Monday, 23 October 2017

Stand Fast

It is Monday. The beginning of a new week after a weekend of family time. Multiplied. We got off to a smashing start, literally. Earlier this morning, with a warm berg wind billowing the curtains, my husband decanted milk into a glass jug. As he turned around to put the bucket back in the fridge, the sound of shattering glass broke the sweetness of the morning. An oblong marble slab, balanced against the windowsill had somehow tipped over, leaving demolition in it's wake... Milk flowed unchecked from the counter, spreading into a wide white pool around the sharp shards. We stood staring at opposite sides of the pool on vulnerable feet. And then as if on cue, we both sprang into action. In less time than the degree of chaos suggested, the mess was cleaned up, shards and splinters retrieved and peace restored.

Over the last two months, there have been a series of incidents and situations which have decidedly unsettled my composure, challenged our comfort. Each time I considered writing about it, and each time shied away from it. Mostly it seemed too personal, and I had grown weary of exposure. But yesterday a subject came up, which cut to my heart. It was time.

At the age of 42, I had accepted that we would not have children. It saddened me, especially since I knew how dearly my husband wanted us to have a baby. I had prayed about it for some time, and I'm sure he did also, so I had to accept that it was not to be. A short while after my 42nd birthday, I started feeling "different". The day before Christmas, the pregnancy was confirmed. We were both elated, although apprehensively so. Carrying life was one of the most beautiful experiences of my life. The quickening, the sweetness of another heartbeat under my own, filled me with awe. As the weeks and months progressed, I followed the development of the child in my womb with growing wonder. When our son was born, it was as if God himself had placed this gift of life in our arms. And He did. I was completely in love with this boy, his eyes the hue of a clear winter sky. He consumed my days (and nights) and there was little room for much else but this boy child and his needs. I was 44, completely surprised and overwhelmed by motherhood. The second pregnancy knocked me backwards. I was not up to it, neither emotionally or physically. Yet, there it was, the sweet ripple of life across my belly. I feared for this little being, for the chaos that was our lives at that time, that he/she would be born into. There was one dark night, adrift among the flotsam of my own doubt and fear, when I thought the unthinkable. Would it not be better if this child was never born at all? In the sober light of a new day, the conviction of what I had allowed to enter my thoughts, brought me to my knees. I allowed forgiveness to flow over me. For hope to push away the dark shadows. We still had a long, thorny path to cross, but Jesus, who once bore a crown of thorns on His precious head, would walk it with me now. Our second son was born on a cool April morning, in the warmth and comfort of our cosy home, and with him, came once again, that sure touch of heaven as he entered our world.

It could have been so different. Our boys, now aged 8 and 6, continue to be a real joy and a blessing to us. Many wounds have been healed over the years. But after all these years, when abortion is mentioned, I still feel the sting of that thought. When we drive through East London, the nearest city to Hogsback, posters advertising safe, quick, cheap and pain free abortions scream at you from lamp posts and crumbling walls. It is legal, it is justified, condoned. A woman's right to choose, they call it.

A website for "Planned Parenthood" encourage woman to "decide on the right way for you to end your pregnancy." There is the option of in clinic abortion or an abortion pill. Both said to be safe and "very common". Their slogan is "Care. No matter what." In 2015, the same "caring" abortion providers were found to be making fetal tissue (baby parts) available to researchers.

The legal position in South Africa is that "any woman of any age can get an abortion by simply requesting it with no reasons given if she is less than 13 weeks pregnant. After 13 weeks, she may get an abortion if her own physical or mental health are at stake, if the baby will have mental or physical abnormalities, she is pregnant because of incest or rape, or if she is of the opinion that her economical or social situation is sufficient reason for the termination of pregnancy..." Quite a wide scope. "A woman under the age of 18 will be advised to consult her parents, but she can decide not to inform them if she so chooses. A woman who has a life partner or is married will be advised to consult her partner, but she can decide not to consult or inform him..." Two sections of the Bill of Rights in our country mention "reproductive rights". Section 12(2)(a) states that: "Everyone has the right to bodily and psychological integrity, which includes the right to make the decisions regarding reproduction..."

"The Choice on Termination of Pregnancy Act, 1996 is the law governing abortion in South Africa. This Act has been described by the Guttmacher Institute* as "one of the most liberal abortion laws in the world."

In 1998 the Transvaal Provincial Division of the High Court ruled that a foetus is not a person and does not have a right to life. This ruling however, does not have any scientific or religious grounding.

It is difficult for me to read laws, statistics, personal opinions, and so-called scientific justification for abortion without experiencing a deep sadness as well as anger. Even in a world that has no time for absolutes, for the ultimate reality, truth and decrees of a living, loving God, "thou shalt not kill" is still (arguably) the most basic moral and legal principle in any society. When did it then become "okay" to terminate life in the womb? As the redeemed of Christ, we should ask ourselves: Is an unformed life less precious to it's Creator? Does the bible even teach that human life begins at conception?

Every culture's view of when human life begins changes as society's values, moral standards, and knowledge about the process of embryonic development change. Prior to the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision that allowed abortion on demand, developing embryos were considered unborn persons. Now, even a foetus that could survive on its own outside its mother's womb could be aborted, under certain medical circumstances. This demonstrates that the world does not consider an unborn child to be a true human being.

Even science tells us that human life begins at the time of conception. From the moment fertilization takes place, the child's genetic makeup is already complete. Its gender has already been determined, along with its height and hair, eye and skin color. The only thing the embryo needs to become a fully-functioning being is the time to grow and develop.

Most importantly, God reveals to us in His Word that not only does life begin at conception, but He knows who we are even before then. God says in Jeremiah 1:5: "Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations." King David wrote these beautiful words about God's role in our conception: "For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother's womb . . . your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be" (Psalm 139:13, 16). Samson said, “I have been a Nazirite to God from my mother’s womb” (Judges 16:17). He refers to his unborn self as having already been what God planned him to be - a Nazirite.

Society continually seeks to devalue the lives of the unborn, creating its own definitions of humanity based on distorted views of morality. But the undeniable fact is that life begins at creation, and a human is created as soon as he or she is conceived. God is present at our creation; He is the Creator. Our value as human beings created in His image is conceived even before we are.

Is abortion murder? The Bible considers a foetus to be an unborn child, a planned human being that God is lovingly forming from the moment of conception. This being the case, it doesn’t really matter what human jurisprudence (the theory or philosophy of law) says, or how socially or politically acceptable abortion is. God’s law takes precedence. A mother who decides to abort her child is unilaterally making a decision to end another person’s life—and that is and always has been the definition of murder.

Some pro-choice advocates argue that they are not pro-abortion. They say they hate abortion, but support a woman's right to choose... This makes as much sense as saying that you personally hate rape, but support a man's right to commit it. The rhetoric sounds nice - the mention of  “choice” makes it more appealing - but underneath is a direct conflict with God's Word.

Pro-choice advocates often state that their position is "compassionate" and that pro-lifers don't care about the woman or her child. This argument is a red herring for many. But whether pro-lifers “care” or not is not the issue, just as it is irrelevant whether those opposed to robbery “care” about the banks being robbed. Robbery is against God's moral law. So is abortion. And that’s the issue.

