Wednesday, 17 December 2014

The Good and Perfect Gift

"Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests." (Luke 2:14)

Strange how silence can be so sweet at times, then so hollow and echoing with the voices of ones dearly missed... For three days, our home was filled with laughs, fun and moments rich with sharing. Our hearts expanded to take it all in and then overflowed at the time of parting. While the rain fell, our cabin burst at the seams with two busy children, a quartet of dogs and a cat, with four adults trying to catch up over the din of it all. But somehow a harmony filled the spaces and kept us all deeply contented. Each moment was relished, not knowing for how long the wide distance would stretch out between us before we would be together again. We "trekked" mud with us everywhere we went - after the deluges of the days before. But even the grey weather could not dampen or dull our bright times of sharing.

The last Arum lillies flank the slippery roads of our village, and everywhere generous sprays of yellow flowers from the wild St John's Wort stand proud of the rocky banks. The spicy fragrance of Impepho hangs in the air, it's densely hairy leaves and small yellow flowers covering broad parts of veldt. The word Imphepho means "to be sheltered, shielded or protected" and it is believed (sadly) that by burning bundles of it, people can connect with their ancestors... On the higher planes, crimson plates of Watsonias add their cheer to the Christmas season.

For me this is a time of opposites. Conflicting emotions. Poverty starkly staring at the feasting and reveling. Forgotten and lonely ones longing for a place to belong. A season to celebrate, but also a time of sadness for a world that does not acknowledge it as a time to remember the birth of the Son of God. Finding deep fulfilment in being part of a vast and pure Love, but feeling a sense of urgency for the ones lost outside it.

Amongst the preparations for visitors, buying presents, putting up decorations with little ones and finalising a rather tedious "blog book" process, I am reminded of this wondrous Love in surprising and delightful ways. A sense of peace has settled over me in a way that I am not quite able to understand. I have never done any serious mountain climbing, but I imagine it could be a similar feeling to when you reach a midway milestone and look back with a certain knowledge that if you've made it this far, you'll make it to the top. I cannot stop marveling at the work God has done in our family. Our times together are so precious, it feels fragile. But I know the bond to be strong, anchored in Christ and made new. As my husband wrote in my birthday card this year: "Every good and perfect gift comes from above, coming down from the Father of heavenly lights, who does not change like the shifting shadows" (James 1:17).

Only once in all history was there a totally "perfect gift". At the birth of both our boys, I did not think that there could be a more good and perfect gift than those newborn babies. But I was wrong. A humble teenaged girl once gave birth also - just as the angel had told her: Her child would be the Son of the Most High and they were to call him Jesus. She pondered all these things in her heart, but how could she ever have known how dearly this perfect gift would cost her. I have the wonderful privilege of watching our boys grow up so carefree. Her child was found in the temple "about His father's business" at a time when other boys where scraping their knees and skimming trees. Her child was the Son of man, never truly hers. He was a gift to all humanity, but being chosen as the one to carry Him in her womb, was surely a blessing impossible to comprehend.

Giving birth is painful. No one has to be told this. But receiving new birth is the most beautiful thing that could ever happen to any human being. When the "Perfect Gift" came down from the Father of lights and surrendered the gift of His life to death on the cross, new birth was offered to us. Day after day it is held out to anyone who would reach out and take it, needing nothing in return but a open and repentant heart.

As I write, my boys come panting into the house, each armed with a large stick. Stuttering and out of breath they tell me of their adventures in the "hundred baker woods".(Meant to be Pooh's 100 acre wood I guess). I listen wide-eyed to the tales of dragons and Tinkerbells, wayfaring sailors and pirates and the eldest announces: "I am shy to go back there, I think there are witches..." I reassure him that his mama prays every morning for them to be protected, and with Jesus beside them on their adventures, they will be safe". To which the youngest one answers: "But you don't have to be scared, mama, I will be your brave nightmare"... 

We are all called to be brave, to be salt and light, to outshine the Christmas lights with Christ's glory and bring Joy rather than cheer to this season. For to us a child was born, to us a Son was given, and the government is on His shoulders. And he is called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace! (Isaiah 9:6)

Join the angel choir with voices lifted above the hollow sound of jingle bells: "Glory to God in the highest heaven, and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased." 

Give the King His rightful place in your heart this Christmas - it is a perfect gift we can give each other - and ourselves.

Friday, 31 October 2014

Overcome, conquer, prevail

"This is the victory that has overcome the world - our faith"
   (1 John 5:4)

The forgotten province. That is what people call the place where I live. I look around and I do see many struggle against poverty, unemployment and non-existent sanitation. I see potholed byways, littered roadsides, interspersed by bony livestock. I see many sights that pierce my heart. But I also see so much beauty. So many smiles. Open faces and a warm steady heartbeat that has its own unhurried pace. Proud Nguni cows with wide horns and speckled hides, skittish African dogs with remnants of some exotic breed from another land. Quizzical white goats with their beady eyes and indifferent manner. Children, many children... Hugging the roadside, waving and grinning at the world racing past. So alive and full of that amazing will to survive. Sloping valleys and hills with mud-huts painted in crazy colours. Vegetable gardens, green patches of sustenance. A surprising absence of animosity, which I had grown so accustomed to in the place where I used to live. Neglected, most certainly, but not forgotten. Here, more than ever, I see the blueprint and glory of God our Creator everywhere I go. Often shadowed by the present darkness, but never overshadowed. He has not forgotten us. Not here nor anywhere else. With Him we overcome.

Part of our bible study recently was an excerpt from a book called "Broken for a Purpose" by Gisela Yohannan. It spoke to me so clearly, that I thought to quote the bulk of it, rather than to try to improve on it with my own conclusions.

Realise this: Jesus expects us to overcome the world! 1 John 5:4 says: "For whatever is born of God overcomes the world".

"He literally expects us to overcome everything that approaches us on this earth, the devil, opposition, attitudes, anger, persecution, poverty, people - simply everything there is".

Because it sounds too all-inclusive and impossible, we cannot make this truth our own. We limit our Almighty God to what we can understand or perceive, where He "can do infinitely more than we can ever ask or imagine" (Ephesians 3:20).

"Suppress or Overcome. - Suppression is the greatest enemy of overcoming, because at a glance, it seems the same or very similar. When we suppress a problem, we swallow the symptoms and resolve the situation intelligently. We deal with it logically or explain it away. But deep down it is still there and growing, because the final victory has not been won. The battle has been arrested, but only for a while. It has been dealt with through retreat, not through victory."

The Greek translation of the word "overcome" is to conquer, prevail. The verb implies a battle - to carry off the victory..."

Overcoming is always preceded by a battle, a fight - in which we have prevailed and the end result is victory. It does not mean the situation has changed in our favour. The real victory is in your heart, not in the circumstance at all.

I am thus able to respond to the situation with love. I do not feel the pressure and the downward pull as I did before. My heart does not receive or store the negative input anymore. When I search my heart, there is no conflict. I feel at peace, my joy is undisturbed, my response is love - I am able to bless those who cause me hurt. In other words, I have overcome!"

It is not only expected of us, it is also possible. But how? 1 John 5:4 "This is the victory that has overcome the world - our faith."

