Thursday, June 26, 2008

Unreservedly Yours

One year ago today - he treated me to dinner, took me for a walk along the Riverfront, handed me the most profound letter my eyes have ever fallen upon, and I said "YES!"
(photo courtesy of Charles Smith Photography)

For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. "Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh." This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. ~Ephesians 5:29-32

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

An Anticipated and Exciting First & Sermon Highlights (a.k.a. Two Posts in One)

Our first church to join as husband and wife. There is something very simple but also exciting and refreshing as we anticipate whatever the Lord may have in store for the days ahead with this small local body. We entered into marriage knowing that our first step upon arriving back in Louisville would be to seek out a new church home. We received a deep conviction about this transition after our experience at the church we have been members of since 2006, knowing that this change would be critical to both our individual sanctification as well as our service and growth together in a body of believers. There were plenty of questions in the initial stage of our search, particularly in regard to the ways in which we wanted to be involved whereever we went: should he look for a staff position somewhere? what are key characteristics of a local church that we could either look over or accept, and what are those that would be certain "deal-breakers"? are we supposed to be somewhere under solid leadership rather than seeking a staff/leadership position for my husband to fill? As the early months of 2008 progressed, the answer to such questions became increasingly more clear. The Lord was sweet in responding to the prayers of feeble children such as us. We sought His wisdom and direction, and He answered. The days of doubt and confusion were few in hindsight, and we were instead held by that peace and assurance which can only come from the One who sustains and guides.

The membership process for joining consisted of two rather informal meetings, one with the preaching pastor at his home and another with him and another elder at the church. The first one involved walking through the church's statement of faith which I both loved and sincerely appreciated. Not only did we walk through and discuss each core doctrine (justification, perseverance of the saints, ordinances of baptism & communion, etc.), but we did so in a way that was personal. At our previous church, this step in the membership process consisted of a class you attended which normally included 25+ other prospects. While some churches simply do what they can, in this case not being able to do much about having such a large class, I highly respected the fact that the pastor wanted to meet with us personally and answer any specific questions we may have. This intimate meeting gave us a more thorough picture of what the church is all about, from foundational doctrines to faith in practice. After receiving our former pastor's blessing, wishing us all the best in our move to this church, we attended the second of the two membership interviews and then joined this past Sunday! There are numerous aspects about this church that excite us about being members there. I have already had the humbling opportunity to sing each week with the worship team, and my husband has been helping the preaching pastor with a number of small tasks (one in particular was helping him put sermon audio on the church's website!). We have been amazed and encouraged perhaps more than we have been since moving to Louisville three years ago by the vibrance and eagerness of this young church body. With it being just over a year old, the elders are open to various ideas for both service to one another as well as to the surrounding community. Pastor Mark has a deep passion for the surrounding neighborhood, a key factor in the decision to plant the church where it is currently. We have also been involved in a small group for a couple of months now, something that was critical for my husband and I for candid and sincere church fellowship (see previous posts from Easter and the Party Palace cookout).

Pastor Mark has been preaching through the Book of John, and has focused our attention in recent weeks on John 12. This is a transitional point in John when Jesus is shifting from His public ministry to being more private in the days leading up to His death. In John 12:36-44, Jesus is answering questions regarding those who continue in unbelief. After all of the miraculous signs and wonders their eyes beheld, the people still did not believe. When asked why, Jesus responds by quoting Isaiah, "Therefore they could not believe. For again Isaiah said, 'He has blinded their eyes and hardened their heart...'" (v. 40). There were even those who actually believed, but were so fearful of the authorities that they kept their faith hidden, "for they loved the glory that comes from man more than the glory that comes from God" (v. 43). As the two sermons on this particular text unfolded, Pastor Mark continuously emphasized the glory of God above the glory of man. Rather than concluding his sermons as merely good theological discussions pertaining to God's ultimate sovereignty over man's ability to choose, he focused on how these truths apply in our daily lives. How can a loving God really cause men to harden their hearts and not see Jesus as the Son of God? We can see His causal nature even in the death of His Son: Jesus death was planned, and yet the Father was still grieved. Does this reality cause us concern regarding God's character and control, or does it fuel our hope and compel us to praise? Consider this:
  • Why would God exist and act in ways that our minds can fully encompass? Should it surprise us when He is infinite and we are finite? (Isaiah 55:8-9, Romans 11:25-36)
  • If we love God as God, as testified to in His Word rather than according to our feeble attempts to mold Him into our liking and understanding, wouldn't we be thrilled that He is working all things to the purpose of His will? Who else's plan can we trust?
  • We are not at the mercy of chaos. We have hope knowing that God says, "That is part of My plan." We are not at the mercy of man's choices.
  • Let us never forget that the same One who has the power to harden also has the power to soften hearts (Ezekiel 36:26).

