Night Walk

It was the end of June 2009, the time of year when the cold creeps around the streets like a thief.  Tom and I pulled on our parkas and wooly beanies and set off into the dark night.  The air was clear and crisp, the stars sparkling brilliantly in the vast, empty vault overhead.  As we headed up the road and across the reserve in silence, my eyes wandered over the familiar shapes and shadows of the moonlit landscape – the clusters of tall, slender gums on the right, the gnarled, ghostly paperbarks, the dim blocks of houses at the beginning of the next street.  As we reached the first house on the corner, the white cat perched in its customary spot on the brick letterbox observed us disdainfully.

   “’There go those two morons!’ it’s probably thinking,” said Tom, and I laughed.  We continued the slight climb to the top of the road.  As we passed the last house on the left, a porch light turned itself on, illuminating the whole of the verandah and the front garden.  It gave it an ethereal, greenish tinge.  After that, we fell into single file to walk down a narrow, unlit path through a small patch of nature reserve.  This short stretch was very dark.  I got Tom to walk in front of me to ward off any potential attacker and to break through any cobwebs that might be stretched across the path.  Soon we were out in the clear, side by side again as we made our way up to the Rose Park.  This marked our halfway point.  I called it the Rose Park, but its real name is something else that I can’t remember to this day.  In the warmer months, it is a beautifully kept garden with manicured lawns and circular beds of roses of every colour, set off by a gushing fountain in the middle.  In mid-Winter, the roses were pruned back hard and the fountain was turned off.  The whole area looked black, chilly and forbidding, and we kept moving.  Soon we would reach the oval, and from there it was all downhill.

The streets were quiet.  The branches of the golden elms were stripped bare by the cold and lifted upwards like innumerable white arms.  Not many people ventured out on winter evenings, but I had come to love the mystery and stillness of the night.  We passed the oval, and I peered across it to see whether there was any activity going on in the community hall, the church, or the basketball courts on the other side.  Nothing.

Down the hill a little, we came to a gum tree next to a streetlight where a family of magpies often slept.  Sometimes there would be four or five, sometimes one or two, sometimes none.  We stood for a moment, gazing up into its branches, searching for the plump, black shapes.  They could be quite hard to make out amongst the glistening, shadowy leaves, absolutely motionless and silent.  Tom spotted three, which he pointed out to me, then we moved on.

   “I wonder why they don’t all sleep there every night?” I said as we walked.

   “Mmm…it’s a puzzle, isn’t it?”

We were nearly home.  We turned a corner and trudged down another road, quickly crossed back over the reserve and to our street, hurried down our driveway, and went inside.

The Value of a Penny

My father walked through the sitting room and paused with his hand on the front door.

    “I’m just popping down the shops for some cigarettes, Deb.  Would you like to come for the ride?”

    “Okay!”  I jumped up from the rug where I was colouring in one of my brothers’ books, and followed my whistling father out to the car.  We often made these little jaunts to the shops together.  Sometimes while down there the two of us would have chocolate snowballs, a secret between us that made me feel very special.

     After he’d backed out the driveway and started down the long hill leading to the main road, my father gripped the steering wheel with his knees, pulled out a pack of cigarettes and began the process of lighting up.  This was his habitual custom.  I eyed him nervously but proudly as he negotiated the bends in the road, his knees skillfully moving the wheel backwards and forwards.  By the time we reached the bottom of the hill, he was drawing deeply from his cigarette and the steering wheel was back in his hands.

     My father pulled up outside the corner deli and dived into his trouser pocket for a pound note.

    “Could you run in for me, Deb?” he asked casually, leaning back and taking a puff.  This was in the days when there was no age limit for buying cigarettes, and my brothers and I would often be the ones to run this errand for our parents.  I took the money and ducked into the dark little store.

    “A packet of Marlboros, please,” I said politely to the man standing behind the counter.  As he turned his back to select a packet from the shelves behind him, I looked at the jars of lollies on the counter.  My father had said nothing about a snowball today.  My mouth watered at the sight of the shiny, coloured sweets glistening right in front of my eyes.  The clinkers, said the label, were only two a penny.  My father would never know.

     The man turned around and put the cigarettes down on the counter.

    “And I’ll have two clinkers, please!” I said quickly.  He picked them out of the jar with some tongs and gave them to me with the change from the pound note.  I stuffed the clinkers deep into the pocket of my trousers and returned to the car.   I waited for my father to put the change away and start the ignition, but to my horror he began carefully counting the coins.  Beside him, the sweat was pouring off me. I hadn’t foreseen that this would happen!  My father had grown up in the Depression years and was very thrifty with his money.  He was also scrupulously honest.

    “That man’s short-changed me!” my father said in dismay.  “We’ll have to go back in and tell him.”  I gulped nervously, my mind racing.  I opened my mouth to confess, but nothing came out.  I could see no way of preventing the hideous exposure that was about to happen.  There was nothing for it but to follow my father into the shop, my head hanging low.

   Within moments, my deception was uncovered.  The shopkeeper glared down sternly at me, and my mortified father and I returned to the car.  Before driving home, he rebuked me severely.  I will never forget his anger, so rare, but even worse was his disappointment.  I adored my father and looked up to him.  I couldn’t bear the fact that he had seen me behaving in such a low manner, setting out to cheat him of money and lie to him.  I have never forgotten that incident, because it was the moment I learned that honesty was important in the smallest of things and the loss that comes from dishonesty is far greater than I could have imagined.  It was a defining incident in my growth to maturitity.

Bluey the Budgie

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
    because he has anointed me
        to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
    and recovery of sight to the blind,
        to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.

