Monthly Archives: January 2012

Pushing back

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“Our Father who is in heaven, 
hallowed be Your name. Your Kingdom come. 
Your will be done, ON EARTH as it is in heaven.” – Matthew 6:9

“Jesus’ desire for His followers is that they live in such a way that they BRING HEAVEN TO EARTH. What’s disturbing is when people talk more about hell after this life than they do about hell here and now. As a Christian I want to do what I can to resist hell coming to earth. Poverty, injustice, suffering – they are all hells on earth, and as Christians we oppose them with all our energies. JESUS TOLD US TO. The goal for Jesus isn’t just to get people into heaven. THE GOAL IS ALSO TO GET HEAVEN HERE.” – Rob Bell

To be a daily follower of Christ is to push back hell in every day and every situation, and to establish little pieces of heaven there. It is a life devoted to redeeming your world for God – as we were redeemed by God, so we can redeem the world around us. But this is exactly where it becomes uncomfortably difficult…for some people just do NOT deserve to be redeemed! Or do they…?

“What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh, has found? For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? ‘ABRAHAM BELIEVED GOD, AND IT WAS CREDITED TO HIM AS RIGHTEOUSNESS.’ Now to the one who works, his wage is not credited as a favour, but as what is due. But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness…” – Romans 4:1-5

Israel understood God’s grace to mean their becoming His nation through His covenant with them. So it was only through God’s gracious decision that you could become part of His chosen people; but it was possible to “fall out” of the covenant through your own (sinful) actions. And so a relationship with God and the covenant came to mean following a list of rules and regulations. And with that came a different view of the world – now, I can look at my list and feel OK (even good…if humbleness wasn’t on the list), and I can look at the people around me and judge them. I can start categorising them and throwing those that don’t match up away. My own obeying of the rules, ticking off of items on the list, becoming more important than people and their circumstances. And this was how it had always been understood, accepted and practised. If we are totally honest with ourselves, in a certain sense it still is today. And now Paul throws a spanner in the works – Abraham, the founding father of all the nations, was redeemed BECAUSE OF HIS FAITH! So it was never about weighing in with merit/“justice”, or developing and possessing “righteousness”, it was always about GRACE!

“For the promise to Abraham or to his descendants that he would be heir of the world was not through the Law, but through the righteousness of faith. For if those who are of the Law are heirs, faith is made void and the promise is nullified; for the Law brings about wrath, but where there is no law, there also is no violation. For this reason it is by faith, in order that it may be in accordance with grace, so that the promise will be guaranteed to all the descendants, not only to those who are of the Law, but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all, (as it is written: ‘A FATHER OF MANY NATIONS HAVE I MADE YOU’) in the presence of Him whom he believed, even God, who gives life to the dead and calls into being that which does not exist.” – Romans 4:13-17

It isn’t about Abraham…or any other religious heavy you can think of…it is about GOD! Yes, Abraham believed – he believed in a God who is always faithful, he believed in this God’s ability to do what He promised to…even if that meant “cooking the book” of Abraham’s life a little to make the sum balance…A point perfectly made by the life and death of Jesus Christ, a death He chose to redeem us all while we were still so very ignorant and undeserving. And so our judgments of  “good” and “bad”, “justice” and “injustice”, “faithful” and “unfaithful” crumble to the ground…for we were once those people that we love to judge (and even condemn) now…the only difference is our encounter with the grace of God. It can never be about how good we are and how great our reward will be, for we were just as knee-deep in the sludge of life as everyone else – it can ALWAYS AND ONLY BE ABOUT HOW GOOD AND GRACIOUS GOD IS. We were lucky and blessed – very very lucky, and very very blessed. And WE CANNOT BUT SHARE this beautiful secret with the whole world! Even with those we don’t think deserve it…how does this look in practice?

