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Gossip is so tasty-how we love 2 swallow it! (Proverbs18:8) This is so true-isn’t it? We know we shouldn’t gossip but we do anyway. Read Proverbs16:28. Have you been hurt by gossip? Have you been spreading stories about others? Our words have power to build up or break down people. As Christians God wants us to build each other up, not break each other down. Check out Proverbs16:24. Who can you build up today?
Proverbs 18:8 Gossip is so tasty-how we love to swallow it!
Proverbs 16:28 A perverse man stirs up dissension, and a gossip separates close friends.
Proverbs 16:24 Pleasant words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones.
Who do you spend the most time with? Do your friends make you better or badder? Read Proverbs13:20 for some advice. You need to have friends and people in your life that improve your character, encourage you to make good choices. Which of your friends add godly value to your life? Thank God for them! Check out Proverbs17:17. Ask God to help you to be a true friend.
Proverbs 13:20 He who walks with the wise grows wise, but a companion of fools suffers harm.
Proverbs 17:17 A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.
What best describes your attitude or :(? The way you see yourself & the world affects you & those around you. See Proverbs15:13&17:22. Winston Churchill said: ”Attitude is a little thing that can make a big difference.” God gives us joy that’s more than just being happy. Joy comes from knowing God loves us & wants the best for us. It’s joy despite our challenges. Need an attitude adjustment? Chat 2 God about it.
Proverbs 15:13 A happy heart makes the face cheerful but heartache crushes the spirit.
Proverbs 17:22 A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.
It’s often easier to give advice than take it. How do you react to positive criticism? Check out Proverbs19:20,21. It’s important to consider the advice of godly people. As disciples we are to be continually learning & growing, becoming more like Jesus. Being teachable is key, learning from yours & others mistakes. Decide today to listen to godly advice. See Proverbs12:1-let’s not be stupid!
Proverbs 19:20,21 Listen to advice and accept instruction, and in the end you will be wise. Many are the plans in a man’s heart, but it is the LORD’s purpose that prevails.
Proverbs 12:1 Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but he who hates correction is stupid.
Read Proverbs3:5-7. God’s Word is so encouraging! We’re given clear guidelines for following Jesus. It’s all about God, not about us. Sometimes we need a perspective change especially when we start thinking the world revolves around us. It doesn’t! Remember that God the creator of the entire universe is in charge and knows best. We are called to trust Him with our all. How far are you willing to trust God today?
Proverbs 3:5-7 (Message) Trust GOD from the bottom of your heart; don’t try to figure out everything on your own. Listen for GOD’s voice in everything you do, everywhere you go; he’s the one who’ll keep you on track. Don’t assume that you know it all. Run to GOD! Run from evil!
DAY 1: God is like Superman.
The man of steel rescues people with his super-human strength and stops speeding trains, planes and meteors. But Kryptonite makes him weak.
Our God isn’t vulnerable to anything. He is God almighty and has the strength to play with mountains, oceans and even hold the universe in the palm of his hand. He flings stars into space and “calls them each by name. Because of his great power and mighty strength, not one of them is missing” (Isaiah 40v26).
When you’re feeling small just remember that our God is very big and powerful and more than able to rescue you.
Check out his description in Isaiah 40v21-31.
DAY 2: God is like Iron Man.
Tony Starke designs a protective suit of iron armour that helps him do amazing things and fight bad guys.
God has also made armour. In Isaiah 59v17 it says that God, as he fights against injustice, puts “on righteousness as his breastplate, and the helmet of salvation on his head.” Sound familiar? God not only made armour for himself, he’s made special spiritual iron man suits for us. Why? Because it’s dangerous out there and we need God’s protection against the devil’s evil tricks.
Are you wearing your spiritual iron man suit or are you running around in spiritual underwear?
Read about the body armour in Ephesians 6v10-17
DAY 3: God is like Mr Incredible.
“True to his incredible strengths, all Mr Incredible wants to do is save the world…It takes almost losing everything, however, for him to see that the real source of his power is his extraordinary family.” Pixar Website.
God is our Father (Isaiah 9v6) and we are his children. God can and does save the world on his own. He doesn’t need our help. But the wonderful thing is that he invites his family to be a part of his adventures. He gives us strengths, abilities and gifts.
You may not feel super but you are because you’re God’s child. Don’t miss out on those adventures!
DAY 4: God is like The Hulk.
Uncontrollable rage turns Dr Bruce Banner into the destructive Hulk.
Now God definitely doesn’t turn into a huge green monster but he does get angry. Did you know that? God gets really angry. But his anger is righteous. He gets angry when evil people hurt the innocent, where injustice is the norm and his own children reject him.
Yet even in the middle of describing God’s anger, the Bible says “The LORD is good, a refuge in times of trouble. He cares for those who trust in him” (Nahum 1v7) Thank you God that you are slow to anger and quick to love us!
Read Nahum 1v2-8
DAY 5: God is NOT like Loki.
Thor’s foster brother, Loki, is an evil villain who misuses his power. He’s always plotting, scheming, lying and manipulating. Most of all he despises the human race.
Thank goodness this is not a description of our loving God. Don’t believe the lies the devil tries to tell you about our God. God is love and he delights in you and rejoices over you and wants to be in a real vibrant relationship with you. God is truth so he cannot lie.
When God says he loves you so much – he means it! Be encouraged today by Zephaniah 3v14-17.
DAY 1: God is like The Arrow.
Oliver Queen has a mentor who teaches him to shoot arrows with deadly accuracy.
God is also described as an archer: “The LORD thundered from heaven…He shot his arrows and scattered the enemies” (Psalm 18v13,14). Sometimes we can think of God as “gentle Jesus meek and mild” but he is a fearsome fighter who skilfully protects and rescues us from our powerful enemy.
God also trains us in the ways of battle. “It is God who arms me with strength and makes my way perfect…He trains my hands for battle; my arms can bend a bow of bronze.”(Psalm 18v32,34). How’s your combat training going?
Read Psalm 18v29-42
DAY 2: God is like Captain America.
Steve Rogers, a puny young man with a warrior’s heart, is given a serum that turns him into a shield wielding super soldier who fights for his country.
God doesn’t need any serum. He is already the ultimate warrior who fights on behalf of his people. He is also described as being our shield. Listen to some more descriptions – my Rock, loving God, fortress, stronghold, deliverer, refuge (Psalm 144v1,2). Wow!
You may feel like a puny Steve Rogers but God strengthens you to fight alongside him. We’ve been designed to be warriors in God’s army.
Let’s fight that good fight of faith (1Timothy 6v12).
DAY 3: God is like Batman.
Bruce Wayne is Gotham City’s self-appointed protector. As Batman, he is champion of the weak and powerless. For all his good intentions, Batman doesn’t always win and besides he’s only an ordinary man with some really cool gadgets.
God has supernatural powers that enable him to always defeat evil. Sometimes evil can scare us and even paralyse us with fear. David wrote in Psalm 27v1 “The LORD is my light and my salvation – whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life – of whom shall I be afraid?”
Have a chat with God about your fears and hear what he has to say to you.
DAY 4: God is like Spiderman.
After being bitten by a radioactive spider, Peter Parker starts noticing some odd changes like the fact that he sticks to things. Spiderman has the ability to stick onto absolutely any surface.
God has amazing stickability too. God sticks with us, he is persistent and he never ever gives up on us (Psalm 37v28). Even when we are faithless, God remains faithful. I’m so glad that he does!
He also gives us amazing promises “The LORD himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged” (Deuteronomy 31v8).
Thank you God for your super stickability!
DAY 5: God is NOT like Thor.
Thor is a mythical Norse god from the planet of Asgaard. Thor’s story is fiction.
God’s story is the truth. God is our very real God, creator of the entire Universe. He’s not a myth or a story. Have you experienced this amazing, miracle working God?
Our God has the power to change lives, to do the impossible, to create something wonderful out of nothing, to heal, restore and make all things new. “For the LORD is the great God, the great King above all gods” (Psalm 95v3-7).
Thank God for who he is. Sing him a song or write him a poem. He is our great God!
1. A slave girl, probably just a young teenager. Hasn’t been around for 2700 years. She was a captive in the house of an enemy Syrian General. She takes up very little space in 2 Kings 5 but has a voice that leaves an impression, even today. She had no power, no family and no rights but had a ginormous faith in God.
She said one line, “If only my master would see the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy”. Subsequent chapters show the results of her faith which affects the life of General Naaman, the king of Syria, the king of Israel and their nations.
Imagine the possible effects of your faith in God…Read 2 Kings 5.
2. So Jesus had just calmed the storm and all the guys were happy – Yay! But then they came ashore and were met by a man (a filthy, naked, long-haired raving lunatic who lived in tombs and used to cut himself with sharp rocks) screaming at the top of his lungs. Quite a welcoming party. The locals where somewhat freaked by him as he could break chains like twigs because he was a little overcrowded by demons. The End.
Imagine if his story really ended there – no more “yay”… But so begins his journey with Jesus. The man ends up being the 1st recorded missionary sent by Jesus. His restored relationship with Jesus helped to change his neighbourhood…
Read the story in Mark 5: 1-20.
3. I know a young couple who heard God saying they should move to the Far East. They, with their brand new baby, now live there where they serve the best coffee ever and have chats with the locals in English. Doesn’t seem like a big wow but their relationship with God is literally taking them places.
The guy just started an exchange with the local martial arts instructor where he teaches English and Mr Miyagi teaches him ninja stuff. Their journey has not been easy but they’re re-discovering the meanings of sweet sacrifice and eternal consequence.
Imagine where your adventurous relationship with Jesus could be taking you. Why not chat to him about it. Hear what he says.
4. Many children are raised by their Grandparents. So was I. Only thing is that my Gramps was white and my Granny was coloured. Imagine that in the 50’s & 60’s. While their experiences were absolutely crazy, the best stories, the ones that revolutionised my life were what I saw in their lifestyle.
They had such a closeness with Jesus – like best friends. I would often hear my Granny talk with Jesus in that way. It was like God actually confided in them. Sounds crazy but it’s true.
How’s your closeness with Jesus coming along? He’s very good at making relationships work.
Check out Psalm 25: 14.
5. I know about a lovely Christian teenage girl who lived in the Lesotho Highlands and whose father was the village chief. One day, a gang kidnapped, raped and discarded her. She knew that being an unwed, pregnant, teenage girl would bring much shame to herself and her family. What to do? What to do?
Not only did she choose to keep her baby but she also named him “Praise the Lord” in Sotho.
Sometimes bad things happen to good people. The difference is that, as a follower of Jesus, you’re NEVER alone. “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you”… “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid”. Hebrews 13: 5-6
See 2 Corinthians 4: 6 – 12 (the Message).
6. James & John were teenage brothers when Jesus called them to join the Team. He nicknamed them, “Sons of Thunder” maybe because of their hot headed reputation.
When the Samaritans prevented Jesus and the boys from passing through their territory, the Sons of Thunder wanted to call down fire from Heaven and turn the Samaritans into toast (Luke 9: 54-56).
They even got their Mom involved (Matthew 20) when they wanted to have the most important places in the kingdom. So Jesus shared some words with them (as did the other disciples).
Their characters were however transformed by the Holy Spirit as they outgrew their old reputation. If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation…
Read 2 Corinthians 5: 16 – 20 (the Message).
7. Violent Crime! Corruption! Certainly keeps the twitter feeds rolling. Some say that the godless criminals should rot in jail. Imagine if those same criminals actually found God – in jail. Impossible you say…
A friend of mine found himself on the wrong side of the law. He ended up in prison and became a proud member of a prison gang. His idea was to serve his sentence and make his way up the gang ranks. But God had other ideas.
He became a follower of Jesus while in prison, (which could literally be a death sentence). He now ministers to prisoners full-time as a free man – in every sense of the word. Nothing is impossible with God.
Check out Jeremiah 32:17.
8. So poor Joseph (in Genesis 39) found himself in a pit – again. But how did he get there?
He started out as a brat, got human trafficked, became a slave and ended up as Potiphar’s second-in-charge. Potiphar was Egypt’s captain of the guard and chief executioner. You didn’t mess with this guy. Potiphar liked Joseph because God’s blessing was on him but Potiphar’s wife liked young Joseph because he was ‘well-built and handsome’…
She pursued him relentlessly for days but Joseph would not give in. He said he “could not sin against God” (verse 9) – which led to dungeon time.
Honouring God in the decisions you make could be difficult sometimes but totally worth it. Really.
Check out Genesis 39.
Author: Tracy Rens
Week: April 3-9
Byline: Tracy and Eugéne love to creatively communicate Christ through Act Won Creative Arts (www.actwon.co.za). Team Rens (Tracy, Eugéne, Luca) enjoy dancing with abandon, living out loud and laughing often as passionate children of God on an epic rollercoaster-ride of faith.
Introduction: Choose Life
Choice is unavoidable, inevitable and life-shaping. How often do we agonise over inconsequential choices while ignoring God-directed choices that bear eternal consequence? As Christ-followers we need to consistently make wise, godly choices.
Only two men chose to trust God and lived to enter the Promised Land. Joshua and Caleb chose life while an entire disobedient generation died in the wilderness (Numbers 14:30).
As we explore the book of Joshua, let us deliberately and daily choose life and hope over anxiety and defeat. “Now choose life, so that you…may love the LORD your God, listen to his voice and hold fast to him.” (Deuteronomy 30:19-20)
Prepare: “We have a choice as Christians. We can either be anxious, or we can trust in God” David Cho. What’s making your heart fearful, anxious or discouraged? Bring it to God.
>> Joshua 1:1-18
Explore: Joshua’s choice was clear. He could either obey God completely (he couldn’t half cross over the Jordan) or not at all. He had every right to feel terrified. Joshua had Moses’ impressive leadership sandals to fill and a seemingly impossible task to complete. No wonder God lovingly keeps reminding Joshua to be strong and courageous.
Interestingly when Moses is first called by God, he asks God to send someone else. Moses’ initial fear and unwillingness to obey, angers God. Joshua had the advantage of being a disciple under Moses’ care for many years. He learns from Moses about relationship with God (Exodus 33:11) and obedience (Exodus 34:10-11).
Therefore Joshua responds immediately with courageous obedience (even if his knees were knocking together). Choice is a deliberate act of will (despite the cost, despite my fear) in response to God’s command (to do something, to not be anxious, to step out in faith) based on relationship with God and trust in his character.
Joshua had a big role to fulfil, a big task to accomplish BUT a Big God who would do it. Joshua has chosen…wisely. How about you?
Respond: “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go” (v.9).
Prepare: As we look at news headlines and our own personal challenges, things can feel rather hopeless. All hope is lost…or is it? “Hope is putting faith to work when doubting would be easier” Anon.
>> Joshua 2:1-24
Explore: A group of desert nomads descended from slaves were about to occupy a heavily fortified land of warriors and giants. The last time they had attempted this, it had ended in an epic fail and forty years of desert wanderings and whining. Why was it different this time?
The external circumstances had not changed but the hearts of the new generation had. They chose an attitude of hope that focused on Almighty God. The previous spies, apart from Caleb and Joshua, let their fears overwhelm them. Tragically they focused on themselves: “We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes” (Numbers 13:33).
As Christ-followers we need to be different. We are the bringers of hope in our community and country. It doesn’t come easily and needs constant renewing of our minds and hearts. As John Maxwell says, “We choose what attitudes we have right now. And it’s a continuing choice.”
Let’s forsake the worldly “grasshopper” view and say over our circumstances, “The LORD has surely given the whole land into our hands; all the people are melting in fear because of us.” (v.24)
Respond: “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” (Romans 15:13).
Prepare: “You can only learn what obedience is by obeying” Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Today look for all the examples of how Joshua and the Israelites obey God as they listen to God’s instructions, dedicate themselves to God, faithfully follow and then create a reminder of his miraculous deed.
>> Joshua 3: 1-17; 4:1-9
Explore: Recently I’ve been wrestling with the space I find myself in – frustrated in waiting, confused by circumstances, doubtful of my abilities. Then I heard God saying that all he requires is my obedience. He reminded me about a challenging China mission. God kept saying “Go”. In the end we went. What a victory! Then I spent most of the mission stuck in a hotel bathroom, too sick to do anything. The rest of my team got to experience God at work in amazing ways. I felt very alone in a foreign country. I then heard God saying that all he required was my obedience. I had obeyed and that was enough. When we left China I had such a sense of peace. I had no grand stories to tell but had learnt a valuable lesson in following him. God reminded me of this story recently. Obviously I needed reminding.
What is God saying to you about obedience? What river do you need to cross this week?
Response: “Rest in this – it is His business to lead, command, impel, send, call or whatever you want to call it. It is your business to obey, follow, move, respond, or what have you.” Jim Elliot
Prepare: “Trust and obey, for there’s no other way/ To be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey” John Sammis. Do you trust God?
>> Joshua 5:1-15
Explore: This was a war strategy that made no sense at all. Instead of immediate occupation, God has the Israelites encamped behind enemy lines and physically incapacitated. Surely God knew better than that.
But as we examine the story, we begin to see that God is fulfilling his plans and promises. The first circumcision since leaving Egypt represents renewal of God’s loving covenant relationship with his people. The first Passover in the promised land is a reminder of God’s ongoing redemption plan. The people had to go undergo a spiritual transition before their physical transition into landowners. When we have confidence in our redemption through Christ and restored relationship with God, only then can we trust him and effectively advance into enemy territory.
How many times in our own lives do we doubt God’s actions and mistrust his leading? Panic can set in amidst confusion and anger. That’s when we need to choose to trust God. “Either we are adrift in chaos or we are individuals, created, loved, upheld and placed purposefully, exactly where we are. Can you believe that? Can you trust God for that?” Elisabeth Elliot
Respond: Thank you God that you are worthy to be trusted and that you really do know what you’re doing! “There is no greater joy in the Christian life than to trust Him and need no explanation.” Jack Hyles
Prepare: The opposite of victory is defeat. Defeat is described as being disheartened, thwarted, frustrated and overwhelmed. Do any of those words describe how you are feeling? Speak to your Father.
>> Joshua 6:1-27
Explore: God told Joshua, “I will give you every place where you set your foot, as I promised Moses” (Joshua 1:3). God gives Joshua the unconventional battle plan and the people choose to believe God for this victory. There is no whining, complaining, questioning or back-chatting that characterised the previous generation. They literally walk in obedience and God is victorious.
As Christ-followers, how often do we allow defeat to creep into our lives and overwhelm us? It can lead us down paths of apathy and hopelessness. Chip Ingram reminds us that we do not fight for victory, we fight from a position of victory. We have the victory through Christ’s death and resurrection. We are children of the most high God. We have access to the same power that raised Christ from the dead. The devil is a mere created being whose evil works have been defeated at the cross for all eternity. We can trust our all-powerful God who knows the beginning from the end. His plans and purposes will prevail. We simply have to trust and obey.
Sjoe! Let’s choose victory today and dropkick defeat out of our lives.
Respond: “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go” (v.9).
Theme: Joshua 7-24
Author: Tracy Rens
Week: April 10-16
Introduction: Behind enemy lines
Joshua reads like a typical “Boy-Action-Movie”. It’s full of bloody battles, fearsome enemies, gruesome death and hard-won victories.
Occupation of the promised land was no romantic-comedy. It took the Israelites 7 years to conquer the land and take hold of God’s promises.
As Christ-followers we have a formidable enemy bent on destroying us. We live behind enemy lines with no hope of a cease-fire. We cannot afford to drop our guard or waiver in obedience to our Commander-In-Chief. So this week let’s learn together how we can sharpen our swords, secure our defences and trust God for victory in this very real spiritual battle.
Crouching tiger, hidden dragon
Prepare: Just because something makes us uncomfortable or we don’t understand, doesn’t mean we should shy away from it. Ask God to reveal his heart to you as you read this challenging passage.
>> Joshua 7:1-26
Explore: Achan coveted, lied and stole. But the biggest problem was his unfaithfulness to God. Ultimately there was a traitor in the midst of Israel. Someone who pretended to be sold out for their cause but who literally had a foot in the enemy’s camp. This was a dangerous situation where the hidden enemy from within could destroy an entire army.
The modern world is uncomfortable with absolutes, black and white answers. Things are watered down in a permissive anything-goes type of attitude. Evil gets ranked on a sliding scale of what is perceived to be really bad and not so bad. This was more than a “simple” theft. We must realise the seriousness of bringing sin into the camp (our lives, our family, our community). Evil cannot be tolerated, entertained or condoned, not even a little bit. Evil is out to destroy us and often those around us too. Don’t mess with sin, flee from it! Evil must be totally and irrevocably destroyed.
God says, “I will not be with you anymore unless you destroy whatever among you is devoted to destruction” (v.12) otherwise “You cannot stand against your enemies” (v.13).
Respond: “But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness. Fight the good fight of faith” 1 Timothy 6:11,12.
Prepare: “It’s about how hard you can get hit, and keep moving forward. How much you can take, and keep moving forward. That’s how winning is done.” Rocky Balboa
>> Joshua 8:1-29
Explore: The Israelites have been knocked down. How can they battle an enemy that defeated and killed 36 of their men? God however does not allow them to stay down. The message is clear – “Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged” (v.1), don’t give up, let’s move forward…with Me. How encouraging that out of genuine repentance, comes restoration and renewal of mission.
“The nature of the enemy’s warfare in your life is to cause you to become discouraged and to cast away your confidence. Not that you would necessarily discard your salvation, but you could give up your hope of God’s deliverance. The enemy wants to numb you into a coping kind of Christianity that has given up hope of seeing God’s resurrection power” Bob Sorge.
Once again the key to victory is listening and obeying God. God gives the strategy that uses their previous defeat as their strength. The enemy is overconfident. Isn’t it amazing how your greatest weakness can become your greatest strength in God? God doesn’t waste any experience in our lives.
Respond: “My grace (My favour and loving-kindness and mercy) is enough for you [sufficient against any danger and enables you to bear the trouble manfully]; for My strength and power are made perfect (fulfilled and completed) and show themselves most effective in [your] weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9 Amplified)
The Empire strikes back
Prepare: God warned Moses and the Israelites to “be careful not to make a treaty with those who live in the land where you are going, or they will be a snare among you” (Exodus 34:12). Forewarned is forearmed – right?
>> Joshua 9:1-27
Explore: Frontal attacks are obvious and easier to withstand. The Gibeonite ruse involved deceit and subterfuge. Things were not as they appeared and lies abounded.
“If ignorant both of your enemy and yourself, you are certain to be in peril” Sun Tzu. While not focusing unduly on the evil one, it’s important that we know his modus operandi and thus be forewarned. He is the father of lies, the deceiver, the accuser and his ultimate aim is to destroy us. He also doesn’t fight fair. He often uses cowardly underhanded tactics and hit-and-run guerrilla warfare.
Many times God has exposed the devil’s sneaky tricks in my life. It doesn’t necessarily change my challenging situation. However I am empowered by the revelation. This enables me to pray specifically and intelligently into that situation and invite others to stand alongside me in prayer.
We must also not grow over-confident and remember to continue to “inquire of the LORD” (v.14). The battle is the Lord’s and we mustn’t run ahead. He really does know best.
Respond: “So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!” (1 Corinthians 10:12). Ask God to lovingly point out any areas where you are vulnerable to attack. He is more than able to protect you.
R.E.D. (Retired, Extremely Dangerous)
Prepare: R.E.D. is a movie about retired secret agents who cannot stay retired. They have to be right in the middle of the action and subsequently end up saving the world. Prepare to meet another R.E.D. operative.
>> Joshua 14:1-15
Explore: Don’t you love Caleb’s attitude? “I’m just as vigorous to go out to battle now as I was then” (v.11). There is definitely no mundane, ordinary existence for this 85 year old as he follows God wholeheartedly.
We have the privilege of personally knowing many R.E.D. operatives in the kingdom of God. They continue to serve God passionately, sacrificially and courageously all over the world. When I grow up I want to be just like them.
One of the Accuser’s strategies is to undermine our confidence in how God has created us and our unique wiring. “Satan’s greatest psychological weapon is a gut level feeling of inferiority, inadequacy, and low self-worth” David Seamands. He can whisper lies into our hearts that we are too…old, young, untrained, unskilled, stupid, inconsequential or unrighteous. Imagine an army that doubts its training and ability to fight. They would be rendered useless in battle. Fiery darts of doubt can also target our salvation, calling, ability to hear God and our kingdom effectiveness. But those are all LIES.
Respond: Thank you God that you are TRUTH. May you count me worthy of your calling and by your power may you fulfil every good purpose of yours in my life and every act prompted by my faith. Amen (2 Thessalonians 1:11)
The King’s Speech
Prepare: “Resolution One: I will live for God. Resolution Two: If no one else does, I still will.” Jonathan Edwards
>> Joshua 24:1-24
Explore: God is so personally involved in his redemption story: I took, I sent, I brought, I destroyed, I gave. As a dear friend would say, there are more eyes in the King’s speech than a potato. What a beautiful picture of God’s involvement in our lives.
At difficult junctures in my life I’ve cried out to God. Sometimes all God has said is, “Look back and remember”. As I read my journals I’m reminded of the miraculous ways God has guided, provided for and loved me. This enables me to trust him for the next step (even if he is silent).
It’s also important as God’s army to retell those war stories of past battles, temporary defeats, hard-won victories and life-lessons learned. We, as the body of Christ, are forged together in the heat of battle. As we speak of what our God has done, we give each other courage to keep fighting the good fight. Then out of remembrance comes resolution and response. “As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord” (v.15).
Respond: “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power…put on the full armour of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then…” (Ephesians 6:10,13,14) Keep standing, God’s Beloved One, keep standing!
31 January – 6 February 2016
1 John 1: 1–2:29
Byline: Tracy and Eugéne love to creatively communicate Christ through Act Won Creative Arts (www.actwon.co.za). Team Rens (Tracy, Eugéne, Luca) enjoy dancing with abandon, living out loud and laughing often as passionate children of God on an epic rollercoaster-ride of faith.
Title: Get the Picture?
There are many similarities between photography and our Christian walk. Both have their being in light. GOD IS LIGHT. If we walk in the Light (Jesus), we will enjoy vibrant fellowship with the Father, be led by his Spirit and as a result, enjoy fellowship with his children.
False teachers who seduced Christians with other philosophies, distorting the truth and denying the incarnation of Jesus was a great threat at the time.
