Author: Beth
•Sunday, May 20, 2012

Without the gospel
............everything is useless and vain;
without the gospel
............we are not Christians;
without the gospel
............all riches is poverty,
............all wisdom folly before God; 
............strength is weakness,
............and all the justice of man is under the condemnation of God.

But by the knowledge of the gospel we are made
............children of God,
............brothers of Jesus Christ,
............fellow townsmen with the saints,
............citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven,
............heirs of God with Jesus Christ, by whom

........................the poor are made rich,
........................the weak strong,
........................the fools wise,
........................the sinner justified,
........................the desolate comforted,
........................the doubting sure,
........................and slaves free.
It is the power of God for the salvation of all those who believe.
It follows that every good thing we could think or desire is to be found in this same Jesus Christ alone.

For, He was
............sold, to buy us back;
............captive, to deliver us;
............condemned, to absolve us;
He was
............made a curse for our blessing,
............[a] sin offering for our righteousness;
............marred that we may be made fair;
He died for our life; so that by him
............fury is made gentle,
............wrath appeased,
............darkness turned into light,
............fear reassured,
............despisal despised,
............debt canceled,
............labor lightened,
............sadness made merry,
............misfortune made fortunate,
............difficulty easy,
............disorder ordered,
............division united,
............ignominy ennobled,
............rebellion subjected,
............intimidation intimidated,
............ambush uncovered,
............assaults assailed,
............force forced back,
............combat combated,
............war warred against,
............vengeance avenged,
............torment tormented,
............damnation damned,
............the abyss sunk into the abyss,
............hell transfixed,
............death dead,
............mortality made immortal.
In short,
............mercy has swallowed up all misery,
............and goodness all misfortune.
For all these things which were to be the weapons of the devil in his battle against us, and the sting of death to pierce us, are turned for us into exercises which we can turn to our profit.
If we are able to boast with the apostle, saying, O hell, where is thy victory? O death, where is thy sting? it is because by the Spirit of Christ promised to the elect, we live no longer, but Christ lives in us; and we are by the same Spirit seated among those who are in heaven, so that for us the world is no more, even while our conversation is in it; but we are content in all things, whether country, place, condition, clothing, meat, and all such things.
And we are
............comforted in tribulation,
............joyful in sorrow,
............glorying under vituperation,
............abounding in poverty,
............warmed in our nakedness,
............patient amongst evils, in death.
This is what we should in short seek in the whole of Scripture: truly to know Jesus Christ, and the infinite riches that are comprised in him and are offered to us by him from God the Father.

- John Calvin's preface to Pierre Robert Olivtan's 1534 translation of New Testament

Author: Beth
•Sunday, April 08, 2012

Morning comes as it always does. Rising up out of bed, shaking off the darkness of slumber, eyes blinking to a new all mirrors what the day is all about.  Rising. Awakening. 

Like so many other Christ-followers around the world, I finger together a "Sunday best" to wear to the meeting with His people. It is a gathering together of those who remember; those who are decked out in robes of righteousness. It is the putting on of grace, the freshening up of hope. And I think back... to the one place where I wish I could have stood a few thousand years ago today.

Those women, fingers gripping the spices and ointments, make their way in the dawn's early light to retrace their steps to the tomb. They returned, burdened by love, ready to anoint the cold, dead body of their Lord... perhaps with tears, undoubtedly with heavy hearts. 

Yet, what could have prepared them to encounter glory? 

Those who stood at the foot of the cross felt the tremors of the earth's very foundations when Jesus yielded up His spirit. A second earthquake at the base of an empty tomb ushered in a glorious truth...and with it, a bowing down of hearts, of minds, of every living sensibility to embrace the miracle that would change the world.

Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Remember how He told you, while He was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise." 

And they remembered..."

Oh, the inexplicable joy that must have surged through their veins at that moment! Death had been swallowed up in victory. Justice had been served for the sins of an entire people... did they realize that He had done it for them? For me?  Perhaps the words came flooding back to them, this time illuminated with meaning. 

