Though this isn't my photo (thank you, interweb), it really does look like this... the ruins of the ancient church in Philippi, that is.
I was reminded of this visit this morning as I was reading in the Book of Acts, chapter 16. I'm reading it in The Message -- not terribly scholarly to be sure, but for me, Peterson's paraphrase captures the excitement and wonder and terror that must have been felt as the events he is describing were happening.
I have read this chapter many times because I especially love the Book of Philippians, and to hear the story of how the church got started is a thrill. I have also taken on the "founder" of the church of Philippi, Lydia, as my hero -- clearly someone who was a gifted businesswoman but also "known to be God-fearing." Peterson writes that she "listened with intensity" and a trusting heart, and then hosted the church in her home until it grew.
On the tour I visited the river site where it is thought that Lydia was meeting with some friends for a prayer meeting when Paul and Timothy arrived -- and where she was then baptized after "listening with intensity" to the Gospel message.
You have to read the story for yourself to really grasp the thrill of it all: dreams, riverside baptisms, vicious beatings, earthquakes, more conversions, festive meals, bold standoffs with the powers-that-be, great friendship. Exciting stuff.
It would take many postings to list the reasons for my fondness for Philippians -- future postings, perhaps.... but today I embrace this passage most heartily:
So this is my prayer: that your love will flourish and that you will not only love much but well. Learn to love appropriately. You need to use your head and test your feelings so that your love is sincere and intelligent, not sentimental gush. Live a lover's life, circumspect and exemplary, a life Jesus will be proud of: bountiful in fruits from the soul, making Jesus Christ attractive to all, getting everyone involved in the glory and praise of God. (Philippians 1:9-11)As I press on through the highs & lows of life -- hard work, friends with cancer, broken-hearted grief, amazing students, partnership in the gospel, personal challenges -- this passage reminds me to give both my head and heart to Jesus. No holding back. Dive in, get messy, be vulnerable, keep moving forward -- even when there is deep fear. As you forge ahead, you walk through those hard things, and get on the other side of them: more mature, deeper, wiser, more full of love and true joy.
To "listen with intensity" and then believe with a trusting heart, like Lydia, is the most important decision of one's life. Yet it is not just a one-time, mountain-top experience; it works itself out each day, in the small things. I finish with these words, that pushed me to keep reading all this wonderful stuff in the first place:
We too often fail to realize, however, that people who say that they want to find God in life have to work every day too to bring that Presence into focus, or the Presence will elude them no matter how present it is in theory. (Joan Chittister)
Look for the Presence each day.