The believers were reminded to:
1. Love God
2. Love people
“I consider that the chief dangers which confront the coming century will be religion without the Holy Ghost, Christianity without Christ, forgiveness without repentance, salvation without regeneration, politics without God, and heaven without hell”. William Booth
Day 1: Monday 31st January 2016
Title: Keeping the Focus
When one takes a photograph, it’s important to focus on your primary subject or the reason for the picture is lost. Still your heart and mind and focus on the character of Jesus.
Read: 1 John 1: 1-4
An eyewitness account bears greater weight than hear-say evidence in a court of law. Jesus was eye witness to the actions and words of God the Father. John takes his cue from Jesus. He was with Jesus. Walked and talked with him. Touched him. Laughed and cried with him. Saw him performing miracles. Saw him die. Saw him arisen. Saw him ascend into Heaven. (There weren’t many around who could say that). This is the weightiness of his introduction and the gravitas of what he had to say. So the readers would do well to keep their focus on what was said.
John’s first-hand experience and relationship with Jesus brought about a complete change in his life that many could corroborate. His changed life subsequently impacted the lives of many others. These people were in turn drawn into fellowship with the Triune God with far reaching consequence.
But what is this message of great importance from one of the sole surviving eyewitnesses of Jesus? It is this, even though we may not have physically seen Jesus, we have experienced him. Our fellowship with God is not to be tossed away or taken lightly as it was bought at great cost.
Then Jesus told him, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” John 20:29b
Day 2: Tuesday 1st February 2016
Title: Cleaning Your Lens
1 John 1:5 is absolutely key to this entire letter from God. The central character of God is proclaimed, “God is light; in him there is no darkness at all”. He is Holy and completely sinless. This is our God.
Read: 1 John 1:5–2:2
In darkness, good and evil both look similar. The light however exposes things and shows it up for what it truly is. “Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light” (John 3:20–21).
In verses 1:6–2:1, we find 3 “if we claim’s” (all written in present tense), followed by something negative and 3 corresponding “But if’s” followed by something positive. This is not our initial salvation but the present continuous tense speaks about continual sanctification, cleansing us from ALL sin if we walk (note tense) in the light. Read 1:6–2:1 again.
We are reminded of the completed work of salvation and on-going sanctification. Not claiming to be without sin, but when we do sin, there’s complete forgiveness when we ask for it and remain in relationship with God. Jesus our advocate, the atoning sacrifice, turns away the wrath of God.
Christ died for us once and for all (removed the lens cap so that Light floods in). Sin however creates a barrier between us and God (smudges the lens so that the image is distorted even though the lens cap is removed.) Confession is God cleaning our lens.
Day 3: Wednesday 2nd February 2016
Title: Capturing the Truth
Jesus said that the two greatest commandments were to love God and to love people. We need the former in order to achieve the latter. These commandments form the basis of today’s reading. But it can be so hard sometimes…
Read: 1 John 2:3–11
This passage is often misinterpreted. It is not saying that if we don’t like or agree with someone in the church, that we are going to hell. There were a few wolves in sheep’s clothing that had infiltrated the church, causing dissention. That being said, if you truly love God, you will live the way Jesus tells you to (see John 14:15 and 23). I’ve heard it said that the army of God is the only one who stabs each other in the back.
If our actions are causing each other to stumble or to trust man’s ways in opposition to God’s ways, we prove that we are walking in darkness (see 1:7). Beware, rebellion is the path to the dark side. Remember the way you treat others is how both you and the rest of society will know whose side you are truly on.
We have to however find ways to get along and play nice with each other. Superficial love for each other doesn’t demonstrate the love of God. Shaking hands and masking a smile after church is like a telescopic lens. It looks all impressive but keeps you far away. A shorter lens allows us to get intimate and personal and share real life with each other.
Day 4: Thursday 3rd February 2016
Title: In Contrast
When taking a photo in dark places, you’ll need a light source or you’ll have nothing to show for it. The Holy Spirit is our constant light source.
Read: 1 John 2: 12-17
Verses 12–14 speak not only about cross generational churchgoers, but to people in various stages of Christian maturity. It presumes that those who have been Christians for a long while should show maturity of faith. Maturity of age however does not presume maturity of faith. Christian maturity inspires those who are coming up in the faith ranks. It spurs them on to overcome Satan’s temptations and proves that our trials do indeed produce perseverance (see James 1:2-4). It also shows that the younglings in the faith are learning and developing by what they experience in others.
Verses 14 & 15 should be read as one sentence. Read it using the word “therefore” as the bridging word. There are 3 dangers to guard against (3 P’s):
2. Pleasure (lust)
Not saying that we should have nothing to do with the world (for God so loved the world…), but we should not be lured into its system that would deviate us away from our first love.
If you are in fellowship with God and walking in the light, you have no business craving what the dark side offers. This, like the devil, will come to an abrupt and certain end. “Never open the door to a lesser evil, for other and greater one’s invariably slink in after it” Baltasar Gracián.
Day 5: Friday 4th February 2016
Title: Photoshop My Image
It’s amazing what some photo editing programs let you get away with. A touch-up here, a masking there makes it quite easy to hide one’s photographic faux pas from the untrained eye.
Read: 1 John 2:18-29
The last hour (v.18) is the time between Jesus’ resurrection and his glorious return. The dealers in darkness were saying that Jesus had left the building, never to return. Christians could do whatever they wanted to do – no consequences. (Enter day 4’s 3 P’s). These are the antichrists John refers to, people the Church would have known, people who may still have been professing to be Christians. The difference was in their lifestyles. They were peddling another gospel (the 3 P’s) and denying Jesus as Lord. The danger was that these wolves were selling a cheap gospel that many were buying into.
The resultant warning for the 1st century Church rings true for the 21st century Church. Don’t be deceived. Don’t pick up what they’re putting down. This is why we need to know the original so that we can detect the counterfeits. This only comes from living in fellowship with the Father. When you know the real deal, it’s easy to spot the fake. “… and all of you know the [Truth]”(v.20b). “See that what you have heard from the very beginning remains with you” (v.24).
Respond: You can’t Photoshop edit your relationship with God. Better to let him guide you and keep you living in truth now than be embarrassed at the end of time.
• John 15:1-8
• Colossians 2:6-15
7 – 13 February 2016
1 John 3:1–5:21
Title: Redemption Song
1 John is written like a song with many themed verses dealing with the implications of:
• God being Light (1 John 1:1–2:29)
• God being Love (1 John 3:1–4:21)
• God being Life (1 John 5:1–21)
The song repeats the central Chorus, “This is how we know…”, guiding us into loving God, resulting in us loving people.
It urges Christians to intimacy in their relationship with God, a sharpening in their theological understanding and to live their God-testimony within society. Christians had to grow in faith, obedience and love. It was not written merely in reaction to opposing forces but is redemptive in nature.
May we sing this song together and live God’s words of Light, Love and Life.
Day 1: Monday 7th February 2016
Title: Who am I?
There are 5 most beautiful and significant words on an adoption certificate: “as if born to you”. When the Father rescued us, He adopted us into his family, gave us a new name, identity, home, purpose and inheritance.
Read: 1 John 2:28-3:10
“Behold” (3:1 KJV) meaning consider carefully that we are sons of God – “And that is what we are!” We should draw our very identity from him. Verse 1 tells us who we are. Verse 2 tells us who we are becoming (more Christ-like). If this process of transforming us into the likeness of Jesus is the goal of the God-Head, should it not be ours as well?
There is a distinct difference between committing a sin and remaining in sin. When sin creeps in, have it dealt with. Repent and confess it to God and make right with man. Un-confessed sin festers and poisons your relationship with God. God knows what’s happening on the inside regardless what you’re showing on the outside. Remember, He is gentle and humble in heart.
Therefore don’t allow the devil to lead you by the nose. You know what is right, so do it. If you’re not sure, ask God. He’s not here to placate the devil but to destroy all traces of him. Don’t forget that God is your Father. Read v.10 again.
A definition of Christian maturity: The ability to distinguish between good from evil. (Hebrews 5:14). We are not only to be called the children of God. We are to BE the children of God.
Day 2: Tuesday 8th February 2016
Title: How Will I know?
“This is how we know…” This chorus is repeated several times in today’s reading. Repetition in Scripture means we should pay careful attention.
Read: 1 John 3:11–4:6
Why mention Cain and Abel? Cain hated Abel because of jealousy. He did not heed God’s warning and offer of restoration. There are many “Cain’s” in our society. They have no love for God and therefore no love for us – but we are not like them so we should not act like them.
“…how can the love of God be in him?” (v.17). Good question. We have no business hoarding possessions, especially when we “see our brother in need”. Selfishness and greed are characteristics of those who love only themselves and hate God – but we are not like them. It’s easier to say we’ll die for others than to live for them.
Knowing God and living out His love is how we keep a clear conscience. There’s a difference between conviction and condemnation. If your conscience is prickling, ask God why. If you are still feeling guilty, even after following God in obedience, rest assured that He knows your heart. It is not God who condemns us. So with a clear conscience, we can ask Jesus what makes Him proud and the Spirit will show us. If we get it wrong, fear not. God is greater than our faults.
So how do we know that we are following Jesus? We know this as we love God and as a result, we love people. Nothing else really matters.
Day 3: Wednesday 9th February 2016
Title: All you need is love
Love found. Love lost – the soppy stuff. Probably the subject of most songs ever written. But we’re not talking about what is love, rather who is love.
Read: 1 John 4:7–21
God is Love. The word “Love” appears 25 times. I think God is trying to tell us something. God and love are intrinsically linked. You cannot have one without the other.
Most believe love is important. Many believe that love is what makes one feel good – so they pursue ‘feeling good’, leading to widespread self-gratification. It is written, “God is love” – not “Love is god”. God’s love standard is way higher than the world’s. God’s love is sacrificial. The world’s parasitic. God’s love is measured by what it produces. The world’s measured by what it consumes. God’s love adds value. Darkness cheapens love. God’s love is eternal. The world’s love ends when the feelings fade. What do you base love on?
We don’t have licence to be false in our love for each other (as often depicted in church parking lots). Love is a doing word, a choice leading to action. Scripture doesn’t say “EPIC FAIL” if we are not gregarious by nature. It doesn’t say how many to love, rather shows how deep to love. Enter the Holy Spirit who empowers us to do the will of the Father.
How is your love for God displayed in your choices and actions? Don’t fear being loved by the Father or his Bride. Its love that makes the world go round after all.
Day 4: Thursday 10th February 2016
Title: How great is our God
So how do you feel after this week’s news? Elated? In despair? How does this affect the way you trust God?
Read: 1 John 5:1–12
We believe in God the Father / We believe in Jesus Christ / We believe in the Holy Spirit / And He’s given us new life / We believe in the Crucifixion / We believe He conquered death / We believe in the resurrection / And He’s coming back again / We believe
So let our faith be more than anthems / Greater than the songs we sing / And in our weakness and temptations / We believe, we believe / Let the lost be found / And the dead be raised / in the here and now / Let love invade / Let the church live loud / “Our God” we’ll say / We believe, we believe / And the gates of Hell / Will not prevail / For the power of God / Has torn the veil / Now we know Your love / Will never fail / We believe, we believe.
We believe in God the Father / We believe in Jesus Christ / We believe in the Holy Spirit / And He’s given us knew life / We believe in the Crucifixion / We believe He conquered death / We believe in the resurrection / And He’s coming back / He’s coming back again / We believe / We believe
Newsboys album “Restart”.
“I believe in Jesus. I believe he is the Son of God. I believe he died and rose again. I believe he paid for us all. And I believe that he’s here now. Standing in our midst. Here with the power to heal now. And the Grace to forgive” Vineyard Music.
Day 5: Friday 11th February 2016
Title: In Christ Alone
“In Christ alone my hope is found / He is my light, my strength my song… / No power of Hell / No scheme of man / can ever pluck me from His hand” by Stuart Townend & Keith Getty.
Read: 1 John 5:13–21
This conclusion summarises the letter. The word “know” is repeated 7 times. Repetition means emphasis so we need to take note.
God is life itself – both now and everlasting. God is with us and is approachable now and forevermore. Imagine the backlog if He only heard us one at a time, during banking hours. We have direct contact with Him through his Word, through prayer and through the Holy Spirit. He doesn’t only tolerate. Even when we’ve messed up, we still have access to him. This was important for the readers to know. They were under constant bombardment from antichrists trying to infiltrate, deceive and distract them from knowing the Truth. Therefore, “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life” (v.13) and enjoy the benefits of being God’s children. So “Dear children, keep yourselves from idols” (v.21).
Faith in Jesus Christ comes from repentance and the forgiveness of sin. This leads to a right relationship with the Father, His children and to eternal life with and in Him. We therefore have confidence in approaching God, enjoy protection from the evil one and know God through the infilling of the Holy Spirit. Grace and peace to you.
• John 3:16 & 1 John 3:16 & Colossians 1:9-14
• Acts 20:25-35
Author: Tracy Rens
“Maturity does not automatically come with the passage of years. A prayer I pray often is: “Lord, let me grow up, before I grow old.”” John Wimber
Introduction: Grow up!
We recently celebrated our first ever family birthday with our adopted 7 year old son. It has been a year of challenges, joys, tears, laughter and growing up together as a family (aka Team Rens).
We’ve had the privilege of experiencing our son’s child-like wonder of life as he learns and discovers new things. We’ve also been frustrated by those moments of childish, sulky disobedience. How much more does God experience similar joys and frustrations with us, his children?
We are called to be child-like in our faith simply because “Dad said so”. Those basic values that we instil in our children should also apply to our relationship with God and our church family. Things like: listen to your Dad; play nice; say please and thank you; have fun and laugh often; keep learning new stuff; be honest; say sorry and move on; sharing is caring; have a good cry; it’s OK to ask for help; keep things simple.
Unfortunately there’s also the other side of the coin. How often do we as Christ-followers display unbecoming childish behaviour? Things like: not listening to often-repeated instructions, sulkiness, selfishness, bad manners, not sharing, not playing nice, whining and throwing our toys out the cot. Time to grow up!
This week we’ll be looking at 1 Corinthians chapters 1-3 where Paul has to deal with immature Christians: ‘I could not address you as spiritual but as worldly – mere infants in Christ’ (1Corinthians3:1). These Corinthian Christians needed to grow up in order to be what God had called them to be: living lights within their dark, depraved society.
I pray that God would help us all to ‘grow up mature and whole in God’ (1Peter2:2 The Message) and to help those around us to mature as well. Let’s get growing!
Tracy and Eugéne so enjoy working together full-time in Act Won creative arts ministry (www.actwon.co.za). Team Rens (Tracy, Eugéne, Luca) love to dance with abandon, act crazy, experience new things, laugh often, take time to savour God’s creation. Passionate children of the Most High God, they’re glad there’s never a dull moment on this epic rollercoaster-ride of faith.
Have you ever had a nightmare that you arrived for an important event completely unprepared? How did you feel? Ever feel like that as a Christ-follower?
READ: 1 Corinthians 1:1-9
Moms are super-heroes. Amazingly the child leaves home neatly dressed, everything labelled, school suitcase full of required stationery, books and nutritional snacks, having been mentally prepared for their first day at big school. Imagine sending your child off with nothing?
God sends us out with everything we need, but sometimes we forget it’s in our suitcase. Paul starts with a reminder that God has called us. It is no accident that you are called by God’s name. This must always be our starting point – that we are ‘Christians cleaned up by Jesus and set apart for a God-filled life’ (v.2 The Message). But wait there’s more – God has enriched us in every way and provided spiritual gifts needed for the journey. God also promises to ‘keep you strong to the end’ (v.8). We are not left to our own devices. What an incredible parent! ‘His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness’ (2Peter1:3).
Let’s stop whining that we’re not good enough, prepared enough, ready enough to live up to God’s calling. We are loved, we are gifted, we are blessed and we are called by our Father. Let’s make God proud.
Sit down with God and have a look together at what’s in your suitcase. Ask him to show you those wonderful surprises he’s tucked in for you to use and bless others.
Follow the leader
“I wonder sometimes if we ever give God a headache.” Dontay, Age 8
READ: 1 Corinthians 1:10-17
Ever tried playing follow the leader when it wasn’t clear who the leader was? It usually ended in a marked difference of opinion and a reminder to play nice.
The Corinthian Christians played an immature game of follow the church leader. It may have sounded something like this: I firmly subscribe to Paul’s dynamic proven gentile-outreach programme – look how many people he’s converted and his twitter following. I disagree, Apollos’s best-selling book, Pure living in Pagan Places really speaks to my issues. No, you’re both off-track, Peter’s Plainspoken Sermon Downloads for Everyday People is just the thing to grow your church.
Recently a friend we hadn’t seen in years told us a heart-rending story of his church leader who had fallen from grace and was made to leave the church. As a result, our friend who loved and respected his leader, has sadly walked away from the truth and exchanged it for a lie.
‘God didn’t send me out to collect a following for myself, but to preach the Message of what he has done, collecting a following for him’ (v.17 The Message). It must always be about Jesus Christ. Paul encourages his listeners to be ‘perfectly united in mind and thought’ (v.10) as they follow Christ. We need to keep it simple by following Christ and not get distracted by the latest and greatest book/sermon/programme.
It’s all about you, Jesus. Help me to follow you alone.
From the mouth of babes
“Dear God, please take care of my daddy and my mommy and my sister and my brother and my doggy and me. Oh, please take care of yourself, God. If anything happens to you, we’re gonna be in a big mess.” A young boy
READ: 1 Corinthians 1:18-31
Imagine a world without God. We would indeed “be in a big mess”. Yet we are ridiculed for supposedly not producing scientific facts and empirical evidence to defend our faith. We are called naïve, narrow-minded and self-righteous. Meanwhile the world welcomes and embraces the other religious beliefs and philosophies under a banner of inclusivity and love for all mankind. We’re the last ones chosen to be on the team.
Fortunately God chooses us. Our wise God, who is all powerful and all knowing, promises us that ‘the smart people who thought they knew everything will turn out to know nothing’ (Isaiah 29:14 The Message). The world is in a big mess because they stubbornly refuse to acknowledge that they know nothing and God knows everything. Their inflated self-importance blinds them to the saving power of the cross – the most amazing, miraculous truth ever to be revealed to mankind.
As God’s children, we too need to remember that we know nothing and God knows everything. Apart from God we can do nothing (John15:5). God graciously and wonderfully uses us in our weakness, foolishness and insignificance to bring him glory.
Thank you Lord that your power is made perfect in my weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9). Please shine brightly through me today.
I’ve been thinking…
“Piglet: ‘Pooh?’ Pooh: ‘Yes, Piglet?’ Piglet: ‘I’ve been thinking…’ Pooh: ‘That’s a very good habit to get into, Piglet’” A A Milne
READ: 1 Corinthians 2:1-16
Thinking is good – God gave us brains for a reason. Our boy spends much time thinking and questioning. He’s gotten used to the phrase “That’s a good question, my boy” as I frantically think of answers. But sometimes Luca misunderstands and things get lost in translation. There’s a caution-caution here: our faith must never ‘rest on men’s wisdom (our own thoughts or others) but rather on God’s power’(v.5).
I’ve realised I can’t use big language or complicated concepts. I have to continually remember that Luca doesn’t have the life experience or cognitive ability to understand something completely. However as our boy matures, I look forward to having in-depth discussions with him especially about God.
The infinite Creator of the entire universe must also have to gear his communication with us. Paul speaks of ‘a message of wisdom among the mature’ (v.6). How God must long for his children to mature so he can have grown-up conversations with them. The passage speaks of God’s secret, hidden wisdom. It feels like we’d never be able to fathom it. But God is such a remarkable parent. He promises us that all will be revealed through the Holy Spirit within us that leads us into all truth (John 16:13). We have access to the Father, his mind, his wisdom and his power.
‘We have the mind of Christ’ (v.16) Spend some time meditating on this incredible statement.
View from my fort
“I have a lot of growing up to do. I realised that the other day in my fort” Anon. Are we stuck in our churches pretending to be mature instead of getting out there and obeying Jesus?
READ: 1 Corinthians 3:1-23
“But I told you five times already. Why haven’t you done it?” Repeated instructions must be one of the biggest frustrations of parenting. Chapter 3 contains mostly a repetition of the first two chapters. Hopefully by now the immature Corinthian Christians were getting the message that would radically change lives (their own and those around them).
Simple instructions work best for children to follow. Let’s do a basic recap.
1. Grow up in Christ (v.1,2).
2. The fruit of immaturity is worldly behaviour. Stop it. (v.3)
3. Don’t play follow the leader. Follow Christ. (vv.4-5)
4. God makes everything grow and graciously allows us to join in. But God does the real work because it’s all about him. (vv.6-9)
5. Beware what you build in this life. Is it worth taking with you into eternity? (vv.10-15)
6. You are God’s temple because the Holy Spirit lives within you. Live accordingly. (vv.16-17)
7. The world’s wisdom is stupid. ‘Be God’s fool – that’s the path to true wisdom.’ (v.19 – The Message)
8. You are children of the Most High God therefore be identified and known for your strong family resemblance. (vv.21-23)
Is God speaking to you in any of the above instructions? Put your big boy pants on and do something about it. It will delight your Father!?
As a teenager I had a bad habit of sighing when I begrudgingly obeyed my parents. When my mom called me on it, I’d tell her I was just breathing. Sorry Mom! Now my 7 year old boy is showing similar signs of sighing loudly. Payback can be a pain and so is disobedience.
However it brings much joy to my heart when our son obeys us willingly, gladly and upon first instruction. Here we are, not fighting against each other, but rather working together for what will ultimately be for his benefit. God delights in our obedience. It’s one of the very clear ways in which we express our love for God (John 14:15). I heard it said that God’s love language is obedience.
We want our boy to grow up like Jesus did. ‘And the child grew and became strong; he was filled with wisdom and the grace of God was upon him’ (Luke 2:40) growing ‘in favour with God and men’ (Luke 2:52). What wonderful prayers to pray over our children. In the same way God is praying that over us and longing for us to become mature. Let’s bring great joy to our Father’s heart as we love, obey and grow up in Christ.
“So many Christians are frozen in spiritual immaturity. They are easily offended, often distracted and without prayer or spiritual discipline. We think God is requiring of us simply to hang on, yet the Lord is looking for mature Christlikeness to emerge within us. He feeds us with His Spirit and Word that we might have every resource we need to obtain His very life and character. He baptizes us in fire that He might create proven character within us. He is relentless with His goal, expecting we should be also.” Francis Frangipane
Looking outward: Whiners becoming Warriors
War is raging outside, the odds are stacked against us, the enemy is fearsome and ferocious. We can’t stand by and watch our country get destroyed. We must join the battle and fight valiantly against the forces of evil. But we cannot do it alone. So we look around the room to see who will join in, those who are called by his name. Do we see a roomful of whining, crying, selfish disobedient children or a platoon of warriors – well-trained, strong in the faith, mature, battle-seasoned, bearing scars from past fights, ready to go to war in the name of the Lord. I pray that we would all be those Warriors and not the Whiners.
My dad would give this advice – that when you’re struggling through stuff, get out there and get involved in what God is doing. This will put your struggles into perspective and help you focus on something and Someone other than yourself. It’s all about growing up. It really isn’t about you. It’s always has and always will be all about our Almighty God.
What if the armies of the Lord/ Picked up and dusted off their swords/ Vowed to set the captive free/ And not let Satan have one more/ What if the Church, for heaven’s sake/ Finally stepped up to the plate/ Took a stand upon God’s promise/ And stormed hell’s rusty gates/ What if His people prayed/ And those who bear His name
Would humbly seek His face/ And turn from their old ways/ What if the life that we pursue/ Came from a hunger for the truth/ What if the family turned to Jesus/ Stopped asking Oprah what to do – Casting Crowns What if his people prayed
Let’s take that stand upon God’s promise and storm hell’s rusty gates.
Your drink of choice
>> Hebrews 5:11-6:12
I’ve been personally challenged during this week’s writings to grow up. God has pin-pointed a particular area that needs an attitude/perspective change. I am so glad that God continues to help me to mature and doesn’t leave me with my milk. Is there an area God has been highlighting for you?
I’ve also been convicted by seeing how the New Testament writers address the issue of maturity in Christ in such strong terms. I’ve been asking myself a question regarding the people who I am walking a road with, especially in a mentoring-type capacity. Am I continuing to give them milk when I should be telling them to grow up and eat their solids? This can be messy as babies don’t always want to eat their solids but it’s a start. Is there anyone in your life who you lovingly need to help grow up in their relationship and understanding of Christ?
We all grow together
>> Ephesians 4:1-16
We had a kitten that went through rather irregular growth spurts. Her hind legs grew much quicker than her front ones, so she walked a bit lopsided. Imagine a body with an enormous hand, one large muscular leg and one well-formed ear, while the rest of the body is sadly underdeveloped and ineffective. In the same way the body of Christ needs to grow together. It’s not a solo exercise. We need to help ‘prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ’ (vv.12,13). What an incredible promise, to attain ‘the whole measure of the fullness of Christ’ (v.13) and to be able to stand firm in love, truth and maturity.
Author: Eugéne Rens
Week: 23 – 29 March 2015
Byline: Tracy and Eugéne are happily married and are parents of a 7 year-old boy, Luca. This couple love working together full-time in Act Won creative arts ministry (www.actwon.co.za). They’re passionate about being on adventure with God and can’t wait to see what God has in store for them all. They’ve swum with crocodiles, walked with lions, flown with falcons. Favourite saying: “Luca, I am your father”.
“Why fit in when you were born to stand out?” Dr Seuss
The Gospel of Mark shows us who Jesus is by what he does and not just by what he says (18 miracles and 4 parables). Jesus is Messiah in Action who is motivated by great compassion. Jesus truly is:
• Our Servant
• Our Sacrifice
• Our Saviour
Chapter 4 takes a short break from the action and sits under a shady tree as it were and draws us into what the kingdom of God is like by way of story. Jesus reveals to us the very heart and mind of the Father – then gets right back into the action genre.
The disciples asked, “Who is this man?” Jesus is the power of God where everyone and everything is subject to his lordship, including nature, death and all the forces of evil. “This is God / Seeker of the lost and forever Father to the fatherless / He’s the hope of the world / every boy every girl he’s the answer” – Audio Adrenalin. This is Jesus whom we follow.
We see that discipleship is born out of having a real relationship with Jesus and not merely following a prescribed set of acceptable rules and norms or even a Code of Good Practice. Jesus asked the disciples to come to him at first. Eventually they came with him.
