Saturday, March 28, 2009

Where the heart is

I have been friends for years with a lady who doesn't blog, so she won't read this. That's good, because I have to say something that sounds hard, but I'm making a point. This friend has a face very like Ichabod Crane in 'The Legend Of Sleepy Hollow'.
She also has a heart of pure gold.
She has friends who value her because of the sort of person she is, not because she is stunning to look at.
As a study in contrasts, there is the 'Swedish countess' having a bitter divorce battle with a mega rich ex-husband, and claiming the millions of dollars offered her is not enough. Apparently she needs $4000-00 a month just for clothes, $600-00 for flowers, and some incredible amount for hair and skin treatment.
Can you get that? Most people do not spend in a year the amount she claims she 'needs' each month. It is astounding that someone can stand there and say that with a straight face. Is there something wildly over the top here?
Back to my friend: I can remember the time she spent being there for others who needed someone to talk to, and the amount of coffee she brewed for all the visitors who dropped in because she was always a sympathetic ear. Sometimes she was taken for granted, and not shown the respect she deserved, precisely because she never made herself hard to get on with. I should add, she is a believer in Christ.
If I had to risk my life for someone, and found the courage to do so, then those worth dying for would be my wife, our children...and a friend like this one I speak of. The world needs people who live and treat others the way they do.
Maybe I'm overlooking something. Could it be that this countess is actually pitiable because she has such a warped view of what matters in life? I can't say. This much is true, thoug: The world suffers from the greed of people who insist that they simply must have more money to live on in a year than most of the world's people see in a lifetime.
No doubt some persons think they become attractive and deserving of admiration because they're expensively dressed and made over, and have money to indulge themselves or their favorites. So could I be accused of jealousy here? Okay, I'll admit, it would be really handy to have more money than we do. But I would be embarrassed at myself if I was caught standing there claiming that I need FOUR THOUSAND DOLLARS A MONTH for clothes!
Which of those two women would make a more trustworthy friend? Which of them does more to make the world a better place? Which of them more genuinely shows that humankind is made in the image of God? The one who wants to take, more and more, or the one who gives?
There might be some allegories in nature. Some flowers are quite beautiful to look at but toxic if touched. Perhaps God made things that way to serve as a lesson about life.
God knows true beauty. This is a case in point of "My ways are not your ways," says the Lord. Human folly can value and worship greed and vanity, and fail to appreciate what really matters. This is something I have to remember myself.
Women such as this friend of mine, and my wife, don't get mentioned in the news. But we see them around us in daily life. We would do well to appreciate them.
So appearances do NOT indicate true beauty. What matters is where the heart is, or what it is.

Saturday, March 21, 2009


I know where the expression "cold feet" comes from. I've felt it. When you have an attack of serious fear, there is a sensation of chilling in the feet and lower legs. It happened to me when I was badly affected by clinical depression, brought on by a constant sense of danger. It is not as though I had to go into combat or something, it only took 25 years working as a teacher in 'disadvantaged' high schools. One the one hand you have a duty of care to students, which requires you to prevent bullying (and quite rightly too) but on the other hand if you ever firmly instruct a student to cease and desist from bullying or other obnoxious behaviour, they are likely to accuse you of picking on them and threaten to complain to a lawyer. And the so-called
'leaders' of the school tell you it is your own fault it happened. "You should have handled it better". And just as women live with the fear of sexual assault, men live with the fear of being falsely accused of it. And some female high school students I had to work with were damaged, and dangerous. Staff were warned, they were capable of trying to lie adults into trouble. Men have been lynched because of lying accusations. After a quarter century of it, despite praying and seeking the help of God, enough was enough. Christians still bleed when they are cut, after all. Going through this must be God's plan for my life experience, which we know is not all a easy and convenient. We all have trials to face. This was one of mine. And it brought on depression and a sense of fear. Once when I was cooking a meal, while my wife was putting linen away, it hit me right out of the blue: a shocking sense that something terrible was going to happen. Part of it was the physical sense of 'cold feet'. Men are supposed to 'tough it out', according the the macho culture of the world. But men can be fools, and ignore the call of God. Happily for me I was called by God, so I did not have to deal with it alone. I would have gone under if I'd tried.
I'm putting it down in writing because some very valuable words came to me, and helped me through it. I'm very grateful for the Gideons Bible in our house, which suggests helpful reading for situations. That is how I came upon some favourite Bible verses. Psalm 56 says: "When I am afraid I will trust in you.
In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust,
I will not be afraid.
Whaat can mortal man do to me?"

Psalm 118:6 says "The Lord is with me, I will not be afraid. What can anyone do
to me?"
The cynical answer is that humans can kill you - but only the body, not the soul, and NOTHING happens to us that God does not allow and know we can bear. I need to know that!

