All posts by Nicky Swart

Cultivate

Verb: to prepare or prepare and use for the raising of crops, to loosen or break up the soil about (growing plants), to foster the growth of, to improve by labor, care, or study, to refine, to encourage

Spring has sprung in the Southern Hemisphere and as such it was time to sow some seeds for my crop of nasturtiums.  I call it a crop, because I grow nasturtiums for the edible flowers they produce.  Living in what is practically a desert, my philosophy is not to waste precious water on any plant, unless it’s useful in some way.

But as any gardener knows, there is always a lot of preparation needed before you even get to put seed in the ground.  Weeding and feeding, turning the soil and preparing the seed bed takes time and effort, but omitting these crucial steps leads to disappointment down the track.

Which brings me to the sad little “flower bed” I share with my neighbour. It’s little more than a bare patch, covered with bark but it yields an enormous amount of weeds.  I often find myself either weeding or applying poison to the weeds, hoping to get on top of the problem.  When I am tending to that patch, I go to the trouble to not only weed my half of the bed, but I apply weed killer or elbow grease to all the weeds.  I would like to think it’s because I am a good neighbour, but truth be told, it’s because I am not a great fan of weeding.  Those weeds, left untended, will soon go to seed and the wind will blow those seeds into the rest of my garden, making the whole situation worse.  

As I was tending those weeds the other day, the Lord spoke to me and the words of Cain came to mind.  The Lord knew that Cain had slaughtered his brother and He asked Cain where Abel was…not because He was after information, but because He was exposing the sin.  Cain answered “am I my brother’s keeper?” 

I was thinking about that, as I was tending my neighbour’s garden.  How often do we, as people professing Jesus as Lord, respond in like manner, even if only in our hearts?  

In my humble opinion, the Church has lost her voice and her authority because instead of cultivating the land, we have allowed the seed of weeds blown over the fence, to take root.  Instead of impacting the world, and setting the standard for integrity and holiness, instead of being the moral compass for our neighbourhoods, cities and nations, we have become polluted and in many cases, overtaken by the world.

Are we not our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers?  Does the Word not teach us that we are a body and that the suffering of one member is the suffering of all?  How did it happen that we, like the world at large, became a people that only look out for #1.  Me, myself and I is king.  We sing and speak about Jesus as being Lord, but do we actually live our lives as a testimony to that?  Jesus Himself said that you will be great only when you learn to be humble, yet Christians are going around tooting their horns more than ever.  How did we come to to this?

1 Corinthians 12: 25  to 27 reads:  “so that there would be no division or discord in the body [that is, lack of adaptation of the parts to each other], but that the parts may have the same concern for one another. And if one member suffers, all the parts share the suffering; if one member is honored, all rejoice with it. Now you [collectively] are Christ’s body, and individually [you are] members of it [each with his own special purpose and function].” Amplified

Jesus identified Himself with us, to the point of dying on the cross and as members of His body, we are to identify with each other.  The apostle Paul admonished the Corinthians with these words:  “Brothers and sisters, when I was with you I found it impossible to speak to you as those who are spiritually mature people, for you are still dominated by the mind-set of the flesh. And because you are immature infants in Christ,  I had to nurse you and feed you with “milk,” not with the solid food of more advanced teachings, because you weren’t ready for it. In fact, you are still not ready to be fed solid food, for you are living your lives dominated by the mind-set of the flesh. Ask yourselves: Is there jealousy among you? Do you compare yourselves with others? Do you quarrel like children and end up taking sides? If so, this proves that you are living your lives centered on yourselves, dominated by the mind-set of the flesh, and behaving like unbelievers. For when you divide yourselves up in groups—a “Paul group” and an “Apollos group” – you’re acting like people without the Spirit’s influence.” (1 Corinthians 3:1 – 4TPT)

If we are honest with ourselves, aren’t we doing the same?  May the Lord have mercy on us and give us the grace we need to grow up and to do it quickly.  I long for the day when our character is more valued than our anointing, integrity is more important than a platform and Christlikeness is our highest pursuit.  Until then, let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the Author and Perfector of our faith, Who, for the joy set before Him, endured the cross.  Now, let’s pick up our own cross and follow Him as we allow Him to be our Lord, as well as our Saviour and Deliverer.  Let us cultivate the soil of our hearts, allowing Holy Spirit to weed and fertilise, to prune and water as He sees fit so that we will bear the fruit of our salvation.

Mothers and Fathers Part Two

Mothers and Fathers Part Two 

Train up a child in the way he should go [teaching him to seek God’s wisdom and will for his abilities and talents], Even when he is old he will not depart from it. Proverbs 22:6 amp

Easter Sunday, 2019, Amanda and I found ourselves sitting on a rickety bench, outside a ramshackle church, listening to snippets of a sermon.  I caught as much of the preaching as my limited command of Bislama allowed.    We were hot and sticky from doing our laundry by hand and the bench felt a little less comfortable by the minute.  We were in the Solomon Islands, in a little village nobody’s probably heard of, and only those who had the pleasure of manual labour in the tropics would  appreciate the level of discomfort our systems, used to air conditioning and icy drinks, were suffering.

As my friend Sereili was preaching, I was having a moment of (spiritual) motherly pride.  I was in awe of the power and passion with which she was preaching as I reminisced about our first meeting.  The shy and quiet girl developed into a formidable woman of God, able to hold her own in any circumstance.

