At the Mountain

Imagine standing at the foot of Mount Sinai and there were thunder and lightning and a thick cloud on the mountain and the sound of the trumpet fills the air.  In fact, the trumpet was so loud that that you tremble.  You come out of the camp to meet with God at the foot of Mount Sinai which is completely in smoke because the Lord descended on it in fire.  The smoke is ascending like the smoke of a furnace and the mountain quakes.  The trumpet blast becomes louder and louder.

How would you feel?  What would be going through your mind?  Would you be terrified to see the Lord come down upon the top of the mountain?  Would you want to break through and gaze at the Lord at the risk of your life or would you stay as far away as possible, watching the manifestation from a safe distance?  This was the predicament of the Israelites when they camped before Mount Sinai.

Three months after the people left the land of Egypt, they entered the Wilderness of Sinai.  The Lord told Moses to tell them to consecrate themselves for two days, then on the third day, He would go down on Mount Sinai in their sight.  They were warned not to go up to the mountain or touch its base or they will be put to death. Boundaries were set around them which they could not step over.  When they hear the trumpet sound long, they were to go to near the mountain.  God explained to Moses why He was doing this.  “Behold, I come to you in the thick cloud, that the people may hear when I speak to you, and believe you forever.”  The people could not break through the barrier set for them to gaze at the Lord.  Only Moses was allowed to speak to God face to face.

The people were terrified when they saw the thunder and lightning, heard the sound of the trumpet and saw the mountain smoking.  They stood afar off, trembling.  They said to Moses, “You speak with us, and we will hear; but let not God speak with us, lest we die.”

Moses reassured them, “Do not fear; for God has come to test you, and that His fear may be before you, so that you may not sin.”  The people continued to stand afar off while he drew near to where God was.

I don’t know how I would have reacted if I were there but I am thankful that today, we can go near God without fear.  Thanks to Jesus’ atoning work on the cross, we can boldly approach the throne of grace.  Jesus made it possible for us to enjoy a loving relationship the same God who descended on the mountain in the wilderness.

God wants us to seek Him.  He promised, “You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart” (Jeremiah 29:13).  Do we seek Him or do we stand afar, afraid to get too close?  Do we ask others to talk to Him on our behalf instead of talking to Him ourselves?

Today, I encourage you not to just stand at the foot of the mountain.  Climb it.  God has removed the boundaries that would keep you from Him because of His Son. Don’t let fear or sin or anything keep you from climbing up that mountain to meet your Lord.

Behold, I Myself will search for My sheep and seek them out (Ezekiel 34:11).

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Sources:  Exodus 19, 20:18-20

Hair Us

I remember a long time ago that I wore my hair in an Afro, or at least tried to, but it was too wispy and my sister had to keep patting it down in place.  Shortly after that, I abandoned the idea and went back to braiding my hair.  Had I gone to school wearing an Afro, I wonder what would have happened. I don’t recall seeing other girls wearing their hair in Afro at school so I have no way of knowing if it would have posed a problem for them.  However, if I were a young black South African student at the prestigious Pretoria girls’ school, formerly attended by whites only, I would be banned from wearing my hair in an Afro or in a natural hairstyle.

In South Africa, girls as young as 13 years took part in a protest to against a clause in the school’s code of conduct which banned wide cornrows, braids and dreadlocks. One girl wearing an Afro stood up to a man. Her defiant look told him that she was not going to allow him or anyone to tell her how she should look.

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Not everyone shared this girl’s courage.  Many were fearful because they knew that they would be policed when they go to school. Others cried as they shared their experiences. One girl said, “I have a natural Afro, but a teacher told me I need to comb my hair because it looks like a bird’s nest.” Another girl said that her mother forced her to cut her hair because she “didn’t want to trouble” at the affluent school.  Students were forced to comb their hair before they were allowed to eat dinner.

Malaika Maoh Eyoh, 17, was  told that her Afro was distracting the other students from learning. Although she now braids her hair, she felt that the comment was aggressive and was among the 100+ young women protesting against the school for allegedly forcing black students to straighten their hair.  After the march of protest, images of it went viral in South Africa and an online petition garnered over 10,000 signatures.  And an independent audit of the school to investigate all claims of racism has been ordered. However, this has not abated Malaika’s anger.  Her experiences of discrimination over the years were still very fresh in her mind.  She recalled one incident when a student was pulled out of class and given Vaseline to flatten her hair.

