Saturday, May 17, 2014

Thy Rod & Staff Guide Me

"The staff is also used for guiding sheep. Again and again I have seen a shepherd use his staff to guide his sheep gently into a new path or thought some gate or along dangerous, difficult routes. He does not use it actually to beat the beast. Rather, the tip of the long slender stick is laid gently against the animals's side and the pressure applied guides the sheep in the way the owner wants it to go. Thus the sheep is reassured of its proper path.

Sometimes I have been fascinated to see how a shepherd will actually hold his staff against the side of some sheep that is a special pet or favorite, simply so that they 'are in touch.' They will walk along this way almost as though it were 'hand-in-hand.' The sheep obviously enjoys this special attention from the shepherd and revels in the close, personal, intimate contact between them. To be treated in this special way by the shepherd is to know comfort in a deep dimension. It is a delightful and moving picture."

A Shepherd Looks At The 23rd Psalm, Pg. 90
Phillip Keller

Friday, May 9, 2014

Life: More dilemma than game; more trial than free pass

"Sports books are typically about winning because winning is far more pleasurable and exhilarating to read about than losing. Winning is wonderful in every aspect, but the darker music of loss resonates on deeper, richer plains [...] it's the losses that stand out, because they still make their approach, with all their capacities, to wound me intact

Writing makes you think you'll get everything: the job, the girl, the deposit of the million dollar check, the promotion. And you grow accustomed to a life of answered prayers. Winning, I think, shapes the soul of bad movies and novels and lives. It's the subject of thousands of insufferably bad books, and is the sworn enemy of art [...] At some point you do lose. Loss is fiercer; it's more uncompromising as a teacher; it's cold-hearted; but clear in that life is more dilemma than game, more trial than free pass. My acquaintance with loss has sustained me during the stormy passages of my life [...]"

Pat Conroy
My Losing Season: A Memoir

Monday, January 6, 2014

2013, and a hope for 2014

We are only six days into this new year, but I don't want to forget 2013. I thought I did at one time... but as every woman does, I've changed my mind again and have decided to write a post reflecting on the past year. My hope in doing so is to stoke in me (and encourage in you) a heart of thankfulness. 

"When we bless God for mercies, we usually prolong them. When we bless God for miseries, we usually end them. Praise is the honey of life which a devout heart extracts from every bloom of providence and grace." Spurgeon

The last days of 2012 were spent on the beach in San Diego, wondering what the next year would bring. The first days of 2013, much different than I had imagined, ended up being some of the most difficult of the whole year. As quickly as it started, a relationship ended, a friendship changed and my heart went through a lot of pain. Yet, that still small voice grew and grew - and my heart knew that God's love would never change. With the additional help of very patient friends and a supportive family, the rehearsed truths became life-lines -- whether by text, email, real mail, visits, sermons, songs, books, etc. - my friends showed me God's love by suffering alongside, and saying a timely word, when necessary. 

“God never withholds from His child that which His love and wisdom call good. God's refusals are always merciful -- "severe mercies" at times but mercies all the same. God never denies us our heart's desire except to give us something better.” Elisabeth Elliot

One thing I knew from the beginning is that my heart's posture, with anything, should be open hands. God is free to give, and he is free to take. My responsibility is to trust him by opening up my hands and trusting his good heart in all things, and to thank him whenever he chooses to give or to take. The Elisabeth Elliot quote above has been one of my favorites for many years, and looking back God has marked my life by the many things he has taken away from me. Each and every time I have praised him for doing so because I realized what he took away, he replaced with something better. I was determined that this part of my story would be yet another item to add to the list because of two reasons - God is always faithful, and he loves me a ton. So, I began to say, "He loves his girls," to help me remember this. It's no coincidence that my Dad, to this day, will embrace me and kiss the top of my head and whisper "Daddy loves his girl." I imagine the Lord doing the same. 

Psalm 66 summarizes my thoughts perfectly: "Come and hear, all you who fear God; let me tell you what he has done for me. I cried out to him with my mouth; his praise was on my tongue. If I had cherished sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened; but God has surely listened and has heard my prayer. Praise be to God, who has not rejected my prayer or withheld his love from me!"

"Would you know who is the greatest saint in the world? It is not he who prays the most or fasts the most... but it is he who is always thankful to God, who receives everything as an instance of God's goodness and has a heart always ready to praise God for it." William Law

A key take-away for me this year was the realization that God does not get sick of me. I remember a season of what seemed like months, and I would blow-dry my hair every morning, look in the mirror and talk with God, and tell him that my heart was still in the same place. I sincerely asked him if he would ever change it and help me heal. I remember realizing one day that God was not pushing me away. He was not sick of me. I could tell him the same thing 'till the cows come home and he would not tire of hearing from me. That changed everything. I wonder if the Lord brought me through all of it just to learn that one amazing fact. Wouldn't that be so like him? I think there was joy in the midst of pain mostly due to God teaching me that I was secure in his love, and free to thank him for the trial.