I heard her invite aunty Esther up to share a testimony.  Aunty Esther was our hostess…a lovely, much older lady who was usually dripping with sweat and smelling of wood smoke from slaving over an open fire all day to feed and care for us.  For two weeks aunty Esther slept on a mat in a store room as we were given the honour of sleeping in her bedrooms.  What a woman of God!

It was when I heard her say “in 1977” that my heart dropped.  I whispered to Amanda to get comfortable, for I expected we were going to be on the bench for a long time yet.  I caught very little of the testimony as Solomon’s Bislama is a little different to the Vanuatu version I am more familiar with.  The roar and applause of the people didn’t help either.  They were so excited and we had no idea why.

Later that evening, after they day’s sessions were done and dusted and we settled in for our customary recap of the day, we learned what the ruckus was about.  As it turned out, in 1977 two Australian men came to the village to preach and teach for a few days.  Aunty Esther was a teenager at the time and it was the story of what transpired in those days that had everyone so excited.  As these men preached and taught, a revival broke out in the village and many people, also from surrounding villages came to the Lord.

The church had organised themselves in ministry teams.  There was the evangelists, who would go around the area and tell people about Jesus, there was the healing team who would see to the physical needs.  Once people accepted Jesus, they were referred to the deliverance team and from there the discipling would start until they were ready to join a ministry team.

We were blown away.  One evening, as Aunty Esther played her weathered ukulele, singing the old revival songs which still carried the fire of God I asked her one of the smartest questions I have ever asked of anyone.  I wanted to know how the revival died.  How did they get from that place to where we found them…a church with no power.

The answer was so simple, yet so profound.  Aunty Esther said that the old people refused to teach the young people how to do the work.  The children were ministered to, but never taught how to do it themselves.  When the old people died, she said, the revival died with them.  What a terrible, terrible shame.  What a loss.

It got me wondering how much of what the Lord is depositing in us is going to die with us when our time comes.  What holds us back from passing on what the Lord is teaching us?  For some, I believe, it’s insecurity.  When you don’t believe that you have anything of value to impart the body misses out on the benefit of your unique gifts, talents and anointing.  For other I believe it’s fear.  The “what if” is so much louder than the “what if I don’t”.  Nobody likes to be in the receiving end of rejection but I have learned from much experience that rejection is not fatal.  Giving up is though.

The last group would be those who are protective of their platform, of their “territory”.  It’s only when we give up on the notion of “my” ministry, “my” gift, “my” whatever and recognise that we are all but small parts of a large body and Christ is the head.  We are to be about our Father’s business, not building our own platforms, extending His kingdom, not ours.

I believe during this trying season, the Lord is doing some deep work in many people.  He is depositing wisdom and revelation in us as He is preparing His church for the coming harvest.  He is exposing everything in us that will cause us to abort what He is wanting to birth.  Let us have a posture of “I do me, and you do you”.  Allow the fire of affliction to purify you and leave the rest to  the Lord.  Jesus is more than able to prepare His bride.  There is purpose to what God is doing…it is so that we will be ready for our Bridegroom’s return and so that we are prepared and equipped to help others get ready.

***

“Behold, I am going to send My messenger, and he will prepare and clear the way before Me. And the Lord [the Messiah], whom you seek, will suddenly come to His temple; the Messenger of the covenant, in whom you delight, behold, He is coming,” says the Lord of hosts.  But who can endure the day of His coming? And who can stand when He appears? For He is like a refiner’s fire and like launderer’s soap [which removes impurities and uncleanness].  He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and He will purify the sons of Levi [the priests], and refine them like gold and silver, so that they may present to the Lord [grain] offerings in righteousness. Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the Lord as in the days of old and as in ancient years.                                Malachi 3: 1-4 AMP

Mothers and Fathers

For although you could have countless babysitters in Christ telling you what you’re doing wrong, you don’t have many fathers who correct you in love. But I’m a true father to you, for I became your father when I gave you the gospel and brought you into union with Jesus, the Anointed One. So I encourage you, my children, to follow the example that I live before you. 1 Cor. 4:15, 16 TPT

For even if you were to have ten thousand teachers [to guide you] in Christ, yet you would not have many fathers [who led you to Christ and assumed responsibility for you], for I became your father in Christ Jesus through the good news [of salvation]. So I urge you, be imitators of me [just as a child imitates his father].  1 Cor. 4:15, 16 AMP

A couple of weeks ago I woke up with a sudden and uncharacteristic homesickness for New Zealand…uncharacteristic because I don’t often feel homesick for anyone or any place.  When you travel as much as I do, meeting lovely people everywhere and having to say goodbyes more often than you care to, you learn to love where you are at, to make the most of time with people and to let go when you have to move on.  But on this day I longed to just sit with a very precious and deeply appreciated spiritual mother who lives there and I recalled many profound conversations we had.  I had hoped to see her this year, but Covid 19 clipped my wings, as it did many others’. 

As I prayerfully meditated on these emotions, Holy Spirit reminded me of the verses I quoted at the start.  He started to impress upon my heart that there are many spiritual children longing for mothers and fathers to arise and give them shelter under their wings.  Many of these ones have a longing that they cannot even express in words, they hold their breath, but they cannot articulate what they are waiting for.  

