Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Lenten Encouragement

My heart is so full tonight as I catch up on news from Japan. In one of the most unreached nations in the world, the Church is being mobilized.

I received an e-mail from Food for the Hungry (the organization through which I sponsor a little girl in Rwanda) detailing some hopeful stories about the Church in action. From the e-mail: "One of the pastors told of working at the feeding center and how one person exclaimed to him...'Thank you for being Christ to us!' It is just one example of how Christ's body is making an impact here in Japan."

If you haven't read my friend Sue Takamoto's blog, you really should. She is one of my most treasured heroines and writes so poignantly about her family's ministry in Japan, especially during this current crisis. Yesterday she posted a video about one American business man's (a friend of the Takamotos') impressions of the way God is working through hardship.

And another video of Eric Takamoto, who is in Sendai helping with the relief efforts through a Christian organization called CRASH:

As I was doing my Lent readings tonight, a piece by R. Kent Hughes resonated in relation to these things. He writes,

Christ was in control when life was falling in, when things looked the worst...Gethsemane was not a tragedy, and neither are our Gethsemanes. This does not do away with the wounds of affliction in this life, but it is encouraging to see that behind human tragedy stands the benevolent and wise purpose of the Lord of human history. Life may be dark at times, tragedy may come, and at times the whole world may seem to be falling apart. The wheel may appear ready to crush us. But this is not the end. "And we know that in all things, God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28), even in Gethsemane.

The Jesus who drank the cup of wrath for us and the Father who sent Him to do it are infinitely Wise, Sovereign, and Good--even when the whole world seems to be falling apart. Praying expectantly for God to continue moving in the hearts of those who do not know Him in Japan.

Monday, March 28, 2011

On Lent and Healing

I've been feeling broken lately.

Let me explain: Several years ago, I had some traumatic horseback riding experiences that changed the sport for me. Six years out of the saddle have only aggravated the fear. So when I brought Aiden Magee here in September, I knew I had my work cut out for me. I believe that fear is decidedly NOT of God, so it seemed like a worthwhile spiritual pursuit as well as a practical one. Only, it's been much harder than I imagined.

Don't get me wrong--I looove Aiden and have so much fun with him. But there's this alarming degree of anxiety that rises up in me when things aren't going 100% perfectly with him...and especially when I even try to imagine riding him out on the trails. It's alarming because I'm not used to feeling this way--I'm mostly an I-can-tackle-anything kind of girl. I wouldn't generally consider myself an anxious person. So this fear, this lack of peace in my life, is pretty foreign. It has made me think of the Jewish idea of shalom. The Hebrew word we often translate "peace," also equates "wholeness" in Jewish culture. So a lack of peace signifies something that is broken.

My riding PTSD of sorts started with riding incidents during a season of spiritual darkness in my life, so no doubt there is a connection there. But more importantly, I think my inability to conquer this obstacle has challenged my idea of myself as someone who's competent. I want to feel confident, together, and in control--but riding taps into a place where I feel insecure.

In our can-do Western mindset, we try to devise a means to fix ourselves. We don't want to be vulnerable, needy, broken. This is the downfall of all religion--even our American brand of easy-believism Christianity.

But the reality of walking with Christ is that we must acknowledge our need. Like the Buddhists and the Muslims, we'd like to think that we can get to Him on our own. Really, His grace is the means for even our pursuit of Him. I am learning this afresh as I face my own brokenness. The nerdy head knowledge of my Reformed education is making its home more and more in my heart as I grasp my humanity.

Yesterday's One-Year Bible passage from the New Testament was Luke 7:36-50, where the "sinful" woman hears that Jesus is in town and rushes to the home where he is eating. Overcome by his presence, she begins to weep. Then kneeling before him, she washes his feet with her tears and lavishes them with perfume from an alabaster jar. I haven't been able to get her out of my head.

Jesus' response to her vulnerability is profound: "Your faith has saved you; go in peace" (Luke 8:50). "Go with my shalom, dear one. Your faith in me has made whole the broken things in you. No more fear."

