The joy of good news

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“But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.” – Luke 2:10-11

The angel brought news of great joy to the shepherds all those years ago on the first Christmas. The Jews had been hearing about the promise of the Messiah for centuries and here was the announcement of His coming! It was given not to those we might have expected – not to kings or nobles – but to the ordinary shepherds. The good news of Christ still comes to ordinary people. His joy and peace is for everyone… for the overlooked, the underrated, the seemingly insignificant, because we are all significant in God’s eyes. He brings His love and hope to everyone, even those filled with pride, anger, revenge, bitterness and sin.

His message was one of joy then and it is one of joy now. True joy is available in Christ. So stop worrying about everything. Trust in the promise of God’s good news. He delivers on His promises. Don’t diminish God’s power by worrying about things. Joy that comes from God is something that is beyond our circumstances. Nothing can crush the joy that comes from Jesus.

The sinful woman who entered into an assembly of the religious and found grace (Luke 7:36-50) reminds us that Jesus’ message is one of joy even for the irreligious and the sinful – even for those will questionable pasts.  She was forgiven much and therefore, had a great deal of gratitude. Do we live aware of how much mercy we have received and therefore, rejoice in God’s grace?

Countless misfits in Scripture remind us that the message of Christ is good news for those who have always been unpopular, left out and left behind. No matter what the world may have told you, you are the apple of God’s eye and He delights in you (Psalm 17:8).

The message of Jesus is one joy for those who are held captive – those who are chained by addiction, by fear, by hatred, by unforgiveness… Jesus releases us and sets us free (Luke 4:18; Mark 5:1-20).

His message of joy is also for those who have faced prejudice and discrimination. The Samaritan woman at the well (John 4:1-26) reminds us that Jesus sought out and ministered to even the rejected and marginalised. He drank from her cup and then offered her Himself as Living Water. For those who have felt the sting and pain of prejudice, there is joy in knowing that we are all accepted as the children of God, no matter who we are.

When everyone else is tied up in what’s happening in the world, those who know Jesus can have a joy within them because the message of joy the angels brought to the shepherds for all of humankind is a reality in our hearts.

Don’t get caught in the negative cycle of what’s going on around you. Rejoice in the Lord. Find your hope and your joy in Him. Be an agent of joy in the world.

The call to somewhere

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Genesis 12:1-5:

“The Lord had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.”

God reached out to an ordinary man and called Him to be the Father of the nation of Israel. He divinely interrupted his ordinary life and invited Him on a journey of faith. He called Him to leave the place he was and go to a new place, to be a new person. Here are three brief reflections from Abraham’s life that teach us about calling:

Our calling is often clear, but not certain

Abraham’s calling was very clear. “Go to a land I will show you.” There is no doubt in the author’s mind that Abraham was called and Abraham doesn’t doubt the calling, but immediately obeys. Just because his calling was clear, didn’t mean it was certain. In fact, it was the opposite of certain. It was an invitation to a journey of faith in which God would reveal, slowly but surely, the great plan He had for Abraham’s life. The calling that God issues each of us is an invitation to a journey of faith. He calls all of us to a place He will show us – to a destiny He will reveal as we choose to journey with Him. God hardly ever give us clear outcomes, but the miracles happen along the journey as we walk by faith.

Our calling requires character-development

As people we can be very results-oriented, and that isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but notice that when the author of Hebrews looks back at Abraham’s life, it is not the things He did or actually accomplished in response to God’s call that is noted, but rather, it is the attitude with which He lived his life (Hebrews 11:8-9). In Romans 4:3 we read, “Abraham believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness.”

Along the journey of living out his calling, he made more than one mistake, but at the end of the day, God was not as concerned about where He ended up as about the condition of His heart. God calls us to big and great things, but what is more significant, at the end of the day, is our character – who we ARE, rather than what we DO.We can only accomplish God’s purposes when we become the people He wants us to be.

That is why we often see a lot of waiting, in the Bible, after people receive their calling from God. Abram is no different. He received the calling to go with God to a place He would show him and then God revealed to him that he would be the father of a nation that would bless all the nations of the earth. Abraham was clear about what God’s promise was, but his wife remained childless for another 25 years before Isaac was born and God’s promise was fulfilled.In order to become the patriarch God wanted him to be, Abraham had to journey with God for many years and learn the lessons God wanted him to learn.

