Thursday, November 25, 2010

To Him whom my soul loves...

There are many people, things, places, and blessings that I'm eternally thankful for. However, when I think upon this past year, the emphasis of my gratitude is placed on my King, my Beloved.

My heart cries thanks....
...that the Lord reproves those whom he loves, as a father the son in whom he delights (Prov 3:12, Heb 12:6) and learning to embrace the rod of His discipline with a tearful smile.

...that He has led me to embrace and know Him as my Husband, my Maker, my Redeemer (Isaiah 54:5).

...that He has enabled me to truly hate my life in this world and seek to become the seed that dies to bear fruit (John 12:24-25).

...that it is His spirit who gives life and that the flesh availeth nothing (John 6:63).

...that I belong to Christ and my flesh is crucified (Gal. 5:24) and I now walk in the freedom of the Holy Spirit (2 Cor. 3:17).

...for the pressure and weight of the Holy Spirit upon and within my soul; stripping, surrendering, releasing.

...that He has been building within me a 'tensile strength' of soul.

...that He has shared His burdens with me for the lost, the oppressed, the afflicted.

...that He has been teaching me to pray, quite literally, until break of day as well as learning to stand upon His promises and live/feed upon His Living Word.

...that He has led me into tasting the riches of the glory of the great mystery hidden for ages and generations (Col 1:27).

...that He made me willing to become the like man who, in joy, sells all he has to purchase the field with the hidden treasure (Matt 13:44).

...that in stripping everything from me, He's given me an insatiable thirst every day for more of Him.

...that I am decreasing and He is increasing (John 3:30)

...that although the season of trials is long and wearisome, the joy that He's given me in Him only continues to abound (Psalm 16:11). The joy of the Lord as my strength has truly become a reality in my life!

...that the past two hardest years of my life have become the sweetest, most fulfilling years I've known thus far - all working for my good and His glory (Rom 8:28)!

...that by His grace, He has entered me into the "endless frontier" of the true victorious Christian-life, which is Christ in me, the hope of glory (Col 1:27).

...that He is forever, eternally, and always mine and I am His: my treasure, my portion, my Beloved.

I will leave it to an old father in the faith to place into words the kind of life that the Lord brought me into this year:

"I was converted in November of 1825, but I only came into the full surrender of the heart four years later, in July 1829. The love of money was gone, the love of place was gone, the love of position was gone, and the love of worldly pleasures and engagements was gone. God, God alone became my portion. I found my all in Him; I wanted nothing else. And by the grace of God this has remained, and has made me a happy man, an exceedingly happy man, and it led me to care only about the things of God. I ask affectionately, my beloved brethren, have you fully surrendered the heart to God, or is there this thing or that thing with which you have taken up irrespective of God? I read a little of the scriptures before, but preferred other books; but since that time the revelation He has made of Himself has become unspeakably blessed to me, and I can say from my heart, God is an infinitely lovely Being. Oh, be not satisfied until in your own inmost soul you can say, God is an infinitely lovely Being!" ~ George Mueller

(Photo credit goes to photographer Brooke B. - Ellerslie sister :-)

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Because She Sought Refuge Under God's Wings

It's mid-week and I'm tired (as I usually am during the last stretch of a college semester). There is much on my mind and heart, but I'm blogging to share something beautiful that the Lord revealed to me today. It's such a simple truth, but O how often I need Him to feed my soul with it!

Every week, I prepare a devotional/teaching of some sort, relating to set-apart womanhood, for an 11 year old girl. The Lord has blessed me with a wonderful opportunity to disciple and pour into a young girl's life with His precious Word. I've only been doing this for a mere two months and, oftentimes, I find myself very inadequate for such a task of caring for a young soul. But no matter how many times I fail in communicating Biblical concepts to her (or over-communicating - I have a tendency to ramble terribly), the Lord is teaching me an abundance of things through these times of prayer, study, and preparation. It's amazing how often the lessons that I prepare for her are the exact words I need to hear. As I've been studying through Ruth with her, I came across this commentary by John Piper (some of the excerpts below are from his sermon on Ruth - Chapter 2) that really struck me. It is the essence of true womanhood. It is the essence of our daughter-hood before our divine Father.

