Happy holidays

Given that it is the week of Christmas, we have one daughter’s birthday on Thursday and the other daughter’s birthday eleven days later with Christmas, a holiday, and New Year in between, I am not going to add to the stress by pushing myself to come up with blog posts for a couple of weeks. So I hope you folks all have happy holidays and a great Christmas. Feel free to visit Words of Eternal Life (the old name for this blog, just visit the Home page) and poke around. Hopefully in the new year I will have some new, fresh content to post!

Abide in Christ

I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.
(John 15:5 ESV)

In my previous post I referred to abiding in Christ. In a refreshingly simple and real post, Stephen Altrogge reminds us that abiding in Christ is The Simple Solution For Producing Fruit. We don’t need to stress over doing all the right things to ‘be a good Christian’, we need to abide in Him.

Under the shadow of death

Click here for the story of this picture.

… the people dwelling in darkness
have seen a great light,
and for those dwelling in the region and shadow of death,
on them a light has dawned.

(Matthew 4:16 ESV)

Reading this today I paused to consider the horror of living in a place which is described as “the region and shadow of death” – my heart shrinks back from even the idea. Yet, in places such as Sudan, Somalia, Rwanda, Burma, Afghanistan – these could all be described as living under the shadow of death.

I suspect that if seen spiritually my own nation might be similarly described, with greater terror and horror because the death is eternal. Through the same sort of callous indifference which sends poor people to perish of hunger and disease and slaughters entire villages, I am unmoved as people I know plunge into an eternity of hell without making any attempt to warn them. Will I watch and take pictures as others perish?

Yet, there are differences between the soul-need of people around me and he starving people in the world – physically hungry people will generally eat food if it is offered to them. The spiritually starving are more like anorexics, they think they are fine and cannot see that they need to eat.

And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled only to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. 
(2 Corinthians 4:3-4 ESV)

I cannot open their eyes, but I can at least abide in Christ and act in love such that if their eyes are opened by God they will see some dim reflection of Christ in me and know that he is good (Psalm 34:8).

And have mercy on those who doubt; save others by snatching them out of the fire;
(Jude 1:22-23 ESV)

In order to have something to give the spiritually hungry, soul-starving people all around me I must abide in Christ and bear fruit. That fruit may be in the very words I use, spoken or written. The Word of God created the world, used rightly, our words can change the world. The light which has dawned upon those living under the shadow of death is the Word, the One who with a word can say live! and it will happen.

Deadly soul weeds

“Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. (Matthew 13:7 ESV)

“As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful. (Matthew 13:22 ESV)

By natural birth I am a fallen, sinful, broken man. By God’s grace in Jesus Christ I have been grafted in to the kingdom of God (Romans 11:24),  yet that wild, unfruitful, weedy nature needs constant cultivation and pruning to make it grow straight and bear fruit (John 15:1-2).

Tending to my soul is like trying to cultivate a garden in a jungle when I am not even sure what is a weed and what is a valuable crop plant. If I am occupied bringing one sin under captivity to Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5), when I turn around another has sprouted wildly and is choking the life out of my crop.

In the garden around our house we wage a continual battle with weeds and overgrown hedges. The weeds I hate most are the overgrown prickly ones such as blackberry. But, although blackberry grows obscenely fast, smothers other plants, is horrible to cut back and nearly impossible to kill, the worst harm it can do is to scratch me or my kids. Foxglove, on the other hand, is pretty to look at, soft to touch, easy to pull up by the roots and not too invasive. It can also kill me or my children if we were to eat any part of it! It kills by going straight for the heart.

There are things which sprout and grow from the sinful nature in my soul that are nasty, prickly, noxious and everyone rightly hates them. These weeds must be constantly and ruthlessly chopped back and every attempt be made to kill their roots (Matthew 5:29-30). Then there are other things that can grow, such as a habit of passing on ‘interesting information’ about others (Proverbs 18:8),  preferring the company of ‘my type’ of people (James 2:1-4), being ‘mindful’ of the wrong done to me by another (Hebrews 12:15), or being quick to ‘discern’ the weaknesses of other people (Matthew 7:1-5). Such things do not look so nasty as lust or anger, but they will nonetheless poison my heart and should be uprooted whenever I find them taking root. I am very thankful that God is a master vinedresser and knows how to remove the unfruitful, sinful branches from me.

“… and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. (John 15:2 ESV)

Gifts I have noticed this week (185 – 197):

185) Briny wind reminding me of a trip to be with God.
186) The summery smell of lupins.
187) Our kind neighbour who fixed my broken gate latch.
188) A joy-filled wedding.
189) Being able to just quietly go about life.
190) Our Christmas baby of almost 9 years playing ‘Silent Night’ on the violin for our church
191) Finally knowing what I don’t want to be like when I grow up.
192) A good cup of tea.
193) That the desire to praise God and speak of His glory can even overcome my fear of what others might think (sometimes).
194) Kids loving Ann Voskamp’s ‘God stories’ before bed.
195) The story of the Fall, which makes sense out of my sinful nature.
196) An old dog frolicking like a puppy after some affection from her master.
197) A bit of physical labour to harvest the bounty of the earth.

Image: Foxglove photo courtesy of wikimedia commons

I am inadequate, God is sufficient

Today I felt my feebleness, my insignificance, my powerlessness to create change and most of all my prayerlessness.

Why? Why were such feelings of inadequacy storming my soul?

