Category Archives: Thinking about thinking

Mission impossible

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When the answer is "no"...

In life, we all love a good mystery. I’m sure that, if we were to talk about our favourite TV series’, one or other of the “CSI”’s, “Law & Order”’s, “Criminal minds”, “Lie to me”, Dexter” etc. would pop up. We love the uncertainty, the tension and the figuring it out. Except when it comes to prayer and our spiritual journey. There we don’t want any uncertainty or mystery…and definitely NO TENSION! That’s why we latch onto those believers, those stories, of immediate answer – whether it be healing or a job or a husband. We desperately want the same for ourselves. Otherwise we (and others) start to question our faith. But uncertainty and mystery is exactly what we so often experience…if we’re honest…Those times when our question isn’t answered and our issue isn’t addressed.

In these situations people LOVE to quote the Bible at you, when pointing out that it must be your lack of faith that is leading to this calamity. And indeed it is true, in the life of Jesus we often find him talking about the importance of faith when having to do with miracles. Countless examples can be given of the faith He talked about while healing, exorcising, moving mountains…Matthew 17:20 being only one…

But what about those times when, no matter the size of your faith, the mountains don’t move? We have all known people, whose faith were our bedrock and our example, that landed in situations that they could not pray themselves out of. And we KNOW that we can’t pin it on their lack of faith. But what then?!

“I was given the gift of a handicap to keep me in constant touch with my limitations. Satan’s angel did his best to get me down; what he in fact did was push me to my knees. No danger then of walking around high and mighty! At first I didn’t think of it as a gift, and begged God to remove it. Three times I did that, and then he told me: ‘My grace is enough; it’s all you need. My strength comes into its own in your weakness’. Once I heard that, I was glad to let it happen. I quit focusing on the handicap and began appreciating the gift. It was a case of Christ’s strength moving in on my weakness. Now I take limitations in stride, and with good cheer, these limitations that cut me down to size—abuse, accidents, opposition, bad breaks. I just let Christ take over! And so the weaker I get, the stronger I become.” – 2 Corinthians 12:7-10

We do not know exactly what the “handicap” is that Paul talks about – most recently researchers have stated that it was probably his physical “disability” due to the struggle, hard travel, beatings, floggings etc. that were part of his everyday living. But we do know that he pleaded with God to remove it three times…and that, every one of those three times, God said “no”. Paul, a bastion for what faith is, did not receive what he was praying for. But then again, neither did Jesus – think back on the Garden of Olives…

What, then, can we surmise about faith and prayer? Maybe these things…

Abandon

  • Faith and prayer shouldn’t be about me; it should be about moving ever closer to God and his heart. This is not the same as saying that I can’t pray for myself, but that it does matter what I am praying for when it comes to me – am I praying for more tolerance, wisdom and courage? I have a feeling that, the closer we become, the more our prayers will change.
  • Faith and prayer is not about certainty, far from it! It is about being real and honest. Faith and uncertainty/doubt walk hand in hand, and form the basis of an honest relationship with God. Only in honesty can there be growth and change.
  • Faith and prayer cannot be about “testing” God. That is not real relationship, nor does it symbolise trust.
  • Faith and prayer were never meant to be for “individuals only”. When we start praying in community with others, it is amazing how our prayers are refined. How difficult it becomes to pray from a selfish place.

We are called to pray actively, personally, honestly, intimately, energetically and relationally – not because it guarantees us answers, but because it guarantees us relationship. And in relationship, even “no” starts to sound different…feel different…

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The only constant…

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Jaco and Lindsey Barnard, 6 April 2012

I will always struggle with how quickly time flies – just as I struggle with the practicality of how time zones work 😀 I was looking at wedding photos of a beautiful and magical wedding – Jaco and Lindsey Barnard’s – and I was reminded of the fact that Sarel and I’s marriage journey had its beginning more than eight years ago. And, me being me, I started thinking back on those years…about the people we were…about all the things that have happened…about the people we have become… And, in a way, it seems so strange that we are still together, for so much has changed in our lives and in our beings.