The discrimination went beyond their hairstyles.  Students were discouraged from speaking African languages.  They were told to “stop making those funny noises” when they spoke in their mother tongue.  Others were compared to monkeys or told that they were too concerned with race and politics to achieve the school’s demand for academic excellence.   Still, others were told that they belonged in the poorly funded schools in the black townships on the outskirts of the city.

Schools are where children are shaped and groomed for life and success.  It is where their confidence is built up and nurtured.  Education is more than learning from books, it is about being sensitive to the feelings of others.  Girls are very conscious when it comes to their looks and they need to know that no matter how they choose to wear their hair, it does not diminish their value.  Banned from wearing her hair natural took one young woman who went to a school in Cape Town years to undo the damage done to her sense of self-love and appreciation for who she was.  It affected another young woman’s confidence in her abilities.

What is a girl to do?  Should she change the way she looks to avoid causing trouble in school or should she stand up for what she believes is her right to wear her hair natural and face discrimination and humiliation?   Well, it looks like the protest struck a chord with many and under pressure from students and parents, provincial Education Minister, Panyaza Lesufi suspended Pretoria High’s hair clause last week. The next step is to end the discrimination at the school.  An online petition has already been signed.

Sources:  The GuardianQuartz Africa; Goats and Soda

The Miracle of Life

For me, the most amazing transformation were the stages of pregnancy.  It wasn’t planned but I was thrilled when I got the news that I was pregnant.   During those 41 weeks, I marveled at the changes of my body and was amazed at the relentless hunger pangs that plagued me.  I was told that I was eating for two when I was actually eating for myself.  The baby took whatever nourishment he needed.  I was curious to see the stages of development so I visited the Baby Centre site to find out, What does your baby look like now?  It was an eye-opening experience.  I couldn’t believe that in nine months, that little tadpole would transform into a baby with beautifully formed limbs, ten toes, ten fingers and a head of hair.  Open day, those tiny lungs would get their first gulp of air.  I couldn’t wait to welcome my baby into the world.

My pregnancy not only changed my life, but it deepened my love and appreciation for the God who had made this possible.   “Behold, children are a heritage from the LORD, The fruit of the womb is a reward” (Psalm 127:3).  God’s loving fingers had knitted the life growing inside me.  He clothed him with skin and flesh and knitted him together with bones and sinews (Job 10:11).

I will never forget the moment I first held my son in my arms.  My arms ached to hold him and when the nurse gently lowered him into them, I felt as if my heart would stop beating.  The love I felt as I gazed down into that sweet little face was almost too much to bear.  Tears come to my eyes even I write these words.  At long last I was holding the life that had been covered in my womb (Psalm 139:13).  The transformation was complete.  I was holding the miracle of life in my arms.  I never imagined that I would have a child in my forties.  Yet, there I was holding my first and only child and he was perfect.   He was “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14).  I made a promise that I would be the best mother that he could ever hope for, with God’s help.

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Love Hangs On

There is an image that will forever be imprinted on Cindy’s mind.  It is what keeps her going when she wants to give up.  Recently, her son had been acting up at school and she was struggling to deal with why he was taking what didn’t belong to him and lying about it.  She had been crushed by such despair that she just wanted to throw in the towel and resign herself to the idea that it was no use trying to fix this problem.  She and her husband had talked to him many times about the consequences of wrongdoing. They read Bible stories to him stories to illustrate how important it was to do what was right.  But it seemed to be a waste of time.  She cried when she read the teacher’s note, wondering what had happened to her precious little boy who would never have thought of taking other people’s things and telling lies.

She had prayed to God about it but the discouragement and disappointment were overwhelming.  During her morning worship one day, she was frank with the Lord, telling him that she didn’t know what else to do.  Talking to Joey, reading verses from the book of Proverbs which urged children to listen to their parents and even spanking him didn’t seem to be working.  She had run out of options.  Then, the image which she always held dear to her heart, filled her mind.  She saw her son in the hospital, wrapped in a blanket, his head covered and only his tiny face  was exposed.  She would never forget looking into those big, beautiful eyes as they stared up at her.  This was her child.  The son she and her husband had prayed for.  This was God’s precious gift to them.