Being followers

Charles Carl Roberts IV (December 7, 1973 – October 2, 2006) was an American milk truck driver who murdered five Amish girls and injured five others before killing himself in an Amish school in the hamlet of Nickel Mines, in Bart Township, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania on October 2, 2006. A story that will forever remain tragic and senseless on so many levels. So what could this possibly teach us about being followers? About grace? It becomes clear when we see the newspaper reports of the days following the terrible event:  “According to reports by counselors, the Amish family members grappled with a number of questions: ‘Do we send our kids to school tomorrow? What if they want to sleep in our beds tonight, is that okay?’ But one question they asked might surprise us outsiders. ‘What’, they wondered, ‘can we do to help the family of the shooter?'”… “The night of the killings, the Amish visited Charles Carl Robert’s wife and three kids and reached out to them. They attended his funeral. They set up a fund to pay for his kids’ schooling, and they asked the family to stay in the community because they have many friends here who will be there for them.” … “The Amish, it seems, don’t automatically translate their grieving into revenge. Rather, they believe in redemption.”

Does this mean that we all have to become Amish? No. But the example they set in these circumstances is an example of what it means to push back hell in the world and allow redemption and heaven to pour in. And to follow is freely give the redemption and the heavenly that we have so freely received, in every aspect of our lives and under all circumstances! May God grant us the grace and mercy needed.

Freely we received, so freely we give, for freely we received!

Good fences

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I have been confronted time and time again with the fact that both the way I see Jesus and the way I define what following Him means easily gets distorted – by patterns in my own mind as well as by the people and ideas in the world around me. I grew up with the stories of “gentle Jesus, meek and mild”. People of the faith and others constantly remind me that Christians are supposed to be all understanding, all forgiving and all accepting – we should not ask questions, especially when those questions might make the other person feel uncomfortable or confronted. I live in a culture that says that blood (=family) is supposed to be counted above everything else, no matter what they do or who they are.  So I constantly live with the pressure and the guilt of “being Christian = being everything to everybody”, no matter what they do to you, and the tension and anger of constantly getting hurt and being walked all over. I cannot help but wonder if that is what Jesus meant when He said that we have to be the least…especially when he also says that who we are and our joy is important to Him…And so I am left with questions buzzing around in my mind: How many of those preconceived/”drilled in ideas” I walk around with, how many of the sayings that people love quoting, truly come from God? What did Jesus mean when He was talking about “love”?

The strange (and wonderful!) thing is, if you were to pick up any of the Gospels and page through them, you will see a different picture of Jesus and you will come to understand that the love He taught about is not the love me have made it to be. For this blog post we will only be having a look at Matthew, but you are welcome to take any of the other Gospels and give it a go 😀

Jesus begins his public ministry in Matthew 4 – he calls his first disciples, does a few miracles and then gives them the longest sermon ever (the Sermon on the Mount) in Matthew 5-7. This pattern continues in a way in chapters 8-10, except that now they have really started moving – Jesus does more wonders and He calls Levi, while all the while teaching his followers about what it really means to follow Him. And then, at the beginning of chapter 10, Jesus decides to do a dry run with his disciples by sending them out to go and do what they have been seeing and learning. The interesting thing here is a part of the last words He says to them before they head out: “Whoever does not receive you, nor heed your words, as you go out of that house or that city, shake the dust off your feet” – Matthew 10:14. Especially when we also take into consideration what happens in chapter 12 between Jesus and His family! While Jesus is busy teaching, his mother and brothers arrive and try to get Him to come to talk to them outside (probably in order to take Him home and stop all this embarrassment). He rebuts them, and very strongly I might add: “But Jesus answered the one who was telling Him and said, ‘Who is My mother and who are My brothers?’ And stretching out His hand toward His disciples, He said, ‘Behold My mother and My brothers! For whoever does the will of My Father who is in heaven, he is My brother and sister and mother’” – Matthew 12:48-50.

It might be like the mustard seed...

Directly afterwards, He tells the story of the sower in the field, a parable that’s message is that not all people will react the same way (receptively and enthusiastically) upon hearing the gospel. This begins to make it clear that, when it comes to priotities, the Kingdom of God is always at the forefront of Jesus’ mind – even if that means having to reject His family. This is affirmed by Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 18, giving advice about how to handle someone when they have wandered off of “the Way” – and in this teaching He himself says that there comes a time when it is necessary to create distance/let someone go. Which is not the same as saying that you are now closed off forever was that person to regret his decision and want to return (just look at is teaching on forgiveness in the next section); but then only with true repentance and an effort towards reconciliation.

