Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Be Thankful for Thorns

Dear Reader
This Easter, I just want you to know that I am so thankful for the thorns in my life. They draw me more to my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, as I picture the crown of thorns deeply digging into his bleeding skull as he hung on the Cross at Calvary. All that, for my sins. He died so that I may live; truly live. I am deeply thankful.

Here is a story I picked up from the internet.
Sandra felt as low as the heels of her shoes as she pushed against a November gust and the florist shop door. Her life had been easy, like spring breeze. Then, in the fourth month of her second pregnancy, a minor automobile accident stole her ease.

During this Thanksgiving week, she would have delivered a son. She grieved over her loss. As if that weren’t enough, her husband’s company threatened a transfer. Then her sister, whose holiday visit she coveted, called saying she could not come. What’s worse, Sandra’s friend infuriated her by suggesting her grief was a God-given path to maturity that would allow her to empathize with others who suffer.

“She has no idea what I’m feeling,” thought Sandra with a shudder. Thanksgiving? Thankful for what? She wondered. For a careless driver whose truck was hardly scratched when he rear-ended her? For an airbag that saved her life but took that of her child?

“Good afternoon, can I help you?” The shop clerk’s approach startled her.
“I….I need an arrangement,” stammered Sandra.
“For Thanksgiving? Do you want beautiful but ordinary,” asked the shop clerk, “or would you like to challenge the day with a customer favorite I call the ‘Thanksgiving ‘Special?’ Are you looking for something that conveys ‘gratitude’ this Thanksgiving?”

“Not exactly!” Sandra blurted out. “In the last five months, everything that could go wrong has gone wrong.” Sandra regretted her outburst, and was surprised when the shop clerk said, “I have the perfect arrangement for you.”

Then, the door’s small bell rang, and the shop clerk said, “Hi, Barbara, let me get your order.” She politely excused herself and walked toward a small workroom, then quickly reappeared, carrying an arrangement of greenery, bows, and long-stemmed thorny roses. Except the ends of the rose stems were neatly snipped; there were no flowers. 

“Want this in a box?” asked the clerk.
Sandra watched for the customer’s response. Was this a joke?
Who would want rose stems with no flowers! She waited for laughter, but neither woman laughed.
“Yes, please,” Barbara replied with an appreciative smile.
“You’d think after three years of getting the special, I wouldn’t be so moved by its significance, but I can feel it right here, all over again.” She said as she gently tapped her chest.

“Uh,” stammered Sandra, “that lady just left with, uh….she just left with no flowers!”
“Right, said the clerk, “I cut off the flowers. That’s the Special. I call it the Thanksgiving Thorns Bouquet.”
“Oh, come on, you can’t tell me someone is willing to pay for that!” exclaimed Sandra.
“Barbara came into the shop three years ago feeling much like you feel today,” explained the clerk. “She thought she had very little to be thankful for. She had lost her father to cancer, the family business was failing, her son was into drugs, and she was facing major surgery.
“That same year I had lost my husband,” continued the clerk, “and for the first time in my life, had just spent the holidays alone. I had no children, no husband, no family nearby, and too great a debt to allow any travel.”

“So what did you do?” asked Sandra.
“I learned to be thankful for thorns,” answered the clerk quietly. “I’ve always thanked God for good things in life and never to ask Him why those good things happened to me, but when bad stuff hit, did I ever ask! It took time for me to learn that dark times are important. I have always enjoyed the ‘flowers’ of life, but it took thorns to show me the beauty of God’s comfort.

“You know, the Bible says that God comforts us when we’re afflicted, and from His consolation we learn to comfort others.”
Sandra sucked in her breath as she thought about the very thing her friend had tried to tell her. “I guess the truth is I don’t want comfort. I’ve lost a baby and I’m angry with God.”
Just then someone else walked in the shop. “Hey, Phil!” shouted the clerk to the balding, rotund man.
“My wife sent me in to get our usual Thanksgiving arrangement—twelve thorny, long-stemmed stems!” laughed Phil as the clerk handed him a tissue-wrapped arrangement from the refrigerator.

