know I’m not Chris topher, but when a retired pastor suggests a challenge like that, I can’t help but want to try it myself because there has to be a lot of merit to it. The man really leaves an impression that leaves one thinking.

As a result, this is day two of the challenge for me. I’m reading it in my HCS study Bible and loving a new look at a familiar passage. I’m going to try and post what I’m getting from the passage as it speaks to me. As much as this bothers my linear/chronological organization, I feel that it would be neglecting the Spirit to ignore what stuck out to me and stick to order. I will, however, try to make sure I cover all the verses at some point.

“The peacemakers are blessed, for they will be called sons of God.”

Peacemaker. It’s a simple enough word etymology that an English novice could pick it up. A peacemaker is someone who makes peace with others. Now, as much as we could think of our lives and consider those we talk to on a regular basis as being peaceful relations, I don’t think that’s the aim here.

Think of the people you actually have to work at making peace with. Is it a co-worker? A socially obnoxious friend? A family member? A roommate? Someone you are trying to minister to?

What makes peace with them difficult? Lately, I’ve been disturbed by my response to a situation involving someone with whom I have very fragile peace at best. Their attitude and actions make me angry. It makes me sick thinking about the kind of person they have demonstrated themselves to be. I can try to justify my feelings, but there’s no way around it; being angry toward someone is a sin.

The notes in the HCSB are also incredibly helpful for getting me to think a little more beyond the text. Here’s a little bit of the footnotes:

“The ministry of peacemaking involves resolving conflict by making prompt apologies and acts of restitution, refusing to seek revenge, and humbly loving and serving one’s enemies (5:21-26, 38-41, 43-48). The promise that peacemakers will be called sons of God probably means that Jesus’ authentic disciples emulate God by undertaking the ministry of reconciliation. Thus at the final judgment they shall be accepted as the sons (and daughters) of God.”

Prompt apologies, acts of restitution, refusing to seek revenge, humbly loving and serving one’s enemies.

Is this how you treat those who have hurt you or seem to be your enemies?

Is there anyone in your life with whom you refuse to make peace?

I keep thinking of later in the passage, verses 43-46, “You have heard that it was said, Love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. For He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward will you have? Don’t even the tax collectors [AKA non-Christ followers/average joes/anyone really] do the same?”

If it is in your power at all, make peace with everyone (think Romans 12:18-21).

Reject what your instinct is, and love as you have been loved. And if you have not experienced the kind of love that is big enough to make others’ offenses seem small, then I pray you will ask God to show you His love and seek it through prayer and studying the Bible.

God, please grant me the grace to love others even when I am struggling with it. Help me to see people the way that You see people. I pray that I will never harden my heart against others, but will actively seek Your power to enable me to overcome the hurtful thoughts and behavior I so often desire. I love You. Thank you for all You have given me.

Skunked dogs, Rahab, and the Non-End of the World

THROWBACK: One of the never finished posts from May 22. I did like this though, so I’m going to attempt to revise the end. I’ll asterisk * where I have picked it up today.

I went to Creston this past weekend and spent some time with one of my favorite families. They have a few dogs, one of which happens to believe he is invincible. M.J. walked straight at my car as I was pulling in and I wasn’t sure he was going to stop. He actually got distracted and looked the other way while still walking toward my moving vehicle. He also thinks he’s a cow-dog, and frequently likes to chase the cows next door.

He happens to be a tiny black terrier.

Over the couple of days I was there, I found out he also had broken his jaw with an encounter with a neighboring horse a while ago and had to have surgery, but still chases cattle of Goliath-proportions to himself on a daily basis. Last week he got sprayed by a skunk. He keeps going back and smelling the area where he was sprayed, getting new stinky oil on his face, despite his owners attempts at cleaning the area with hydrogen peroxide. Needless to say, he’s not the world’s brightest dog, but you have to wonder what’s going through his head. All I could think of was Proverbs 26:11: “As a dog returns to its vomit, so a fool repeats his foolishness.”