As the image lingered, she heard the Lord say, “Do it for him.”  God was encouraging her not to give up on that little baby who was looking up at her with such trust.  He was seven now but somewhere in there was that sweet child that had filled her heart such love.  It was this love that she was to tap into to help him.  God doesn’t give up on His children, no matter how long it takes or how hard, so she couldn’t give up on Joey.  Joey was a loving, kind and thoughtful child but he was doing bad things. She and his Dad had to find out why and then deal with it with God’s help.  God told her to talk to Joey, not at him and then listen to him.

She realized that lately she had been lecturing Joey and talking while he was trying to say something.  And it had been a while since she had spent any time with him.  Was it her fault that Joey was acting up?  Then, she pushed that thought away.  The enemy would love for her to blame herself but she wasn’t going to give him the satisfaction.  She knew that she and her husband were raising Joey the best they knew how, in a Godly home.  They would do whatever was necessary to help him but the choice, decision to stop doing what was wrong was his.  She was not going to give up without a fight, though.  Armed with hope and a mother’s fierce love, she was going to hang on to her child and not let go until it was safe to do so.   And one day he was going to thank her for not letting go of the child he used to be so that he could become the exceptional man God knew he could be.

Love suffers long and is kind; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.  Love never fails – 1 Corinthians 13:4, 7, 8

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Keeping Up Appearances

They had been together for twenty years.  The first ten had been relatively happy but after the loss of their child, their marriage started to crumble.  They went for counseling and things improved but only for a while.  They tried unsuccessfully to have other children.  They thought of adopting but decided not to.  The wait period was too long.

They thought of going for more counseling but felt too embarrassed to do so.  At church they acted like there was nothing wrong with their marriage.  When people looked at them, they saw a couple who were still going strong in spite of their loss.  They didn’t see the pain that was beneath the surface as Sarah watched other mothers holding their children or as husbands put their arms around their wives, their faces reflecting the love in their hearts.  All they saw was the artificial smile on her face when she and Bill walked through the front door of the church and were greeted by the elders at the entrance to the sanctuary.  No one knew the turmoil that had become a daily part of her life.

How much longer could she continue with this charade?  She wanted a real marriage not an artificial one.  She was tired of keeping up appearances.  Either they were going to make this marriage work again or they were going to call it quits.  The latter terrified her.  She couldn’t imagine being on her own again after being with Bill for twenty years.  The idea of starting all over again at the age of forty-nine was daunting.  She thought of what the people in church was say if she and Bill were to split up.  Neither of them had committed adultery so, why end their marriage?  Why not get counseling?  Why not try to work things out?  In their eyes, she and Bill had no grounds for divorce.  And what if they decided that they wanted to end their marriage and then, later on down the road, one of them decided that they wanted to get married again?

The words of Jesus came flooding through her mind, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her.  And if a woman divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery” (Mark 10:11, 12).  She didn’t want to be labelled an adulteress should she decide that she wanted to find happiness with someone else. 

Should she do as her mother did?  Her parents’ marriage was not a happy one yet they stayed together.  There had never been any divorce in the family and they didn’t want to break that tradition.  She had watched how miserable they both were, the love between them fade until it was gone.  All the while, they pretended that things were fine between them when they were around friends, other family members and in church.  Only she and her brother knew that it was all a charade, that their marriage was artificial.  She didn’t want that for herself.  She didn’t want to pretend like her parents did. She saw what years of pretending had done to them.  It wasn’t until after her father’s death, that her mother started to live again.  The spark was back in her eyes.  She never remarried but she lived the rest of her life in content.

Sarah had vowed that she would never go through what her parents did and yet, here she was, twenty years later facing a tough choice about her marriage.  What should she do?  Divorce Bill and be happy or stay with him and be miserable?  Getting up from the bed, she knelt down beside it, her head bowed and her hands tightly clasped.  “Lord, please tell me what to do.  I love Bill but we are no longer happy together.  I don’t want us to continue to live like this.  I know you hate divorce and I never imagined that our marriage would end like this but I know that you want us to be happy even if it means that we can’t be happy with each other.  Please help me to make the best choice.  Please…”

The tears started to fall so she reached over to grab a handful of tissues from the box and something fell on the carpet.  She picked it up.  It was last week’s church bulletin.  She had left it on the bedside table, meaning to read it when she had the time.  She turned it over and her eyes fell on an announcement.  It read:

Courageous Hearts

The pace and pressures of life place enormous strains on a marriage. Couples often find themselves merely coexisting. They share the same house and split the bills, but that’s about it. Courageous Hearts helps couples rebuild vital connections in their marriage through clear communication and healthy ways of resolving conflicts.

