Tuesday, May 28, 2013

The Goodness of the Lord in the Land of the Living

I am still confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.
Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.
Psalm 27:13, 14

     Back in the day… when Moses was leading the people of Israel through the wilderness en route to the Promised Land, he had an encounter with God born of desperation. This encounter culminated in Moses asking of the Lord, “Now show me Your glory.” (Ex. 33:19)
     God’s response to Moses’ request is significant: In answer to Moses’ desire for a revelation of God’s glory, God says, “I will cause all My goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim My Name, the Lord, in your presence.” (Ex. 33:20 – my emphasis).
     To Moses, in the midst of his wilderness of pain and desperation, God manifested His glory in the form of His goodness.
     The situation Moses found himself facing was not of his own making. It had come about as a result of the treacherous actions of the people he led. Within Moses a deep chasm of yearning opened up – a longing to know God more intimately in this place of agonizing distress.
     “… teach me Your way so I may know You…”
     Did Moses not already know God? Of course he did! He had spent hours and days and weeks in close communion with God. “The Lord would speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks with his friend” (Ex. 33:11). Yet the agonizing circumstances Moses found himself in, brought him to a place of even deeper dependence on and longing for God.
     Like many of us, Moses could not see the way forward from this point, but God gave him this promise and assurance: “My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest” (Ex.33:14).
     What wilderness of pain, confusion and distress are you facing right now? Have you been casting around, trying to find a way forward, a way to resolution of the problems you are facing, a way to healing?
     We live in the information age and have become conditioned to chasing up one perceived resource after another. It’s time to stop the restless searching for answers that never completely satisfy. It’s time to come aside with the Lord and in that place of stillness with Him, ask Him to teach you His way so that you may know Him more. Not know the answers, the solutions, the remedies more – know Him more. It’s time to open that inner chasm of yearning to all that God is, and ask Him to fill your landscape with His glory.
     He will answer with a revelation of His unending goodness. And as your heart receives the wonder of all He is in His boundless love and infinite faithfulness, you will come to a place of confident rest in the Presence He has promised as much to us as He did to Moses: “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you” (Heb. 13:5).
     Then you too, will be able to proclaim along with the psalmist: I am still confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Woman Why Are You Weeping?

     "Woman, why are you weeping?" John 20:13, 15.
     These words have been resonating in my mind all Easter weekend.
     A study of the original language in this passage reveals that Mary Magdalene was not just weeping - she was sobbing. She was grief-stricken and heart broken and distraught. So much so, that when she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, and He asked her the same question the angels had asked, "Woman, why are you weeping?" she did not even recognize Him.
     Until He spoke her name...
     When she heard His voice speak her name in this personal and intimate way, she recognized the presence of her beloved Lord. In that moment, everything changed.
     The question that is burning in my heart for you, dear reader, is "Why are you weeping?"
     What circumstances, what experiences, what absence, what emptiness, what pain has left you grief-stricken and heart-broken, your heart sobbing in agony, "Where is He? I don't know where He is!"
     Oh He has been there all along, dear ones, but in your stricken and distraught state, you have not recognized His near presence in your circumstances.
     To each one of you whose heart is right now broken and crying out in pain and sorrow, my prayer for you, is this: I pray in the name of the One who loves you with a deep and inexhaustible love, that today, even as you read this, you will hear your Lord speaking your name as personally and intimately as He called Mary's that day. And as you hear His voice speak your name, may your eyes be opened to recognize the presence of Him whose love never fails, never wearies, never falls short - and holds you all the days of your life.
     Insert your name into this story, as these words echo in your own desperate heart: "_________ why are you weeping?"
     Pour out your heart to Him - all your deepest fears and sorrows. And then turn and hear as He speaks your name: "_________"
     He is the One poured out in love and resurrected in power to redeem all that you surrender at His nail-scarred feet.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

More Words from the Cross

     Six more times Jesus spoke from the cross:

1. To the thief who in the moment of their greatest agony, recognized and acknowledged Jesus for who He truly is, Jesus said, "Today you will be with Me in paradise" Luke 23:43. The moment this criminal turned towards Jesus, he was forgiven and his eternal destiny secured. He did not have to work for his salvation. Jesus, hanging there right beside him, was in the very process of securing his redemption. He called  on the Name of the Lord... and received the free gift of God's grace! When we recognize and acknowledge who Jesus truly is, and call on His name, this free gift of His grace becomes ours also.