There is an old saying that when the student is ready, the master will come.  I believe the same is true right now.  The “children” are ready, they are waiting for the mothers and fathers to be revealed.  If we are honest, we have to admit that so much of what is wrong in the world can be attributed to the fatherlessness of the generation we live in.  I believe that much of what is wrong in the church today can also be attributed to the lack of true spiritual mothers and fathers.  

In the first seven verses of chapter 2 of his letter to Titus, an early missionary and Church leader,  Paul says: “Your duty is to teach them to embrace a lifestyle that is consistent with sound doctrine. Lead the male elders into disciplined lives full of dignity and self-control. Urge them to have a solid faith, generous love, and patient endurance.

Likewise with the female elders, lead them into lives free from gossip and drunkenness and to be teachers of beautiful things. This will enable them to teach the younger women to love their husbands, to love their children, and to be self-controlled and pure, taking care of their household and being devoted to their husbands. By doing these things the word of God will not be discredited. Likewise, guide the younger men into living disciplined lives for Christ.  Above all, set yourself apart as a model of a life nobly lived. With dignity, demonstrate integrity in all that you teach. (TPT)

Paul is urging Titus to teach the older men and women how to walk in integrity, consistent with sound doctrine, so that they are are able to become spiritual parents to the younger men and women, so that subsequent generations will grow up and walk in the fear of the Lord.  Most importantly, he tells Titus to be sure that he models, not teach, noble living.  

What can we take away from this?  If you are in any position of leadership make sure you demonstrate integrity in all that you teach, and in all that you are.  Be dignified in all you that do and remember that you are called to model Christlikeness.  It’s not so much about what you do, or even that you are doing what you are doing…it’s about HOW you do what you do.

For the elders it is necessary to look around for those you can parent in the faith.  I count myself into this category as much as into the first.  We need to be intentionally looking for those younger in the faith to impart wisdom to.

For the younger ones it is imperative to pray for the right connections.  Spiritual mothers and fathers will reproduce after their own kind, therefor it is crucial to look for the fruit that sets them apart as good models.  If you see any fruit in their lives that you don’t want to see in yours, stay clear and of course, the opposite is also true.  If you see something that you like, be bold and ask if you can hang around them a little.

What happens if we get this right?  Remember what Paul wrote to the Ephesians?  In chapter 4, verses 1 to 6 he says:

As a prisoner of the Lord, I plead with you to walk holy, in a way that is suitable to your high rank, given to you in your divine calling. With tender humility and quiet patience, always demonstrate gentleness and generous love toward one another, especially toward those who may try your patience. Be faithful to guard the sweet harmony of the Holy Spirit among you in the bonds of peace, being one body and one spirit, as you were all called into the same glorious hope of divine destiny.  For the Lord God is one, and so are we, for we share in one faith, one baptism, and one Father. And He is the perfect Father who leads us all, works through us all, and lives in us all!

When we get this right, when we teach one another and hold ourselves and each other to a higher standard, we all come into our divine destiny…to be one as Abba Father, Jesus and Holy Spirit is one…the glorious, spotless Bride.

Freeze!

Huddy is two.  A very typical two year old, he gets into everything and he is a sponge soaking up every word and action of the adults around him.  He is a bundle of laughs most of the time, but as a healthy and inquisitive boy, he gets himself into trouble too.  Our little man loves to explore the boundaries, something that he is supposed to do.  He tests the strength of the shelves on the book case as much as he tests my patience by drawing on the furniture with a wax crayon.  Both things are healthy and if he did not do these things, we would be worried.  Two years olds are suppose to be adventurous and they are suppose to say “mine” and “no” a lot.  He is learning autonomy and how to use free will.  Often he will say no to something he really want to say yes to, just because that is what two year olds do.

Often times the consequence of his  actions brings him pain.  Bumps and scrapes and especially stubbed toes are the norm right about now, as it is with most toddlers.  It is as it is supposed to be.  The sometimes painful consequence of his actions is not punishment, but opportunity for growth and learning.  The hardest part of being ouma (Afrikaans word for grandmother) is to allow him the luxury of learning by experience.  I want to protect him from harm as best I can.

Something that he does that causes my heart to skip a beat more often than not, is his tendency to run off when we are outside.  He considers it great fun having me run after him, yelling “stop!”.  Instead of stopping, he goes as fast as his little legs can carry him, oblivious to danger.  Our job is to keep him safe until such a time as he is mature enough to recognise danger for himself, without breaking his adventurous spirit in the process.

Because I understand the psyche of a two year old, I have come up with another strategy that I am going to put into practice when we are out and about.  Instead of yelling for him to stop, we are turning it into a game.  Ouma yells “freeze” and no-one is allowed to move until I say so.  It probably won’t work every time, but I am upping the ante with a few little prizes.  You freeze every time, you get to pick from a small selection of toys.  It’s going to be a work in progress.

It reminds me of the Father.  How often do we read the Word and see a scripture that seems just too restrictive?  How often do we hear Holy Spirit say “freeze” but we ignore the command and pay the price?  Often time we want to be delivered from the enemy, when the enemy has nothing to do with it.  Our pain is caused by the consequence of our actions.  We engage our free will, which is good and right.  It’s a God-given blessing to have a choice, but until we are mature enough to make healthy and safe choices for ourselves, we need the boundaries that the Lord sets for us.  The more we mature to walk in obedience, the less restrictive those boundaries will seem.  Instead we begin to realise that every “no”, “ not now” or “ take care” from the Father is an act of immense love.  He wants to protect us from dangers that He can see, even when we resent what we see as an infringement upon our free will.  His intention is not to break our spirit, but to lead us into a deeper walk, into maturity and into a place where we walk in wisdom, lead by Holy Spirit, by choice.