What does all of this have to do with Lent, you ask? Well, a lot, I think. If it weren't for our broken humanity, what need would we have for a Sovereign who put on flesh to conquer the things that have bound ours? By his wounds, his brokenness, we are healed (Isaiah 53:5).

In this season of fasting and prayers, I'm increasingly thankful for the practical living that makes it all real in my heart.

The Lord is near. Do not be anxious for anything, but in everything by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known before God. And the peace (shalom!) of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Philippians 4:5-7

Monday, March 14, 2011

When the Earth Gives Way

I haven't been able to turn off the TV as I've read my Bible the past couple of days. I am glued to the news, failed news writer and hater of bleak news stories that I am. The devastation in Japan is weighing heavy on my heart tonight as I try to focus on my Lent readings.

As a little kindergartner who was sad to be losing friends who were moving back to Tokyo, I vowed that I would learn the language and someday travel to their homeland. Thus began a journey that included years of language study (much of it resulting in tears and frustration), a strange call to ministry that I still don't fully understand, and two trips overseas to visit the land that God had placed on my heart. All these years later and my heart aches for the people of Japan--of whom only about 0.5 percent know Christ--in a whole new way.

This week, I am thankful that my friends who serve in Japan with Asian Access are okay. The entire mission was gathered together in the Nagano Mountains, just 200 miles from Sendai, for their annual ministry retreat. A time that was meant for reflection and refreshment became a time for prayer in the midst of total devastation.

On Friday, my friend Sue Takamoto wrote:

God’s timing is strange. Last Saturday Eric and I attended an all-day training to help Christians in Japan be prepared to respond in case of earthquake. Eric was supposed to teach that day, but we felt this was really important. We both sense that it is likely that Eric will go and be part of relief efforts. How thankful we are for God’s timing in preparing us to be able to more practically help. We will pray and wait to see how God may use our family, our mission, and the Church to bring much-needed relief as the days unfold. Our prayer is that God will quickly move and unite the Church to reach out during this terrible tragedy. The news that we are hearing is that it may be the worst earthquake in the history of Japan.

We also believe that God has our mission gathered at this time for His purposes. Pray that God will give us wisdom and allow us to be strategic in what will be challenging days ahead. We do pray that the God of Psalm 46 will bring hope to those who right now are buried in tragedy. (More on Sue's blog.)

Asian Access president, Joe Handley, writes along a similar vein:

We have been praying fervently and are convinced that this is a "kairos" moment for the Church in Japan. This is an historic opportunity for the Church to be the Church and rise up to serve the needs of the country in the name of Christ. We at Asian Access believe that God has called us similar to how Mordecai spoke to Esther centuries ago, "you have been called for such a time as this." (Read more at the Asian Access blog.)

Thanks to the many of you who have texted and called to find out how the Takamotos are doing and to say that you are praying for them and other Asian Access missionaries. It is encouraging to know that just as the Lord has been faithful to use them in their everyday comings and goings to "love people like crazy" (as Sue and Eric would say!), He will use them now in a special way.

I am praying Psalm 46 along with them:

God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging..."Be still and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth." The LORD Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.
Psalm 46:1-3, 10

To donate to Asian Access' relief efforts and join the work God is doing in Japan, please send checks marked
"Japan Tsunami Relief Fund" to:
Asian Access
P.O. Box 200
San Dimas, CA 91773 USA

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Lenten Beginnings

It's Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent.

Once again my Baptist upbringing puts me at a disadvantage when it comes to the rhythms of this liturgical season. But I am learning. I've never been to an Ash Wednesday service, nor do I feel that it's especially important. I do, however, want to temper my heart these next 40 days to think about the Cross and what it means for every nook and cranny of my life.

Of course Lauren Winner's words are helpful as I think about becoming a person who lets the traditions of the church rub up against my here-in-this-moment life more than my Baptist forefathers might approve. From Girl Meets God: "During Lent, I don't have that always-cure, and I find myself, not surprisingly, praying more."

I have thought long and hard about what my "always-cure" might be so that I could give it up for the next six weeks. But I can't think for the life of my what would be most profitable to give up. I heard someone say once, maybe when I was in high school, that it's best to add a practice to your life during Lent rather than to fast. To just give up say, chocolate, doesn't do much good for your spiritual state if you chow down on it first thing Easter morning and never look back (and besides, who can do without mini Cadbury eggs this time of year anyway?) The point of Lent, I think, is to feast on the Cross in such a way that I might be just a little more Christ-like when it's over.