It is not for nothing that one of the most memorable and oft-repeated quotes of all time is “the only constant in life is change”. And that makes marriage seem like such a strange concept – for you are promising to be with someone forever…yet you cannot be sure who that person will be in ten years…hell, even who you will be! Especially if you are committed to being self-aware and have a desire to always become more yourself, to keep growing, for growth means change and change involves risk, involves stepping from the known to the unknown. With the person you now give your heart to it could mean stepping into being with someone “new and unknown” a few years along the line. I certainly know this to be true of our lives…our marriage…I am not the same person I was on that dewy-eyed day. You are promising to be committed to (and very involved in) a roller-coaster ride…

That's the story of...that's the glory of...

All changes, even the most longed for, have their melancholy; for what we leave behind us is a part of ourselves; we must die to one life before we can enter another.” Anatole France “Any change, even a change for the better, is always accompanied by drawbacks and discomforts.” – Arnold Bennett

What makes it worthwhile? For worthwhile it certainly is, this rollercoaster called marriage. What makes the change, and the discomfort and grief it often brings, something to commit to and look forward to? “Action and reaction, ebb and flow, trial and error, change – this is the rhythm of living. Out of our over-confidence, fear; out of our fear, clearer vision, fresh hope. And out of hope, progress.” – Bruce Barton

Exactly that – knowing that your journey brings change and growth, not only in your own being, but also in the being of that one person who has committed to staying. And if you have set out on this journey together for the right reasons, that change will always be for the better. The grace (and discomfort) of marriage is the privilege of having your own purifying fire, bringing with each passing year more clarity and shine. But encapsulated with that fire also the one person who will always be in your corner, who will always be there in your striving towards yourself. Relationships change with time, they only last if you learn to adapt and except that change.

Luckily, we can “always remember that the future comes one day at a time” – Dean Acheson Marriage might begin with that one beautiful day, but it has to continue with a daily renewal of commitment to that day’s spouse. And before you know it, you are ten years down the line; you are different; yet you are loved. May the blessing of the journey be yours.

Here's to you, kid

The shape of me

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Vive la différence!

One of my first assignments as a newbie at 13.tv was to create an inspirational art piece on the beauty of suffering. Some of the first things that came to mind were images of a glassblower with his glass, or a potter with his/her clay – an idea that became the centre of our video. Thursday night Flaps made use of our video clip as an introduction to his #Reverb session, with the clip serving as an idea booster. We had to think about the potter and the clay, about ourselves as the clay with God as the Potter, and then write down ten statements. It was both a humbling and an inspiring process to look at and talk about each other’s statements – serving as a reminder of who we are, Who we belong to, and what our lives are meant to be. And so I decided to share my ten statements with you…maybe it can be the reminder you need…or maybe this is the good news you have yet to hear…

I belong to the Potter.

I cannot see what I will become; I have to trust the Potter for the end result.

Even the simplest of clay items are made because they are needed, because they make an impact/difference.

The forming process takes a lot of work…may sometimes mean almost restarting.

The work is never really finished, there are always more things to do or add…but the result of this tweaking process is always better and more beautiful…more meaningful.

This tweaking process, this becoming more, is almost always equal to more kneading (discomfort) and baking (pain).

My cracks remind me of God’s grace.

My cracks are what make me unique and beautiful, but only if I am filled to the brim with God’s Spirit, making it impossible for Him not to shine through every sliver and cranny.

Being the clay means that there is no other position than vulnerable and completely exposed before the Potter. The clay cannot become anything other than another lump without the Potter. The trick is to live into daily acceptance of that fact…and finding peace.

I can trust the Potter completely – the Potter never starts something He has not dreamt about, never begins working on a lump of clay He hasn’t envisioned a purpose for. His efforts with me equal my meaning.