2. To His mother and to the disciple John, Jesus said, "Dear woman, here is your son... Here is your mother..." Jesus honored His human mother in the midst of His suffering, and made provision for her by entrusting her to His closest human friend. In ministering to others, we are not to neglect our own families. Jesus knew that He could trust John with this special responsibility. Are we trustworthy disciples and friends of Jesus? Are we trustworthy friends to others?

3. "My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?" Matt. 27:46 For all eternity the triune Godhead had existed in perfect love, fellowship, unity and harmony. But in this moment on the cross, as the Son was bowed under the weight of the sin of all humanity, He experienced the wrath of a holy God against that sin. Sin separates us from the Father. As He bore our sin on our behalf, Jesus experienced the separation from the Father that is the consequence of sin. His body had already been broken; now His heart broke with the agony of an unthinkable separation... All this He did because the triune God loves you and I so passionately, that even this He was willing to endure, just so that you and I can be reconciled in relationship with the Father. Oh that we would not cause further agony to the heart of this One who loves us so dearly, by treating His sacrifice and gift with light indifference and careless compromise!

4. "I am thirsty" John 19:28. In the twenty-four hours since His arrest, all the torture and torment Jesus had endured had resulted in massive fluid loss - mostly in blood. In addition to all His physical, mental, emotional and spiritual agony, He also experienced a ravaging physical thirst. Yet His thirst was not only physical. His thirst was also the consuming inner longing for His creation - humanity whom He had formed in His own image, and for whom He now gave Himself as a sacrifice - to return to the deeply intimate loving relationship with God for which He created us. This was a thirst birthed out of His passionate and inextinguishable love for you and me. Oh pray that we too, would thirst deeply for love relationship with Him! He promises that those who come to Him in this way will never thirst again. Only in Him is there deep and lasting satisfaction!

5. "It is finished" John 19:30. Jesus had completed the work He had come to do. Compelled by His great love for us, He had taken upon Himself all of our wrongdoing, and had borne the consequences for our sin in our place. It was done: the price of our freedom was paid in full. All that remains is for you and I to gratefully receive this extravagant, undeserved gift of His love, mercy and grace.

6. "Father, into Your hands I commit my spirit" Luke 23:46. Nobody took Jesus' life from Him. Nobody had the power or authority to do so. Jesus gave His life of His own volition - just as the Father also gave the Son. It was a gift compelled by love. Love gives; love gives self. The Father and the Son were united in this love for you and I, and their love for one another - this love that gives. And because of this love, the Son, having paid the price in His blood for your sin and mine, could safely commit His spirit to the care of the Father as He entered into the darkness of death. He was held in the hands of the Almighty I AM - and not even death itself could contain Him! Because of Jesus, into His hands you and I can commit all that we have and all that we are and all that we experience - and there we can safely rest in the only One who holds all power and all authority, even over our deepest darkness! We can trust His love; we can trust HIM!

Friday, March 29, 2013

Words from the Cross

“Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” Luke 23:34.

