Thursday, July 14, 2011

A Time for Testimony.

I was priviledged enough to grow up in a Christian home, having parents with a deep passion for the Lord. Thanks to them, I came to know about the Lord at a very young age, and chose to accept Jesus into my life even before the age of 7. In my early years, I truly had a solid understanding of what it means to have "faith like a child. At the time it seemed unfathomable and completely unnatural to not believe in the Lord.

Today, being older, I can understand that my undying faith and trust at that stage may have largely been based on the fact that I was young and innocent. But my memory of how I looked completely lovingly and trustingly at my "Daddy" is something that I can only aspire to do now. The faith that I had as a child is the closest thing that I can imagine to what it will be like in heaven. 

I owe a lot to my parents. Without the solid grounding in faith that they gave me I would not have the faith I have today and I will always be grateful for this.

Up until the time I was 11, my family and I were attending a church nearby to where we stay. Unfortunately, as in many churches, political issues forced the church to split. There were a lot of political issues and the church eventually split. As a family, we went with the minister to a church that he planted but the split had. This caused some pain amongst the congregation and despite remaining spiritual, my family eventually stopped attending church.

At this stage I was 13 and although being Christian and having immense faith as a child, I did not really have a mature understanding of what it means to live out a life as a Christian. I went to church simply because my family had and I followed them and stopped attending too. 

Through my teenage years, we faced some really rough times as a family. It was a time when I was learning who I was and growing up. I made my own fair share or bad decisions including a bad relationship

In truth, I had turned my back on God. Its hard to explain what I was feeling spiritually at that point but a part of me wrongly believed that God - , knowing all my thoughts and choices - could not possibly want or love me. I truly feel that the lack of a relationship with God in those years had put a moderate sized hole into my heart that I was unsuccessfully trying to fill with external things. 

When I got out of my long term relationship at the time, I was quite bitter and miserable. It had been a bad breakup and it forced me to confront this hole that I was feeling. I could not explain it... I had everything that seemed important: - a family that, despite having gone through rough times, loved me immensely; good grades that would allow me to continue in my dream to be a vet and good friends. I still somehow felt like I was missing something..
I was 18 when I hit that realisation, and made the choice to try find religion in my life. I was not sure at the time if looking for God would help, but I felt I needed to try anyway.

I attended church with a friend of mine and they were playing Casting Crowns' "Who am I?". As I was listening to the words I prayed that if God- who knew every bad choice and every bad thought, and who I could offer nothing to- wanted me as I was, that He would come into my life and fill the emptiness that I felt.

I didn't hear any heavenly voice booming from the sky. No white doves or ringing bells. What I receive was an overwhelming sense of God's love and acceptance. It was my own "Prodigal Son" -or daughter in my case- story.

I can't tell you that since then, I've had unwavering faith or that the world always makes sense and I have every answer. I can't tell you that since then my spiritual walk has been free from bumps or rocks. What I can tell you is that I know with all my heart that nomatter how far off His path I may feel or how many mistakes I feel that I have made, God truly is waiting right behind me with arms wide open. He's simply waiting for me to turn around and let Him welcome you home. 

I pray that in sharing this story, God can use me for His good. If not, then I know I can use it to simply remind myself of His constant, undying love for me and for all of His children.  

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The choice: Spitting or Paradise

Its truly amazing what procrastination can do... At this point I'm meant to be writing up a 15 page seminar on the "Trends in wool sheep production in South Africa." So naturally instead of writing it I logged onto Youtube and downloaded one of my favourite Christian songs that I haven't heard in a while and it struck a thought that I felt the need to write about.
The song is Don Fransisco's "Too small a price"...

"I awoke to hear the jailor, turn the key and push the door
'Get out here!' he shouted, but i stayed there on the floor
Frozen in the terror that rose and filled my brain
For I knew what they intended and I could not face the pain..."

This idea seems a little too real to me... I haven't actually been locked up in jail, but sometimes in life we do have to face terrifying situations.
Sometimes we mess up and facing the consequences seems hard or terrifying. The song is based from the perspective of the thief that was crucified next to Jesus. In the song, the thief starts off mocking Jesus, before coming to a heavenly realisation that there is something far greater than what meets the eye...

"The crowd that stood around His cross made jokes about His name
They shouted, laughed and spat on Him so I joined in the game
I said, ‘Hey! If you're the King why don't you get us down from here?
The taunt just sounded hollow and it echoed in my ears

'Cause He looked at me with eyes that seemed to reach into my heart
They shone a light on all my lies and tore my life apart
There was more that lay behind His gaze than simply blood and clay
But knowing was too much for me; I had to look away"

Sometimes God calls us out on what we've done wrong. Maybe we've followed the crowd, mocking the Saviour. Maybe we've done things wrong enough to warrant us being punished by our government, as that thief had. Or maybe it seems smaller than that, simply turning our backs on God...

Whats so amazing about this song for me is Jesus' reaction to the thief's cry of repentance...

"... And in spite of all that watched us there, it couldn't be denied
Because His righteousness and innocence were shining bright and strong
I just couldn't keep my silence and that cursing still went on

**(Talking to the accusing thief on Jesus' other side)**
I cried out, ‘Don't you fear the wrath of God even at the end?
You'll curse us both into the pit - is that what you intend?
We're only getting what we're due - we've sinned our whole lives long
But don't you talk to Him that way - He's done nothing wrong!'