You and I too, are often called by God and then enter seasons of waiting and growth in which God is working on our character development so that when we get to the fulfilment of His promise, our character matches the assignment He has given us. A truly tragic thing, that happens fairly often, is when people have great potential and vision and calling and then fail in terms of their character… and everything comes crashing down. We see it in the world around us all the time.The calling of God is a calling to journey with Him and to do the hard, and painful work, of character development so that we may find ourselves worthy of His call as we “work out our salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12). Don’t forget to do the work of character development and to allow God’s Spirit to shape and form you for your destiny.

Our calling will require sacrificing everything

Abraham is perhaps best-known for the disturbing account of what happens with his son Isaac in Genesis 22. God promises that he will give him an heir and make him a great nation, and after decades of waiting, it finally comes to pass and then, God asks Abraham to do the unimaginable… to sacrifice his son… to put to death his child and his dream.This story is one that reminds us that God requires that we put EVERYTHING on the altar before Him.We can only become who he wants us to be and then accomplish what He was called us to do when we live in a place of complete surrender. This is tested in our lives when God asks us to sacrifice the things that mean the most to us and to let go of all our idols.Often, even the calling that God has given us becomes an idol… something we seek and worship above Him, and something we seek to achieve on our own.We must come to a place of putting to death, laying down and letting go of anything else… of being willing to give it all up for the sake of Christ, as He did for us.

May Abraham’s call to somewhere, and his imperfect but preserving faith, encourage your heart today as you follow God’s call on your life wherever He is leading you.

Peace

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St. Francis of Assist once said, “Before you speak of peace, you must first have it in your heart.”

We are all looking for peace. We look for it in all kinds of places and ways, but it is very elusive despite our desperate attempts to attain it. Few people are really at peace. After all, the world around is seems to be in chaos a lot of the time. It is anything but peaceful. There is a great deal of anger, mistrust and violence. There is a lot of uncertainty and many things that are beyond our control no matter how hard we try. We get frustrated when we can’t change circumstances or people. We experience pain and anxiety when things are inexplicable and when life isn’t fair.

And yet, one of the names for God in Scripture is “Jehovah Shalom”, which means “I am the God of peace.” Jesus also said to his disciples, Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid” (John 14:27). God tells us that it is possible to have peace, but it has nothing to do with problem-free living. Rather, it is a gift that comes from God.

Scripture talks about 2 kinds of peace. The first kind is peace with God (Romans 5:1). In order to experience any kind of peace in our lives and world, we first need to be at peace with God. This peace comes from right relationship with Him made possible through the sacrificial death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We don’t have to be afraid or alone. We can be God’s children if we accept His gift of redemption and can be made right with Him… be at peace with Him. We cannot have peace in our lives, or personal peace, until we are right with the Prince of Peace.

Secondly, Scripture talks about the peace of God. Once we are at peace with God, He provides for us His supernatural peace that passes all understanding to guard our hearts and minds (Philippians 4:7).

I’ve been spending some time at universities over the last few weeks trying to assist with mediation and negotiations, and here, in the midst of this great turmoil and chaos, it has again become so clear to me that unless we find peace within our own souls, we will never achieve it in our universities, our communities or our nation. Right now, we as a nation don’t seem to be at peace with God. We are arrogant. We are angry. We are bitter.  If we are to see any resolution reached or calm prevail, it is critical that we do the work of ensuring we are at peace with God and with ourselves.

Some of us in the church have been criticised for our role in the university mediation because of our view in terms of non-violence. The church’s role – and the Christian’s role – in this conflict, and in any conflict, always has to be to bring peace. Violence in any form or fashion, is not acceptable, no matter what the cause.

So, how do we get and maintain this peace that passes understanding that God gives us, even and especially in the midst of difficult circumstances?

  • If we want the peace of God, we must abide by God’s Word (Psalm 37:37; Psalm 119:165).
  • Focus on God’s presence. Learn to practice his presence. This doesn’t mean that we must be oblivious to what is going on around us, but we get to choose every day, where we will focus our attention, and that will determine the kind of peace we have (Isaiah 26:3).
  • Trust God’s ways (Proverbs 3:4-5). Not all our questions will be answered in this lifetime. Peace comes when we trust God, even when His plans don’t make sense to us.
  • We have to ask for it – Paul encourages us to “let your requests be made known to God” (Philippians 4:6).
  • If you’re not praying you’re worrying. You cannot simultaneously worry and pray.

 

 

Prayer

Lord God we pray that our heart would break for the things that break your heart.

Let us never allow our hearts to grow cold and hard.

Let our hearts, eyes and spirits be open to the work of Your Spirit as it prompts us to do your work among the poor and the vulnerable.

Help us to be at peace with you so that we can be at peace with ourselves and others, and be peacemakers in the world.

In the Name of Christ,

Amen.

The road less travelled

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The Apostle Paul is one of the heroes of the faith… one that journeyed down many interesting and unusual roads.