nAnd she said, "See, your sister-in-law has gone back to her people and to her gods; return after your sister-in-law." But Ruth said, "Do not urge me to leave you or to return from following you. For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there will I be buried. May the LORD do so to me and more also if anything but death parts me from you." ~ Ruth 1:15-17

nThe more you ponder these words the more amazing they become. Ruth's commitment to her destitute mother-in-law is simply astonishing. First, it means leaving her own family and land. Second, it means, as far as she knows, a life of widowhood and childlessness, because Naomi has no man to give, and if she married a non-relative, her commitment to Naomi's family would be lost. Third, it means going to an unknown land with a new people and new customs and new language. Fourth, it was a commitment even more radical than marriage: "Where you die I will die and there be buried" (v. 17). In other words, she will never return home, not even if Naomi dies. But the most amazing commitment of all is this: "Your God will be my God" (v. 16). Naomi has just said in verse 13, "The hand of the Lord has gone forth against me." Naomi's experience of God was bitterness. But in spite of this, Ruth forsakes her religious heritage and makes the God of Israel her God. Perhaps she had made that commitment years before, when her husband told her of the great love of God for Israel and his power at the Red Sea and his glorious purpose of peace and righteousness. Somehow or other Ruth had come to trust in Naomi's God in spite of Naomi's bitter experiences.
nHere we have a picture of God's ideal woman. Faith in God that sees beyond present bitter setbacks. Freedom from the securities and comforts of the world. Courage to venture into the unknown and the strange. Radical commitment in the relationships appointed by God.

nGod’s Mercy in Ruth 2:3:
"So she set forth and went and gleaned in the field after the reapers; and she happened to come to a part of the field belonging to Boaz, who was of the family of Elimelech." She "happened to come"? The answer is God—the merciful providence of God guiding Ruth as she gleans. Ruth happened to come to Boaz's field because God is gracious and sovereign even when he is silent. As the Proverb (16:9) says, "A man's mind plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps."

nWhy Has Ruth Found Favor?
nNow in verses 8 and 9 Boaz approaches Ruth and shows her great kindness, even though she is a foreigner. He provides food by telling her to work in his field and stay close behind his maidens. He provides protection by telling the young men not to mistreat her. And he provides for her thirst by telling her to drink from what the men have drawn. So all of Boaz's wealth and godliness begin to turn for Ruth's good and safety.
nNow we come to the most important interchange in the chapter—verses 10–13. Ruth raises a question which turns out to be very profound. It's one that we all need to ask God. Hardly anything in our life is more important than the answer we get.
nThen she fell on her face, bowing to the ground, and said to him, "Why have I found favor in your eyes, that you should take notice of me, when I am a foreigner?"
nRuth knows that she is a Moabitess. From a natural viewpoint she has two strikes against her. She does not resent this, but accepts it. As a non-Israelite she does not expect any special treatment. Her response to Boaz's kindness is astonishment.
nShe is very different from most people today. We expect kindness and are astonished and resentful if we don't get our rights. But Ruth expresses her sense of unworthiness by falling on her face and bowing to the ground. Proud people don't say thanks. Humble people are made even more humble by being treated graciously. Grace is not intended to lift us out of lowliness. It's intended to make us happy in God.

nBoaz says in verse 12 that God is really the one who is rewarding Ruth for her love to Naomi. Boaz is only the instrument of God (as we will learn from Naomi in just a moment). But now notice the words, "The Lord recompense you for what you have done, and a full reward be given you by the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge." This verse does not encourage us to picture Ruth as an employee of God providing needed labor which he then as employer rewards with a good wage. The picture is of God as a great winged Eagle and Ruth as a threatened little eaglet coming to find safety under the Eagle's wings. The implication of verse 12 is that God will reward Ruth because she has sought refuge under his wings.
nThis is a common teaching in the Old Testament. For example, Psalm 57:1 says,
"Be merciful to me, O God, be merciful to me, for in thee my soul takes refuge; in the shadow of thy wings I will take refuge."
Notice the word "for." Be merciful to me, for in thee my soul takes refuge. Why should God show mercy to Ruth? Because she has sought refuge under his wings. She has counted his protection better than all others. She has set her heart on God for hope and joy. And when a person does that, God's honor is at stake and he will be merciful. If you plead God's value as the source of your hope instead of pleading your value as the source of God's hope, then his unwavering commitment to his own value engages all his heart for your protection and joy.

nBut we must ask how Ruth's love for Naomi and her leaving her own family relate to her seeking refuge under the wings of God. The most likely suggestion is that Ruth was able to leave the refuge of her father and mother in Moab because she had found a refuge under the wings of God which was far superior. And evidently she saw a need in Naomi's life and sensed God calling her to meet that need.
nSo the relation between taking refuge under God's wings on the one hand and leaving home to care for Naomi on the other hand is that being under God's wings enabled Ruth to forsake human refuge and give herself in love to Naomi. Or another way to say it is that leaving home and loving Naomi are the result and evidence of taking refuge in God.
nSo now back to Ruth's question in verse 10, "Why have I found favor?" The answer is that she has taken refuge under the wings of God and that this has given her the freedom and desire to leave home and love Naomi. She has not earned mercy from God or Boaz. She is not their employee. They are not paying her wages for her work. On the contrary, she has honored them by admitting her need for their work and simply taking refuge in their generosity.
nThis is the message of the gospel in the Old Testament and the New Testament. God will have mercy on anyone (Palestinian or Israelite or American) who humbles himself like Ruth and takes refuge under the wings of God. Jesus said, O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, killing the prophets and stoning those who are sent to you! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not! Behold, your house is forsaken and desolate.”
nAll the Pharisees had to do was to take refuge under the wings of Jesus. Stop justifying themselves. Stop relying on themselves. Stop glorifying themselves. But they would not. Ruth was not their model. No falling on their face before Jesus. No bowing down. No astonishment at grace.
Don't be like the Pharisees. Be like Ruth.
~ John Piper