Luke 4:18

When I was in primary school, we were given the task of writing an essay in which we had to put ourselves in the place of someone or something else.  I chose my budgie, Bluey.  In my imaginative piece, I escaped from my cage for a day and had a lovely outdoors adventure.  I described the hesitancy I felt when I first found the door of my cage open.  Slowly, I poked my head through, then my whole upper half, then with a quick glance around and a little chirp of joy, I launched into the air.  My wings were a little stiff at first, but soon I was soaring over the garden, delirious at the feel of the breeze rushing past my feathers and the sense of freedom.  I alighted on the leafy tree in the corner and tasted a delicious peck of the round, fuzzy-skinned fruit, then flew into a tall tree and breathed in the minty smell, after which I hopped down on the lawn.  To my delight, there was a fountain of water gushing up from the middle. I hopped over and bathed in the silvery drops, then quickly took flight when a large, black bird dived at me.   As the light faded my owner found me.  By then I was tired and hungry and very content to return to the comfort and familiarity of my cage.

I think I wrote this story because, even at a young age, I sensed deep within my spirit that there was a freedom out there to be had.  According to the Anglican tradition, I was baptized as an infant, I attended church during my primary years with my mother, and at the age of thirteen I was confirmed, but I didn’t know Jesus personally.  Soon after my confirmation, I fell away from the small amount of faith I had altogether and stopped going to church.  Throughout my teenage years, the chains that bind were drawing ever tighter – chains of guilt, of low self-esteem, of chronic low-grade depression, of uncertainty about where my life was heading or what the purpose of it all really was. 

At the age of twenty-two I cried out to God for help and He rescued me.  I entered into a personal relationship with Jesus and a saving faith.  The chains fell off.  Like Bluey the budgie in my story, I discovered a whole, new world outside my cage.  For the first time I noticed the beautiful flowers around me, the blue sky, the joy of Creation.  I found true freedom in Him.  It is my prayer and hope that many more people today and tomorrow will discover like I did that there is a life outside the cage.  That Jesus sets the captives free.

The name of the Lord is a strong tower; The righteous run to it and are safe.

                              Proverbs 18:10

                 man running                                   Photo by Cam Adams on Unsplash   

If you are a Remnant believer, it is very likely that you are finding that the pressures in your life are on the increase.  By Remnant believer, I mean a Christian who believes in the traditional truths of the faith and who takes the Bible seriously and seeks to obey its teachings.

Until recently, Christians were generally accepted in Western society and could find a home in their churches and get along reasonably well with unsaved friends, colleagues and family members.  I know there are exceptions, but I am speaking in generalities.  However, in the last five years, maybe ten, all that has changed.  Many of us are up against it.  Unsaved spouses and friends that we thought we were very close to may have become subtly hostile towards our devotion to the Lord.  One or more of our children may despise our beliefs as old-fashioned and bigoted, or even older relatives such as parents may look askance at our views. Our church may have turned apostate, following the shifting winds of worldly philosophies, so that we have had no choice but to leave.  Jobs may even have been lost because of our values.  I am sure you can come up with other challenges that have risen up that you haven’t had to deal with before.

I’ll admit that I have faced a number of those things in recent years.  A couple of days ago I  felt so stressed out that I longed for an escape to better circumstances, a life where things would be easier, the way they used to be.

“Lord, where can I go?”  I cried out to Him.

This was His answer.  He showed me that the pressures on all sides of the Remnant Christian today are not going to go away, in fact we can expect them to increase.  It doesn’t really matter where we go.  We have a target on our backs because the enemy (Satan) is working day and night to set up his own kingdom and he wants to neutralize our effectiveness for Christ.  There is only one answer, and that is to run to God.

I do believe that God wants a strong people, well-trained in battle and able to overcome trials and temptations, and that is why He is allowing us to be tested.  When we spend lots of time in His presence, we can be refreshed anew each day so that we can face the trials head-on in the strength that He supplies.  In the midst of difficulties or even sudden and unexpected enmity from unforeseen directions, our Lord and Saviour can be our oasis. He can be a strong and mighty tower, as the psalmist above discovered.

 

A Promise Fulfilled

Fear not, for I am with you;
Be not dismayed, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you,
Yes, I will help you,
I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.

This morning I continued my study of Isaiah. I’m up to Chapter 41 now. As a backdrop to this chapter, God’s people had been warned for a long time that they must return to the Lord, or judgment would surely fall. The people were steeped in idolatry, mixing pagan worship with their Jewish rituals, oppressing and exploiting the poor, and indulging in immorality. The laws and commandments that had been handed down to them had been forgotten. Finally, the axe had fallen. The Babylonian empire rose up and invaded Israel, just as the prophets had foretold, bringing destruction and exiling all those who weren’t killed.

However, even though the Jews had gone into exile in Babylon and Jerusalem was in ruins, God promised that He was going to bring them back to their land and restore them. We know from history that Cyrus did indeed allow them to go back and rebuild their city walls and Temple and dwell there once more. The point is, even though it looked like God had forgotten them and their situation was absolutely impossible, God had not forgotten them. Nothing was too hard for Him. He told them through the prophet Isaiah what He planned to do, giving them hope, and He fulfilled His promise.

I for one marvel at God’s love and compassion for His beloved people. He would restore them, indeed He longed to restore them, and He promised that the time was coming when they would return to their land and be blessed once more.
In Jesus Christ, we are now privileged to be called the sons and daughters of God and every blessing promised to Israel applies to us. Nothing is impossible for Him. His heart is to see His children walking with Him and fully experiencing all the blessings of the new life. For all those who are faithful to Him, He will vanquish our enemies and set us on our feet. Does it sometimes look like God has forgotten you? I confess that I have my moments when I wonder where God is, but this chapter gives me great encouragement. God has set His steadfast love upon His children, He is faithful and we can wholeheartedly put our trust in Him.