The heart of God

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“JOY is the SERIOUS BUSINESS of HEAVEN!” – CS Lewis

I had the privilege of being present at a baby shower last weekend, and the joy of a wonderful Cape vacation this weekend…and all I constantly found myself thinking about was the spiritual discipline of joy. Which sounds strange – how can joy be a discipline?! But maybe it isn’t that strange, seeing that God’s joy and its many different faces surrounded me.

For the joy of the Lord does surround us – in the spectacle we call “Creation”. Just think about how different the story of creation would have been if God had not been as enthusiastic and as joyous…if He had created like we so often do. Content with “it’s all right”. Not wanting to have to go to too much effort. Just doing the bare minimum to get by. What a sad and depressing thing Creation would have been! But instead infinite combinations, spectacular engineering and abundant creative thought surround us. God did not “settle”, did not simply say, “it’s OK” or “it’ll have to do” – His creation ended with “it was GOOD!” And it was!

And it is this joy, this pleasure of the simple fact of being alive and having possibilities to consider, which should fill us with gratitude and make us jump out of bed every morning. Joy is at the heart of God’s plan for us…is at the heart of God! Does this mean we will never know sorrow? Quite the contrary – we were promised two things…one: that we would be surrounded by difficulty and sorrow…two: that we would never be alone in this, and that we would always have something to look forward to, to strive towards “with grace in our hearts and flowers in our hair” – Mumford & Sons

Go home and prepare a feast, holiday food and drink; and share it with those who don’t have anything: This day is holy to God. Don’t feel bad. The joy of God is your strength!” – Nehemiah 8:9-10

So, make time to celebrate every day’s smallest of miracles. Always keep in front of you the Source of our joy and strong hope. And remember, selfishness is the only thing that keeps us from experiencing the myriad joys God puts into our every day. So don’t just wait…LIVE abundantly! For “today is the day that the Lord has made!”

Up! And away!

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…

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

Risen indeed!

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He is not here!

“The story of Easter is the story of God’s wonderful window of divine surprise.” – Carl Knudsen

“There is not room for Death,
Nor atom that his might could render void:
Thou – Thou art Being and Breath,
And what Thou art may never be destroyed.” – Emily Bronte

“Easter is not a time for groping through dusty, musty tomes or tombs to disprove spontaneous generation or even to prove life eternal.  It is a day to fan the ashes of dead hope, a day to banish doubts and seek the slopes where the sun is rising, to revel in the faith which transports us out of ourselves and the dead past into the vast and inviting unknown.” – Author unknown (as quoted in the Lewiston Tribune)

He is risen!

“The joyful news that He is risen does not change the contemporary world.  Still before us lie work, discipline, sacrifice.  But the fact of Easter gives us the spiritual power to do the work, accept the discipline, and make the sacrifice.” – Henry Knox Sherrill

“Ye sleeping buds, break
Open your green cerements, and wake
To fragrant blossoming for His sweet sake.” – Margaret French Patton

Bated breath and open doors

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The elements

“Passover Seders are like the night sky:

A moment of moments long past and just gone;

Starlight years old next to planets nearby

Shining as though joined in one joyous song.

Over our heads is a book of the ages

Vividly chanting the stories of old,

Even as under our fingers are pages

Resplendent with light come from cauldrons now cold.

So may we gaze at the past in the present,

Each prayer a jewel in a darkness undone,

Destined to light on our eyes in a moment

Embracing all slaves out from Egypt as one.

Rejoice, then, in this living graveyard of light,

Singing the words, that they last one more night.” – Nicholas Gordon

Yesterday, as the sun set on the different parts of the world, Jews everywhere celebrated the Passover Seder. The very same Seder that Jesus and his disciples celebrated on that fateful night before the crucifixion.

The Passover Seder is a beautiful ritual – one that has blessed me every time I took part in the celebration. It is good and necessary to remember the way that our family of faith has been walking from the very beginning: to eat of the “karpas” and the “maror” and be reminded that our tears are not the first shed, the bitterness of parts of our journey not the first to be experienced; to take part in the “yachatz”, the breaking of the bread, celebrating that God would even part the seas for those He loves. In each different phase of the meal, in all the different elements, to know as concretely as the things that we smell, touch and eat that – though this life is often filled with suffering, pain and bitterness – we are enfolded in the promise and the blessing of God’s presence…of his unceasing love and involvement in our lives.

