Last week I had travelled to Shimla a city in the Himalayas. I went expecting to be awed by the majesty and grandeur of the mountains. I’ve come back overwhelmed instead by the tenderness and care with which God has created the most exquisite miniature flowers.
Tiny flowers, less than a millimetre in size, yet perfectly crafted, with amazing detail in design.
These tiny flowers growing in crevices, pushing their way through the rocks, made me think of Jesus’ letter to the church at Philadelphia. The church of little strength/power.
There were some churches that Jesus commended for their works, love, faithfulness, patience, endurance, and invariably there was the qualifying ‘BUT’. The church at Philadelphia did not get any glowing commendations, however, there was no sharp ‘BUT I…’ to prick their bubble either.
Jesus instead tenderly acknowledges their little strength, and shows them just how strongly He was with them to support them by setting an open door before them.
Pro 16:7 says, “ When a man’s ways please the LORD, he makes even his enemies to be at peace with him.” We see Jesus promising them in this letter that He would deal with those who were opposing them.
So what was so special about this church? All that this church seems to have done is kept Jesus’ word and not denied His Name.
Kept His word. Carefully attended to what Jesus had to say and obeyed it. Sounds like they were doing what Jesus told His disciples at the Last Supper. ‘If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love.’ Simple. Nothing complicated about that.
The church at Philadelphia was merely abiding in His love. A church with little strength, mustard-seed sized faith, yet delighting the heart of Jesus for they had caught hold of His gospel and were living it out.
They obviously were being persecuted, but in those difficult and harsh circumstances, they endured, deeply rooted and built up in the love of Christ. Perfect love casts out fear. Made perfect in the love of Christ, they could not nor would not deny the person, name, character or office of Jesus, the Anointed One.
That’s all they had to do. Jesus told them that all they would have to do is ‘hold on to what they had.’ They had understood that it was not about them going out and doing great things for Jesus, but it was about them carefully attending to, guarding and obeying His word, depending on Him, holding fast to Him. In other words, just being who they were created to be, and He was doing the great things through them.
They recognised that God was their Creator, they were God’s workmanship, it was He who was working out their salvation in them and through them. They just had to trust, lean, listen and obey. By just doing that, they were being transformed from glory to glory. Jesus tells them that at the end of the road, if they continued in this way, they would be ‘pillars in the Temple of God’.
What a transformation! From ‘little strength’ to being a ‘pillar’…
We’ve made being a disciple of Christ so complicated, when all the while it is a simple invitation to abide in His love, and listen and obey Him, and His life working in us will accomplish the rest.
“Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord,
so walk in him,
rooted and built up in him and established in the faith…”
Col 2:6-7 ESV
“But He said to me,
“My grace is sufficient for you,
for my power is made perfect in weakness.”
Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses,
so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.
For the sake of Christ, then,
I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities.
For when I am weak, then I am strong.
2Co 12:9-10 ESV
*** Each of these flowers is less than a mm in size. One could easily fit several on a thumbnail.
It seems that we are living in a season of rebellions, revolutions, resistances and uprisings. Why?
There is a profound discontent all over the world with the governments, their policies and their impact on the common people.
In every case right through history, where there has been a rebellion/revolution, it has been against a government that has proved itself to be:
- Uncaring of the needs of the people
- Greedy, seeking only personal gain
- Lawless – applying laws for self-benefit, subverting laws to maintain power, while the members of the govt. themselves refuse to submit to the law.
- Oppressive and exploitative
So the people rise up, because they hope to establish a government which will be the opposite of the one they have been enslaved by. They hope that the new government will be:
- Caring of the needs of the people
- Seek the prosperity and growth of the people
- Just/lawful – where the law is applied justly, tempered with mercy; where the govt. itself subjects itself to its own laws.
- Engages in dialogue with the people so that systems can be continuously bettered
Why? Why would you want such a government?
When a government cares for its people and is just and free, a climate is created where people can enjoy peaceable lives, trade prospers, the standard of living improves. In this world there is already so much pain and suffering – either through sickness or relationships. People long for peace on at least some front, so that there is a sense of stability and security.
When I read through the prophets, especially Isaiah, I see a picture unfolding of a government, a world system that we are all longing for.