The Bible is clear: since God is the Creator of human life, only He can determine who lives or dies. And every person who claims the name of Christ has the obligation to make certain his or her views line up with His Word. Is it possible for a born-again Christian to be pro-choice? Unfortunately, yes. But is it likely that such a person will remain pro-choice? Not if he or she is allowing God’s Word to transform and renew his or her mind. (Romans 12:2).

One of the things that nobody talks about is the fact that when women have an abortion, they will incur guilt, and many of them will experience self condemnation. They will begin to feel the need for forgiveness pressing in on them. This is an issue we have to address because so many of us may know a woman or women who have had an abortion. You may be one of these women. Or like me, a woman who in a moment of despair, had one terrible thought of ending her unborn child's life. There was grace for me, there is grace for all of us. In the light of day, I was brought face to face with my own sinful state and how close I came to giving up. We need to minister to one another so we can know what forgiveness looks like in the aftermath of abortion, or even the thought of it.

Earlier today I read a very honest and touching blog, written by a woman who was persuaded by her parents to abort her baby at the age of 16. She writes: "Its been 19 years since I had my abortion. Even though I have been forgiven and set free from the bondage I was once in, the memories of that time in my life and my fateful decision still hurt so deeply upon remembrance."

She was eager to keep the baby at the time, but pressure from parents as well as grandparents, wore away at a teenager's resolve and she gave in. She writes:

"I went to see the doctor who would perform the abortion. He had the nerve to tell me,”only a fool makes the same mistake twice.” He seemed so wise…I wonder how many mistakes he’s performed over his lifetime."

The night before the “procedure” I asked the baby to forgive me. I held my tummy and cried."

During her senior years at college the years of shame and guilt took their toll. She writes:

"Tears were pouring down my face as I fell to my knees sobbing, crying out to the Lord, “what is wrong with me?! I am at the bottom and can’t go any lower. Please help me.” Darkness crept all over my spirit and I was worn down. My eyes were going dim and my bones could barely hold up my flesh. I was in a pit of despair. Then, “I waited patiently for the LORD; he turned to me and heard my cry…”

She finally had the chance to grieve. She was led to a crisis pregnancy clinic where a kind, loving woman took her under her wing as they went through the bible study, Forgiven and Set Free.

She writes: "I was able to admit my sin, mourn my loss, and accept forgiveness and grace. I finally felt like my feet were beginning to be planted on something…Someone real. “He set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand…”

"I am now able to watch pro-life commercials and not leave the room. I can smile when I see little children instead of tear up. I can fully embrace my own children, knowing that it’s okay to enjoy them, God isn’t going to punish me for my sin of abortion – Jesus Christ already took that punishment for me on the cross. I am free. You know what else? I can tell my story. I am covered in grace and protection…I am loved and forgiven. The shame I once carried lies at the foot of the cross; Satan has no power over me. God is the only one who has the authority to tell me who I am…and I am His."

We are His, from before we were formed in the womb. Jesus has chosen us, and we have the choice to choose Him. If we choose Him, we choose his commands. When our feet are set upon the rock that is Jesus, we need to know that on that firm place to stand, we will be called to make a stand. My prayer is that as more and more laws are passed in our country that attempt to take away the freedom wherewith Christ has set us free, that we will not be blinded or afraid. Jesus said in Matthew 10:16 "I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves."

The world was, then as it is now, hostile to believers - not incidentally hostile, but purposefully hostile. Jesus said: “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you." (John 15:18,19) Jesus has chosen us out of the world, and that choice cost Him his precious life and blood. There are choices which we will all have to make, sooner or later. Whether it be pro-life, or how to school or discipline our children. These choices may be very difficult, they may cost you dearly. But:

Be not dismayed whatever betide,
God will take care of you!
Beneath His wings of love abide,
God will take care of you! God will take care of you,
Through every day o’er all the way;
He will take care of you;
God will take care of you!

Through days of toil when heart doth fail,
God will take care of you!
When dangers fierce your path assail,
God will take care of you!

All you may need He will provide,
God will take care of you!
Trust Him, and you will be satisfied,
God will take care of you!

Lonely and sad, from friends apart,
God will take care of you!
He will give peace to your aching heart,
God will take care of you!

No matter what may be the test,
God will take care of you!
Lean, weary one, upon His breast,
God will take care of you!

* The Guttmacher Institute is a research and policy organisation committed to advancing sexual and reproductive health and rights in the United States and globally.

Tuesday, 22 August 2017

Christ in us, the Hope of Glory

It is a deliciously warm day. Tender green shoots show on the mulberry tree. A Cape white eye risks a dip in the birdbath with kitten keeping vigil close by. Our boys tumble over each other in pursuit of  the dog, who is hightailing down the stone steps with a teddy bear held tenderly in his jaws. White winter skin drinks in the sweet warmth. My babies have grown so tall, lean and strong, angles and bones where curves and dimples used to be. But in their birthday suits, feet shod in gumboots, they look vulnerable and dear.

Two weeks ago I sat down to write a blog. I thought the words would come as they always do. But after grinding out a few sentences, there was just a muddle of thoughts and nothing else. Since then, the days have just somehow swept past. For me there has always been a fine balance between discipline, creativity and obedience in what I write. The first two I mostly manage. But this morning I realised that my hunger to hear God, has been dulled by daily challenges, worry and busyness. I have forgotten how to listen. Forgotten how to be really still. Forgotten how to surrender and be vulnerable.

But Jesus has not forgotten me. This morning, as I prayed, He reminded of how He prayed for His disciples, how He prayed for me, for us who came to believe in Him. I reached for my neglected bible and re-read John 17, the most incredible High Priestly prayer in all of scripture. The whole chapter is a prayer, it is the Lord’s own prayer.

What makes this prayer special, is that Jesus did not draw aside as He normally did when he prayed to the Father. He concluded His final teaching to the disciples in John 14-16 with these beautiful words of comfort. "In this world you will have trouble. But take heart, I have overcome the world!" Then He looked up at heaven and prayed. This happened after they had eaten the Passover and the Lord's supper together. It was an intimate parting prayer, prayed in a closed room. It was a preface to His sacrifice, which He was about to offer here on earth. The eleven, who had become His family on earth, were probably quite unsettled and fearful after all that He had told them. It was the evening of Jesus' arrest, and His final words in front of those He loved and whom had loved and followed Him, was a prayer. The words of this prayer were written down and included in God's living Word, our Holy Bible. So that I may read it today, more than 2000 years later, and know that our Saviour and Mediator still intercedes for us today. But no longer as a man, but as the risen and glorified Christ, at the right hand of the Father. It is meaningful that He begins by praying for Himself. Though Christ, as God, was prayed to, Christ, as man, prayed to fulfill righteousness. These were and still are, His words:

“Father, the hour has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you. For you granted him authority over all people that he might give eternal life to all those you have given him. Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent. I have brought you glory on earth by finishing the work you gave me to do. And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began.

"I have revealed you to those whom you gave me out of the world. They were yours; you gave them to me and they have obeyed your word. Now they know that everything you have given me comes from you. For I gave them the words you gave me and they accepted them. They knew with certainty that I came from you, and they believed that you sent me. I pray for them. I am not praying for the world, but for those you have given me, for they are yours. All I have is yours, and all you have is mine. And glory has come to me through them. I will remain in the world no longer, but they are still in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name, the name you gave me, so that they may be one as we are one. While I was with them, I protected them and kept them safe by that name you gave me. None has been lost except the one doomed to destruction so that Scripture would be fulfilled.

