Tuesday, May 24, 2011

The Love of God

This post started out with an analogy about how dandelions are like God's love-so abundant and beautiful, and impossible to kill. But I couldn't find the words to finish it, so it sat incomplete in my Drafts for a week. Then I was inspired by a Burmese wedding, where Connie and I sang one of our favorite hymns, "The Love of God," before a couple hundred Burmese friends. I thought then that I'd found a way to convey what I wanted to say, but after that attempt this post went back into the Drafts, barely a thought added to it. Other little reminders of His love have also looked like the promising flashlight that would give me the end to this struggle with words, but still the verdict was 'wait.' Who knows-maybe this too will end up in along with the rest of my Drafts, lacking the ability to communicate a coherent thought. Let me try anyway.

Sunday was a glorious day-I was back amongst my home church family, the weather felt like a good ol' North Carolina summer day, and I just felt the presence of God's peace in my life in a very real way. As we prepared to sing the last song before studying the Word together, I was tickled pink that it was chosen for us to sing "The Love of God." Whether or not that happened due to the fact that our worship leader faithfully keeps up with Connie and I on facebook and our blogs, I don't really care-I just think it's neat that God ordained things to work that way.
As we sang, it got me thinking about a conversation I'd had with Mama Odette last Tuesday, while my friend Amy was out to visit me in Fort Wayne. Mama Odette is well known for her boldness and authoritative ways, and for her strong faith and love of Jesus Christ. Whenever you ask her how she's doing, she always answers with "good by the grace of God!" And she always asks you, with an eager curiousity in her eyes, what you've read in your Bible for the day-not because she wants to check it off on a list of things you have to do in order to remain in good standing with her, but because she genuinely wants to learn from what God has taught you, and wants to encourage you with what she has learned as well. I finally realized this a few months ago, and as I've mentioned before, I usually try to make especially sure that Tuesday mornings I start my day right. Last Tuesday, however, that didn't happen, and I had to confess to Mama Odette that I had skipped reading that morning. I offered a lame excuse when I saw the sadness in her eyes...something about having had a good talk with Jesus instead. The good woman shook her head adamently. "No no no!" she said loudly in her African way. "You must read! You must talk and read to communicate. Talking is good, but to hear God you must read His Word! And you must read it in the morning-Jesus prayed and spent time with the Father in the morning, so we must do it, too." As I read out those words written in Times Roman font, they look so cold and flat, but to have an African Mama speak them powerfully they are full of truth and the Holy Spirit convicts you in a way that makes you squirm. I knew immediately that she was right, but like all mamas, she continued her lecture to make sure the words sank in.
"See that is how you have joy and peace-to communicate with God in the morning is how you can have a good day. It is only through Jesus that you can be happy and free from worry. Jesus said to cast all our cares on Him! But then we need to share that joy, we need to tell others about God's love! You know why no one gets saved? It is because no one shares God's love with them! But how will they know if we don't tell them what He tells us? God is so good to us, and His mercy is new every morning."
If you read through that in 30 seconds or less, stop right where you are. Imagine the best African Mama voice that you can, and read through her words again, slowly, like you've got a Mama Odette saying them to you, lingering as she watches your face absorb and ponder her words. Then proceed to this next paragraph.

In the days following Mama Odette's little sermon, it was like I was reliving all the days where I haven't started my day with Jesus, and all the times where I could have shared God's love with someone but didn't. Can you imagine the impact that could result if we all took to telling others about what God teaches us each morning? It gives me chills just thinking about it! It's sobering realizing how much time I've wasted, but it only serves to show how amazing and steadfast God's love is. One of my favorite lines from that song goes like this:
When men who here refuse to pray,
On rocks and hills and mountains call,
God’s love so sure, shall still endure,
All measureless and strong;
Redeeming grace to Adam’s race—
The saints’ and angels’ song.

In her book "Not Good if Detached," Corrie ten Boom shared the story of how she was on a plane ride that very nearly ended in a fatal crash. While in the last moments of uncertainty, she felt compelled to stand and speak to the other passengers, to tell them of how they could be eternally secure. But fear got in her way, and she failed that test. When they arrived safely at the airport Corrie was distressed to have missed such an opportunity, but within minutes God sent her a Jewish doctor to share the Good News with.
"Found worthy to evangelize, after all! In this world to be acceptable we must pass examinations. God sometimes requires we fail the examination, and only then will He use us. Paul says, 'When I am weak, then am I strong' (2 Cor. 12:10). Thus one learns that without Him one can do nothing, but 'I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me' (Phil. 4:13).
The great sin of negligence I confess to Him who is faithful and just to forgive our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9)."

Praise the God who never throws His hands up in exasperation and stows us in a Drafts folder, but who continually picks us up and plugs faithfully away at the stories of our lives!

O love of God, how rich and pure!
How measureless and strong!
It shall forevermore endure
The saints' and angels' song

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Not prefix or suffix

"Prayer is not a prefix or a suffix; it is central." -Corrie ten Boom, in Not Good if Detached

"Pray in the Spirit at all times with all kinds of prayers, asking for everything you need. To do this you must always be ready and never give up. Always pray for all God's people." Ephesians 6:18

I woke up yesterday in a fussy mood, having a bad attitude about everything (mentally, if not outwardly), so after breakfast I decided the morning needed to be spent alone with God. After a couple hours of wrestling in prayer and pondering the crazy story of Judges 19-20, I pulled out Not Good if Detached and picked up from where I'd left off about a month ago-the page with my favorite Corrie ten Boom quote about prayer.

Perfect timing on a Tuesday, especially this particular Tuesday. Childcare downstairs on Tuesdays is always crazy and exhausting, but this week we knew we would be missing two of our main helpers who are always there. And I had to help with transportation to get the women here, so that meant Jeanine would be the only adult helper for almost an hour. And, Moi San had been crying inconsolably all morning, and for some reason his behavior is like a foretelling of the attitudes of all the children that will be downstairs. I was very thankful God allowed me to have a few hours of uninterrupted prayer time!

I prayed for good conversation with the women I was picking up-one of the women who last week basically ignored me, opened up about her struggles both here and back in Africa and listened intently as I told her some of my story. It was thrilling to have her just bubbling over with things to say, and to find some common ground in our beliefs.

I prayed for joy amongst the helpers no matter what the kids were like-when Mama Odette asked me, "Do you have the peace of Jesus sister?" in her bold, African way, I was able to give her a hearty yes! Even in the moment where I was holding two screaming little boys who pulled my hair and slobbered all over my sweaty face, the joy in my heart wouldn't leave. And the other helpers were patient and overflowing with love for the kids even through the chaos of 24 infants and toddlers screaming.

I had looked all week at the chaos that was just bound for yesterday with dread-but God turned it into a beautiful lesson of the importance of bringing all my needs to Him. The only reason I am ever joyful is because of the work the Lord is doing in my heart, and that work requires dying to myself. I'd wanted to spend my morning checking email and facebook and any other number of selfish things that would have kept me from surrendering my attitude to Him-so He decided to keep my internet off.