When There’s Nothing Left to Give

There are certain things my spirit won’t seem to let me move on from until I put pen to paper (or in this case, fingers to keyboard). I have been chewing on this subject since December, and here I am still ruminating over it.

I can’t shake this deeply moving story in the Bible about God caring for the needs of the prophet Elijah in the desert. I keep going back to it, hanging on every word again and again. There is something so honest and raw that resonates with my heart.

I find myself in a season of great joy, but also of exhaustion. I can list off dozens of things I have to be thankful for, but I am tired. Like a juggler carefully balancing and timing each ball as it comes down and gets tossed back up, the slightest hiccup and I feel like the balls are crashing down all around me. Throw me a sick kid, a conflict at work, or my husband working a few late nights and suddenly I feel I’m struggling to keep up with the demands of life. My body is worn and I’ve found myself telling the Lord, “I have had enough. This is all too much. The visions and dreams, the task to be a reflection of you, the responsibilities you’ve placed in my lap– some days it just all feels too hard. Can I just quit?”

Then I find myself rereading this story of Elijah.

kingdomsmapIt’s found in the Old Testament of the Bible, in 1 Kings 19. It was a dark time in Israel’s history, well after the God-fearing King David reigned. The Promised Land of the Israelites had split into 2 nations, Israel to the North and Judah to the South. As a prophet, Elijah was a man appointed by God to speak on His behalf, speaking both the good and bad messages God had for the people. And Elijah finds himself having to speak to the kingdom of Israel, who had turned their hearts from God. Israel is ruled by the evil King Ahab and his neurotic wife, Queen Jezebel, who worshiped the pagan fertility god, Baal. Following Yahweh God wouldn’t exactly have been popular at this point in time.

When we find our friend Elijah in the desert in chapter 19, he is exhausted from just finishing a battle with the prophets of Baal. (Read 1 Kings 18 for this epic battle on Mount Carmel) Despite the fact that Elijah won on God’s behalf, Elijah is discouraged and depressed and fleeing for his life from the crazed Jezebel who now wants his head. He escapes to the desert, sits down under a tree and prays to the Lord that he might die. This chosen, anointed man of God says, “I have had enough, Lord…Take my life.” Then he lays down and falls asleep.

But something happens. An angel touches him and tells him to eat. Next to him is a jar of cool water and the smell of freshly baked bread wafting towards him. He eats and drinks and falls back asleep.

No lecture. Just food and drink and rest.

Then the angel comes back and tells him to eat again, noting how Elijah will need his strength for the rest of the journey. God still has more for him to do. The scriptures say Elijah was “strengthened by that food.” God still had more for him to do, but he knew Elijah’s limitations and provided for those needs.

But wait! The story gets even better. Strengthened, Elijah journeys for 40 days to Mount Horeb (the same place Moses met with God and received the 10 Commandments all those years ago). And here, God meets with Elijah. God asks him what he is doing and Elijah pours out his heart. “I have been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty,” he tells God. “The Israelites have rejected your covenant, broken down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.”

Can’t you just hear the aching in his lament? “I have passionately and obediently followed you, God! Then why has it all gone so wrong?!”

Yet in his place of weariness, God meets with Elijah. He comes to talk with Elijah in the midst of his distress. He knows Elijah is tired and weary, and provides for his physical and emotional needs. Then afterwards, God tells him to go back the way he came. He has more work for Elijah to do!

God could have had the angel say that initially. The angel could have tapped Elijah on the shoulder from his nap in the desert and said “Ahem, God wants you to go back. You still have prophets and kings to appoint. Let’s hop to it, man.” But he didn’t! God knew the physical exhaustion Elijah was in and He knew the weary state of his soul. So He fed him, and gave him rest, and provided encouragement through His presence, and then finally let Elijah know he had more to do.

Do you ever feel like that? Do you ever feel like you’re pouring yourself out day after day, week after week, month after month, only to reach a place of complete fatigue? You don’t have to be a prophet to experience this, or its modern equivalent of a pastor – or even in ministry for that matter. You could be a physician who attentively sees dozens of clients each day. Or a social worker who is overworked and under-encouraged.  Ask any parent and I’m sure they can tell you the exhaustion that comes with caring for the needs of their children around the clock. You could be facing on-going relational stress or a health condition that is draining both physically and emotionally. Maybe you’ve worked diligently for a company over 10 years only to get passed by time and time again for that promotion. Or perhaps you are just physically exhausted from an overbooked calendar and the duties of running children from place to place, activity to activity. And you reach this point where you say to God, “Lord, I have had enough! I have nothing left to give.”

God knows.

God sees us.

God cares.

God created us. He knows the limitations of our physical and emotional bodies.

So what’s the answer when we have nothing left to give? God shows up. If we pay attention, He sends us places of rest; moments of quiet encouragement with Him. In the story when God meets with Elijah, He is not in the wind or the fire. God shows up in the whisper. Though one has to quiet herself to hear a whisper; one has to be listening.

I can’t tell you how many times I have reached my threshold, called out to God and said, “Excuse me, can all of this be done now? I have nothing left to give.” And then He’ll show up in some unexpected way. A friend will send an encouraging text. The grandparents will ask to take our kids, suddenly providing an afternoon of needed rest. My husband will do the dishes, creating space for me to enjoy a book. A worship song that is like salve to my soul plays on the radio.

