Stephen’s Finish Line

A few weeks ago, my brother Stephen ran in a marathon. Our family drove to Des Moines to watch and cheer. By using a tracking app, we could see how many miles Stephen had run so far and where he currently was on the route. This techy tool enabled us to drive to different spots along the 26-mile route and cheer for Stephen as he ran by.

There were many others watching and cheering. Some of the cheerers were more fun to watch than the runners.

Throughout the morning, when I had free minutes here and there, I was reading 1 Corinthians. Just before arriving at our last stop to cheer (the finish line!) I was reading these words … “Now if anyone builds on this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each one’s work will become clear; for the Day will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire; and the fire will test each one’s work, of what sort it is. If anyone’s work which he has built on it endures, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire” (1 Corinthians 3:12-15 NKJV).

I was impressed with how fancy the finish line was.

Runners were finishing their race one by one and receiving their medal. The announcers shared details about the athletes as they crossed the line: “Runner 2553 is from Minnesota, and this is her 3rd race this year…”

It made me think about our heavenly finish line, where new people are arriving each day and being greeted. There must be such an awesome excitement in the air. New arrivals are doubtless eager to tell stories of God’s faithfulness to them on the journey. Cheering, warm-hearted saints in heaven (“the great cloud of witnesses” – Hebrews 12:1) are likely just as eager to hear their stories and praise God!

I have not even run a 5k race, so I can’t speak from experience about finish lines—but I can only imagine the agony that some of the athletes in Stephen’s race must have felt at about the 25-mile mark. Everything in them was focused on ONE thing: the finish line.

I thought, Imagine a finish line with JESUS there.

There is so much emotion contained in this thought! Talk about motivation! Not only is the pain over, not only is the goal reached, but you’re in the presence of Jesus—the One you’ve longed to see for so long.

Now, when Hebrews 12:1-2 discusses the race of life, the instruction it gives us is not to “run faster,” but rather to endure. We are supposed to run with endurance, looking unto Jesus. (He set the example for us by enduring the cross. No trial we encounter compares to His!)

So how do we endure? Glancing back through the previous chapter (Hebrews 11), we read stories of men and women throughout the ages who endured great trials, and the secret to their endurance is given: faith.

As you know, enduring trials is a normal part of the Christian life; in fact, it seems that the Lord often gives Christians extra trials because they are so good for us. I guess each trial is kind of like the Lord bringing us to the gym to build more faith muscles. Although trials are unpleasant, we need to view them as valuable; because if endured properly, they will ultimately enhance the joy of the finish line.

So to summarize, faith helps us to endure trials, and trials build our faith. The result is that our strengthened faith enables us to run better, be purified, and ultimately bring Jesus more glory and honor on that Day. There’s a reason James tells us to count it all joy when we face trials (James 1:2)! Peter also reminds us, “In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:6-7 NKJV).

If trials are beneficial for the race, what are the things that are damaging? We’re told in Hebrews 12: the extra weights we accumulate, and the sin which clings so closely. It was about 40° F the day Stephen ran his marathon. The organizers of the race informed the runners in advance that if they wanted to wear a sweatshirt and throw it to the side sometime during the race, they’d collect them and donate them to a homeless shelter. A serious runner doesn’t want anything unnecessary—even a sweatshirt. It’s not worth it.

Stephen told us that at mile 25, with just one mile left to go and a hurting knee, he began to walk. But soon another runner approached him and said, “Hey, only three-quarters of a mile left. Let’s run to the end.” So the two of them ran the last section together. The kindness of this stranger provided the extra boost Stephen needed. In our heavenly race, we’re not running against each other, but with each other! Far from competition, part of “winning” is helping others win! What better way to do this than to remind them of the soon-coming finish line and to run beside them? “Above all, keep fervent in your love for one another” (1 Peter 4:8).

Here’s a practical step of action. Pick one person in your life and pray some specific requests for them in the heavenly race:

• Pray that he or she will lay off weights that are a hindrance
• Pray that he or she will lay off the sin that clings so closely
• Pray that he or she will stop building with wood, hay, and stubble but be eternally minded.
• Share an encouraging word and point him or her to the finish line
“But exhort one another daily, while it is called ‘Today,’ lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin” (Hebrews 3:13 NKJV).

“The Lord GOD has given Me the tongue of the learned, that I should know how to speak a word in season to him who is weary. He awakens Me morning by morning, He awakens My ear to hear as the learned” (Isaiah 50:4 NKJV).