It was my sins that put Him there, my deserved death that brought about His.  Yet a humbled and repentant heart comes bowing before this Cross, and "when God looks upon the sinner, who, but an hour ago, was dead in sins, He looks upon him with as much love as He ever looked upon His Son." 

What wondrous love is this, oh my soul? 

Isn't that what we do every Lord's Day? Every time we go to meet Him? We come with hands full of the reminders of death, hearts burdened from the week past -- only to be amazed that He is alive. How so often the darkness of our circumstances can cause spiritual amnesia. We forget His promises. We forget this Gospel -- this good news to a sin-stricken heart. We forget, even unintentionally, that He is alive. Right. Now. 

That same truth that was spoken from angelic lips to the trembling tomb visitors is the same reminder that I need today. 

A shaking up. A bowing down.

Because, really. He is alive. That makes all the difference in the world.

Let's remember. 

Author: Beth
•Saturday, April 07, 2012

Light disappears. The sun sinks lower as the darkness closes in. Evening is shrouded in black; night falling close.

I wonder what those women were thinking that first night, so many years ago.

Here was their King -- their beloved Hope -- cold, limp, and unresponsive. They had stood, huddled in unavoidable horror, watching the darkness fall, the gut-wrenching whispers of pain, the blood flowing freely, the last shuddering breath. Slow. Agonizing. Time seeming to stand still as the reality is seared into every soul watching. 

Few things compare to that gut-feeling when you gaze at a shell of a body -- the outward waste that has been left behind. Touching a loved one and, for the first time, not receiving any warmth of response. That recoiling of heart, knowing that the lungs will never expand again with life-giving oxygen, that the blood has ceased pumping from the heart...and that the soul that makes a person alive is gone. Nothing is left but decaying cells. How can someone utter words to fill that void?

"And all the crowds that had assembled for this spectacle, when they saw what had taken place, returned home beating their breasts. And all His acquaintances and the women who had followed Him from Galilee stood at a distance watching these things....The women who had come with Him from Galilee followed and saw the tomb and how His body was laid." [Luke 23:48-49, 55]

Was there a moon out that night? Stars? Anything to lift their gaze heavenward?  The echoes of a conversation that would take place a few days later undoubtedly rang in their hearts... "We had hoped that He was the one to redeem Israel." [Luke 24:21]  
We had hoped.

Hope shattered. Hope bleeding out and drying up. 

Those women, hearts swelling with tears, had walked home sometime that night -- each with their own memories. They had walked in the same dust that He had walked all across the Galilean countryside. He had spoken hope into their very souls. Their lives were not the same because of His words, His looks, His touch. [Luke 8:1-3]. Now, their hearts were torn with the sting of death and their nostrils filled with the odor of spices for burial. 

How does one, when hope seems gone, learn how to walk on in love? How is it that the ugliness and wrenching pain of death and sacrifice dissolve into something pleasing before the Throne?  

Years later, Paul would pen this verse to a church in Ephesus, urging them to "walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God." [Ephesians 5:2]

As they lay awake that night, perhaps with recollections flooding their subconscious, what did they remember about this Jesus man? Did they recall the glory days of what He had done for them -- the moment when all became clear and free? Did they trust who He said He was when it was the bleakest moment of their lives?

One long night followed by one long day. Luke reminds us that these women rested on the Sabbath, still obeying the commandment in the midst of their grief. [Luke 23:56]

Hands smelling of spices and ointment, perhaps wiping away a tear, learning how to rest

Perhaps that is the hardest challenge of all - resting out of obedience. Resting when the world seems to be falling apart. Resting when all seems in vain. Resting -- truly resting -- in the arms of a Providence that you cannot yet see. 

Because it was in those moments... when time was ticking forward one agonizing minute at a time ... that Scripture was being fulfilled. What seemed to be the most heartless, cruel, painful, and excruciating event in all of history was in reality swelling with an undercurrent of deepest kindness towards a dark world. Hope that would set the world at right again. 

Love was about to break forth. 