I thought about some people in my life who seem to keep repeating foolishness, and I considered my own foolish behavior. I can be so frustrated when I see people I love trading the opportunity for growth and new dependence on God for things that they already know, more specifically, things they already know don’t work and are not beneficial to them spiritually and otherwise. Ok, so I know I’m a go-getter, and I tend to proverbially just “jump” into new circumstances, and that not everyone’s personality is like that, but I have to wonder, where is the boundary between personality and pride? I don’t really think it’s a “personality difference” to choose to return to sin; it’s a matter of the condition of one’s heart.

As a daughter of God whose wandering tendencies have literally been stopped or corrected by God’s intervention and grace alone, I’m pretty sure that where our personalities stray from God’s Will for us is sin. In this particular context of willfully returning to sin, consider what biblical examples we have of what God says about sin. More specifically, look at those who have been great sinners, becoming even greater proponents of faith.

This morning’s message was about Joshua 2, and one such woman named Rahab. * Rahab was not Hebrew. In fact, even in Jericho she had a low standing due to her profession, so it is once again evidence of how God obliterates our ideas and vain standards of what people God uses should be like. Although she was a prostitute, she was industrious, making cords and probably other similar textiles in her spare time. She had no man to provide for her, and in fact, I’m surprised she was not bitter about her life, or at the very least, unwilling to help two men. But instead, she saw God simply, placing her faith on the bit of Him she knew; His power. That faith is what led her to risk her own well-being by hiding spies who represented those who wanted to overtake her city, and it was faith that kept her in her house in the wall, while God delivered her but took stone off of stone to the foundations all around her.

I admire her discernment and courage. I love her for being redeemed by God and living by faith. I see myself in her, and I am thankful for God in His knowledge reminding us that He is after our hearts, which leads to giving our lives. Even three months after originally pondering this, I am still processing the implications of how God works and loves. I want more of it.

And I am also glad the world did not end so I have more opportunity to grow and share love. May you also grow in knowledge of who He is.

Snapshot

The soft acoustic picking of my cell phone alarm resonates my mind into fuzzy consciousness. It is 5:30 a.m. and I am awake. Mostly… hit the snooze…. again…. and roll out of bed. You would be amazed at how difficult it can be to select a t-shirt, even knowing that soon it will be covered in dirt, sweat, and corn dew, when one is at this stage of consciousness.

I grab some socks, clip on a white access card, and my keys. I barely glance in the mirror as I brush my hair upside down into a ponytail. I am mildly aware of a bump in my hair, and for some reason, this matters. I redo it, wash my face, and head for the door. It is 6 a.m.

The sun has just begun to stir, blinking and squinting its golden eye to a small sliver on the horizon, shooting bleary yet glorious scarlet rays as though one is seeing light through an eyelid. This halcyon hour of the early morning is my favorite. I think about it every day when I’m driving to breakfast before work. I am transfixed by its every projection on buildings and on trees and I secretly wish that somehow it would not end, and heaven would come to earth.

Take me where the sunrise means something.

These words come to mind and I realize that I am sometimes just world weary. But what also rises with the sun and my heart is the remembrance that, even in the small span of a day, we can choose to take God’s offer of new grace each day and follow Him (Lamentations 3:22-26).

Take a moment and consider this; God is outside of time because He created it and has complete control. As I was reminded last Sunday in church, God keeps his promises even when hundreds of years have passed here. His Word is trustworthy. Therefore, He promises such abundant love and grace that we are presented with a chance to start over and choose to love Him each day, as small of a fraction of eternity as it is. Our lives are the sum of our days.

C.S. Lewis discusses this thought quite beautifully in “The Great Divorce.” It is a very abstract piece to understand at first, but it is a difficult and complex topic to talk about in the first place. I would highly recommend reading it. Here’s just a snippet:

“[Mortals] say of some temporal suffering, ‘No future bliss can make up for it,’ not knowing Heaven, once attained, will work backwards and turn even that agony into a glory. And of some sinful pleasure they say ‘Let me have but this and I’ll take the consequences’: little dreaming how damnation will spread back and back into their past and contaminate the pleasure of the sin. Both processes begin even before death.”

So in this snapshot of your life- today;  for what or whom are you working?

I pray desperately for the grace to make the right decisions, the steadfast strength of God to overcome my weaknesses, and His love to reign on the throne of my heart. I have simply to make the choice.