I've decided that I want to do something equivalent to my Advent tradition of meeting with the Lord over Scripture and other readings morning and night. Since I'm working through the one-year Bible reading plan, I'll move that to mornings and do my Lenten readings at night. If it sounds like I'm trying to be super spiritual, I'm not. It's just that my always-cure is many things that aren't God, and I want more of Him, more of His Word. I want Him to be my default.

Here's a link to the reading plan I'll be using, which is adapted from the Book of Common Prayer. The book I'll go through is Jesus, Keep Me Near the Cross, compiled by Nancy Guthrie. I'll share liturgies and prayers as I come across them.

Here's one from the traditional Ash Wednesday service:

Accomplish in us, O God, the work of your salvation
That we may show forth your glory in the world.
By the cross and passion of your Son, our Lord,
Bring us with all your saints to the joy of his resurrection.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

The Awesome News

It's shocking what you hear on the news these days.

Today I learned that the end of the world is coming on my 26th birthday--May 21, 2011.

I say this tongue-in-cheek, of course. The idea that anyone can predict the day or the hour when Christ will return is preposterous according to Jesus himself, quoted in the pages of Scripture:

"Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.
But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven nor the Son, but only the Father. Be on guard! Be alert! You do not know when that time will come."
Mark 13:31-33 (also Matthew 24:35-36).

The folks who presume to have the authority on when Jesus will return clearly contradict Scripture in their predictions. But that doesn't stop them from claiming to hold to biblical teaching. Members of a movement called Project Caravan patrol the southern part of the country in a long line of RVs, canvasing the nation with their message: "Have you heard the awesome news? The end of the world is almost here! It begins May 21, 2011--the Bible guarantees it!"

You can read the full news story at CNN.com. Here's CNN's video coverage:

Project Caravan's umbrella organization, Family Radio, isn't the first movement to make such outrageous claims about the end of the age, and it certainly won't be the last. Just like all of those who presume to have the inside scoop on the matter, they will be wrong. God knows, and according to His Word, He'll be keeping it hush-hush until that Day.

I feel so sad knowing these folks are giving their lives for a misguided gospel full of half truths. The Message the apostles gave their lives for, the Good News (or "gospel") they proclaimed, was that Jesus' Kingdom is already being ushered in. In Acts 5:42 we read that "Day after day, in the temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Messiah." We can know Him in the here-and-now, even as we wait for Him to "make all things new" (Revelation 21:5) because He gave himself up to make things right. That's Great News! Wonderful News! That is News Worth Giving Your Life For.

The Awesome News is not merely that Jesus is coming again, but also that He's already come. And we don't have to wait until May 21 for life in Him to start.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Ascend the Hill

A post to tell you about my new musical crush is overdue. A couple of months ago, I discovered a new-ish band called Ascend the Hill. They've got a hymns project out that is uh-mazing...and the best part is, you can download it for free!

On my first Sunday at West End Community Church in Nashville, Carter Crenshaw preached on Psalm 24. When he read "who may ascend the hill of the Lord," and linked it to the Cross, I looked at my then-boyfriend and knew we were both hooked. We had been all over Nashville and not heard preaching like this. (Carter's a brilliant exegete and an even better shepherd.) I've loved that passage of Scripture ever since. Whenever it pops up in Advent readings, I get so pumped! So the name of this band struck a chord with me (eek--am I a total cheeseball, or what?!) before I ever heard the music.

Call me a hopeless romantic, but I'm still thinking about love post-Valentine's Day. (It could be because my red and pink decorations are still up!) Anyway, this old Jewish poem-turned-hymn has been especially precious to me around this lovey-dovey time of year!

Could we with ink the ocean fill
And were the skies of parchment made
Were every stalk on earth a quill
And every man a scribe by trade
To write the love of God above
Would drain the ocean dry
Nor could the earth contain the whole
Though stretched from sky to sky

Be sure to check out this band!