“Those are for your wife?” asked Sandra incredulously. “Do you mind me asking why she wants something that looks like that?”
“No, I’m glad you asked,” Phil replied. “Four years ago, my wife and I nearly divorced. After forty years, we were in a real mess, but with the Lord’s grace and guidance, we slogged through problem after problem. He rescued our marriage. Jenny here told me she kept a vase of rose stems to remind her of what she learned from ‘thorny’ times, and that was good enough for me. I took home some of those stems. My wife and I decided to label each one for a specific ‘problem’ and give thanks for what that problem taught us.” 

As Phil paid the clerk, he said to Sandra, “I highly recommend the Special!”
“I don’t know if I can be thankful for the thorns in my life.” Sandra said to the clerk. “It’s all too…fresh.”
“Well,” the clerk replied carefully, “my experience has shown me that thorns make roses more precious. We treasure God’s providential care more during trouble than at any other time. Remember, it was a crown of thorns that Jesus wore so we might know His love. Don’t resent the thorns.” 

Tears rolled down Sandra’s cheeks. For the first time since the accident, she loosened her grip on resentment. “I’ll take those twelve long-stemmed thorns, please,” she managed to choke out.
“I hoped you would,” said the clerk gently. “I’ll have them ready in a minute.”
“Thank you. What do I owe you?”
“Nothing. Nothing but a promise to allow God to heal your heart. The first year’s arrangement is always on me.”
The clerk smiled and handed a card to Sandra. “I’ll attach this card to your arrangement, but maybe you would like to read it first.”

It read: My God, I have never thanked You for my thorns. I have thanked You a thousand times for my roses, but never once for my thorns. Teach me the glory of the cross I bear; teach me the value of my thorns. Show me that I have climbed closer to You along the path of pain. Show me that, through my tears, the colors of Your rainbow look much more brilliant.”
Praise Him for your roses, thank Him for your thorns.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

The Prayer Burden That Saved My Son

It started off as a normal working day. The only strange thing about it was that I kept getting this urge to pray for my second child who was three years old at that time. The prayer burden was with me throughout the day and I took a break every hour or so to go and kneel down on the toilet floor and pray for my child. Later in the afternoon as the burden continued, I called home to check on him but the baby minder did not pick up the phone.

At the end of the day I knocked off work and walked my usual thirty minutes that I took to get home, which was located in the city center outskirts. I got home to find my older son who was eight years old then, seated with his friends in our living room. The baby was nowhere in sight and nor was the child minder. Before I could ask, my little boy blurted out saying that the baby had been knocked by a car. I stood there in the living room refusing to hear what I just heard. Then the little group of friends all stood up, came to me and as if they had been rehearsing all day, said in one voice that what my boy had said was true.

I shivered, sat down, tried to think but could not. I only managed to cry ‘God.. .’ That cry managed to clear my mind a bit. I went to the telephone and called my brother and told him what the children had told me. He asked for more information, I did not have it, other than that I was now rushing to the hospital to find out. In my mind I had the worst scenario and I did not want to even talk about that. Next, I phoned my Pastor and asked him to pray for me.

I was already a single mum by then and had no one else to lean on, so I picked up my handbag and told the little fellows that I was going to the hospital and they were to take my son to one of their homes and lock my door after them. They seemed to understand what I was going through; I actually felt as if I had a group of little men surrounding me with their love and concern. It was written all over their sad faces.

Outside I flagged down a taxi. I was all tears and just mumbled ‘hospital’ to the driver. At the hospital I rushed straight to the emergency ward. From the Inquiries counter I was referred to the children’s ward. The ward nurse I spoke to was heartless, to say the least. After my question she simply said, ‘your child died an hour ago’! I flopped right by her desk to the floor. A parent standing nearby came to my rescue and pulled me to a chair. Weakly I asked the nurse if she was sure about what she had just said. Of course she was, she said and went on to give me the child’s name and age. It was not my son. I stumbled from the chair back to the Inquiries counter. There they told me to search for my son in the always packed waiting room, he was not there. Next they referred me to the doctor’s waiting room.

As I entered that room packed with patients waiting in a queue to the doctor’s cubicle, I saw my child minder. Next to her was my little boy lying on the bench they were sharing. His head rested on a small cushion placed on the girl’s lap. My son had been bumped on the head by a vehicle as they crossed the road from the shopping center. The girl had been negligent, allowing the child to walk playfully on his own while she walked on ahead of him. The driver of the car had rushed them to hospital. 