(See also Judges 2; I read that this morning and was moved by how God promised success to Israel if they would set Him apart from other gods of the land they were about to take over. Those that did succeeded, and those who did not failed. Praise God that He loves us enough to be true to His Word, and that we have ample opportunity to succeed! God be with you as you make your journey today.)

The last class, cornfield communication, and a prayer request.

The last class-

I am currently enrolled in CI 426, Principles & Issues of Secondary Education. It is my last methods course for education, my first and last summer class through ISU, and my last class on campus as an undergraduate student. I am beginning to feel like it might all be over someday, but the crux of the matter is, the end is just the beginning. Regardless of this philosophical/sober discourse tinged with nostalgia and peppered with the ever-popular coming-of-age motif, this is it, and I am loving it! I found myself as giddy as I was as a child to be in school. I’m pretty sure I fantasize about my first day of school the way I’m supposed to about my future hypothetical wedding, but that’s immaterial. This class is so much fun! It’s cross-listed as a grad class so everyone there wants to be involved with education as a career, and the instructor is the biggest gem of all! He has been in schools for 30 years, both as a history teacher and a principal, and says that his current job is the best yet. He is always just pouring out classroom wisdom that I attempt to jot down in between other notes. I do my homework, and I am affirmed that teaching is not only a great fit for me, but also that I feel the peace and joy of pursuing what God has prepared for me to pursue! Additionally, he openly shared that the most important thing in his life was his faith walk… I’m hoping it means Christianity, but I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to figure that out. Anyway, I am really glad I’m taking this class during the summer. It allows me to enjoy the material to a greater extent, and become more prepared for student teaching in the fall! I am so glad to be excited about school again. It’s been too long.

Cornfield communication-

I love the conversations I get to have at work this summer in cornfields. What is even sweeter is that God has been answering my prayers for more women of God to be in my life. I’m living with some great girls from salt, and even have an accountability partner in a former connection group girl I’ve loved working with in the past year, but even cooler is that there are two other girls on my crew at work who are believers! I know that when I need to talk to them about life issues that 1) they won’t be horribly gossipy and 2) the advice they give me is solid and biblical, rather than steeped in worldly wisdom. Also, for some reason this summer has already afforded several occasions for me to need that support, which leads me to my last point of this post.

A Prayer Request

I really don’t want to bare all details to the internet, but I will say pray for my 16 year old brother. He’s making some negative decisions and having a hard time with my parents and other authority figures. I love him so much. He’s been talking with me, but if you know me at all, you know that my knee-jerk reaction is to want to make him move to Ames so I can keep him close and love on him, but that just isn’t going to happen. He was here last weekend, and we put him to work re-landscaping a friend’s yard. It was good to see him. Just pray that God would speak to his heart in such a way that he won’t be able to do anything but seek Him with everything he’s got.

 

God is so good.

Well dear, internets and random readers, I’m working 40 hours a week and studying like crazy. It doesn’t leave a lot of time for reflection, and I think I’m getting older and antisocial or something… or maybe just plain tired.

This week has been a week of the unexpected. I just got back from driving a friend home due to a family emergency and was reminded how awesome and startling it is at times to recognize how in control of our lives God really is. I’m grateful that it was a day for recovery, healing, and perhaps the beginning of a positive change for my friend and their family. But God is so good. He doesn’t change.

On my own home front, my little sister just graduated from high school last weekend 🙂 It’s hard to believe that she is 19 and I’m 22 now. I remember so many things about her from our childhood even though we are three years and four grades apart, and I am so thankful to have a sister who is:

1)a girl who loves God.

2) not one of those girls who has a bunch of boyfriends or feels the need to chase after guys

3) a sweetheart whom I am consistently complimented for

4)someone I admire and value for being different from me because I can learn a lot from her

5)someone who doesn’t care what people think yet examines herself and proposes change she thinks will be beneficial and healthy. What a wonderful sister! She has grown so much since we were little girls together.

A random Christmas card photo probably at ages 4 and 1 respectively

The older I get, the more I cherish my family. I am so blessed!