     He had stepped down from His royal throne, into a world that He had created, and that was His own possession. There He had subjected His divine nature to the frailty of human flesh. He had poured Himself out for others: loving, giving, healing, restoring, embracing, comforting, delivering, feeding, nourishing, satisfying, raising to new life.
     A week after the crowds shouted “Hosanna!” they screamed, “Crucify Him!”
     He was betrayed, arrested, mocked, scorned, abandoned, denied, rejected, tortured and set to die the most excruciating, disgraceful death known to humanity.
     A human assessment might indicate that He had wasted His time and energy in pouring Himself out for the sake of others. A human assessment might deem all the love He had given was now thrown back in His face and regarded as of no account. A human assessment might conclude that while He had served a purpose for a while, He was now to be cast aside like a tool that was no longer of any use.
     Yet in the midst of His own extreme suffering and rejection, Jesus never lost sight of His greater purpose, His kingdom perspective. Man’s assessment was not the final word; God’s purposes would be served no matter what anyone said.
     Jesus looked down on His tormentors in the moment of His greatest torment, and prayed: “… forgive them…”
     On more than one occasion before Jesus went to the cross, He urged that each of us who want to come after Him, will have to take up our own cross also, and follow Him. What does this mean?
    It means pouring ourselves out in His name, for the sake of His kingdom and the lives of others. It means loving, giving, healing, restoring, embracing, comforting, delivering, feeding, nourishing, satisfying, offering new life to others. It means a self-sacrifice of time and energy and self-interest and personal comfort…
     And having done all that… it is just possible that we too, might be rejected, scorned, betrayed, abandoned, tormented, and metaphorically crucified by the very ones to whom we have poured out His love.
     When that happens, voices may whisper that we have wasted our time and energy, that we have failed, that all we have done and given is deemed useless and meaningless, that like a tool that no longer serves any purpose, we are now cast aside.
     Ah, but the cross… the cross we have taken up to follow Him; the cross upon which our arms, too remain outstretched in love, even during and in spite of great pain. Because man’s assessment is still not the final word, and God’s purposes will yet be fulfilled through our obedience, no matter what anyone says.
     Because of Jesus, and because we are His and not our own, we too, can look with compassion on those who treat us so, and say, “Father, in the name of Jesus who gave His life for such as these, forgive them, for in their state of brokenness and blindness, they know not what they do…”
     And the Redeemer will not only accomplish all that is on His heart, and fulfill His purposes in such lives, but He will also redeem the pain of the cross we have carried.
     By God’s assessment, the way of the cross is the way of triumph!

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Serving a Betrayer

"... He poured water into a basin and began to wash His disciples' feet..." John 13:5
     No one was excluded. That night, Jesus washed the feet of every disciple - including the feet of His betrayer. He had sacrificed His throne in heaven to walk among corrupt humanity. In the form of a man, He had sacrificed His family, His time, His energies, His personal needs and comfort. He had poured Himself out into the lives of others unendingly - and especially into the lives of His disciples.
     And yet... when they entered the Upper Room that evening, not one of His disciples offered to wash the dust off the feet of the One they called "Master". Instead, it was He who knelt and served them in this way:
·         He washed the feet of the disciple who would deny Him
·         He washed the feet of the disciple who would doubt Him
·         He washed the feet of the disciples who would go to sleep just when He most needed the support of close friends
·         He washed the feet of the disciples who would run away in preservation of their own lives, leaving Him to face His suffering alone
·         He washed the feet of His closest human friend who would "follow at a distance" when His hour of arrest came
·         He washed the feet of the disciple who had already gone behind His back; who would prove most treacherous; who would betray Him...
     When He was done, He said, "Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another's feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you" John 13:14, 15.
     How are we to do this? We are to set ourselves to serve others by "washing" them in and with and through the love of Jesus - not only those we naturally like or who are nice to us in return, but also those who:
·         Reject and disown us
·         Are skeptical and cynical of us
·         Accept our support, but are nowhere to be found when we are in need of support
·         Are self-serving at our expense
·         Distance themselves from us
·         Prove treacherous, and betray our trust
     If we are "not greater than our Master", then surely as His followers, we can do this much for His sake, and in His name, serving His Kingdom, and not our own.
   "... whoever loses their life for My sake will find it" Matt. 10:39.
Love so amazing, so Divine
Demands my soul, my life...