This accident had happened around 3 in the afternoon and yet when I got to the hospital at about 5.30 in the evening, my child had not yet been attended to! I took my child in my arms and prayed for him. Next I carried him past all the waiting patients straight to the doctor’s cubicle. As the patient being attended to came out I rushed in and placed my boy on the examination table, crying and at the same time explaining what had happened. The doctor was shocked that the child had waited so long before getting treatment. He had since stopped crying, the girl said and now was just lying limp, almost lifeless. He had a bump at the back of his head from the knock and a gushing wound on the forehead from the fall.

Towards mid night I left the hospital with my baby strapped behind my back. I had to walk home in the dark streets since taxis were long gone but my son was alive! He had been x-rayed and they did not find any extensive damage to his head. I knew in my heart that it was the power of prayer that had saved him from death. From the way the girl had explained and considering the amount of blood he had lost and the time it took to get treatment I realized that it was God who has seen him through this ordeal. Praise God for SimbaraShe (God’s power) which also happens to be my little boy’s name.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Counseling A Young Believer

I was talking to a young Christian friend from a sister church a couple of months ago. She opened her heart to me and told me about how she was struggling to walk righteously before God.

Before she became a Christian she had allowed herself to indulge in any kind of 'fun'. But now that she was a Christian she was beginning to feel uncomfortable about some of the night spots she and her friends always frequented. The Sunday preachings would stir her conscience and urge her to keep away from ungodly socializing, but the pull of her friends was too strong to resist. She tried to make new friends at church but she always felt that they were not her type; they appeared to be too 'straight' and unreal for her.

As she waited for my response, I tried to think of some word to encourage her with. All I could think of was to tell her to try harder to make friends with the straight girls and just forget about her worldly friends. But in my heart I knew that it was easier said than done. The reason why she had opened up to me, an older and mature Christian, was because she needed help for a problem she was finding difficult to resolve.

I prayed silently for the Holy Spirit to help me. And while I waited for guidance, I asked her a few questions about her church family. In my studies on Soul Care by Dr Larry Crabb, I had learnt that it was God’s intention for every human being to live in a relationship where four things ought to happen – to be known, deeply known; to be explored; to be discovered and to be touched. Was this happening to her through her church family, I wondered?

The Holy Spirit then brought to my mind the story about Moses on Mount Sinai, as he entered into the Presence of God to receive the Ten Commandments. When he came back down the mountain, the Bible said that his face shown like an angel's. The people around him were so terrified of the glory on Moses' face that they hid their faces from him. This story is from Exodus chapter 34, particularly verses 29 & 30.

So I opened my Bible and shared this story with my young Christian friend. She asked me what this meant for her. As I sensed from the Spirit of God, I explained to her that God did not want her to be bothered about how to let go of her old lifestyle or how to choose new friends. He wanted her to spend more time with Him by reading the Bible. As she drew closer to God, His glory would become more and more evident in her life. Her old friends would notice, and slowly but surely draw away from her. She wouldn’t have to struggle with keeping their company. If God would want them to stay her friends then they would be drawn to her glory; otherwise because of the sin in them, they would now avoid her presence.

What my young friend needed was more of God's Word in her, and all her spiritual struggles would no longer be an issue. Today this girl radiates Christ as she ministers in her church through music. In my own personal walk with God over the years, I have discovered with joy that all my struggles can be easily resolved by simply spending more time in God’s Word.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

What Is In A Name

Identity. You call something a name and you identify it by that name. When my parents gave birth to me, they named me Agatha. It was not a name that came out of the blue, but a name they had thought and talked about while my mother carried me in her womb.

Looking back today, I have discovered that Agatha means ‘good’, and I have come to appreciate and love my name. But, before I knew the meaning of the name, especially in my teen years, I did not like that name very much. I wished my parents had given me an exciting name, like Francine or Francisca, a name I tried to ‘adopt’ for myself. My parents firmly rebuked me and that was the end of exciting Francesca.

My parents also gave me another name at birth; maybe after the suggestion of an aunt, but by the grace of God that name never made it to my birth certificate.
I now truly love being called Agatha, a good woman, and can now beautifully shout it out with confidence.

There is someone in the Bible who was given a name even before he was conceived in his mother’s womb. This name was given to his mother by an angel. She was a young girl, whose life was interrupted by a declaration from God. She did not choose to have the son and did not choose the name to be given the child. Her circumstances were pretty much pre-planned for her.