I am coming to you now, but I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they may have the full measure of my joy within them. I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world. My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one.They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world. For them I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified.

My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one. I in them and you in me - so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.

Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world.

Righteous Father, though the world does not know you, I know you, and they know that you have sent me. I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them.”

There is so much here, too much to take in at a glance. But what really stood out for me, and has been at the back of my mind for quite a while, is the emphasis on "oneness". There has been much talk about "unity" among people, but is this what Jesus meant by being "one as we are one"?

Firstly, Jesus prays "Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name, the name you gave me, so that they may be one as we are one." By "them", Jesus was referring to those who believed in Him: "They knew with certainty that I came from you, and they believed that you sent me." Jesus prays the protection of His own powerful name over those who had come to know and follow Him. In John 15:4, Jesus commands us to "abide" in Him. The dictionary defines abiding as to accept or act in accordance with a rule, decision, or recommendation. Synonyms include obey, observe, follow, uphold, heed, and accept. This definition isn’t far off from what Jesus is telling us to do in John 15. But before he gets to the meaning, he gives us a picture of what it looks like not to abide in him. “If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers, and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned” (John 15:6).

Being "one" with Christ, abiding in Him, is His command. "Unity" with those in Christ is what Jesus prays for, knowing how difficult it is, even for believers, to get along and be "one of heart and mind". Being "one" is intended to bring about His glory: "Now may the God of endurance and encouragement grant you harmony with one another in Christ Jesus, so that with one mind and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.…" It is the powerful name of Jesus which protects and joins us together. Unity of all people is not God's design. He knew that His followers would be hated, and that "oneness" without great compromise was not possible. Jesus says in Luke 12: 49-51 "I have come to ignite a fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! But I have a baptism to undergo, and how distressed I am until it is accomplished! Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but division.…"

Jesus prays for us to be protected from evil in this world, for "they are not of the world, even as I am not of it". Being one with Jesus and our Father God, is a gift and a choice. It sets us apart, His children, heirs of His heavenly Kingdom. Not of this world. Aliens in the true sense of the word. It can be a lonely path at times, friends and even family may oppose or even forsake you. But there is a promise from God in Joshua 1:5, also quoted in Hebrews 13:5 which gives us hope and strength: "No one will be able to stand against you all the days of your life. As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you."
Us in Him and Him in us. Never alone, our reason for hope and our promise of eternity with Jesus.

 Jesus continues to pray also for those who will believe in Him through the message of his disciples, "that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one. I in them and you in me - so that they may be brought to complete unity. "

That is the unity that God designed. Christ in us, the hope of glory. "To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you the hope of glory." (Col 1.27) God chose to bring us into His covenant. In this the body of Christ is united. In Eph 3:16,17 Paul says: "That out of His glorious riches He may strengthen you with power through His Spirit in you inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith."

Jesus ends this wonderful prayer with this promise: "Righteous Father, though the world does not know you, I know you, and they know that you sent me. I have made you known to them, and I will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and I myself may be in them. 

The love that God has for His Son, is in us. Jesus himself is in us. Christ in you, the words that changed everything. This is what David calls knowledge too wonderful, too lofty for me to reach or comprehend. The hope of glory lives in me, in you. This hope is the silver thread between God's children. You and me, born into sin, but destined for glory.

It makes real the prospect of that sweet time, when we shall see Jesus face to face. Face to face... Not only for a little time, but:

"Millions of years our wondering eyes,
Shall over our Saviour's  beauties rove.
And myriad ages we'll adore,
The wonders of His love."

Friday, 14 July 2017

Fields of Hope

After a lull of mild sunny days, the cold has set in. Kitten and boys become frighteningly frisky. The frost shows up. Ice-white and wet, it glistens on the deck. Covering tufts of yellowed grass, wilting the wild rose clinging to the fence. But from my kitchen window, I can see the promise of Spring, held tight in clusters of Jasmine flower buds. Each a small embryo, containing the certainty of new life, even if it is not yet visible. The hope of warmth, which will cause each floret to open its heart to the sun, setting free the scent of Summer. In contrast to the bare treetops and stark landscape of Winter, these little buds are an annual marvel. In spite of the bitter cold, the hint of snow in the air, they flaunt their fragile beauty.

I came to the end of the journey with Jeremiah*, but somehow the words and themes stay with me. One chapter in particular stood out so much, that I felt the need to share it.

At the beginning of Chapter 32 we find Jeremiah, imprisoned by King Zedekia because of his prophesies regarding the capture of Jerusalem and Zedekia's exile to Babylon. Jeremiah is confined in the courtyard of the guard, in the royal palace of Judah. At that very moment the army of the king of Babylon was encircling Jerusalem, ready to overtake it. In the midst of the chaos, God tells Jeremiah: "Hanamel son of Shallum your uncle is going to come to you and say: Buy my field at Anathoth, because as nearest relative it is your right and duty to buy it." It happens as God said, and Jeremiah signs the deed and seals the deal.

I was raised to be practical. My father claimed practicality to be next to godliness. I was taught to eliminate risks in decision making, to pursue a solid career which would be secure and certain. Jeremiah's life was an illustration of practicality. His ideas and beliefs got turned into actions, and his actions were so on target, that the history of his century was largely a shadow of his personal history. One of the most practical things that he did was to buy this field in Anathoth, his birthplace. But to his fellow country-men, this transaction seemed ludicrous. He was judged and jeered at, as an impractical fool.

In a small way, it reminded me of the time that we bought the property we now live on. It was a dense Wattle forest in a sequestered mountain village, which, at the time, few people knew to exist. The owners of the land did not accept our offer, the bank would not grant us a loan because of the risks involved, and our families held their breath with apprehension. But somehow it all fell into place. After fierce opposition, tough challenges and debilitating doubt. We bought our field, for it was a risk which God had already calculated on our behalf. After more than a decade of Jehova Jireh's provision, we no longer fear for the future.

There is much enthusiasm for practicality in our society, but what is seen as being practical is often in opposition to biblical practicality. Jeremiah's sense of the practical conflicted with the impracticality of the people around him. His sense of the practical was built on the belief that God is sovereign, the pivot and reason for our existence. His hope was not a fragile branch swayed by every breeze. It was constant, unquestioning in obedience and trust.

Jeremiah was asked to invest in a property in the middle of war threatening at the city gates. He was confined in the court area, but his actions were obviously still visible to the people. At the time when the deed for the field was signed, witnessed and sealed, the Babylonian army was camping on it. The enemy was pounding on the city walls and about to take the people off to exile. And at this time, Jeremiah bought land on which he would never plant an olive tree, prune a grapevine, or build a house. Then why did he do it?

Apart from just being obedient, he did it because he was convinced that the troubles everyone were experiencing at the time, were being used by God in what would eventually turn out to be the salvation of that land. God was using that piece of land as a sign that He would fulfil His promises. C.K. Chesterton wrote: "As long as matters are really hopeful, hope is mere flattery or platitude. It is only when everything seems hopeless, that hope begins to be a strength at all. Like all Christian virtues, it is as unreasonable as it is indispensable." At the moment when judgement was at hand, he speaks the words that evoke hope. "It is the time of distress for Jacob, yet he shall be saved out of it" (Jer 30:7). There was more than Babylonians at the gate, there was God in their midst.

