Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Waifs around a Blazing Fire

"My old self has been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loves me and gave Himself for me"  (Galations 2:20) NLT

There is a deep silence in our home when I finally put my book down, the last lines still echoing in my head. My cheeks are hot and wet, the vividness of Corrie ten Boom's life story so real, that all about me seems surreal and strange. The Ten Boom family became leaders in the Dutch Underground, during the Nazi invasion and occupation of Holland. They opened their home in Haarlem, as a hiding place for Jewish people, also aiding their escape from the Nazis. Corrie was one of the few that did not find death in a concentration camp. An unassuming spinster who began a miraculous transformation that carried her through the war's greatest horrors, to a postwar career as world famous speaker and author. As I look around me at all the "riches" and comforts of our home, the soft breathing of my family safe and warm in the room next door, my heart aches with a certain knowledge. When stripped bare of all we "have" and the knife continues twisting, adding agony upon horror for what seems like an eternity, then we get a mere glimpse of what Christ endured for us.

Corrie recounts a train-trip to Amsterdam, a little girl with her loving father. During the trip she asks her father one of those "tricky" questions we hope our children will never ask. Her father simply bends down, draws the heavy suitcase from under their bench. "Please pick that up for me Corrie" he asks. Confused she strains with all her strength to lift it of the floor. "Och Pappa" she says, "I cant, it is too heavy". To which the old man replies: "It is the same with the answer to the question you have just asked me. For now, you will have to trust me to carry it for you, until you are strong enough to carry it yourself". I also, can trust my Heavenly Father to carry the answers to all the questions that reel through my mind. To hold on to the hope in what I cannot see. Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see (Hebrews 11:1).

Then, when her eighty year old Pappa dies after being imprisoned, she asks herself how God himself could show truth and love at the same time in a world such as this. And the answer stands out starker than ever before: By dying. The shape of a Cross etched on the history of the world. And on the wall of  her own prison cell she scratches out next to the date of his death - Released.

The barracks in the German concentration camp that she is finally assigned to with her sister, becomes the praying heart for the vast diseased body that was Ravensbruck. Rank death beads became doorways to heaven, woman that had lost everything grew rich in hope. I pray so often for things to be restored, for pain to be removed, for whatever need is pressing in my life or for those I love. But reading this account, confirmed one thing clearer than ever: Sharing in the suffering of Christ is and should always be a joy, a pathway to deeper understanding and surrendering to His will for us, not our need impressed on Him. It is part of the mystery, the "heavy suitcase" that I need to trust Him to carry for me.

She tells of a time when each day brought new horrors, conditions grew harder and harder to bear. But as the rest of the world grew stranger with pointless suffering and misery, she discovered the reason why they needed to be there. A bible is smuggled in against all odds,carried in a pouch under her prison dress. It became the centre of an ever-widening circle of help and hope. "Like waifs clustered around a blazing fire, we gathered about it, holding out our hearts to its warmth and light. The blacker the night around us grew, the brighter and truer and more beautiful burned the Word of God. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword. No, in all things, we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us" (Romans 8:37). The light leaped from one gaunt face to another. More than conquerors. It is not a wish. It is a fact.

They were poor, hated, hungry - but conquerors. Because their real hunger was for their Saviour, they knew, the promise is not to be conquerors one day. We are! Even though external life grew every day more horrible, their lives were taking place on two separate levels, mutually impossible. One, the observable, marked by physical suffering and weakening. The other, the life with God, grew daily stronger, truth upon truth, glory upon glory.

Are we desperate enough for His glory, hungry enough for His truth? Times are good now, but the labour pains are intensifying. We may feel that war and persecution of Christians only happens on the pages of history books and in countries far abroad. This war may be more subtle, but no less real. We do not know what the future holds, but we do know that we are called to be prepared and equipped. Not only with oil in our lamps for the return of  the bridegroom, but also with the full armour of God for the daily battle (Ephesians 6:10-18).

I wrote this a few nights ago, being so touched by Corrie ten Boom's story that I just had to write it down. Then I came to the end and suddenly had no inkling of how to conclude it. But as I read Galations 2:20 this morning I knew: We don't have to pray that we we may suffer with Christ to be part of his glory. Only that we are willing to lay down our lives, become broken in Spirit as His body was broken on the cross. When Jesus prayed: "Your will be done", that was when He lay down his life, being willing to die.

When we "die to self", we declare our willingness to become broken for His glory, so that He may live in us and His light may shine through us, as Gideon's clay jars. So I pray: Not my will, but Your will be done.