‘God’s Spirit beckons. There are things to do and places to go! This resurrection life you received from God is not a timid, grave-tending life. It’s adventurously expectant, greeting God with a child-like “What’s next Papa?” Romans 8:14-15 (MSG). All that we do, flows from whose we are. We are followers of Jesus Christ – our Servant, our Sacrifice and our Saviour.
As you partake of God’s Word this week, please don’t rush though the process. Hear Jesus saying, “Come to me. Come with me”.
Sleeping On Burning Beds?
“When you’re sitting in a dark room, you can either sit and curse the darkness or you can light a candle.” Anon
>> Mark 4:21-25
‘Then he said to them’ (v21). Who is this ‘them’? There’s a clue in verses 10 and 11. But why is that important? Jesus gave his followers responsibility to bear much fruit, a responsibility he did not give to everyone in the crowd.
The very purpose of a lamp is to spread light. The lamp does not exist for its own benefit, but to illuminate the surrounding area. Light belongs in dark places. It puts dark places on the endangered species list (v22). Verse 23 seems, at first, to be cryptic. Many have the capacity to hear God’s Word, but choose not to listen. They would prefer the Light be kept hidden or hindered. Evil loves and thrives in darkness (see John 3:19-20).
When Jesus says, “Consider carefully…” (v24), he gets my attention because the stuff that follows is really important. And here’s where our responsibility comes into play. We, who have heard the Word of Truth and have it burning within us simply have to display it by word AND deed. It’s dangerous keeping a burning lamp under your bed. The contemporary poets, Midnight Oil, ask an interesting question – “How can we sleep while our beds are burning?”
“Shine / Make them wonder what you’ve got / Make them wish that they were not / On the outside looking bored… Let them glorify the Lord” – Newsboys. ‘You are the light of the world’ Matthew 5:14
Growth is Proof of Life
A favourite hook of marketers is the slogan, “But wait, there’s more…” How heartening it is that with God, there’s always so much more. Pause and reflect on God’s loving kindness and grace towards you. Be still and know…
>> Mark 4:26-34
The kingdom of God is about growing – individual growth and corporate growth. The Parable of the Sower (vv14-20) describes how our attitudes either aid or hinder our spiritual growth. The Parable of the Growing Seed (vv26–29), speaks to our role which is sowing and reaping. While God is intimately involved in the sowing and reaping, it is he alone that enables us to grow spiritually, ‘lest any man should boast’ (Ephesians 2:9).
Mustard trees or shrubs were sometimes viewed as weeds because they sprouted absolutely everywhere. This could be why Jesus used it to illustrate how his kingdom would sprout absolutely everywhere on earth, in places welcoming the Church and places violently opposed to it. We, the body of Christ, are to grow in order to shelter and restore the broken so that they would know that God is indeed good and be drawn into him eternally. We have joined hands and hearts with those around the world and experienced the kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven – and it is beautiful.
“Growth is not more of knowledge or increase of years. It is simply more of Him and less of me” Chip Brogden. Speak to God about your growth plan as his child and as the Church in order to impact to the world.
With Jesus in my boat…
“I’m taking the Lord at His word, and I’m trusting Him to prove His Word. It’s like putting all your eggs in one basket, but we’ve already put our trust in Him for salvation, so why not do it as far as our life is concerned?” Ed McCully (died with Jim Elliot)
>> Mark 4:35-41
Most of the disciples were professional fishermen. They would have been used to operating in adverse weather conditions. Note the contrast. The disciples were panic stricken. Jesus was peacefully asleep (on a cushion).
‘Don’t you care…?’ (v38). They saw Jesus performing many miracles for other people. Jesus drove out evil spirits, healed the sick (including Peter’s mother-in-law). Evil spirits declared who Jesus was and had to obey him (Mark3:11-12). The disciples knew about Jesus. They knew their God could save, but maybe he chose to be insensitive to their needs. They saw him as “Teacher”. The wind and the waves obeyed him as Lord.
Maybe you’ve bought into that perspective. God is good – all the time, but for other people. Maybe you’re worrying that Jesus is asleep at the wheel, that maybe you will go down with the ship unless you wake him. Storms don’t worry Jesus. He can handle those.
So, ‘Who is this?’ (v41). “This is God / Seeker of the lost and forever Father to the fatherless / He’s the hope of the world / every boy every girl he’s the answer.” Audio Adrenalin
Jesus demonstrates the Power of God in Action! So, why are you afraid? Do you still have no faith?
From Mad to M.A.D.
“Jesus didn’t come to make bad men do good things. He came to make dead men live” Leonard Ravenhill
>> Mark 5:1-20
So Jesus had just calmed the storm and all the guys were happy – Yay! But then they came ashore and were met by a man (a filthy, naked, long-haired raving lunatic who lived in tombs and used to cut himself with sharp rocks) screaming at the top of his lungs. Quite the welcoming party. The locals where somewhat freaked by him as he could break chains like twigs because he was a little overcrowded by demons. The End.
Imagine if his story really ended there – no more “yay”… But so begins his journey with Jesus. The man could have been the 1st recorded missionary sent by Jesus. His restored relationship with Jesus helped to change his neighbourhood. See Matthew 4:25.
Jesus demonstrated that the forces of evil, even in great numbers, are subject to him. He is Son of the Most High God (v7). Jesus alone has the ability to restore that which the devil has tried to destroy. The man was now found ‘sitting there, dressed and in his right mind’ (v15) – truly free for the first time in who knows how long. Jesus gave him a new mind and a new purpose (and clothing that gave him dignity). In Jesus he had peace.
“Thank you oh my Father / For giving us your Son. / And leaving your Spirit till / The work on Earth is done.” Keith and Melody Green
Go M.A.D. Make A Difference…
Danger! No Touchie – Really?
“If you have been reduced to God being your only hope, you are in a good place.” Jim Laffoon.
>> Mark 5:21-43
Jesus met Jairus in that nightmarish space every parent dreads, ‘My little daughter is dying’ (v23). Some may criticize Jairus the synagogue ruler, for not having the faith of the gentile centurion (Luke7:9) because he pleaded with Jesus to ‘come [to my house] and [physically] put your hands on her that she may be healed and live’ (v23). This appears not to bother Jesus though. But then Jesus goes and gets distracted by someone unworthy.
Touching a dead body or someone who was haemorrhaging blood would have made one ritualistically unclean according to Levitical law. Any self-respecting Rabbi would not dare touch these. Everyone would have known this including Jairus and the lady. This could quite possibly be why Jairus wanted Jesus to step in while his only daughter was still alive and why the lady would only touch Jesus’ cloak.
Jesus defends the lady’s honour who had suffered for twelve years by publically calling her “daughter”, i.e. a precious, loved and accepted one. Could you imagine hearing those words of restoration at the same time as hearing of your own daughter’s death? How ironically cruel. But then the words of life ‘Don’t be afraid; just believe’ (v36). Two hopeless situations: suffering for twelve years, dead at twelve years old. Hopeless that is until Jesus stepped in.
Imagine if Jesus only dealt in the logical realm of rational possibilities. Trust Jesus. He knows what he’s doing. He’s God.
Benjamin Franklin (1706 – 1790) said, ”If you want something done, ask a busy person”. It would appear from our readings of this week that Jesus was indeed busy.
He spoke the kingdom of God to crowds and explained the deeper meaning to his disciples. Tries to catch a few winks in a boat but then is rudely interrupted by panic stricken young men and has to order a violent storm to hush – then he shares words with the chaps. One would think that matters would calm down on the smooth shores of the other side but alas, the welcoming committee of an over-populated-by-demons man who’s screeching demands. Then there’s the palaver with the herd of pigs and more freaked out crowds showing Jesus the door but the no-more-mob-man wants to join Jesus’ group but instead obeys Jesus and becomes the first missionary to the gentiles.
Then it’s back in the boat to the other side to even more pushy crowds. Pleas from a desperate dad about his almost dead daughter so Jesus needs to be involved there but gets interrupted by a woman in a really, really bad state and the disciples get all snarky about that situation. But then the girl dies and her distraught dad has a meltdown so Jesus has to hold his hand. (Haemorrhaging women and dead bodies were a touchy subject). Then the professional mourners give Jesus lip, (because a mob always knows best). Seemingly unperturbed by their rant, Jesus sends them out of the crowded house. Then Jesus takes the tweener by the hand and speaks words of life to her and she walks around. Then Jesus reminds the parents, who are probably in shock, to feed the youngling. Sjoe! Hectic.
Long story short – God is always at work. Period.
R.E.D. (Retired but Extremely Dangerous)
There’s this movie called R.E.D. about a group of cold war spies who have been sent out to pasture as they are no longer useful to the modern age of international espionage.
I love hanging out with R.E.D. operatives, older men and women who are cut from that type of resilient cloth. They are resolute about following Jesus wherever he leads. These kingdom-of-God Special Forces Operatives are involved everywhere – from playing the violin in the world’s most closed country to distributing modern Bibles where crowds and authorities often turn violent. Negotiating with local governments to turn camps hosting millions of refugees into spaces of hope. Here the forgotten meet Jesus through sport. Then there are those who have opened their homes so that young families that have been stolen by the devil can find peace, a warm bed and a full meal. There are those who have taken in discarded pregnant teenaged girls, homed and parented them so that they would have the hope and the means to stand. There are the R.E.D.’s who have moved to countries and spaces where being a Jesus follower are somewhat less than acceptable but whose lives are transforming society.
We have met a couple who literally travel the world with the sole purpose of encouraging (giving courage), to those on mission with God. Those who are using their business skills to develop and inspire an emerging generation of “consumers” into “producers” so that they would fill the huge entrepreneurship gap. We’ve met a couple who travel from country to country to bathe those countries in prayer-peration. Then there’s the lady who bakes the most amazing muffins and organises small groups to pray the kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven.
The disciples started rough but grew into R.E.D.
Follow the Leader.
>> Mark 3:13-19 & Acts 4:1-22
“Spiritual growth depends on two things: first a willingness to live according to the Word of God; second, a willingness to take whatever consequences emerge as a result.” Sinclair B Ferguson
Mark 4 reveals Jesus as God in Action. Our very salvation bears witness to Jesus being God in Action. But Jesus didn’t just do stuff because it felt good. His actions flowed out of his obedience to the Father and compassion for those around him.
Jesus’ actions did not always win him popularity contests with friends, family and foes. There were many times that he was man alone. Yet he was able to do the will of the Father.
In today’s readings we see the disciples with their big-boy pants on. Following and obeying Jesus will do that to you. It takes you places… So, ‘If you love me [Jesus], you will obey what I command’ John 14:15.
Cause and Effect
>> 2 Corinthians 5:11-21
This week’s readings are filled with interesting cameo characters that we never hear of again: random people in the crowd, the guys in the other boats on the lake, the previously-demon-possessed man, the pig herders, the healed lady, Mr & Mrs Jairus, the 12 year old girl, the professional mourners. Imagine their stories.
But how had the local fishing, herding, medical and funeral industries changed? What happened in their equivalent of the social media scene after the man was freed from overcrowding demons and 12 year old Sleeping Beauty awoke from her “slumber”? Was it business as usual in the local synagogue with Jairus, dad to post-dead-12-year-old girl at the helm? We are not told in this passage but I would venture that the effect of Jesus in their lives had an impact on their daily living.
So, what are the effects of Jesus in your daily living?
Week: March 17-23 2014
Byline: Tracy and Eugéne are happily married and have recently become instant parents of a 6 year-old boy, Luca (“bringer of light”). This couple love working together full-time in Act Won creative arts ministry (www.actwon.co.za). They’re passionate about being on adventure with God and can’t wait to see what God has in store for them all. They’ve swum with crocodiles, walked with lions, flew with falcons. Favourite saying: “Luca, I am your father”.
Introduction: Echoes in Eternity
Promises. We hear them all around us. Some are quite extravagant in their claims boasting of clinical trials and surveys. This revolutionary device will… We are world leaders in… Our new and improved product will transform your life… leaving clothes whiter than white… And who can match the promises before an election. But talk is cheap and when we wake, we realise that the words are hollow and so are our pockets.
I was in an SU year-of-your-life ministry team called Summit. Part of our responsibilities was to raise funds to cover the monthly operational expenses of the programme. I struggled each month. Members of my home church would shake my hand with vigour, tell me how proud they were of me and promise to pray to the God of abundance for my financial support, but would rarely gave a cent. Then a man, who ran a little stall at a flea market, asked me what I needed. He then disappeared and moments later returned and shoved an overweight envelope into my jacket pocket – and right there, I experienced the kingdom of God in Mitchell’s Plain as it was in Heaven.
This week, we’ll be exploring one of the oldest books of the New Testament. It was written by James the Just, the brother of Jesus at a time when Christians where forced to leave their homes in Jerusalem and live in faraway communities who did not necessarily share their culture or value system.
50 out of the 108 verses in this rather pragmatic book are commands. It underscores the absolute importance for Christians to live in:
A. an adventurous relationship with God.
B. an adventurous relationship with people.
As Maximus Decimus Meridius in the movie Gladiator puts it, “Brothers, what we do in life, echoes in eternity”.
What really matters?
Prepare: The very start of James sets the priorities straight. This not just an introduction of himself, but in fact states who we are, “a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ”. Those are our starting blocks. Everything that flows from there on is pure joy.
>> James 1:1-18
Explore: When something is glued together, it needs a bit of pressure and setting time to strengthen the bond. Removing the pressure and setting time prematurely actually retards the strengthening process. ‘Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything’ (v4).
Verse 5 doesn’t presuppose doubt but rather implies the need for wisdom. It is indeed true that when we find ourselves going through heaps of “stuff” for the sake of the kingdom, we need God’s wisdom to gain the right perspective. God-given wisdom is needed so that we would not just scrape through but so that we could build up good muscle memory running with God, diving into his Word – also known as maturing in God.
If money, wealth and status mean nothing to the God we serve, why is it then that we place so much significance on it, compare and value each other’s worth in the kingdom by it? The Have Not’s should be glad that physical wealth means nothing to God otherwise they would be considered less than. The Have’s should equally be glad. Physical wealth devalues so easily.
Respond: As you are strengthened by God and train your reflexes to run with him, know that despite all the stuff you’re going through, the reward is out of this world. Love God. Love people. Nothing else matters.
The home of integrity is…
Prepare: ”When all is said and done, more is said than done” Lou Holtz.
>> James 1:19-27
Explore: When I talk too much and listen too little, my actions are actually telling others that I and my opinions are more important than they are. Remember, two ears and one mouth. God is more impressed by characteristics of humility than self-importance.
Jesus was asked what the greatest commandment was. His response, “…love your neighbour as yourself” Mark 12:31. It is impossible to do this in our own strength, more so, the charge to take care of the most marginalised and vulnerable in society. Just feasting on the Word as a motivational resource is not good enough. We have to exercise our faith through serving God or we will grow flabby and fat. Verse 27 calls this pure and faultless religion. By caring for the powerless, with no hope of repayment, we, the Church, prove to society that there is a God and that He is indeed good.
There was a time when society held the voice of the Church in high regard. Not so much anymore. There’s been a disconnect between our words and our actions. A definition for hypocrite is: a person who pretends to have virtues, moral or religious beliefs, principles etc., that he or she does not actually possess, especially a person whose actions belie stated beliefs.
“Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me. He who loves me will be loved by my father, and I too will love him and show myself to him” John 14:21.
Respond: The home of integrity is the space where words and actions meet.
Welcome to the Family
Prepare: A pastor asked a group of us to enter the church meeting as they were singing, dressed as coffin kids (wearing black clothes and dark make-up etc.). The inner turmoil as displayed on the faces of the meet-n-greet team was quite fascinating to behold as was the parting of the congregation as if we were bearers of plague.
>> James 2:1-13
Explore: ‘How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is who we are!’ (1 John 3:1). The King James puts it: ‘Behold what manner of love…’, meaning to take notice in awe and wonder at this great big Family of God in which we have been adopted into, whose great name we bear.
The rich and the poor would know their places in society at the time of the early church. The rich would enjoy the benefits, often at the expense of the poor. That’s the way the world worked for centuries. How radical then the claim of God that we are ALL his children, his joint heirs all enjoying the eternal benefits of his grace and mercy.
Showing favouritism or partiality is therefore the very antithesis of everything the love of Christ stands for, what Jesus died for, which is why verse 9 calls it sin. “Jesus paid much too high a price for us to pick and choose who should come” Casting Crowns.
Respond: “Welcome to the family. We’re glad that you have come to share your life with us. As we grow in love and may we always be to you what God would have us be – a family always there…” Psalty
Faith does work
Prepare: ‘This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers’ 1 John 3:16.
>> James 2:14-26 and 1 John 3:16-18
Explore: The title of this passage in my Bible reads: Faith and Deeds, not Faith vs. Deeds. It’s not a competition or comparison. This passage is also not in contradiction to Ephesians 2:8-9, where many stop reading. Ephesians 2:10 says that ‘we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do’. Our salvation is in no way based on our own effort. As followers of Christ however, we do have responsibilities that are actually privileges.
When I read the accounts where Jesus had compassion, he always followed it up with action. Taking action is often easier said than done. It requires true faith to trust God. Courage is often needed to follow in his footsteps. Obedience can be costly and messy. Verses 15 and 16 pose an interesting scenario between Christians. Verse 16 ends with the same excellent question that verse 14 begins with, ‘What good is it?’.
It is our actions that validate our words. Faith expresses itself by living in right relationship with God into living in right relationship with others, especially but not exclusively with the family of believers. “Ministry is what we leave in our wake as we follow Jesus” Gerald Hartis.
Respond: Read Hebrews 10:22-25. Darth Vader may have been onto something when he said, “I find your lack of faith disturbing”. Better to hear Jesus say, “Well done, good and faithful servant!” Matthew 25:21
Loose lips sink ships
Prepare: “Loose lips sink ships” was a phrase originating from the American World War II propaganda meaning “beware of unguarded talk”. Loose words, like cannons, could have devastating effects. However, what was meant for evil, God can work for good.
>> James 3:1-12
Explore: The Bill of Rights in the South African constitution protects individual rights, like the right to move freely without a pass book. Words like Freedom, Dignity and Justice are integral to human harmony and peaceful coexistence. Today, South Africans celebrate Human Rights Day. But what does this have to do with the passage?
Small things can have great effect. We read how uncontrolled thoughts and emotions manifesting themselves as words, have the properties of a raging forest fire. We were at a camp site once while a fire was ravaging the mountains about us – and there was absolutely nothing we could do. How many people, young and old alike, are walking around, a shadow of their potential because they believe the words, spoken and demonstrated, that destroy? But the tongue in and of itself, is not evil.
Have you ever experienced someone coming alive through words of affirmation? Ever seen the water of a child’s heart raise up to overflow when they are given praise? Can you remember when you were at end of your rope and someone smiled and said, “Thank-you”? The word to encourage literally means to give or impart courage. Before you just lash out, ask yourself: Is it true? Is it necessary? Is it kind?
Respond: While it may not be in the Bill of Rights, it is our responsibility to build up people into his kingdom. Lord, please help us.
The book of James is quite a short book, saying that though, Goliath probably thought David was short and look what happened to him. It packs quite a punch as did David’s guided missile. It has a straight shooting, not messing around feel about it. Not many warm ‘n fuzzy songs are written with these verses in mind. One thing is sure, you certainly know where you stand as you engage with it.
But when, why and to whom was it written? The book of James is, by popular consensus, the first of the New Testament books written. Christianity was still new. As with any new building project, you have to get the foundations right. People who may have previously not gotten along, now found themselves being Family Members – and sometimes it’s easier to get along with the Lord God Almighty than with family. An expected greeting of the day was “Caesar is Lord”. Imagine the response little Hannah would get from Gigantus Maximus as she replied “Jesus is Lord”.
There are two central themes:
1. Having an adventurous relationship with God
You serve him as if the very joy of life itself depends on it. Not quite understanding how or why God lavishes his very best on you and for you and to you but being so, so grateful that he does. Finding out that you can trust him even when you can’t trust yourself, especially when he leads you into scary places.
2. Having an adventurous relationship with people
Recognising that we, who have surrendered ourselves to him, have been adopted into his name. That that which once was mine is now ours, not like communism but like Christ. Realising that our words and actions are powerful.
So – Love God. Love People. Nothing else matters.
Luca, I am your father
So it’s a long weekend because of the Human Rights Day holiday. We’re reminded of how far we’ve come and how far we’re yet to go. This is also an election year in South Africa. We’re reminded that our vote counts because it came at a great price and would lead to a better life for all. Yet there is so much suffering about and reasons to lose hope.
The New Testament Church was viewed as revolutionary due to the radical on-going actions of its members. Christians gave of their possessions to meet the needs of everyone. Widows and orphans were hemmed into families. In many cities, undesirable babies would often be discarded over city walls into rubbish dumps and sewers only to be carefully rescued by Christian families and raised as if born to them.
The Church has always been at the forefront of social change as a direct response to the compassion of the Father. The abolition of slavery. Inventing hot chocolate so that men would have an alternative to getting drunk in British pubs and be sober with their families. Starting Sunday Schools so that children could have one day off work per week and receive some form of education, etc. What of now? What about today?
My wife and I have been on a long obedience in the same direction regarding the make-up of our family. God has impressed his desire on us to adopt an older child as our first option. This journey has taken many years and has exposed us to realities of childhood neglect and abuse. I would have preferred remaining ignorant. We’ve literally just celebrated a year of my son calling me “Dad”.
How would God use you so that his will would be done on Earth as it is in Heaven?
>> 1 John 3:16-24
One of the last New Testament books written continues the theme of the first book written – one written by Jesus’ brother and the other by the Disciple whom Jesus loved. There were no better eye witnesses to the life and challenge of Jesus.
‘This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers’ (v 16). God’s message at the end of the 1st century is the same at the beginning of the 21st.
Real love is an action, not just a feeling. The contemporary poets, the Black Eyed Peas sings, “Father, Father, Father help us / Send some guidance from above / ‘Cause people got me, got me questionin’ / Where is the love?”
So, ‘let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth’ (v 18).
No Ordinary Family
>> 1 John 4:7-12
Ever seen comic book heroes breaking a sweat whilst being all super hero-like? They leap over buildings and lift train carriages with such grace and ease. How could we mere mortals possibly compare?
This week’s Bible readings speak about counting it all joy when the “stuff” hits the fan, to live lives wholly for God and to pour ourselves out for the Family. I know of precious few Super-Christian types able to maintain those levels of performance and they’re not even alive anymore. Where then does that leave us ordinary Family members who have not raised the dead – yet?
Is it written, “Be-ist thou a Super-Christian to complete thy work”? No! ‘He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him’ (v9). So, ‘if any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault’ James 1:5.
Week: January 6-12 2014
Byline: Tracy and Eugéne are happily married and have recently become instant parents of a 6 year-old boy, Luca (“bringer of light”). They’re glad to have missed out on sleepless nights, nappies and tantrums. This couple love working together full-time in Act Won creative arts ministry (www.actwon.co.za). They’re passionate about being on adventure with God and can’t wait to see what God has in store for them all.
Introduction: Walk with Me…!
We recently adopted an amazing 6 year old boy. God’s idea, not ours and it is already proving to be an adventure of epic proportion. Our first month together often felt like we were merely doing family. We were going through the motions, learning about schools, play-dates, routines and parties, all the while coming to terms with enormous life changes. Of late there’s been a change in the dynamic. More and more we are being family and not just doing family. There’s a rightness and lightness about it and much joy!
Sometimes we can get bogged down with doing Christianity instead of simply being with God and enjoying him. We can miss out on the joy of what he created us for – himself.
At the beginning of the new year I heard God whispering these words – walk with me. This phrase contains both a command and an invitation. Walk with me! The authority of God Almighty as a master commands his servant to walk alongside him. The servant responds immediately in obedience. At the same time: Walk with me… is an incredibly intimate invitation to walk with our creator in friendship, trust and contentment, to listen to God’s heartbeat and hear the gentle whispers of the Spirit in our soul.
“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me-watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace… Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly” Matthew 11:28-30 (Message).
So at the start of 2014, let’s respond with obedient, joyful hearts and walk with him. Let’s get walking…!
Quote: God is enjoying himself and he expects us to join him. Meister Eckhart
Saving the world
Prepare: Why did God choose Noah to save the world? Why would God choose you to save the world?
>> Genesis 6:1-22
Explore: Noah and Enoch (Gen5:22,24) are the only ones in chapters 5 and 6 who are described as those who ‘walked with God’. I’ve always loved that description and want to be described in that way: And Tracy walked with God. Try it with your name. Sounds good – doesn’t it?
“The history of all great characters of the Bible is summed up in this one sentence: They acquainted themselves with God, and acquiesced in his will in all things.” Richard Cecil. God is ready to give up on the entire earth but for one righteous man. God chose Noah because he walked with him. It almost sounds too simple. Surely Noah should have proved that he could build an ark/follow instructions/lead the human race. But it was enough that God knew him and so entrusts the survival of the entire human race to him. No small task.
Sometimes we may feel that we need to perform, to prove to God that we are the best suited, most righteous person for the job. We make plans, sign up for all kinds of good activities and even feel guilty when we say “no”. But as with Noah, God longs for us to simply walk with him. As we walk with God, he begins to unfold his plans. And they are always both mind-blowingly amazing and scary. Like when God said “Adopt an older child. I will specifically let you know who the child is. Do not doubt me.”
Respond: What do you have to release in order to simply walk with God?
God’s Positioning System (GPS)
Prepare: “Choosing Christ means walking along a single road, not several at the same time. If we wish to follow Christ and ourselves at the same time, are we not running after our own shadows?” Anon
>> Isaiah 30:1-5,15-33
Explore: The passage describes stubborn children who deliberately choose their own paths, wilfully getting themselves into trouble because they do not listen to their father. The promise in verse 15 is lovely but starkly contrasts with the end of that verse ‘…but you would have none of it’. There are similar echoes in Jeremiah 6:16 and chapter 7:23,24. God’s people continue to refuse God’s help and restoration. Thank goodness God does not give up on them or us! God’s beautiful character is revealed as he longs to restore his stubborn people. Against this backdrop God says “Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you saying, “This is the way; walk in it” (Isaiah 30:21).