I’ve found these moments of refreshment or encouragement come just when I need them, but typically not in surplus. Like the Israelites who survived in the desert on manna supplied to them daily, God seems to provide just what I need to keep pressing on another day or week at a time.

Some days life can be hard. We get tired and worn down from life’s pressures and responsibilities. But how comforting to know we have a God who cares and knows we need places of rest and moments of encouragement.

Like Elijah, God has more for us to do. He wants us to finish the race strong. He wants us to carry out the good work until the day of restoration. The daily grind of life can wear on us. But if we pay attention, we’ll find God’s gifts to restore our soul are all around us.

“Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.”

Hebrews 12:2-3

Enjoy this beautiful song by Kari Jobe, a go-to for me this past season. ❤

 

Blessings,

~Renee

Think of These Things

I came home the other night from a full day of work, rushing to kids’ activities, both body and mind exhausted. Then I stepped into my backyard that evening and couldn’t help but feel a sense of complete gratitude. 

Birds fluttered and danced across the yard. Hues of pink and orange began to streak across wispy clouds. Fragrant lilac was being carried by the breeze. Neighborhood kids could be heard in the distance giggling and chattering together. 

A stroll out to my little garden revealed bright white flowers speckling my strawberry bed. Pops of green and purple lettuce greeted me. Happy little peas began to grab hold of their trellis. Tiny zinnia seeds began to push their way through the dirt. 

My mundane backyard was transformed into Eden. 

I could have chosen to dwell on the fatigue my body felt or the annoyance my son stirred up in me that afternoon or the neverending to-do list I couldn’t seem to make much ground on. But that day, I didn’t. 

Some days I inevitably do give in to that grumbling spirit and I go down the path of “woe is me.” Every now and then we need to feel all the feels. There is nothing wrong with acknowledging what is hard or stressful, and it is perfectly okay to have legitimate seasons of grief or lament (we’ve talked about that in What To Do With All The Feels: A Lesson On Lament). 

But regardless of the season in which I find myself, whether fast and chaotic, slow and boring, the perfect happy-medium, or especially trying, God is developing in me this constant need to dwell on that which is good and lovely and excellent. 

Finally, brother and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.

Philippians 4:8

I make choices about the content I allow to enter my mind: 

Too much news produces anxiety; The Dick VanDyke Show makes me laugh. 

A little bit of HGTV can spark creativity; too much can produce a spirit of discontent. 

However, that’s only part of the equation. Consciously taking time to see all the good and right and admirable in the day-to-day becomes life changing. 

Our perspective changes things. The lens with which we view our day changes our approach. Therefore, more and more, I am trying to find those places and moments of seeing God’s hand or artistry in my daily routine. 

The kindness displayed by an encouraging co-worker. 

Sentimental words from my daughter: “you’re the best mom ever.”

The sweet tune of the goldfinches as a thank you note for their thistle.

Vibrant blue hydrangea waiting to say hello outside my front door. 

A family that still comes together for dinner in the evening. 

The wonder on my son’s face as he discovers a new stone.

A quiet moment with just my Bible, journal, and a HOT cup of coffee.

You can tell I’m a small-town girl moved by nature, but for you it could be entirely different. 

Instead, maybe it’s: 

The smell from the corner bakery. 

The neighbors who congregate every evening in the shared greenspace. 

The familiar hustle of people rushing home after work. 

The intricate stone architecture on the church the next block over. 

A breezy stroll in the neighborhood fruit market where each vendor knows you by name.

Whatever it is that brings us joy, wherever we live and with whom we interact, we can grab hold of those nuggets of glory. 

There is power in the thoughts on which we dwell. These thoughts, constantly sprinkled through the day and week, change us. They shape our view of life. They draw us closer to the heart of the Father and ultimately mold us to be a little more like Him. 


Share your nuggets of glory with me! Where did you see God in your day? What moments brought you joy?

Philippians Study: Part 4


OUTLINE

Genre:

  • Letter: sometimes referred to as Epistles
    • Written in response to a specific need or circumstance.

Context:

  • Author: Written by Paul (with Timothy- his disciple)
    • Around 61 AD; about 30 years after Christ’s death; original generation still alive
    • One of 4 letters written while Paul is in prison in Rome
  • Original audience: 
    • The Christians in Philippi; 
      • not one church; lots of small churches within the city
  • What was going on?
    • They had sent their member, Epaphroditus, with a gift to deliver to Paul. Paul wrote the letter to thank them for their support/encouragement while he’s imprisoned.
    • Paul was also concerned about coming persecutions and the members not all getting along→ written to instruct them to work together
  • Bonus: Read Acts, chapter 16, for some of the historical accounts in the Epistles

Observe: What’s Happening?What is the text saying? 

  • Again, asking the churches to get along:
  • Vs 2- Agree with each other!
    • Greek women; possibly led separate house churches and not getting along
      • Inscriptions show that women played a significant role in Philippi’s religious realm
    • They worked w/ Paul; obviously has high regard for them
    • Asking other to mediate; help them to reconcile 
  • Stand firm in your faith, agree with each other, do not be anxious, 
  • Instead: think of good things and the God of peace will be with you 
  • Thanks them for their gifts (vs 10-20)
    • Paul is stating his gratitude without seeking further gifts; doesn’t want to depend on their gifts
    • He’s learned to be content
  • Paul is telling them not to worry about him
  • Learning to be content
  • Vs 11-13- Greco Roman thinkers would have valued self-reliance; Paul is placing dependence on Christ instead of self
  • Vs 19- Paul can’t repay them, but trusts God to meet their needs
  • Vs 22- News that the gospel had reached Caesar’s household would have been really exciting and encouraging to the original hearers
    • Acts 28- those who guarded Paul heard his teachings

Interpret: What does it mean? What is the central lesson the author wanted to communicate? What does it teach us about God? 