Sadly though, often times as the children of God, we react like two year olds.  We say no when we know we should be saying yes, and vice versa, or we see something in the distance and we run after it headlong when Abba wants us to wait for Him.  Skinned knees and stubbed toes often result, as does egg on our faces.  We resent the Lord’s discipline and we regard the consequence of our action as punishment, rather than thank Him for the opportunity to learn and to grow in grace.

I once heard it said that a smart person learns from his own mistakes, but a wise person learns from other people’s mistakes.  Yet we tend to think that we will be the exception to the rule…we will get away with the thing that caused so many others to fall.  In this season, as in every other season, we need to grow up and earnestly seek after wisdom.  We are walking a road we have not traveled before.  We need to heed the voice of the Lord, saying “freeze” or “this is the way, walk in it” (Is. 30:21).  When Holy Spirit says freeze, it’s to keep us safe, but also to give us an opportunity to comply.  We get to choose to do the right thing, we get to choose obedience rather than defying Him and with making the right choice, we get a reward.

The other day, Oupa (you guessed it, Afrikaans for grandpa) asked Huddy what his name was.  His answer?  Good boy!  Because that’s what he hears every time he chooses obedience.  That’s what we are striving for, isn’t it.  To hear Abba Father say “You have done well, and proven yourself to be my loyal and trustworthy servant. Because you were faithful to manage a small sum, now I will put you in charge of much, much more. You will experience the delight of your master, who will say to you, “Come celebrate with me!”  (Matt. 25:23 TPT), just as the wealthy man said to his faithful servant in the parable.

Our obedience is an act of worship.  It is ascribing the highest honour to One Who is worthy to receive it.  So whether Abba is asking you to do something or whether He is asking you to stop and wait, heed Him.  There is a great reward waiting for those that overcome…especially when we overcome our natural inclination for rebellion.

It is said of Jesus, in the book of Hebrews…”But even though He was a wonderful Son, He learned to listen and obey through all His sufferings.  And after being proven perfect in this way He has now become the source of eternal salvation to all those who listen to Him and obey.” (Heb. 5: 8,9) 

Jesus goes on to say: 

“What good does it do for you to say I am your Lord and Master if what I teach you is not put into practice? Let me describe the one who truly follows me and does what I say. He is like a man who chooses the right place to build a house and then lays a deep and secure foundation. When the storms and floods rage against that house, it continues to stand strong and unshaken through the tempest, for it has been wisely built on the right foundation.    Luke 6:46-48 (TPT)

Let’s encourage one another in this season of uncertainty, where storms rage in us and around us, to choose obedience above all.  Let Jesus be Lord and Master, as well as Saviour and Friend.  Selah.

Two Voices

I love the novel “The Screwtape Letters”, by C. S. Lewis.  For those of you who haven’t read it, it’s the tale of Uncle Screwtape, a senior demon who instructs his nephew Wormwood in the art of beguiling his assigned human, or “patient”.  The aim is to get the “patient” away from the “Enemy” and steer him towards “Our Father Below”.  The letters they pass back and forth contain detailed instructions from uncle to nephew, who in turn responds with feedback on how his assignment is progressing.

The reason I mention this book, is because as I was out walking with my husband this morning, my mind started to wander.  We were praying as we walked, as is our custom and one of the topics was giving thanks for the gift of time.  We consider it a blessing to be able to spend time at home.  We don’t feel trapped or stuck, in fact we see this as a gift from the Lord.  My husband has an hour to walk with me, rather than commute to work.  I cook “takeaway” meals to bless my children with.  I bake treats for my son to take with him when he’s working away from home.  I am able to take care of my grandson while his mum is working.  I consider all of this a privilege and right now that is how I worship.  My ministry has shrunk to my family and the few close friends I connect with via technology.

This sounds good and right, doesn’t it?  If it wasn’t for two pesky voices, that is.  You might not have considered this, but bear with me, because I bet you are very familiar with these twin demons and as I continue you will recognize their voices. They are twins…two scrawny little demons with squeaky voices, not highly valued and honored amongst the demon ranks.  They don’t have any ambition to become principalities and nobody writes books about them either.  In fact, they are so obscure that Christians seldom recognize their evil plots and often collude with them, totally unaware of the damage they are causing.  Remember the little foxes of Song of Solomon 2 v 15?  

You must catch the troubling foxes,
those sly little foxes that hinder our relationship.
For they raid our budding vineyard of love
to ruin what I’ve planted within you.
Will you catch them and remove them for me?
We will do it together.

These two are foxes indeed…sly, conniving and fast.  Their names?  Should and Should-not.  To get back to my walk.  I started to hear this conversation in my head.  Should and Should-not were talking strategy and in the style of C.S. Lewis, I would love to share some of that with you.

                                                ***

“So how can we torment those Christians today?”, Should asked Should-not.  It was obvious that he was enjoying the thought of causing some havoc.  No surprises there.  “Not sure”, Should-not said.  Every demon in hell knew he wasn’t the smart twin, and he was a little bit scared of being clipped around the ear, as often happened when he gave Should an answer he didn’t like.