So, when we talk about love for God and about having a relationship of worth with Him our first thoughts should not be what we learnt as kids or what our culture or those surrounding us say – our first thoughts should be about the Kingdom of God and our part in it. Being a follower of Christ is first and foremost about living the Kingdom…this should be our first priority and what we fight for. Which also means that when anyone – be they family or strangers – hinders or prevents us from living the Kingdom, it becomes our responsibility to still witness to the Kingdom by removing them from our lives, and telling them (in love) the reasons why. For the love of God is NOT about hiding the Kingdom and its principles under the rug for fear of making someone feel bad or confronted, or offending someone.

A good example of what happens when we do not do what is necessary is actually to be found in the Old Testament! In Genesis 12 God calls Abram to leave his land and his family (who do not believe or do as he does) behind and follow him. But, for whatever reason (I am sure those of you with/in families can hear the “conversations”), he decides to take his brother Lot with him. And from there it’s all the way downhill – it’s because Lot does not see the world or believe the way Abraham does, its almost as if Lot’s story is constantly hampering Abraham’s walk with God. First, Lot takes the best part of the land; then Abraham has to step into battle to rescue Lot and his family; and it is Abraham that pleads with God to spare Sodom and Gomorrah – only for Lot to then go and live in sin with his daughters…It might sound insensitive to some, but Lot is an interruption (disruption!) of Abrahams journey with God and the destiny he is to fulfill. Would it not have been better to have done what God said in the first place and leave Lot behind?

More importantly, aren’t there people that we need to leave behind? Are there people that we think we are showing the love of God to by loving them like we think we ought to (aka babying them)? When I end with this prayer for each of us I want you to remember that, wherever God is mentioned, it is not the God we were taught to believe in or the one that the world has created. It is the loving but firm God who has given us the Kingdom of God, and who expects of us only to keep on spreading that Kingdom.

God to enfold you, God to surround you. God in your speaking, God in your thinking. God in your sleeping, God in your walking. God in your watching, God in your hoping. God in your life, God on your lips. God in your soul, God in your heart. God in your sufficing, God in your slumber. God in your ever-living soul, God in your eternity.

Seek ye first (and always!) the Kingdom of God...

God-coloured glasses

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“I alone know the plans I have for you, plans to bring you prosperity and not disaster, plans to bring about the future you hope for.” - Jeremiah 29:11

A verse that, I am sure, most of us have run into in one way or another – whether it be in an encouraging note from a friend/loved one in a bad time; as a way for someone to try and motivate you towards bigger and better things; or as a prophetic promise given to you. It is a verse that has been over-used, “done to death”, as a quick solution to sticky/uncomfortable emotions or situations. It has also become one of the flagship verses for any prosperity gospel worth its salt (and then you and I both know what the hope equals…think The Apprentice’s theme song…). It has become a verse all about how God’s only desire is to help us prosper, to protect us and to ensure our every need satisfied while nothing bad happens to us. But is this message that we have become so accustomed to what God initially intended? Was that the message He was trying to convey to his people? For those answers we will need to look a bit farther than we might be used to – at the rest of the text surrounding the verse…

The verse forms part of a message, conveying God’s will, sent by the prophet Jeremiah to the exiled Israelites in Babylon. And here we have to pause a moment to allow for sinking in… Because of Israel’s constant rebellion and disobedience, God had permitted for His people to be defeated and taken away into exile in Babylon. They had gone from free citizens of their own kingdom, to being a small minority in an alien culture constantly being mocked, harassed and humiliated. Their cities, their homes and their land, had been destroyed – worse yet, the Temple, the earthly dwelling-place of God had been flattened to the ground. And now they were being kept prisoner so far away from Zion that it must be impossible for God to be with them. Under these circumstances “holding onto their faith” becomes an ever-dwindling daily battle. And it is into exactly these circumstances that Jeremiah speaks, that he brings his people news of God’s promise of prosperity and hope. But then not the prosperity and hope that they were expecting…