Are we taking refuge in the Lord and, as a result, allowing Him to use us as vessels of grace in the souls around us?
Do we count the Lord's protection better than all others?
Have we set our hope on the Lord alone for hope and joy?

Lastly, I came across these two videos by the wonderful Voddie Baucham. He's so straight and to the point, but he communicates basic truths that are often so simple that we overlook them.

True Womanhood Looks Like Christ & The Incalculable Impact of a Woman

O Christ, live through me! May my whole heart genuinely and continually say:
"...for me it is good to be near God;I have made the Lord GOD my refuge,that I may tell of all your works." ~ Psalm 73:28

Friday, November 12, 2010

Spring worship unto Thee

O Lord, when my heart is cold and hard, teach me to sing. Root Thy praises deep within 'til all is at rest and Your love abounds!

Oh refuge of my hardened heart
Oh fast pursuing lover come
As angels dance 'round Your throne
My life by captured fare You own

Not silhouette of trodden faith
Nor death shall not my steps be guide
I'll pirouette upon mine grave
For in Your path I'll run and hide

Oh gaze of love so melt my pride
That I may in Your house but kneel
And in my brokenness to cry
Spring worship unto Thee

When beauty breaks the spell of pain
The bludgeoned heart shall burst in vain
But not when love be pointed king
And truth shall Thee forever reign

Sweet Jesus carry me away
From cold of night, and dust of day
In ragged hour or salt worn eye
Be my desire, my well sprung lye

Spring worship unto Thee
Spring worship unto Thee

~ Jars of Clay, Hymn

Friday, November 5, 2010

Unfulfilled expectations that are still blessings...

I may not have time to write much on my blog, but I still have time to share things. I was greatly moved by this beautifully written post by Anna Sofia Botkin, who is an author and speaker (with her family) on cultural reformation, family reformation, Biblical womanhood, and the Biblical pattern for families and home-life. As a stay-at-home daughter, her words resonated immediately with my heart. She speaks of hard realities that many single young woman are facing today. However, instead of turning inward and becoming self-consumed, she is Christ-consumed. The Lord convicted me and yet strengthened me through her words. O how I long to be so grounded in my Yeshua that I'm perfectly joyful and content in wherever and whatever He has for me!
No matter where our lives lead, we are always, first and foremost, daughters of the Lord, disciples of the Word, surrendered to the King of kings for His kingdom work and for His glory.

Greater Expectations
Posted October 24, 2010

By Anna Sofia Botkin

I just turned 25. Oddly, it seems a lot more than one year older than 24. The realization that I have lived a quarter of a century brings new awareness of the preciousness of time, the reality of aging and death, and the fact that life unfolds at a speed and in a way that I can’t control. I’m past feeling like my life is stretching out endlessly before me — I’m a good third of the way into it (Lord willing) and the ticking of the clock seems to grows louder.

I think these feelings are normal; observation has taught me that it’s at some point around a young woman’s twenty fifth revolution around the sun that she experiences a messy head-on collision with certain rock-hard facts of reality. Often it’s her point of disillusionment – the point when she finds out that the world is not what she thought. That life did not deliver what she expected. That things didn’t happen according to her plans. That she didn’t get her way and that her dreams didn’t come true. And to cap it off… she doesn’t get another shot. This is the big moral test in every girl’s life, and I am no exception.

It’s at this crisis point that a young woman’s true faith and motivations emerge, sometimes in ways that surprise everyone; over the years I‘ve seen many whom I counted as friends and allies change course dramatically and walk away from the principles that they fought alongside me to defend — namely, the tenets of biblical daughterhood.

The reasons are many and varied:

It got too hard. The level of self-sacrifice turned out to be more than they bargained for.
It did not produce the desired result (a husband).

The stigma of being an adult daughter who still lives at home with Mommy and Daddy became too much to bear.

The barrage of probing questions about why they were so “different” became too wearisome.