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Washed by Love


I always feel overwhelmed with thankfulness when I think of how Jesus poured Himself out into the lives of others in love and power at a time when He knew He was only days away from facing the cruelty of the cross.
     He had said of Himself: "The Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many" (Matt. 20:28). One way He demonstrated this, on the night of His last supper with His disciples, was by washing their feet. They had walked quite some distance that day - most of it uphill, and probably along dusty and rocky paths. Their feet were probably not only dirty, but also tired and aching.
     Jesus took upon Himself the task of the lowliest servant, and washed the weary feet of the men who had walked all the long way with Him thus far. Little did they forsee that they would soon forsake the One who served them so - and who was about to sacrifice His life in an even more painful and profound way.
     At first Peter protested, but Jesus replied, "Unless I wash you, you have no part with Me." The reason? There is only One who can truly wash us clean of all the collected detritus of our sin-infected lives.
     Jesus, in His great love, still "washes our feet". When it seems that the road we have walked has been long and rocky, leaving us aching with the weariness of it all, He invites us into communion with Him - and there He washes us in His cleansing, refreshing, restoring love.
     He also extends a further invitation: He invites us to follow Him, and in our turn to lay down our lives in His service to others. In this way, we too, get to "wash the feet" of others, with the love of Jesus.
     In keeping with this message, I re-post here the poem I shared at Easter time last year:

© Avril VanderMerwe

Like the grime of an ancient traveler
At the end of the footsore day
I have accumulated on my feet
The dust of roads I have trod.

Step after step-chafed blisters have
Broken to leak muddied tears
Along trails ragged with bruised
Hope urging me on one more climb

To the cool space of an upper room.
Pierced hands pierce the gloom.
A splash of water pools my feet.
Washed by love on bended knees. I weep.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Avril's Ordination Service

My ordination service took place on Sunday March 3, 2013, at Sisco Heights Community Church, with Pastor Dan Eide officiating. It was a special privilege to have my parents, Pastor Bill and Lorraine van der Merwe, participate in this commissioning!

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Dogged Devotion: Part 1

     This is the first in an occasional series of blog postings that I have called: “Dogged Devotion”:

     I have a new puppy - a large breed, highly active dog. At time of writing he is a thirteen-week-old energy package wrapped in puppy exuberance. If he is awake, he is on the move! I am keeping one eye on him as I write this, because he has just woken from a nap and is even now about to trigger into action. This could well translate into two clumsy puppy paws suddenly landing on my laptop keyboard, producing a string of indecipherable messages and alerts never before encountered in the computing world!
     Jabulani (a Zulu word meaning “rejoice”) not only enhances my life with fun and affection, however. Raising and training him is opening my understanding to spiritual truths in freshly applicable ways!
     As is the case with toddlers, there are times when Jabulani seems to become increasingly frenzied in his activity, getting into more and more mischief, and becoming less and less responsive to commands. I have learned that he does this when he is over-tired, but unable to calm himself down. He needs a little help from me, so this is what I do:
     I face him away from me, and make him sit. Then I straddle him, sitting on my knees over him. In this position, I pull his front paws out gently, until he is lying down, and I squat over him, just enough that he can feel my body against his back. In this way any movement from him is contained. With the puppy under me, I then stroke him firmly, from his head to his shoulders, over and over. While I am doing this, I speak soothingly to him, telling him what a good boy he is.
     Within one minute I can feel his tense muscles relax under me, and his heartbeat slow. Finally he gives a deep sigh, then a yawn. Once he yawns, I know that he has calmed down, and I slowly release him. Almost inevitably, he goes straight to his bed, and falls asleep!
     Two things have happened here:
·         By placing him physically underneath me, I have established dominance over him.
·         Under my gentle, consistent authority, his tension is soothed, and he becomes quiet.

     In my previous blog, I expounded a little on Psalm 37. As explained, it provides us with a four positive commands and one negative, each of which comes with a promise:
Trust in the Lord…
Delight in the Lord…
Commit your way to the Lord…
Be still and wait for the Lord…
Do not fret and agitate…

     Verse 7 arrested my attention: “Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for Him…” As I pondered how difficult it is for us to “be still and wait”, it struck me that every one of these commands emphasizes our position of submission and surrender under the Lordship – the authority - of Jesus Christ:

Our trust is in His authority
We delight in Him as sovereign over our lives
We commit our way to His kingly dominion

and then…

In this position of surrender to His Lordship, we are able to be at rest trustingly in Him, confident that He is at work.