As a Capetonian visiting Joburg it is essential to borrow a GPS in order to navigate these foreign lands. Our first experience was with the volume turned down. We did not realise this and tried to follow the picture on the screen with the little arrows. Needless to say there was a point where we were headed for Kimberly (opposite direction to our intended destination). Once we figured out how to turn the volume up we could hear “recalculating, recalculating”, we turned around, followed the voice and were back on track!
Respond: How often does God have to say “recalculating, recalculating” with regards to your life? Maybe it’s time to turn the volume up on your God Positioning System.
Feels like Kilimanjaro
Prepare: Ever been on an easy walk that suddenly began to feel like you were scaling the highest mountain in Africa?
>> Luke 9:18-27
Explore: Sometimes our walk with Jesus can feel a bit like breathlessly struggling to climb up Kilimanjaro when we thought we’d signed on for the proverbial walk in the park. Fortunately Jesus doesn’t expect us to go anywhere that he hasn’t gone before. Jesus has walked the road of sacrifice and suffering (v22). He knows how hard it can get, the tears you’ve cried, your fears for what lies ahead and when you can’t take one more step. Jesus not only understands but he’s promises to ‘never leave you nor forsake you’ (Deuteronomy 31:6). He’s with us as we go through the ‘valley of the shadow of death’ (Psalm 23:4) and when we ‘walk through the fire’ (Isaiah 43:2). Jesus gives us strength when we can’t take another step and enables us to continue walking without fainting (Isaiah 40:31).
Sometimes God calls us to “a long obedience in the same direction” Eugene H. Peterson. We were in the adoption process for 2 years. It was a difficult, emotional and challenging journey. There were times when we felt like giving up. But we knew God said we must adopt and so we continued on. We also knew we couldn’t pick and choose what we obeyed. It was all or nothing. Either we followed Jesus or we didn’t. And at just the right time God brought our son into our lives.
Respond: Where are you on that long obedience in the same direction? Speak to Jesus about your journey because he’s right there beside you.
Walking on water
Prepare: “If we only have the will to walk, then God is pleased with our stumbles.” C.S. Lewis
>> Matthew 14:22-36
Explore: Sometimes we have a storybook picture of Jesus gliding across a calm lake. In reality there were strong winds, big waves, and a boat being tossed about. Yet in the midst of the storms, Jesus appears and says “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid” (v27). He probably had to say that loudly to be heard over the wind and possibly the disciples’ terrified screams.
I’d like us to have a perspective change on Peter’s part of the story. We can often critically shake our heads over Peter’s lack of faith. But how about the fact that Peter experienced a miracle that none of the other disciples did. He walked on water (v29)! Can you imagine what that experience was like? He climbed out of a rocking boat, onto stormy waves and he walked. Yes he stumbled, took his eyes of Jesus and needed to be saved. But the fact remains: he walked on water. He only had a little faith but he still had faith – enough to step out of the boat.
Where is your boat? Are you still in it, maybe peering over the edge feeling a little sea-sick. Perhaps you have climbed out of the boat but are still holding onto it just in case? Or are you walking on the water and the boat has disappeared altogether? Wherever you may be, hear Jesus saying to you “Come” (v29).
Respond: Where is Jesus calling you to walk on water? You only need a little faith to step out of the boat and join the adventure.
Dancing with the Star
Prepare: Whose tune are you dancing to?
>> Galatians 5:1-26
Explore: My hubby and I love to dance and are always on the lookout for opportunities to do so. We eagerly wait for the right song and there is much joy dancing together. We know each other well and I manage to follow most of the time…except when he invents new dance moves. Jesus is our ultimate partner who invites us to join him in an amazing dance of life and joy. Before we can accept this invitation, we need to be reminded of Whose we are. We have been set free through Christ’s sacrifice on the cross (v1). We need to relax in that freedom and grace which is ours as children of the Most High God. Secondly we mustn’t get distracted by other tunes playing around us (v19-21). We need to focus on the Spirit, his leading and his music. The Spirit helps us to stay in step on a daily basis (v25).
Staying in step produces the good stuff (v22,23). This fruit comes in the form of character rather than a list of do’s and do not’s. We need to become people of character, Christ’s character. This fruit will bless those around us and can be used to invite others to join in the dance of life and joy.
“Following the Lord’s commands is more than dutiful doing. Through actively walking with God, we are conformed to His will; and as we walk, our faith to follow Him increases. By freely responding to the grace of obedience with our whole hearts, we enter a realm of trust in God.” Debra Evans
Respond: So whose tune are you dancing to?
“Joy, not grit, is the hallmark of holy obedience. We need to be light-hearted in what we do to avoid taking ourselves too seriously. It is a cheerful revolt against self and pride. Our work is jubilant, carefree, merry. Utter abandonment to God is done freely and with celebration. And so I urge you to enjoy this ministry of self-surrender. Don’t push too hard. Hold this work lightly, joyfully. The saints throughout the ages have witnessed to this reality…. You know, of course, that they are not speaking of a silly, superficial, bubbly kind of joy like that flaunted in modern society. No, this is a deep, resonant joy that has been shaped and tempered by the fires of suffering and sorrow; joy through the cross, joy because of the cross.” Richard J. Foster
Sometimes I think we take ourselves too seriously as Christians. Don’t misunderstand me-there are many things in our lives as Christ-followers that are deadly serious and cannot be ignored or trivialised. But at times I think we miss out on the joy of the journey. We can be too busy stressing about whether we’ve packed in enough food/maps/emergency gear and we miss out on the breath-taking experiences happening all around us. Christ calls us to live life to the full, a life of adventure and not of mundane existence. Every day Jesus joyfully invites us to walk with him. We never know what surprises he may have in store. We know it won’t be easy but it will be amazing with the odd bit of water-walking thrown in just for fun! And what stories we will have to tell of our God who walks with us. So don’t take yourself too seriously and get in step!
Speaking life and hope
“Never underestimate the importance of simply being physically present in the place God wants you. You may not be asked to perform some dramatic ministry, but simply being there is a ministry.” Warren Wiersbe
Too often we focus on the negative aspects of our land. But then I’m reminded of ordinary South Africans I’ve met who are doing extraordinary things for God. I know they would disagree with me about the extraordinary part but that’s where God supernaturally comes in. The young South African man who has heard God and moved to the Far East with his wife and baby. The cost is great, the wrestling with God on-going but at the same time, even if he doesn’t realise it, his life is inviting others on a journey of eternal consequence. The mother living in an informal settlement riddled with gang violence. She sits in her home, tears running down her face, telling of how she trusts God even though there is no money. And through her home comes a seemingly never-ending parade of children and teenagers she has rescued and given a home to. And God is there. The old lady faithfully praying for her extended family to know God. The newly-wed graduate professionals who are serving God in rural Africa. The young woman whose heart burns for the poor and is sacrificially obeying God as she loves the unlovely.
These precious people walk with God through the pain and the struggles and the joys and the victories because they know him and cannot envision life without him. And the stories go on and on and on and far outweigh the doom and gloom spoken over our land. Find out those stories, retell them and tell your own. Choose to speak life and hope over our land.
Walk with the wise
>> Proverbs 13:20
It’s good to have company as we walk with Jesus. Good company, that is. Friends who will encourage, give advice, help carry your pack if you’re tired, teach you more about walking well, help you keep going and not give up. Wise people can be people who have been walking for longer than you have. People who see things differently to you. People who can challenge and encourage you.
Here are some words from Steve Curtis Chapman’s song: Walk With The Wise. If we walk with the wise we will grow wise/If we walk in the light then our path will be bright I know/There’s someone who’s already been where we must go/In the light of what they’ve learned we find/That we will grow wise if we walk with the wise.
I’ve learned to look for answers in those born before my time/As I listen to them tell me what they’ve learned in their lives/I talk to friends with understanding much deeper than my own/And gain wisdom beyond measure I could never find alone./One life can be a candle with wisdom as its fire/And every life touches with it’s flame is set ablaze/if we walk with the wise we will grow wise.
>> Deuteronomy 10:12-22
A wise person once told me, if you’re in doubt at some point on your journey with God, check your marching orders. What was the last thing God told you to do? Do that as you await further orders. Verse 12 gives us our overall instructions from God. We need to reverence him, walk in all his ways, love and serve God with our entire being and obey his commands. Ask him to give you strength to carry out your marching orders today.
Week: August 5-11 2013
BYLINE: Eugéne and Tracy are a husband and wife team who have been married for 14 years. They are involved full-time in a creative arts ministry called Act Won (www.actwon.co.za). Act Won aims to creatively communicate Christ by utilising live theatre as well as other forms of creative communication. They have had the amazing opportunity and privilege of performing and ministering in South Africa and abroad on numerous occasions. A few momentous moments: making a terminally ill boy laugh while performing for him in the garden outside his hospital room window; almost getting locked in Hezekiah’s Tunnel in Jerusalem for the weekend; praying in the pouring rain in Tiananmen Square, openly praising God with a Djembe drum in a Very closed country. They are passionate about serving God and following him on wild, wonderful adventures of faith!!
HEY SOUL SISTERS
South Africa celebrates our female heroes this week. We cheer our Wives, our Moms, our Grannies, our Aunts and our Sisters. We remember their daily exploits and the super powers they possess in finding things. For many in our society, the Woman is the primary care-giver and the Custodian of Community. James Brown is onto something when he says that while this is a man’s world, it would be nothing without a woman or a girl.
When we hear the words “Radical Women”, images of Xena Warrior Princess, Joan of Arc, Wonder Woman or even Winnie Madikizela-Mandela may come to mind. We hold them aloft – unattainable to us mere mortals – but what of the Ordinary Radicals? What are their stories?
The Bible is jam-packed with Heroes of the Faith. Many of them were ordinary ladies doing ordinary things through an extra-ordinary God. I would venture that if asked, they would not see themselves as heroes.
This week, we’ll hear the God stories of a few midwives who defied the superpower man-god of the day and freed a nation. We’ll hear from a slave girl who says but two lines that changes the life of a general and a few kings. We’ll hear from a lady whose lifestyle and reputation made her unpopular with the religious constabulary. We’ll hear the song from a lady who filled man-sized shoes. We’ll find out about crunch-time support and hear about a blushing Bride.
May we be challenged by the Word of God. May we be transformed through His revelation into the likeness of His Son, being made spotless and without blemish – and may we “be doers of the word, and not hearers only” (James 1:22 ESV)
ISN’T IT IRONIC
Do you feel ordinary or insignificant in God’s Kingdom?
READ Exodus 1: 8-21
This passage is filled with irony. The strong are afraid of the weak (v8-10). Pharaoh tries to deal “shrewdly” (v10) but expects midwives to kill babies. His solution (oppression) only exacerbates his problem. He only perceives males as a threat and does not see women as having any impact or consequence. Yet, the genesis of the delivery of an entire nation is brought about by women who revere God more than they fear the super-powers of their time. How interesting that in chapter 2, more women are instrumental in God’s delivery plan including Pharaoh’s very own daughter.
So it’s the women who step up to the plate – those who are seemingly without impact or consequence. “The midwives, however, feared (revered) God and did not do what the king of Egypt told them to do; they let the boys live” (v17). Note that the midwives (Shiphrah & Puah) alone are named but not the King. He is the highest official in the land and is feared by millions. This is not merely an omission but is deliberate. “The memory of the righteous will be a blessing, but the name of the wicked will rot” (Proverbs 10:7). They are radical not because they were cunning but because they went about their daily affairs in obedience to God. Their relationship with God enabled them to revere and obey Him rather than the head of the Egyptian super power.
Do you feel as if you are of no consequence, that you are but ordinary? You are not! What a blessing – to be known by the Most High God.
NO WOMAN, NO CRY
Would you be prepared to give up something you love for something you love more?
READ Luke 7: 36-50
What’s every Christian event planners’ worst nightmare? An uninvited guest with a soiled reputation, from the wrong part of town, arriving at a special event and making a scene. That appears to be the case at first glance. What embarrassment for poor Pharisee Simon. Did this “sinner-woman” not know where she was? She was inappropriate in every way: her hair hanging loose, touching another man (even on his feet) and her actions (sobbing and kissing feet). The perfume denoted the tools of her trade (probably used to enhance her bed and chambers). She must have been the worst of sinners. Jesus should have known that if he really was a prophet.
The woman however did what a good host should have done. She literally gave herself in service to Jesus. No water basin to clean dirty feet, only her tears. No towel to dry the feet, only her hair. No oil for his head, only the tools of her trade. But her greatest cost was the scorn of those who should have known better. She believed that if she came to Jesus as a repentant sinner, He would not reject her. Note that Jesus faces Simon when addressing him but turns his back to him when rescuing and affirming the woman’s dignity. Her focus was solely on Jesus, no matter the cost.
Because of God’s great love for us, how can we offer him anything less than our all in worship? Spend time at his feet now.
MORE THAN WORDS
“In quietness and confidence is your strength” (Isaiah 30:15 NLT)
READ 2 Kings 5:1-15
The prime catalyst of change in this entire adventure is a young slave girl whose words are almost lost in this geopolitical saga. Young girls should have had very little influence in matters of State, let alone a slave girl. She says but two sentences, “If only my master would see the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy” (v3).
Note the radicalness of this girl. She has genuine concern, not hatred for her captor. Naaman was commander of the Syrian armies against Israel (v1). What a lesson for us as the Church. Many would bemoan being enslaved and see Naaman’s affliction as justice.
Why would this general believe his slave girl captive? Why would Naaman convince his King to write visa letters to the King of Israel? She must have had such confidence in her Great Big God, even though she was still enslaved. He may not have believed her if her conduct had not matched her conviction. She clearly spoke her convictions – a bold yet simple testimony of the Lord God Most High. The risks would have been extremely high for a captive to be so forthright. Her confidence was not in her context but in her God.
Note the impact one girl’s faith had on the commander. Naaman moved from “I thought” (v11) to “I know” (v15). We are not told if the girl was freed from slavery. We are however assured of Naaman’s life-changing transformation to salvation (v15).
Pray for boldness and the right words to say in whatever context you find yourself in.
THIS IS A MAN’S WORLD???
Are you involved in mentoring and being mentored? What is the impact of these relationships?
READ Judges 4:1-16 & Hebrews 11:32-34
The situation was dire. Israel was in effect a vassal state. They were oppressed for 20 years – no battle hardened army to speak of and no weapons. Morale was down. “In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as he saw fit” (Judges 21:25). The overlords had superior numbers and forces (900 chariots of iron). Even travel was restricted to byways.
Into the breach steps Deborah who is a wife (v4) and a mother (Judges 5:7). She was also a prophetess meaning she declared the Word and wisdom of God. She had no stately office but operated under a tree (v4).
Deborah had to remind Barak “Has not the LORD, the God of Israel, commanded you…” (v6b ESV). 10,000 practically weapon-less men had to go from a mountain top into a valley to face the enemy. Chariots were unstoppable in valleys. An insane command one would think.
Why did Barak need Deborah to hold his hand? She was clearly not a sword wielding side-kick or warrior. Why is he named in the Hall of Faith (Hebrews 11) and not Deborah? He was weak of faith. Deborah was always strong of faith. His “weakness was turned to strength; and became powerful in battle” (Hebrews 11:34). Maybe the “wife & mother” figure of Deborah who was speaking the Word of God to a fearful reluctant leader, made all the difference.
Strengthen the feeble hands, steady the knees that give way; say to those with fearful hearts, “Be strong, do not fear; your God will come…” (Isaiah 35:3-4)
ISN’T SHE LOVELY
The time leading up to a wedding is filled with all sorts of preparation so that everything is just perfect. How are we preparing as the Bride of Christ?
READ Ephesians 5:25-27 & Revelation 19:6-8
In action movies of bygone years, females did little more than argue with each other, flutter their arms about and scream incessantly. Villains rarely took them seriously. Today, many non-believers and even some Christians characterise the Church with the same disdain – fluttering our arms about, arguing and making noise. That’s not the Church, the Bride I see in Scripture.
God describes a living organism, a body that is Holy (Sacred), cleansed by continual immersion in the Word, radiant, without defect and blameless. Like a well-trained soldier, she is always in a state of readiness (Revelation 19:7). She is definitely not a wimp as the living God works through and resides within her. This Bride is more than a conqueror who presses on towards the goal and is firmly rooted and established. She knows that she is not a citizen of this world and that her identity is in Christ. She is able to follow after God because she recognises His voice. She is no slouch with the sword because she knows the Word of God. She knows that she is dearly loved and so she loves. Villains beware. She is not the harem of Christ but the unified Bride of Christ. Yes we are still being prepared but the celebrations are coming soon!
Jesus paid the bride price for you by giving his all. Ask God to reveal to you what preparations still need to take place individually and as the Church.
Big Match Temperament (BMT). You just know when you have it. Everyone else knows when you don’t. It speaks about the “stuff” you have inside that enables you to rise above the rigors of the task especially against tough opposition.
There are a number of moments in Biblical history that were pivotal, real life or death moments. One of these involved the first Adam and another involved the second Adam. The first was when Adam and Eve messed up. Adam was however presented with the opportunity to take responsibility for their actions, (and non-actions in his case) and make things right. Adam however dropped the proverbial ball. He chose not to “man-up”. My Sunday school account of the Fall, led me to believe that Adam was being very spiritual somewhere else in the garden when it all went down and that Eve made junk for all of us. Not so. She “gave some to her husband, who was with her…” (Genesis 3:6)
The other account is when Jesus was being crucified. Nowhere in the Gospels do I see evidence that the Disciples, except John, were present and accounted for. When the chips where down, it was the women, who had supported Jesus’ ministry all the way from Galilee, that were there. The women went to the tomb while the guys were keeping themselves safe somewhere else.
This is not a cheap attempt at men-battery but, as I look at society, I wonder where the real men are? Similarly as I look at the modern day Church, I can’t help but ask, “Where are the real men”? Look around you. What’s the ratio of active men and woman in your church? How many single ladies can’t find God following Men?
Lord, this absolutely has to change. Please help.
I grew up in a family with a great appreciation for jazz. Those cassettes were well used by us and our neighbours. The only time of silence seemed to be when we were sleeping, (and even then, Mo Town and Gospel invaded my dreams). One of my parents’ older classics was Aretha Franklin’s “R-E-S-P-E-C-T”. I would sing and play it without hearing or realising what she was saying. It just sounded cool.
This week South African celebrated National Women’s Day. The history of our country is seasoned by ladies who have defied the odds and were catalysts of change politically, financially, emotionally and spiritually. Grannies seem to be chief among them. They seem to possess the right balance of heart and hand.
I am encouraged by ladies coming into their own in entrepreneurship, to see young ladies breaking stereotypical moulds and live life on purpose. I am encouraged to hear the heart of the Father through the lips of His daughters. Godly ladies – how fundamental they are in the Kingdom of God. How fundamental to raising a nation. A woman who fears the Lord is to be praised. (Proverbs 31:30)
I often wonder if the Moms of great leaders knew who they were carrying on their shoulders. If Moses’ mom for example, knew his potential as she allowed him to drift down the Nile. I wonder if my Gran knew what she was planting into my life during that foundational period. She certainly prayed as if she knew. There is a common denominator for many ordinary radicals whose lives have eternal consequence. They had a significant person in their lives who loved God and modelled that conviction. So as our societies, cultures and generations influence each other, “All I’m asking is for a little respect – just a little bit”.
EXTRA READINGS 1
SHAPE OF MY HEART
READ: Acts 16:11-15,40
Lydia’s conversion takes place on the banks of a river outside the city. This is an important fact. “Historical insight: Inscribed on the arches outside the city of Philippi was a prohibition against bringing an unrecognized religion into the city; therefore, this prayer meeting was held outside the city, beside the river.” (Life Application Study Bible). Lydia must have been an influential person because her conversion led to her entire household seeing the light. She also “persuaded” (v15) Paul and the crew to stay over, and these guys were on a mission.
After some excitement, (demon possessed slave girl and a prison break), the crew ended up at Lydia’s house again for a home group meeting (v40). Remember the prohibition? Something changed in the city. Lydia now ploughed her influence into the Kingdom of God.
EXTRA READINGS 2
STAND BY ME
READ: Luke 8:1-3
Behind every successful man… the saying goes. Jesus had a ministry support crew. These were a diverse group of ladies spanning the social and economic strata, from the privileged in Herod’s court to social outcasts. Demon possessed people were often outcasts on the fringes of society. Yet they were together. We find them mentioned throughout the Gospels. They weren’t only getting their hands dirty by doing the cooking and cleaning but often inspired the guys into action. Who brought the news of the empty tomb?
Supporting Jesus “out of their own means” (v3) not only refers to money but had broader application. They supported Jesus with all they had and were. Jesus was Messiah. He saved them therefore their very lives were in his hands. A truly diverse team of ladies following hard after Jesus.
Week: July 1-7 2013
BYLINE: Eugéne and Tracy are a husband and wife team who have been married for 14 years. They are involved full-time in a creative arts ministry called Act Won (www.actwon.co.za). Act Won aims to creatively communicate Christ by utilising live theatre as well as other forms of creative communication. They have had the amazing opportunity and privilege of performing and ministering in South Africa and abroad on numerous occasions. A few momentous moments: making a terminally ill boy laugh while performing for him in the garden outside his hospital room window; almost getting locked in Hezekiah’s Tunnel in Jerusalem for the weekend; praying in the pouring rain in Tiananmen Square, openly praising God with a Djembe drum in a Very closed country. They are passionate about serving God and following him on wild, wonderful adventures of faith!!
I DID IT GOD’S WAY
One of the most popular karaoke songs remains Frank Sinatra’s “My way”. At one time it was also the most requested tune for UK funerals. Man says “I did it my way.” God says “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways” (Isaiah 55:9). What song are you singing?
We need to constantly check to see if we are living our lives God’s way or our way. Let’s be honest – we prefer to be in control and to make our own decisions. We often ask God to bless what we’re doing and to join us. This can happen in subtle ways that start to undermine our complete dependence on Almighty God and His guidance. When we choose to do things our way, we can settle for the good and miss out on the best that God has planned for our lives.
“My Way” lyrics: For what is a man, what has he got?/ If not himself, then he has not/ To say the things he truly feels/ And not the words of one who kneels/ The record shows I took the blows/ And did it my way
We are called to kneel before God Most High and acknowledge his Lordship over every area of our lives. This week as we look at some of the chapters from the second half of Isaiah, let us examine our hearts. Ask God to show you where your ways/decisions/perspectives have taken precedence over His ways for your life. God says: “I am God, and there is none like me…My purpose will stand and I will do all that I please.” (Isaiah 46:9,10)
Let us sing together with much passion and enthusiasm, even if it’s not perfectly in tune – “We did it God’s way!”
LIVING ON A PRAYER
“My way is hidden from the LORD; my cause is disregarded by my God” (Isaiah 40:27). Do you feel like this or know of someone else who does? Bring your prayers and tears before God now.
READ: Isaiah 40:6-31
Isaiah 40 ends with the beautiful, comforting and well known words in verses 28-31. Yet how many of us know/have memorised the earlier verses in this chapter? I was going through a challenging time and asked God if He had forgotten my situation. He answered by sending a beautiful sunrise and asked, “Did you make the sun rise this morning?” Of course I had to sheepishly answer “No”. God asked Job similar questions which all highlighted the fact that He is Creator God and there is no one like Him. Isaiah 40 seems to echo that type of question and emphasises aspects of the immensity of God. There is indeed none that is his equal. Take some time to reflect on these descriptions of our God. Isn’t He amazing! No wonder His ways are higher than ours.
Doesn’t it just blow your mind that this huge, all powerful, all mighty God “tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart” (v11) Now re-read verses 27-31. Isn’t it incredible that this Great Big God loves us so tenderly, hears us and strengthens us in our struggles and challenges of life.
“But those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength.”(v31) Spend time now in the presence of your God and Father who promises to renew your strength and enable you to soar with Him.
I WILL SURVIVE
If you had the power to help people forget traumatic past experiences – would you do it?
READ Isaiah 43:1-13
It’s always struck me in this passage that the people had to pass through the waters and fires (v2). God didn’t rush in and rescue them. They had to go through the difficult times but God promised to be with them.
There have been painful times in my life when I have cried out for God to save me, to make the bad stuff go away and enable me to forget it all. However Isaiah says “when you pass through…”(v2), because those waters and fires will come. It’s a part of life here on earth. God uses those rivers and fires to wash and cleanse us, strengthen our character, teach us new aspects of Himself and make us more like Him. If we were saved out of every difficult experience/relationship/decision we would be self-indulgent, weak people of no real use to anyone. We would definitely not bear a family resemblance to our Father.
God reminds us that he has created us for His glory (v7). Our lives and the way we deal with challenges need to reflect God and draw others to Him. After all it is all about Him. He created us, He formed us, He saved us and He calls us to Himself.
Remember your past and thank God for how He brought you through the floods and fires of life. “He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us…” (2 Corinthians 1:10)
EVERY BREATH YOU TAKE
“Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation.”(Mark 16:15) How do you feel about this verse? Speak to God.
READ Isaiah 49:1-23
Every time I read this chapter I feel such a sense of excitement, remembering past God-adventures and the stirrings of future possibilities. God has used this chapter to speak to me about going, sometimes literally to the ends of the earth. “I am setting you up as a light for the nations so that my salvation becomes global!” Isaiah 49:6b (Message). God is sending missionaries from Africa back to first world cynical, post-Christian countries, saying “Return to sender with love”.
The amazing thing is that He entrusts us with this message of eternal hope and restoration (take note of the beautiful images in the chapter referring to this). When God calls us to be involved with what He is doing, it is always for His glory and purposes. It’s actually not about us. Moses was called to set the Hebrews free from Egypt. Joseph was placed in a position of power and authority to save not only the Egyptians but also his own people from famine.
God’s ways are so much bigger than our dreams, ideas and plans. The adventures He calls us on are so much more exciting and overflowing with His supernatural power. Choose His ways and you will experience living life to the full!
Ask God where He wants you to go – around the world or across the street to share His love. “I tell you, now is the time of God’s favour, now is the day of salvation” (2 Corinthians 6:2)
DON’T GO BREAKING MY HEART
What do you think pleases God about how we live our lives? What displeases Him?
READ Isaiah 58:1-14
The Israelites thought that God would be impressed with their outward show of being religious (v2,3). We too can go to great lengths to do and say the “right” things in order to give the appearance of being a “good Christian”. This often happens because we seek the favour of man not of God. I continue to learn hard lessons as to whom I most want to please – God or man. God is also not impressed with the appearance of godliness. He is able to see right into our hearts. He knows our motivations and deepest thoughts. We cannot fool God!