There really was no vision for life at home. For them, home was never really home, just a port to be stranded in, waiting for the soonest ship.

The feeling that God did not hold up His half of the bargain – He didn’t deliver what they assumed was coming to them for their good deeds.

Rarely do the reasons spring from an honest reexamination of their convictions on biblical womanhood, but rather a disappointment with what those “convictions” yielded.

Sometimes before we start to question what we believe, we should question why we believe – is it because it’s easy, it’s convenient, it’s socially acceptable to the crowd we’re in, it’s eventually going to pay… or because we know it’s true? If we believe something because we know it’s true, then we will keep believing — even when it becomes hard, inconvenient, socially unacceptable, and appears to be costing, not paying. It’s good to stop and question why we believe – yes, even if those beliefs have been in a published form for five years, permanently set into the stones that make up the bedrock of a so-called “movement.”

This month is also the fifth anniversary of the release of my sister’s and my first book,So Much More. Many speculated that time and experience would dampen our idealistic notions, and change our convictions. Some have asked if I still agreed with the naive 17-year-old me who started that book eight years ago. After all, haven’t I changed?

Well, yes, I have: By God’s grace, my grasp of the Scriptures and the issues is firmer, my communication skills have been sharpened through combat with an onslaught of criticism, and an acquaintance with hundreds of young woman and their unique situations from around the world has broadened the scope of my vision and taught me to have more compassion. But one thing I hope never changes — that I never grow out of — is a child-like faith in the plain teachings of Scripture and youthful zeal in proclaiming them.

I have changed, but the Bible hasn’t, and I still believe it means what it says. Time and experience have further proved to me that God is a much better Author of a woman’s destiny than she is. Her plans will go awry. His can’t.

This week I have been reflecting back on the expectations I had for my life: my goals, my plans, my hopes and my dreams. I don’t know if it’s possible for my present reality to have deviated more from my past fantasies. As a teenager, I projected for myself an early marriage (at say, 18) and a quiet, private life, as my three biggest fears were writing, public speaking, and being on camera – in short, anything that would expose me to public scrutiny. So, how do I feel about the fact that seven years have elapsed since my speculated marriage date, that my little brother, four years my junior, just got married, to a good friend of mine five years my junior, and that my life has been characterized by the three things I used to dread above all?

First of all, my feelings have nothing to do with it. Gratitude or bitterness are not really feelings but decisions, decisions that have nothing to do with the circumstances themselves, but with how we choose to perceive to them.

For example, let’s do a retake:

How do I feel about the fact that God has given me seven more precious years to spend with my family and prepare for the future; that I have been able to play a part in my little brother’s transition into adult life which culminated in his marriage to a dear friend of mine (now a dear sister of mine); and that God has brought me many unsolicited opportunities to serve Him that have stretched me and helped me overcome my horror of vulnerability? I should be on my face before God, thanking Him for His overwhelming goodness to me.

God did not give me what I expected – He gave me far more. He has blessed me above and beyond what my little human mind could have imagined.

This year my heart is overflowing with gratitude that my plans didn’t work out, that I didn’t get my way, and that my little dreams never came true.

Maybe when we ruminate over life’s unfulfilled expectations we should stop and consider that God’s “withheld” blessings might not have been withheld at all – just presented in a way we did not expect. Let’s hope that we’re not so fixated on what we had on our wish-lists that we scorn the better gift.
My desires to one day be a wife and mother are still alive and well, but they must bow to God’s will. They may be fulfilled soon, or much later on… or they may not be fulfilled at all. If our desire to be placed in marriages really springs from the belief that we will be more useful to God thus, then we won’t feel let down if He decides to deploy us somewhere else. He knows where we will be the most useful to Him.

At 25, I’m reminded of the bigger picture: marriage is just one front in the context of a much larger war. Whether I get married or not, the war goes on. My life is defined by the fact that I am God’s soldier, not by the fact that I am 25 AND STILL NOT MARRIED.

I’m grateful for another year to stand by my post as a daughter at home, to:

Build strength into my family and make them as powerful as possible

Invest into the relationships that God has put into my life right now: my brothers, my sister, my parents, and others in the community.

Prepare my heart and attitude for the greater sacrifices that marriage and motherhood might bring

To learn new skills to add to my armory

To read more books

To explore more fields of learning

To have more of God’s word written on my heart, imprinted on my mind, and ready on my tongue

To be more joyful and optimistic

To be more like the unmarried woman in 1 Cor. 7:34, who is “…anxious about the things of the Lord, how to be holy in body and spirit.”

To be an even stronger witness as an adult daughter who still lives at home with Mommy and Daddy

Standing at the threshold of my 26th year, God has given me the grace to repeat the hardest statement ever made by any woman:

“Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word.” Luke 1:38