A world in which there is no war,
Where everyone can carry out their trade peacefully,
Where all our labours bear good fruit,
Where we have the time to enjoy the fruit of our labours,
Where there is no more sickness or death,
Where there is no more pain of broken promises,
Where love has made all things complete and perfect,
Where the lion can lie down with the lamb,
Where none will make us afraid.
It is interesting that every author who has tried to create an utopia, finds that it ultimately turns into a dystopia, because of one incorrigible factor – human nature. At some point or the other, covetousness – the desire to be the one in power, calling the shots, enjoying privileges –kicks in, and then the inner corruption of man is revealed.
Who can forget William Golding’s book ‘The Lord Of The Flies’? I think it has to be the most spine-chilling book I have ever read. A group of boys stranded on an island try to work out a system so that each one is fed, protected and taken care of. What happens is that in time, privilege systems evolve, a tyrant emerges and lynch mobs develop. (I won’t say more, because if you haven’t read the book, I think you should get hold of it and read it.)
The sad thing today, is that people desire the original vision and plan of God for life on earth. But we reject His government. We have seen the outline of His blue-print and we are trying to take it and build it our way. It’s not going to happen. We only have the outline. He has the true, complete blue-print.
Jesus said the kingdom of heaven is within us. Meaning – each of us has the capacity within us to decide which government to choose – the government of satan or the government of God.
We have read this a thousand times at Christmas –
“… A son will be given to us.
The government will rest on his shoulders. …
His government and peace will have unlimited growth. …
He will uphold it with justice and righteousness now and forever. …’
What if we really accepted the kingdom of God, took Him at His word and we asked Him to govern our thoughts, emotions and will?
Human nature is the greatest stumbling block to utopia – the kingdom of peace and righteousness. Jesus deals with that Himself by dwelling in us and setting to work from within to bring about a government that is just, fair, honest, upright, kind and complete. There is no place for our human nature if Jesus dwells within us.
Day by day Jesus sets about dismantling the ruinous impact of the corrupt decrees that ruled us, guided our thoughts and initiated our behaviour. We experience greater circles of peace within us. We experience greater circles of peace around us, as our responses to situations and people are now being formed by thoughts which are governed by a throne of True Wisdom and Righteousness.
Jesus said that one does not get a light and hide it under a bushel. We have taken it to mean that we should go out and talk a lot about Him.
But I think what Jesus meant was that if you receive a truth, you cannot tuck it away, hoarding it away as a miser hoards pennies. A truth is given to light your path. To become light for others. That can happen only if we allow that truth to shape our thoughts and govern our behaviour. The change in us will bring a ripple effect in the communities where we are. Jesus said that men would look at our actions and glorify God, not that men would listen to what we have to say and glorify God.
If each of us who professes the name of Christ, actually submitted to His Kingship, listened to His voice and submitted to it, the spread and sway of satan’s kingdom would diminish. We would see the kingdom of peace and righteousness (that all the world wants but is rebelling against) being established.
We spend a lot of time whining and protesting against unfair world systems. But nothing is going to change unless we Christians, ourselves begin to truly submit to the kingship of Jesus.
Would people be so anti-Christian if our walk matched our talk? If they actually saw kindness and grace, truth and integrity in the ordinary Christians they encounter daily, and not just in a lonely Mother Teresa?
One day, God is going to require it of us Christians. He is going to ask us – ‘I gave you My Son. Cleared all your debts. Gave you a new life, all that was needed for life and godliness through My Holy Spirit. Taught you every truth that you needed to know, why then did you continue in rebellion to me? Why did you not trust me? Why did you continue to rule your life in co-operation with satan? Why did you cause my Name to be profaned among the nations? Why did you take My Name in vain, if you did not intend to honour me by obeying me?’
We need to stop and think deeply. What would we answer?
Repentance. Rebellion. These two words have been buzzing around in my head the last few days.
I’ve typed paragraph after paragraph only to hit the ‘delete’ button once I was done.
Then I realised that what I wanted to say was this:
Repentance is our rebellion against the false king (satan, self, flesh, sin… whatever you may want to call it).
It is that moment when we decide that we will no longer obey the dictates of a corrupt throne that only brings misery by its decrees.
It is that moment when we look at the cross and realise that the marionette strings are broken and we are no longer helpless slaves/puppets helplessly jerked about according to the whims and fancies of our former slave masters.