Thank goodness God doesn’t just convict us. As we re-enter into an intimate relationship with Him, we are able to hear His voice and know what pleases Him. It’s always challenged me knowing that God loves a cheerful giver (2 Corinthians 9:7) and not merely the act of giving. I can do the most sacrificial, miraculous Christian actions (1 Corinthians 13:1-3) but if I do it without love it amounts to nothing. So our actions need to flow out of our love for God and not merely doing the “right” acts. God’s instructions are challenging but He will be with you. The promises are so beautiful when we walk in obedience with Him.
“You’ll be known as those who can fix anything, restore old ruins, rebuild and renovate, make the community liveable again.” (v12 Message) Ask God what He wants you to do in your community/communities to bring life, hope and restoration to your nation.
DON’T STOP ME NOW
Think about the activities/projects/people’s live you are involved in at the moment for God. Do you feel burdened down or alive?
READ Isaiah 61:1-11
In the Nazareth synagogue (Luke 4:16-21) Jesus reads Isaiah 61:1-2a. He stops before the reference to the day of the Lord’s vengeance (God’s judgement of mankind) as that hasn’t happened yet. Here he focuses on the really good news of why he came. Jesus then says, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”(Luke 4:21) This was not favourably received but it didn’t prevent God’s plans from being fulfilled.
Isaiah 61 not only refers to Jesus but also contains guidelines for us to experience adventure with God. We, as followers of Christ, have the Spirit of the Sovereign LORD (v1) and have been anointed to go out into the world. What struck me most about this chapter is the feeling of lightness and rightness in working alongside God. We are called to deal with heavy issues of evil, injustice and destruction. However there is such a sense of hope and restoration as we walk with God and trust Him.
Are we delighting “greatly in the LORD” (v10)? Are we deliberately putting on those robes of righteousness? Are we then able to offer others “a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair” (v3)?
We are called to go…to bind up…to proclaim…to release…to comfort. This calling is for now and not sometime in the future when it may be more convenient. Time is running out and we need to make the most of every opportunity (Ephesians 5:16). As we do so we will experience more of God, His joy and lightness of being.
It’s all about God – His ways, His plans and His glory. It’s not about us – our ways, our plans and our glory. It’s easy to state that but sometimes our lives don’t reflect this truth. We live in a world that continually tells us it’s all about us, our happiness, our decisions and our individuality.
That’s why it’s so good to read Isaiah and be reminded about God’s sovereignty, holiness and love for us.
In preparation for writing these devotionals we had carefully allocated enough time to meet the deadline. However as we attempted to start writing we kept getting interrupted. This was frustrating as the deadline began to loom ever nearer. We were busy with “The Lord’s work”. Why were we getting disturbed so much?! We were starting to feel stressed out. Then God helped us to have a perspective change. We began to realise that many of the interruptions were God-given invitations to be a part of what He is doing in our neighbourhood. As we joined God we experienced Him teaching us new things. We also had many opportunities to see Him at work through us, touching other people’s lives. How important to have a changed perspective and not get anxious about completing the devotionals timeously (which somehow happened in between the God-opportunities). God’s timing is so often not our timing. He definitely knows what He is doing! Trust Him and you should also stress less as a result!
Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, “We must be ready to allow ourselves to be interrupted by God. God will be constantly cancelling our plans by sending us people with claims and petitions. We may pass them by, preoccupied with our more important tasks, as the priest passed the man who had fallen among thieves, perhaps – reading the Bible.”
LIVIN’ LA VIDA LOCA
This song title means “Living the crazy life”. This feels like an apt description. On an almost daily basis we hear reports of corruption in our city, country and across the world. This corruption is found across the board from those in power all the way down to ordinary citizens. The overwhelming majority of South Africans say they are Christians. Why then is there so much corruption in our land?
Isaiah 59:14-16 says “So justice is driven back, and righteousness stands at a distance; truth has stumbled in the streets, honesty cannot enter. Truth is nowhere to be found, and whoever shuns evil becomes a prey. The LORD looked and was displeased that there was no justice. He saw that there was no one, he was appalled that there was no one to intervene; so his own arm worked salvation for him… “
The Lord is appalled with the situation. We must not allow corruption to be a part of our society and way of thinking. We need to take a stand and ensure that we are abiding by the law of the land and not trying to “get away” with things (no matter how small it may be). We also need to initiate the conversations that get people thinking. We need to pray that corruption would be exposed and that whistle blowers would not get into trouble but be rewarded instead. We need to ask God how he wants us to bring justice, righteousness and honesty back into our suburb, city and land. Thank goodness God is and will be with us as we speak out and act against corruption and lawlessness. Let us not blend in with the rest of the world but stand out as a peculiar people who live life according to God’s standards and laws.
EXTRA READINGS 1
TOTAL ECLIPSE OF THE HEART
READ: Isaiah 53:1-12
Isaiah was written over 700 years before Christ’s birth. Yet God spoke through Isaiah prophesying what was to come. God left a blueprint of his plans embedded in His Word. These particular passages are full of prophecies that Christ fulfilled.
Take time to meditate on Isaiah 53, focusing on Christ’s amazing love and sacrifice. Worship Him!
EXTRA READINGS 2
READ: Isaiah 65:17-25
John Lennon tells us to: Imagine there’s no heaven/It’s easy if you try/No hell below us/Above us only sky/Imagine all the people living for today. In direct contrast, Isaiah calls us to focus on the New Heavens that God will create. There is such a sense of joy and anticipation of finally being in God’s presence. “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” (Revelation 21:3,4). What beautiful, amazing, mind-blowing promises as we look forward in hope to when all of God’s purposes and plans will be fulfilled.
Meditate on these lyrics: I can only imagine/What it will be like/When I walk/By Your side
I can only imagine/What my eyes will see/When Your face Is before me
I can only imagine/Surrounded by Your glory, what will my heart feel/Will I dance for You Jesus or in awe of you be still/ Will I stand in Your presence or to my knees will I fall/Will I sing hallelujah, will I be able to speak at all/I can only imagine (MercyMe)
Week: July 23 – 29 2012
BYLINE: Eugéne and Tracy are a husband and wife team who have been married for 14 years. They are involved full-time in a creative arts ministry called Act Won (www.actwon.co.za). Act Won aims to creatively communicate Christ by utilising live theatre as well as other forms of mass communication media. They have had the amazing opportunity and privilege of performing and ministering in South Africa and abroad on numerous occasions. A few momentous moments: making a terminally ill boy laugh while performing for him in the garden outside his hospital room window; almost getting locked in Hezekiah’s Tunnel in Jerusalem for the weekend; praying in the pouring rain in Tiananmen Square, openly praising God with a Djembe drum in a Very closed country. They are passionate about serving God and following him on wild, wonderful adventures of faith!! Introduction
A Search and Rescue Mission
Imagine a movie – the hero gets orders from Mission Control, there’s an enemy bent on destroying the world, failure is not an option – closely followed by, ‘this message will self-destruct in 5 seconds’… It’s an impossible task. The fate of the world rests on his shoulders but the odds are ridiculously stacked against him. Just when all hope seems lost, our hero performs death defying feats, employs all kinds of gizmos, destroys captain evil in a daring move and saves the day. Remember the movie 2012, about prophesies of doom, Mayan calendars, Nostradamus, the fringe element in society, the end of the world is neigh etc…
Society finds itself enthralled by such messages. They seem very willing to hand over their trust, hope and belief in these matters rather than believing the Truth. What’s interesting is the growing phenomenon of influential church leaders questioning the validity of the words of Jesus. ‘Would a loving God really…’?
So, was Jesus crossing His fingers behind His back when He spoke of His purpose for coming to Earth? Was he sucking that whole, ‘sin separates us from God thing’ out of His thumb? Are the wages of sin still death? Does He still love the whole world? Is He still a God in action, relentlessly pursuing those who are lost? Does He still empower us to join Him? – or was Jesus only joking??? Has R.E.M. nailed it when they say, “It’s the end of the world as we know it, and I feel fine”?
Meet THE Action Hero, watch the news, enjoy supper, hear from of a 14-year-old girl and read Jesus’ words that do not self-destruct in 5 seconds. Enjoy!
Prepare: God is on a Mission (and is a God of Action!)
Read: John 3: 3 – 21
Explore: We, as humans, are faced with a task that is way beyond our pay grade, an impossible quest. The mission: To undo the effects of sin and to reconcile us with Almighty God. No amount of intelligence, technological breakthroughs, philosophies, human ingenuity or clever twists and turns has ever been able to reverse the consequences of sin. The wages of sin is still death.
The text shows that an upright citizen like Nicodemus, ‘who was Israel’s teacher’ (v 10), did not understand these matters, let alone have the capacity to do anything about it. Imagine if that was the end of the story, if eternity were left up to us – a truly impossible task. But wait, ‘With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God’. (Mark 10:27). God is on mission. He alone can save us from ourselves and from the one who would seek to steal, kill and destroy us. ‘… because that is why I was sent’. (Luke 4:43)
How amazing is it that God has chosen to use us in His mission. He clearly does not need us but invites us to work with Him. ‘All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us’. (2 Corinthians 5:18-20)
Respond: Thank-you God for sending Jesus…
What’s so good about the News?
Prepare: When you saw last night’s news or read yesterday’s paper, did it sound somewhat familiar?
Read: Mark 13: 5 – 13
Explore: ‘It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness…’ (Charles Dickens). Many would look at society around us and agree with that statement. Some would even say that society is ‘going to Hell in a hand basket’. Then there are those who would have us believe that the world will end in December this year. While it is true that Christians throughout every generation believed in the imminent return of Jesus, today things would appear to be heating up at an exponential rate.
Do we truly believe that our God is on Mission, that He is returning very soon and that we are to join Him? Then certainly there should be a great urgency for all of us who bear His Name, to share this great hope we have (this Good News of the Gospel) with those who do not yet know God. How could it be that we, who have been adopted into His grace, could operate as if Jesus were never coming back? What I say to you, I say to everyone: ‘Watch’ (Mark13:37). ‘These are the beginning of birth pains’ (v 8). Interesting to note that the entire chapter 13 is basically Jesus’ own words. Remember, Arny was not the only one who said, “I’ll be back”…
Respond: Father, thank-you that you have not left us behind, alone and without hope. Please teach us how to ‘watch’ and to respond to your guidance, in the mighty name of Jesus.
Thank-you for the supper. Amen.
Prepare: A Muslim friend once told me, ‘Show me your budget and I’ll show you what you believe’.
Read: Mark 6: 30-44
Explore: Jesus’ feeding the multitude is one of the few miracles that is recorded in all four Gospels. Is this coincidental? I would venture that God wanted to place special emphasis on these events. The Disciples (v 31), as well as the crowd, would have been somewhat peckish as it was getting late (v 35). Not only do the Disciples recognise the need of the crowd and bring it to Jesus’ attention, they also supply Him with a solution. Jesus’ response may have seemed strange because, if you took it to its logical conclusion, there would be significant costs involved. The only resources they seemed to have was a boy and his dinner-for-one.
Jesus has the fish & rolls. The crowd wait in anticipation, the occasional tummy rumble reverberates across the plains. Jesus gives thanks and hands the food to the Disciples for redistribution. But what if the Disciples merely acknowledge God’s blessing and quote Scripture about Him owning the cattle on a thousand hills. With grateful hearts, they themselves feast on the blessing of God’s provision, (they too were hungry), and sing the song, ‘I’m forever grateful to you’. All the while the multitude watches but misses out on experiencing the God who intensely loves them.
Respond: For many who have the privilege of employment, the 25th of the month is pay-day. Could we possibly be growing fat on what was meant for the expansion of the Kingdom of God, whilst being very polite about it… ‘Feed my lambs’. ‘Take care of my sheep’. ‘Feed my sheep’.
First Things First
Prepare: The life of Mission and Ministry is not our highest priority. A life in relationship with Christ is.
Read: Mark 1: 14 – 20, John 21: 15 – 19
Explore: ‘Come, follow Me’ (Mark 1:17a). Words a master speaks to his apprentice. What would those words have meant to Peter (and the other soon-to-be Disciples)? Those are the words a Rabbi would tell his cream-of-the-crop students as an invitation for them to graduate to the next level – for them to watch him and see what he was doing (John 5:19), to learn from him (Matthew 11:29), to have relationship with him. In short, to become like him. This incidentally is a definition of Christian meaning Little Christs. What’s important to note is that Jesus first says to have real relationship with him, and out of that, ‘I will make you fishers of men’ (Mark 1: 17b). This is the first time Peter hears the words ‘Come, follow Me’ from Jesus.
The second time we hear these words said to Peter is when Jesus restores him (John 21:19). Jesus indicates the deeper sense of his call. It is not merely for Peter to tag along, but to follow hard after Him by taking up his cross. The fact that Peter has blundered and is restored proves the priority Jesus places on relationship with himself over merely doing stuff.
Respond: It is by God’s grace that you too have been rescued, been put right-side-up with God and not by the stuff you do, can do or even should do. What we do is always subject to who we are. Who we are is in Christ. Mission will flow out of that.
Prepare: Go into all the world and make disciples. But All The World is a big place…
Read: Matthew 28: 16 – 20
Explore: Note the absence of question marks in this entire passage. Before Jesus commissions them, there’s a ‘therefore’. Wherefore is there a therefore? He starts with a fact, ‘All authority in Heaven and on Earth has been given unto me. Therefore…’ (v 18 – 19). He has not given us a spirit of fear (2 Timothy 1:7) neither did He give us that spirit that makes us a slave again to fear (Romans 8:15) but He gave us the authority and power to be his representatives here on Earth so that we could, at any stage give the reason for this hope that we have (1 Peter 3:15).
‘If your Gospel isn’t touching others, it hasn’t touched you!’ – Curry R. Blake. Mission with God is not just for the Super-Christian types, but is a lifestyle. Christians did not name themselves but were named by those watching their lives (Acts 11:26). A lifestyle on Mission could affect people in ways we may never dream possible. Saul witnesses the life of Stephen, is instrumental in his execution (Acts 7 & 8), but later becomes a Brother. The demonised man (Mark 5) becomes the first missionary to the Gentiles. Many Samaritans are transformed because of the lifestyle of the woman at the well (John 4:39).
Respond: So wherever you go, make disciples of all nations (v 19a – God’s Word). Still mission impossible? It is Christ who strengthens you. Someone who knew what he was taking about, said a long time ago that with God, all things are possible…
‘Since I have my life before me’
By Brooke Bronkowski (excerpt from the book ‘Crazy Love’ by Francis Chan)
I’ll live my life to the fullest. I’ll be happy. I’ll brighten up. I will be more joyful than I have ever been. I will be kind to others. I will loosen up. I will tell others about Christ. I will go on adventures and change the world. I will be bold and will not change who I really am. I will have no troubles but instead will help others with their troubles.
You see, I’ll be one of those people who live to be history makers at a young age. Oh, I’ll have moments, good and bad, but I will wipe away the bad and only remember the good. In fact, that’s all I remember, just good moments, nothing in between, just my life to the fullest. I’ll be one of those people who go somewhere with a mission, an awesome plan, a world-changing plan, and nothing will hold me back. I’ll set an example for others, I will pray for direction.
I have my life before me. I will give others the joy I have and God will give me more joy. I will do everything God tells me to do. I will follow the footsteps of God. I will do my best!!!
Brooke died in a car accident. One thousand five hundred people attended her memorial service. Many testified to the lifestyle she led. Two hundred became Christians at her memorial service alone. Her life on Earth may have ended at fourteen, but her impact did not. ‘I’ll be one of those people who live to be history makers at a young age…’
Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus. (Philippians 2:5)
Sometimes we presume that, apart from serving self-interest, general western society is not interested in any god, let alone the one true God that we serve. If we listen to the messages in pop culture, we may be pleasantly surprised by what we hear.
The popular R & B artist, John Legend sings an interesting song. This is the first verse and chorus.
‘I realised as I lay down to sleep, we haven’t spoke in weeks. So many things that I’d like to know. Come have a talk with me. I need a sign, something I can see. Why all the mystery? I try not to fall for make believe but what is reality? Where do we go? What do we know? Life has to have a meaning. Show me the light. Show me the way. Show that you’re listening. Show me that you love me. Show me that you walk with me. Hopefully, just above me, Heaven’s watching over me.’
The title of that song is ‘Show Me’. Two simple words but oh so heavy in meaning. Many in our society would have the same request, ‘show me’. Some may not even be aware that they’re asking. To some, seeing is believing. So what should society be seeing in us in order to believe? If your church building were removed and was replaced by a parking lot, how would the community around it change?
Someone asked, ‘Will the heathen who have never heard the Gospel be saved? It is more a question with me whether we, who have the Gospel and fail to give it to those who have not, can be saved’.
Not called. Really?
‘Not called!’ did you say? ‘Not heard the call,’ I think you should say. Put your ear down to the Bible, and hear Him bid you go and pull sinners out of the fire of sin. Put your ear down to the burdened, agonized heart of humanity, and listen to its pitiful wail for help. Go stand by the gates of hell, and hear the damned entreat you to go to their father’s house and bid their brothers and sisters and servants and masters not to come there. Then look Christ in the face, whose mercy you have professed to obey, and tell Him whether you will join heart and soul and body and circumstances in the march to publish His mercy to the world.’
Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, ‘Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?’ Isaiah 6:8
Most of us are not great orators or communicators. The thought of drawing attention to ourselves leaves most of us cold. Clearly, God’s call to us to join Him in His search and rescue mission is not an optional extra. We are all soldiers in this war. All of us are in the fight. Someone said that while all may not be able to shoot straight, everyone can carry a bullet. The arrow head is useless without the shaft, the fletching and the notch at the end. I am comforted by the fact that God chooses to use the foolish and the weak things to achieve His aims (1 Corinthians 1:27). What’s more is that he has given us everything we need to represent him and make him proud. Thank God!
Week: April 23 – 29 2012
BYLINE: Eugéne and Tracy are a husband and wife team who have been married for 14 years. They are involved full-time in a creative arts ministry called Act Won (www.actwon.co.za). Act Won aims to creatively communicate Christ by utilising live theatre as well as other forms of creative communication. They have had the amazing opportunity and privilege of performing and ministering in South Africa and abroad on numerous occasions. A few momentous moments: making a terminally ill boy laugh while performing for him in the garden outside his hospital room window; almost getting locked in Hezekiah’s Tunnel in Jerusalem for the weekend; praying in the pouring rain in Tiananmen Square, openly praising God with a Djembe drum in a Very closed country. They are passionate about serving God and following him on wild, wonderful adventures of faith!!
According to the Collins English Dictionary the word ‘absolute’ means 1. complete; perfect 2. free from restrictions or exceptions 3. having unlimited authority 4. undoubted; certain 5. not dependent on, conditioned by or relative to anything else 6. Pure, unmixed 7. that which is totally unconditioned, perfect, or complete. Now carefully reread the above definition in light of it describing God – Absolute God. What an amazing description of our amazing God!
In this week’s readings Jesus demonstrates his ‘absoluteness’ as the Son of the Most High God while relating to individuals with love and compassion. We get a picture of Jesus who is fully man but at the same time also fully, absolutely God. ‘For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and you have been given fullness in Christ, who is the head over every power and authority.’ (Colossians 2:9,10) A wise friend of mine described it as the Immensity and Intimacy of God. Our minds and hearts struggle at times to understand and reconcile this description of God. We tend to focus more on either the intimacy or immensity of God. Both however are integral aspects of God’s character.
Jesus asks a very important question: ‘Who do you say I am?’ (Luke 9:20) Our view of God and His character directly impacts every part of our lives. Henry Blackaby said ‘What you believe about God will determine what you do and how you live.’ I pray that God will reveal new facets of Himself to you this week that will encourage, excite and challenge you to respond to Him in kind and with absolutely everything that is within you.
Prepare: Evil wants to cultivate a spirit of fear in us. Are you standing firm in the absolute authority of Jesus or is fear paralysing you?
Read: Luke 8:26-39
In our society today evil is often glamourized. It is portrayed seductively in movies and is shown to have great power. The demon-possessed man demonstrated supernatural strength and lived like a wild animal. This was a terrifying manifestation of many demons who called themselves Legion.
However as soon as Jesus confronts the demons, the only thing they can do is acknowledge his absolute authority over them and declare Who he is. The demons themselves experience terror. Suddenly they don’t seem so scary any more – the Light has literally been switched on!
Jesus is the Creator who even commands the wind and the raging waves to obey him (vv22-25). The demons are merely the created beings who cannot stand up against the ‘Son of the Most High God’ (v28). Their day of judgement is coming and they know it! It is essential for us to remember and stand firm in the knowledge that ‘the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world’ (1 John 4:5). The demon-possessed man was set free instantly and his life changed forever. The man experienced Jesus’ love. He had probably not been loved in a very long time. Naturally he wanted to accompany Jesus but instead Jesus gave him an important job. He became one of the first missionaries in the New Testament!
As we experience His absolute authority in our lives and those around us, Jesus says: ‘Go home and tell everything God did in you.’(v39 MSG)
Are you (or someone you know) currently facing a challenging situation? Bring that to Jesus now.
Read: Luke 8:40-56
This is a tale of two very different women. The one woman had been extremely sick for twelve years, was poor due to numerous doctors’ bills, was ceremonially unclean and therefore shunned by society. Jairus’s daughter had only been alive for twelve years, had good social standing and was probably well off because her father was the synagogue leader.
The only thing they had in common was that they were both in impossible situations that man could not fix. Jesus was their last hope. Thank goodness Jesus is able to do the impossible! Jesus also demonstrates his love for everyone, regardless of their social standing. He treats both women with equal love and absolute healing. He doesn’t favour one above the other.
Jesus knows that there is more at play than just a desperate need to be physically healed. It is sometimes easy to focus solely on the impossible situation and forget about the people that are involved. Jesus also operates according to God’s timetable and not man’s. He doesn’t rush onto the next task or meeting. He takes time to tenderly address the sick woman in the midst of the crowds. He restores her in the eyes of herself and her community. Jesus speaks lovingly to Jairus, a devastated father. Jesus addresses his fear and encourages him to ‘just believe’ (v50). Then Jesus demonstrates his ability to completely heal and restore miraculously. That’s the God that we serve!
Bring your challenging situation before God and hear Jesus say to you, ‘Don’t be afraid; just believe…’ (v50).
As you retell your daily life stories – who gets the glory: you or God?
Read: Luke 9:1-9
The disciples went through a time of intensive training as they soaked in Jesus’ teachings. They personally observed the power and authority of Jesus at work in people’s lives. Now it was time for the practical application. As true followers of Christ, they had to be ready to obey Him completely.
Jesus told them to travel extremely lightly so that they would learn to trust Him for all their needs and not rely on their own resources or strength. This would glorify God and not the disciples. The task was a daunting one and Jesus knew they could not fulfil it on their own. He gave them power along with the authority to exercise that power, (without which their mission would have been a complete failure).
Imagine what the disciples felt at the start of their mission. They received specific instructions to trust God, travel light, cast out demons, heal the sick and preach the Kingdom of God…Oh wait! We have been given those SAME instructions. As true followers of Christ we cannot ignore Jesus’ words no matter how uncomfortable, fearful or inadequate it may make us feel. It is of utmost importance that we hear God. We must then trust and obey him fully. God will then lead you on adventures that have eternal consequence. He sends you out with the absolute authority and ‘mighty power that raised Christ from the dead’ (Ephesians1:19,20 LB). Let the adventures begin…
Jesus says to you, ‘Don’t load yourselves up with equipment. Keep it simple; you are the equipment.’ (Luke 9:3 MSG)
God invites us to be a part of what He is doing. Do we make ‘the most of every opportunity’ (Ephesians 5:16) or ignore them because they don’t fit into our carefully planned schedules?
Read: Luke 9:10-17
The disciples return from their God-adventures brimming with stories to tell Jesus. They are extremely tired but cannot escape the crowds. Jesus would have been justified in turning the crowds away but He doesn’t. He has such a selfless heart of compassion for the people. Jesus uses the opportunity to continue preaching and healing people.
Exhaustion can really hinder us. It is easier to deal with people and their needs when one is well rested and in control. There will always been many needs therefore it is essential that we allow the Holy Spirit to specifically reveal the God-opportunities. These opportunities often occur at inconvenient times and interfere with our lives. We can feel overwhelmed and unable to cope. Fortunately God provides the strength we need! When we respond in obedience and minister to others, God blesses us with new experiences of Himself.
Meanwhile back in Israel another God-opportunity presents itself and the disciples nearly miss it. They have seen the need but resort to human logic to solve it. Then Jesus tells them to feed the people (v13). The disciples take stock of what they have (5 loaves and 2 fish) to feed 5000 men (plus women and children) – truly an overwhelming situation! Jesus asks them to give what they have and he proceeds to do the miraculous. Jesus demonstrates absolute, abundant provision.
What is your response to Jesus saying, ‘You feed them.’ (Luke 9:13 MSG)?
Jesus asks you, ‘Who do you say I am?’ (v20).
Read: Luke 9:18-27
‘Who do you say I am?’ (v20). This is such an essential question. If the disciples believed the crowds, there would be no reason for them to follow Jesus to the death. However Peter responds ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God’ (Matthew16:16). Our own response must reflect the passionate conviction that Jesus is God Most High and worthy to be followed! Having established Who he is, Jesus predicts his death and sets the example of absolute selfless sacrifice. He goes first and we follow in his footsteps of suffering and obedience (Galatians2:20).
Sometimes we make our own plans and ask God to bless them. We offer God what we can afford. We think we have enough of God to get by but there is so much more! Christianity is not merely a nice add-on for our already full lives. Jesus sets the standard for Christ-followers. It is not a serving suggestion but a daily command.
Picking up our cross doesn’t refer to a burden or difficulty we must carry. The prisoners carried the crossbeam of the cross that they would be crucified on. The cross represents our willingness to die, possibly physically, but definitely figuratively every single day. We must surrender everything to God and die to our right to control our lives. But what a privilege to completely entrust our lives to a God who sacrificed absolutely everything and in turn requires that we give him absolutely everything.
‘If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.’ Luke 9:23
Knowing about God is not enough. We need to personally know God and His character. We need to experience His immensity and intimacy on a daily basis. We need to trust that God knows best. Why do we have such a sense of trepidation about trusting God with our lives, as if He is going to be mean and make us do something we really don’t want to do. He is a good Father who loves his children.