But what a child she gave birth to! What a name! His name is JESUS. He was given the
Name which is above all other names. It is a Name at which every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord! He is our Savior, our Lord, our Redeemer, the Rock of our salvation and the anchor of our faith. (References: Luke 1 & 2; Romans 14:11)

Some of us have been given names and born into families that we have very little appreciation for. Maybe we have even been born into countries we find undesirable. But despite the names we carry, the families we belong to and the nationalities we are part of, above all this we can belong to the greatest Name of all times, if we would make Jesus our Savior and the Lord of our lives. When we place ourselves under His Lordship, all these other identity issues become of very little significance.   

The problem with placing a lot of value on our names, families and nationalities is that we can either place too much value or too little value on ourselves. We thereby give other people and nationalities too much value over us or too little under us. Many atrocities have been committed as a result of how we value each other.

In Jesus Christ we are all one. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, no slave nor free, no male or female, for we are all one in Christ Jesus. Reference – Galatians 3:28. We all qualify to be God’s children and to be of use in His kingdom, no matter what labels we carry on us. The ground is level at the Cross of Calvary. Just as Jesus was born into Joseph’s ancestry, we are also by faith born into His ancestry. We belong to God the Father through Jesus Christ.

So next time you struggle with the name given to you at birth or the family you were born into or the country of your nationality and the blessings and curses which come with it, remember the new and most important Identity afforded to you in God through Jesus Christ our Savior and Redeemer. That ought to put to silence all the other identity dilemmas. You are more than just a name, for in the Mighty Name of Jesus Christ you can become all you ever dreamed of and achieve even more.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

God is greater than all the mountains you will face in the year

I lift up my eyes to the mountains; where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth. Psalm 121:1,2

I thank God for the mountains He will lead me to in this year. For I know that He will give me the grace to climb each one of them. By depending on God I will grow stronger in my walk with Him.

Each mountain climbed will be a testimony of His grace which is sufficient for me in my time of weakness. Encouragement will come from knowing that 'the Lord my God is bringing me into a good land, a land with streams and pools of water, with springs flowing in the valleys and hills'. Deuteronomy 8:7

What are you O mighty mountain? Before God you will become level ground.

Psalm 121

A song of ascents.

I lift up my eyes to the mountains—
    where does my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord,
    the Maker of heaven and earth.
He will not let your foot slip—
    he who watches over you will not slumber;
indeed, he who watches over Israel
    will neither slumber nor sleep.
The Lord watches over you—
    the Lord is your shade at your right hand;
the sun will not harm you by day,
    nor the moon by night.
The Lord will keep you from all harm
    he will watch over your life;
the Lord will watch over your coming and going
    both now and forevermore.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Have you ever missed Christmas

Have you ever missed Christmas? I don’t mean forgetting the dates. Our parents and Sunday school teachers did a wonderful job in instilling those dates deep into our conscience. I mean waking up on the 27th and asking yourself what the commotion on the past two days was all about!

Christmas, like Easter is very easy to miss. I missed my Easter last year. I had travelled to the rural village a day before the holidays, loaded with a whole package of solar lighting fittings. In my excitement to light up our homestead and prove to my mother that I was such a wonderful and caring daughter I quickly went about organising for someone to handle the connections.

There was a handyman who did odd jobs and lived a couple of miles from our village. Early Friday morning I woke up and drove to pick him up. In two hours he was done with my connections plus the usual neighbourly chit chat over a cup of tea. I drove him back to his village. On my way back home, at around 11am, the narrow road was suddenly flooded by a procession of Roman Catholic believers. They were carrying their mini crosses and singing very solemnly. This was a commemoration of the crucifixion of our Lord Jesus Christ. Suddenly it hit me; this was Easter and alas, in all my rushing up and down the road I had forgotten about it.

At that particular point I felt like the disciple Peter. I had forsaken the One person who ever gave His life up for me. As I held on to my stirring wheel, with my foot on the brake to allow the church procession to pass, I felt so much shame. What was I doing on the road on a day like this? I was a Christian of many years; but on this day I was at the wrong place and doing the wrong thing altogether. I had missed Easter!

This is not uniquely my spot alone. You could miss Christmas too. By not keeping your mind focused on the One Person most important at Christmas you could miss it altogether.