A joyful noise..."If you only look at us, you might well miss the brightness. We carry this precious Message around in the unadorned clay pots of our ordinary lives. That's to prevent anyone from confusing God's incomparable power with us." (2 Cor 4:7)

I will rise

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I might be one of the only idiots who thought about watching “127 Hours” without ever quite getting around to it…but as providence would have it I was channel hopping last night and came across it just as it was starting…so I finally watched it…and sat in silent awe.

Now, for today’s blog, we’re leaving aside the fact that Danny Boyle is one of the most talented and visionary directors of our time, as well as the fact that “127 Hours” is one of the most powerful movies I have ever seen. No, because watching the movie made me think about “Slumdog Millionaire” – his other big recent film – and about the golden thread that runs through both movies. What it is that makes us survive suffering and adversity – triumphantly…even beautifully. What it is that makes some fight even harder where others would long ago have given up and/or died. What it is that gives strength to the spirit in circumstances where the body is drained.

Now I know this is going to sound corny, but it doesn’t make it any less true – in both of these movies, in these very different but equally terrible situations, what made the different people keep fighting and keep striving was a dream. Their rising above, their realisation that there is something more, their belief in that something, made them continue on when it seemed impossible.  But we’ve all heard that we need a dream, so what’s new? And we all do have lots of dreams. For me, the freshness lay in just being reminded of what our dream should be. For the people in these stories did not have just any dream. It is not just any dream that will make us triumph.

Their dreams were about people – about meaningful relations – about impacting on one or two lives. That’s all…but that’s all that’s needed…for in this dream lies beautiful strength.

Dreams of bigger houses, more things, success, fame etc. cannot carry us through darkness and pain. Only dreams of those hearts near us…of having hearts near us. Only dreams of knowing that our life has made at least one other breathe easier. Only those dreams can make us do the impossible…can make us rise…can give meaning in any and every situation.

Let’s make this the desire of our hearts – today and every day.

“Your eyes are windows into your body. If you open your eyes wide in wonder and belief, your body fills up with light. If you live squinty-eyed in greed and distrust, your body is a dank cellar. If you pull the blinds on your windows, what a dark life you will have!” – Matthew 6:22-23

Delightful ambiguity

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I am the first person to accentuate the fact that life is not as easy as “black and white” – I have experienced the truth of this so many times – life is more about navigating shades of grey. But I can understand why so many people try to make life that simple. Heck, I sometimes feel the desire myself!

Why? Because it would be SO much easier! No more complications, no more having to think of all contingencies, no more worrying about all the different angles and perspectives, no more having to think long and hard about the people in front you and around you…about their lives and experiences and where in the myriad shades of grey they find themselves and having to accommodate that in your thinking, speaking and living. Just simple, easily identified truth…one truth…

The mundane plodding life

But then I can’t help but think of the movie “Equilibrium” and of how (literally) grey that world of “black and white” becomes…how deadening simplicity and one truth can be (is?). And I think of Edward Norton’s words: “All people are paradoxical. No one is easily reducible, so I like characters who have contradictory impulses or shades of ambiguity. It’s fun, and it’s fun because it’s hard.” And I realise that it’s not only true of characters, but of real life; for aren’t we all mere actors on the stage of life (thank you, William Shakespeare)? Which, once again, confronts us with ambiguity – for easy and simple does not bring joy or the fulfilment that a full and complicated life has as its reward…

Life: the complicated version

“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.” – Rainer Maria Rilke

So here’s to life in all its colourful shades of grey, to ambiguity, to the struggle of living complicated lives and engaging with complicated people. Here’s to no easy answers…sometimes no answer at all. Here’s to the colour and beauty and passion of living in the shades of grey. Here’s to the kaleidoscope of people and circumstances we then have the privilege of sharing life with. May God grant us the grace to live here as a blessing, even though it’s hard.

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!

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