“Well, we know they’re all holed up in their homes at the moment.  It should be easy to mess with their heads.”  Should sounded very confident, but Should-not wasn’t convinced.  “You do remember they have not a spirit of fear, but of power, love and a sound mind?  That hasn’t changed, has it?”  “Should-not, do you always have to be so negative?  Glass half full!  I keep telling you, you lack ambition.  One of these days…so help me!”  Should-not ducked, just in case.

“Now pay attention, Should-not.  I am going to spell it out for you.  This is the plan…we are going to get them to do it to one another.”  “Should, you are brilliant!” Should-not said.  “How are we going to do it?”  

“To start, we are going to inspire them to put guilt and condemnation on each other.  If they start telling each other what should and should not happen while they are having their time out, they will turn on each other before you can say ‘hell and damnation’, that much is sure.”  “Secondly, if we can get them to focus on everything they are missing out on, they will start to grumble and moan and forget all about the blessings they have.  Remember the Israelites?  When we got them to see desert and manna and manna and desert, they soon forgot about God’s provision and complained.  It still gives me goosebumps to think of all those quail!  Man, how funny was that?!  Our greatest accomplishment so far.  Boy, they were in such trouble.”  Should was now laughing so hard, he almost folded double.

“Yes, Should, yes, but they have become much smarter now.  I hope you have a better plan.”  

“Oh, you of little faith!  Should-not, I have a brilliant plan.  We are going to use this social isolation thing against them.  What do Christians like more than to correct each other online?  Or in person, for that matter.  Everyone thinks he or she is an authority on the Bible and they don’t think twice about correcting people they don’t know.  We are just going to set them loose.  If we can get someone to post something a little controversial, sooner or later a cat fight will break out.  All we have to do is sit back and enjoy the show.”  Should looked very smug.  He continued: “we will get someone to post an opinion on what everyone else should or should not be doing. It always works.  These people are so easily offended, it’s hilarious.”

“What do you mean Should?”  Should-not was obviously a little slow on the uptake.  Should was getting a little bit frustrated, but decided to humor Should-not.  “You know how they are not supposed to meet on Sundays?  Well, if some do and word gets out there will be a stir, wouldn’t there.  Some will defend them; others will condemn them and the whole world will be watching.  It’s a flawless plan.”  

“And if we can get someone to tell everyone else they should be doing more to evangelize, or worship or read the Word instead of watching Netflix or take the dog for a walk, they will feel guilt and condemnation when they rest or enjoy themselves” Should-not said.

“Should-not, now you’re getting the picture!  Once they feel guilty, they will do more and more, or beat themselves up when they enjoy a walk, some quiet time or an activity with their children.  The busier they get, the harder they will work, the more stressed they feel and the easier our job is. They will turn on those who are at rest, who get off their hamster wheels and they will do our job for us. They will tell everyone else what they should and should not do.  No-one will even think to speak to the Spirit before doing anything.  We have to stop them from entering rest.”  Should leaned back, confident that his plan was fool proof.”

                                         ***

I was thinking on these things as I too heard Should and Should-not whisper in my ear.  Yesterday, as I was reading a novel while watching my grandson nap, I heard the voice “you should be doing Bible study, instead of reading a novel.”  I heard Should-not when I turned off the worship music to enjoy the absolute quiet house when my work-from-home, always-talking-on-the-phone husband went into the office.  I heard Should loud and clear through social media, trying to put guilt and condemnation on me because we haven’t done a Facebook live session, haven’t emailed the missionaries I won’t be visiting this year to check up on their welfare and I haven’t done anything to bless my neighbors in this time, amongst a myriad of other things.  So much I should be doing, according to people I have never met.

So…Should, Should-not…get thee behind me, devils.  I am going to take a break and put my feet up.  I am going to enjoy every moment of this God-given opportunity to recharge my batteries, reconnect with my loved ones, I am going to enter the rest of the Lord and take naps.  Regardless of what you two have to say, I know I am loved for who I am, not for what I do, and for now, I intend to do nothing unless Holy Spirit directs me to do it.  

Overwhelmed

But those who wait for Yahweh’s grace will experience divine strength.They will rise up on soaring wings and fly like eagles, run their race without growing weary, and walk through life without giving up.  Isaiah 40:31 TPT

I am sitting here recovering from a mild meltdown on the inside…as I have been the proverbial graceful swan above the surface, but paddling like mad underneath. Like so many of us, I am having trouble adjusting to my new normal.  In a few short months I have gone from a long season of peace and quiet, with lots of empty hours to fill with studying the Word, reading inspiring books, worshipping to my hearts content and generally just hanging out with the Lord and my own thoughts to being busy and occupied with many things.

I feel like I have fallen headlong into chaos and to be honest, I have trouble adjusting.  I am feeling overwhelmed by chores, to-do lists and my guilty conscience.  Often times we feel out of control when our circumstances change, whether it’s the arrival of a new baby, the challenge of a new job or city or a myriad of things that vie for our attention.  There are so many voices crying out for attention and the loudest of all is the voice of the accuser, telling us we are not enough…not doing enough, not giving enough, not serving enough, not Christian enough…just not enough.

Another thing that’s bothering me is the fear that if I am not vigilant, soon I will become accustomed to life as it is now and not having or spending the time in worship, or reading the Word or even praying wouldn’t matter much anymore.  