I was at a funeral for a 74 year old child of God. Let’s call her Mrs M. The church was packed and many lovely tributes were given. However the one that most impacted me was from a young woman from Burundi. Mrs M met her when she was working as a car guard. She had recently arrived in South Africa and was 6 months pregnant. She only knew some English phrases and could understand a few more in writing. So they had an awkward conversation in the car park via broken English and written words. That was ten years ago. She and her daughter are now a part of Mrs M’s family, a relationship which continues today even after her death. The Burundian mother experienced God’s love and compassion at a time of desperate need. Mrs M’s life and actions reflected her relationship with the God of absolute love, power and provision. All the glory goes to God!
Do our lives reflect our absolute conviction that Jesus is the Son of the Living God? Do we affirm with our words and actions that Jesus is indeed Lord of our lives? How are we bringing glory to God on a daily basis?
This week we celebrated Freedom Day. If you had to give a quote about freedom, what would it be?
SOME FREEDOM QUOTES: ‘There is no such thing as a little freedom. Either you are all free, or you are not free.’ [Walter Kronkite] ‘There is no easy walk to freedom anywhere, and many of us will have to pass through the valley of the shadow of death again and again before we reach the mountaintop of our desires.’ [Nelson Mandela] ‘I think my first album opened a lot of doors for me to push the freedom of speech to the limit.’ [Eminem] ‘Freedom itself was attacked this morning by a faceless coward, and freedom will be defended.’ [George W. Bush] ‘People demand freedom of speech as a compensation for the freedom of thought which they seldom use.’ [Soren Kierkegaard] ‘Real freedom is having nothing. I was freer when I didn’t have a cent.’ [Mike Tyson] ‘No amount of political freedom will satisfy the hungry masses.’ [Vladimir Lenin] ‘Freedom consists not in doing what we like, but in having the right to do what we ought.’ [Pope John Paul II] ‘For I used to say to white people in South Africa, you will never be free until we blacks are free. Because freedom is indivisible.’ [Desmond Tutu]
There are many diverse views on what freedom is. As Christ-followers we know that real freedom comes only from Jesus. ‘So if the Son sets you free, you will be absolutely free’ (John 8:36 GW). We have been set free forever from sin and death through Christ’s sacrifice. People need to know about this amazing freedom. We must share this wonderful truth!
Read: Colossians 1:15-23
This is a phenomenal description of who Jesus Christ is and what He has done for us. Sometimes we need to remind ourselves and others about the nature of our supreme God and King. R C Sproul says, ‘Men are never duly touched and impressed with a conviction of their insignificance, until they have contrasted themselves with the majesty of God.’ As we focus on the awesomeness of our Saviour we are aware of our smallness and absolute dependence on His grace and mercy. This is a good place for us to be as we cannot rely on ourselves for salvation. Our responsibility is to ‘fully believe the Truth, standing in it steadfast and firm, strong in the Lord, convinced of the Good News that Jesus died for you, and never shifting from trusting him to save you.’ (v23 LB)
Read: Romans 4:13-25
This is an amazing statement of faith: ‘Being absolutely convinced that God would do what he had promised.’ (Romans 4:21 ISV). Abraham faced an impossible situation that had gone on for years and years. He made some mistakes along the way but at the end of the day he is described as ‘God’s friend’ (James 2:23). Abraham had an intimate relationship with Creator God and he believed Him despite the circumstances. He knew God and that made all the difference. ‘Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed…’ (v18). This is such a beautiful verse. I pray that as we face challenging decisions, circumstances and relationships that we too may say that ‘against all hope, we in hope believed…’
- Up on the roof
- Balancing lightning
- Test in Testimony
- Just a Thought
- Act Won Snippets
- The Mattress is sucking me in
- Well Done
- The SA Tour
What was I doing up there, hot choc and camping chair in hand? I was perusing the time-honoured tradition known as “throwing my toys in spectacular fashion”. You see, my Bride and I have been wrestling with God about some really important matters, the kind that has life changing consequence as a by-product. I had no issue with the wrestling part. That prize went to the Responses. I found them somewhat, (let me be very careful here), unimpressive. Maybe God was occupied with other stuff. Whatever it was, He clearly needed me to volley through some reminders, just a little bit of gentle persuasion, (there is after all Biblical precedence for reminding God about stuff).
So the toys where flying. The tossing of said toys gained velocity and penetration as my throwing arm warmed up. I was in great form. It was at the height of this tirade that I saw a plane in the distance. The time of night, angle of approach and size of the craft convinced me that it could possibly be a Boeing 737-300, (or 400) from Joburg, and that’s when the voice of God came through loud and long by way of the Devine Klap. (For those abroad, or who have forgotten how to speak Afrikaans, a klap (kl-up), is a lovingly gentle connection between the cup of the hand to the back of the head, used ever so effectively in matters of persuasion. This is often followed by a good sulk by way of the one owning the head). The klaps were in the form of questions that, when answered, left you with the title deed to being the opposite of proud.
How many people on this Earth have ever seen an aircraft and knew what it was? (And I was in a minority category who could answer in the affirmative). How many people who knew what an aircraft was have ever flown in one? (And I was transferred into an even smaller group in said minority category who could answer in the affirmative). How many jetsetters know where the emergency exit seats are (longer leg room)? (Dropped down to an even smaller minority). How many have actually piloted an aircraft on more than one occasion? (Yip, I was a member of a minuscule minority). And you think you have the right to throw your toys at Me about “stuff”. And immediately I knew the squirmy feeling that Job must have gone through after he threw his toys and God had to have his little “chat” with him…
There’s so much about Me that people have not seen or experienced. How will they know I AM good unless they hear and experience your story? How will they know how to fly in my Grace unless they see My story. How will they know where the “exit seats” of Mercy are unless they experience My character through your story. How many are missing the plane?
At that moment, I felt compelled to be silent, to sheath my throwing arm and put my toys back in the box, all the while realising that my story is really His Story, alive in me. So that’s what Peter and the boys meant when they said, “We cannot stop telling about the wonderful things we saw Jesus do and heard Him say” (Acts 4:20 Living Bible).
So there I was, on the roof of the church building, being reminded of HIStory…
I write this note on a day of great significance. Today, one year from now will be the final day of the greatest sporting event to have ever been held on African soil, the 2010 FIFA World Cup TM. Governmental departments and Organisations, even Organised Crime Syndicates have seen the potential, caught the vision and are feverishly setting up operations in preparation for the coming event – and I can’t help but wonder if we, the Church, have really seen the signs of the times?
I recall the words of those much wiser than that I am to, “…pray to the Lord of the harvest…” and it seems so pedestrian, so without action – but as I read the context, it is revealed to me that it’s all about action, its Prayer-In-Action!
And so I pray to the Lord of the harvest that He would do what only He can, change the heart and mind of mankind. When my car’s engine dies a horrible death and the bank account’s somewhat anorexic, I hear those words again and pray to the Lord of the harvest. When I’m struggling to find champions for The Ultimate Goal – Arts in Action!, in Bloemfontein, PE, Rustenburg, Polokwane and Nelspruit, in agony, I pray to the Lord of the harvest. Though I do not know the outcome, I know His character – so I trust Him.
I met with some interesting people this past week. A guy who recently became a Christian, carves broken mirrors into Word Art. He secures the letters onto polished wood and Scripture is revealed. He then sells it as his only form of income. He shares his hard life story with me and tells me, “Brother Eugéne, I just want to let my light shine”. On the other side of Town, I met a guy already involved in Sports evangelism. He told me of his concerns about those on the side-lines who are not interested in sport. “How can they too be drawn in?” he wondered until he saw how the creative arts offers a way, not only to engage them, but so that they see themselves as an integral part of the team… and I see evidence of the Lord of the harvest at work…
And so we learn that we are not the harem of Christ but His Bride whom He is fiercely protective about. Please spread the word about the opportunities to part of The Ultimate Goal, especially about TUG Arts in Action! What an awesome opportunity we have to make Jesus proud.
“…the Goal is for all of them to become one heart and mind – Just as you, Father, are in me and I in You, so they might be one heart and mind with us. Then the world might believe that You, in fact, sent me. The same glory You gave me, I gave them, so they’ll be as unified and together as we are – I in them and you in me. Then they’ll be mature in this oneness, and give the godless world evidence that You’ve sent me and loved them in the same way you’ve loved me.” John 17:21-23 (Message)
Well, picture the scene. You’re sitting by the starboard window of the plane, watching the sunset, (and realise that there are way more than 7 colours in the spectrum), as a symphony of more-than-mere-colour unfolds before you… it doesn’t get better than this, sunset above the clouds. Then as nightfall clocks in for its shift, you see what resembles a Cyclonic Baobab-looking mushroom cloud, huge in form, angry by demeanour, dressed in ash-black candyfloss, moving in an upward spiralling motion. The darker it becomes, the more menacing this creature is – the plane echoing its own displeasure with a few nervous rattles – not very comforting when you’re 35,000ft somewhere over the South China Sea. (Images of the TV. series “Lost” come to mind). Just before the “green flash” on the horizon engages nightfall, you see what seem to be flickers of something Alive in the Cloud Creature. Occasionally, they peek outside the candyfloss. Lighting bolts gawk at you long enough for you to detect the subtle differences in the colour of its electrifying talons – greens, blues and purples. The shadows they cast inside the beast just takes your breath away – each blast lights up the sky, again and again, and again. The darker it becomes, the more elaborate is their Tango. This cosmic showcase is the most scary, yet thé most beautiful phenomenon you’ve experienced in such a short eternity… but I get ahead of myself. Lets go back to the time before China Actual…
We had some real adventures in the run-up to us leaving for China – the elated energising of having a strong sense of the LORD God Most High leading us into that land to be good and faithful servants, to be His hands and feet, to be Jesus with skin on – yet contending with the almost orphan that lurked in the wake of the deepest of relational bonds in a state of flux – and then there was the ever present challenges of funding – experiencing the test in testimony – seeing people experience newness of life as they partnered with us in obedience to God, being one mind, one heart one purpose – the realisation that many who supported us where grand parents, single moms, the young, those who went to bat for us because they knew Jesus would be found on the rubbish dumps, and that’s where we were going – all planting a sacrifice of praise. Instantly, it was much more that just 105 people from 13 different nations who were to intervene in China and Thailand, but a combined formidable force of thousands, side by side, advancing. And that was the mark of obedience – obedience, the evidence that the nature of God is alive in us – in me.
A day before we were to leave, we were still short by a bag load of Euros, (not to mention any bubblegum money). These Euros were a last minute addition to the budget and had to be paid on arrival in Thailand. As Tracy & I were checking our account inside the bank – we saw a friend there who told us that God had placed a peculiar Rand figure in her mind that she was to give to us. The smiles and ring-a-rosy hugs came to an abrupt end when the integrated computerised system of the entire banking chain crashed at precisely the wrong moment. Sanity prevailed, (after a while), and she was able to draw the funds from another source. Guess what, the figure God told her was a few pennies more than the €225 we needed. Can anyone else see God “showing off” here???
An absolutely crucial element to this entire intervention was to be the deciphering and distribution of our coded updates and prayer requests via the Act Won Mission control. I can only imagine what might have been prevented from happening, or what indeed happened as a result – and that’s limited to my imagination only. How amazing the Church, being bows and arrows in the Hands of the Master Archer…
I recall the Sunday before we left. We had just joined a new Church and had one meeting with the associate Padre who agreed that it was right for the Church to send us off in prayer. Well, that’s the norm you may think – unfortunately, it had until then, not been our, (Tracy & my), experience. I still remember the event. We are invited to stand before the Church with the associate Padre, who says some stuff, (what he said is a bit vague now because of all the excitement – this was the first time were being sent off in prayer in our new home Church). Then the senior Padre jumps up from his seat, flies up the three stairs to the stage in single bound, envelopes us in his arms, (and he’s not a big boy), calls up the elders and say’s that we are now ready to proceed. A momentous occasion… And I knew we were not alone in this. Despite the fatigue, we were ready to go – to link hands with our family within the Walls and to serve them, as Jesus would have us…
PART 2: Thailand Actual – We all spent a few days in Thailand to get our orders, be introduced to each other and pre-prayer for the intervention within China. We stationed in the far northern part of Thailand, relatively close to the borders of Myanmar and Lagos and virtually surrounded by thick jungle. The Thai people have an amazing respect for their Royalty to the point where everyone stands at attention if the royal couple appears on TV. We were in a night market when this official sounding music started playing. I was astounded when everyone jumped and stood as a sign of respect. The only ones still moving were the tourists who quickly towed the line, (when in Rome and all). This respect seemed not to be based on fear, but a real love for the Monarchy, which is apparently reciprocated by them.
94% of the population are Buddhists. You see it everywhere you go – the temples – the idols – the rituals. Many, many people are sincerely devoted but are sincerely deceived. We went to one of the larger temples. To get there, we had to climb a gazillion stairs, flanked on either side by gold and jade dragon-like serpents with multiple heads, forming giant handrails. I wondered whether the prostrate / bowing action of the worshippers were aided by the onset of fatigue and maxed out heart rates caused by scaling those stairs. Worshipers have to buy the mandatory incense and lotus flowers for offerings at the bottom and lug it all the way up those stairs. Almost everything in the temple is covered in gold leaf – the craftsmanship is exquisitely ornate and seemed century’s old – idols are everywhere. I saw in one of the temple chambers overpopulated with incense, many “open minded” foreigners finding “enlightenment”. They where receiving their blessing from a chanting monk whilst being tied to an idol. A father was teaching his two-year-old daughter, temple ritual and etiquette – how to pray and present offerings. This youngling was not interested in the least. Everywhere I looked, I saw devoted people worshipping Religion, (their gods) – and for a moment, I wondered if our church games were really any different. Do we, (God’s people, called by His Name, who have this mystery within us, which is Christ, the Hope of Glory), do we in our gatherings worship the Lord God Most High or do we sometimes settle for and bow down to the god of “doing church” and sing praises to our rituals, bring offerings to religion – hmmm, and I wonder who’s more impressed, the God of Glory or us…
A major contributor to the Thai economy is its thriving sex industry. I used the word “industry” because it really is an industry. Prostitution in Thailand is enjoyed by local and foreign patrons alike. It “services” the desires of male and female clientele and those batting for both teams – just because someone looks like a pretty lady, doesn’t necessarily mean you are looking at a female. Just because it looks like a karaoke bar, doesn’t necessarily mean it’s just a karaoke bar… One of the teams stayed in Thailand and partnered with the local Y-WAMers. Much of their time was spent in the places the Pharisees way back in the day would frown upon. How is it that our Saviour Jesus was often found in these types of places, engaging and even eating with tax collectors and sinners… if you’re wondering what to pray about, wonder no more…
Then there were the “Vomit Commits”. They are pimped up yellow or red Bakkies, (for those not understanding South Africanism, Bakkies [Bah-keys] are what the Americans call pick-up trucks), with 2 benches in the loading bay so that up to 8 people can be seated facing each other – sporting colour-coded canopies with automatic aircon, (use your grey matter, [which is actually pink] to work it out), and a big space where a canopy door is normally found. If you are prone to motion sickness when careening and whipping around mountainous jungle roads and hairpin bends at break-neck speed, who’ll know why we affectionately dubbed it, the Vomit Commit.
We were under the impression that we would primarily be involved in mercy missions within Chinese orphanages. As such, our pre-mission prep was directed to that end. Imagine our surprise when, a day or so before departing from Thailand to China, we found that our team’s focus of operations would be within the bounds of sports ministry. But wait, there’s more. Not only would we be the sports team, but would be involved in running a camp for special needs children… a tad to the left of what we were expecting, especially since a significant proportion of our sports team were ladies with vast amounts of life experience but who were not necessarily that competitive on the sports field. While sports evangelism is an effective ministry, God was going to have to help us big time…
In the 1st paragraph of Thailand Actual, I mention some of the reasons for us meeting in Thailand as a big group (If you dozed off during the 1st chapter, you can do a recap. It should still be exactly where you left it, 1st chapter is a subtle hint). A primary reason for us having to meet there was that in the People’s Republic of China, it’s illegal for focused groups larger than 10, to gather without the express permission from the local Chinese authorities. We were not about to ask those authorities for permission – but more of that in the adventures of China Actual…
PART 3: China Actual – Beijing Capital International Airport looks like a huge dragon rising out from below the clouds. One reason was that the roof of the structure actually looks like a dragon’s back. The “cloudy” part is because of the pollution that confuses one into thinking its overcast. Trixy it is… The airport has to be one of the most gargantuan structures on the planet. You need to board a monorail to get between the terminals… there were very few Chinese people inside the actual airport, besides those working there – but more of that later.
We were en route to Manchuria in the northeast part of the country. The City Centre we were in reportedly had between 30 & 40 thousand taxis but only about 7.5 million people living there, (that’s just the CBD). Not that bad when you think that the population of China is reported to be around 1.35 billion. (A billion has 9 zeros). As soon as we came into Beijing CBD, it looked as if all 1.35 billion of them were surrounding us. 1st culture shock – a gazillion people vying for that space generally reserved for breathable air to orbit your head. 2nd culture shock, hearing that deep throatal growl as phlegm and other particulates are extricated from deep within the throat and lungs, then, contorting the mouth to take on the form of a portable missile silo. Once a firing solution is achieved, a chunky yellowish / greenish projectile is launched, hitting its kill zone like a Sidewinder missile. This is particularly interesting when the ritual is played out in the close confines of a passenger aircraft. (Who says travelling Cattle Class wasn’t fun…). 3rd Culture shock, the Squatty Potty, distant cousin of the well loved and now appreciated Western toilet, aka the Throne. This Potty has a most interesting shape in many parts of China, in that it’s level with the ground, i.e., there’s no seat or bowl-like structure for ones economy class posterior extremity to relax on. It’s essentially a hole in the ground flanked by two panels for ones feet. Taking careful aim is no longer just the preserve of male patrons to this most hallowed pastime, hence the name, “Squatty” Potty… oh what sweet justice, seeing ladies who were novices to this delicate art form leaving, Throne Room Suite shaking their legs because of wet calves. Obviously still to make it to the rank of sharp shooter… I was so very proud of my Bride on the high-speed train as she exited the Squatty Potty Containment Unit victorious, hands raised aloft like Rocky, announcing to all the world that she was a conqueror having peed with laser point accuracy whilst travelling at 250 km/h – no small feat I must add. I was so proud – Love is…
“Look like tourists – don’t attract undue attention to yourself. Many have been contracted as “Spies” so be on your guard when locals attach themselves to you. Your hotel rooms could be bugged. All forms of communication is filtered and monitored by the authorities”. This is what we heard just before our 30 hours in transit from Chang Mai in Thailand to our destination city in China via Beijing. We covered the last leg by overnight train, through the countryside. The countryside is so beautiful, I felt as if I was a participant in a National Geographic “God smiles on Nature” epic.
We where met by our contact who is an “M” . So there we were, gathered in a large circle in the station parking lot by our “M”, (the only person in China wearing a luminous orange t-shirt), with military vehicles buzzing all around us, like flies orbiting the stuff that flies orbit, (if the vehicles are the flies, what does that make us??? hmmm!) Then “M’ gets us praying in said large circle. You have to understand that we were a group of 30, excluding “Let-me-blend-in-with-my-lumo-orange-target-top” boy and his trusty sidekick Translator Man, which meant we were a tad on the heavy side of 10, all in a circle having an impromptu prayer meeting. Remember the buzzing vehicles and the rule of ten. “M” then told that there was only time to drop our luggage at the low cost hotel we were staying at because the Sports Team had to report for our first assignment, to challenge a team of local guys in a gentle game of basketball. (I think five of us touched a basketball at least once, maybe in a shop). But wait there’s more. “M’ further reported that their operation may already have been infiltrated by a SPY. We were to be careful what we disclosed in his presence and had to be aware of his position At All Times… (Be still my beating heart). There wasn’t even time for brekky, so we bought some mystery meat sandwiches and bottled water en route.
Not only were the guys we were playing hard-core basket-ballers, but they were giants – what was with that? At least most of them were middle-aged men. We could take them… thus ensued the first half where we lulled the hard-core Chinese giants into a false sense of security by graciously allowing them to wipe the floor with us. (What humble Christians we are). Truth be told, it felt like one of those movies where in the first half, the underdog team are destroyed by the super-muscular super-jocks, only to receive an inspiring pep talk by their optimistic coach who succeeds to lift their spirits so much that the klutz who normally falls over his own feet, attempts an impossible three-pointer that wiggles through the air in super slow-mo with everyone holding their breath (because there’s only 1 second left on the clock and they are 2 points in the dwang), only to exhale with much fan fare after they hear that sweet “swish” a millisecond before the cry of the hooter, winning the game by 1 point. That didn’t happen to us. We were comprehensively annihilated. Gentle game of basketball indeed… At least we had something they didn’t have, enthusiastic cheerleaders… They must have been impressed by our resilience and our ability to absorb unrelenting hard knocks, for they very enthusiastically invited us to a rematch the following week. Good thing they could not see my internal sissy-boy sobbing. While sports evangelism is a well-proven tool to make known the Gospel, there has to be some form of competitive edge at least. Was this going to be a sign of things to come??? Other teams were breaking down strongholds through prayer warfare, building schools, spending time with those suffering with leprosy who were thrown out of society and being forced to live in leper colonies, walking through un-chartered territories, driving mountain passes in dilapidated vans where half the tyres were hanging over the edges of sheer drops in order to meet with people in unreached villages and spread the Gospel – and here we where, playing around with little bouncy balls… would there even be an opportunity to use the clowning equipment we had surreptitiously slipped in with us – there had to be something I was missing – there had to be more than this…
We were there again for the rematch and were significantly more competitive. The group of Americans that bolstered our ranks may have had something to do with that. Our South African translator was en route to the baby hospital when she sensed God instructing her to go to the basketball match instead, (I remind you that she is not well known for her basketball skills). After the game, the place was abuzz with spontaneous informal discussions between our group and the local giants. We found that these guys were all professionals & leaders in their fields, doctors, etc. Our translator, who speaks high Mandarin with great fluidity, was really on form. We however noticed that their leader, a man who had the influence and authority of an African Chieftain, was not there. He was taking a much-needed shower. If there was anyone who needed to be here, it was this guy. The discussions ended and the rest of the guys went for their showers. In waltz’s the Chieftain guy, all good ‘n clean ‘n fresh and starts a conversation with our translator. I imagine her excitement levels peaking as he tells her of his story. He had been to another country two years prior where he had become a Christian. Wow, amazing, but he continues. He had however not had any contact with any Christians since then as the official State churches are monitored and one doesn’t just stumble into an underground church, (no church, no Bible study, no discipleship). So he’d been on his own, for two years. The “M” who had been playing basketball with this man for about the same time, was blissfully unaware of this crucial bit of info. He and the Chieftain guy were then connected and had arranged to meet on a regular basis, to plant him into a local church and for discipleship. Put yourself in the shoes of this man. What would your impressions of the Lord God be after this basketball match? It is interesting to note that our “spy-guy” was not present that day. Can anyone else see God balancing lightning in his hand??? I think He knew we needed this eternal perspective – and I was an obedient child again. I realised that we could only operate by listening to and following the Holy Spirit.
We joined the baby hospital team for a day. The patients ranged from babies to about 8 years old. All of them where orphans. It important to state at this stage that a significant number of children in Chinese orphanages are technically not orphans. The “one-child-policy” may have something to do with this. (If they already have a child and are caught by the authorities for being pregnant, they face heavy fines, which many cannot pay or the mother is removed and is forced to have an abortion regardless of the term of pregnancy). Many families prefer to have a son as their child. (There are many possible reasons for this that I will not venture into at this juncture). We noticed that many of these boys grow up to believe they are the special ones and are worshipped as such by their parents. A growing number of these ankle biters seem to be spoilt little brats with emperor complexes re-enforced by their parents. On the other side of the scale we find that many girl babies are discarded, thrown away, some soon after birth, thrown into rubbish dumps, in sewers, on the streets etc. The fortunate ones are placed in hotel lobbies or Police stations or in airports. Many of the Caregivers in State run orphanages are there because they are serving out their community service punishment, so their hearts may not be fully into the task. It’s been said that one can often smell an orphanage from afar and that many of these children suffer total neglect and have very little stimulation. They all know that they are throw-aways and they grow up carrying those starting blocks through life. Imagine this polar generation growing up in the same society. What future consequences are being forged??? (For interest sake, 432 babies were officially abandoned or discarded in the Western Cape Province of SA in the first 6 months of 2008. I am convinced that every society, including the Church is judged by how it treats it’s least fortunate amongst them.)
The hospital we went to however was not state run. One could say that these dear children are some of the fortunate ones. Some of them however had severe medical conditions – brittle bone disease, chronic eczema, mongolism. The list goes on. There was this one little girl baby who suffered severe complications at birth which left her in a vegetative state. She is said to be blind, maybe even deaf and is fed intravenously. She shares an English name with one of the ladies in our “tour group”, who spent the better part of a day holding this youngling. Their combined beads of salty prayer shared the same lappie. (For those not understanding South Africanism, a lappie [Lah-pi ] is a soft cloth of many uses). These children were absolutely fascinated by us. We would carry them, feed them, change their expired nappies, and play with them – all the while praying over them and for them, holding them so close that they would feel and experience the quickening in our spirit as we sang praises, ever so softly to the Lord God most High. This fascinated the younglings. The one baby bloke, (who had just devoured a HUGE bowl of rice & mincey looking sauce and chilli paste), seemed absolutely transfixed by me. Must have been my winning combination me being of a darker shade that he was accustomed to, fuzzy wool on my noggin and the round eyes. His gaze was fixed on me like a sniper. Another one, who had some sort hearing challenge, would focus what little hearing he had in absolute concentration and follow the soft sound of prayer & praise that came from the general direction of my lips. Then there was the baby girl, who was said to be in a mild vegetative state, but who had a tenacity that became evident when I placed my pinkie in the palm of her hand. The amount of power in that little one’s grip may have been sufficient for me to lift her, yet it was said that she was “unresponsive”. While it was true that we were holding them, playing with them, loving them and praying over them, I met Jesus in these three younglings. “For my eyes have seen Your Glory. For my ears have heard Your Name. I have placed my hands in Your hands. I will never be the same”.