  • Again visits the theme of unity
  • Excellent Thoughts:
    • Do not be anxious- present to God
    • Paul follows his instructions for unity, rejoicing, and releasing anxiety with thinking about good things
    • Vs 8- Repetition would have been intentional to get reader’s attention 
    • Does this really help? 
      • Example of how what we think/dwell on affects us
        • Always thinking negatively/taking in negative things isn’t helpful
      • Cognitive Therapy: a type of psychotherapy in which negative patterns of thought about the self and the world are challenged in order to alter unwanted behavior patterns or treat mood disorders such as depression
      • Paul follows his instructions for unity, rejoicing, and releasing anxiety with thinking about good things
      • Also goes in line with the idea of perspective from Chp1; Paul’s perspective shaped his attitude of the situation
    • And the God of peace will be with you
      • Vs 7 & 9 (sandwiches the thoughts of peace)
      • Peace- Greek is “eirene” (equivalent to “shalom” in Hebrew) 
        • tranquility, absence of conflict/harmony with each other
  • Contentment: 
    • Vs 11- learned to be content whatever the circumstances
    • Vs 13- Do everything (other translations say “I can do all this”) through Christ who strengthens me
      • Not taking vs 13 out of context
    • Allowing Christ to help you be content whatever the circumstances vs. the traditional interpretation of vs 13 as a motivational statement
    • Strength to endure

“Finally brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable– if anything is excellent or praiseworthy– think about such things.” 

Philippians 4:8


Application: What does it mean for you? Personal application

  • Begin to pay attention to how what you’re consuming and repeating in your thoughts is affecting you– both positively or negatively. Are there any areas in your life where you could replace certain thoughts with whatever is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent or praiseworthy? 
  • Reflect on this area of contentment? Do you generally feel satisfied or does the culture’s message of “more” have an impact on you? Are you able to lean on the Lord for strength in seasons of want? 
  • Did anything else speak to you from the reading?

Philippians Study: Part 3


OUTLINE

Genre:

  • Letter: sometimes referred to as Epistles
    • Written in response to a specific need or circumstance.

Context:

  • Author: Written by Paul (with Timothy- his disciple)
    • Around 61 AD; about 30 years after Christ’s death; original generation still alive
    • One of 4 letters written while Paul is in prison in Rome
  • Original audience: 
    • The Christians in Philippi; 
      • not one church; lots of small churches within the city
  • What was going on?
    • They had sent their member, Epaphroditus, with a gift to deliver to Paul. Paul wrote the letter to thank them for their support/encouragement while he’s imprisoned.
    • Paul was also concerned about coming persecutions and the members not all getting along→ written to instruct them to work together
  • Bonus: Read Acts, chapter 16, for some of the historical accounts in the Epistles

Observe: What’s Happening?What is the text saying? 

  • Vs 1- likely repeating them things he taught them in person
  • Conservative Jews saying you needed to be circumcised still; Paul is refuting that
    • Don’t need to put confidence in a physical process anymore; Paul is making it clear this is no longer what marks them as the people of God
    • Ie- circumcision (way of marking that their people was set apart; belonged to Yahweh)…..Jesus coming abolished the law and need for this
    • Vs 3: The Spirit allows us to circumcise (i.e. purify) our hearts
      • The Spirit is now what marks followers of God instead
      • God is already alluding to in the OT as part of his plan: 
        • Deut 10:16, Deut 30: 6
      • Will be giving a new heart from the new covenant by the Spirit
        • Jeremiah 31:33, Ezekiel 36:26-27
          • Ez- “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.”
  • And if anyone could boast in worldly things, it’d be him; but he doesn’t; he considers all those things loss compared to knowing Jesus
    • You want confidence in the flesh? Paul can boast of worldly confidence
      • Pharisee (strictest of Jewish sects)
  • Knowing Christ intimately (along with his suffering and resurrection)
    • But it’s a process, hasn’t obtained perfection
    • Vs 10- I want to know Christ
      • “Know”= intimacy, covenant 
    • Interestingly, Paul also connects knowing Christ to sharing in his sufferings
      • Though divine, Christ sacrificed himself for us 
      • We’re to imitate Christ
  • Don’t listen to false teachings; they’re led by passions
    • Vs 15- Maturity
      • Common for philosophers of the day to admit they hadn’t reached perfection, though they’d still contrast the difference b/w the mature and novices; advanced students as mature
  • Ultimate citizenship is in heaven
    • Vs 20- they would have understood being a citizen of a place they’ve never been to
      • Philippi was a Roman colony; therefore legal citizens of Rome, along with its benefits
    • Vs 21- the Jews regarded resurrection to include the entire body; but this idea would have been foreign to the Greek and Roman 


Interpret: What does it mean? What is the central lesson the author wanted to communicate? What does it teach us about God? 

