When travelling through the Australian outback, our convoy stopped at an abandoned Afghan campsite. After decades of non-use there was still evidence of habitation such as a broken-down goat yard, the lid off a can, glass bottle stoppers.
Curiosity prompted me to lift the lid of a milk can lying amongst the salt bushes. A tiny lizard reared its head in defiance at me. Several others came to look at this tiny, courageous critter. I could have snuffed out its life with my fingers, yet it stared into my face, it’s mouth open wide, daring me to attack. I lowered the lid and left the little creature alone to live another day. It was the personification of courage.
DAVID VERSUS GOLIATH
Very few people would think of themselves as a David pitted against a Goliath, yet when their back is to the wall, they turn into a David, rescuing people from certain death, sometimes at the expense of their own. Speaking-up boldly for a cause they believe in when everyone else is silent.
Several years ago, my husband Bruce was called to visit a home at 2 am to deal with a drunken man. The guy was brandishing a gun and threatening to shoot anyone, including himself, who dared to try to take it from him.
Did Bruce feel like a David? No! Inside, fear made him feel like a jelly bag. But someone had to face the man and try to save him and his loved one’s lives.
ACTION – REACTION
Wondering how the man would react, Bruce took slow steps, one at a time, toward the man seated on a bed in a bedroom. Finally sitting down beside him, putting his arm around his shoulders, he took possession of the gun. What Bruce was doing, was it madness? an emotion that pushes him into acting without thinking? An adrenalin rush? Is courage an inbuilt trait … a response of self-preservation?
Some people are trained to face danger as in warfare, firefighting and ambulance attendants. We expect these people to be brave. Yet when questioned they deny being courageous. They claim to have saved their mate because he was just that – their mate, and that they were scared stiff.
Training certainly holds a person steady in a time of crisis but even ordinary, untrained people become courageous in a time of emergency.
What about Bruce, what was his motivation? Firstly, his response was governed by his acceptance of his call by God to serve his fellow man, and secondly, by his desire to prevent tragedy. Bruce went fuelled by the hope in Christ that this unhappy man could be delivered from his bondage.
Having met Christ in his teens, Bruce was now, after years of experiencing God’s faithfulness in all walks of life, completely sure that God was well able to do anything he promised. Even though he was scared stiff, he responded to the 2 am call because he believed that God was able to keep him. The roots of courage are sown in our past experiences and the history we have with God.
When Bruce arrived at the home of the drunk, he couldn’t just barge in and demand the gun be dropped. No, it was soothing words, then a slow step by a step march across the room to sit beside the man
Courage is like a muscle, the more we dare to use it by taking risks not just in the ‘big’ moments to save lives, but also in the ‘small’ ones like speaking to the neighbour, inviting someone to church or home to a meal – it can be doing something that we have never done before.
TAKE A RISK
If we dare to take a risk, we are flexing the muscle of courage. By so doing, we grow as a Believer and as a person. If our fear is not challenged then we remain weeping violets. Should we continue to be afraid to say boo to a goose, we will not achieve very much. Without daring we are not living.
Take one step at a time and flex your muscle of gallantry, move forward as people who have faced their fears and overcome them.
Through the Biblical writings of Joshua, God urges us to, ‘Be strong! Be courageous! Do not be afraid … For the Lord your God will be with you. He will neither fail you nor forsake you.” (Joshua 1: 6 – 9. LB)
WHAT IS LOVE?
Our first love is magical and wondrous, goose-bump material. My first love was an exploration of romance. We were both fourteen. He was short and tubby, I was tall, slim and gawky. He was not a prince on a white charger, I was no Barby doll, but we were attracted to each other.
Our first kiss was heart-stopping, a stolen moment at the primary school Christmas break-up party. Not the practised film-star passion but a wet fumbling. Our relationship never grew, my parents moved to another district and we never met again.
MY SECOND LOVE
was my prince on an iron horse or bicycle. He was too poor to own a car, the car would come later. Dark, handsome, average height. The chemistry was there from the start. Cupid’s arrow found its target and we married. Sixty-six years later we still fizz with the magic, though age has taken its toll.
MY THIRD LOVE
Is Christ, Son of God. This is not an Eros or romantic love but an agape love. The love of God for man and of man for God, a self-less, sacrificial love.