     Just the way my puppy becomes calm and relaxed under my authority! I do not hurt him when I straddle and quiet him under me. My dominion over him is loving and gentle, and for his benefit.
     In the same way, the Lordship of Jesus Christ over our lives is not punishing – it is loving and gentle, and always has our good at heart!
     When we have a frantic need to be in control, it results in increasingly frenzied thoughts, and mental and emotional torment that often leads to ill-advised decisions and actions. We are limited in our ability to calm ourselves down. We need help from One who has greater wisdom, power and authority. As we submit and surrender ourselves to His Lordship, relinquishing control to Him, in our position under His authority, tension is soothed, and quiet seeps into the deepest recesses of our beings.
     Zephaniah 3:17 says, “The Lord your God is with you, He is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, He will quiet you with His love, He will rejoice over you with singing.”
     His Lordship over our lives is a loving lordship, always working for His highest good in our lives. The place of surrender is a place of peace and rest and refuge and relief!
     This is true at any time, but most especially when we are going through difficult and harrowing times. The book of Hosea presents a picture of a woman who has ended up in a place of personal wilderness, as a result of rebellion against the Lordship of Jesus Christ. But in the wilderness, God comes to her in His power and sovereignty, not dealing harshly with her, but instead saying: “Therefore I am now going to allure her; I will lead her into the desert and speak tenderly to her. There I will give her back her vineyards, and will make the Valley of Achor a door of hope. There she will sing as in the days of her youth…” (Hosea 2:14, 15).
     “Achor” means “trouble”. Are you in a barren and desolate place of trouble, frantically trying to “make something happen” in an effort to “fix” yourself or “fix” someone else, or “fix” your circumstances?
     Can you just stop? Stop and consciously place all that you are, and all that your circumstances entail, under the sovereign, tender authority of Jesus Christ. In that place of quiet surrender, He will:

Give you His peace and rest
Make His voice heard, speaking tenderly to you
Give you back the fruitfulness of your life
Transform trouble into hope
Give you a new song
Restore what has been lost to you

     My puppy’s name, Jabulani, means “rejoice”. The Bible tells us that when we surrender ourselves to the Lordship of Jesus Christ, the help that we find there is so profound, that we are able to “sing in the shadow of Your wings” (Ps, 63:7).
     Be at rest under His sovereignty – and reclaim your peace and joy!

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Legacy of a Year


     Tradition dictates that seeing out the old year and ringing in the new is a time of celebration. A new year signifies new beginnings, fresh hope, new opportunities, and for many… new resolution to accomplish personal goals.
     However, I am acutely aware that not everybody feels this way. For some the old year may represent hardship or heartache – and the new year may be viewed with trepidation or blighted hope. For others the idea of working up the energy to tackle life with renewed vigor, may feel overwhelming as they find themselves spent at the close of the old year. There may be yet others for whom the new year seems to bring nothing but new problems to resolve and obstacles to overcome.
     On December 31st 2012, I woke up feeling particularly heavy-hearted. The last four months of the year had brought a personal sadness that seemed to have become woven into the very fabric of my heart, threading through all my waking and sleeping hours. As I looked back over the way I had invested my time and energies in 2012, and the places where I had poured myself out, I wondered what the past year had all been for – and how I was to approach the year to come.
     For those of us who have committed our way to the Lord and set our hearts to follow Him, it is only God’s assessment of how we spend our lives that counts. Our responsibility is to follow in obedience to Him – and trust Him with the results.
     I could not help but think that I sought something far more meaningful with which to approach 2013 than the superficial idea of attaining personal goals through the making of resolutions. I want to live my year - live my life - not to accomplish selfish ambition or personal dreams, but instead in such a way as to leave a legacy.
     The truth is, wittingly or unwittingly, and whether we have children and grandchildren or not, each of us does indeed leave a legacy from our lives, to those others – family, friends, acquaintances, colleagues – whose lives intersect ours. The question is: What kind of legacy are we leaving?
     Every decision we make, action we take, and word we speak, has a ripple effect in the lives of those around us, leaving deposits there. All these together comprise the total legacy we leave behind us as we go about our everyday living. The nature of the legacy we leave is a matter of our own choice:
·         A negative legacy of lack of faith, complaining, bitterness, unforgiveness, harsh and hasty words spoken, a critical spirit, selfish and self-absorbed decisions and actions, unkindness and rejection, dismissive disregard for anyone but ourselves, ungraciousness…
·         Or… a legacy of faith in face of trouble; worship in the face of hardship; trust in the God whose character is without defect; abandonment to His love, grace, mercy and forgiveness, allowing these to spill from our lives; encouragement and affirmation of the goodness of God we see in others; caring and compassion; gratitude for life’s everyday blessings that we so take for granted…