So in our host city, the Sports team played basketball with giants of the game and played soccer with the locals. The hospital team went to a hospital for orphaned younglings and the “PR” (Prayer Team) were involved in engaging the enemy full on in prayer warfare. Then, in the spirit of the Olympics, we all combined to treat a local orphanage to a bi-lateral Olympic games, (there were two teams, Team China & Team SA). There were 30 plus children, ages ranging anywhere between 5 and 18, some with physical disabilities, all with excitement – taking part in the activities. There were arts ‘n crafts, modelling balloons, songs and team chants, face painting – all manner of fun and games. The hall was abuzz in effervescent colour and the sound of children being just that, children. We even had the opportunity to do some clowning and told a “Good Moral Story” using the parable of the Good Samaritan as the basis to ask them the questions, “so then, who IS your neighbour? “ & “how do you SHOW love to them?” Their responses were phenomenal. T’was great to experience how comic humour transcends cultural barriers. (Personally, I wanted to do the parable of the Good Tibetan, but my idea got shot down – not too sure why…) The Great Games was made complete with a Grand Prize Giving Parade where everyone received a medal & a modelling balloon. Then we took everyone, all the children, (including those of us who are still child-like), for some grub at a local eatery. Wow, what an experience. A gazillion excited younglings in one place, singing, cheering, and chewing… this one booitjie who was confined to a wheelchair, got hold of one of our lady’s camera and proceeded to snap away – and change some of the settings. Some of the pics where not too shabby.
So off we went to their modest home where we found out that most of the children could play a musical instrument. This was not too surprising as the Papa was a music teacher – so he has taught his children to play a range of instruments. It was like entering Abby Road Studios. These guys know how to Rock the joint. The lead singer, who was totally blind, (and seemed to have perfect pitch), came alive when he had his lead electric guitar in his hands and the mic in his face. They played rock, classical pieces and traditional Chinese music. One girl played the precise piece of music we chose for our China promo DvD. (Our choice was totally random). My Goosebumps had Goosebumps with that sense of confirmation from our Lord.
One of the boy’s modelling balloon swords had become unravelled and was looking rather glum. I then took the now wonky looking balloon and re-shaped it into a sword. His eyes almost burst its sockets in sheer delight, that was until I unravelled the sword again. He had that Not-Impressed-Ninja look about him so I slowly showed him how to make his own sword. Took it apart and gave the limp-looking balloon to him. When I saw his bottom lip growing I gestured that he had to fix it himself. Slowly, the twisty became a broadsword. I dismantled it again to see him refine the art of model balloon broadsword making. He was last seen dismantling other swords then showing their disgruntled owners that that which seemed dysfunctional, could be made whole again… Hmmm!
The other time all three Tourist Groups were together was when we hired a bus for a PR trip to the North Korean border. Travelling there and back takes half a day, really. When I stood on the bank of the river separating the two sovereign countries, I thought, “I can swim across this river – easy peasy ”, that was until I saw the high powered patrol boat sporting a machinegun turret and not-so-happy-looking uniformed personnel on board. We were reliably informed that, ten days prior to our visit to this sleepy river town, a tourist went onto the bridge that connected the two countries, wandered into no-man’s-land and was promptly “taken out” by a sniper from the other side of the river – do not pass Begin, do not collect R20,000… and I was standing about 100m from said bridge. Imagine my lack of warm fuzzies. We were also informed of two little factoids:
1. All the buildings we could see on the Korean side of the river were fake, just like a movie set. This was to promote an impression that the country was an example of thriving prosperous living. Again, that culture of “Saving Face”, despite the reality…
2. North Korean Citizens often risk crossing the river to stay in China because to them, China represents all that is Utopia, freedom and new world opportunity.
That puts into perspective what life may be like in North Korea, which would convince people to risk life and limb to get into China… North Korea does enjoy the dubious honour of being one of those countries that executes Christians in public. Every so now and again, those who make it over the river, find themselves getting to Know Jesus via the underground Church. What then follows is absolutely incredible but would be unwise for me to divulge in this public forum. Lets just say that the Maker of Heaven and Earth really gets involved. I think He was involved all along…
What would an intervention be without adventure… we were returning from the border around 21h00 when we were stopped by the guys toting blue lights, big guns and military issue moustaches. They decided to play that fun game, “lets take away their passports and growl at them”. Ai Karamba! The rules of the game are simple, when your passport is confiscated, bad things generally happen to you. (You must understand that it was thick dark at night and we in that pumping tourist center of Absolutely Nowhereville). The boys were a tad suspicious. All of us waited in the bus for that eternity when they had our passports. I was sending coded sms’ to Act Won Central HQ in SA requesting immediate PR cover. Once we were pre-prayered, two from our bus finally went to “chat” to the authorities. One of our guys was wearing a China National Soccer t-shirt. This seemed to score major goals with the head honcho who, after a while, returned all our passports. There may have been a smile. Was difficult to tell. We engaged faster-than-sound thrusters and boosted out of there only to hear the deafening sound of a tyre blowout twenty minutes down the track. I’ll leave it up to you to figure if we had a spare wheel or not….
It was around 10pm-ish and the dark was getting thicker. We hobbled into a little village just off the high way and stopped by what vaguely resembled a place where retired tyres would hangout. The bus driver and the owner dude were soon fighting with the back wheel. Half of us tourists got out the bus to stretch our legs. Some of the locals could no longer contain their curiosity and came to investigate. Soon, what seemed to be the entire village was found congregating around our bus. We found out that we were the first round eyes that many of these villagers had ever seen. What a wonder. Various opportunities presented themselves for us to share the Hope we have by way. We used the colours of our South African flag as a tool. Enter my cue to send those covert PR request sms’. It was about that time when we met a lady who may have been the only Christian in the entire village. Oh the joy of sharing, encouraging and building her up, (all very secretly of cause), the electricity of being One in Spirit. Imagine being that lady. You meet some round eyes by some seemingly random emergency that forces them into your village. You find out that they are Family from the other side of the world with a personalised message for you from the Lord God Most High. The voice of God had travelled from the other side of the Wall, via a burst tyre to find its home in your heart… Once the wheel was secure, we said our Chi-Chi-Ye’s and drove off. We were scarcely on the highway for 20 seconds when the the guys toting blue lights, big guns and military issue moustaches pulled into the village behind us. Can anyone else see God balancing lightning here…
I had certain expectations of what the Chinese people would be like before our intervention. Most of those perspectives took a decided nosedive however when I actually rubbed shoulders with the people. Yes the locals may not have a grasp of queuing in line, yes some of the men may pull there tops up to their chests revealing their bellies, (in a bid to keep cool), yes they may be experts in deep-throat projectile games – they may have many other shortcomings, but we generally found the everyday Chinese people to be polite, humble, hospitable & extremely curious about us and where we came from. We were continually bombarded with people in sensory overload. I now realise why. Most Chinese have similar features, skin tone, eye colour, hair colour and physique. Anything out of that norm prickles the sensors with a need to know. (If you where blond, tall, had blue eyes, was black or had curly hair, you had instant rock-star status. I imagine that our pictures are on the walls of a few million homes in China). Then there was the fact that many people had never been exposed to foreigners – ever. Just to remind you that all forms of communication in China, i.e. electronic, data and voice is filtered & monitored by the authorities, resulting in limited interaction with and exposure to those outside the Walls. (Many websites are blocked). Many I spoke with were slightly confused when they heard that I was from South Africa. They simply did not know where South Africa was. (Saying that though, many evolved first world citizens think South Africa is the capital city of the country Africa).
Spending time in the English corners really opened my eyes to the impact that communism has had on this nation. (English Corners are public places where locals who have some grasp of English come to hear your stories and tell theirs. One is literally surrounded by crowds clambering for your attention). These interactions with locals of all ages exposed some of the evil of communism. Many were firmly brainwashed into believing that there was no God because man had killed God, in fact the Government had killed God, which meant the Government was really God. I would hear that sentiment oozing out when I spoke with the young and the elderly alike. We saw CCTV cameras and the military everywhere. There were even cameras in the taxis we used. Remember the bugging, the Rule of Ten, the recruitments of spies… Just because a cute excited teenage girl followed you around wanting to know you, didn’t necessarily mean she was just a cute excited teenage girl. Most Chinese people in the international airports were staff because Chinese are generally not allowed out of the country without express permission. Chinese TV stations, (called CCTV), only showed good news about China and little to nothing from the other side of the Wall… Despite all of this stacked against them, we found them to be a humble, lovely people.
To the Chinese, the concept of sin is likened to being a criminal. (Doesn’t go down too well). So how were we to tell them about the Good News of the Gospel? They have a concept called Guanxi, [gwaan-shi]. It speaks of relationship. We therefore would speak about having good guanxi with God Most High, effectively, God reconciling us to Himself…
While the people may be lovely, some of the food is, shall we say, “exotic”. It has been said that the Chinese will eat everything on four legs except a table. Hmmm! We thought we were very clever, (while still here in SA), and decided to go vegetarian for the duration of this intervention. “Pragtige plan” we thought. [Excellent plan – (for the less fortunate not understanding Afrikaans)]. We however soon adopted a rather different approach, “if anyone knows what we’re eating, keep it to your self”. Ignorance is bliss after all. They believe in serving a gazillion course meal. The stuff just keeps on coming – like a magic bowl. (Be still my beating heart). There was this one time however, when we were eating with some local gastronomes. They were very impressed by the skill with which we drove our chopsticks. (Little did they know that Chinese food is one of my favourite food groups). The one lady, who spoke some Ingrish, would sort of mention the type of dish as it was placed on the table. She commanded our careful attention. The magic bowls would continue to appear, she’d tell us what it was, we’d hoover it down and so on. Then this one large platter appeared, with much fanfare, and was placed in the center of the table. All the locals, now wearing their poker faces, stared at the platter, then at each other – no one saying a word – our attention now fixed on the Ingrish speaking lady for the low down on the platter – her response, absolute silence as she accessed the filing cabinet in her brain for “ways best to describe exotic meals to round eyes”. Still silence, except for the sound of crickets somewhere in the background. Again the locals eyeballed each other in code. Still just the sound of crickets… Finally she breathed the immortal words, “this is Special meat”. (With much emphasis on the word “Special”). No explanation of what made the meat so “Special”. Why was the meat special? Where did the special meat come from? Did it have a name before? Was it the Chinese equivalent of Fluffy? All questions we dared not think out loud for we remembered our food info pact to each other. Besides, we had already Given Thanks for the food – not merely asking God to bless it. It came from Him anyway so it was already a good and perfect gift. Our job was to take it down. God’s job was to keep it down. Back to the Special meat… they were diving in with much gusto. We were eyeing each other to see who would blink first. The locals noticed we were not as enthusiastic about the Special dish as they were. (Not too sure how they’d picked that up). Finally, Nick took a chunk, closed his eyes and sent it to Special Mystery Meat Heaven. The rest of us did some white knuckle watching to see if he would blow. It was tad surprising when he said, “Hmmm!” and seemed to mean it as well. I went in – brain punching in the abort code but taste receptors singing the Hallelujah Chorus in six part harmony. We later found that it was beef prepared in a Special way. A bit of a let down but what an honour… we were however fortunate as we were in major cities. Those in the rural areas had gastronomic tails to tell of the exotic sort… did someone mention Two Minute Poodles???
We were told that everything you heard about China, would probably be true somewhere in China. This was brought to light when you saw the huge differential in the economical status of the people. Evidence of opulence in the extreme sharing the same space with intense-in-your-face poverty that would stagger your imagination, and that was in the cities. We found out that a significant proportion of the people where in effect, slaves – working seven days a week with no public holidays and owning very little by way of assets. The international airports have virtually no Chinese travellers because they are effectively barred from travelling out of the country, except for strict business reasons. The saddest for me was, because this had become the culture, most were blissfully unaware of their oppression. Which brings me to the Church in China.
There are effectively two separate church groups in China, the State run church, (the Three-Self Church), and the underground Church. We were not allowed to go to an underground Church for fear of exposing them. (I am told that many, many Underground Church Pastors in Beijing mysteriously “disappeared” in the run up to the Olympics). The relationship between the two groups is not exactly warm and fuzzy. Apparently what happens in the Three-Self Church is ordered, monitored and regulated by the State. I’ve been informed that they are not allowed to preach inter alia, Christ crucified and having a personal relationship with Him. Most of the theology revolves around self-actualisation, (dodgy stuff). You will understand our slight hesitation when our entire “tourist” group was taken to a Three-Self Church one Sunday morning. They met in a five-story building, consumed an entire floor, spilling over down the stairs to other floors, a couple thousand of them ages ranging between 15 and 40. (No aircon…) Saw individuals in some or other steward-leadership role wearing brightly coloured t-shirts with “Follow Jesus” in large print on the front and “Child of God” on the back. They had a large rock-type contemporary band playing worship in song. Everything was in Mandarin. When they sang or spoke, it wasn’t that kind of swallow-your-words-whisper we used to do during school assembly prayer, but with defined determined passion. Felt slightly uneasy at first. When they read Scripture, the leader would read one verse, the congregation the next and so on, and so on – John Chapter 16, 17 and 18, with boisterous conviction. The singing was equally fervent. Then we recognised one song: Above all powers, Above all kings. Above all nature and all created things… Above all kingdoms, Above all thrones. Above all wonder the world has ever know… Crucified, laid behind a stone. You lived to die. Rejected and alone… We joined in with all the gusto we could muster, drawing quite a bit of attention by those sitting in front of us. It was then that we realised the significance of What was being sung, Where it was sung and Who was singing it. This song boldly announced to all that the Lord God was Most High – higher than any authority or power, including the Government… and we sang with even more passion. How special it was, hearing your heart flowing through your mouth as it mingled together with all the saints bringing pleasure to our Father, who was right there alongside us, in our very presence. Hours later, they ended off with a very militant sounding song with actions adding exclamation. Didn’t understand a word of it but just knew by their expressions that it meant serious business. Rushed to our interpreter lady who’s heart seemed to be beating out of her eyes in unqualified delight. She said that everything that had been said and sung was absolutely theologically sound. The last song was a declaration that, even though they bled or were killed, they would take this Gospel back to Jerusalem, (B2J). It is said that there are 120 million Christians in China. One of the convictions of the Chinese Church is to tithe of their people. Their aim is to send 12 million Christian Missionaries Beyond Their Walls to Jerusalem via the NAMESTAN’s, (North Africa, Middle East, and all the “Stan’s”, i.e. Pakistan, Kazakhstan, Afghanistan etc.). You will note that the Namestan countries are not very accommodating towards the Christian Gospel. It is said that currently, there are 700,000 career missionaries on the planet. Could you imagine an extra 12 million!!! And they are waiting to be released. I picture them like those racehorses just weighting to burst out of their racing stalls. How sad it is that bums in pews and bucks in buckets consume many in our cosy churches… Oh that we would strive to make God proud to call us His children…
Tracy had the added joy of spending a couple of days making friends with Ralph, our hotel room toilet. (This was not a squatty potty). Some nasty infection of the Kling-On variety, invaded her biological defence system, causing an inverted swallowing effect. (She was blowing chunks for a couple of days). This significantly depleted her system to the point where she could not keep anything down resulting in her running to Ralf and staring at the ceiling tiles in the room for hours on end. She could not even strike up a conversation with the cleaning staff as they could not speak Ingrish – then there was the possibility of little bugs with ears in the rooms… while we were making adventurous memories of God, she was left alone, wrestling with all the challenge and battles of Pre-China, how God had clearly led us here and now she was staring at an arb ceiling. That was just not right. There had to be more. Through all the wrestling, one phrase resounded, “well done good and faithful servant”. That phrase we church people normally classify in the “your work has been a success” box. Where’s the success in hugging porcelain??? Then she noticed, as if for the first time, the word “servant” in the phrase. She was the servant – God was the Master. The Master determines what the servant does. A faithful servant is the one who follows the will of the Master, regardless. A faithful servant is characterised by obedience. The Master had told her to be part of a team to go to China. And that was it. The team was doing what He had told them to do. It was He who was reconciling the people to Himself. Yet He was honouring her by calling her His good and faithful servant… This is the wonder I’m married to…
A moment of great significance was when all 12 “China tourist” teams convened in the Capital and conducted PR walks in Tian An Men Square. You will recall the happenings around the 3rd – 5th June 1989 – the People’s Liberation Army, the protests and the lone guy standing in front of the battle tank, (tank man), what happened to him and thousands like him. The irony is that the place literally means Gate of Heavenly Peace… and we were standing on that very spot. Not only were we standing there, but we PR’d and sang praises to our Father all around the square, all the while looking like tourists with our cameras and moving in small groups of two’s and three’s. What made it really special was that it happened to be raining that day which to us at least, symbolised our Father washing away all that the place has come to represent, the oppression, the blood that flowed on those paved stones and the evil that is palpable as it towers over the perimeter of the square. As we covered the square, a song filled me, “Through our God we shall do valiantly. It is He who shall tread down our enemy. We’ll sing and shout the victory. Christ Is King!” the rain mixing with our tears as we proclaimed “CHRIST IS KING!”, all under the constant gaze of security cameras and the Military.
So I’m back on the plane having just seen and experienced God balancing lightning in His hand – and I find myself process wondering, trying to grasp what had just happened over this time up to and during this China Challenge.
It was God Himself who had drawn us to China. Though we had missed all the financial deadlines, it was He who supplied the funds. All my efforts contributed the side effect called agonising stress. I was part of a team, called to serve. The measure of success is not quantified in numbers or intentions, but the level of faithful obedience. Recognising the Master and following Him. Obedience is better than sacrifice…
Worship inevitably leads to service, yet so often we try to do it the other way around. Whatever we worship, ultimately we serve and ultimately our choice is not whether we will worship but only whom we will worship.
Mankind has, through the ages, tried to kill God or at least tried to convince themselves that they have. Even under the most oppressive conditions, the Most High God proves that He alone is God, that He empowers His Bride and causes her to grow and flourish as He prepares her for that day. We thought we were taking God to China but found that He was always there – He was very much alive and He was showing off.
Commercial passenger flight has only really taken off since the 1950’s. I can hop on a plane and be on the other side of the world in 12 hours – or they are coming to me. The Earth has become a Global Village. Communication is instantly possible in most places in the world – no longer do I need wires to communicate, I can just pick up my handset and find the world at my fingertips. Never before has it been this possible to GO to the ends of the Earth and make Disciples of ALL nations…
I am to pray for China to open, that communism would be crushed, ending forced abortions and imposed slavery – for sound Biblical doctrine to be taught that millions across our world would see Him high and lifted up.
While we may have been the arrowheads in this instance, those who had invested Physically, Emotionally and in Prayer, formed the bows, the shafts & flights in the hand of the Master Archer who never misses the target.
The BBC reported that the Olympics “left the rest of the world in no doubt that China is a rising power; a power which is modern, efficient and dynamic. But it is equally clear that, when it comes to political and some civil rights, China is still repressive.” The report then asks what will happen next. “Now the Games are over, will China be spurred further along the path of reform? Or, now the pressure has eased, will it be even less inclined to accept criticism from the rest of the world?” The questions were partly answered by the news that the Chinese Communist Party plans to launch a nationwide crackdown on four “unstable social elements” in October. These elements were listed as Christian house church leaders, petitioners, human rights defenders and political dissidents. The believers of China clearly continue to need our urgent prayers.
“As a prisoner for the Lord then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you received… It was He who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers to prepare God’s people for works of service so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the true knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ”. Ephesians 4:1 & 11 – 13
It was widely believed that the Caesar was divine. This could have been why, within the Roman Empire, there was a saying / greeting, “Caesar is Lord”. The People of the Way often came into trouble because, not only did they believe, but they also in turn had a saying, “Jesus is Lord”.
Imagine big Centurion Maximus Brutalis raising his hand and saying, “Caesar is Lord” and little Hannah with her thirteen-year-old, full faced smile replying, “Jesus is Lord indeed”… This could have one of the reasons that the Christians were viewed as enemies of the State and were considered a threat to National Security. Not so nice things tended to happen as a result. They were fed to starved wild beasts, used as target practice as a national pastime, became living candles for parties and to light up main roads, were living cadavers in the name of medical science, and so on, and so on.
The People of the Way also had a reputation for taking care of the outcasts of society like those suffering with leprosy, often with great risk to their own life ‘n limb. It was the culture of the day where fathers would prefer their first born to be a son. As a result many, many girls were discarded, often within hours after birth by being thrown off the city walls and into the city dumps and sewers to die a horrible death. The People of the Way would comb through these dumps and sewers and look for these discarded infants, adopt them and raise them up as their own loving children. This was their reputation, not just when things were all jollification, but smack in the middle of heavy and constant persecution. It’s within that context that the early Church was born and matured, where they were encouraged to “… Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give a reason for the Hope that you have. “ 1 Peter 3: 15
Why am I telling you all this? You may have already seen our China Mission promo DvD. While it may be true that the Chinese Christian Church may not be used as human torches or fed to hungry lions, many of our family over there face death and persecution in a way that we in the West can only imagine. It is however true that the Church is growing in ways that would stagger our imagination. The one-infant-per household policy has had an interesting side effect in that boys are also the preferred gender, resulting in many, many children, especially infant girls being discarded. Imagine the psychological effects of knowing you were discarded? Large numbers of the orphans are technically not orphans but were merely throw-a-ways. It is within this context that we, the Act Won team, are absolutely convinced, that we are to be in China for a short-term mission during the Olympics to work in the orphanages, to be the servant of the local Church, to be salt and light, hands and feet, sons and daughters of encouragement, to be Jesus with skin on…
I have just received an update from the SA organiser that the airfare to China via Thailand, has increased by around R2,500 per person. But wait, there’s more. The full fare has to be paid by 24th June or we South African’s forfeit this good deal, as even greater surcharges will be added thereafter. We need another R57,000.
That’s where you come in. We are in desperate need of the miraculous, for the Act Won bank balance to go on a rapid weight gain programme and for our hearts not to fade on us. PLEASE, PLEASE, join with us as we call on the Lord God Most High for His intervention. Maybe this is the “test” part within the testimony…
About a month ago, I was treated to one of these “sandbox” experiences. The build-up was like being a Dentist’s, (I’m-going-through-a-rebellious-phase), child at a chocolate buffet. I walked through a hanger toward the airstrip, all the way, my mind theatre playing endless scenes of the Gulfstream G-650 on the other side of the doors, waiting… just for me.
Imagine my surprise to see a third of the posterior end of a grease monkey, (the smiley end was buried somewhere in the engine bay). My Gulfstream was a two-seater Jabiru. The craft could fit into my lounge… and I don’t have a big lounge, trust me. I só knew what Cinderella felt like at 00h01. Then there was the rusty voice from within said engine bay. “I think it should work now,” it groaned. My life was balancing on the immortal words of, “I think it SHOULD work now”!!! A surprising thought was hitched to the back of those words… “I have become Keith Green. Today I die in a plane crash”. There would be no Controlled Falling. Nope. Just falling, flaming meteorite crashing to Earth falling… accompanied by high-pitched girlie screams embracing their best friends, arms ‘n hands covering face, for as everyone knows, That Really Helps! But wait there’s more. My pilot was to be, none other than, the dentist with whom I had just a few days earlier, cancelled our appointment with… I Was Going To Die…
Then, from out of nowhere, a verse materialised, “… for me, to live is Christ. To die is gain…” I had a resolute sense of knowing that I was actually not afraid to die or afraid of death. Not in the least. Ashamed at the thought of the high-pitched girlie screams yes but of dying or death, No. To Die Is Gain… I would be WITH JESUS like never before. Then there was the added bonus of smelling colours and being able to fly without the aid of a two-seater Jabiru. I would BE-WITH-JESUS. That was the second part of the verse however. What of, “…to Live is Christ…” hmmm…
Found that when these words where written, Paul was in a Roman prison and may have been in deep emotional distress, a prisoner of the State with the real expectation of meeting the sticky end of execution. Verse 21 of Philippians 1 is such poetry, “for me to live is Christ and to die is gain“. The next verse however, originally written in Greek reads, “But if to live in the flesh this for me fruit of labour and I might choose. I do not know”. This reflects his thoughts, conflicts and feelings … and I know a bit of what Paul is combating against. I know a little bit about what happens when thoughts and feelings of being alone in the trenches And of doubt And of perpetual disappointment, when they become tag-team partners who rage against Trust, Convictions and Beliefs for control of the Bus. I know a little bit about 2 Corinthians 1:8, when Paul speaks of being under great pressure far beyond his ability to endure. I know a little bit about it when Mama Theresa said, “God won’t tempt me with anything I can’t bear. I just wished He didn’t trust me this much”. I know a little bit about those places.
The other day, while we were intensely filming our China Mission promo DVD, running to cruel deadlines, we received some un-invited guests… four guys, the leaders of a small Cape Flats Church we had visited some time back. They had heard about our pending mission and decided to take time off work, drive all the way to Plumstead with the express purpose of praying for and encouraging us, no strings attached. I do not recall ever being the object of such blessing… And I was lifted. I was back in the sandbox… at altitude with the stick in my hands and the rudder controls at my feet, somewhere past Riebeek Kasteel, through the valleys and over the Tulbach / Ceres mountains… lighter than air, defying gravity, playing in Angel’s sandboxes. Not mere controlled falling, but Flying.
“I remember my affliction and my wandering, the bitterness and the gall. I well remember them, and my soul is downcast within me. Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness. I say to myself, “The LORD is my portion; therefore I will wait for Him.” The LORD is good to those whose hope is in Him, to the one who seeks Him; it is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the LORD.” Lamentations 3:19-26
There’s just something about flying…
Imagine the scene… there are about 150 of you lined up outside high walls of stone and razor wire. Suddenly you are allowed to funnel in, one by one, past many, many checkpoints… all the time being counted, counted. Behind you, you hear the doors of iron “clang” shut, the sound of which screams down the many corridors as it echoes to places yet unknown to you. Then there’s the sound of the keys, keys the size of a man’s hand, fighting with locks, to open the way ahead. And that’s just getting in…
You soon find yourself sharing a largish room with the rest of these radicals – but something, something has changed. The brass band fires into action heralding the Name of the Lord God Most High. And something changes. It’s then when we actually realise why we are here in this place, this place of seeming hopelessness. We are here to pray and in so doing, speak Hope and Life and Grace into the spaces where despair and death and condemnation are cruel taskmasters.