  • Identity: in the flesh and in this world, or in our relationship with Jesus?
    • Having cultural status isn’t ultimately what matters
    • Whatever were gains before, Paul now considers loss for the sake of Christ
      • Knowing Christ is better
    • Vs 8- “because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus…for whose sake I have lost all things”
    • Liken to a love relationship, or a child: you thought life was good/fine but then you can’t imagine life w/o
    • This relationship is important/life changing
  • Relational: Intimacy with Christ
    • Vs 10- Paul desires to know Christ; vs8- a loss compared to knowing Christ
    • Greek word “know”= ginosko
      • Relational: Knowing Christ in the sense of having a relationship of faith and trust; recognition of his divine person
      • John 10:14-15- my sheep know my voice
        • “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me— just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep.” 
        • You recognize the voice of someone you know vs a stranger
      • Knowing- also connects to the concept of Covenant, but we’ll cover that separately
  • Pressing On – Athletic Imagery 
    • Remember, a Greek audience.. Philippi located in modern day Greece
    • Vs 12-14- “I press on”- it’s a process; not about reaching perfection
      • Paul’s goal: vs 10 & 11
    • Vs 13- If you’re running a race to win, looking behind slows you down 
    • Vs 14- winners were typically called up for their prize; in this case the prize is heaven

I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 3: 14

Application: What does it mean for you? Personal application

  • Are there “worldly” gains you still cling to for worth instead of your identity in Jesus? Do you remember life before “knowing” Christ? 
  • Would you consider yourself to “know God intimately”? Like in Jesus’ parable about the sheep, do you think you would know His voice? One of the ways we can know God’s voice is knowing what He says in the Word.
  • In week 1, we talked about sanctification and how it is a process of becoming more like Jesus. Do you feel pressure to have already arrived in terms of your character, knowing the Bible, knowing God, etc? What sorts of things cause you to look behind or slow you down in moving forward? What does this concept of simply pressing on, and knowing even Paul hadn’t arrived, do for you? 
  • Did anything else speak to you from the reading?

New Name Announcement!

The Girl Who Talks to God is changing to The Priscilla Initiative:

I’ve been praying about it for some time and felt like now was the right time for the name change. My original name worked for a season with my original goals– which was initially to blog and write about the things of God here and there.

While I still plan to write reflective blogs, my heart has been growing to turn the website into more of a women’s ministry hub. I want it to be a place where women can grow and deepen in their faith by learning how to read the Bible, to get excited about the things of God, to encourage more women to step into their own roles as leaders, and to provide resources. 

That being said, it seemed like the right time for a new name. The Priscilla Initiative comes from the Bible character, Priscilla, from the book of Acts. She is a woman of God who works alongside Paul and disciples others. My favorite line is this: “When Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they invited him to their home and explained to him the way of God more adequately” (Acts 18:26).

Discipleship has been at the core of my ministry heartbeat for some time, so it only seemed fitting that the website be named after a female leader who discipled others into better knowing their God. Over the coming weeks, the website will get updated with the new name/theme, and you may even see some fellow women in ministry begin to guest contribute.

I’m excited to see what God has in store! 

Philippians Study: Part 2


OUTLINE:

Genre:

  • Letter: sometimes referred to as Epistles
    • Written in response to a specific need or circumstance.

Context:

  • Author: Written by Paul (with Timothy- his disciple)
    • Around 61 AD; about 30 years after Christ’s death; original generation still alive
    • One of 4 letters written while Paul is in prison in Rome
  • Original audience: 
    • The Christians in Philippi; 
      • not one church; lots of small churches within the city
  • What was going on?
    • They had sent their member, Epaphroditus, with a gift to deliver to Paul. Paul wrote the letter to thank them for their support/encouragement while he’s imprisoned.
    • Paul was also concerned about coming persecutions and the members not all getting along→ written to instruct them to work together
  • Bonus: Read Acts, chapter 16, for some of the historical accounts in the Epistles

Observe: What’s Happening?What is the text saying? 

  • Paul invites them to live in unity
    • Vs 2- “make my joy complete by being like-minded, one in spirit”
    • Vs 3- Do nothing out of selfish ambition; value others above yourself; look to the interests of others
      • Roman culture, it was all about reputation, position, honor
    • Vs 4- think of the larger good over yourself
  • Imitate Christ’s humility
    • Paul’s use of poetry highlights its significance; being the heart of the letter
  • Vs 9-10 THEREFORE
    • Because of Christ’s humbling himself, God exalted him; was able to accomplish his work
  • Vs 12/13- Again, this idea of growing, sanctification
    • “Continue to work out your salvation,” 
    • “God who works in you”
  • Vs 14/15- Idea of standing out in a dark world
    •  Deut 32:5- Jewish literature often compared the righteous with light
  • Sending Timothy and Epaphroditus
    • Vs 22- teachers often viewed close disciples as sons; wants to send Timothy to encourage them
    • Epaphroditus- messenger who almost died on the long journey. It wasn’t safe to send money with just anyone. It would have been a trusted person to carry the gift from Philippians all the way to Paul in Rome

Interpret: What does it mean? What is the central lesson the author wanted to communicate? What does it teach us about God? 