It is that moment when we stop eating the food that is being fed to the swine and remember that there is a banqueting table in our Father’s house.
It is that moment when we decide to step through the torn veil, the broken body of Jesus and enter into the loving embrace of our Father in heaven.
It is not about beating our breasts, tearing our clothes and crying ‘Woe is me!’ It is about receiving the grace that is being given freely to us by the Father through the shed blood of Jesus.
It is about recognising that the True King is Jesus, and that His throne, His kingdom is of righteousness, joy and peace, that His decrees always bring shalom – peace, wholeness, a sense of well-being.
It is about realising that to be yoked to Jesus, to be under His command is a place of peace and rest for the soul.
His decrees only lead one in the paths of righteousness which lead to peace and life.
His commandments can be trusted, because He instructs us out of love, out of a desire to see us walk in freedom, no longer under the yoke.
There is a little phrase that God is very fond of. You find the Old Testament peppered with it, generally in the context of God promising to rebuild Israel if they return to Him after their apostasy. It is that little phrase – ‘and none will make them afraid.’
That is the heart of God. To see you walk tall. To walk free. To enjoy life to its fullest. Not to indulge in fleshly pleasures that promise much, but only leave dust and ashes behind. But to savour each moment, to truly enjoy each person one encounters, to experience life. Not afraid of men, seeking always to win their approval, but set free to be exactly who you were meant to be.
Satan deceives us into thinking that we will enjoy life to the fullest, and be the freest if we do what pleases us, and do things ‘My Way’. But as the Indians say – that is ‘maya’ – an illusion. Satan hates us. He doesn’t want anything good for us. His greatest desire is to use us and then slowly crush and destroy us.
GOD is the One who loves us. He desires GOOD for us. He is the One who actually wants us to have life in its fullest. He is the One who breaks the chains, draws us out of the pit, gives us a home we can go to. He stands with us in our War of Independence.
Some weeks ago I had re-blogged Bruce Buchannan’s post – When we get our friends and enemies confused. We tend to do that a lot. We get our friends and enemies confused. God is the One who is on your side. He is your friend, not enemy. He is not the party-pooper you think He is. Right now, He is preparing the greatest party ever known – the Wedding Feast of His Son.
Rebel, by all means. But rebel against the government that must be brought down – the one of darkness, deceit, sickness, death – the kingdom of satan.
Merriam Webster says “Rebellion is an open, armed usually unsuccessful defiance of or resistance to an established government”
But if a rebellion is successful, it is then called a War of Independence.
So let’s put on the armour of God, and rise up in a War of Independence from the tyranny of satan, self, the flesh. Jesus is right with you. The power of His life, His inextinguishable life, He gives to you. And that power de-thrones the most persistent Master Puppeteer. What hideous irony that satan convinces us that God is the Master Puppeteer, while all along satan is the one pulling strings enjoying the sense of power that brings him.
Repentance does not end with rebelling against the unrighteous kingdom.
Repentance is completed when we submit to God, accept His rulership, willingly obey His commandments knowing that they come from a heart of love, which truly desires our freedom and wholeness.
When Jesus said, ‘Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand’ He was saying:
Rise up, throw of the chains that are holding you down from being the person you were created to be. Why are you seeking the living among the dead? Why are you labouring for things that cannot satisfy? Things that are temporary and only leave you feeling deflated, used, discarded, worthless?
Receive instead the Love that will complete you, satisfy you. The Love that treasures you. The Love that can be trusted to lead you safely home. The Love that will cause you to blossom and fulfil every potential that is hidden in you. A Love that never fades, and will last into eternity and beyond. Don’t listen to the sower of weeds. Listen instead to the Voice of One who loves you.
… because of the blood of my covenant with you,
I will set your prisoners free from the waterless pit.
Return to your stronghold,
O prisoners of hope; …
Zec 9:11-12 ESV
submit yourselves to God.
Resist the Devil,
and he will run away from you.
Jas 4:7 GNB
Yesterday I somehow ended up listening to a song from my childhood –
And one of the lines goes:
“There really ought to be a sign upon my heart
Don’t judge her yet, there’s an unfinished part”
That made me smile.
Work In Progress.
What a wonderful thing to remember when I’ve goofed up yet again to remember that God has not given up on me, that He is still working on me! What a wonderful thing to remember that it took 6 days for God to get the entire Universe together and going, but He is still working patiently on me! Its taking Him that long, because He waits patiently for me to quieten down and listen to Him. Then He waits for me to be willing to obey Him.