"An evidence that our will has been broken is that we begin to thank God for that which once seemed so bitter, knowing that His will is good and that, in His time and in His way, He is able to make the most bitter waters sweet." Nancy Leigh DeMoss

Visits from friends throughout the year included Kari Wright, Jenee, Allison Tirjan, Kalani, Krystan L. and a few more. Trips to Texas, Cape Cod, North Carolina, Philadelphia, West Virginia (for a wedding), the Outer Banks beach, and a birthday trip to New York City were highlights. Getting away from the city is like taking off a tight pair of pants - and everyone needs to do it! So thankful for the friendships that take me in and out of Washington, DC.

"Those blessings are sweetest that are won with prayers and won with thanks." Thomas Goodwin

Work has been a consistent blessing in my life. The challenge and environment make for interesting work, and the people are precious to me. At the beginning of the year, I received an answer to a long-time prayer. These changes plus an encouraging review helped to lift my spirit! During the summer, three Christian friends left within weeks of each other and I felt very flat afterward, and prayed God would send more Christians to work with. In his perfect timing, he did just that. He knows we need encouragement. Also there have been many opportunities to have conversations about the Gospel. Please join me in praying that there would be many more!

"Be still, my soul; thy Jesus can repay from his own fullness all He takes away." Katharina von Schlegel

My church, Capitol Hill Baptist Church, continues to keep my heart firmly planted in DC. This past year, I most enjoyed the sermon series from my pastor, Mark Dever, on the book of John. I was struck by Jesus' rejection from everyone, and reminded that a life following him will mean rejection and persecution in a variety of ways. But, verses like John 16:27 gave the greatest comfort, "the Father himself loves you because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God." 

My favorite 2013 sermon (which I listen to repeatedly) was by Zach Schlegel on discontentment (Numbers 11, text). He reminded us that we are created for eternity - God put it on our hearts from the beginning. And that for the child of God, no trial is wasted. 

Another highlight was my Tuesday night small group with members, married and single, of various ages from our congregation. We've been studying the Gospel of Mark and I have been struck by Jesus' gentleness and humanity. In chapter 7, he heals a deaf man that the crowd brought to him. The text says Jesus took him away from the crowd and privately healed him. A lady in my small group, who works with the deaf community, commented how tender this was of Jesus. Imagine if he healed the man amidst the crowd, where it the sheer volume of regular discourse would have overstimulated him. The story really touched my heart and made Jesus so real to me. 

In closing, my prayer for 2014 is best said by George Herbert:

"Thou has given so much to me. Give one thing more - a grateful heart; Not thankful when it pleaseth me, as if Thy blessings had spare days, but such a heart whose pulse may be Thy praise."

Thursday, January 2, 2014

The True Story - an introduction

Recently heard the introduction to the Jesus Storybook Bible by Sally Lloyd-Jones. It was too beautiful not to share:

"Now, some people think the Bible is a book of rules, telling you what you should and shouldn't do. The Bible certainly does have some rules in it. They show you how life works best. But the Bible isn't mainly about you and what you should be doing. It's about God and what he has done.

Other people think the Bible is a book of heroes, showing you people you should copy. The Bible does have some heroes in it, but (as you'll soon find out) most of the people in the Bible aren't heroes at all. They make some big mistakes (sometimes on purpose). They get afraid and run away. At times they are downright mean.

No, the Bible isn't a book of rules, or a book of heroes. The Bible is most of all a Story. It's an adventure story about a young hero who comes from a far country to win back his lost treasure. It's a love story about a brave Prince who leaves his palace, his throne - everything - to rescue the one he loves. It's like the most wonderful of fairy tales that has come true in real life!

You see, the best thing about this Story is - it's true. 

There are lots of stories in the Bible, but all the stories are telling one Big Story. The Story of how God loves his children and comes to rescue them. 

It takes the whole Bible to tell this Story. And at the center of the Story, there is a baby. Every Story in the Bible whispers his name. He is like the missing piece in a puzzle - the piece that makes all the other pieces fit together, and suddenly you can see a beautiful picture.

And this is no ordinary baby. This is the Child upon whom everything would depend. This is the Child who would one day - but wait. Our Story starts where all good stories start. Right at the very beginning..."