God’s love for us is beyond magical, it is jealous, possessive, transforming, redeeming, healing and freeing. There is no end to his love for us, no bottom, no height or width. We are the apple of his eye. D L Moody once said, ‘If you ask me why God should love us, I cannot tell. I suppose it is because he is a true Father.’
Such unconditional love is known as the grace of God, the unearned favour of God given to us not for what we have done or haven’t done, not for who we are or aren’t. Philip Yancey wrote, ‘Grace means there is nothing I can add to make God love me more, and nothing I can do to make him love me less.’ Such love is the sacrificial love of agape. ‘For God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son so that anyone who believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life… There is no eternal doom awaiting those who trust him (Jesus) to save them.’ I have no concept of such love, it is beyond my understanding that anyone could love me so much.
MY TRUE LOVE GAVE TO ME
When this wonderful truth of God’s unearned favour dawned on me the colours became brighter and prettier, I felt clean and new, I had a purpose to live. I felt I wanted to dance for a million years. I had been floundering, searching for what? Suddenly I was found and I had found Jesus, my third love, a self-sacrificing, agape love. This Agape love, this unmerited favour of God, does wonders for the self-esteem.
I want to close with this thought expressed by Paul Ellis, ‘he who has Christ lacks no good thing. In him we are fully, completely, and totally sanctified.’ Another quote from a letter by an early believer, ‘So you have everything when you have Christ, and you are filled with God through your union with Christ.’ (Colossians 2: 10)
Les was a fossicker. He had spent the day digging fruitlessly among the rocks for amethysts. The clang of spades on rocks sounded loud in the drowsy somnolence hanging over the scrub.
‘I might be onto something here,’ Les’s voice broke the quiet afternoon
Carefully he scraped and brushed away the dirt and was able to lift a huge crystal from its hiding place. It lay in his hand winking at him. His joy knew no bounds.
Somewhere in the long ago, the crystal had formed in a cataclysmic upheaval. It had lain hidden for countless eons, a treasure formed in the dark until Les found it.
Isaiah recorded the word of the Lord to Cyrus, ‘I will give you the treasures hidden in the darkness, secret riches; you will know that I am doing this – I the Lord God of Israel, The Lord found me the one who calls you by your name.’
I often wondered what this verse meant. It has slowly dawned over time that the treasure spoken of was learning to praise the Lord in all situations. Learning the power of intercessory prayer, learning to believe in God in the face of opposition, leaving behind grudges, forsaking pride embracing the humility of obedience. These attributes were formed, like the crystal, in dark times.
Milton, the great poet of his time, lived in a world of darkness, he was blind.Despite that darkness he wrote immortal poetry. Likewise Fanny Crosby, also blind, wrote hundreds of hymns that are still sung today, precious crystals of praise and insights about the Lord. They learnt that in times of physical darkness and the darkness of circumstance, the person of the Lord is formed in them.
C.S. Lewis was devastated by the death of his wife. He described his feelings as though God had slammed a door in his face and double locked the door from the inside. Later, when his grief subsided he recognised that his walk with God plumbed new depths. Out of the darkness of grief he was able to write a book that gave hope and life to its readers – a treasure from a secret place.
Paul the apostle was no stranger to the dark places. From those places he wrote most of the New Testament. His writings have spanned 2000 years and are treasured and enriched by all who read.
I may have been formed in the kingdom of darkness but I thank God that he searched for me and brought me out of that kingdom into the kingdom of light as Les the fossicker exposed his crystal to the light. I also praise God that he has taken me through the dark times so that I found the secret richness of him in my life. More and more over the years I can say with Paul, ‘We rejoice when we run into problems and trials for we know that they are good for us – they help us to learn to be patient.’
On Nov. 18, 1995, Itzhak Perlman, the violinist, came on stage to give a concert at Avery Fisher Hall at Lincoln Centre in New York City.
If you have ever been to a Perlman concert, you know that getting on stage is no small achievement for him. He was stricken with polio as a child, and so he has braces on both legs and walks with the aid of two crutches. To see him walk across the stage one step at a time, painfully and slowly, is an awesome sight. He walks painfully, yet majestically, until he reaches his chair. Then he sits down, slowly, puts his crutches on the floor, undoes the clasps on his legs, tucks one foot back and extends the other foot forward. Then he bends down and picks up the violin, puts it under his chin, nods to the conductor and proceeds to play.