Author: Beth
•Thursday, January 05, 2012
{author's note: This was an update that I sent to some folks who are geographically far away from me. Thought a few of you blog readers might enjoy a "more personal" kind of update, since I usually only do these once a year. Also, you may have noticed posts popping up and others merging...that's just all part of this end-of-year/new year cleanup! Hopefully this blog will become a little more lively now!}

Coming to the end of an old year is like dusting off an old atlas and tracing the map of where you’ve been to where you are. The land that my feet stood upon a year ago is far away. My mind makes mental trails through the cobwebs of memories, the pages of journals that have tucked away the weeks and months, looking for that compass that has directed my footsteps right up to the threshold of 2012.
If I had to choose just one word picture to describe the last 365 days, it would be that of a ship traveling “under sealed orders.”

In a sermon delivered in 1933, Chaplain Peter Marshall explained his connotation to the phrase:
“I saw a gray destroyer slipping hurriedly from port in response to urgent orders.  I watched the crew hurrying their preparations for sailing, watched them cast off the mooring hawsers. Saw the sleek ship get underway, as she rose to meet the lazy ground swell of a summer evening, with her Morse lamp winking on the control bridge aft . . . watched her until she was lost in the mists of the North Sea.
She was a mystery vessel. She had sailed “under sealed orders.”
Not even her officers knew her destination or the point of rendezvous.

So, in like manner, all the pioneers of faith have gone out – and all the explorers . . . Abraham, of old. Columbus. The Cabots. Magellan. Balboa. John Smith. Peary. MacMillan. Scott. Lindbergh. Byrd. They all went out in faith, not knowing what lay ahead.
Sometimes this going out in obedience to God’s command is more dramatic than at other times, sometimes more spectacular, sometimes more brave,
But always a venture into the unknown.”
                                                                        [A Man Called Peter; biography of Peter Marshall]

 Always a venture into the unknown.

Although my life is a far cry from daring exploits or pioneering adventures, I can still taste a bit of the salty spray of faith that comes up from the waves of a ship being directed by God on this journey. In many ways, this year has been a year of journeying - bridging the vast expanse between where I left and wherever the destination will be. 

The Lord has been building upon a foundation that He laid years ago by allowing me to continue in many various ministries around home this year. I have enjoyed work in the Second RP office and seeing God add to the church there through new leadership and strengthened relationships within the body of Christ. I have also continued assisting Dr. Blackwood (senior pastor) weekly in various ways as he cared for his wife until the Lord took her home in November. God also provided several part-time jobs throughout the year, including a regular childcare job (for 3 siblings under age 5) which filled up much of my summer and fall with rainy day stories, trips to the park, crayons, tricycles, and little kiddo hugs.

Growing friendships have also been a significant part of this year. I am so grateful that the Lord has surrounded me closely with mentors who speak truth into my life, family that help me to grow more like Christ, close friends that continually encourage and point me to Jesus, and others that I can share what God has done. Through things such as the luncheon ministry to senior citizens at church, participation in Bible studies with college students (in the spring) and adults (in the fall), regular girls’ meetings and outings, and community events and conferences, I have learned more of my Father’s friendship and love with His people through the display of it in people all around me. Oh, and since we’re talking about “growing” friendships – I have to mention the most important one that I’ve  witnessed this year: the relationship of my older brother Greg and Laura Platt who are getting  married in March, 2012. YES!  {After 24 years, I’m finally getting a sister! Just a leeetle excited here, folks.}
My family - Christmas 2011

As God continues to shape and develop a particular vision for this stage of my life, He has also allowed me to learn lots of new things this year. Courses in biblical counseling (in the spring) and missions (in the fall) helped to further explore areas of interest and gave me a greater heart for what He is doing in the lives of people both near and far. Further development in methods of communication (such as web design, photography, and writing) gives me excitement as I see God using them to proclaim His name throughout the world.  Where will He use a pair of willing hands? For now, it’s doing the “next thing” in front of me as He keeps refining, stretching, and growing.

This year has also been one of increasing in the knowledge and love of my Lord. It has been a rough one in many respects, but I have seen glimmers of hope through suffering as God continues to show me more of His grace and intense love. 