Thursday, December 26, 2013

The sweetest letter from 2013

This year marked the second annual birthday lunch with my dear friend Allison. 

As I approach the end of this year, I look back on the letter she wrote me as one of the most precious parts of 2013. 

"Dearest Rebekah: Happy birthday! It's September, which means your birthstone is sapphire! Did you know?:

  • Sapphires are created from materials found in the deepest parts of the earth's crust (18 miles deep!).
  • Sapphires are created through compression and furnace - like temperatures of at least 1000 degrees Fahrenheit. 
  • Brought to the surface of the river beds by what Christian geologists agree was the Biblical flood.
  • Is one of the hardest gemstones, second to diamonds.
  • Used to cut, polish, refine and shape gems of lesser strength.
  • Is more precious than diamonds in Scripture.
  • Used as the foundation to the New Jerusalem.
Is that not what God has done through you? Taken a lost soul from the deep, miry clay, called you, continues to burn away impurities through the fiery furnace of trials and catastrophic events, strengthened you to polish, refine and shape others. He calls you most precious and then uses you to help build his kingdom?!

Sapphires are treasures because of physical catastrophe. 

This year has been hard, but you are a more pure follower of Jesus because of it. You lost nothing in the furnace of this past year except what God wanted burned away in an effort to make you more pure and holy for Himself. 

So, when you look at this gift, know that seemingly dark insurmountable conditions are necessary in order to create a more holy and radiant child of Christ! I love you so much!

Revelation 21:19-20: "The foundations of the wall were adorned with all kinds of precious stones [...] first foundation jasper, second sapphire."

Allison and her husband gave me a breathtaking ring covered in sapphires and rubies. It's gold and has an antique setting. I could go on and on describing how beautiful it is, but the fact is that one day this ring might be lost... a gem might fall out or it might get scratched or stolen. But one thing that will remain in my heart forever are my friend's precious and timely words. 

For now, I have the privilege of seeing it glisten in the sunshine, and remember these promises. God truly intends for all trials to bow to his gospel purposes in our lives (Gospel Primer). Trust him. Count on him. 

Thankful for 2013. Thankful for my 29th. 

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Jesus: All for love's sake, becamest man

Merry Christmas!

Thou who wast rich beyond all splendour,
All for love's sake becamest poor;
Thrones for a manger didst surrender,
Sapphire-paved courts for stable floor.
Thou who wast rich beyond all splendour,
All for love's sake becomes poor.

Thou who art God beyond all praising,
All for love's sake becamest man;
Stooping so low, but sinners raising
Heavenwards by thine eternal plan.
Thou who art God beyond all praising,
All for love's sake becamest man.

Thou who art love beyond all telling,
Saviour and King, we worship thee.
Emmanuel, within us dwelling,
Make us what thou wouldst have us be.
Thou who art love beyond all telling,
Saviour and King, we worship thee.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

The Law vs. The Gospel

"The law repels, the Gospel attracts. The law shows the distance which there is between God and man; the Gospel bridges that awful chasm, and brings the sinner across it."


Monday, December 23, 2013

Don't settle

A reminder:

"Can I say something to young ladies here? I'm trying to pick my words carefully here. Your husband, whoever he is, single ladies, will have an unbelievable amount of influence over your sons and daughters in regards to spiritual things. If you want your children to love Jesus deeply, hold out for a man that is godly. And let me tell you this: I am well aware that Godly men are rare. Lots of neat Christian boys, not a lot of Godly men. And we're working our tails off for you to try to develop some into that. But don't settle, because it's better that you be lonely now than you be married and lonely later. Are you tracking with me? It is better that you be lonely now than for you to get married to a man that will teach your kids everything but the way of Jesus."

Matt Chandler, pastoring his congregation in Dallas

He never forgets

"We cannot look too often upon that face which we love; we desire always to have our precious things in our sight. It is even so with our Lord Jesus. From all eternity 'His delights were with the sons of men' [...] the Son of Man visited His people. Because His soul delighted in them, He could not rest away from them, for His heart longed after them. Never were they absent from his heart, for he had written their names upon His hands, and graven them upon His side. [...]

We may often forget to meditate upon the perfections of our Lord, but He never ceases to remember us. [...]

Lord, paint upon the eyeballs of my soul the image of thy Son."


Tuesday, December 10, 2013

A Puritan thought on real love

The Puritans used to say you got married in order to fall in love. They reasoned: How can a man and woman possibly hope to know the wonder, joy, and depth of real love - the kind where you are truly known and truly loved at the same time - without making those two lives into one thing?