Then with all my courage, in a voice not quite my own
I asked Him ‘Lord, remember me when you sit upon Your throne'
He answered me and, even then, His love was undisguised
He said ‘Before the sun has set today, you'll be with Me in Paradise' "

This passage from the song gives me goosebumps. There is so many elements to it. On one hand, you have the love that Jesus shows to someone who has been accused and hated (probably deserving so) by all his peers...
Then you have Jesus, who even having endured so much pain, to be physically worn down and broken, would use His breath to ask for forgiveness of mankind and to offer words of forgiveness and comfort to someone who literally 30 seconds before had joined in with the mockers and accusers of Jesus.
I'm sure that if I had gone through everything that Jesus had that day, I wouldn't feel like forgiving those who wrongly put me there, and least of all I wouldn't exert physical effort to offer comfort to someone who seemingly didnt really deserve it. It really strikes me that even in the last agonising hours of His life, Jesus cared more for His people than He did for Himself or His own comfort... 
Makes you wonder what that thief must have felt. It's assumed he spent his life not as a follower of religion or of Jesus. He obviously had a brush with the law that got him crucified that day. He knew what was going to happen that day. Maybe he'd spent his time on earth living a not-so-righteous life. I don't know what life he lived, maybe he slept around, lied, cheated. Or maybe he was a good citizen that happened to be in the wrong place and wrong time and tempted to do a wrong thing that got him crucified. But whatever life he lived, it didnt chenge Jesus' reaction to a plea. In fact, it doesn't really seem important to Jesus at all. I can only imagine how afraid and hopeless the thief felt on that day. Hanging on his cross, he got to share his darkest time with Jesus right at His side... Its a little reminder that we get to as well.

As a broken and despaired human, Jesus chose to reach into that man's situation and give him an out, give him hope and a promise for paradise. If I was that man, having nothing- no hope and about to die- if nothing else the hope that Jesus' words would have given me would allow me to die in peace. I know that if as a human He chose to do that, in spirit Jesus will most certainly do the same for us when we face our darkest hours, be they in our lives or when we are about to die...

All we have to do, is decide which thief we'd like to be. Continue spitting and mocking, or simply ask for the thing that Jesus is longing to give us...

Sunday, July 10, 2011

A New-Found Respect for My Shepherd

 Its been an incredible year. A new adventure that had both challenges of mind, body and faith. Like all new adventures, this year has come with pain and loss as well as with new beginnings.
Its 7 months into the year and I have found inspiration for my second blogpost for 2011. (I know it has been a very long time but I really felt the need to focus on myself and settle down into my new life at Onderstepoort- Veterinary Teaching Institute- as I begin the next phase of my journey to accomplish my dream)

So here we are, in July, and it was in my midyear exams that I found some inspiration for this post...
As part of my syllabus this year I have had to do a module that involves the handling, behaviour and welfare of production animals.. (sheep, pigs, goats and cattle---basically just dealing with everyday aspects and routine procedures that occur on farms).
 ***quite ironic that in my 3 years of veterinary study I'm far closer to being a farmer than an everyday vet but hey, we all must start somewhere. :)***
  As our midyear exam for this module we were required to undergo our first ever oral and practical exam. These exams occured over three days with one species per day (cattle, pigs and sheep respectively). The nerves amongst my years block in res were certainly tangible as these much dreaded exams drew nearer and nearer...

We were all rather terrified at the prospect of having to take our exams orally, especially when combined with the handling and the performance of potentially painful procedures on rather temperamental and untame animals.
Thankfully though, our fears were largely unwarranted, with the lecturers being very understanding and helpful and the animals largely cooperative--the pigs literally slept through my exam---that is, except for the sheep...

When you imagine a sheep I'm sure a cute little image of little-bo-peep's-pet jumping over a fence as you drift into sleep pops into mind but in reality sheep are flighty, instinct-driven, rather smelly and fairly strong, 50kg (about 110lbs) animals that have little trust of humans...
Upon arriving at my sheep exam, I was asked to discuss and illustrate the basic restraining of a sheep, in theory a very simple task. I managed to procure my sheep, much to its disgust, and restrain it fairly well (restraining it involves taking hold of the animal above its leg and pulling it backwards following which you place your hand around its muzzle and the other hand in its flank). But by this stage the sheep was no longer interested in doing anything I wanted it to do. So when I was asked to restrain the animal as if it were a goat, (which involves backing it into a corner) I performed the textbook "reverse" method... but to no avail. The incredibly stubborn sheep had made up its mind not to listen to me, refusing to budge from its position and even laying down right in front of my lecturer! Eventually I ran out of time in my exam and a disgruntled, out of breath me had to admit defeat to a sheep...

Which brings me to my point...
Whilst battling the sheep I was faced with the image of a "shepherd" attempting to attend to a sheep that was too stubborn to listen. I guarantee that I had the best interests of the sheep in mind and I knew exactly the path that would be easiest and most helpful to the sheep but the poor animal stubbornly refused to trust me.

I know that in my relationship with the Lord I am very often like that sheep. God knows what is right for me, He knows what path I should take that would be for my best interest but sometimes I just refuse to move and stubbornly resist change. So often the path that God wants for me will take me away from the "other sheep" and often, like a sheep, I fight what He wants from me and instead try to follow the flock. Sometimes its fear of what I don't know (I'm sure the sheep was most afraid that if she'd listened to me she may have had some nasty needle stuck into her), and sometimes, I'm afraid, it's mistrust of the sheperd.
As a vet (or a shepherd), I need to know what the animals need. I need to know what is in their best interest. If a painful procedure is required, I have to be able to justify it as being in the best interest of the animal...
Isn't it the same with God? He knows what is right for us, He knows it may be hard or painful, but the path that He wants us to take is entirely for our own good and His glory.
Knowing how helpful and nice it would have been for both the sheep and I had the sheep cooperated, it makes me really want to try harder to listen to Him. 

I passed my exams in that module. At the time it was a tad humbling and humiliating, but I can appreciate the lesson it brought me. And now, when my saviour is described as a shepherd, I can smile and have a new found respect for Him.