Whether it be building, growing, learning, developing, or increasing, I have seen God moving this vessel through charted waters.  Where are all these things leading? Well, that is still “under wraps” of Providence. The beauty of “sealed orders” is that I can’t strain through the mist to try to see my destination. I can’t focus on the tiny strip of land in the distance as being the goal. Rather, my eyes have nowhere else to look except to the loving face of my Lord… seeking and seeing Him in that unknown.

As 2011 draws to a close, I can only look back with praise on my lips for my Savior Jesus Christ, who has once again shown Himself to be faithful and true, and worthy of my wholehearted trust. 

“Then said the other,
Do you see yonder shining Light?
He said, I think I do.
Then, said the Evangelist,
Keep that Light in your eye…”
-Pilgrims’ Progress

Author: Beth
•Sunday, December 25, 2011

''He was poor, that he might make us rich.
He was born of a virgin that we might be born of God.
He took our flesh, that he might give us His Spirit.
He lay in the manger, that we may lie in paradise.
He came down from heaven, that he might bring us to heaven...

That the ancient of Days should be born. that he who thunders in the heavens should cry in the cradle...
that he who rules the stars should suck the breast;
that a virgin should conceive;
that Christ should be made of a woman, and of that woman which himself made,
that the branch should bear the vine,
that the mother should be younger than the child she bare,
and the child in the womb bigger than the mother; 
that the human nature should not be God, yet one with God.

Christ taking flesh is a mystery we shall never fully understand till we come to heaven. If our hearts be not rocks, this love of Christ should affect us. 
Behold love that passeth knowledge! Eph 3:19''

  - Thomas Watson, Puritan preacher, 1620-1686

Author: Beth
•Sunday, December 18, 2011

The setting sun streamed in through the half-opened blinds, glistening behind her neatly-piled white hair like a halo, and illuminating the faces of two dozen youngsters on folding chairs. She held an old worn book in her lap, the portal through which she would usher her little audience weekly into rousing stories of Covenanters with a Scottish accent.

A slight rustling sound came from one of the rows. Her narrating voice stopped, and she looked over her glasses at the two whisperers. For a moment, nobody dared to move. In a gentle voice, she broke the silence by beginning to tell the familiar story of a kitty cat that once snuck into church and stole the attention of the worshippers away from God. It isn’t enough that you aren’t paying attention to what God wants you to learn, she would kindly reprimand, but you are also breaking the 8th commandment by stealing time away from everyone else.

Lesson learned. Attention was quickly restored and she resumed the book. She had won the respect of even the youngest of listeners, because everyone knew she loved. Everything about her spoke that louder than words.

Her name was Mrs. Margie Blackwood, the wife of our pastor.  I was one of the young children sitting in her little class every week. From some of my earliest days, she became a face and a name that I loved.

She’s the one who introduced me to the story of the Two Margarets, who both gave their lives because they refused to recant the name of Jesus Christ. I wondered if my faith was strong enough to do the same. She would tell of her salvation testimony and how she came to say “All I want is what You want, God. I don’t want what I want anymore” about everything. I began to say the same thing in my prayers and learned to truly mean it with all of my heart. 

"Grow old along with me; the best is yet to be"

Years passed. I grew into my twenties. Mrs. B was no longer teaching little groups of children on Sunday evenings. Yet, she still kept teaching me – without words.

Another sunshine day found the two of us at her piano, her most beloved instrument. Her memory had faded. Her hair was no longer neatly piled by her own skillful hands. The hands touched the black and white keys with a rare sense of familiarity. She played all the old favorite tunes without music and I learned to call out the ones from her favorite eras.  Her husband, Roy, joined her that afternoon, as he had so many times during their decades of marriage. Together, I watched as they made harmony together – her on the piano and him singing with gusto the old love songs that she had written to him.

Nearly 63 years of marriage between the two, and I, as a single young girl, watched the two of them closely during this autumn season of life. The evidence of God’s grace in their lives sang as strongly and as plainly as the notes that danced out of the old piano. They had weathered many bumps and bruises along the way, which seemed to only have brought them closer together. 