Judgement was not the last word. Judgement was necessary because of centuries of hard-heartedness. It's real work was (and still is) to open hearts to the reality beyond ourselves. To the inrushing grace of our merciful, forgiving God.

"The people who survived the sword
found grace in the wilderness...
I have loved you with an everlasting love;
therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you.
Again I will build you, and you shall be built,
O virgin Israel!
Again you shall adorn yourself with timbrels,
and shall go forth in the dance of the merrymakers"
(Jer 31:2-4)

God cries out with the deep love of a parent:

"Is Ephraim my dear son?
Is he my darling child?
For as often as I speak against him,
I do remember him still.
Therefore my heart yearns for him,
I will surely have mercy on him, says the Lord"
(Jer 31:20)

While the people were prosperous, they supposed that nothing could interfere with their satisfied existence. During those years Jeremiah preached judgement. Now that calamity was all around them, they believed that nothing could make it better. From the prison court (a rather unhopeful place), Jeremiah gives his message: "There is hope for your future, says the Lord, and your children shall come back to their own country" (Jer 31:17).

He backs up his words by weighing out seventeen shekels of silver, finding the required witnesses, signing and sealing the deeds to a seemingly worthless piece of land. He asks his friend Baruch to put the official deeds in a pottery jar to preserve them, that they may last a long time. "For thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Houses and fields and vineyards shall again be bought in this land" (Jer 32:14).

Buying that field in Anathoth was a deliberate act of hope. Often acts of hope expose themselves to ridicule, because they seem impractical. "Hope commits us to actions that connect with God's promises. Hope acts on the conviction that God will complete the work that He has begun even when appearances oppose it." ~ Eugene Peterson. If we live in hope, we often go against the stream.

But I believe that this is exactly what God tells us to do, however uncomfortable at times. "And be not conformed to this world: but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God." (Romans 12:2).

In the flurry and panic of that time in Jerusalem, which is not unlike the time we live in, there was this practical act of hope that stands out from the historical record. Jeremiah bought a field in Anathoth for seventeen shekels. It was an act which made the word of God visible. Jeremiah literally put his money where his mouth is. It showed the way out of the chaos of despair into the ordered wholeness of salvation.

I am beginning to realise what it really means to be practical. To place my hope in God who is sovereign, and act out this hope from day to day. To hear what God says, and act in an appropriate response to it. To stand strong in chaos, to believe that the God is omnipresent, in everything. To trust that He brings about good through evil, and that evil can no more oppose His will, than Satan can destroy what Jesus has sealed in our hearts. It is not so easy to act in hope, because most often the immediate evidence is against it. It is not easy to accept that God is in the death of an infant, in genocide, in cancer, in the persecution of his children. But if I do not relinquish my understanding in this regard to the Lord's, then I inadvertently attribute more power to Satan than to God.

It takes courage to act in hope. It will often mean acting in defiance of what is perceived to be sensible and right. But is the only thing that can survive the decay of the moment. Paul encourages us to be "joyful in hope, patient in affliction and faithful in prayer" (Romans 12:2). When our hope is placed in Jesus, then being joyful in all things and acting out this joy and hope becomes possible, since we know the hope to which we were called. "In his great mercy He has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade" ( I Peter 1:3-4 ).

I once had a fridge magnet which read: "Be realistic, expect a miracle." But miracles are worked out through blessings and hardship. Jesus is willing. He is the only one who can help us live a courageous life of faith and hope, but we have to reach out and touch His hem. Risk standing out in the crowd. It is the single flower that pushes through the asphalt, that catches the eye. We have a choice: to conform, or to be transformed. God is in catastrophe, in mental and physical agony as much as in times of progress and abundance. Karl Barth said that "hope is having the faith to dance today to tomorrow's music."

To stay in step with the Holy Spirit, means to step out in faith. To live in the Hope that will never be ashamed. To be transformed. To surrender fear. To give thanks in everything. To praise God in everything. It is not a pious denial of reality. Paul and Silas sang praises to God in a dank prison cell. An earthquake shook the earth, their chains fell to the ground, the prison door swung open. A prison ward and his family were saved. Paul and Silas were absolved from their charges and they walked free.

There are still fields of hope to be bought. The God of Jeremiah's days has not changed. He still wants to restore his children, even if it means walking them through hardship and heartbreak. There is still grace to be found in the wilderness. There is still God's everlasting love and faithfulness towards his darling child. Be practical - live in HOPE.

* Running with the horses ~ Eugene Peterson, Blog: 30 June 2017 - "Persistently Persistent"

Friday, 30 June 2017

Persistently persistent

It is a new day. The light pushes through the curtains a little earlier, the sky is a little paler, the birdsong a little brighter than yesterday. The winter solstice has come and gone, and with each day the dawn arrives earlier, and dusk is pushed back ever so slightly. A solstice happens when the sun's zenith is at its furthest point from the equator. On the June solstice, it reaches its northernmost point and the Earth’s North Pole tilts directly towards the sun. There is a tenacity in nature, a persistence in the earth's steady orbit around the sun. Seasons follow one another with a certain predictability, varied only by the amazing creativity of it's Creator.

I am re-reading a book on the life of Jeremiah*, a book simply packed with insight. Page by page, I am given a glimpse into the life of the man whom people refer to as "the weeping prophet". The first recorded words that God speaks to Jeremiah, sets the scene for a life completely set aside for God's purposes. "Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born, I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations." ~ Jer. 1:5. Jeremiah was known before he knew. Before he chose to serve God with his whole being, God had chosen him. God appointed/gave (nathan) him as a prophet to the nations. As He gave his Son Jesus, so that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life.

Jeremiah hesitates. He is so young, so inexperienced and without confidence. It would seem that this youth needed learning, or at least some rigorous training to prepare him for what lay ahead. But once again God's words to him, turns human expectation and logic inside out. "... to all whom I send you you shall go and whatever I command you you shall speak. Be not afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you... Behold, I make you this day a fortified city, an iron pillar and bronze walls, against the whole land, against the kings of Judah, its princes, its priests, and the people of the land." ~ Jer 1:6-8, 18

From "only a youth" Jeremiah is transformed into a pillar of strength and confidence. As God spoke, the appointed prophet received the conviction that God is personal, alive and active, and that what was going on in Israel in that exact time in history, was critical.

Jeremiah was given the task of delivering an unpopular, convicting message to Israel, one that caused him great mental anguish, as well as making him despised in the eyes of his own people. God says that His truth sounds like “foolishness” to those who are lost, but to believers it is the very words of life (1 Cor 1:18). He also says that the time will come when people will not tolerate the truth (2 Tim 4:3-4). Those in Israel did not want to hear what Jeremiah had to say, and his constant warning of judgement annoyed them.

For twenty three years he persisted. Right there, at the center of the book of Jeremiah, there is a word which has been challenging me for the last few weeks. "Persistently" (hashkem). For twenty three years... When I was 17 years old, I woke up one morning and decided that I wanted to be a vet. A few days later, the conviction changed to dreams of being a fashion designer. Then there was a time when I was convinced that I wanted to be a journalist. I was a fickle youth. When Jeremiah turned 40, he had already been God's mouthpiece for 23 years. There are 11 instances in Jeremiah where the word "persistently" is used. For twenty three years he got up before the dawn to pray, to listen. For twenty three years he went out every morning and spoke God's word to the people. While the people slept in, sluggish and indolent, hearing nothing. 