This does not mean that we should try to move mountains with our faith alone. Or to claim things, command things, speak things into existence and expect spectacular results. Scripture helps us to put "faith" in the right perspective: "And who is the one who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?" (1 John 5:5)

It is not blindly having faith in my faith. It is having my faith fully concentrated and centered on Jesus, the Son of God, for whom nothing is impossible"

Revelations 12:11 reads "And they overcame him (the devil, the world, everything) because of the blood of the Lamb, and because of the word of their testimony and they did not love their life even to death." This gives us a clear picture of those who overcome. But what do each of these statements mean with regard to overcoming?

"... because of the blood of the Lamb: Only through the death of Jesus on the cross and His shed blood can we be redeemed from the kingdom of darkness to become children of God. With this blood, sin was washed away and can no longer rule over us. Death and the devil were defeated for all eternity. The blood of Jesus not only broke every chain the devil used to hold us captive, but it is also powerful enough to give us victory in all the battles ahead of us.

... because of the word of their testimony: This means their public proclamation of putting their faith completely in Jesus and His shed blood, accepting His victory as theirs. Our testimony of salvation, also, is our story of throwing ourselves completely on Jesus by faith. This results in experiencing the power of His blood washing us totally clean. Our faith will not do anything for us and will not at all enable us to overcome anything if we don't trust Jesus with the same totality as we did at our salvation, believing in Him to bring about the overcoming. Our faith standing alone will only amount to suppressing the problem but not overcoming it. It has to be our faith in Jesus, with total emphasis on Jesus as the Son of God who is able to do all things.

...they did not love their life even to death: This is the most important part of overcoming. This doesn't just mean that these believers were Christians with a martyr mind-set. It simply means that their death was the price of overcoming. They had no reservations about the method God would use to help them overcome, and they had no hidden agenda to tell Him how to work. They did not necessarily expect an easy solution. They were totally willing and content with His way and His will, as well as with the end result... death.

Humility of heart was the martyr's way to accept overcoming - God's way. It shows us what is at the root of overcoming and victory.

"Jesus overcame the devil by dying on the cross. He continually taught that "unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains by itself alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit" (John 12:24). We find the same principle in these martyrs that Revelations 12:11 refers to. The secret of overcoming is through dying, to die to the right of recognition, honour, position, respect etc. If I have died to these things, they can't bother me any longer; they can't put pressure on me, or make me react resentfully. The reason it is so hard for us to overcome, is because we fight this death. Somehow we want to be loved, respected, recognised, understood and treated right. What really hinders us from being willing not to love our life "even to death" is our hidden pride. Even a flicker of the old life (pride) is enough to keep us from "dying" and thus from overcoming the world..."

I believe that this includes fear and apprehension regarding death itself. If we cling to life, our physical bodies and physical well-being; we have not overcome. If we live in fear of physical suffering, growing old or feeble, we have not overcome. We can also no longer ignore the fact that Christians have been, are and will (until Jesus' return) be persecuted, even unto death. Jesus surrendered everything, but ultimately gave up his right to live, to be God Divine. Him who gave us life, will not take it from us without the cover of His sheltering love. Stephen, the first martyr, sang praises and his face was lit by a wondrous light, while cruel stones and rocks were hurled at him, drawing the life from of his physical body, blow by blow. But his spirit was soaring, already reaching for the life beyond. He had overcome.

Jesus endured the suffering and scorned the shame of the cross for the joy that was set before Him. He overcame death, overcame the world and is seated at the right hand of God Almighty. Would I not, at the indescribable recognition of what He did, surrender my pride, my life, my all, for the joy of being one with Him? It seems a small price to pay, considering an eternity in His glorious presence.

Thursday, 16 October 2014

The Master's Voice

"Consider Him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart." 
(Hebrews 12:3)

So we ride the weather roller coaster. After more than six years, it should not surprise or derail me anymore. We have seen four seasons in a day, thirty plus to sub ten degrees maximum overnight, perfect sunlight to thick mist or even snow in less than an hour. The day we moved into our shiny new cabin, I drove up the bumpy road with the sky a brilliant blue dome through the windscreen of my VW Beetle. I walked up the garden path with a cat basket in each hand - opened the back door and gently tipped the kitties out onto the bed. (The only piece of furniture in the house at that point). When I turned back toward the window, there were delicate white flakes floating down onto the surface of the deck. It was the first day of Spring. And it was snowing. It was like an anointing on our home. The rest of the village did not have snow that day. A friend recalled looking up toward our cabin, which can be seen from the bluff on the opposite side of the mountain. She saw the white frosting on the roof and had to squint to make sure that it was not a trick of the light.

Such is life on the mountain. Challenging. Surprising. Tough. Gentle. Scary. Tranquil. But certainly not dull. You learn to accept. Surrender. And listen. Not question so much. And listen some more.

This morning I read a message that my husband forwarded to me, and this is the first sentence: "One of the greatest blessings a true believer has, is hearing and knowing the voice of God". At times I am so caught up in praying for things to change, or giving thanks for those that are a blessing, that I forget to listen. I do hear God in Scripture. But right now, I wish to hear the voice of my Lord all the time. Like a disciple at His feet, drinking in His words, and living them out. I believe we can, if we learn to discern his voice; and if we dare to be still.

The introductory line I quoted earlier, is from a blog by an evangelist called David Wilkerson, a message very relevant for our time.

David Ray Wilkerson was the Founding Pastor of Times Square Church in New York City. He was called to New York in 1958 to minister to gang members and drug addicts. His story has been told in the best selling book (and movie), The Cross and the Switchblade.

In 1987, he returned to "the crossroads of the world" to establish Times Square Church. As a pastor of the church, he faithfully led this congregation, delivering powerful biblical messages that encourage righteous living and complete reliance on God.

The next few paragraphs carry the content of the message I referred to. I have been drawn to Hebrews 12 about four times over the past week, so it must be important... I would like to encourage you to read Hebrews 12, to understand the whole context more clearly.

"One of the greatest blessings a true believer has is hearing and knowing the voice of God. It is possible to hear God’s voice today as certainly and clearly as Abraham and Moses did—as clearly as did Samuel and David—and Paul, Peter, the apostles, and John on the Isle of Patmos! God has promised to make His voice clearly known for one last time during these end days. He has given us a promise and a warning about hearing His voice. God is going to bring together a holy, separated remnant into spiritual Zion and make His voice known to them. “But you have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem. You have come to thousands of thousands of angels in joyful assembly” (Hebrews 12:22).

God has this message for all who have been called out: The voice of God that has shaken the earth in past generations, will be heard in power again in one last shaking! “At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, “Once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.
(Hebrews 12:26). Here is God’s warning to His holy, believing children. “See to it that you do not refuse him that speaks. For if they did not escape when they refused Him who warned them on earth, how much less will we, if we turn away from Him who warns us from heaven” (Hebrews 12:25).

Why is God gathering together a people out of the dead churches? Why is the Spirit crying, “Come out of Babylon, my people! Partake not in her sins”? It is because God must have a people (a Zion people) in these troubled last days who are not confused by false doctrine. These are sheep who do not follow false teachers, who know their Master’s voice. God speaks to them clearly and certainly, and they live by His voice! They are directed by His voice, comforted by His voice, guided in all things by His voice! The one great characteristic of a holy people is that they are not mistaken about God’s voice. They know it—they hear it—they are governed by it. It is sure, steadfast, and unmistakable!"