There is a joy that has been restored in me, replacing dryness that my heart had become increasingly accustomed to these past few years, and I know my husband would echo similar words. There is a dynamic in fellowship shared with a vibrant, active body of believers that we were hungering after for so long, and we have found that encouragement at this church even in the few months since first attending. I have been reminded of and amazed by the correllation between our relationship with the body and our relationship to the Father; when one is broken it inevitably affects the other. I have recently been listening to one of my favorite albums, one I had put away for some time and nearly forgotten. How sweet it has been listening to the lyrics I oftentimes selfishly wish I would have written myself. Such lyrics reflect the very thoughts and praises I am incapable of uttering~

You repair all that we have torn apart and
You unveil a new beginning in our hearts and
We stand grateful for all that has been left behind and
All that goes before us
(Chorus) You've got all things suspended
All things connected
Nothing was forgotten
'Cause your love is perfect
You are our healer
And you know what's broken
And we're not a mystery to you, to you, oh Lord, to you
We will dance 'cause you restore the wasted years and
You will sing over all our coming fears and
We'll stand grateful for all that has been left behind and
All that goes before us
Lord, you mend the breech
And you break every fetter
You give us your best, but what we thought was better
And you are to be praised
You are to be praised

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

A Tribute to Instruments

I am convinced that I have the best friends in the world. I don't say that as any boast in myself, nor do I say it in a juvenile "my friends are better than yours" kind of way either. For the way in which I was created - the good, the bad, and the curly - I truly have better friends than I could have ever hoped for. A more recent friend of mine posted an entry on her blog this week as a tribute to a woman whom we both know personally and love dearly. As she went through the many ways in which this priceless, beautiful woman has impacted her life, I couldn't help but look back on the years when we were in close proximity and I was touched in some very similar ways. I had the opportunity to sing with her on numerous occasions, some of my favorite times spent singing at the church we attended. More than that though, what impacted me more than merely singing with her, was how she daily lived out the words we so often sang. I will never forget listening to her sing, "O praise Him all His mighty works, there is no language where You can't be heard" in the days following the news that her husband was officially in remission following his extensive battle with cancer, and hoping that I would one day come to grasp the kind of covenant relationship she has with him. There are very few seasons I remember from my adolescence in which she was not present or of some significant encouragement.

During the preparations for my wedding rehearsal and dinner back in January, I had to finally correct my dad on something he had been saying over and over again. I don't ever deny how blessed I am by the individuals the Lord has placed in my life over the years, but sometimes I think my dad thinks that I forget (though he doesn't intend to come across that way!). As we were getting things ready and I was saying my first hellos to the friends I hadn't seen in seemingly forever, he stood back and said, "That is so amazing. I am so glad you have the friends you have had because you wouldn't be the same without them. I want to thank them for being such a strong support to you, because you wouldn't be who you are without them." It sounded so nice, but I still had to correct him - not because he was wrong necessarily, but because our perspectives are so different. My dad looks at my friends and the older women in my life as the direct cause of why I have grown in the ways I have over the years, including these ladies serving as the direct influences that veered me from making bad decisions early in life. I don't see things the way he does; I can't, because I see them as so much more than direct causes.

What would our lives be like if the outcome was dictated by the influences and voices around us? Would we not all be ruled by the wisdom and direction of man rather than of God? For those whom He has adopted as sons and daughters, there is hope and confidence which surpasses all that the world has to offer. How much more incredible is the truth that these women I have been influenced by have been instruments in the Redeemer's hands? How much more incredible is the truth that these women, in unique ways deemed best by Him, were open vessels willing and available to encourage at the appointed times? And how incredible is it that we don't always know when our words are going to used at any given point in time to encourage or convict our fellow brother or sister. I had no way of knowing in junior high that the friend whom I had the honor of co-authoring, "Light a snail, light snail, shove a firecracker up his butt..." would be the one whom I immediately want to email about my latest questions or concerns about anything pertaining to life (You must ask permission from one of us to see the full lyrics to this creative tune.) I was oblivious to the idea in elementary school that the friend whom I played blind tag with (complete with bedsheets over our heads) would be one that I always want to call first to tell the current exciting news to about engagement and jobs and any other big events. Who would have ever thought that the sweet, quiet girl I spent one year in school with at the tender age of five would now be the one who keeps me sane day in and day out at work? And never would I have imagined that the words from older women spoken during my early years would make so much sense now, whether pertaining to marriage or the pains and joys of planning a family.

I can't even begin to give these ladies any of the credit, and I don't think they would want such credit for themselves. We are each instruments, vessels of mercy, and we never know when we are going to be used in the lives of another. All we can ask for is humility, acknowledging that we don't have the words of wisdom or encouragement needed in a particular situation, and trust that His words are true and life-giving. I now look at my best friends, the ones who have stood beside me all of these years, the ones who all live miles and miles away, and I am thankful that the Lord saw fit to cross our paths as He did. Only by His grace am I who I am today, still growing even when the process is painful, and only by His hand has each of these women been intricately created and used by Him to bless. So for those of you reading this, you know who you are ~ I praise the Lord for you~

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Still reflecting on that glorious day five months ago...

"Come just as you are, every care you carry, and come to the table of grace for there is mercy..."I think one of the most difficult things to wrap my mind around that morning was the reality of standing in the bridal suite with my parents. After all of these years, all of the memories and growth, this was the single day that changed my life, their daughter's life, forever~
"I have come with one purpose to capture for Myself a bride; by My life she is lovely, and by My death she's justified.""And so with water I will wash her, and by My Word alone."
I tear up this evening looking at this picture of my husband and mother-in-law; she returned home this past Thursday after extensive radiation treatment. Praise the Lord, the Giver and Sustainer of life, that there is hope for her complete healing~

From this day forward ~ in sickness and in health ~ for better or worse ~ this is my solemn vow