 

Still here after the pruning shears…

1 “I am the true vine, and My Father is the vineyard keeper. 2 Every branch in Me that does not produce fruit He removes, and He prunes every branch that produces fruit so that it will produce more fruit. 3 You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. 4 Remain in Me, and I in you. Just as a branch is unable to produce fruit by itself unless it remains on the vine, so neither can you unless you remain in Me.” John 15:1-4 (hcsb)

All branches start off living, but not all of them remain. Don’t let the pruning kill you. You are already clean in the most painfully beautiful way possible.

I don’t have much wisdom these days but to pray that your peace would be found in Him. I’m trying to do that myself.

Last week of school this year. Hanging in there. Missing friends. Looking forward to all this Summer in Ames may bring.

Much love,

Rachel

PRAISE GOD!

I GOT MY STUDENT TEACHING PLACEMENT AND IT’S WHAT I WAS PRAYING FOR!!!!

My former practicum teacher from the fall apparently agreed to take me on as a student teacher- What a blessing! She is even a believer 🙂

I have to hand it to God- He did come through, even when I wasn’t sure. And although He still would have been sovereign if I had gotten that other placement far away, I feel loved that He would listen and do what’s best for me. This is such a great encouragement to me. It’s just what I needed as an extra kick to get through the end of this school year.

A little bit of Hebrews 13 from my morning reading:

1 Let brotherly love (A) continue. 2 Don’t neglect to show hospitality, for by doing this some have welcomed angels as guests without knowing it. (B) 3 Remember the prisoners, as though you were in prison with them, and the mistreated, as though you yourselves were suffering bodily. [a] 4 Marriage must be respected by all, and the marriage bed kept undefiled, because God will judge immoral people and adulterers. (C) 5 Your life should be free from the love of money. Be satisfied with what you have, for He Himself has said, I will never leave you or forsake you. (D) (E) 6 Therefore, we may boldly say:

The Lord is my helper;

I will not be afraid.

What can man do to me? (F) (G)

Ah, discipline.

(Pardon the letters to references/notes. See this passage in context here)

1 Therefore since we also have such a large cloud of witnesses (A) surrounding us, let us lay aside every weight and the sin that so easily ensnares us, and run with endurance (B) the race that lies before us, 2 keeping our eyes on Jesus, [a] the source and perfecter [b] of our faith, who for the joy that lay before Him [c] endured a cross and despised the shame, (C) and has sat down at the right hand of God’s throne.
3 For consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners against Himself, so that you won’t grow weary and lose heart. (D) 4 In struggling against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. 5 And you have forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons:
My son, do not take the Lord’s discipline lightly,

or faint when you are reproved by Him;

6 for the Lord disciplines the one He loves,

and punishes every son whom He receives. (E) (F)

7 Endure it as discipline: God is dealing with you as sons. For what son is there whom a father does not discipline? 8 But if you are without discipline—which all [d] receive [e] —then you are illegitimate children and not sons. (G) 9 Furthermore, we had natural fathers discipline us, and we respected them. Shouldn’t we submit even more to the Father of spirits and live? (H) 10 For they disciplined us for a short time based on what seemed good to them, but He does it for our benefit, so that we can share His holiness. (I) 11 No discipline seems enjoyable at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it yields the fruit of peace (J) and righteousness to those who have been trained by it. (K)

12 Therefore strengthen your tired hands and weakened knees, (L) 13 and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be dislocated, [f] but healed instead. (M)

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
This passage was the answer to my prayers last night- I read it this morning. If we are to be “untouchable” by our circumstances and trials in this world, we have to remember the truth and return to it consistently. It is by viewing it through God’s eyes that we gain peace and perspective. I struggle with this.

The older I get, the more broken I realize I am, and it is difficult for me to deal with that reality. The skeptic in me looks at this passage and says “Does God really win? What if it’s all just a cruel joke- that those who think they have it all have just deceived themselves into thinking that they have all things through God?” And then I remember- this world is fallen. People want to believe only what they can control- including what they can understand. They are offered so much more, but they trade it in for what is simple, and what they want at the moment.

And I hate that I’m like that more than I would like to admit. I hate that I would rather shirk discipline and go my own crooked way, and in doing so, profane my faith.

This is a valley. I’m working on growing. Lord, bring on the dawn.