Our Courageous Hearts Retreat is designed to restore communication and rekindle affection encouraging you to have a healthy Christian marriage.

Listed below the announcement were the dates of the retreat and a phone number. She got up from the floor and left the room, holding the bulletin, her mind racing.  That evening after dinner, Bill sat next to her on the sofa.  “Morris gave me this” he said, handing her a small card.  Morris was their next door neighbor and an elder in their church.  She took it and glanced down at it, her eyes widening.  It was the same announcement that was in the bulletin.  She looked up at him and asked, “Do you think we should go?”

He nodded.  “I am willing to give our marriage another try, if you are.”

“I am.”  It was worth another try.  She felt that this was what God wanted and she trusted Him to know what was best for Bill and her.  She had heard of marriages almost on the brink of divorce being restored because of one of these retreats. Perhaps, the same miracle could happen for Bill and her.   After all, with God anything was possible…

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A Lesson in Humility

They were probably sitting or reclining at the table, wondering who was going to wash their feet.  They looked around, wondering and waiting.  None of them was going to volunteer to do it.  Why should they?  This was beneath them.  Not that long ago they had argued about which one of them was going to be the greatest in the kingdom.  They would never stoop to doing such a menial task as washing twelve pairs of dirty feet.  Surely, they wouldn’t mind washing Jesus’ feet, at least?  No, no one was going to volunteer.

What a shock it must have been for them when they saw their Master get up from the table, take off His outer garment, and tie a towel around His waist, fill a basin with water and then begin to wash their feet.  He didn’t use a different towel to dry their feet, He used the same one that was wrapped around His waist.  They probably looked at each other in astonishment, hardly able to believe that the Son of God was performing such a lowly task.  Did any of them feel embarrassed?

When it came to Peter’s turn, he declared, “Never at any time will you wash my feet!” It was inconceivable to him that his Lord would do something so beneath him and he wanted no part of it.  One can just imagine Jesus looking up at him as He said, “If I do not wash your feet, you will no longer be My disciple.”

That response must have shocked Peter.  Then, he said, “Lord, do not wash only my feet, then! Wash my hands and head, too!” He went from not wanting his feet washed to wanting a bath.

Jesus, by washing their feet was showing them that as His disciples, they ought to be willing to serve one another.  He was teaching them a lesson in humility.  He had told them earlier in His ministry that He didn’t come to be served but to serve and to give His life for many.   As His followers, we ought to swallow our pride and volunteer for the jobs that others don’t want to do.

After Jesus finished washing their feet, got dressed and rejoined them at the table, He explained why He had washed their feet.  “Do you realise what I have just done to you? You call me ‘teacher’ and ‘Lord’ and you are quite right, for I am your teacher and your Lord. But if I, your teacher and Lord, have washed your feet, you must be ready to wash one another’s feet. I have given you this as an example so that you may do as I have done.”  He was greater than they, yet He humbled Himself and took on the role of a servant.

Not many of us would volunteer for positions that involve hard work and little or no thanks or recognition but it would do us good to remember that whatever we do, we do it for the glory of God who will reward us openly.

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Sources:  John 13:1-17; Mark 10:45

Broke to Blessed

He sat in a corner under the bridge.  It was raining so he huddled against the wall, wrapped in his dingy blankets, trying to keep warm.  He longed for a cup of coffee but he didn’t want to go out into the wet to beg.  From where he sat, he could see the busy street and the heavy traffic.  He watched the people walking to their jobs, schools, slipping into coffee shops or heading down to the subway.    He used to be like that.  He used to be going somewhere.  He didn’t walk though.  He was driven wherever he needed to go.  He used to watch the crowds from the back of a limo, tapping his fingers impatiently as he had to sit in traffic.  While they were out in the cold or rain, he was warm or dry in the limo.  Life treated him very well.  He had it all but then he lost it all…