Therefor I find myself in need of preaching to my own soul.  Like David said to his soul, I say to mine “Take courage. Remember when you used to be right out front leading the procession of praise when the great crowd of worshipers gathered to go into the presence of the Lord? You shouted with joy as the sound of passionate celebration filled the air and the joyous multitude of lovers honored the festival of the Lord!” “So then, my soul, why would you be depressed? Why would you sink into despair? Just keep hoping and waiting on God, your Savior. For no matter what, I will still sing with praise, living before his face is my saving grace!  (Psalm 42:4, 5 TP)

I love the mystical element of our faith.  There is so much of God, and of the way He works and moves, that is incomprehensible and I am very happy not to know everything. I am comfortable to put some things in my “God knows” box but I also realise that sometimes we need to get practical…so I am formulating a plan.  I hope by sharing mine, this will be helpful to someone who is also feeling totally overwhelmed right now.

Step 1:  Give up control.  

This seems so elementary but I realise feeling overwhelmed is the manifestation of my need to control the situation I find myself in.  I can’t control when people return my phone calls, do their bit on the projects we are collaborating on or even when the letting agent is going to call regarding the house we applied for.  I have to practice patience.  When my emotions boil over, I acknowledge them, I use them as a barometer of how much I am doing in my own strength and then I turn them over to the Lord. 

Step 2:  Wait well.

While I am waiting on people, I can wait well by turning my attention away from the emotions I feel and focus on the Lord for a few minutes.  Something as simple as sitting down, closing my eyes and just turning my attention inward, to where Holy Spirit dwells, can return peace and calm to my soul, therefor I give myself permission to just be for a while.

Step 3:  Worship

Often times, when I feel emotionally frayed, I find sound disturbing and I tend not to fill the atmosphere around me with music, which is a mistake.  When gentle worship music fills the atmosphere, my inner atmosphere changes too.  Remember Saul and David?  David’s soothing music calmed Saul’s disturbed soul.  We can also tap into soothing, healing music to help us focus our attention on the goodness of the Lord.

Step 4:  Ask for more grace

The Lord promised that when we ask for bread, He won’t give us stones.  When we are stretched beyond what we think we can endure, crying out for grace is the best thing we can do.  Understanding that grace is the power given by God to help us overcome obstacles, deal with temptation and the divine energy we need to sustain our life of prayer and worship, why would He not give it when we ask? 

Let’s take a moment…Abba Father, I ask for grace upon grace.  Give me the strength to endure, empower me to overcome my frayed emotions and help my spirit to stay sweet, kind and gentle in the midst of frustration.  Stir up in me the desire to pray, worship and enjoy fellowship with You.  Let Your deep call to the deep in me.

Step 5:  Find community

I am sure I am not the only person to self-isolate when I feel overwhelmed and stretched but the Lord puts us in families for a reason.  There’s an old proverb “sorrow shared, is sorrow halved” and it’s especially true for us as Christians.  We are to be our brother’s keeper and I feel that it is particularly unkind to people who love us when we deny them the opportunity to show us love and care.  I know I feel terrible when I hear that someone has been going through a situation where I could have been of help, had I only known.  I for one, am going to lay down my pride (let’s call it what it is) and ask for help when I need it.

Friends always show their love. What are relatives for if not to share trouble?        Proverbs 17:17 GNT

I’ll sign off with one last greeting…shalom shalom. May the peace of the Lord be with you, and also with me.

Holy Land

When you succeed, we will celebrate and shout for joy. Flags will fly when victory is yours!
Yes, God will answer your prayers and we will praise him! Psalm 20:5 TPT

So here we are, Amanda and I, tucked up in bed, in a very cold and wet Tel Aviv, Israel. We have been reminiscing and reflecting on the past ten days, walking the streets of Tel Aviv, Jaffa and Old Jerusalem. We have dipped our fingers in the Dead Sea, we have climbed mountains and what feels like a million steps. We ate enough bread, hummus and pastries to feed a small village and we have laughed and cried, sometimes at the same time. We made new friends, and truth be told, as (sometimes) less than sociable gals, we have had to grow in grace as part of a large group.

This morning, over coffee, we talked about the highlights of our trip…how many there were! Dancing on the Sea of Galilee set the tone for our trip. We were determined to worship Jesus, to raise flags to declare His victory everywhere we went and on a boat, in the middle of the Sea where Jesus calmed the storm, we worshipped until He calmed the storms in us.

Gazing at the steps leading up to Caiaphas’s house, where Jesus was dragged along, knowing He was about to take on the sin of all mankind, the tears that stared to flow in the pit where He was kept continued. I can recount many profound places, tell many stories, but what I want to share is the impressions left by the women who journeyed with us for a while.

At Caiaphas’s house, standing in the pit where Jesus was repeatedly hoisted up to be questioned, just to be dropped down again both Amanda and I were overcome by tears. He suffered much, in silence, and yet we complain so easily. Then two more ladies joined us in a group hug, weeping with us. Jesus did this by Himself, yet He made a way for us to be family…we don’t have to weep alone.

There were a few moments laying face down on a small part of the original Via Dolorosa, feeling the bitter cold seeping into our bones, knowing we were laying on a place where His blood was spilled, we were utterly undone by the magnitude of His suffering. I could hear weeping all around me, but what will stay with me is the older lady, walking with two clutches and a knee brace, rushing up wet, slippery steps to keep up with the group answering my question whether she was okay with “after what Jesus did for me, I will not complain”. She was a rock star! Amanda and I vowed to remind each other of the cold, cold floor any time we are tempted to complain and remember a lady giving Jesus her best shot.