Like an infant who turns her ear towards her mother's voice, let us turn back to the unmistakable voice of God. It is, as He is, the same yesterday, today and always. True children of the Way do not compromise or doubt. True children of the Truth, throw of every hindrance that slows and sin that entangles, and run with endurance the race marked out for them. True children of the Life keep their eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith.

We have an invitation to join the assembly of God’s firstborn children, whose names are written in heaven. We shall come to God himself, who is the judge over all things. We shall be one with the spirits of the righteous ones in heaven who have now been made perfect. What we will receive is a Kingdom that is unshakable. And so our faith should be.

Friday, 3 October 2014

The Only True - Your's Faithfully

“But you, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.” Psalm 86:15 

Someone's whistling... It sounds rather eerie, it being all dark and silent. A moment ago only the contented breaths and little snores of my children were audible. I tiptoe over the creaking floorboards, tilting my head toward the sound to try and pinpoint it's origin. A hiss from the hearth gives me a start. I edge slowly toward the door, and as I reach for the handle, the tension slips from my shoulders... My ominous whistling was only the sweet song of chirping frogs, happily singing in the mist and rain. Just as the wonder of snow seems to ease the discomfort of the freezing cold, the gentle sound of frogs chirping in consistent rain, lifts the monotony of being indoors. That is part of what makes life in the mountains such a constant wonder. Just as I think grey clouds of mist swirling around our cabin will surely blot out all colour and seep into the unguarded parts of my heart, a robin calls so near by, that his joy restores mine. Or a fallow deer darts across our path on a walk in wind so icy it makes your ears ache. I could list many more, but what has surpassed all nature's wonders, has been the faithfulness of our Creator, both to me and my family. From the very first day we put our feet on this hillside wilderness...

To be faithful is to be reliable, steadfast and unwavering, and the Bible speaks of this type of faithfulness in four ways: as an attribute of God; as a positive characteristic of some men; as a characteristic that many men lack; and lastly as a gift (fruit) of the Holy Spirit.

Greek: pistós – properly, faithful (loyalty to faith; literally, fullness of faith); typically, of believing the faith God imparts.

"The faith God imparts" - we derive our faith from God. And a person's faithfulness is totally dependent on your faith. The two cannot be separated. Character problems are faith problems. Faithfulness is in fact an act of faith. If we are going to obey the Lord, then we will need our faith. We obey, because we believe and trust the Lord. All the superficial distinctions that keep us separating faith from works disappears. Faith is works; it is faithfulness.

Faith is believing, putting confidence in, being persuaded of. What we believe shapes what we do. Faith is not just something one acknowledges. If I believe something, then it will shape me.

God is truth. God is faithful. God is faith-worthy.

If He were to be unfaithful, even just once, He would not be God. But as it is, “Not one word has failed of all the good promises He gave” (1 Kings 8:56).

Faithfulness affects every relationship we have. As with joy, it is a gift from God. When we receive Christ as Lord, he gives us His Holy Spirit, bringing the blessings of love, joy, peace and faithfulness (Galatians 5:22). The fullness of these blessings depends on how close we walk with God and yield to His Spirit. Human nature tends toward a desire to be faithful to something, even if it is just it's own selfish ambitions. But when we lay down our "human nature" at the feet of Jesus and accept our salvation - then the wonderful process of being transformed to the nature of Christ begins. As you know a tree by the fruit it produces, the gifts we receive through the Holy Spirit, will tell who we belong to. (By their fruit you will recognise them. Do people pick grapes from thorn bushes, or figs from thistles? Matthew 7:16). The fruit of faithfulness grows from a heart "blossoming" for Jesus. As the fruit ripens into maturity it "sweetens" every aspect of the life of a child of Christ, its fragrance a balm for the saints, but an offence to those that do not know Him.

The beauty of God's faithfulness is that it does not depend on ours. Our hearts are too often found fickle, despite our best intentions (Proverbs 20:6). This sadly, makes us reluctant to trust Him to remain faithful. My own life has been dotted with trials, times when I had already written the outcome on my page, as being hopeless.

His faithfulness to restore, has allowed me to surface from dark and desperate times, stronger, more certain of His steadfast love. What I treasure and hold dear to my heart each day, are the seemingly small reminders that it is still there, even now that we navigate calmer seas.  That He does not only pull me out of the "miry clay", but fills me with a deep sense of His unfailing presence, each breathing moment. I'm growing in the deep awareness that He simply cannot fail me. Faithfulness is part of our Lord, like His imprint on each of His children. He cannot deny it, as much as we cannot deny that we are part of Him.

A few days ago, as we sat sipping raspberry juice on our deck, I told my friend about the time when I tumbled out of a tree, seven meters far, shattered the eleventh vertebra of my spine, barely missing a large boulder as I crashed to the ground. Two days later a surgeon neatly sawed some bone from my left hip and put the splintered vertebra together again, supported by two tight titanium brackets. As most people that know me would know, the operation was a huge success and I have no more than slight discomfort to remind me of this near-tragedy. I was carried on wings of prayer, and distinctly remember, that I never doubted (lacked faith) that my back would be healed.

But then came the time to go home. I had to wear a cumbersome brace to keep my upper body rigid as a plank. The first morning out of hospital, I felt brave enough to don my boots (with considerable difficulty, since I could not bend...) and go for a walk. Apart from the daily shuffles through the hospital corridors, I had never really walked without watchful eyes nearby, and only on a sheer, smooth hospital floor. After a short distance on the uneven tar road, my feet and knees started to ache and and my legs just seemed to lack strength, but I still had to get around the bend and back up a steep incline before I could rest. There was also no way I could not bend slightly to see the ground at my feet. It came to light later, that many of the small bones in my feet had been broken on impact, and there was also some damage to the knee joints. But since the spinal damage was the major concern, the smaller injuries went unnoticed. The bottom of my feet were blotched with sickly hues of purple, yellow and blue-black. I prayed and panted all the way back and cried tears of defeat as I lay down on the bed. All I could see was my braced self tripping and falling, with all the worst consequences a reality.

My self confidence was shattered. I had lost my ability to believe, to be full of faith. For the first time, I faced my own vulnerability, saw how frail my once strong young body had become. From "somewhere" the refrain of a song started playing in my mind. "I surrender all, I surrender all, all to you my precious Saviour, I surrender all..." This I would sing over and over and over, until I felt I could put my wobbles aside.

The next morning, I reached for the bible next to my bed, a first since I was released from hospital. I found Psalm 91, and my breath caught in my throat when I read: "For he will order his angels to protect you wherever you go. They will hold you up with their hands, so you won’t even hurt your foot on a stone." (v11-12). Needless to say, from that day, I walked! Each day and a little further, with a stiff uneven gait, but with head held high.

The miracle of healing to my spine, made me take Jesus' faithfulness for granted. I let it wash over me as if it was something I deserved. I had to be humbled, become vulnerable, repentant and dependent, before I could take the faithful Hand that was held out to steady me, impart new faith and trust to me, one small wobbly step at at a time.

He is the brace that holds all of me together, then and now. There is no shadow of turning with Jesus. My Rock does not change. His compassions do not fail. As He has been, He forever will be. His faithfulness is greater than my doubts. Morning by morning new mercies I see. All I have needed, His hand has provided - great is the faithfulness of my Lord unto me!

