Friday, July 19, 2013

THE INCREDIBLE SWEETNESS OF GOD'S LOVE

The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. - Philippians 4:6-7

To the right of this post, there is a place on the sidebar where you can "Search This Blog." Enter anxiety, or fear, or prayer, or a snippet of the verse above, and hit "Search":  you'll see by the number of related posts that come up just how much I struggle with trusting God's good providence in my life.

I've also mentioned in earlier posts how one characteristic of this new season of my life is mid-morning sleeplessness . . . which is not a bad thing, because being awake at 3:00 in the morning provides such a wonderful opportunity to pray without the distractions of a busy daytime house. However, these wee-morning-hour prayer sessions can also be times of earnest spiritual wrestling. I am learning, however, that God is not only awake and ready to talk at 3:00 in the morning, but that He deals so very sweetly with His children in the still darkness of the night.

I lay awake in bed last night (this morning) with some very particular worries on my mind, but also with a very real sense of the nearness and attentiveness of God. "God, thank You so much that You are here and You are listening! Thank You so much that I never, ever have to be alone with the fears that plague my heart!"

Then, the above verse came to mind. "...do not be anxious about anything..."

"But I am anxious, Lord. I am anxious about my tiny daughter who will be flying back home from Japan soon. And I am anxious about my son at boot camp. And I am anxious about my husband's health and his work. And I am anxious about..."

It was a long, long list.

But talking through that list with God last night, I did not feel at all as if He were listening with a frown on His face: "You stupid, sinful, wicked child! Have I not just told you 'Do not be anxious'? And yet that is the very thing you insist on doing!" No, it was as if He was embracing me in loving arms:  "Yes, I know you are anxious about Martha, and about Tom. What else are you afraid of right now?" No condemnation (Thank You, Jesus!), just mercy and grace.

Praying through my worries, it felt like I was taking each weight inside my heart and handing it to God. He never flinched. "Yes," my Father assured me, "I care about these things, too. Can you trust me with them, Camille?"

Yes. Yes, I can, because I know how much you love me, Lord. Because You are awake and listening at 3:00 in the morning. Thank You.

And so, with an unburdened heart I drifted off to sleep.

But that's not the end of this story.

This morning after breakfast, I sat down to finish working through the study for our women's brunch tomorrow morning. I like to write out the verses at the end of each chapter of our study - I process things better when I write them than when I read them. I flipped open the study book, looked up the passage written on the page, and began writing on a sheet of loose-leaf paper. . .

"Therefore, I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air:  they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? . . . the Gentiles seek after these things, and your heavenly Father know that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. Therefore, do not be anxious about tomorrow..." Matthew 6:25-34

And then I looked up and wrote the next Scripture reference on the list, Luke 10:38-42, the passage about Martha and Mary, where Martha was frustrated because her sister was sitting at Jesus's feet instead of helping her serve their guests. The passage includes this verse: "Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her." Camille, Camille! You are anxious and troubled about many things! Be still, my child, and rest at the feet of Jesus.

Now, the funny thing is, this month's women's study is not about worry or about being anxious. It is about setting priorities, about using our time to do what God has given us to do instead of becoming distracted and stressed out by the to-do lists we or others create for us. But as I wrote out those verses this morning, I was overwhelmed with the sweetness of God - that He loves me so much that He wanted to continue our conversation from last night!

I finished the homework for tomorrow's women's study, then put on a kettle of water to make tea. A quick trip to "the library," where I read this excerpt from the June 2013 Tabletalk. Scott Devor, writing on the Christian's adoption into God's family: It is in Christ that we see [the] compassion of the Father most fully expressed. "He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?" (Rom. 8:32)

Devor continues: As our Father, He gives us all things that we need, and knows them before we ask (Matt. 6:8). This is similar to what Jesus taught on the Sermon on the Mount - that if earthly (and sinful) fathers know how to give good gifts and care for their children, how much more will our heavenly (perfect) Father give good gifts and care for us (Matt. 7:9-11)?

I've been brought to tears this morning - not because of fear, but because my Father is so very, very good. Almighty God - who has destroyed nations, slain entire armies, who crushed His own Son for my sake - the sovereign, terrible, omnipotent creator and sustainer of the universe, has stooped to love His frightened daughter with such incredible sweetness and tenderness.

I am undone. 

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

THANKFUL

For although they new God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools... Romans 1:21-22

God is indeed sovereign. He is good. And He loves me very much.