There are numerous passages on this theme. One more worth mentioning here is from
Isaiah 26:3, "You will keep in perfect peace him whose heart is steadfast, because he trusts in You."

An important thing to note there is that the believer has to trust, and stick to God's path. There is an image from "Pilgrim's Progress" (I think) in which two leopards are chained on either side of a narrow path. The chains are such that they cannot reach anyone passing who sticks to that narrow track. They can lunge very close, so close that you could clearly see them and feel their hot breath, but they can't reach you if you just stick to the path. They can be seriously frightening. It can stress you; but if you remember to stick to the path, you are safe. The symbol is obvious. Extreme danger can threaten you, but not reach you. Nothing will overcome anyone except what God allows. No hurt can fall on one of God's followers that He does not know they can bear. If it comes to death, then it is because God's time has come. But the greatest difficulty is fear. Like depression, it is one of the evil one's ways of sapping the will to live and overcome. And it is an illusory threat from an enemy already beaten, although still dangerous to the unsuspecting. Even though it was not said in a Christian context there is truth in the saying of F.D Roosevelt during the Great Depression: "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself." As Jesus said, "In this world you will have troubles. But take courage. I have overcome the world." (John 16:33).

Monday, March 9, 2009

The fire will not die

I just heard some bad news. Someone walked into a Baptist church, somewhere in the U.S. and shot dead the pastor who was preaching. So I've prayed for those who were bereaved by that murder, but it's impossible not to be downcast about a thing like that - and to feel angry as well. But there is something to remember here. What happened when that man died was not a defeat. It was a painful tragedy, but not a defeat for Christianity.
The evil one, aka 'Satan', wants to hurt Christians, and to destroy Christianity; and when you see it resorting to a thing like that then you know the evil one is getting desperate. (I say 'it' because I will not dignify the evil one with a respectful personal pronoun). Satan's usual tactic is to be guileful, to try and deceive people into ignoring the calls of God. It gives them distractions, or lies to lead them astray. If people are content and complacent, and feel no need to stay in touch with God, then satan is getting things arranged just nicely. That is when they are furthest from God. When a crisis arises, or a period of suffering, that's when the human reaches out for help and comfort from God. So the evil one prefers not to do it that way, it seems. Besides, since Satan is 'the father of lies' then doing things in an underhanded, dishonest way is the preferred modus operandi. It is as if Satan knows just how despicable a thing it is, and its actions are; and feels embarrassed at itself when seen too openly. So if people can be kept foolishly happy with amusements, distractions or indulgences like food, drink, money, ego-boosts, sexual indulgence, then all is smooth and sweatless for the 'prince of darkness'. We can't so easily see the potential evil in keeping people dulled and duped that way. But if something jars their complacency or spoils their party and humans see the need for God then the evil one loses its grip on them. It is better for Satan to act covertly without showing its hand too clearly. Therefore when something violent and terrible happens, we can see the evil of it straight away. And that alerts us to the need for God, to know Him and keep in contact. So to lash out and strike in this obvious way shows the evil one has run out of better ideas. What has happened is the making of a martyr.
Centuries ago, when the Romans were persecuting Christians, they defeated their own object. Some people would see the Christians dying in the Colosseum and realize: those followers of Jesus have got something worth dying for. Many of the spectators could see the power of Christianity - and turned to it themselves. The evil that satan drove the persecuters too backfired on it, and instead of destroying Christianity it enlarged it.
It is unfortunate that hurt and pain are sometimes what it takes to turn humans to God. But it seems that is what happens. After the attacks on the Twin Towers in 2001,
reports were that many people looked to God. They were reminded, rather terribly, how fragile life and the things of this world are. Sometimes it can be done another way, happily. The first Billy Graham crusade in Australia was followed by a measurable drop in the crime rate; a decrease in the number of births outside marriage; and (I think) a decrease in the incidence of suicide. So it need not take a cruel shock or pain to evangelize. It can be done by preaching, proclaiming the Word. But you can be sure the evil one saw what God was doing through Billy Graham and was frantic with rage. God did not allow Satan to strike Billy Graham and silence him. I can't know why some of God's people live to old age and others die early. I can't say why this Baptist pastor was not protected from the gunman. I'm not God, and there are many things I can't know. What I do think is, when satan does manage to take someone down violently it is because it cannot do so any other way. The evil one is forced out into the open, seen for what it is and not able to deceive by operating from the shadows. And the souls of the Christians will not perish, they're taken to be with God in the Kingdom. That is the devil's final defeat. What it would most like to have, human souls, it is deprived.
Come again, Lord Jesus.