Because they are true, and I was being faced with reality as I read an article by Compass Direct News about Christians fearing civilian casualties in Burma as the military junta gears up for a large scale assault upon ethnic troops in Karen State where approximately 40% of the 3.5 million population are Christians. It is widely believed that the ruling military junta are trying to systematically purge the country of minority ethnic and religious groups, meaning that in a predominately Buddhist nation Christians are on the list of those to be eliminated. From the Compass Direct article:

The junta perceives all Christians in ethnic minority states as insurgents, according to the pro-democracy Free Burma Rangers (FBR) relief aid group. The Burmese Army attacked a Christian village in Karen state four months ago, according to the FBR, and on July 23 burned all houses and the state’s largest church in Tha Dah Der village.

The situation for Christians in Burma is dire, especially for Christians who also happen to be in one of the ethnic minority people groups. They are facing one of the largest standing armies in the world, an army which is being given orders to subjugate or eliminate Christian ‘insurgents’. For the proportionally very few Christians in the Shan ethnic group the situation is even more difficult as their neighbours often consider them to be bringers of ill-omens to the village because they do not worship the local gods.

After October’s month of prayer for the Shan people of Burma, I can no longer ignore the suffering of the people of Burma. They are not just a news story. These people are my brothers and sisters, the Christians there are part of my family, I cannot ignore them. But what can I do? I may live in one of the wealthiest nations, have a secure job, have total religious freedom, be a citizen under one of the least corrupt governments in the world, yet I have no power to help the people of Burma. My spare change will change nothing, my good intentions will not stop a single bullet.

However, I am also a citizen with direct access to the most loving, compassionate, merciful, gracious and powerful being. I may be but a little child in the kingdom of God, but Jesus is God’s own Son and He has given me full fellowship and told me to ask for whatever I want in His name and it will be given (John 16:23-24). Therefore, I can do something of utmost significance, I can ask.

I was reminded of this by something else I read in the blogosphere today:

Satan dreads nothing but prayer.  His one concern is to keep the saints from praying.  He fears nothing from prayerless studies, prayerless work, prayerless religion.  He laughs at our toil, he mocks our wisdom, but he trembles when we pray. — Samuel Chadwick (quoted on Tim Challies’ blog).

So, just as Daniel set his face to pray (Daniel 9:3), and Hezekiah prayed (Isaiah 37:15-20) and God answered (Isaiah 37:21-22) and acted (Isaiah 37:36-38),  I also will pray to God in whose hands kings and dictators are His servants (Isaiah 44:28).

In that day you will ask nothing of me. Truly, truly, I say to you, whatever you ask of the Father in my name, he will give it to you. Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full. (John 16:23-24 ESV)

The enemy uses all his power to lead the Christian, and above all the minister, to neglect prayer. He knows that however admirable the sermon may be, however attractive the service, however faithful the pastoral visitation, none of these things can damage him or his kingdom if prayer is neglected. — Andrew Murray

Image source: Free Burma Rangers

Faithful sacrifice

Even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all.
(Philippians 2:17 ESV)

Let me introduce you to one of Jesus’ faithful servants, someone who not only washes the feet of God’s little ones, but their hands, faces and smelly bottoms also. This faithful soul feeds the hungry, clothes the naked, carries the weak, comforts the downcast, and defends those with no voice. All this at great personal cost, she has sacrificed career, finances, sleep, time, and even her own body for those she serves. What amazes and shames me is that in her serving she consistently puts others first before meeting her own legitimate needs.

This amazing woman is my wife, she is selfless in many ways that she is not even aware of. For example; when I get up in the morning I have a shower, then make my breakfast and like to quietly eat it before any of the kids get up. If my little routine is disrupted I am not happy about it. Heather on the other hand will get up to deal with the hungry child who needs his nappy changed, then feed the other kids also, get them dressed, grab a piece of toast on the run and finally rush to get herself ready. Notice the order reversal – I put myself first every step of the way, Heather puts others first every step of the way. This is not isolated to our morning routines, in almost all aspects of our family life this same dynamic occurs, she is my constant reminder of how I fail to even be an unworthy servant:

“Will any one of you who has a servant plowing or keeping sheep say to him when he has come in from the field, ‘Come at once and recline at table’? Will he not rather say to him, ‘Prepare supper for me, and dress properly, and serve me while I eat and drink, and afterward you will eat and drink’? Does he thank the servant because he did what was commanded? So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.’”
(Luke 17:7-10 ESV)

I am too selfish to even be a servant who does his duty, let alone being commended as ‘good and faithful’! (See Matthew 25:23). The true lesson to me here is that my ‘needs’ are not needs at all but rather selfish desires which war with the Spirit enticing me to sin by refusing to put others first. I have before me a living example of selfless love, all the more powerful because I know her weaknesses and exhaustion.

When you are weak my beloved, Jesus shines through you even more strongly as you struggle on in your weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9).

Gifts I have noticed this week [ultimately from God, delivered through Heather] (165 – 184):

Dear Heather, thank you for:
165) Your peaceful presence.
166) Vegetable gardens planted, tended and weeded.
167) Laundry washed, dried and folded.
168) Asking so little when you feel so empty.
169) Clean floors.
170) Your patience and compassion towards the child who torments you (they all take turns!).
171) Meals prepared every day, without fail.
172) Our budget finely balanced.
173) Enduring the endless combing for lice in daughters’ hair
174) A clean bathroom.
175) A warm home.
176) Children taken to appointments with dentists, doctors, dietitians, dermatologists, paediatricians, asthma nurses, violin teachers and many others.
177) Learning an entirely new way of baking for our gluten-free girl.
178) Endless picking up of toys.
179) Dog walking.
180) Squabbles mediated.
181) Great conversations over cups of tea.
182) Courage to confront me when I need it.
183) Grace to let me figure out that I’m wrong and need help.
184) Being my BEST friend EVER.