The Lord's faithfulness reaches past our fears and doubts. Into the place where the Holy Spirit has sealed His seat in our hearts. Your name is written on the palm of his nail scarred hand, with an ink that no failure on your part can erase. Trace it and treasure it. 

Summer and winter, and springtime and harvest. Sun, moon and stars in their courses above. Join with all nature in manifold witness; 

To His great faithfulness, mercy and love.

Friday, 19 September 2014

Joy - The Serious Business of Heaven

"Do not mourn or grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength."(Nehemiah 8:10)

Back home. Driving up the mountain pass, rolling down windows and letting the cool mountain breezes blow over us, always offers a gentle welcome. Breath slows, deepens... and then the dappled shade of an oh so familiar windy road leads us up and up. Past proud Arum lilies and new growth cascading down the rock face, like the bridal bouquet from my grandmother's wedding picture. In just a few days, new blooms seemed to have appeared everywhere, the first shoots of Spring now have substance, shape. A few days of sand, beach and salty water washed over us like liquid sunshine, leaving us glowing and rested. I am learning to experience moments like gifts, receiving each one just for what it is. Small crabs that crawl with tingling haste over your toes, the incredible lightness of a beach-ball, the never-ending song of the ocean. Learning to play, to let go the uncertainty of tomorrow.

After a day of cleaning and busyness, the slow rhythm and feel of the mountain once again settled in. The sweetness of that carefree time suddenly seemed so far, and without warning a heaviness settled on my shoulders. The "glow" just ebbed away and in its place was a flotsam of tangled emotions and lethargy. I fell into the trap of trying to analyse it, and that just resulted in me feeling ungrateful and lazy.

Apart from being unable to see beyond my own feelings of inadequacy, I became "disabled" by being too focused on how I "feel". I knew it was time to write a blog message, but felt no inspiration at all. Then finally, as I turned to Jesus, told Satan to get behind me, and was able to look beyond myself, one small word came into my mind: "joy". (In my case the lack of it...). Circumstances, places, experiences and "things" bring happiness. Jesus alone brings JOY.

This joy can be felt in the face of financial insecurity, in a hospital bed, times of betrayal, in the humdrum of every day living, being, or often just surviving. It is a joy that whispers of hope, sings of love and shouts of courage in the face of difficulties. It is the tiny bubble that escapes from a heart weighed down with sadness (perceived or true). Then as the fresh spring of Jesus love washes over that heavy heart, it overflows and a song escapes, tears of joy and release can flow and a time of refreshing in the Spirit can follow. Joy is a fruit of the Spirit - that is why it is a special gift that we are given when we truly believe and trust.

A gift - free, undeserved, unconditional, uncircumstancial, unlimited. 

We sing a song with the boys that says: "The joy of the Lord is my strength". And they "pretend" show their muscles and clap and dance like only children can. Then I found that these were actually the the words of Nehemiah to the people of Israel, returned from captivity in Babylon, when the book of Law was being read out to them. They wept and fell to the ground as they realised that they had not kept these laws. Then Nehemiah looks out over them and says: "Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is holy to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength". Strength in Joy is offered to them. Not happy days released from exile into the "free and easy". But comforted with the knowledge that to repent of what lay behind, surrender and follow the One and only Lord their God, would bring JOY. The joy of knowing that they serve Him and are held in His covenant, His care. This joy would give them the strength to obey the same words of the law which were causing them so much sorrow at the time.

The joy of Christ and the joy of the world cannot "consist" together. That may sound like a catch, but it is just the truth. They are as incompatible as oil and water. When the world says "you deserve to have what makes you happy" the Word says: "Do not love this world nor the things it offers you, for when you love the world, you do not have the love of the Father in you.(1 John 2:15). The joy of Christ, will give us strength to resist what the world holds out as reward for allegiance to it (and the prince of darkness who rules it.) And as the longing for what is of the earth starts fading, JOY in serving Jesus starts growing. (I seem to require regular pruning to keep this growth alive, not so pleasant, but very necessary).

The Father alone knows what you need, what truly brings you joy - Jesus. He loves to see you smile. With your face turned up. His gift(s) are never the wrong colour, size, model or flavour. They are custom made for the one who stirs His heart - you.

Romans 12:12: Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.

James 1:2 Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds,

Romans 15:13: May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.

Galatians 5:22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,

John 16:24: Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be complete.

1 Peter 1:8 Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory,

Romans 14:17: For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.

John 16:22: So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you!

Friday, 5 September 2014


"Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be white as snow; though they be red as crimson, they shall be as wool." (Isaiah 1:18) KJV

Snowy winter wonderland to balmy Spring in three days. Only in Hogsback... With the sun on our backs, dressed in light summer clothes, the musty smell of a warmed forest floor in the air, and the juice of sweet oranges dripping down our chins, I marvelled at the thought that only four days ago, the boys were building a snowman on almost the same spot... My deepest memory of the recent snow, is the absolute purity of it, the way it transforms a landscape, makes it seem vast, pristine and uncharted. Being the first one to step into deep fresh snow quickens your senses, makes you feel giddy and free. (Until the cold gets through to your bones...). It silences, falling with a stealth and softness that has never failed to take my breath away. This is one gift our Creator has given us on this wild and wonderful peace of land, that trumps all the spectacular sunsets, the brilliant night-skies, the mystery of swirling mists and abundance of butterflies and blossoms in Spring. The song goes: "Oh love of God, how rich and pure, how measureless and strong! How often is purity likened to snow, in phrases of poetry or song, yet nothing is purer, more vast and unfathomable than God's love.

Prior to the sudden snow, it had been so bone dry, layers of dust collecting on plants until even the mountains seemed dulled and sad. Then, overnight all was transformed, clean. At the beginning of the week a song by the Gaither Vocal band kept on going through my mind. The words of the first verse are:

I stepped into the river

Sank up to my knees in the mud
The preacher man took me under
Beneath that cleansing flood
There was something in the water
There was power in the blood
For the first time in my life I felt clean....

Clean. We understand the concept of being "washed" of our sins, but how does the "cleansing" truly come about? How do we stand before the throne of our Almighty loving and just God - pure as snow and clean as the morning dew?

That made me wonder about the water and blood that flowed from Jesus' side when He was pierced by the Roman soldier to confirm His death. There are physiological explanations that are given for this. One is that the intense flogging and beating with instruments of torture, resulted in a condition called pleural effusion, the build-up of an abnormal amount of fluid around the lung area. But I knew that like with everything else in the bible, nothing happens without a it having a deeper significance. I had to find out what it meant. I'd like to share with you, from the abundance of information, some of what I found and hope to be both a balanced summary and confirmation of Christ's absolute redemption.

In 1 John 5:6 it says: This is the one who came by water and blood - Jesus Christ. He did not come by water only, but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth. The water and blood are two separate witnesses - one of his baptism the other his death. Water and blood could also refer to His human birth (and death). The water as symbol of the Spirit is His baptism - to fulfil all righteousness. The blood is the covenant by his death; pointing to the beginning and end of his ministry. 