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Lunch Discussion with Grandpa

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Today my Grandpa (90 years old) took me out to lunch. I was asking him about who impacted his life the most. He said it was his uncle Arthur. Arthur really loved the Lord, thoroughly knew his Bible, and genuinely lived out the Christian life.
Among other friends, he also mentioned Jim Elliot, who he was friends with in college. My grandpa was explaining to me about the impact “brother Jim” made on all the students at Wheaton.

“Why do you think he made such an impact?” I asked.
“Because Jim had a real relationship with the Lord … and loved to talk about him,” my grandpa replied.

In every generation the Lord is raising up Jim Elliots and Uncle Arthurs. Some are more known, some less known. What really matters, when all is said and done, is that our relationship with Christ is real, vibrant, alive, and the best part of our lives. That kind of life will make an impact on others. However, our focus is not on “trying to make an impact,” but on loving Jesus with all our heart, soul, strength, and mind!

Ark Encounter Opening!

IMG_0626 Nickie and I, standing outside of the Ark Encounter after the official opening day (July 7th).

IMG_0629 On our way back home from helping with the Answers in Genesis outreach in Washington DC, my dad, Sarah, and I, together with Nickie and Haley, have been volunteering at the Ark Encounter for the past several days to help with the needs of opening. It has been a very exciting time and God is doing many things.

Saint Patrick’s Whirlwind

IMG_9672 Here was the group who came with us to the St Patrick parade to share with people about the history of Saint Patrick and the gospel. With the flurry of activity going on downtown, the afternoon feels a bit like a whirlwind. Praise God the gospel was part of the whirlwind.

IMG_9669 Patience and Adde — ready to get busy!

IMG_9695 These were my two helpers! They did fabulous.

IMG_9676 Hannah passing out tracts (Sometimes the dogs are even more interested in the tracts than the people, haha )

We praise God for the many good conversations He arranged. Nickie and Patience shared that one of the girls they talked with was so grateful she gave them a hug as they were leaving.

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Some people at the parade start acting extra animated because they’ve been drinking. My dad gets extra animated because he’s so excited about the gospel conversations he’s having 🙂 . He was running around giving tracts to everyone and then he had a couple sentences he’d explain with great enthusiasm…

IMG_9708 “… America needs a Patrick. God used Patrick to change Ireland by bringing them the gospel. That’s what we need in America. We need more Patrick’s!”

People would usually smile and agree. My dad told us later he talked at length to a total of eight individuals who were very serious about the gospel. Praise the Lord!

IMG_9710 Dad was also very tickled to discover that this man is an acquaintance of ours. He lives across the street from our church.

There are too many good things that happened to report them all. Praise God for the privilege He gives us of being His ambassadors.

Mom’s Accident on the Ice

“Mom just called,” Dad said in a worried voice, two days ago. “She fell on the ice in the back yard, and she can’t get up. She doesn’t sound good.”
We jumped in the van and raced home from our office.
I began imagining the worst case scenarios. What if she hit her head on the ledges of the stone steps?
Thankfully, Mom’s injury wasn’t a head injury, but a foot injury. It turned out to be only a sprained or broken ankle and mildly hurt knee. What a relief. It could have been so much worse.

IMG_9034 Our icy back yard

Here’s what happened: On Monday afternoon, Mom was carrying paint supplies through the yard, and she chose to walk through the snow instead of taking the stone path because usually the path is icy and the snow gives better traction. Usually. But not Monday! The snow was basically pure, hard ice. Mom found herself snowboarding down the hill–except without the board…and with her hands filled with paint supplies. The bushes at the bottom stopped her, and she hurt her foot on some bricks.

We’re praising God things didn’t turn out worse.

It’s been a nice change of pace for me to work from home and take care of her the past few days. The first day she didn’t have crutches, but I finally found a way to transport her to different rooms: my harp cart! Mom and I were both excited about how well it worked.

Her foot is still blue and swollen and we are still not sure if it is broken or sprained. She has a high pain tolerance and doesn’t complain much. We are grateful for God’s protection.

Today my dad called a good friend of ours, Dr. Bill Roberts, who is an orthopedic surgeon. He gave my dad some helpful medical advice, and then some spiritual advice. He said, “Here’s my prescription for Rebekah. It comes from Psalm 23. ‘He makes me to lie down in green pastures.'” Dr. Roberts explained that sometimes God MAKES us lie down, and when He makes you lie down—it’s green pastures. He reminded my dad that God is giving my mom a time of rest in His green pastures, so she should take advantage of it and enjoy this time of rest with the Lord.

Secondly, he mentioned that when Jesus was on the cross, He didn’t focus on the pain. Rather, He was concerned about others: The “daughters of Jerusalem” who followed Him weeping on the way to the cross, His mother, the soldiers crucifying Him, the people watching Him, the thief next to him… So when we experience pain, it is a reminder to follow His example and focus on others, praying for them.