I am the bread of life...broken for you...

“Palpably, You are in this room,

A presence just as certain as our own,

Singing with us — family friend, well-known —

Someone, not just something we assume.

One can know You only intimately.

Vast as You are, You fit into our home.

Every tick of life we’re not alone,

Rejoicing in a love we feel and see.” – Nicholas Gordon

The wonder and grace for those of us who have come to know Jesus for Who He was? That our Passover Seder does not need to end with a prayer to Elijah, the opening of a door to symbolise our expectation for the coming of the Messiah or the words, encapsulating the hope that the Messiah will come, that “next year (will be) in Jerusalem”. For God and the Kingdom have already entered the door – as unexpectedly strange as only God can be – and all the offerings needed have already been made. “Our true identity is flat and plain, not puffed up with the wrong kind of ingredient. The Messiah, our Passover Lamb, has already been sacrificed for the Passover meal, and we are the Unraised Bread part of the Feast. So let’s live out our part in the Feast, not as raised bread swollen with the yeast of evil, but as flat bread-simple, genuine, unpretentious.” – 1 Cor 5:7-8 So, on this “Silent Saturday”, find time to be at peace and bask in this time…God’s reminder.

“Pour yourself like wine into the glass,

A liquid shaped by glass blown long ago,

Singing every year the words you know,

Songs that do not change as your years pass.

Old glass, new wine; new matter, ancient form;

Vintages that burst with life and joy;

Enduring hope no horror can destroy;

Ritual that makes a faith a home.”

– Nicholas Gordon

Milk and honey

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Easter – our blessed reminder and most significant time of year – is approaching fast. By this time next week we will (should?) be right in the middle of the weekend’s remembrances. The Passover lamb now only a memory, a sacrifice made obsolete by the Lamb of God. The door, left open at the end of every Passover Seder as a symbol of their expectant hope for the arrival of the Messiah, no longer necessary – the Messiah and the Kingdom are already near…are here…

Thoughts that enliven me with thankfulness and a re-ignited passion, as I’m sure many of you are, too. Because when I am again confronted with what exactly God was willing to do to reach me, I realise that the sky should be the limit where my life for God is concerned. But this passion and these best of intensions are so often exactly like New Year’s resolutions – they last as long as the feast does…we are inspired to do more, as we should be, only to then fall back into our routine faith – our biggest (only?) desire the desire to be comforted each Sunday…is that the Kingdom of God that Jesus planned? That He gave His everything for?

This is my body, this is my blood...for you...

“So clean house! Make a clean sweep of malice and pretense, envy and hurtful talk. Now, like infants at the breast, drink deep of God’s pure kindness. Then you’ll grow up mature and whole in God…Present yourselves as building stones for the construction of a sanctuary vibrant with life, in which you’ll serve as holy priests offering Christ-approved lives up to God….You are the ones chosen by God, chosen for the high calling of priestly work, chosen to be a holy people, God’s instruments to do his work and speak out for him, to tell others of the night-and-day difference he made for you – from nothing to something, from rejected to accepted…Don’t indulge your ego at the expense of your soul. Live an exemplary life so that your actions will refute their prejudices. Then they’ll be won over to God’s side and be there to join in the celebration when he arrives.” – 1 Peter 2:1-11

Yes, the basics are important – we need to start out with comfort and security…with milk…but we cannot stay there…for if we stay there we cease to grow. Milk, the desire to be comforted, should only be our BEGINNING; and not the end we have made it to be. Yes a firm foundation is absolutely essential – sound knowledge of God’s being and what He has done – but a building is not built only to look at, it is meant for living in and around, as the provider of shelter and comfort and a safe space. The laying of the foundation, our new identity as living stones in God’s house, has to have life-altering consequences – for ourselves, yes, but even more so for the people who surround us everyday. A building can only really “be” a building if it’s serving its purpose…we can only really “be” the faithful if our lives become less about ourselves with every day we are given.

We must become the change we want to see in the world.”  – Ghandi

May this Easter be the push we need. May we become the faithful Jesus envisioned while giving all of Himself.

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)