The custom at the time of Jesus being crucified, was for the bones of the crucified person to be broken, so that they could no longer hold themselves up, and die an accelerated death by suffocation. But when they came to Jesus he had already committed His spirit into the Father's hands - willingly. This happened so that another scripture could be fulfilled (Psalm 34:20 ... he protects all his bones, not one of them will be broken.) So what happened then was - "Instead, one of the soldiers pierced Jesus' side with a spear, bringing a sudden flow of blood and water" (John 19:36).

(Note: When Moses struck the rock in the desert, there was a flow of water to quench the thirst of  the people and cattle in the desert. This was a meaningful miracle. In striking the rock, Moses acted out a drama that he perhaps didn't understand. In 1 Corinthians 10:4, Paul wrote of Israel in the Exodus: they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them, and that Rock was Christ. When Jesus was struck, living water flowed out for all to receive. Isn't it amazing how it all points to Christ, "stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted". (Isaiah 53:4; 1 Corinthians 10:4)).

A trial was made whether Jesus was dead. He died in less time than people crucified usually did. It showed that he had laid down his life of himself. The spear broke up the very fountains of life; no human body could survive such a wound. But there was something peculiar in it. The blood and water that flowed out, signified the two amazing gifts which all believers receive through Christ: justification and sanctification, blood for atonement, water for purification.

An online dictionary defines justified as: to prove or show (something) to be just, right, or reasonable. Through the blood that flowed we were made just, the absolute price was paid to make us right(eous) before our Father. I don't know about you, but I had quite a time really believing that I can be considered righteous. That "word" I always reserved for biblical figures like Abraham or Moses. Little by little the truth of my own righteousness through Jesus is sinking in - and it is a wonderful realisation.

But we are not only justified, but also sanctified (to make something holy), purified (to free from sin, guilt or other defilement, or to become clean). We clean our bodies with such care, present to the world a fresh, presentable, pleasant to behold package, but the accumulated dirt on the inside cannot be scrubbed away by our own means or masked with a pleasant scent. To be purified, means to be renewed from the heart, working through mind, body and soul. It means to be set apart for holy purposes, even in the most mundane or trying environment or situation. It is not a persona we step in or out of, it is who we become once we truly accept the blood and water that flowed from the man and God, Jesus at the cross. In the heart of one purified there is no place for pride, guilt, self-condemnation, insecurity, doubt, fear, feelings of failure and rejection, anger or self-pity. Make the truth of who you are in Christ your own, a new creation, a priceless masterpiece in the making.

Water and blood both flow from the pierced side of our Redeemer. It silences our fears and restores hope and trust. We may always look to Him, whom we have so ignorantly pierced by our sins, as the One who continues to cleanse us each day. Your name was in His heart then as it is now. Each day He chooses you again and again. "...the One who formed you says, "Do not be afraid, for I have ransomed you. I have called you by name; YOU ARE MINE" (Isaiah 43:1).

Thursday, 21 August 2014

Living Water

"My people have committed two sins:
They have forsaken me,
the spring of living water,
and have dug their own cisterns,
broken cisterns that cannot hold water"...
(Jeremiah 2:13)

And then it rained. After weeks of driving through choking clouds of dust, watching the wind chasing it ever higher, further. Vegetation turned dull and desperate. No drama of rolling thunder or wailing winds warned of its coming. Just a soft patter on a tin roof, sweet music to call in the new day. The earth soaked it up thirstily, a hush of relief covering the land, as each blade and leaf was washed clean. I watched the clouds part towards the coming of dusk, and there the mountains lay, glowing in the last rays of sun, forests of green at their feet. This morning everything seemed to sing and shimmer. As I write, the pull from outside the window is strong. I see two small golden heads bopping through the "garden", their voices high and lilting. The smell of fresh bread hangs in the air (my first attempt) and I breathe deep to take in the goodness of it all.

I must be honest. I have no idea where this week's message will take us. I would so much like to write an uplifting, inspiring message. What I do know without a shadow of a doubt is that whatever the outcome, at the heart of it is the irrevocable love of Christ, which longs for His children to move nearer, into a ever closer walk with Him. If it hurts a bit along the way, it will be worth it.

I love the way the book of Jeremiah begins. God calls to Jeremiah saying: "Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you, before you were born, I set you apart..." (v5). And how does Jeremiah respond? Alas, Sovereign Lord,” he said, “I do not know how to speak, I am too young.” Another version says: "I am but a child"... He was about 20 at the time, and it was no doubt a daunting task for such a young man to give God's warnings and harsh words of judgement to the people of  Israel. But God told him not to be afraid of them, for He was with him and He would rescue him. He even touches Jeremiah's mouth and says: "I have put my words in your mouth".

When I realised what the scripture for this week was, I felt a bit like Jeremiah. How can I, with all my issues and warts and shortcomings write a message based on a rebuke? I started paging around for something more positive, but those were the words that stuck.

So I had to trust that God would also touch my mouth and help me to speak the truth, even if it meant searching my own heart to see if it was not first of all for myself. As it so often is with writing. And I was stopped short on a few occasions. As I read "My people have committed two sins" I thought - only two? But note that He starts by saying "My people". His chosen, beloved. His own. And then: "They have forsaken me". Can you feel the hurt in that? To forsake, is to give up something formerly held dear, to renounce.

Anyone who has been through a divorce has had a taste of what it feels like to be forsaken by someone "formerly held dear". When our Lord was hanging on the cross, he cried out in the deepest despair to his Father: "My God, my God why have you forsaken me?" In those awful moments, Jesus was expressing His feelings of abandonment as God placed the sins of the world on Him – and because of that had to “turn away” from his Son. As Jesus was feeling that weight of sin, He was experiencing separation from God for the only time in all of eternity.

Throughout Jeremiah, God is calling out to his beloved who had become wayward, adulterous, running after other lovers, other gods. In this verse, He uses the image of a people rejecting the "spring of living water". A people who had dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that could not hold water.

The scarcity of fountains or springs in Palestine made it necessary for people to collect rainwater in reservoirs and cisterns. The porous limestone out of which the cisterns were dug, allowed much of the water put into the cistern to escape. Impurities and debris found their way into the water despite the crude filters that some people started implementing. Broken, empty cisterns were sometimes used to keep people captive (think of Joseph, and Jeremiah himself was imprisoned in the cistern of Malchijah, King Zedekiah's son)The pagan gods were symbolised as broken cisterns that could not hold water. Cisterns also served as convenient dumping places for corpses...

We are offered a spring of living water. Jesus. A "well-spring" or a fountain is the purest water that can be found. Who in his right mind would give that up to dig a pit which cannot capture, cannot sustain. Yet, even his own people still do. Jesus offers the spring of water welling up to eternal life, and at times, we turn away to dig our own pits, trust our own strength, preferring our own resources to His. Turning to earthly comforts, sources of joy, ways of evading the narrow road where the living waters flow. Being half awake on a wide, smooth road that leads to away from Him.

In Isaiah 44: 3-4 we read this promise: "For I will pour water on the thirsty land, and streams on the dry ground; I will pour my Spirit upon your descendants, and my blessing on your offspring. They shall spring up like grass amid waters, like willows by flowing streams."

So, despite His people forsaking their First Love, our Father does not forsake us. When Jesus was abandoned on the cross, He became sin for us, payment for all those times that we have forsaken or disobeyed the One and only God. He felt all the loneliness and abandonment that sin always produces, except that it was not His sin – it was ours.