Then there was a thermos of hot chocolate after a wet and cold visit to the garden tomb and Golgotha, carried far and lovingly passed around from one cold hand to another, treats being shared, warm items of clothing exchanged that spoke more to my heart than the empty grave we just visited. I saw a glimpse of what the early church must have been like…having all things in common, sharing what they had and doing it with joyful hearts. Jesus wasn’t in that grave, He is alive in hearts and His presence manifests when we love on each other.

Going back in time was an awesome experience, visiting places where Jesus walked and raising flags in His honour on the walls of Jerusalem, in front of the Menorah earmarked for the new temple, on the Sea of Galilee, at the pool of Siloam, at the Garden of Gethsemane and during baptisms at the river Jordan, even praying and worshipping in a building 20 storeys high, overlooking Jerusalem was unforgettable and profound but what made my heart sing more than anything else was seeing women get free in worship, seeing the impact Holy Spirit was making on hearts and again realising Jesus is alive, actively working in us and through us and that death had been overcome once and for all, right here in this place.

I will finish with the Aaronic blessing…God bless you and keep you, God smile on you and gift you, God look you full in the face and make you prosper. (Numbers 6:24 – 26 MSG)

From Israel, our heartfelt greeting…Shalom Shalom

20/20 Vision

If you have been anywhere near a church, listened to a sermon online or followed Christians on social media you would surely have heard someone prophesying about 2020 being the year where the Lord will grant us perfect sight.  I am excited…I for one often pray for my spiritual eyes to be enlightened.  I don’t want to be stumbling along in darkness but the reality is that often times we don’t see the next step, let alone the long term plan.

I believe that as human beings we are always looking for road markers, signs and confirmation that we are on the right track.  This is noble indeed, but it’s also the reason we get sidetracked, redirected or often waylaid altogether.  The opinions and revelation of others might replace the Word of God more often than we care to admit.  Our emotions might be speaking louder than our faith and many times we are able to quote with great accuracy what someone preached, but we have no idea what the Lord’s opinion is on the topic.  When “my pastor says…” becomes more important than “the Lord says…” we are getting into dangerous territory.

For a number of years now, in order to have 20/20 vision, I have had to wear corrective lenses.  I am no longer able to legally drive without my prescription glasses.  This is the reality for many people and we accept it as part of maturing.  I have come to appreciate my glasses, as they enable me to safely navigate my way, I am able to see details I will surely miss without them and I am able to read without effort, expanding my knowledge and understanding.

The Lord, in His infinite wisdom, has given us His Word and if we are smart enough we will use and appreciate it in the same way.  The Lord has always wanted us to have 20/20 vision, to see clearly through the lenses of love, mercy and grace.  The Lord’s heart for us is to see what He sees and we can have our spiritual eyes opened, but my suspicion is that we are hoping that it will be by divine intervention, a godly snap of fingers, instead of a thorough study of His Word.

Open my eyes that I may see wonderful things in Your law (Ps 119:18) should be the cry of our hearts.  Who would like to hear the rebuke
Do you still not see or understand? Are your hearts hardened? Do you have eyes but fail to see, and ears but fail to hear? 
(Mark 8:17-18).  

My prayer for us all is that this year we will develop a deeper love for the Word of God, that Holy Spirit will stir in us a deep longing to see the world around us through the lens of God’s Word and that we would become intimately acquainted with Jesus as the Word made flesh.  I pray that our first thought, when we need guidance, direction or confirmation, would be to search out the scriptures, instead of another prophetic word.  The Lord has already spoken on every topic we could possibly need direction for.  May this be the year that we become more and more acquainted with the heart of the Father, as it is expressed in the Bible.  May the Lord give us eyes that see…


Peace

A child has been born for us; a son has been given to us.  The responsibility of complete dominion will rest on his shoulders, and his name will be: The Wonderful One!  The Extraordinary Strategist!  The Mighty God!  The Father of Eternity!  The Prince of Peace!

Great and vast is his dominion.  He will bring immeasurable peace and prosperity.  He will rule on David’s throne and over David’s kingdom to establish and uphold it by promoting justice and righteousness from this time forward and forevermore.  The marvellous passion that is the Lord Yahweh, Commander of the Angel Armies, has for his people will ensure that it is finished!         Isaiah 9: 6, 7 TPT

What a year it’s been!  Amanda and I traveled to nations we have not been to before and experienced breakthroughs and victories that left us speechless.  We have learned, we have lived, we have learned to love more. We were challenged and at times, even mystified. There were obstacles to overcome and tests to pass. Aren’t there always? Regardless, there is a steadfast promise we have in Christ…as Isaiah prophesied long ago in chapter 9, verse 7…of the increase of his government and its peace there will be no end (NIV).

In the midst of turmoil and uncertainty we are firmly anchored in the peace that Jesus left us as the ultimate gift.  Remember John 14:27?  “I leave the gift of peace with you – my peace.  Not the paragliding peace given by the world, but my perfect peace.  Don’t yield to fear or be troubled in your hearts – but instead be courageous.” 