  • The Church as a Unified Community
    • If we really love Christ and are allowing him to change us from the inside out, we should be able to live in loving community with each other.
    • When we see each other as fellow “spirit-carriers”/ambassadors/family members, we should have a sense that we need to work in one direction
    • All of that should produce affection and empathy for one another
    • There are SO many clashes in the modern-day church
      • Music, buildings, theology, culture, politics, moral behavior, etc
      • SO HOW DO WE DO THIS?!
  • The Answer: Think of yourself the way Jesus did!
    • “Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ”
      • In your relationships with one another, have the mindset of Christ
    • Not self-focused; not bringing our thinking in line with each other, but in line with Christ’s thinking!
  • What was the mindset of Christ?
    • Verse 6- Jesus didn’t use his position to his advantage
      • the NT culture was all about using your status to your advantage; completely counter-cultural
      • Rulers like Alexander the Great and Augustus were domineering, military conquerors.
      • Paul’s message would have seemed absurd!
    • Vs 7: God as servant: 
      • It was unusual for people of status to even eat with a servant, much less act like one
      • Vs 7: “made himself nothing” can also mean “emptied himself”
        • This does not mean he emptied himself of divinity; it was about being truly divine; emptied himself of his rights 
        • Word picture from Isaiah 53:12- the servant who poured out his life in death
    • Vs 8- humbled himself and became obedient to death on a cross
      • the cross was the epitome of a shameful death
      • about his obedience to go all the way to the cross; 
        • NT Wright: he is the God of self-giving love
    • Vs 9-11: Paul showing the victory in it all
      • Paul references Isaiah 45:23 to show Christ is equal to God- “to me and me alone, every knee shall bow and every tongue shall swear”
      • Christ is the Messiah
    • Paul building a proof: point A→ point B → point C
    • Live in unity by living like Christ
  • THEN We’ll be a witness!
    • Remember how the church is to live in a way that exemplified the final restoration/kingdom living; we are God’s ambassadors
    • Vs 14- without grumbling and complaining; shine like stars
    • Point C→ Live in unity by living like Christ and you will be a shining example to the world around you

“As you look at the incarnate son of God dying on the cross, the most powerful thought you should think is this: this is the true meaning of who God is. He is the God of self-giving love.”

-NT Wright, Paul for Everyone: The Prison Letters

Application: What does it mean for you? Personal application

  • Our God is known most clearly when he abandons his rights for the sake of the world. Can you think of ways you still think of yourself before “the sake of the world”? 
  • How can we bring a sense of unity to our lives– our families, churches, communities, world? 
  • Did anything else speak to you from the reading?

I heard this song this past week and the lyrics seemed fitting for today’s conversation.

Philippians Study: Part 1

Here’s a closer look at the maps!

Taken from: NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible, Copyright 2016
Taken from: NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible, Copyright 2016

OUTLINE:

Genre:

  • Letter: sometimes referred to as Epistles
    • Written in response to a specific need or circumstance.

Context:

  • Author: Written by Paul (with Timothy- his disciple)
    • Around 61 AD; about 30 years after Christ’s death; original generation still alive
    • One of 4 letters written while Paul is in prison in Rome
  • What Philippi was like: real people; real time
    • Philippi was a prosperous Roman city; not a small rural area
    • Along the Egnatian Way, which was a major highway that connected the eastern provinces to Rome (major highway)- big factor in its prosperity and political influence
  • Original audience: 
    • The Christians in Philippi; 
      • not one church; lots of small churches within the city
      • Paul and his team started the church of Philippi during his 2nd missionary journey. First church established in Europe. Luke (as in the gospel of Luke) was its pastor for the first 6 years. One of the healthiest churches in the New Testament. 
  • What was going on?
    • They had sent their member, Epaphroditus, with a gift to deliver to Paul. Paul wrote the letter to thank them for their support/encouragement while he’s imprisoned.
    • Paul was also concerned about coming persecutions and the members not all getting along→ written to instruct them to work together
    • The Christians in Philippi all loved Paul, but were not getting along with each other
  • Bonus: Read Acts, chapter 16, for some of the historical accounts in the Epistles

Observe: What’s Happening?What is the text saying? 

  • Paul is so thankful for their faith in Jesus; begins his letter with encouragement and affection
  • Vs 6- “being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion”- God keeps working on us
  • Vs 9- “this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight…may be able to discern”- continues this idea of God working on us
  • Vs 12- “what has happened” (see Acts)- he’s in prison
    • All through the palace guard (entire palace); it has helped to advance the gospel (perspect changes interpretation of circumstances)
  • Vs 13- likely refers to the Praetorian Guard around Rome (Acts 28:16)
  • 15- Common in the Meditarranean culture to desire honor
  • Vs 18- what matters is that Christ is preached
  • Vs 19- Job 13:16 
  • If he lives, he gets to continue sharing the gospel; if Paul dies, he gets to be with Jesus
  • No matter what happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of Christ
    • Stand firm in one spirit, one man for the faith

Interpret: What does it mean? What is the central lesson the author wanted to communicate? What does it teach us about God? 

  • Idea of continued sanctification: 
    • Definition: the action or process of making something holy; the action or process of being freed from sin
    • Becoming more like Christ
    • Verse 6- “will carry it to completion until the day of Christ.” 
    • vs 9/10- “more in knowledge…to discern….until the day of Christ”
    • Vs 11- “Filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ”
  • Perspective: 
    • Don’t be discouraged with my being in chains
    • Paul could be grumbling about being in prison; instead he’s praising God about his ability to share the gospel bc of his unique position there
    • He doesn’t get upset that some are preaching from selfish motives; either way Christ is being preached!
    • Vs 18- “Yes and I will continue to rejoice!”
    • Death vs life- serve here and preach Christ or be with Christ in heaven
  • Paul affirms their relationship and his care for them
    • begins with sincere thanks, encouragement, and affection; 
    • almost as if to make it clear that any rebuke is coming from someone who genuinely loves them
    • Whatever happens…conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of Christ
      • He’s talking about whether he lives or dies and the coming persecution
      • Stand firm in one spirit

Application: What does it mean for you? Personal application

  • What emotions does the word sanctification bring up in you? Positive/negative/confused? Does that idea that Jesus continues to work in us after being saved intimidate your or give you hope? Are there any areas God is working on in your life now? 
  • What do you think about Paul’s perspective in the midst of really difficult circumstances? Are there any areas in your life where you could use some new perspective? 
  • At the end of Chapter 1, Paul is just getting started with some of his rebuke to the Philippians. Knowing Paul gave these warnings from a place of love, how does it make you feel? Regardless of circumstances or persecution, do you feel the body of Christ is standing firm in one spirit? The body of Christ begins with us. Are you conducting yourself in a manner worthy of Christ in our volatile cultural climate? 
  • Did anything else speak to you from the reading? 