By any human measure of success, the prophet Jeremiah was a colossal failure. For most of his life he was poor, unpopular, isolated and persecuted. The main message of his prophesies is simple: It's too late to avoid God's discipline, so accept it and turn from your sins. Sadly to say, Jeremiah's messages were not well received. His audience discounted his warnings, locked him up in stocks and even threatened his life. He lived to see the invasion of the Babylonian armies, the deportation of his people, the slaughter of Jerusalem's inhabitants, and the destruction of the Temple. He is often referred to as the "weeping prophet".

I've often wondered what kept him going. He had not seen the fulfilment of scripture, witnessed the coming of the Messiah, or had the full living bible (as we have today) by his bedside. But God set Him apart, this he knew. The Lord also placed a burden on his heart to see his people repent and return to the God that he served. He was given "the bigger picture", his reality was a spiritual one. He knew his reward would be an eternity with the One who may have "failed" to save Israel from their enemies at the time, but reached down from the cross to save a whole world of lost sinners in need of grace.

Jesus calls to a (nearly) spiritually dead world to abandon their broken cisterns, to leave behind the murky water of false securities and dark wells of sin, shame and insecurity to repent and drink from the Spring that cannot contain anything but Life.

The nail-pierced hands of Jesus are still extended to those who know just how in need of a Saviour they truly are. He still offers the living waters to those who wish to thirst no more. He still promises that what He gives, the world cannot take away. But he cannot forsake Himself, so before Him there can be no other god, no other love or idol to stand between Him and You and Me.

Will we continue to run to compete with the standards of the world, longing for the glamour rather than the glory? This is God's promise to each of us, as we turn from wherever we have strayed, to take up our burden and run the good race and fight the good fight for his Kingdom. Regardless of the cost.  "I will give them a heart to know me, that I am the LORD. They will be my people, and I will be their God, for they will return to me with all their heart."(Jer 24:7).

Friday, 8 August 2014

Voices in the Wilderness

"A voice of one calling: In the wilderness prepare the way for the LORD; make straight in the desert a highway for our God." (Isaiah 40:3)

Wind. Gusts of it. Gales of it. Night-long restless tugging and blowing. Pushing banks of clouds over the morning sun, briefly glowing behind the curtains. I can often sense the mood of a day, long before the drapes are drawn back. On misty days, there is a hush. Birds are silenced and the world seems far. Soft rain brings a gentle nostalgia to a morning, a freshness that steps out from the layers of dust. Icy frost locks the cold into a fierce grip, lending a sharp biting edge to the day. All creation rejoices over a jubilant sun breaking through the dark of night into the brightness of a new day. One can close your eyes and see the birds spread out their wings to soak it up, chirping and singing at the joy of it. Lizards scurry out of hiding to find a warmed rock or stone. The roof creaks and stretches as the rays reach down and with gentle hands lift everything from its sleep. But wind is chaos - all nature in a struggle to hold onto what the wind wants. I have to remind myself of its purpose, its origin, what it is trying to bring near. And as the world waits and thirsts, the winds of August persist - bringing in a new season, new life. Blowing away abandoned cobwebs, giving flight to pollen and small seeds, all in a seemingly crazy dance to usher in a new season. On days like these, I too have to let it blow, lean into to its jarring rhythms, be willing to hear the Voice, whom all nature and its elements obey.

We tend to resist change. Even when we know that it is inevitable and necessary. It can be painful and uncomfortable. We hold onto the now, the familiar, even if it has become so stale, so tasteless. Like a child hearing it's mother's call to come home, but just wanting to play or linger a bit longer. He is tired, hungry and part of him longs for the warmth of his home, but still he resists.

This analogy took me back to a verse that speaks of change, a beckoning. In many different places in the bible we read of a "voice calling in the wilderness". The first is in Isaiah 40:3:  The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the LORD, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.(King James Bible). The beginning of the "Turn toward Hope". At the beginning of Isaiah 40, the people of Judah are in captivity in Babylon (scholars date this part of the book around 550-540 BC). One question loomed large for the exiles. Since they had clearly failed to be God's people, did they have a future? Would God again work in their midst, or would He simply abandon them? Could God act? In this crisis of faith, God again speaks to the community through the messages of Isaiah 40-55.

The imagery is that of the heavenly council with the voice unidentified. The intent is that God's decree (ruling) of comfort and pardon to the people of Israel was already in process. The preparations were to be made in the wilderness, a desert highway made for our Lord God to return to His people. The highway refers to a large processional avenue for the triumphal entry of the King, as was common practise in the ancient world.

Then follows two beautiful poetic verses: v4 - Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low; the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain. Emphasis that no obstacle would come in the way of God's forgiveness and deliverance of His people. v5 - And the glory of the LORD will be revealed, and all mankind together will see it. For the mouth of the LORD has spoken." The glory of the Lord was a symbolic way of describing God as present and active in the affairs of human history (Exodus 16:6-10; Isaiah 6:3). God is again acting in human history for the deliverance of His people. All mankind will understand that God is at work.

Matthew, Mark, and Luke use the same words as Isaiah the prophet, to begin the story of the "good news" (the gospel) of Jesus. How John the Baptist prepares the way for the Son of God, the Redeemer. In John 1:23, we read that John the Baptist replied in the same words of Isaiah, when asked who he was, and he said: "I am the voice calling in the desert..." (Remember that the book of John was an eye-witness account of the disciple (John) whom Jesus loved).

When I thought of this verse this morning, it felt like Christ was calling me (us), to once again, be voices in the wilderness. Actually, reminding me of what we should be doing all along. At first I thought - that is a bit arrogant to think that I could begin to compare myself to one as great as John the Baptist. But then I was reminded that John preached in the spirit of Elijah, and we have been given the authority to "preach" in the spirit of John. We do not compare ourselves in any spirit of arrogance, but with the awe-inspiring understanding that Jesus gives us when he says, "Truly I say to you, among those born of women there has not arisen one greater than John the Baptiser, yet he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he" (Matthew 11:11).

In fact I found that the story of John the Baptist is of great encouragement to us. He was a voice quite literally crying in the wilderness, since he preached in the wilderness of Judea under trying circumstances. But there was in his time a religious or spiritual wilderness too. I found it interesting that the Hebrew word for wilderness is "tohu", which means formlessness, confusion, unreality, emptiness. The people were in confusion and under a spirit of deceit as much as people are today.

Aren't all who tell people about Jesus voices crying in the wilderness? The wilderness that we have been brought out of, but so many are still trapped in. Spreading the word "in season and out of season" (2 Tim 4:2). John preached with great spirit and power despite all that was against him. He lost his head (Matthew 13:1-12), but he never lost heart.

At times I feel a deepening pressure on my heart, an ache, a hunger for the return of our Lord Jesus Christ, but also an urgency to cry out to those who do not, or will not, know, love and acknowledge Him.

John the Baptist’s preaching turned many sinners to righteousness and made "a people prepared for the Lord" (Luke 1:16-17). He prepared the people for Christ's first coming, yet he remained deeply humble and reminded people that he was not even worthy of tying the shoelaces of the One who was to come after him. 

The realisation that it is my (our) "job" to prepare the world for Christ's second coming (Matthew 28:18-20), makes me exited and a bit apprehensive at the same time. Am I worthy of this calling, will I know the right time, place, have the right words?