Right now my world is in turmoil, just like many other people.  Like many others, my husband lost his job three months ago, and for the first time since we were married we are experiencing what so many people face…financial crises and the uncertainty it brings.  A week ago we took a leap of faith, used a large chunk of our savings and moved interstate, driving 3 500 km.  We are exhausted physically, mentally and emotionally and the temptation to give in to despair, to fear and to self pity is ever present.  My family members are dealing with the loss of a son, brother, father and husband, I have friends who are also in mourning or going through the same crises as we are.

Yet, in the midst of all of this we are at peace.  How is that even possible?  Only when you are intimately acquainted with the Prince of Peace.  I believe that many people wait until crises strikes before they seek Jesus as Peace.  We know him as Saviour and as Redeemer.  Many have met him as Healer and Deliverer, but peace they seek in antidepressants and counseling, or in extravagant holidays, weekend breakaways or for some, in the desperate measure of the bottle or a needle.

Don’t misunderstand me…there is a place for medication and talking things through with a professional.  Holidays and time-outs are healthy and necessary and even the odd retail therapy or coffee date with a friend can do wonders for the soul BUT deep, lasting peace, the kind that carries us through trauma, uncertainty, loss and crises is only found in Jesus Christ.

We have this wonderful promise that Jesus will bring immeasurable peace and prosperity…he will cause our soul to prosper in the midst of turmoil! Dear friends, I don’t know your stories.  I don’t know what you have lost, what you fear, who or what you carry as a burden, especially in this season that’s all about family celebrations.  I don’t know how lonely you feel, even though you may be surrounded by hordes of people and I don’t know how close you are to giving up hope.  But this I do know…Abba Father knows and he has prepared a way for us to be at peace…with him, with ourselves and with the world.

As we are getting ready to celebrate the birth of Jesus, may you (re)discover the gift of peace.  The One who came in peace, who is Peace, who left us his peace and who will expand peace in us until all our fear, all our worry, all our pain and all our suffering has been overcome, just like he overcame the world for us.

By their fruit

How often do we hear Christians say “test the fruit” or “you will know them by the fruit”, quoting the words of Jesus as found in Matthew 7. 

Let’s look at the portion of scripture in context.  It starts with the heading – False prophets – and carries on from there.  Let’s pick it up from verse 5… “Constantly be on your guard against phony prophets. They come disguised as lambs, appearing to be genuine, but on the inside they are like wild, ravenous wolves! 16 You can spot them by their actions, for the fruits of their character will be obvious. You won’t find sweet grapes hanging on a thorn bush, and you’ll never pick good fruit from a tumbleweed. 17–19 So if the tree is good, it will produce good fruit; but if the tree is bad, it will bear only rotten fruit and it deserves to be cut down and burned. 20 Look at the obvious fruit of their lives and ministries, and then you’ll know whether they are true or false.” (TPT)

It seems to me though, that “testing the fruit” has come to mean “look at the accomplishment, the fame, the profile, the gifts, the manifestations or the following and decide whether someone is of God”.

What really strikes me from the quoted passage is that the fruit of someone’s character is what distinguishes them as a true prophet of God, not the level of anointing, the proliferation of signs and wonders or the gifts operating in their lives. Romans 11:29 teaches us that the gifts and calling of the Lord are ours, regardless of our actions. 

For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable [for He does not withdraw what He has given, nor does He change His mind about those to whom He gives His grace or to whom He sends His call]. (AMP)

This can lead us down a path of destruction if we judge a minister according to the gifts and anointing manifesting through them, or if we look at ourselves and decide that the Lord is okay with our flawed character because He is using us to perform signs, wonders and miracles.  How often are we devastated when we learn of a minister of the gospel who are exposed and grievous sin is brought to the light.  Have they not been demonstrating good fruit by the signs, miracles and wonders that they performed?  Have they not been praying for the sick and see them healed?  Raised the dead even?

Further on in Matthew 7 are some troubling verses… 21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter into the realm of heaven’s kingdom. It is only those who persist in doing the will of my heavenly Father. 22 On the day of judgment many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, don’t you remember us? Didn’t we prophesy in your name? Didn’t we cast out demons and do many miracles for the sake of your name?’ 23 But I will have to say to them, ‘Go away from me, you lawless rebels! I’ve never been joined to you!’ (TPT)  These verses should put the fear of God in us!

What fruit do we judge then?  I believe the answer lies in Galatians 5: 22 to 26.

22–23 But the fruit[ produced by the Holy Spirit within you is divine love in all its varied expressions:

joy that overflows,

peace that subdues,

patience that endures,

kindness in action,

a life full of virtue,

faith that prevails,

gentleness of heart, and

strength of spirit.

Never set the law above these qualities, for they are meant to be limitless.

24 Keep in mind that we who belong to Jesus, the Anointed One, have already experienced crucifixion. For everything connected with our self – life was put to death on the cross and crucified with Messiah. 25 We must live in the Holy Spirit and follow after him. 26 So may we never be arrogant, or look down on another, for each of us is an original. We must forsake all jealousy that diminishes the value of others.  (TPT)

Therefor, by the grace of God, let us examine ourselves and allow Holy Spirit to have free access to our hearts and minds, so that He can produce and cultivate in us the fruit of a godly and Christlike character, so that we will be known for our sweet fruit. 

I pray with great faith for you, because I’m fully convinced that the One who began this glorious work in you will faithfully continue the process of maturing you and will put his finishing touches to it until the unveiling of our Lord Jesus Christ!  Philippians 1:6  (TPT)