Leaning on the God Who Provides

I wrote this well over a year ago and tucked it away. It was raw and it was personal. I needed to write for therapeutic reasons, but I couldn’t share in the midst of the valley. For a time, I wasn’t sure if I’d ever share it, but after seeing a few dear friends walk through their own valleys with their children, it seemed appropriate, even if only for the purpose of sending all my love and encouragement to them. You aren’t alone. ❤ 


Having children has been my hardest trust journey of all. Every step of it, if you don’t want to live in fear, has to be placed into God’s hands. From the waiting and the trying to get pregnant. To the hopeful anticipation that it will be an uncomplicated pregnancy. To the checking for 10 fingers and 10 toes. To the sweet hugs as you send them off to kindergarten. To the moment they’re suddenly suiting up in cap and gown. 

I’m quite certain it doesn’t end there. 

But actually trusting God through a difficult situation is a lot harder than just reading about it or saying the words or believing in the philosophy.

When suddenly a season hits where you aren’t sure as to your child’s health and something feels amiss. People give awkward comments, unwanted advice, and readily slap on labels. You begin to obsessively check your phone, waiting for reports from “the experts”. When it feels like you are staring evil in the eye and have no choice but to prepare for battle. It’s as if the situations around you are spiraling and you’re lost in this sea of questions and doubts and doctors and experts and the like. You start to question everything you’ve ever done as a mother and the ways it could have caused permanent damage- from the non-organic food you consumed while pregnant, to the not-so-perfect parenting moments. And you nonchalantly try to sneak out of church before anyone notices the tears beginning to well up because you can’t hold the fake smile any longer. 

That’s when things get real. 

We all know we’re supposed to trust God with our kids, with our precious little babies. But what does that look like when things hit home? What does that mean when living in this fallen world seems to invade the very fabric of our lives? 

I wish I could say I understood the space I find myself in right now. I wish I could say it all makes sense and I can see how it fits into God’s larger plan. But right now it just feels heavy. It feels dark. And there are moments when it feels as though Satan himself is warring against my family and my child. 


The Bible is very clear that we serve the God who provides. Jehovah Jireh in Hebrew means, “The Lord Will Provide.” We first see this name given to the Lord in Genesis 22:14. God tells Abraham not to lay a hand on Isaac and instead provides the sacrifice through a ram caught in the thicket, so Abraham names the place “The Lord Will Provide.” This is in direct contrast to the name Abraham gives God in the previous chapter, El Olam, the “Eternal God,” where He is the enduring God, the God of the long term and big picture. Here, Abraham recognizes that God is also the God of the short term, caring for our needs of today. The two attributes beautifully compliment one another to convey that Yaweh is not a God of either/or, but a God of both/and. Hebrews 11 tells us that Abraham carried on in obedience because he believed God would provide. His ability to trust was because of who he knew God to be. 

Right now my soul so badly needs to remember that. I need to know that I serve a God who provides for today, like rain drops bringing sustenance to the sun-scorched crops. But I also need to know that my God takes care of the big picture; that he is holding my family 10 years from now; that this all somehow matters. 

The truth is, we don’t always get to know all the answers. Sometimes we can see the bits and pieces of the greater picture later on, sometimes we can see the good that comes out of the bad, but other times we walk through difficult seasons with no sense of purpose and no justification for the pain being felt. Those are the seasons we grab on tight to the hand of God and ask Him to steady us. Those are the moments when the need for a Savior and the longing for eventual restoration of all things is felt more than ever.

Sweet Jesus, erase our tears and bring about healing. 

In the meantime, I hope and I trust. Not because life is rosy or because I’m guaranteed a happy ending, but because I can be confident in my Savior God. He is faithful, He is merciful, He is good, and He is both my El Olam and my Jehovah Jireh. Like Abraham with Isaac, I’ll continue to step forward in obedience, trusting God to provide, remembering that he loves my sweet child even more than I do.


For any of you out there going through a difficult road with a child, my heart and prayers are with you friends.

~Renee

My Response to the Asian-American Hate

Despite being a writer, I haven’t been able to find the words regarding all the Asian-hate in the media as of late. I don’t have the answers, and I know there are people who are so much more knowledgeable in this area than myself. 

This I do know: I was raised to see the beauty in our differences. Not to ignore them. Not to tolerate them. But to delight in and see God’s design in the many differences we all have with different hair color, eye color, skin color, and culture. When my little boy says he wishes his eyes were blue like mine, I cannot reiterate enough to him how much I adore his big brown eyes. 

I praise God that, for now, my sweet, precious babies can remain unaware of the hatred that exists in the world. We are blessed to be in a community where we feel loved and supported. But we were also conscious when choosing where to live that racism still exists, and were purposeful about avoiding certain areas where we might feel less welcome. 