Wednesday, 20 February 2013

A Peculiar People

"Dear friends, I warn you as temporary residents and foreigners, to keep away from worldly desires that wage war against your very souls" (1 Peter 2:11) NLT

A deliciously steamy day, shimmering with mirages over hot soil. With a song in my heart I bounce down the rocky road, slowing for a flock of white goats to pass at a lazy, unperturbed pace. I turn the wheels sharply up "Winding Line", which winds its steep and crooked way through the trees, in typical Hogsback style. Next to the road, with hands neatly folded, a threesome wait for their rattling chariot. They board with huffs and puffs and we set off for the next stop. With all passengers aboard, I glance in the rear view mirror - four generations of beautiful woman, from about seven to seventy something. The smallest catches my eye in the mirror; "Don't you have a job Auntie Maria?" she asks, eyes as innocent as the dawn. I search for words, old insecurities crawling in through the window. My dear friend answers without hesitation: "Of coarse she has sweetheart, she's a mommy!" Relief and confidence flow through me, as doubt is firmly shoved out the window again. Such I am, even though being a mother is still not what defines me, even if it occupies most of my waking (and sleeping) hours.

We all have thoughts about what it is that defines us, our destiny, where we belong on this crazy planet. The answer to the latter question is: we don't. What defines me? Who I am in Christ. What is my destiny? Heaven! Easily said, but for now, while I live in this "foreign" land, there must be some kind of a purpose that  gives my days structure, besides the mundane (and joyful) tasks and passing pleasures of this life? There certainly is: To Seek the Kingdom of God above all else and live righteously; and he will give you everything you need. (Matthew 6:33)

We certainly manage to complicate things by trying to "fit in". I've had a lifelong battle with "feeling peculiar". As an unexpected "laatlammetjie"(youngest child of a family, born to older parents and much younger than siblings), I struggled to relate to "the others" until I was much older. As an awkward child of immigrants with a weird surname, I had to endure a fair amount of mocking during the days when xenophobia was still well and alive in this fair land. I did not "date" with the rest, rather loved to hide in the dove-cote or up a tree with a book. The list goes on.

But then we moved to Hogsback and suddenly I felt like I was amongst people that I "get". I marvelled at their boldness in being different, their seeming indifference to the need to conform. But slowly it became apparent that even in this there was a hidden formula. If you try so hard to be different, in many ways you become frighteningly similar to the one next to you, also striving to be different. Once again, I felt the edges of my puzzle piece straining to form part of the whole I so longed for.

To trim this tale of woe, I can now say with a joy that I can actually not express, that it all doesn't matter. What I do know is that "Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. (1 Pet 2:10) So this means that if I feel "peculiar" it is probably for the best reason. The ways of the world have allure, but it is, and has never been, God's way. For the one that rules this present world is the prince of darkness, and conforming to the world is to conform to his likeness.

This may not be something that we do consciously, but subtly it shapes itself into a need that we strive to fulfil without even questioning why. It just feels good to have the right set of wheels, the perfect home, career, education etc. There is no judgement in this, but if God is not the first priority, then my plumb-line can never be true.

A home built on an uneven foundation may look grand at first, but when the storms come, as they inevitably do, cracks appear.

Since my own body is a spiritual home for the Holy Spirit in Christ, I would want my "temple" to be built on a solid foundation. Worldly desires WAR against our very souls, which are kept in these precious temples, which cannot be a home to Christ as well as home to him that is in the world.

We belong to God's family. What could be more precious than that? The price that was paid for my place in this family was not in currency. It was with the blood of God become man in Jesus. I hope that this will become such a reality to me each day, that the ways of the world will grow strangely dim, and His beauty will shine, sublime and true.

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

On Trust, Fear and Stones

"Because he loves me says the Lord, I will rescue him. I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name." (Psalm 91: 14)

All at once, I notice that it had become very quiet. At first I lean back and just allow it to flow all over me, feeling my limbs grow soft and heavy. I hear the rush of the swollen river, the cicada's singing, the almost imperceptible tread of our cat over the wooden floorboards. Then I remember, silence means absence, absence means little people are too far for comfort. I find the smallest at the fence-stile, (a pedestrian rural fence crossing) looking a bit lost. His brother, it appears, had decided to expand his boundaries. Once again, the strings are let out a bit more. It unnerves and excites me to see his independent spirit constantly pushing beyond the known. Then I remember the body of water that the adventurer may need to cross and with a sprint, we set out after him. He is found marvelling over a new litter of piglets, peppering our smiling neighbour with questions.

Concern and fear have a fine thread running between them, and I cross over that line as soon as I take my focus off the Most High. Then I descend into fear. There are enough scriptures to remind us that fear is not from God and is therefore not a place where I should go.

I remember a time before mountains and babies, when a fist of fear had such a hold of my heart that I felt it grow cold and small in my chest. It was an ordinary Sunday morning, when another silence had set me on a search and discovery of my Oriental cat at the top of an avocado tree in my garden. This rescue mission resulted in me tumbling almost seven meters from the leafy top of the tree to the solid ground underneath, (just a few centimetres from a jagged boulder). Writhing with pain, I was whisked off to the nearest hospital. Scans and x-rays revealed a shattered vertebrae. Fear set in. "You won't walk again", the first icy breath whispered in my ear. A fine surgeon sawed some bone from my hip, built up a new vertebrae with all the bits and pieces and clamped the whole lot together with titanium brackets! But still the fist clenched tighter. "What if you fall" it taunted - "the whole lot would just fly to bits and you'll be back at square one". And so it went on. Each time I had to will it away with all my strength and focus on the challenges at hand. Then one silent sunny morning, after I'd left the hospital, I found (was shown) Psalm 91.