The two gentlemen walking to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-34) nearly missed Jesus who was walking right alongside them. They were busy talking and pitifully wallowing over the events leading to his death. Their minds and conversation were focused on who Jesus was before he died - the man from Nazareth, instead of who he had said he would be – the King and Messiah of all nations. Had Jesus not spoken to them and revealed himself they would have gone on into Emmaus still enveloped in their confusion and ignorance.

We stand to lose a lot by not paying careful attention to details. Like a young man who went fishing with his uncle, an event he had been looking forward to for days. As he got the hang of what fishing was all about, he suddenly surprised everyone and himself by catching his first fish. But while the fish was still in the net by the water, he turned around and called out to his friends to come and have a look at his catch. That momentary side look was all the fish needed to dive back into the water and swim away from its captor.

Or in the case of a young lady who was so sure she had finally met the man of her dreams. But unfortunately she would not let go of her other boyfriends, and only to lose her lucky catch.

I am saddened when we attend conferences and participants refuse to heed to the call by preachers to take some time alone to reflect on the messages preached. That time of reflection is for most participants a time to go shopping! The local church has little success in this area of reflection time too, as parishioners are always rushing out to feed their grumbling stomachs.

All humanity and creation is centered around the birth of Jesus Christ. He came to this world for us and we must not miss the meaning of Christmas. Jesus was not just passing through our world or visiting; but he came to us so that we may experience a new beginning, so that we may have hope and so that we will experience peace and joy even while living in a troubled world. No, we must not miss Christmas by not paying attention to the events which brought us the King of Kings, our Redeemer and the Rock of our salvation.
A Song of Praise
In that day this song will be sung in the land of Judah:
We have a strong city;
    God makes salvation
    its walls and ramparts.
Open the gates
    that the righteous nation may enter,
    the nation that keeps faith.
You will keep in perfect peace
    those whose minds are steadfast,
because they trust in you.

Isaiah 26:1-3

Friday, November 28, 2014

Dear Daughter

Allow me to introduce myself: I am Almighty God. There is no other; I am God, and there is none like Me. I AM WHO I AM, (the self-existent one). I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of bondage, the everlasting God, the Creator of all the earth. I never grow weak or weary. I am merciful and gracious, long-suffering and abounding in goodness and truth.

The thoughts that I think toward you are thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope. I have examined your heart and know everything about you. I know when you sit down or stand up. I know your thoughts. I see you when you travel and when you rest at home. I know everything you do. I know what you’re going to say even before you say it. I made all the delicate, inner parts of your body and knit you together in your mother’s womb. I made you wonderfully complex!  My workmanship is marvelous—how well I know it! I watched you as you were being formed and woven together in the dark of the womb. I saw you before you were born. Yes, I carried you before you were born. I will be your God throughout your life time. I made you, and I will carry you along and save you. I have loved you with an everlasting love. With unfailing love I have drawn you to myself.

Pay attention! For you are my servant. I, the Lord, made you, and I will not forget you. I have swept away your sins like a cloud. I have scattered your offenses like the morning mist. Oh, return to me, for I have paid the price to set you free!
But now, listen to the Lord who created you. I formed you and I say: Do not be afraid. For I have ransomed you. I have called you by name; you are mine. When you go through difficulty, I will be with you. You have been chosen to know me, believe in me, and understand that I alone am God. There is no other God—there never has been, and there never will be. I, yes I, am the Lord and your Savior. No one can snatch you out of my hand. No one can undo what I have done. Don’t be afraid, for I am with you. Don’t be discouraged, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you. I will hold you up with my victorious right hand.

Yes, all this is true, but it is nothing compared to what I’m going to do. For I’m about to do something new. I will put a desire in your heart to worship me. See, I have already begun! Do you not see it?

Adapted from the following Bible texts:
Genesis 17:1
Isaiah 46:9
Exodus 3:14
Exodus 20:2
Exodus 34:6-7
Isaiah 40 : 28
Jeremiah 29 :11
Psalm 139 :1-4
Psalm 139 : 13-17
Isaiah 44 :21-22
Isaiah 43: 1-2; 5; 10-11; 13
Isaiah 41:10
Isaiah 42:18
Jeremiah 32:40
Isaiah 46:3-4

Written by a friend of mine, Robin Zaleski