I’m still fleshing out where the marriage of grace and justice happens. Where God’s heart for loving our enemies and forgiving those who’ve wronged us collides with a God who also longs for rightness and for his people to display the way of his Kingdom. He isn’t a God of either/or. He is a God of both mercy and righteousness.

In the meantime, I will raise my children to meet hate with love. To stand up for justice. To be the light in the darkness. They will receive the message that they have been beautifully and wonderfully created by their Heavenly Father. And I will continue to seek the face of God for all the brokenness that exists amongst his people. God knows, we need Him. 

Part 8: Making the Head to Heart Connection

Even as a champion for reading and understanding the Bible, I understand that without absorbing today’s topic, everything else I’ve written these past weeks is meaningless. When we approach the Bible, we must come with an open, humble heart that allows the cerebral information to penetrate into our hearts. Without that, we’re reduced to academic scholars, pushers of religious dogma, even to Pharisees. 

Let’s look at this quote from a Seminary Professor, C.L. Blomberg: 

“If we wanted to be brutally honest…one would have to say that the conservative, evangelical Christian…is probably the closest parallel to the ancient Pharisees.”

What terms or adjectives come to mind when you hear Pharisee? Does that statement seem a bit extreme? Did it strike a chord? Seem a little offensive to your Christian sphere? 

Before walking off in a huff, hold onto your panties, take a deep breath, and hear me out. Let me remind you that the man who made that statement is not anti-Christian. He is a Bible professor, teaching pastors and ministry students who will go on and teach more people. So why would he say such a thing? 

Jesus actually had a lot to say on this topic. 

In Matthew 23, Jesus spends the entire chapter rebuking the Pharisees and teachers of the law. 

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean. 
“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness." - Matthew 23: 25-28

Yikes! Jesus compares them to whitewashed tombs, calling them dead on the inside. Clearly he takes it very seriously that they care more about following the rules and looking good on the outside than they do about cleaning their hearts. 

Again, in John 5: 38-39, Jesus says to the Pharisees, “nor does God’s word dwell in you, for you do not believe the one he sent. You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life.” Of the religious groups of the day, the Pharisees knew the scriptures better than anyone, adhered to the rules better than anyone, yet they were missing the main point! Jesus was making it clear that their strict rule following wouldn’t save them. Jesus’ message was about coming to Him for salvation.  

In the process of trying to more carefully understand the context and absorb Biblical knowledge, we cannot forget to make that head to heart connection.

In the process of trying to more carefully understand the context and absorb Biblical knowledge, we cannot forget to make that head to heart connection. If all we ever do is store up a wealth of knowledge, a list of dos and don’ts, we become too much like the Pharisaic Jew or the legalistic evangelical, and forget what is at the center of Christianity: a transformative relationship with Jesus. 

The trouble is, we humans tend to go to extremes. If you remember the introduction (An Intro: Why It’s Not Just For Your Pastor), I spoke about being informed in the Scriptures for ourselves so that we are not like lemmings and easily led astray. However, on the opposite side is an equal challenge of not becoming the hypocritical, white-washed Pharisee. We should neither have a faith that is led merely on warm fuzzies and our emotion of the day any more than we should claim a faith in Jesus that is reduced to academic knowledge of the Bible while ignoring its purpose to shape us into the reflection of the one we claim to follow.

We need balance. 

I will make this very clear: dogmatic reading of the Bible or a precise following of the rules will not save you. Only a relationship with our Savior, the Son of God, Jesus Christ, is what saves. “For it is by grace you have been saved…not by works, so that no man may boast” (Ephesians 2). Repenting from our sin and accepting the gracious gift of Jesus that has been given us is the only thing that saves. However, if we don’t build on that foundation, if we ignore the opportunity to come to know our Creator God and Savior more through his Holy Scriptures, we miss out. We pass by on the chance to better understand the heart of God and to allow it to transform our lives. 

For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.

Hebrews 4:12

So if there’s anything with which I can leave you regarding the need to read your Bible, perhaps it is this:

Reading the Bible is not a “you have to,”
it is a “you get to!” 

Therefore, as we conclude this series, my prayer for you is that you can let this notion be your framework as you grow your knowledge of God’s beautiful, holy Scriptures. Let His word be your sustaining daily bread. Let it guide you and provide you with a discerning voice. Celebrate the unending richness you will uncover as you peel back the layers of its goodness. And then sit back and ask our gracious God to use all of that to work inside you so that you never resemble the Pharisees, who quoted the holy Scriptures yet failed to recognize when He stared them in the face. Rather possess a heart that is so transformed, it begins to reflect the heart of the Savior.

May our God bless you and keep you, and make his face shine upon you. 

~Renee

Part 7: Practice Makes Perfect

I have to be honest that after teaching Bible study this way for several years, I thought it would be simple to convert into a blog. However, taking what I’d normally discuss with a group over the course of an hour and trying to reduce it down into a concise blog format proved to be much harder than anticipated.

For the sake of what we can cover here today, I zoomed in on one passage from Ephesians. I would recommend, however, for your own study, that you read the surrounding chapters (or even the whole book) to grasp the larger picture. As we read from Ephesians 2, we are going to journey through the Inductive Guide so you can practice alongside me. For each section of the guide, I will explain what I do and then provide bullet-point information of the notes I would take in my journal. This is meant to give you ideas; it is not the only way to think about the passage and/or study scripture. The more you practice, the more you’ll find a rhythm that works for you. If you can, grab your Bible and turn to the book of Ephesians. Otherwise, I will also have the verses here. A printable version of today’s practice will be available at the bottom.