I read the Psalm of Trust with hungry eyes, feeling my spirit soar more and more after each line. Just listen to the first two lines: "Those who live in the shelter of the Most High, will rest in the shadow of the Almighty". Sublime truth in poetry. "He alone is my refuge, my place of safety". Each line has shone with special significance at different times. Like the first time I went for a walk in the street, a stiff composite brace tight around my torso. With a robot-like gait, I took the first tentative steps on the uneven tar road. A few steps later my foot struck a loose stone and I nearly lost my balance. The fist tightened again. Shaking and out of breath I turned the corner back to safety. This was not to be. Coming at me like the hound from hell, was a snarling German Shepherd, fast and focused. I felt utterly defenceless. Closing my eyes, I prayed a desperate prayer. Then taking a firm stance on faltering legs, I looked the animal straight in the eyes, pointed my finger right at him and said in a voice that was not my own: "You go home, NOW!" And he did. This was before Crocodile Dundee did that trick with the buffalo, so I had no inspiration besides from above...

Later that night I read in verse 11: "For He will order his angels to protect you wherever you go. They will hold you up with their hands, so you won't strike your foot against a stone". Needless to say, I was not "scared" to go for walks again, and probably became a regular comical sight in the neighbourhood.

Recently I was reminded that: "He will cover you with His feathers, He will shelter you with his wings" (v4).God shown as a compassionate mother bird protecting her young. And his wings extend over my children also. So this mother bird can rest in the knowledge that the chicks are and will be safe. Surrender is hard but sweet.

This beautiful psalm/poem concludes with God's promise of protection that comes to those who have faith in him. "Because he (she) loves me, says the Lord, I will rescue Him. I will protect him for he acknowledges my name. He will call upon me, and I will answer him. I will be with him in trouble. I will deliver him and honour him. With long life I will satisfy him and show him my salvation" (v14-16)

And that salvation has come. When Jesus said on the cross: "It is done" - it was done for me. And when he rose from death and was taken up to sit at the right hand of the Father, an eternal life with him was sealed. Not because I loved him, but because he loved me first. He has removed fear of death itself.

For His grace is sufficient. He is faithful. He is my shield and my rampart. Now and always.

Monday, 4 February 2013

Heavenly Silence

"He stilled the storm to a whisper, the waves of the sea were hushed" (Psalm 107: 29)

A wild storm brought the day to a climatic end. Our Border Collie paces and growls nervously and I do the same, though fortunately without growling. We hold our breaths as it lashes about our cabin, gutters gushing and overflowing under the deluge. The earth cannot soak it all up fast enough and rivulets trickle and then surge as they grow into small rivers. Exposed to the elements we are humbled and awed by the sheer majesty of it all. At times like these, hugging my boys and stroking the dog's head while cooing to the cat under the couch, I feel small. How wonderful it must be to just crawl into someone's lap when threats loom large.

The storm passes and all is intact. Throughout the night there is still a gentle dripping at the edge of my consciousness. The morning reveals all the deck furniture huddled in one corner, blown there in a ghostly parade of empty chairs. The smell of damp forest hangs in the air and the fury of the storm seems an eternity away.

This is how I feel when God pours out his grace over us. In the midst of the storm, I can be so unaware of it, my only focus the immediate threat at my door. Then all at once I become aware of the voice that says: I am here. Hearing only the noise that appears so deafening at the time, I forget to listen. To really listen.

Silence is a rare commodity in our home. With two exuberant toddlers it is savoured like the last delectable truffle in the box. I am learning to shut out the noise at times, to hear what the voice of the Holy Spirit wants to say to me. As I'm writing, bits of an unfinished mega block castle pile up beside my keyboard. Electronic tunes and animal sounds blare out of a toy-laptop and a frisbee skims the back of my head. My hope is that I may not only receive unlimited patience, but also the ability to take "selective hearing" to a new level.

At times I feel that God is silent. I sit, my fingers poised over the keys, nothing... I felt so sure that there was a message inside me when I prayed, made notes, looked up scriptures. But each time as I start typing, the "noise" and distractions seem to will me away from what seemed so clear in the morning silence. Why?

"Its obvious", you may think. No-one can concentrate with so much going on around you. But, God is almighty, if the message is from him, there is always a way. The only one who would not want me to continue is Satan, and I need only resist him and he will flee from me. (James 4:7 Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you). The amount of "noise" and fear he creates in our lives is often both deafening and debilitating. But it needn't be. The name of Jesus alone is enough to send him scurrying away. It reverberates with the victory that is also ours if he is truly the master of our hearts.

Yes, silence does exist when storms rage, toddlers brim over with "joy de vie" and personal challenges and attacks threaten. Knowing my Saviour helps me to rise above all of these and enter into His silence. A place of peace that is beyond reason, beyond the mess and brokenness of our temporary home here on earth. In this silence He may also be silent, but He is always there.