“The LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those people whom he allowed Nebuchadnezzar to take away as prisoners from Jerusalem to Babylonia: ‘Build houses and settle down. Plant gardens and eat what you grow in them. Marry and have children. Then let your children get married, so that they also may have children. You must increase in numbers and not decrease. Work for the good of the cities where I have made you go as prisoners. Pray to me on their behalf, because if they are prosperous, you will be prosperous too. I, the LORD, the God of Israel, warn you not to let yourselves be deceived by the prophets who live among you or by any others who claim they can predict the future. Do not pay any attention to theirt dreams. They are telling you lies in my name. I did not send them. I, the LORD Almighty, have spoken’. The LORD says, ‘When Babylonia’s seventy years are over, I will show my concern for you and keep my promise to bring you back home’. – Jeremiah 29:4-10

We cry out: "Save us as we want to be saved!" The Israelites were hoping for a power play from God – that He would come forcefully and redeem them from exile; taking them back to the Promised Land and blessing them with more than they could need. THAT would be prosperity and hope! And, if we were only to read verse 11, then that hope could very well sound very plausible. BUT, taking the rest of the text into account, that type of future fades; for, instead of immediate rescue and restoration, God proclaims that the exiles should “settle in comfortably” (i.e. build houses and gardens, marry and have kids etc.) and help build Babylon’s interests. Not only that, He commands them to PRAY FOR Babylon and its people! Because Babylon’s interests are now their interests…the country that still humiliated them at every turn was now their country too…A truth that God ensures is “taken home” by His emphasis on the fact that anyone dreaming or saying anything different – proclaiming quick rescue and immanent departure – should be known for the liars they are. There IS promise of rescue, but then only in seventy years time. It is after this “wonderful” news that we find verse 11, promising prosperity and hope. So how is that supposed to work?! Luckily, God is not done talking yet…

“Then you will call to me. You will come and pray to me, and I will answer you. You will seek me, and you will find me because you will seek me with all your heart.” – Jeremiah 29:12-13

Wherein lie the prosperity, the future and the hope that God promises in verse 11? NOT in physical rescue/redemption or material success, BUT in the NEW ESSENCE/NATURE of the relationship between themselves and God. It is not rescue that comes first or is most important for their future and their joy – the foundation of the new future and joy that God promises is thus not to be found or bound to circumstance. It is to be found in God’s eternal self/essence and in His being with them in any circumstance.

Why is it important for us to hear at the beginning of 2012? Because we can (and do) also easily feel like we are in an alien situation/country and that no one is looking after our interests (in fact, that some people are fighting against our interests). We also tend to focus on the negatives of our circumstances – because they do make our lives unpleasant – and lose faith. But faith is to look past circumstance and to see God there.

“An undivided heart, which worships God alone, and trusts Him as it should, is raised above all anxiety for earthly wants.” - John Cunningham Geikie

Those ordinary days

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Thanks, but no thanks!

The greatest single cause of atheism in the world today is Christians, who acknowledge Jesus with their lips, and walk out the door and deny Him by their lifestyle. That is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable.”

Shocking to hear? Maybe. Something to be irritated with and start defending against immediately? Definitely. But should it be? What does being a Christian MEAN to you and me? What IMPACT does it have on the way we make our way through the day?

I think, if we were totally honest with ourselves, then we would have to admit that “being Christian” is oftentimes synonymous with “going through the motions”. And then not because we are bad people, or even because we are not passionate about our faith; but simply because it comes so naturally to all of us as human beings to stop thinking about the things that form part of our everyday life.