Because these things are true, I can say, at the end of a particularly exhausting, difficult day, "Thank you, Lord..."

Thank you, Lord, because this day of wrestling and head-butting and struggling in the ring has strengthened new muscles.

Thank you, Lord, that in the very middle of trials, You graciously remind me of the security that is mine in Jesus.

Thank you, because, weary and heavy-hearted at day's end, I have had to run again to Christ for rest, and have found in Him great refreshment.

God is sovereign. He is good. And He loves me very much.

Because these things are true, I can say "Thank you."

Thank you, Lord, for a good night's sleep, and for a new day.

Thank you, Lord, that I woke this morning to the songs of meadowlarks in the hay field.

Thank you for a day at home, a pause from the frantic running to-and-fro.

God is sovereign. He is good. And He loves me very much.

Because these things are true, I can say "Thank you."

When the enemy of my soul conspires with my sinful flesh to discourage and defeat me, I can meet my adversary with this prayer in my heart: "This affliction does not come to me without the knowledge and good purposes of almighty God. Thank you, Lord, for Jesus, and for the life and the security and the joy that are mine in Him. Thank you, Lord, for even this present trial. Teach me, Lord - what would you have me learn?" Oh, I wonder how our adversary recoils when we respond to his onslaughts with praise to our Father in Heaven!

Jesus lived and died and defeated death and now intercedes . . . for me.

Thank you, Jesus, for saving fools like me. Thank you for lips to say, "Thank you."

Oh give thanks to the LORD for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever! Psalm 118:1








Monday, July 1, 2013

MARTHA - UPDATE FROM CHIBA!

"No matter how much you are into trying new things in new places, do NOT try a bowl full of little simmered eels!"

Martha has now been living and serving in Chiba, Japan, for one month. She has eaten octopus and squid, fish eggs and eel, seaweed and lots and lots of rice. She has been to the public baths. She has learned to navigate the train system, and how to get help when she accidentally boards the wrong train. She has learned how to ask for help when shopping for groceries.


Martha wrote that, at first, not knowing the language made her feel very vulnerable, but that she has learned that vulnerability is a gift. It requires her to talk to people and engage with them in even the most ordinary, mundane life situations. She's found that when she asks for help, the Japanese people are eager to assist her, and that the simple act of helping a confused American girl find the powdered cocoa can soften someone's personal boudaries and lead to an opportunity for a lengthy and more meaningful conversation.

Martha is growing in love for and appreciation for her awesome team members and the variety of personalities and gifts they bring to the Chiba ministry. Even with the stresses that are part of living in tight quarters and working long days, she writes, "The longer I'm here, the more I like everyone on this team."

Here is a glimpse of the MTW church-planting mission in Japan. Dan Iverson is the team leader over the group Martha works with, and this clip shows some of the places where Martha is living and working this summer:

video


The first couple of weeks, Martha and other interns taught classes at a small Christian school in Chiba. With school out for holiday, they are now helping with VBS programs at Oyumino Chapel. Martha is also teaching piano lessons and helping with English as a Second Language classes offered at the church.

Martha spent a recent weekend with a very gracious non-Christian Japanese family. When the family visited a local Buddhist temple, the mother gave Martha a coin to donate to the temple and told her she could ask for a blessing. Martha explained that she was a Christian, and that she prayed to Jesus, not to figures at the temple. Later that evening, the mother asked Martha to pray over their meal. "We do not know how to pray here like you do," she told Martha. "We need you to show us how." When Martha left this sweet family to return to her residence with the other MTW interns, the mother shared that she and her family wanted to come to Martha's church, if that would not be inappropriate. Martha was delighted!

Martha's favorite thing about living and working in Japan this summer is definitely the CHILDREN. Whether it's teaching piano lessons, practicing English, doing Bible school activities, babysitting, or just playing a game together, she loves loving on the children.






I think God has richly answered Martha's prayer, prayed when she was such a tiny child herself. Children, music, missions - three passions combined into one amazing opportunity to share the love of Christ.







Please continue to keep Martha and the other MTW Chiba interns in your prayers over the summer. Pray for many opportunities to experience for themselves and to share with others around them the great Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.

As Martha writes: "May Jesus Christ be praised in every corner of the earth!"

(Thank you, Natalie Lockard, for sharing the photos! Natalie is one of Martha's team-mates, and she has a blog about her experiences in Chiba that you can check out here.)