John the Baptist preached not only in the spirit, but also in the power of Elijah. We can and should preach in the spirit and power of John. For it was from God that both Elijah and John received their power, and it is from God that we will receive ours.

We don't have to worry about whether God has given us that power or not, for it is in the very gospel we speak (Romans 1:16). All we have to do is to be obedient and steadfast in sharing the good news, and the power will be in our preaching, for it is in the word of Christ that we will speak. Don't be put off by the word "preaching". It may evoke images for you of a starched collared priest or dominee, who hardly ever found a way into your heart as you struggled to stay awake (yes, that was me). The Hebrew meaning of preacher is "a collector (of sentences)," a son of David. Adopted sons and daughters of David, heirs of the Kingdom of God through Christ, let's collect the words of Jesus and offer them to a hungry world.

Trust that as you are faithful, He will be faithful. Our voices will not ring out in a dull echo through a barren wasteland. Your words will find fertile soil, and the heavens will reward it with streams of living water to give them life. No act of obedience to God is futile. It cannot be. For He cannot be unfaithful to Himself. 

How beautiful on the mountains
are the feet of those who bring good news,
who proclaim peace,
who bring good tidings,
who proclaim salvation,
who say to Zion,
“Your God reigns!" (Isaiah 52:7)

Friday, 25 July 2014

Unsung Heroes

... "In the last days there will be difficult times. For people will love only themselves and their money. They will be boastful and proud, scoffing at God, disobedient to their parents, and ungrateful. They will consider nothing sacred." (2 Timothy 3:1,2) NLT

Gentle longer days, shorter shadows. We draw in deep draughts of cool air, stand a bit taller as the sun warms places that have shrunk against the cold. It feels kind, like a grandmother's hug or a curled up kitten purring in your lap. Rolling down grassy slopes leaves boys looking like two bouncy scarecrows, with dry leaves, winter grass and small sticks clinging to their bright woollen jerseys. These are days of eating oranges in the sun, exploring in the garden, while beds lie unmade and dust collects in little rolls under the couch. Raising two boys makes you appreciate weird and wonderful things. Teaches you to laugh when a dried ball of horse-dung hits you between the eyes. To bend down low to explore crawling insects under layers of rotten wood. How to cope with roller coaster mood swings and daring feats of little people. It also makes you think about the silent sacrifices of others. Years of selfless commitment to special needs children, terminal patients, the frail and elderly. This is when unconditional love truly has no conditions, makes no demands.

Just recently I was deeply touched by the footage of a father competing in a triathlon with a son who has cerebral palsy. It shows him running the marathon leg, pushing the boy in a special wheelchair. Swimming the wide river towing him in a rubber dingy to the other side. Then lifting him in his arms and running the distance to where their specially adapted bicycle waits. He cycles with his son strapped into a bucket seat in front of him in the hot sun. Then as night falls they reach the last check point, where the boy is once again transferred into a wheelchair and the man sets off running this gruelling last lap, his own face showing the toll the race has taken. At the top of a steep hill he looks up and a new strength seems to give wings to his feet. He sprints down the other side, the wheelchair at a runaway speed, the end in sight. As they near the finish line, a close-up of the son shows him lifting his stiff, unresponsive arms up in the moment of victory and a salute to his dad. Tears streaming down both their faces.

To me, it showed the powerful bond of love between this father and son. It was also a reminder of the love our Heavenly father has for us. How He continues to carry us to the finish line through trials and tribulations that come into our lives. It was a powerful visual example of how "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me" (Philippians 4:13). Regardless of the sensation that the producers build around a story like this. The music chosen to evoke strong emotions. The last shot is of the son sitting in front of a computer screen. With intense concentration he types out the letters "CAN". Finally, it shows his face lit in a grimace of a smile as he looks at the word.

At the heart of this story are two ordinary people that did something extraordinary. Two children of God. I learnt subsequently that Team Hoyt were inducted into the Ironman Hall of Fame in 2008. A bronze statue in honour of the Hoyts was dedicated on April 8, 2013, near the start of the Boston Marathon in Hopkinton Massachusetts. ESPN honoured Team Hoyt with the Jimmy V Perseverance Award at the ESPYS on July 17, 2013. This somehow spoilt the images in my heart. They must have inspired many along the way with what they have done, but does that count for eternity if honour is not given where honour is due?

We are so hungry for heroes. So much honour and acknowledgement is given to people. People who are authors of their own destiny. Or are they? To the physically strong, the dazzling rich, the wondrously successful. Or even those who think themselves to be humble, who live a life serving others, but at the heart of it is the perception that by doing good we are redeemed. Or with a secret agenda of building up a weak self esteem or receiving acknowledgement on some human or spiritual level.

Who are our children's heroes? Who do they model their behaviour on? Is it the animated supermen, super friends or beings that swoop down from the skies to rescue or fight for what is seemingly right or just? Or the dark hooded and cloaked characters that capture their imaginations with their rattling laughs and fierce array of weapons... What captures their imaginations? Vampires and vixens? Teen idols, young boys and girls with super-powers that can cast spells and evoke magic in a cool and seemingly harmless way... It gets more confusing when popular movies suddenly cast the villain as the hero, or the bad guy redeems himself with one act of goodness and then "rides off into the sunset" tall and proud.

A new dimension of spiritual deception steps up in movies or stories where the "witch" or evil character becomes someone whom young (and sometimes older) people can relate to. The one who "went the wrong way" because he or she was somehow wronged, and then just continued acting out their revenge, justified by hurt or a personal injustice. Some even like to see Satan that way... The poor angel that was thrown out of heaven because he was a rebel.

Who are our mentors, our spiritual leaders? TV evangelists, motivational speakers? Who do we deem worthy of our respect, our loyalty, and why?

These are questions I ask myself as well as you. Each time our children, whom have been entrusted into our care, to raise for God's kingdom, sit and stare at the TV screen with numb (and dumb) fascination, I ask myself some of these questions. They are not always that easy to answer.

The Lion of Judah
But one thing remains. Our Lord Jesus Christ is my "super hero". How this is perceived by a world of people-honouring, self-loving and earth worshipping people, is becoming less and less important to me. This choice leads to inevitable hostility, conscious or unconscious. It still hurts at times, but the depth of it is receding. Like a dull blow to the head that leaves you reeling until the next morning, when only a tell-tale bump remains. I want Christ our Redeemer to be my children's hero, even if I know that it will hurt when they are ridiculed, or when they "don't fit in". Or that they may come to blame us for raising them to be "peculiar".

There is simply no other worthy of that title. I love the way our boys see their dad as their hero. And how he has stepped into that role so beautifully. As they grow up they will see (as we all have at some point), that their parents are oh so fallible. But that the Hero of our hearts is not. The Author and Perfecter of our faith is steadfast and sure. My husband will always be my prince, but only the King of Kings is worthy of my praise and total dedication. He places courage into the hearts of His children, so that we can each be warriors and heroes for His Kingdom. But with the difference that we will no longer need to see our names in the credits. For we know to Whom belongs the glory.

As William McNamara said when he names his grievances with contemporary society - ... "There are no free men to lead me. No saints to inspire me.... It is hard to linger in that dull world without being dulled. I stake the future on the few humble and hearty lovers who seek God passionately in the marvellous messy world of the redeemed and related realities that lie in front of our noses". Life is ambiguous. There are loose ends. It takes maturity and courage to live with both.