“And you were once dead in your sins and offenses, in which you walked in times past, according to the age of this world, according to the prince of the power of this sky, the spirit who now works in the sons of distrust. And we too were all conversant in these things, in times past, by the desires of our flesh, acting according to the will of the flesh and according to our own thoughts. And so we were, by nature, sons of wrath even like the others. Yet still, God, who is rich in mercy, for the sake of his exceedingly great charity with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our sins, has enlivened us together in Christ, by whose grace you have been saved. And he has raised us up together, and he has caused us to sit down together in the heavens, in Christ Jesus, so that he may display, in the ages soon to arrive, the abundant wealth of his grace, by his goodness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace, you have been saved through faith. And this is not of yourselves, for it is a gift of God. And this is not of works, so that no one may glory. For we are his handiwork, created in Christ Jesus for the good works which God has prepared and in which we should walk.” – Ephesians 2:1-10

I know, even this text sounds SO familiar, so familiar that we almost “zone out” naturally – unknowingly replacing the text with “blablabla” in our heads because we think we know it so well. But what happens with this text we know so well when we walk out into our every day? Does the passion of the text we know “by heart” translate into days filled with conscious heart and passion? For what the text describes is not mere factual knowledge for us to receive, then say “thank you” for and be grateful (even emotional) over for a little before filing/storing it away somewhere in our subconscious. This text is an inspiration to action – we have been saved and inspired SO THAT WE CAN SAVE AND INSPIRE. The grace of salvation was never meant as something to merely take note of, it was always meant as something to live and breathe. Especially when we journey further in the book of Ephesians…

  “And so…I beg you to walk in a manner worthy of the vocation to which you have been called: with all humility and meekness, with patience, supporting one another in charity… from now on you should walk, not as the Gentiles also walk, in the vanity of their mind, having their intellect obscured, being alienated from the life of God, through the ignorance that is within them, because of the blindness of their hearts. Such as these, despairing, have given themselves over to sexual immorality, carrying out every impurity with rapacity. But this is not what you have learned in Christ. For certainly, you have listened to him, and you have been instructed in him, according to the truth that is in Jesus: to set aside your earlier behaviour, the former man, who was corrupted, by means of desire, unto error, and so be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and so put on the new man, who, in accord with God, is created in justice and in the holiness of truth.” – Ephesians 4:1-2, 17-24.

Worship = life

Faith is not most importantly about facts. Or about the routines we have created for ourselves. Faith is not about Sunday, it’s about every other ordinary day filled with ordinary things…but then lived extraordinarily.

“For you were darkness, in times past, but now you are light, in the Lord. So then, walk as sons of the light. For the fruit of the light is in all goodness and justice and truth, affirming what is well-pleasing to God.” – Ephesians 5:8-10.

The best way to illustrate this and make it practical? A story…or a fable in this case…which could be seen as the same thing, but fable just sounds so much more enticing…

“There once was a rich Sultan with a wise Jew named Nathan in his employ. One day, the Sultan confronted Nathan with a burning question: ‘Which faith is the true faith? Is it the Jewish, Christian or Muslim faith? For all three lay claim to the one true God and his Holy Scripture?’ Nathan answers the Sultan with a fable…

‘Long ago there lived a man who owned a ring of inestimable value – any person wearing the ring was loved by God and man, if he believed that such was the power of the ring and lived accordingly. It was only natural for the man to be very attached to such a ring; and, aside from never taking it off, he also stated in his will that the ring should go to his most beloved son (who would then of course hand it down to his most beloved son).

The three rings

In this way, after many generations, the ring lands in the hands of a man who had three sons, all of whom he loved very much and equally (depending on the day and the behaviour of the sons of course). He knew it would be impossible to choose one over the other two, so when he became aware of his impending death, he went to a jeweller and had two other rings made that looked the same. The jeweller was so good that it was nigh impossible to point out the original.On his deathbed, the father called each of his sons to him and gave them a ring, accompanied by his best wishes. It did not take long for the sons to realise that they all had a ring, which immediately led to conflict as only families can do. Realising that it would be impossible to solve the conflict themselves, they went to a judge for his verdict. The judge refused to make a decision…but he did give the brothers the following advice: Each of the sons had to prove that his ring brought forth more love, kindness and grace than the others. And if the effect/influence of the ring could still be seen in his grandchildren’s children, then the judge would once again invite that brother to appear before his bench.’”

It is only through each one of us’ daily life in faith that anyone standing on the outside can ever hope to see the beauty, integrity and worth thereof. What is the testimony of your every ordinary day? Can those outside look at you and see God?

What are you showing/giving?