He started when he saw a van approach and stop.  It sat there for a couple of minutes before the doors opened and two young people emerged.  Slowly, they approached him.  He was not thrilled about this intrusion.  He was never one for socializing.  He only dealt with people when he had to.  His relationships had failed because he was not ready for any commitments and marriage was not on the radar.  He didn’t have any friends—only acquaintances.  He was satisfied with how life was.  It had been lonely at times but he had his millions to keep him comfortable.  Then, he had lost it all through bad investments…

They went under the bridge and stood opposite to where he sat.  The girl smiled at him.  She looked about twenty.  Under the grey hood were wisps of blonde hair.  She was pretty in a simple sort of way.  Not the type he would have been interested in or even considered dating.  Coming closer, she said, “Hi, I am Jenny and this is Mark.  We are with the Hands of Love program.  We are a ministry that provides sandwiches and hot tea to the homeless.”  She reached into the bag she was carrying and took out something wrapped in foil.  Mark had a cup in his hand.  They both held out their hands for him to take what they were offering.

He hesitated.  This seemed a little too good to be true.  He eyed them with suspicion.  He was never one to believe that you get something for nothing.  And he couldn’t believe that people would go to all of this trouble for someone in his situation.  He never lifted a finger to help anyone in need.  He had looked at the homeless with disgust, thinking that they had gotten themselves in that mess and that he wasn’t going to waste his hard earned money on the likes of them.  Little did he know that one day he would be in their shoes.   And here were these two perfect strangers who were offering him something to eat and drink and his old selfish nature was struggling to grasp this reality.  They must want something in return, but what could he possibly give them?  He had nothing.

“What do you want from me?” he demanded, his eyes challenging as he looked at the girl.  Her smile didn’t waver.  She didn’t seem at all put out.  “Nothing,” she assured him.  “I don’t want anything from you.  I am here to show you that you are not alone and that there is a Savior who loves you.”

His expression grew hard.  “Savior who loves me?” he asked.  “Where was He when I lost everything?”  He knew that he wasn’t been fair.  Bad investments got him where he was.  He had had not use for the Bible or Jesus when he was enjoying his millions.  Now that he was broke, he felt an irrational anger toward God.

The girl said to him, “He was there all the time.  It was not His will that you should lose everything and end up here but it is not too late for Him to help you.  All you need to do is trust Him.  I will leave you a Bible and there’s a story that I think you should read.  It’s about the rich young man.”

The rich young man?  His curiosity was piqued.  He wanted to read the story.  “Okay, I will read the story but I would like to have the sandwich and tea now.”  He took the sandwich and tea.  He carefully set the cup down and ripped open the foil.  He hungrily bit into the sandwich.

The girl went over to the van and came back with a small Bible which she set down next to the cup of tea.  “We have to go now,” she said.  “Before we leave, would you like us to pray for you?”

He shook his head.  “No thanks,” was all he managed to say as he devoured the sandwiches.

The young people turned and headed back to the van.  They drove away and he was alone again.

In no time the sandwiches were eaten.  He carefully crunched up the foil and tossed it away.  He wished he had asked them for money.  He was going to be hungry again.  He reached for the cup of tea, savoring the heat against his fingers.  As he sipped the hot liquid, he thought of the two young people, especially the girl, who intruded upon his world.  She was not intimidated by him or discouraged by his rudeness.   Her demeanor had not changed.  Her face was filled with a joy and peace that he had never experienced.  Where did she get it from?  He remembered the Bible she had left and he picked it up.  He saw that she had marked the page where the story of the Rich Young Man was.  Why that story? He wondered.  Why did she pick that particular story?  She couldn’t have known that he was once a rich man could she?

He opened the Bible to Mark 10 and began to read.  When he got to the end of the story, he felt that it was speaking about him.  He had put his millions before God.  His money had become his god.  Then, he lost it all and now he was homeless.   If he had only accepted the invitation to accept Christ, he would not be here.  Was it too late?

“When you seek me, you will find me.  I am always here.”  Those words brought tears to his eyes and he found himself sobbing.

“Lord, forgive me for loving my money more than you.  Forgive me for being selfish and uncaring to others.”  A peace that he never knew existed came over him and he knew that God was there with him.  He was not alone.  His life was about to change again but this time it was for the best.  It had to take becoming broke and losing everything before he would accept the blessings of God.  It was a hard lesson to learn but it paid off.

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