Ephesians 2:11-22

JEW AND GENTILE RECONCILED THROUGH CHRIST

Genre:

Here, I think about where the book of the Bible is located, use the Genre Guide, or look at the intro in a study Bible to help me determine what genre I’m reading.

  • Letter: sometimes referred to as Epistles.
    • Written in response to a specific need or circumstance.

Context:

For today’s purpose, or when I’m preparing a lesson plan for Bible study, I do dig into the context a bit deeper than for daily reading by utilizing some of the Tools I mentioned. But even knowing general context helps unveil new layers of the text. This where it’s helpful to use that study Bible introduction and think about where the book is located in the Biblical Timeline. In this case, Ephesians is written after Christ’s death and resurrection, when the new churches of Christian believers are being formed and undergoing heavy persecution.

  • Author: Written by Paul, the apostle, around 60 AD. One of the 4 letters written while in prison in Rome.
  • Original Audience: new Gentile Christian believers in Ephesus and the general Mediterranean area. Written to encourage them in their new faith and to encourage unity. (Gentile simply means “not Jewish”)
    • Listeners would have known that Paul was currently imprisoned in Rome after being accused by Jewish leaders that he brought an Ephesian Gentile beyond the temple’s outer court (see Acts 21:27-29)
  • Ethnic and cultural differences between the Jewish and Gentile believers had become an area of contention in the Ephesian church. This brand new church was in danger of becoming 2 separate churches.
  • When we enter the scene, this new church is fragmented, and Gentile Christians are being made to feel lesser than because they’re not Jewish (and not circumcised). Paul comes in and makes it very clear about their worth in the kingdom of God.

Observe: What does the passage say?

At this point, I begin reading and make notes along the way about significant points, themes, etc. I pause every couple or few verses to write down what I want to remember. I may also jot down other verses of which I’m reminded.


11 Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called “uncircumcised” by those who call themselves “the circumcision” (which is done in the body by human hands)— 12 remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ.
  • Vs 11 & 12: Remember what life was like before Christ!
    • Before Jesus and the coming of the Holy Spirit, the Jews did not realize that salvation would ever be extended to the world, to people outside of themselves. This was a big deal for Gentiles! (word for a non-Jew)
    • Without hope
  • Vs 13: Jesus dying on the cross changed everything. Jesus allowed them to be part of the family.
    • Ephesians 1:5- “he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ”

14 For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, 15 by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, 16 and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. 17 He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. 18 For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.
  • Vs 14/15- Jesus is our peace. He destroyed the barrier, between people and with God. Jesus brought reconciliation/atonement for our sins.
    • 1 John 2: 1-2 “But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father– Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.”
  • Vs 15/16- Create a new humanity from the two = means to reconcile the two sides.
  • Vs 17- Christ’s message of salvation was for everyone; Jew and Gentile.
  • Vs 18- Both have access to the Father because of Jesus.

19 Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. 21 In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. 22 And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.
  • Vs 19- All part of God’s family; citizens.
  • Vs 20-22- Jesus holds it all together; the cornerstone; he’s the unifier. Everything is built off of Jesus.

Interpret: What does the passage mean?

Here, I look back over what I observed the text to be saying, along with what I know of the context. I try and pull a couple of main points or themes I am seeing from the text.

  • Jesus’ atoning work was and is a big deal! It changed a lot of things!
    • We tend to take this for granted in our era, but this was and is life-changing. Jesus’ death and resurrection ushered in a new era of relationship with God; the turning point in God’s rescue plan.
    • We are Gentiles. We would have been excluded prior to Jesus.
  • Theme: remember who you were, so you can remember who you are.
    • Remember what you’ve been saved from.
    • Those who receive Jesus are called members of God’s family; adopted, heirs; no second-rate citizens.
  • Theme of unity:
    • The body of Christ should not be at war with itself anymore.
      • The church, reconciled to God through Christ, is to live in a way that exemplifies the ultimate restoration
    • Jesus is our peace; the one who holds things together. But that also means we need him to hold things together; can’t do it on our own.

Application: What does it mean for me?

At this point, I can’t do it for you. This is where you apply what you’ve learned personally, not merely as a universal principle. What from the reading and interpretation is speaking to your heart? What is God challenging you to do or pray?

Personally, God was moving my heart about the theme of unity, and about how Jesus is our source for peace. We are in a time of extreme division, even within the church body. This reminds me not only of Christ’s call for unity, but the fact that he is the root of it. When our focus becomes ourselves, or when we try and do things in our own strength, everything falls apart, just as a foundation would if you pulled out the chief cornerstone. This past week it has caused me to reflect on how I can present Christ’s peace in my own sphere. It has also reminded me to see fellow believers as children of God, as part of the family. We may have moments of disagreement, but I should never be looking at others as second-rate citizens of the kingdom of God. We’re in this together, and it’s only through Jesus that we can remain in or come back to a place of unity.


I pray that God not only spoke to your heart about today’s reading, but you were able to learn something to grow your excitement and confidence in studying God’s word. In closing, I wanted to pray the same prayer Paul said to the Ephesian church:

And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge– that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

Ephesians 3: 17-19

Blessings as you go about your week. Next week we’ll visit the last part in this series, an important component to our studying of the scriptures.

~Renee