He allowed me to savour the joy of the moment.
Then His hands began to move again – pushing and shaping…
‘Do you love receiving My grace? Does it lift burdens from your heart?
Does it make you feel loved?
Do you know your husband, your child, your family, your church are my unfinished symphonies too? I am still working on them too, you know? I haven’t given up on them either, you know? I love them too.’
I could see what He was getting at. I want grace. I want people to remember that I am still an unfinished work. To see me with eyes of grace and compassion. I want it, to hoard it, but to give it… well, that pinches.
Jesus said, ‘Love your neighbour as yourself’
Hmmmm…. How often do I actually see others with the eyes of grace that I see myself?
It is so easy to get discouraged with churchanity, especially when you see people teach one thing and do another thing. It is so easy to throw up one’s hands and do the 1000m dash like Elijah did.
But God was catching me on that one.
‘Are you willing to give grace to others? The grace you have so freely and lavishly received from ME?’
Willing? Well, I am willing to learn how…
‘Lord, give me the grace to see my brothers and sisters in Christ as being complete in You. Help me not to get exasperated with them because they are still unfinished symphonies. Thank you for loving me as I am, for never giving up on me. Give me eyes to see as You see, and release my heart Lord to love as You love me. In Jesus Name. Amen’
And may the Lord make you to
increase and abound in love
toward one another and toward all, …
1Th 3:12 MKJV
The Rusty Shield Bearers are blooming once more. That’s their nickname, for all year round the trees are bedecked with sprigs of rust-coloured shield-shaped seed pods. Unlike other seed pods, they don’t droop, but are held erect, almost as if they are defending the tree.
Right throughout the year (except in winter) it is possible to find a cheerful, spunky Rusty Shield Bearer blooming in some part of the city or the other. A sudden unexpected splash of sunshine yellow to gladden the heart.
For this reason I like to call them the Trusty Shield Bearers. Their botanical name is rather more mundane. Peltophorum pterocarpum
Anyway this tree always reminds me of an unnamed hero in the Bible. There’s barely a sentence or two devoted to him, but he was an amazingly brave and trusting person of great faith.
Hidden away in 1 Samuel 14, there is a little story that is very rarely spoken of. But the sheer daring of it always takes my breath away.
This is the background:
Saul’s rejected as king, but still on the throne. Israel is overrun with the Philistines who’ve captured/killed all the blacksmiths in Israel, so the Israelites were in the peculiar position of having to turn to their enemies to get their farming instruments and weapons sharpened. And so on the day of battle none of the Israelite soldiers except Saul and his son Jonathan had swords or spears. (1Sam 13:22)
Wow! Quite an army that! I wonder what exactly they carried with them into battle! Not unnaturally the Israelites chose to camp rather than fight.
That is the setting against which this act of breath-taking daring takes place:
Jonathan takes his armour-bearer to attack a Philistine garrison which was across the valley. And this was their battle strategy: (1Sam 14:8-11)
Jonathan said, “We will go across and let them see us. If they tell us to come up the hill and fight, that will mean the LORD is going to help us win.”
One armed man against a whole garrison!
And here is the amazing part – the unarmed armour-bearer (remember only Jonathan and Saul had spears or swords) says, “Do all that is in your heart. Do as you wish. Behold, I am with you heart and soul”.
We never hear of the faith of this armour-bearer. His absolute faith and trust in God, that he was willing to lay his life down on the line to support Jonathan in every way.
When I look at The Trusty Shield-bearer in bloom, I think of this young man. I think also of Samwise Gamgee in Tolkein’s ‘Lord of the Rings’. Samwise is another unlikely and unsung heroic figure, willing to support while hidden in the background, doing the mundane but necessary chores, but without him Frodo would never have accomplished his mission. Just as Jonathan would never have won his amazing victory over the Philistine garrison without the support of his armour-bearer at hand to shield him and hand him appropriate weapons at the right moment.
Another unsung hero is the ‘Twisty-tie’ – the little plastic covered wire which holds up weak-stemmed plants against the trellis and other supports. No one sees these little bits of wire. One only sees the huge blooms/fruit. Yet, without these twisty-ties the plant would trail the blooms and fruit on the ground, and the flower/fruit would spoil.