Now, when the years had passed and his wife was unable to do anything, I watched as he laid down his strength to care for her every need.

For nearly the last two years of Mrs. B’s life, I had the privilege of visiting her nearly every week. She taught me how to just enjoy having “a good day” when she spent it at the piano or re-reading old letters. She taught me that God’s faithfulness is greater than physical disabilities. His peace can surround a mind that has lost the ability to recognize faces, because the truth of God’s Word lies deeper still. She taught me what it looks like to walk through the valley of the shadow of death with no fear about the other side. But most significantly of all, she and her husband taught me what God’s unending and sacrificial love for His Bride looks like, as I watched a strong marriage and unfailing commitment continue right to the very end.

One evening in November, I drove home into a glorious golden sunset emblazoned across the sky, thinking about my friend who had just gone Home. Heaven seemed a little more real and near to me now. The best had finally come for her. The words that she had written years ago had been proven true:

In the yonder world of heaven there’s no need for a sun.
There’s no need for a moon to shine for light.
In that blessed hour, I will see my Lord face to face,
And forever live with Him, where all has been made right.

…O glorious heaven when my soul will attain perfect joy,
Beyond the mountain top when I have finished my race,
I will rest eternally upon the arm of God
Then, I will look upon my precious Lord – face to face.
Mgb 7/3/97
Author: Beth
•Friday, November 25, 2011

It's the day after Thanksgiving. My heart is still filled with the tastes of His goodness - the quiet moments in between the bustling of family to savor every flavor.

There is just a certain air of familiarity that comes with family gatherings - a warm "yes, I know these people" kind of feel. There isn't pretense or formality. It's the kind where you can switch drink glasses and slip food onto others' plates. Or when you can sack out on the couch after the big meal and nobody gets offended. Or the amused significant glances shared across the table because you know exactly what the other is thinking.

Yes, I know these  people.

Today, I avoided the hustle and bustle of the stores and instead blared Christmas music through my car speakers as I went for my weekly visit to a dear friend. He had just lost his wife of 63 years last week. As I rounded the corner to his room, the therapist pulled me aside and whispered: "His eyes just lit up when you walked in!" I smiled, because my heart had lit up too.

Yes, I know these  people.

These kinds of encounters warm my heart to its very core. It encircles me like a big warm hug. I'm so glad that God created us to be relational beings -- so we can have just a taste of something Greater through the love and friendship of others. A little bit of Himself.

So, as I curled up by myself, late on the day after Thanksgiving, I had three little words pulled in close to my heart.

He knows me. 

I just sit still, letting those words wash over my heart and calm my mind. They sink deeply into the most personal corners, bringing security that drowns me in its wake. If I could fully drink of what these words really mean...

Because He knows me, I can trust Him to pick me up when I fail miserably {Ps. 103:14}
Because He knows me, I can stand in His righteousness, clean and forgiven, with confidence. {Jer. 23:6}
Because He knows me, I can always guarantee arms that will be holding me.{Ps.139:5}
Because He knows me, I am free to give of myself to others without needing anything in return. {Col.2:10}
Because He knows me, I can trust Him with my dreams for the future. {Jeremiah 29:11}
Because He knows me, I can walk confidently knowing that my steps are perfectly marked. {Ps.139:3}
Because He knows me, I know He has experienced every memory with me. {Ps.139:3}
Because He knows me, I can be assured that my life will not be wasted {John 15:5}
Because He knows me, I can rest in His acceptance of me above all others {Ephesians 1:6}
Because He knows me, I am part of a family that shares a common bond in Jesus {Eph. 5:30}
Because He knows me, I have free access to all that He is {1 Cor. 1:30}

All that, and so much more. All because Jesus has redeemed me and called me by name as His own. Even with the abundance of friends that I can share my heart with, none of them can understand, truly understand, like Jesus. He knows me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me. What security. What confidence. What hope.

So tonight, as every other day of the year, I want to just thank God for those three little words.
Jesus knows me.
This I love.