Jeremiah suffered. There was the personal torment of a prophet who saw what God saw. His obedience cost him dearly. He was ostracised, shunned, mocked and rejected. He was imprisoned, flogged, placed in stocks and in thrown into a dark cistern, with a thick layer of mud at the bottom, into which he sank. He wrestled with discouragement and despair and thought of quitting. God challenged him by saying: "If you have raced with men on foot and they have worn you out, how can you compete with horses? If you stumble in a safe country, how will you manage in the thickets by the Jordan?" ~ Jer 12:5. Jeremiah looked up from the pit of despair he had sunk into and once again saw the God who had made him into a fortified city, an iron pillar and a bronze wall. He wanted to run with horses. He wanted to live persistently and urgently. He did not give up, for God did not give up. He shows us that the good life, is not necessarily a life lived well. To have the bucket list all ticked off, does not mean that I lived abundantly.

The word hashkem has a sunrise in it. Jeremiah got up before the sun to do his/God's work. But to him it was not drudgery. Each day there was the anticipation of listening to God, who unfailingly, creatively gave him new words, new ideas of how to take God's message of warning to his people. He did not get up to face rejection, he got up to meet with his God. This I found to be the secret of Jeremiah's persistence. Not thinking with dread about the long road ahead, but meeting each day, each moment with obedient and expectant hope. I used to feel so sorry for Jeremiah. We see him in a painting by Rembrandt, in a dejected pose, his head resting heavily in his hand, with a sombre expression on his face. But Jeremiah does not need to be pitied. He was committed to a purpose, even when it broke his heart. His days add up to a life of incredible tenacity, amazing stamina. He ran with the horses.

In contrast to his persistent faithfulness, stands the erratic and impulsive nature of the people whom he lived with. They ran this way and that, always after new ways of satisfying their wild enthusiasm for pleasure. But nothing added up. They were like the character in a story I once read. "He wanted Everest in a day; when it took two, he lost interest..."

Israel had a long history of unfaithfulness. Every attractive promise distracted her from her God. Every new fad was taken up and tried in a burst of short-lived eagerness. For centuries it had been one lover after the other. Meanwhile, God never stopped loving her. And God cannot permit the people he loves and created for glory, to live in such silliness and emptiness. Jeremiah learnt to live persistently toward God, because God was persistent toward him.

At the very centre of Lamentations (most likely written by Jeremiah), which laments the sin and suffering during and after the fall of Jerusalem, there is this beautiful verse: "The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is thy faithfulness." ~ Lamentations 3:22,23.

God's persistence is not a dogged repetition. It has surprise and creativity, and yet all the certainty and regularity of a new day. "Sunrise, when the spontaneous and the certain arrive at the same time" ~ Eugene Peterson. Daybreak is always a surprise to me. There are times of course, when I fail to respond. The repetition of nature is never boring, and so much less so the repetitions in God. This was the source of Jeremiah's living persistence. Rising early, he was attentive and quiet before his Lord. Long before the mocking, yelling and complaining started, there was this time of listening and discovery with God. He had chosen what Jesus called "the one thing needful" and he stuck to it.

"The mark of a certain kind of genius, is the ability and energy to keep returning to the same task relentlessly, imaginatively, curiously, for a lifetime" ~ E. Peterson. Beethoven composed sixteen string quartets because he was never satisfied with what he had done, and kept trying to perfect it. He put fresh, creative energy into each attempt. The same thing over and over, yet it was never the same, for each time there was that new dazzling creativity put into the repetition.

Despite his persistence - the life of Jeremiah ends inconclusively. I wish I could know the end, but there is no end. The last scene of Jeremiah's life shows him, as he had spent so much of his life, preaching God's word to a contemptuous people (Jer 44). I wanted to know that he was finally successful so that, if I live well and courageously, I would also be successful. But this is all we get. The image of a man who persisted with "the one thing needful" regardless of personal failure. In Egypt, the place he does not want to be, with people who treat him badly, he continues. Determinedly faithful and courageous. A towering life terrifically lived for God's glory.

There is only one thing needful. To sit at the feet, and live in the presence of Jesus. Mary chose it, while Martha complained. The "good" part, which would and could not be taken away from her or from you and me. There is only today in which to do it. And then do it again. And again...

Persistently. Not with mindless repetition - but with all the exuberance of an encore!

* Run with the horses - Eugene H. Peterson

Friday, 9 June 2017

Contentment in the In-between

Godliness with contentment is great gain. ~ 1 Timothy 6:6

(I started writing this message almost two weeks ago. Since then life has turned this way and that, and in my clumsy attempts to keep up, I became a bit derailed. Not quite unhinged, just a bit overloaded with stuff that had to be discarded to get back on track literally. So now I return - a bit apprehensive, hoping that this all will still come across as honest and relevant...)

             ... The end of the season in-between. With the last leaves clinging to stripped limbs, shivering shyly in the breeze. Flower-heads change into seed-pods, new life hiding in death. Life goes underground - resting in bulbs, root arteries, tubers, corms, rhizomes. Call it late Autumn or early Winter. Call it what you may. It is an almost imperceptible holding of the breath, wary of the steam which will rush out, announcing "C O L D" with a ghostly hush. Just as that moment in between dusk and dark. When treetops that were shades of gold on a pastel canvas moments before, scratch against the sky like insects, crawling at the last light. When you wish you did not have to face the inevitable dark that will follow. Until the evening star is called upon as the first guard. Then breath is released and suddenly even the condensation in frosty air becomes as familiar and wonderful as a grandfather's pipe. I am often too weary, or wary of the nip in the night air, to truly appreciate the wonder of our starry dome. But the times when I do allow myself to be pulled outside by a small hand - the reward overcomes both.

We adore sunsets and sunrises... Sunny days and starry nights... Mystical mists and the purity of snow... Blooms in bloom, Autumn grandeur or Winter wonder. But how many travel agencies advertise dream destinations with posters or pictures taken during that in-between, ominous grayness? Or showing dead-heads on fields of flowers, with their withered, leafy skirts slumped around their ankles?

When the shadows grow long, I often softly shut the door to our bedroom, to stretch out an aching back or simply to let the load of the day go. This is always a time that allows for slowing down, as I feel the tension in the small of my back melt into the mattress. Just recently, this happens to coincide with that "scary" time of day, inviting melancholy gloom instead of rest. Last night as I lay watching the uninspiring landscape, my thoughts were turned to so many people who are in the middle of really hard times. I thought of how bravely and graciously they all seem to face these struggles. And of how much harder it seems to be to be gracious, grateful and content when life just seems to offer the ordinary. Neither heights of excitement, nor body and soul bent towards surviving and overcoming. Just every day's going out and coming in, and sitting down and standing up. Difficulties and challenges come in many forms. It is often not the challenges themselves that wears away at my own joy, but the angle from which I view them.