There are countless twisty-ties in our lives – people who silently lift us up in prayer. Some of them we may not even be aware of.
So today I am dedicating my post to the Trusty Shield Bearers, the Samwise Gamgees, the Twisty-Ties in our lives. The ones who support us in prayer, with counsel, with their presence, their word of encouragement. The ones who are willing to stand supporting in the background so that we may bloom…
Doesn’t that sound a lot like the Holy Spirit in fact? Working in the background, holding us up, strengthening us, setting us free to bloom as the people we were meant to be.
Here’s a song which celebrates the Trusty Shield Bearers, the Samwise Gamgees, the Twisty-Ties…
It must have been cold there in my shadow,
To never have sunlight on your face.
You were content to let me shine, that’s your way.
You always walked a step behind.
So I was the one with all the glory,
While you were the one with all the strength.
A beautiful face without a name for so long.
A beautiful smile to hide the pain.
It might have appeared to go unnoticed,
But I’ve got it all here in my heart.
I want you to know I know the truth, of course I know it.
I would be nothing without you.
Did you ever know that you’re my hero, and everything I would like to be?
I can fly higher than an eagle, ’cause you are the wind beneath my wings.
– Written in 1982 by Jeff Silbar and Larry Henley
It is God who girds me with strength and makes my way perfect.
He makes my feet like hinds’ feet, and sets me on my high places.
He teaches my hands to war, so that a bow of bronze is bent by my arms.
You have also given me the shield of Your salvation;
and Your right hand has held me up,
and Your gentleness has made me great.
You have given a wide place for my steps under me,
so that my feet have not slipped.
Psalm 18:32-36 MKJV
Lord, bless the Twisty-Ties, The Trusty Shield-bearers in my life. Most of all Lord, thank you for being the wind beneath my wings. Help me Lord, to be a faithful Twisty-Tie. Amen
PS: I am indebted to my husband for the photo. He didn’t want to be named. He’s one of the Twisty-Ties in my life. Thank you God for him.
Some random thoughts inspired by Handel’s ‘Water Music’ …
Come leap with me for joy
Sing out the praise of the Lord
For Death’s been robbed of its prey
Come lay down your tawdry crown
For the true Lord of Heaven and Earth
Enters to take His throne
A throne established in justice and peace
Hearts of stone melt in His love’s sweet warmth
Truth touched eyes can see
Deaf ears hear their Maker’s voice
His glory bursts forth
Swift flowing out of the Holy Place
Pouring through bustling paths
Parched earth blooms His seed
Quenched fists of clay give forth His scent
The River of Life dances forth
Gushing, rushing, tossing over mountains
Leaping with abandon into the valleys
Rolling away obstacles
Frictioning stones to smoothness
Whispering love songs to soil hid roots
“To serve not to be served
Humility’s my crown
Faithfulness, my staff
Unending love’s my song
Come take my hand
You are betrothed to me
Sealed with the Holy Spirit
A lily ‘mong the thorns is my beloved”
The trees of the field clap their hands
The mountains rejoice
And sing back
“Ransomed from the hand of Sheol
Redeemed from the grave
O death, where is your victory?
O death, where is your sting?
For love is strong as death,
Jealousy fierce as the grave.”
And so the river swirls
Gathering strength and song
Braiding through the earth
Carrying the heart of the Song-giver
Stream joins stream
A mighty river
A voice of many waters
Splashes and swirls
The unending glory of the Most High
Lamb that was slain
Found worthy to open the scroll
Worthy, worthy, worthy
To reign in righteousness and justice and peace
Tides ebb and flow
Kingdoms rise and fall
Unchanging grace trickles never
Unending flows from age to age
I guess I could keep on and on, for rivers don’t stop flowing… waterfalls never stop giving…
Wherever the stream flows,
there will be all kinds of animals and fish.
The stream will make the water of the Dead Sea fresh,
and wherever it flows, it will bring life.
Eze 47:9 GNB
The angel also showed me the river of the water of life,
sparkling like crystal,
and coming from the throne of God and of the Lamb
and flowing down the middle of the city’s street.
On each side of the river was the tree of life,
which bears fruit twelve times a year, once each month;
and its leaves are for the healing of the nations.
Rev 22:1-2 GNB