Of course, my mom considers her foot injury to be minor compared to the pain so many others experience.

This phone conversation was a special encouragement to both of my parents. My dad mentioned how the fellowship we have among each other as Christians is such a blessing and so strengthening and encouraging in time of need.

Surprise Christmas Gifts

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Our good friend Arturo came over for Christmas breakfast and brought us all a gift. Can you guess what it is? Now I own my first Hawkeye item. 🙂

“So do you love the Hawkeyes, Arturo?” someone asked him.
“I love JESUS,” Arturo exclaimed.

No question there, Jesus is basically all Arturo talks about.

“Jesus loves us. Soooo much, too much,” he said, with a glow on his face.
Anyone who knows Arturo knows you only have to talk to him for about five minutes and he’s quoted you about five Scripture passages. Hard to believe he’s memorized so much Scripture since Jesus radically transformed his life five years ago. It is no stretch to say he is an example to all of us!

Instant Family :)

IMG_8580 You know how you can meet someone and bond so quickly you feel like you’ve known them forever? That’s sort of how it was when Anderson, Josue, and Keren visited us over their Thanksgiving break. (They’re students at Rio Grande Bible Institute, a Spanish speaking college in Texas, and a mutual friend arranged for them to come help with Spanish ministry in Cedar Rapids for a few days…sort of a “practicum” with our church.) It didn’t matter that they were still learning English, we were instant “family,” and we appreciated their fellowship and passion for Christ so much.

IMG_8520 The first thing they did while with us was help with the annual Thanksgiving Event that our church hosts. We do this every year, partly as an outreach to extended family and international students. It’s always a great time.

After dinner we had a time of sharing and our Hispanic friends shared Christ boldly from the heart. I believe it left a real impression on everyone.

IMG_8554 Good talks also developed with the international students at their table …

IMG_8579 So much so, we arranged to meet at a coffee shop in Iowa City to continue the conversation.

IMG_9100 Josue (from Argentina) told us that one of his dreams was to build a snow man. He wanted to know if he could go outside and make one. Of course we said “sure!”. I thought he might make a 1-foot snowman on the back deck of our office (because we didn’t really have that much snow), but he got some help and the snow man ended up being huge!

IMG_8568 In fact, it started drawing observers over to chat, and we ended up sharing with two people about the Lord — all because of the snow man. (New evangelism strategy: build a big snow man and see how many neighbors come over to start chatting with you. 🙂 )

IMG_9198 Keren got together with a Hispanic mother at our church that really needed some encouragement. At the same time, the guys met up with some of the Hispanic guys from our church, and one boy trusted Christ for salvation! There was much excitement.

IMG_8585 After 3 great days of ministry, discipleship, fellowship, street-witnessing, coffee shop discussion, and snowman witnessing, our three Hispanic friends shared with the rest of our church of what God had done. What a joyful time that evening was as we rejoiced together.

IMG_8589 As we drove to the place we’d have to part, we shared some verses from the Word on “thankfulness.” Though it had only been 3 days, it felt like 3 months. We had bonded so quickly as we did ministry together. That’s what I love about brothers and sisters in Christ. And, the fact that goodbye is never really goodbye. 🙂

Belated Mother’s Day

IMG_7645 Our family went out for a belated Mother’s Day dinner last night and had a wonderful time. We also went to see the War Room and we’re praising God for the victory this excellent movie is and for the impact it will make. I was expecting it to be great and it was. I know it has already impacted me and it’s only been a few hours… I came home and started a new prayer journal to do a better job keeping track of answered prayer. I think it can be a very helpful thing for us to actually have a “hard copy” of some of the key things we’re asking the Lord to do.

God’s Surprise Provision

It all started when Sarah told us, “We really should start praying for the guest house plumbing and shower – I don’t know what we’re going to do with 12 girls staying there this summer!”

A few weeks later she brought this concern up again as a prayer request. That very night, an old friend of ours who was visiting told us, “The Lord has put it on my heart to remodel your basement bathroom at your guest house.” His offer was a complete surprise!

IMG_5706Randy and his son Michael

As I write this, Randy is working hard, as he has been for many days. Not only is he replacing the shower, he’s enlarging the whole bathroom down there! Those who have seen our basement shower downstairs and were brave enough to take a shower in it know what bad shape it was in. [smile] There was also a large leak from our upstairs bathroom into our downstairs one.

Additionally, our friends Tracy Jarmon and Dave Fuller (who helped us remodel our office) got on board, and volunteered to replace the vanities, fixtures, flooring, you name it, in BOTH bathrooms.

We can hardly believe this is happening and praise the Lord for how He answers prayer!