We are blessed with two healthy children, with no learning, developmental or other difficulties. God has always provided for us, even though my husband works incredibly hard within that providence. We have had a few "reality checks" regarding our health recently. As we witness each other straining a bit against the marks that time has left. But it brings with it a softening, the lines on a beloved face telling of all the rich encounters with life, in all its extraordinarily, ordinary detail. The luxury of struggling to make ends meet, of not often having the space to reflect or silence to cherish, of the seemingly never-ending lists of chores that pull me along with my one foot hopping ungracefully on the tracks. For it means that there is a husband and father in our family, who faithfully and uncomplainingly earns and provides, while I have the privilege to stay home with our boys. It means that there are children - noisy, boisterous, lively children, who never fail to add splashes of colour, even if it is outside the lines. That there is a home, with sagging, clawed and draped furniture and time-worn rugs, with dogs and cats and cob-webs and "stuff" under the cupboards. Mouths to feed and kiss goodnight, bodies to clothe and cuddle, creatures that purr and greet with loyal, wagging tails, muddy paws and wet tongues.

And; that there is love, which covers it all. Forming a harbour of contentment. Regardless of how "ordinary" it may seem at times...

Everything in life creates opportunities for contentment - or discontentment. Our family and friendships. The career path you are on. The money we make. The vacations we take. Our physical health, or the spiritual health of our church or fellowship. Human tendency is always to want more, better, or different. When the apostle Paul wrote "godliness with contentment is great gain" he wasn't just speaking philosophically (1 Tim. 6:6). He had learnt the secret to contentment in every circumstance of life (Phil 4:11-2). While that secret eludes most people, it need not elude any true believer. Paul gives us clear and practical guidance to being content. At times we bubble over, at times we simmer slow and low over a sickly flame. Contentment is not being happy. For me it just means to rest in what is, easy or hard. But especially in the in-between. It is here where it is the hardest to keep a healthy perspective, have joy, be content.

I borrowed some perspective from Paul and also from people whom have followed Jesus through the briers and fallow times, as well as through times of goodness and overflowing. I have also borrowed wisdom from those who teach the truth as found in the bible, and hope to learn as I share this with you. (The bible quotes are from the New American Standard bible - which were part of a teaching and have been copied and left as is for this message.)

First, learn to give thanks in all things. Thankfulness is first of all a matter of obedience (1 Thess. 5:18; Eph. 5:18), but it is also a characteristic of a Spirit-filled believer (Eph. 5:18-20).

Second, learn to rest in God's providence. If we truly know God, we know that He is unfolding His agenda and purpose in our lives. He has sovereignly determined each part of His plan for us so that we'll benefit and He'll be glorified (. Rom. 8:28). I should not be surprised or ungrateful when we experience challenges or trials, because we know that God sees perfectly the end result (cf. 1 Pet. 4:12-13).

Third, learn to be satisfied with little. In 1 Timothy 6:6 Paul encourages a young "pastor" with these words: "Now godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out." While I covet, I cannot be content.

Fourth, learn to live above life's circumstances. In 2 Cor. 12:9-10 Paul wrote, "Most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ's sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong."

Paul didn't take pleasure in the challenges or pain itself, but in the power of Christ manifested through him in times of infirmity, reproach, persecution, and distress. And in the ordinary.

Fifth, learn to rely on God's power and provision. The apostle Paul wrote, "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me"; and Jesus said He will never leave us nor forsake us (Heb. 13:5). We can fully rely on Christ's promise. He faithfully infuses every believer with His own strength and sustains them in their time of need until they receive provision from His hand (Eph. 3:16).

Finally, become preoccupied with the well-being of others. Paul summarised this mindset in Philippians 2:3-4, where he wrote: "Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others."

A self-centered person is a discontented person. But the souls of the generous, those who live for the interests and benefit of others, will find blessing upon blessing in their lives, even if it is disguised at times. (see Prov. 11:24-5; 19:17; Luke 6:38; 2 Cor. 9:6).

Looking back at the above, I realise how easy it is to become discontent. To take my eyes of the fact that regardless of how mundane or challenging my situation is, or how tough it is when my body won't allow me to do what I long to do with my whole heart - Jesus is greater than my fear or despondence. Almost playfully, He led me back to a joyful place. So simply, that it took me the whole morning to realise that it was happening. I was beckoned outside by the way the sun and breeze played with our kitten's fur. Her languid expression as she lay there - unburdened and completely content. I walked away from the unmade beds, the smelly cat-box, the unplanned lunchtime meal. And sat down beside her. An orange cupped in my hands, the warmth of the half-logs of our home melting away the tension in my back. I don't know how many hours I spent there, just watching, listening, tasting, feeling. The boys came looking for me. and at first I wished I could just send them to the furthermost corner of the property to preserve the peace of my little bubble. But I didn't. Together we barked at the baboons, laughed at the kitten's first attempt to climb a "big" tree and ate sun-warmed oranges with the juice dripping down our chins. And then, back in the chilly reality of the living room, as I groped for a way to end this message, a very dear friend turned up on my un-swept doorstep, with a totally scrumptious lunch, spicy-sweet peppadews on top! I'm actually not sure if this last paragraph confirms or contradicts the rest of the message. For me, it just says - I love you, whether you are able to follow six steps to contentment or not. I am here, in the little things as much as in the big ones. Be not afraid. I have called you by your name. You are Mine!

Tuesday, 4 April 2017

Christ in Crisis

But you, dear friends, must build each other up in your most holy faith, pray in the power of the Holy Spirit, and await the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will bring you eternal life. In this way, you will keep yourselves safe in God’s love. And you must show mercy to those whose faith is wavering. Rescue others by snatching them from the flames of judgement. Show mercy to still others, but do so with great caution, hating the sins that contaminate their lives. 
~ Jude vs 20-23 (NLT)

Autumn slips into Hogsback as subtly as always. First a few leaves change from deep summer green to the earthy jewel colours of this mild season. The pineapple sage has started to flower. Bringing with it the sun birds and giant Monarch butterflies. The vegetable garden slows down and dwindles to a few persistent spinach shoots in the hard soil. Then a wind snaps the washing on the line and the first falling leaves from the Silver Birches are tossed across the deck. I look up surprised and delighted. I love Autumn. So much, that I am tempted to forget what is going on beyond our little paradise. But it seems to hang like a permeating stench over our country, and over the world - and one cannot escape it. Not on this hill, not anywhere.

What do we, children of the living God, lambs of the Good Shepherd, followers of the Saviour Jesus, do in such times? And what not? It is a question I ask myself first of all. And in the process of trying to find the answers, I hope to share some of what my heart is being convinced of. By looking at what God is saying to us in the Bible, and what the Holy Spirit is helping me to put into straight forward, simple words.

I trust that in the process of learning what I "should do", it will not be necessary to spend much time on what I "should not do". When sheep listen to the voice of the Good Shepherd, they are hardly tempted to drift into the wrong fold.

On Sunday, we got a taste of what it feels like to be despised by someone of a different skin colour. Our dogs happened to bark at a group of people walking on the same path in a leafy park not far from our home. A big Xhosa man lashed out verbally, in a very threatening manner. Our boys ran to hide behind the trees. This may have defused the situation somewhat, and fortunately they decided to move on. However, when we returned to our car a little later, there where mean, deep scratches etched down the entire driver side and a few more on the rear of the vehicle. Those marks have marred our family car somewhat, but they have also cut into my heart. I wanted to be angry, but just felt a deep sadness instead. It is just a car. But to me it represents the stench, the grating sense that people are looking for reasons to justify their resentment of each other. Based on something which may seem "skin deep", but is stirred by something much deeper and much more malignant.