Then we are on the move – the brass band leading as in days of old, playing those rhythmic “koortjies” that, regardless of your rhythmic capacity, you cant help but sing to – and you can almost sense walls falling down. The sound of praise resonates throughout the prison as it proclaims to the gates of hell “You shall not prevail”. And so we advance, 150 plus people of different backgrounds, different colours, different ages, different languages, different denominations all marching as one – praying, singing – being the Church, not a harem, but the Bride of Christ…
And so we pray for the people there as we walk past the cells. Some mock us and call us all kinds of colourfuls. I recall a time when we were met with a barrage of sound, like something from a scene in Lord of the Rings. I could actually feel the “nasties” flying, scuffling about. There was this one person at the back of a crowded cell with the weirdest eyes and her stationary hair seemed to be moving although “oozing” would be a more accurate description. So we pray. Some are curious as to our being there and struggle to believe that strangers would come from all over on their behalf, just for them. There was this guy, lets call him Schabir, who was absolutely bowled over by this, especially since he was Muslim. (Incidentally, he still asked for prayer). And so we pray…
They ask for all kinds of prayer, for themselves, their families and for their re-introduction to society. Then there was the time when this stereotypical looking Black Mama Granny was bent over these three boys behind bars, still in their PJ’s. They were huddling each other while her arms enveloped them – And they were praying. You just knew, the Lord, the Lord God Almighty was there…
You would hear testimonies. I once asked a guy what I could pray for. He very politely interjected and told me that a few months earlier he had become a Christian in that crowded cell. He was the only one then – But now there were three of them. They would pray for me. And they prayed…
All the while, the sound of Praise and Prayer is heard… and not just on Earth…
I recall the times when we prayed through the crèche, where moms and their younger-than-two-year-olds, are incarcerated. You would see a mom holding her child up to the bars so that the infant’s limbs would dangle through. She’s crying for you to pray for her child who may not know life outside these walls… and the Reds Letters become real… about those who are sick, orphaned, widowed, hungry, thirsty, alien, without clothes, in prison – the least of these…
You see, this place is only around 6km beyond the walls of my own church. We share the same road. This is wonderful because it proves to me that I have opportunity to be “Jesus with skin on” right in my back yard… And I remember the Red Letters… What a time for the Church to be just that, The Church… And the gates of hell will not prevail…
Then what happened…
All of a sudden, the Black Screen of Death appeared. “…Preparing for Hibernation…” (Imagine Darth Vader music playing in the background). You see, the battery of the laptop I was using, is not that good. (It suffers from Chronic Fatigue). That is why I had all the correct power cables plugged into the wall socket. The only problem was that I had not actually switched on the power by the wall socket.
The electricity was available but I was not accessing it. I was so deep “In The Zone”, that I had not noticed the small but important icon in the bottom right corner of the computer monitor, indicating the percentage power left in the battery.
What have I learned through all of this??? Just because things LOOK right, doesn’t mean it actually IS right. This reminds me of an interaction Paul had with young Timothy. Paul mentions that in the last days, people would “… have a form religion but deny the power therein…” 2 Tim 3:5. Interesting hey!!!
Just a thought…
The past three or so weeks have been rather busy. We did our last performance of Mrs “P” of the Desperate Housewives of the Bible trilogy, at Grace Family Church in Kommetjie. It was evident from the group discussions that followed, that God had been / was interacting with the individuals who chose to hear for God and listen to Him.
Then the short run of “Hard of Hearing”. This we performed at Durbanville Seniors Club, a Congregational Church Ladies saamtrek, (conference for those not understanding Afrikaans), Hottentots Holland NGK, St Martins Anglican and Valley Church in Hout Bay. Very little breathing space… This play is highly technical. Wish I had an extra pair of arms to navigate the sound system and computer simultaneously. The play takes the perspective that God speaks, but that we don’t always hear Him. We ask questions about this and challenge people to step out of their business and to “…Be still and know that He is God…” Ps 46. we would call for silence, for them to process what they had just seen and heard and respond to God appropriately. I sing a song to that effect as well. Things became challenging when I started developing a Man Eating Cold. The kind that only attacks Real Men… you will appreciate that singing in high tones with Darth Vader scraping the back of my throat, is not good. We prayed for the miracle and on every occasion, my voice would clear just before I opened my mouth to sing… (Vader would re-appear as soon as I stopped obviously). Imagine this absolutely thrilling sight, we are all packed up, walking down the center isle and out of the venue, turn back to see people, dotted all over the place, still involved in engaging with their God…
Some of the responses were to the effect of, “Jy het vir my laat lag, jy het vir my laat huil en ek het daar vir God ge Hoor…”, “That was like tonic to me.”, “The silence, it was in the silence…”
Then we had a most interesting request. There is a 7 year old boy currently in Constantiaberg Hospital who has an extremely rare form of cancer, so rare that there are / were only 10 known cases of it in children. A miracle has already happened in that a perfect tissue type match of 6/6 was found in France allowing for a transplant. The boy however remains in severe pain and discomfort.
This is where our story however begins. We were asked to do a Clown-o-gram for him. (Big “D”) We were to perform this out side his window as we were not allowed in his sterile room. We look to the sky and see the intention of the clouds… and pray for a gap in the rain…
So there we are, outside his window, a walkie-talkie in his room and in my hand so we could interact… the curtains open and I am greeted by the sight of a 7 year old boy with a breathing apparatus attached to his face, like that of a fighter pilot, him wearing Rick Ashley black sunglasses to assist him to see outside through the window and the oldest 7 year old boy I have ever seen, stares back at me. You see, this cancer was diagnosed when he was a baby and he was not expected to live longer than 5 years. He had been fighting all his life… and it showed.
So there we are, doing our routine, happiness and vibrant colour splashing all the hope we represent… yet I cannot see any physical response from him because of the mask and the shades. We bring out a bright beach umbrella to help with the glare. 20 or so minutes pass and we are done. And then, this tiny arm rises up, a hand unfolds and Big D waves… you have to understand the effort that small action cost him… It was then that I began to grasp what our little attempt to creatively communicate Christ meant to him. And then, for the first time, I saw that the room was full of other people, nurses, his parents and granny, all with great joy oozing from them.
We met with his mom outside and saw this lovely lady full of Hope. We exchanged stories and cries of joy… I stand there and hear what their family have been through… I stand there and listen as she relives what had just happened in that little room and I see a smile that has been weathered by trauma I can only imagine, yet her face is too small and cannot contain the smile.
We say our goodbyes and are now in our car that hones terribly because it leaks. Suddenly the heavens open with meaning as it rains. We are silent for a long while and experience again what had just occurred. The young family who are so in love with God, despite their context… the not so young 7 year old looking like a Rick Astley shaded fighter pilot, the smile of the mom holding the walkie-talkie, the pride of a protective father who’s wielding a video camera, the wonder of a granny and the respite of nurses, the stories that will soon be told to the 2 year old sister who had not seen this event and of the parents of Big D who will be celebrating their wedding anniversary this coming Thursday … I hear myself asking myself, “will goodness and mercy follow me if I were I in that situation???” The words of the contemporary poets, Casting Crowns, play in my head, ”…i’ll praise you in the storms, and I will lift my hands. For you are who You are, no matter where I am” and I wonder… things like the smelly car and all the “light and momentary troubles”, become just that, light and momentary
The family have been advised that their son and brother may not be around for much longer, but then there’s God… and I wonder… is anything to hard for the Lord… suddenly that is no longer a question but a statement of affirmation.
So, where do you fit into all of this? Active and aggressive prayer cover my friends – Active and aggressive prayer cover. God Is Active! – and the gates of Hell cannot prevail…
These are the stories of a toddler, a terrorist and an unlikely treasure that have punctuated my last three weeks.
Tracy & I met with a friend, lets call her Erica, who had just returned from the funeral of her 2 ½ year old niece. I can still see her as she sat on our couch, hot bush tea in one hand and a chocolate chunk cookie in the other. (Cookies highly addictive & wicked but oh do they rock). She recalled the trauma of the event, of having the loss of a child. Then her expression changed to that of joy under pressure. Somehow, through all of this, her entire family found that God was there. He was theirs. The interesting thing was that this only happened when Erica quit trying to force God into the situation. When she let go, He lavished Himself. Isn’t that just God…
I had a double bed long before Tracy & I where married. It was however on its last legs at that stage. Ten years later, the mattress had developed a rather sick sense of humour. It would be the end of a long day. I would be rapidly approaching Planet Sleep. The mattress would wait until I had landed on Planet Sleep and de-activated all systems. Then it would strike… with an unprovoked ballistic spring. There would always be a direct hit to my waist and ribs. The attack would normally happen between 03h00 – 04h30, effectively activating my anti-gravity boosters, sending me hurtling into the atmosphere of Planet Sleep where I would orbit the planet without hope of re-entry. NOT the way to start the day…
Then I received a call informing me of a queen-sized King Koil bed that was being organised for us. You can imagine my delight. The occasional exorcism of the old mattress would no longer be necessary. The plastic wrapping was removed and the queen-sized King Koil was soon in its rightful place… sunbeams delighted the room. The sound of Angel choirs filled the air. All was well in the world … the promise the first good sleep in ages… Oh that first night’s sleep. It would however be more accurate to say, “Ouch, that first night’s sleep”. My back, obliterated by the mattress that just sucked you in. how could this be? What happened to the sunbeams and angels, the balance in the world??? Sleep swapped places with wrestling without my consent. But how could this be. This was a precious gift. I complained to the giver of every perfect gift like a ten-year-old girl with a windowsill lip. Then, seven days later, the sunbeams returned, the choir, the balance. But what had happened? You see, we had learnt various ways to drive the old bed. This included having to jack our noggins up with several pillows. (Pillows are great implements of conflict resolution within marriage by the way). We however used those very same driving techniques for the new bed. We learnt that “old wine in new wine skins” caused the mattress to suck you in. The mattress was indeed a perfect gift, a treasure… that God doesn’t give yesterdays best… we have to learn how to use what He has bestowed to enjoy the treasure.
Last Friday, a group of us had a discussion / interview with a previous APLA operative. (APLA was the military wing of the Pan African Congress during the apartheid era). Lets call him Sipho. He was a unit commander. He was also a sharp thinker. He was a military man not a politician. We asked him lots of questions and he answered them with precision. We soon saw the turmoil in Sipho… the anger of now being discarded because he was not MK, (the military wing of the ANC). We had an invigorating hour with him. He told us of his dismay that there were no longer any leaders in our society. All have betrayed the people in pursuit of wealth and power. We countered in suggesting that certainly this was not so. The Church had wonderful role models that added value to the community. That’s when matters became really interesting. His experience of church leaders convinced him that these church leaders, as he put it, were indeed “oppressors”. They drove in “nice cars” and kept taking money from the community they were meant to be serving. The people got nothing in return but empty promises. They said one thing but meant or did something totally different. They were, (here he struggled to get the word, so we helped him out), hypocrites. He repeated hippo krites. Then he asked an interesting question, “What kind of hippo krite are you”? We had to acknowledge that while some Christians may very well be hypocritical, this was indeed not true for all. There he sat, triumphant in his dismay.
I then shared some of my stories of “activity” during the state of emergency in the 1980’s. He seemed duly impressed. A bond had developed between us. I asked him if there was a change in him from that time as a unit commander until now. His metamorphosis was no butterfly. I told him of the story of my wife being the most phenomenal woman ever in time and history. How we met, how she proposed to me and how we now work together in something that is far greater than both of us. I then whipped out a picture of Tracy, white face and red mane looking back at him. He held the picture very delicately and I saw the surprise in his face. He couldn’t figure this contradiction. My stories of the 80’s and now this picture. Then I asked him where he found hope. He said that that was indeed a good question, still clutching the picture. Again he said this was a good question, but one that he could not answer.
How sad is that. Not that Sipho at that point could not give an account for any hope that he had or could have, but that he could not see evidence of Hope in the Church. But how can that be when we carry in us the Hope of Glory, the Good News, rivers of Living Water. Are we not salt and light? How is it that when Sipho looks at the Church, his impressions are that of oppression? I beseech you, in light of this, to offer yourselves as living sacrifices. Wholly and pleasing to God. Is this not your spiritual act of worship?
A toddler, a terrorist and a treasure. All gifts from God. How awesome is He that He calls us His own and trusts us with His treasure.
You may be aware that we will be joining a team from the Hellenic Ministries on a mission to Greece. We should be hitting the islands of Crete, Rhodes, Kos and Patmos in two months time. We have written a new series of street sketches to perform as part of our evangelical arsenal. We started performing those sketches here in Cape Town. The calendar is pretty booked between now and mid August when we take a break.
I was feeling somewhat glum during this last month. We need a minimum of R60K for the mission, (excluding transit fees to JHB & “bubblegum” money for when we have breathing space over there). R60K is a whole lot of money, especially when you have absolutely nothing. We however had a sense of God telling us to GO! A good buddy of mine often reminded me that “What God orders, He pays for”. We felt very strongly that we where not to run around, hat in hand, begging for funds. This did not sit well with me so I started all manner of Plans & Schemes to “assist” our Father. I soon had this image of God going down on one knee, patting me on the head and saying, “These plans & schemes of yours are excellent my boy, (I hate being called ‘My Boy’), but not if you are serious about following Me”. So I attempted the Under-Cover- Covert stuff because God doesn’t see those, right… No knee, no pats, and no “my boy’s”, just a farm load of ulcers and headaches followed by a little Klap, (for those abroad, or who have forgotten how to speak Afrikaans, a klap (kl-up), is a lovingly, yet gentle connection between the cup of the palmed hand to the back of the head, used ever so effectively in matters of persuasion. This is often followed by a good sulk by the one owning the head).
Then came the righteous indignation… I had a legitimate expectation of prayer & emotional support and to a lesser degree, financial support from certain “You can count on us” groups. We had however found that after all is said and done, there’s much more said than done. May I refer you to the above mentioned “plans and schemes”, who threatened to enter as if on queue. Thought I was about to be re-introduced to said “klap” once again when, a passage my Gran often sang came to mind. The Afrikaans really grips it though and, I think expresses it best:
“Ek slaan my oë op na die berge. Waar sal my hulp vandaan kom? My hulp kom van die HERE wat Hemel en Aarde gemaak het en trou bly tot in ewigheid… Kyk, die Bewaarder van Israel suimer of slaap nie. Die HERE is jou Bewaarder…tot in ewigheid…” (For those outside of SA, or who have forgotten how to speak Afrikaans, see Psalm 121).
We are finding that the support is coming from all kinds of places, people who have only heard about the mission, people we hardly know offering to engage in fund raisers… from those who have in abundance to those who gave out of poverty so that those who have not heard may have an opportunity to hear God… I have had interesting calls from unlikely places speaking encouragement. The Act Won bank account has put on a whole lot of weight… so far around R38,000. I must state that we really, really appreciate the encouragement, as there is no worse feeling than a sense of being in a battle, alone and wounded. Please, please don’t stop. Your partnership is vital and has eternal consequence.
A group of us guys met over breakfast three weeks ago when we heard the confessions of a desperate man. One of the guy’s, who is involved in a vital ministry, found his life and that of his family, almost destroyed in ten days. Ten days. It’s frightening what can happen in ten days. He found himself alone, wounded and losing the battle. I heard the warnings of that broken man who’s life cried out the pitfalls of being isolated, being all self sufficient, not having active prayer cover from true prayer warriors. Please, please don’t stop praying for us. Your partnership is vital and has eternal consequence.
As I write this, I have a heavy heart. You see, a good friend of mine died about 24 hours ago. He was one of those straight shooting evangelists who didn’t mince his words, who was tired playing those Warm-Fuzzy-Church games. We often met a Penny Lane for breakfast where he would remind me of the greatness of the God I serve. It was he who first twisted my arm to join him on this mission to Greece. It was he who told me that what God order’s, He also pays for… I was really looking forward to being with him in the trenches in Greece… and so, for the slightest of moments, I find myself questioning the wisdom of God’s plan… this also serves to remind me of the urgency of which this message of Hope is to be spread… for it is the Power of salvation… I am reminded of the greeting message on my cell phone: “ETERNAL CONSEQUENCE”. I look at the Act Won promotional material and I see a verse. The lettering is red on a black background for maximum effect and reads:
“Therefore I urge, (or ‘beseech’ in NKJV), you brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God – this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind”. Romans 12: 1-2.
Please, please follow hard after God… Live in His great adventure… and then hear the Father say, “Well done…”
The first miracle was the luggage… the props alone was btw 42-45 kg. (SAA allows 20kg per person, there are 4 of us, thus a limit of 80kg.) The balance was for clothing etc. Our combined luggage mass was above 90kg according to our calculations. This was a point of great concern as we could not afford to pay extra for over loading. Much prayer at the baggage check-in. The attendant was very serious. The bags went through. He was still serious. I asked what the weight was, expecting the worst. His answer, 70 kg… I reckon there were a few angels lifting some of our luggage.
We “lost” one of our cases at JHB airport. It is a tad bigger your normal garden variety sized suitcase & has a bright orange lid, very difficult to lose. It’s a kist we affectionately call “the Coffin.” The baggage controllers had registered it as over sized luggage without informing us. Needless to say, we were left waiting for the Coffin at the normal collection point. Eventually went to oversized luggage section and found a sad and lonely Coffin waiting for us.
The first weekend was indeed in interesting one. We sort of hit the ground running. The flight was an “interesting” one as well. Let’s just say that some passengers “lost” there lunch during the flight… We finally touched down late afternoon/ early eve. Some members of our first performance Church came to collect us at the airport with a signboard to attract our attention. They however succeeded in not only grabbing our attention, but everyone else at JHB airport. The sign read” Act Won: Desperate Housewives.” They were bombarded with many queries whether the TV serious was being filmed at their Church. What an opportunity to invite people to their church. (They had informed the onlookers that the play had nothing to do with the TV series.)
An early morn start for our first performance. What a delightful community. Grace Family Church is predominantly a Chinese community. We felt like the apostles of old who were taken in by a community and absolutely cared for. They lapped up everything we said & did. I could see a number of individuals having one-on-one conversations with God dealing with all kinds of “stuff” during ministry time. After the service, there was an open invitation to the members for a Chinese “lunch.” Btw 50 & 70 people rocked up. The food just kept coming & coming. “…and no-one lacked for anything…” I was indeed humbled by this experience.
We were then whisked away to our second performance experience for the day. Northcliff AOG. A different community. They had also grasped the concept of caring for the needs of others & it had nothing to do with being rich or poor in monetary terms. They could see we were tired & just stepped in. Long story short, God showed up despite our being tired. He had some deep & meaningful conversations with individuals.
We are now in Horizon were the soapie “Isidingo” was/is filmed, about 20 mins from Soweto. Much regrouping & prep for this weeks performances on the go.
We would really appreciate continual prayer cover. All of us are suffering with headaches. I have been woken up in the wee hours because of the throbbing…Please remember to keep us in prayer.
MIRACLE # 2
The JHB winter can be quite harsh on the skin, especially if the skin is accustomed to the Cape Town climate. Ruth decided to get some night cream moisturiser. A good idea you would think. She thus got a product normally associated with gentle baby skin products… again, a good thing. She applied said gentle moisturising cream to her face with the legitimate expectation of smooth, gentle, baby soft skin in the morning, (or at least after a number of applications.) NOT SO. The moisturiser actually burnt her skin / face. (You will recall my “Manamal” [man – animal] allergic reaction during our last missionary journey to the UK.) We rushed her off to the pharmacy, (which is always full,) only to be told of numerous instances where that particular product has caused burn & scaring to the faces of other lesser mortals. Much prayer & expensive cream later & dear Ruth now has an almost perfect complexion.
We thank God for this miracle as:
• She has to wear tons of war-paint during the various Act Won productions.
• Our concerns of the effect of the war paint on her traumatised skin.
• A KFC-like face would not be most up building for someone having to portray confidence on stage. (Besides, it could scare the people away before God had a chance to deal with them).
Early mornings & evenings are indeed challenging here in the JHB winter. Let’s just say that it’s rather crisp. Seeing the air you are about to breathe was something to get around the brain. We thought of the song that best illustrates our respiratory functions here in the City of Gold: “This is the air I breathe…”
AND GOD SPOKE…
Tracy & I have been reading the accounts in Ezekiel & Genesis. It is amazing to read how God spoke to people. One of the drama’s we are currently performing, deals with that very fact, God speaks. We have experienced first hand, God speaking & dealing with his children here… a rather humbling experience to think that God uses us, His plastic tubing, (conduit,) to get the message across.
“We are marching to Pretoria…”
We are off to Pretoria after being thoroughly well hosted by the good people this side of the Boerewors Gordyn, Our bags are all packed and the saddles are being warmed up. We are indeed looking forward to this next adventure, meeting and experiencing new people etc, etc. We have a number of performances & a drama workshop there. Please continue to pray for the plastic tubing…
Update # 3
So here we are in Irene, Centurion… it’s still cold at nights but not as cold as it was in JHB.
As a proud supporter of Western Province & Stormers rugby, I brought along my Stormers cap. This however is Bulls country. I was STRONGLY advised by our hosts not to, under ANY circumstances, venture out with my little Stormers petjie (Afrikaans meaning, [little hat]…) as they would not be held liable for any injuries caused.
It’s been an interesting week, but a good one. Run Thru the Bible: OT (RTB) on Wed eve, Desperate Housewives Trilogy (DH) Fri morn, Drama workshop Sat afternoon & Hard of Hearing (HoH) Sun morn & eve.
Tracy & I have had to work through challenges of our own. Before you run to any conclusions, let’s just say that if we were in Bombay, (as it was previously known), it would possibly have been said that we had had the wonderful experience of Bombay Belly. Butt enough of that…
One of the Churches we visited has a number of people in it who are interested & involved in the creative arts. The girls therefore agreed to run an informal drama workshop this past Sat afternoon. That eve, the Padre apparently received a number sms’ from rather excited people who attended the workshop and left rejuvenated about the prospect of Creatively Communicating Christ.
We have met so many, many wonderful people during this 2nd Act Won missionary journey, several of whom have interesting stories to tell… from hilarious & spectacular bloopers Padres have made in their churches to the harsh & hurtful realities people know as life. We met a young mother who told us of her story that leaves me somewhat ashamed to be a Proudly South African male. Yet she owns a smile that absolutely radiates the newness of life & hope. But hers is a brave smile… a smile that shouts out, “My story is far from over…” Her developing confidence in our Father is such that she is able to stand before a crowd and sing with great conviction, “… Incomparable! Unchangeable! You see the depths of my heart & You love me the same. You are amazing God…” our Miracle # 3.
When we first wrote DH, we never imagined the kind of impact it would have on others, how it would be that so many people could identify with the characters in this trilogy. Please join with us as we come before our Father on behalf of these dear people who are lonely, who cannot let go of that which entangles, who carry heavy burdens, who have unmet expectations or who simply have not had the life giving experience of sins forgiven. Should you find yourself in one or more of these corners, I can only share with you from my own story. Medical science had given up on me. They wanted to pull the plug and declare me dead. According to them, there was no life. There was no hope. Yet here I am, full of life, with everlasting Hope.
Matthew 5 declares that “You’re blessed when you are at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and His rule…” (the Message)
On Mon 12th, we bid farewell to Gauteng & fly to Durban. The call of the ocean is great, (even if the water is to warm.) Please continue to pray for these conduits, (refer to Act Won Update # 2.) Feel free to log on to our website www.actwon.co.za for more exciting sights & scenes of the life & times of Act Won. We try to keep it regularly updated.
Update # 4
So, we are back in the Fairest Cape… I feel as if I should start this final Act Won 2nd Missionary Journey update saying, “Greetings from the Churches in Observatory, Northcliff, Roodepoort, Irene, Durban North, La Lucia & Hilton. Grace & Peace to you, fellow workers with our Lord & Saviour, Christ Jesus…” (or is that a little overkill?)
When last we “spoke,” we were about to leave Centurion & journey to Durban. There were a few concerns about the volume of luggage we were dragging across the countryside, more so, the miracle it was going to take to get it through airport check in… lets just say that I do believe in the God of miracles…
So what have I learnt in the past 40 days since we left a rainy Cape Town on our 2nd Missionary Journey? To help me process this, I ask myself three questions:
• So What?
• Now What?
So, what happened?
Many of these experiences are already mentioned in Updates 1, 2 & 3.
We were taken in and cared for by absolute strangers, often at great sacrifice to many of them. Miracles unfolded right before us. Many heard the Word of God, believed it and chose to obey. We experienced the privilege of co-labouring with people of different backgrounds and cultures, received unqualified support from corners we had not expected as well as disappointment where we presumed support. We were constantly on the move, living out of suitcases, found that there are many, many churches in South Africa. We saw the lights go on after meaningful conversations with individuals about eternal consequence – had the privilege of hearing peoples life stories. Reconnected with old buddies around a pooitjie, depletion and rejuvenation sharing the same time and space – having a two year old grab hold of your name & shout it with delight over & over & over again – being spoilt by our Father…
What does that mean?
• I can trust the Character of my Father.
• Individuals in the Kingdom of God are willing to “do” or “be” for no reason other than God said so. A pity the individuals are so few…
• I presumed many things, made plans based on those presumptions and found that I was not always correct.
• With so many churches in our country, why is it that we struggle to effect change in our communities? We have life to share; we have the author of Hope… we have beautiful buildings to!
• God uses people’s imperfect life experiences to draw imperfect people to Himself.
• Society often views the Church as a talk shop not a workshop.
• Eternal consequence starts now.
• I am to trust the God of miracles and not the miracles as such.
• Prune pooitjie prior to a performance is not prudent procedure.
How does that impact life as I know it?
• Our key verse was from Colossians 1:28, “So we go, we tell everyone about Christ. We warn them and teach them with all the wisdom God has given us.” We go, we tell, we warn, we teach… all of this is useless until we “be.”
• There are reasons why “the labourers are few.” I cannot afford to be complacent. I cannot afford to play church. Eternal consequence keeps ringing in my mind.
• When that toddler spoke my name, it got my attention. Whether she knew it or not, she had my attention. When I speak the Name of Jesus, I get God’s attention. Whether I know it or not, I’ve got His attention…
• Many promises were made, much was spoken about, and great prayers were prayed. When it’s all said & done, how much is said and how much is done? My actions are to be proof of my conviction.
• I am not home yet. This world but a screensaver, in low-resolution monochrome. Heaven is home, high definition, full colour… Home
Thank you ever so much for your partnership in the Kingdom of God. Please keep on checking our web site to keep abreast of the Creatively Communicating Christ team. www.actwon.co.za