When I looked for a good example of a faithful hero that did not receive his "reward" in the Bible - there were many to be found. Think of Moses who never saw the promised land to mention but one. All the disciples who spread the gospel so faithfully, but ended their lives as martyrs. But I lingered over Jeremiah. We want so much to see, after all he endured, how he ran with the horses and preached God's Word to a contemptuous people, that he was successful. Or that he died heroically. We get neither in Jeremiah. "In Egypt, the place he does not want to be, with people who treat him badly, he continues, determinedly faithful, magnificently courageous, heartlessly rejected - a towering life terrifically lived." (Run with the Horses - Eugene Peterson).

In these days, we have many celebrities, but few if any saints. When we look around for what it means to be a greatly blessed, whole, chosen individual, we don't find much. These humble heroes are still around, but they are not easy to find. For them is not the limelight, awards or accolades. They run the race in silence, fight the good fight for righteousness on a spiritual battlefield, with the Lord of angel armies by their side. No stunned audience applauds their victories or songs of praise, but they join heavenly choirs in worship. Walk the tight rope of a narrow road that leads to eternity. But their joy is real, and at the end of that messy, rough and pot-holed road awaits the final reward. An eternal life of glory with Him. We - will - be - home.

But when the Son of Man returns, how many will he find on the earth who have faith?" (Luke 18:8b) NLT

Friday, 11 July 2014

Cold but kind

"Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience." 
(Colossians 3:12) NLT

Ice. A small sharp word that makes your mouth form a grimace when you say it. It lay glistening outside the bedroom window, tiny stalactites dripping from the eaves and treetops. Water becomes glass in places where the frost has collected in drifts and hollows. It crackles underfoot, chokes the water pipes and locks the world in a cold grip. Winter is harsh, bitter, its face is set and its heart unyielding. We shrink against it, huddle and layer and stack, build fires and shelters as a shield. But still it is there. We may lock it out, draw out warmth from every available source, but it waits. Just outside the door, as you slip out for more firewood, it pushes past into all that glorious warmth, laughing with small sharp fangs. Biting into exposed parts, swift and deep, before it is shooed under the bed by the unexpected heat.

There is nothing gentle about winter. It draws out all our resources to survive it, stay healthy, stay "soft". I grow rigid too easily at this time of year, inside and out, with spiky edges and stiff fingers balled into fists in my pockets, rather than held out to embrace. There is beauty, there always is. A raw beauty that demands respect, an acknowledgement that seasons have their own rhythm. And to find our place in this dance, we need to find out who this music is performed to, Who determines the cycles, holds together the atoms?

"For from him and through him and for him are all things." (Romans 11:36) and: ...."all things have been created through him and for him." (Colossians 1:16b). We are tempted to think that the earth was created for mankind to enjoy and relish in. And enjoy we may! But ultimately it was not created for us, it was created to bring glory to the Creator and that is exactly what it does. Regardless of the season, it never stops.“Praise the Lord from the earth, you great sea creatures and all ocean depths, lightning and hail, snow and clouds, stormy winds that do his bidding, you mountains and all hills, fruit trees and all cedars, wild animals and all cattle, small creatures and flying birds…” (Psalm 148: 7-10) It brings a new depth to what it means to worship. We join a magnificent choir, each second of the passing days and nights in an never ending song to our Lord and King. People that love spending time in nature, are all brought to a sense of awe at some point, at times misinterpreting it as an awe for what we see, where it is ultimately for what we cannot see, hear or touch, but sense in the Spirit and hunger to be a part of.

But coming back to my small place in this great and glorious universe, how do I keep praising in all I do, if all I feel like doing, is rolling up in a tight little ball under thick blankets and self-centeredness? When layers and layers of clothing do nothing to melt the hardness and irritation that shutters my heart. So in a moment of self-pity I cried out to Jesus: "Lord how do I do this? This day after day of nurturing and caring, while I feel like being tucked in, served soups and hearty stews, being wrapped up and read to, being encouraged and rocked and sang to. You made this day, this cold that locks me into my house and hurts my titanium-bracketed spine when I bend to pick up and clean up each day... How can I "rejoice" and do this to your glory when it takes so much effort just to stay warm?" Just then, these words flashed through my "me-focussed" mind. "Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience." (Colossians 3:12 NLT). That flowed straight through all those restrictive layers of clothing and warmed all the tired recesses of my heart.

For long I have known about putting on the armour of God. (Ephesians 6:10-18)* It is all we need to stand and battle the attacks by Satan and his forces of darkness each day. It was so sweet to learn at a recent meeting with my sisters in Jesus, that not only does our Lord provide us with the armour, He gives us the clothing to put on underneath also. Clothed with tender-hearted mercy (compassion), humility, gentleness and patience, we are sealed, protected, strengthened, and warmed. And like only a loving Father and Saviour can do, He does not stop there. Col 3:14 encircles it all with a perfect love through His precious blood: "And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity". The clothes, the coat of love, the armour. Nothing gets through. For He Stands Behind Me.

 This more than anything showed me the "character traits" of our loving and Almighty Father and God. He is compassion, kindness, gentleness, patience, bound in unconditional love. But He is also Truth (the belt), the Gospel is all about Him (shoes), He is Righteousness (breastplate), our Faith is in Him (shield), Salvation is through Him (helmet) and the Word is breathed on by Him (sword of the Spirit). Gentle and strong. Compassionate but just. Forgiving but still the Lord of judgement alone. What Jesus showed me is that with Him, the cold is not going to leave, the mundane will not be transformed into something magical, BUT clothed with Him, I CAN overcome it all. It warms me all over to think that as a mother, a housewife, at times my children's unsung hero, at times a snappy stranger, I Can Be Like Him. Being a mother calls for compassion, humility, gentleness, patience (oh yes!) and ultimately love.

For - "If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal." (1 Cor. 13:1). The heart of God is love. If I withold it, or all the virtues that can flow from a Christ-infused heart, my "tongues without love" become a mere discordant, obtrusive, unintelligible dissonance.

These, our little people, will carry into the world what we as parents reflect to them. And out there, in the cold, hard world, people need us to speak and act with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness of spirit, patience and Christ-like Love. How else will they get to know Jesus, if we don't show them what He is like? It is as hard and as easy as it sounds. Just like mothering. With this whole amazing "outfit", God makes available for us to "wear" each day all we need to overcome and thrive. We are made to worship - whatever it takes. For me it means being the best wife and mother I can be. To sing through the hard days and cold nights. To love these two precious beings placed in my daily care, not only when they are adorable, but with a consistent love that overcomes the worst tantrums or messes.

He knows me and loves me enough to know that there is really nothing else I would rather do. Even if in the flesh I long to break out of this skin and space that is my everyday world, my spirit would always long to return. For this is where I truly belong, with Him, with them, a piccolo part of a wonderful symphony. At times I can hear it, like when one of my children laugh as they crunch through a piece of ice from the frost-covered garden. Listen - the earth is performing a concert for its Creator, put on your "suit", pick up your unique instrument and join in the glorious noise!

* Blog from 17-04-2013 titled "On War and Peace" - dealing with Spiritual Warfare.