Most Christians are very familiar with Ephesians 6:12 "For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms." Perhaps too familiar. What does it means not to struggle against flesh and blood? It should be self explanatory: flesh and blood - people, all people of all nations. We are shown not to fight/battle/get into arguments with - people. Even in our thoughts, prayers and attitudes. It may feel good at the time, but it has no purpose for the Kingdom of God. Jesus left us all we need to "struggle" against the powers of this dark world and the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms, although "spiritual warfare" should also be done in line with God's will and Jesus' example to us in His Word.

The first thing I realised when I started thinking about all this was: I am part of the problem.

There are areas of my own life which I have to look at:

  • Is my own walk "blameless" before God - has the gospel message changed my character, my personal integrity, my attitude? "Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will." ~ Romans 12:2
  • Am I salt and light?  "You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot. You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven".~ Matt 5:13-16
  • Am I a witness in word and deeds? “You are my witnesses,” declares the Lord, “and my servant whom I have chosen, that you may know and believe me and understand that I am he. Before me no god was formed, nor shall there be any after me". ~ Isaiah 43:10
  • Do I see corruption as a threat to my personal and loved ones' safety, financial security and the state of my country? Or as a threat to world evangelism? (In the sense that it closes people's hearts to receive the gospel and be saved for eternity and changed for this life.) "For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life." ~ Galatians 6:8
  • Do I do unto others as I would have them do unto meSo in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets ~ Matt 7:12
  • Am I accountable to God in all I doSo then each of us shall give account of himself to God. ~ Romans 14:12
  • Do I live out the virtues of a true Spirit filled believer? Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Bear with each other and forgive any complaint you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you... And over all these virtues put on love, which is the bond of perfect unity. ~ Colossians 3:12/14
  • How do I stand in relation to the government of our country? And what should my attitude towards the rulers of our country be? I looked at Romans 13 to find some answers to the last question: "Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. 2. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgement on themselves. 3. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended. 4. For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. 5. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience.
    6. This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing.7. Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honour, then honour."
    As always some of this will be interpreted differently by different people. But what is quite clear is that 1) God ordains government, 2) God monitors government, 3) God raises them up and brings them down at his time - not us at ours. 4) Every human government is accountable to God - whether they accept it or not.
  • Do I worry about the current situation, do I have fears about the future?  Corrie ten Boom said: "Worry does not empty tomorrow of its sorrow, it empties today of its strength." "Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them (enemies or threats) , for the LORD your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you." ~ Deut 31:6
  • Do I really still trust and believe that God is sovereign despite the "madness" in the world? "Trust in the LORD with all your heart And do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways submit to Him, And He will make your paths straight." ~ Prov 3:5-6 "The LORD has established His throne in the heavens; And His sovereignty rules over all." ~ Psalm 103:19
  • How do I pray for our government and our country? Christians are not given the option of letting their disagreement with their political leaders prevent them from praying for those leaders. The apostle Peter wrote that believers are to "submit yourselves to every human authority for the Lord's sake, whether it be to the king, as supreme, or to governors, as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and to praise those who do right. ... Honor all people. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the king" ~ 1 Pet. 2:13-14, 17.

    Similarly, Paul wrote to Timothy, "Therefore I exhort first of all that you make supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings for everyone, for kings and for all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceful life in all godliness and honesty, for this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior" ~ 1 Tim. 2:1-3.

    Who was emperor when Peter and Paul wrote these words? None other than one of the most notorious political leaders of history, Nero Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus, known generally simply as Nero.

    What kind of ruler was Nero? He murdered his mother and both of his wives, for starters. But his grotesque brutality far transcended his immediate family. According to the Roman historian Tacitus, after fire had consumed roughly half of Rome and his popularity was in free-fall, Nero decided to blame the fire on Christians. Tacitus records that, among other things, the early Roman followers of Jesus "were covered with the skins of wild animals and then torn apart by dogs, some were crucified, some were burned as torches at night" (The One Year Christian History, p. 322).
So we are certainly not the first or last country or people to be ruled by a "corrupt" leader(s). What we can learn from history and from Scripture is that people do not and can not and should not try to alter the course of history by bending it to their own sense of justice. God's ways are not our ways (Is 55:8). He can and will and has victory over and through evil. For us to think that we can "remove" evil from our country or from the world, is as unrealistic as a child who wants to throw his food on the floor because he does not like the taste of it. God is the one who brings about justice and judgement. For everyone, especially his own beloved. His church.

There is still so much that can be said and so many more scriptures that can be quoted. But this is a very personal and very sensitive matter. I trust that God will search the hearts of each one who wants to trust Him and wishes for His will to be done. It is not comfortable. The church no longer exercises the authority to hold earthly rulers accountable to God. But we still have authority in Jesus to stand in God's sovereignty over evil, rather than trusting the solidarity of men.

"A Christian can never rise higher than his experience of God. God is infinitely profound. As one hymn writer has written, he is an immeasurable sea without a shore, a blazing sun without a sphere. When engulfed in his presence, whom thousand and tens of thousands of angels worship day and night, the soul can only lie in the dust in adoring wonder. This profound knowledge brings eternity to bear on the soul of a believer, so that everything in his life is judged from eternity’s perspective. How I spend my time and money, how I enjoy my recreation, how I relate to the government and other believers and unbelievers, how I handle my work—all these are subjected to eternity. The great Day of Judgement is never far from mind." Pastor Conrad Mbewe

We continue working out our salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God who works in us to will and to act on behalf of His good pleasure.… (Phil 2:12)

And ... "Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus." ~ Phil 4:6-7

The reason why I have used so many scriptures today, is because we are so inundated by requests, inciting messages, opinions and persuasions of anonymous people on social media. Therefore, I wanted to confirm for myself and share with you, where we stand in relation to the bible on some of these issues. There are many more, but I am confident that on each of the issues that you and I struggle with in our faith walk - there is an answer in our Bibles, God's living Word. We do not have to be swayed by public opinions or pressures. We have our Rock Jesus, who remains steadfast - even if everything else sinks or stinks.

This is more than sufficient reason to be hopeful without being ignorant. To be joyful without being callous against suffering. To have grace and compassion without accepting what is wrong in the eyes of God. To fear God, but be closer to my Redeemer than my own skin. To rest beside quiet waters while the Shepherd stands watch, but not to be ignorant of the threat of the wolves nearby.

To sing in the dark and dance on the dew of the new morning. For each moment is precious, and even if times get much harder still, we are f r e e - and for this reason alone I shall praise until I have no more breath. And on that day, seeing Jesus face to face, I will understand it all. And it will not matter anymore. For there would be Him, every moment of every day - f o r e v e r!