     Whichever we choose, every life that touches ours will be impacted by that choice. On this first day of January 2013, the Lord challenged me personally, to live a life of worship, no matter what the circumstances or my feelings. When we choose to live a life of worship of the majestic and glorious Lord who is always worthy of all worship, not only our hearts, thoughts and feelings, but also our circumstances begin to be transformed as they align with the Majestic One.
     On New Year’s Day, the Holy Spirit directed me to Psalm 37 as a guideline for how to live out my life in 2013 – and for all my years to come. This Psalm gives us four positive directives, and one negative. Each instruction is attached to a promise:
·         Instruction: Trust in the Lord – lean on Him, depend on Him, have confidence in Him – and do good to others…
Promise: God’s peace and protection in the place He has established us. Protection, peace.
·         Instruction: Take delight in the Lord – as our first delight above all others and all else…
Promise: He will give us desires that align with His will and purpose; He will fulfill the secret petitions of our hearts. Provision, abundance, purpose, answered prayer, hearts nurtured by His love.
·         Instruction: Commit your way trustingly to the Lord…
Promise: He will make your “righteousness shine like the dawn” and “the justice of your cause like the noonday sun”; He will make your steps firm. God’s righteousness and justice; vindication of your reputation in the face of opposition and attack; a sure and certain way forward.
·         Instruction: Be still and wait patiently for the Lord in an attitude of trust…
Promise: The Lord will uphold, sustain and bless you, continuing to work out His purposes in and through your circumstances. Strength, favor, Divine purpose.
·         Instruction: Do not harbor anger; do not get agitated
Promise: Assurance that the Lord is constantly at work in every situation – nothing is ever outside of His sovereignty; He is never not in control. The powerful outworking of God’s almighty, eternal purposes for good.

     Trust… delight… commit… be still and wait… don’t agitate…
     If we live 2013 this way - if we live our lives this way - this Psalm promises us that… we will leave behind us an eternal legacy! Verse 18 says, The days of the blameless are known to the Lord, and their inheritance will endure forever!
     So let us live to leave a legacy in 2013! Let us trust the Lord and intentionally do good to others, no matter how they treat us; let us make the Lord the first and most passionate delight of our hearts – in all circumstances choosing to worship Him and desiring to know Him more intimately; let us commit our every step along the way to Him; let us trustingly wait for Him to work out His sovereign purposes; let us not get agitated, trying to stage-manage people and circumstances in our own strength and according to our own reasoning.  
   In turn, God promises to faithfully take care of every aspect of our lives according to His supreme purposes.
     What will 2013 bring our way? Only God knows – and we can trust His supreme knowledge and almighty purposes. A quote by Oswald Chambers struck a chord when I read it on January 2: “God does not tell you what He is going to do – He reveals to you WHO HE IS. Believe God is always the God you know Him to be when you are nearest to Him. Then think how unnecessary and disrespectful worry is!”