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.