Friday, 17 March 2017

Colourful People made by a Colourful Creator

Opening his mouth, Peter said: "I most certainly understand now that God is not one to show partiality, but in every nation the man who fears Him and does what is right is welcome to Him. ~ Acts 10:34-35

... and He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their habitation ~ Acts 17:26

Many years ago, while my husband and I were selling sourdough loaves at the local Bistro, a woman came to our table with an olive-skinned, wide-eyed child on her hip. We started talking, the smell of fresh bread like a comforting hug between us. She spoke with a slight guttural accent, reminding me of the way my father formed his words.  We became friends.  I guess it was the European connection that drew us together at first, with us both being so far removed from our “roots”.  She now lives down a dusty potholed road.  In the middle of what a lot of people would classify as “nowhere”.  But to her it is somewhere. It is home.  Home between heart sisters and friends, who may not share her skin colour, but have become her family.  Her name lies softly on your tongue, like the flowing language of my own parent’s place of birth. The small country she left behind for Africa, is nestled into a curve on the Southern border of the Netherlands.  As a young woman living in Europe, with Africa still just an evocative image of ochre and sun in her mind's eye, she fell in love with a young man. He had a disarming smile and a heart for people.  He spoke her language with a distinctive accent.  For his Mother tongue was a Bantu language with click consonants.  Her family did not approve at first. Her mother especially was deeply concerned that their union would cause her daughter much hurt.  But they respected her choice. When the decision was made and the time came for the couple to return to his homeland, her family sent them off with constrained grief and a hidden dread.

They bought a wild, wide tract of land from the tribal Chief, a place that causes your eyes to narrow and reach far over the planes, up and into the mountains standing sentinel in a half moon. All for the price of a bag of groceries or a crate of beer. Just opposite the road lay an established settlement, a typical rural village with its motley collection of dogs, corn growing verdant in their gardens, kraals for ceremonies, old folks on rickety furniture or leaning on cranes as crooked as their spines. A sweet little school for the children. A sangoma is firmly established as the one to fulfil different social and political roles in the community, including divination, healing of physical, emotional and spiritual illnesses, directing birth or death rituals, finding lost cattle, protecting people against rivals, counteracting witches, communicating with the ancestors, and narrating the history, cosmology and myths of their tradition.

With much enthusiasm they started setting down roots. Became parents of two beautiful children. They shared a dream of making a marked and lasting difference in the local community they lived in. A hope to uplift the standard of living, education, infrastructure. Much has been invested into the children, the new generation to whom everyone looks with hope to overcome and shed the yoke of segregation and poverty. In a sense, they have begun to fulfil this dream. But deep down - the hearts of the people have not changed.

The local people mostly embrace her into their community. She is their sister, a mother among many. Children run and play freely and are welcomed everywhere. They are raised and cared for by everyone in the village. Little ones are like pearls among them, the strings worn, adored and cherished.

Her husband's choice was nonetheless met with suspicion. It has made him somewhat of an outsider among his people. His willingness to serve is often taken for granted, rather than valued.  It is naturally assumed that where there is a white person, there is affluence, bringing with it the responsibility to share.

The theme of their story is not exclusive. While it is true that actions speak louder than words, even the most honourable actions are not guaranteed to change people’s hearts. The race I belong to, the country of my birth, my vocation or station in life, social status etc. – these “things” will continue to influence the way most people perceive or treat each other, regardless of what they say. Unless - there is a renewal of the mind and heart.

This only God can do.

When I found my own worth in Jesus, it firstly changed the way I viewed myself. At first I was devastated by what I saw. I saw my pride, my misplaced bitterness about the past, my judgement, my accumulated debt of sin, heaped up accusingly before me. But then I was shown another image. That mountain of debt was placed on the shoulders of Jesus as He - King of the Jews (his race), hung on a cursed cross for all to spit on, torture and mock. And as He lifted his anguished face up to heaven and cried: "It is done", it had been done for me. He was buried in a sealed tomb, with all my sin, shame - all the weight of my fallen state before my heavenly Father removed.

The risen glorified Christ walked lightly out of the tomb. The weight of the sin of mankind buried. My freedom to be who I am and to live for the purpose I was made, bought at the dearest price. To bring glory to Him, to imitate Him, follow Him. To radiate the very light He brought into the world on the first day of creation, for all to see.

I have always loved colour. Colour in fabrics, textures, the hues of the land that surrounds me. Ever changing, never insipid. And the liberal variation of melanin pigment in a myriad of people who walk the earth - each so startlingly unique... 

The freedom in my own identity has mercifully not made me colour blind - it has enhanced the vibrancy with which each living thing hums. I am aware (sometimes painfully) of the privilege of having a white skin. But I am not ashamed of it. It is part of my purpose, my beauty and perfection in Christ. I do not believe in pitying people of a different skin colour, race or creed. They have been fearfully and wonderfully made according to God's plan. No mistake there. The mistake is in assuming to know what they need or want. God shows needs best. I am learning the hard way, that my good intentions are often hollow actions performed with the misplaced need to be charitable or worse: to sooth away guilt over being white.

Even with all my "whiteness" - I grew up knowing that I was “different”. That my family were different. Weird. Unusual. Not because I looked unlike other children. But because I was treated differently.  I was a “kaaskop”. (Literally translated – “cheese head”. A slightly derogatory name for people coming from the Netherlands.) Which carried with it a kind of a stigma. Nothing rational, just a distrust of what was not the “norm”. Xenophobia – if you’d like to give it a name.

After almost four decades of a seemingly mis-spent life, it mercifully stopped having a bearing on the way I see myself.  I found that once I could love, like and accept the woman in the mirror, I could do the same with the people around me. If we could weave a pattern of every mind boggling human facet, containing the image of God -  what a tapestry that would be! 

I have come to truly love people. Not in the sense that I want to be around them, rub shoulders and probe their fascinating beings and doings all the time. I cherish our remoteness. I appreciate the natural occasional brushes with other mountain dwellers that this life-style affords. The freedom to still stop my car and offer a ride to workers and wanderers at the roadside without fear. And (at times) to enjoy the intimacy those moments afford, with someone I would otherwise not be likely to have a conversation. I welcome the weekly arrival of the gentle, comely Xhosa woman who uncomplainingly cleans our cabin. Not only for that reason. I have found to my surprise that I have come to love her, and not only because she gets rid of the dust and dirt and dog hair in our home... I want to share my freedom with her - show her the peace of heaven I carry inside me.  The lanky, easy going man who helps us tame the piece of wilderness we live on, makes me smile inside. He is so refreshingly unaffected, so full of willingness and acquiescence. I long for the day that he may walk free of the superstition and false believes which hold sway over his life.

I do still have trouble liking some people, but I have not doubt that there are quite a few individuals who feel the same about me!

As for all our wonderful diversity - we were made by One loving Creator God through Christ Jesus. "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made." (John 1:1-3). His children. Breathed on with His love. Children He longs for – continuously. Acceptable - because of what He did on the cross. Requiring nothing else, but repentant hearts and acceptance of Him as a personal Saviour.

Jesus, given his embedded Jewish culture, could not be colour blind. And neither should we. God created ethnicity and the various national cultures of the world. But human beings invented "race". "Whites", "blacks", "Asian", "Indians", etc. are the product of imperialism and colonisation. Europeans created "whiteness" and "race". Colour  "blindness" ignores the beauty of God's cultural diversity.

By God’s design, you are valuable and uniquely reflect who He is to the world.

Your ethnic background is not an accident. God gave it to you. You may carry your “uniqueness” into eternity.

Just look at this amazing glimpse given to us in Revelation 7: 9-10:

After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. And they all cried out in a loud voice:

Salvation belongs to our God,
who sits on the throne,
and to the Lamb

What a picture! What a promise! And each of us fits beautifully into that magnificent masterpiece. Not because of the way we were made. 
But for what God intended us to be.