By now the audience is used to this ritual. They sit quietly while he makes his way across the stage to his chair. They remain reverently silent while he undoes the clasps on his legs. They wait until he is ready to play.
But this time, something went wrong. Just as he finished the first few bars, one of the strings on his violin broke. You could hear it snap – it went off like gunfire across the room. There was no mistaking what that sound meant. There was no mistaking what he had to do. We figured that he would have to get up, put on the clasps again, pick up the crutches and limp his way off stage – to either find another violin or else find another string for this one. But he didn’t. Instead, he waited a moment, closed his eyes and then signalled the conductor to begin again.
The orchestra began, and he played from where he had left off. And he played with such passion and such power and such purity as they had never heard before. Of course, anyone knows that it is impossible to play a symphonic work with just three strings. I know that, and you know that, but that night Itzhak Perlman refused to know that. You could see him modulating, changing; re-composing the piece in his head. At one point, it sounded like he was de-tuning the strings to get new sounds from them that they had never made before.
WORKING WITH WHAT YOU HAVE
When he finished, there was an awesome silence in the room. And then people rose and cheered. There was an extraordinary outburst of applause from every corner of the auditorium. We were all on our feet, screaming and cheering; doing everything we could to show how much we appreciated what he had done. He smiled, wiped the sweat from this brow, raised his bow to quiet us, and then he said – not boastfully, but in a quiet, pensive, reverent tone – “You know, sometimes it is the artist’s task to find out how much music you can still make with what you have left.”
What a powerful line that is. It has stayed in my mind ever since I heard it. And who knows? Perhaps that is the definition of life – not just for artists but for all of us. Here is a man who has prepared all his life to make music on a violin of four strings, who, all of a sudden, in the middle of a concert, finds himself with only three strings; so he makes music with three strings, and the music he made that night with just three strings was more beautiful, more sacred, more memorable, than any that he had ever made before, when he had four strings.
So, perhaps our task in this shaky, fast-changing, bewildering world in which we live is to make music, at first with all that we have, and then, when that is no longer possible, to make music with what we have left.
It is finished! What’s finished? Sin is finished. You mean we can indulge in all kinds of base and anti-social behaviour and know we won’t go to hell? On the other hand, we can strip off anything that slows us down…especially those sins that wrap themselves tightly around our feet and trip us up…’ (Hebrews 12: 1-2) and believe and accept that Jesus killed off sin on the cross, giving the believers a new start.
I am currently hand embroidering a linen table cloth. The pattern comprises twelve peacocks forming a ring in a stylized design. The embroidery is call Richelieu because much of the pattern is worked in bars and later the linen is cut away just leaving the bars.
I have stitched at it every evening and have completed eight birds. I began the project in February 2018 when I traced the pattern and ironed it on to the linen and sewed the first stitches. I estimate it will be June 2019 when I say, ‘It is finished!’
I have kept working on the cloth constantly – two hours every evening. When I first became a Christian I started working on being good. Remaking myself to please God, so I believed. After failing very badly I gave up trying to be good, admitted it couldn’t be done. God, then, stepped in and revealed he had done it all for me. When I had become a Christian, Jesus filled me with himself. When I accept him he lives through me. That is why it is not up to me to struggle to live the Christian life. My part today is to believe Jesus as Saviour and receive from him God’s abundant favour and the gift of goodness.
Jesus famous last words while hanging on the cross were, ‘It is finished!’ He meant he had taken our place, replacing our self-effort with his life indwelling us. Jesus has made us as perfect as he is perfect in spirit. We no longer have to struggle with sin.
Sin is not the issue any longer. Rejecting the finished work of Jesus is the issue. Do we accept Jesus, trust him with our life? or do we trust ourselves and our ability to be good and please God.
The plan is to work at the cloth until it is finished. It is my greatest piece of embroidery, my ultimate work of art, my ‘piéce de résistance’. For Jesus, hanging on the cross was his greatest moment. He saved the world all we have to do is believe and accept him as Saviour and receive from him God’s abundant favour. However, I cannot make me in the same way as the cloth. Only Jesus can renew me. I have accepted Jesus, ‘I am a new person,’ ‘It is no longer I that lives but Christ Jesus in me.’(Galatians 2:20. What appears to have been lost in one sense is more than gained in another. Jesus has given me ‘more than we ever dared to ask or even dream of – infinitely beyond our highest prayers, desires, thoughts or hopes.’ (Ephesians 3: 20)