The road of vision
Paul found Jesus (or rather, Jesus found him) in an unlikely way, on the road to a very different and opposite purpose. Paul had set out to  find and persecute Christians, but on the way, He had a radical and transforming encounter with Jesus Christ.
He was blinded and lost his literal vision in this encounter, and yet, it is here, in this humbling process of losing his sight and coming face to face with the reality of Jesus, that his spiritual vision was restored and he saw things as they really were.

Just like in Paul’s case, God seeks us out and changes our hearts. He can turn us around and change our ways of thinking and being. He can point us in the right direction. No matter how far off course you are or have been, it does not preclude you from being used by God when He transforms your heart.
The road of fulfilment
When Paul received his calling from God, it was one that sounded really significant and important – and it was, but I don’t think he could have imagined the road by which it would come about. We read about his calling in Acts 9:15 when God says about him: “Go, because I have chosen him to serve me, to make my name known to Gentiles and kings and to the people of Israel.”

When he heard this call, he must’ve thought God had a plan for him that involved great importance and prominence. He would, after all, witness to royalty and nobility.
Paul did fulfil this calling, but he didn’t do it as an influential courtier. He did it as a prisoner. He did get the opportunity to testify before kings and influence people on the highest rungs on the social ladder, but not as an invited guest. Rather, he preached as a detained potential criminal.

Sometimes the calling to which God calls us takes us on a very different road from the one we imagined. Will we remain faithful, even when our calling takes us on a road we did not imagine and one we would not choose for ourselves? Will we be faithful wherever we find ourselves?
The road of completion
Whatever surprising twists and turns Paul’s journey of faith took, he followed in obedience and faithfulness where God led.

At the end of his life, he was able to say with confidence: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith. Now there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge shall give me at that Day; and not to me only, but also to all those who love His appearing.” (2 Timothy 4:7-8).

Despite the curveballs and all the things Paul had to endure – from beatings, rejection, persecution, shipwrecks, snake bites, stonings and more, he remained faithful to do what God had called him to do.Sometimes we use, some pretty pathetic excuses, for not doing the work or will of God, but Paul’s life reminds us that we need to fix our eyes on Jesus and not allow the things of the world to entangle us or hold us back from what God has for us.

God can use anyone – even those on entirely the wrong path. He makes all things new.
Sometimes our calling and our vision of what God is leading us to doesn’t come about in the way we imagined, but will we remain faithful no matter what? Will we press in and press on and complete the work God has given us to do despite obstacles and opposition we face?

Heritage Day

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The word “heritage” refers to a person, group or nation’s history, specifically relating to events or occurrences that have special meaning to a group in terms of their collective memory. Tomorrow we celebrate Heritage Day – a day that encourages us to reflect on where we have come from, and who we are… and perhaps, more importantly, on who we are becoming and who we will be. We all have a past – a legacy created by those who have gone before us – that determines the course of our lives, and we are all shaping our own legacies by the choices we make. We are creating a heritage, in our families, our faith, our workplaces and our nation, that will be the reality for future generations.

I recently had the privilege of attending the World Methodist Conference in Houston, Texas, and as Methodists and Wesleyans from all over the world gathered together, I was deeply moved by the incredible richness there is in heritage, and in a shared heritage. There is so much strength we can draw from the three hundred years of history that has shaped and formed our denomination and church as we know it today. There is great wisdom in the heritage of our theology and disciplines. There is great comfort and hope in being rooted deeply in something that has stood the test of time and weathered many storms.

 

As I reflected on this heritage, I was reminded that Scripture urges us to make the Word of God and His commandments our true heritage and our inheritance. Psalm 119:111 notes: I have taken Your testimonies as a heritage forever; for they are the rejoicing of my heart.” As Christ-followers, we can build our lives and faith on the solid and eternal truths of the Word of God. That is what defines us and what gives us a platform on which to continue to build our stories and create our own history. We build on the foundation of God’s love and faithfulness and on the eternal truth of His promises. What an incredible heritage that is! And we are not alone. We stand together with all Christians who live a shared heritage of faith, and with saints throughout the ages who are our “great cloud of witnesses” who urge us on, to lay aside distractions and doubt and to run the race of faith with courage and determination (Hebrews 11:1-2).

 

As we celebrate heritage day, may we celebrate the people and events that have shaped our nation and made us who we are, and more than that, may we celebrate the heritage of faith we have in the church, in each other, and in the timeless and eternal Word of God. May all of them encourage and inspire us to build a heritage and a legacy that truly honours God and for which those who come after us will be grateful.

Empowered

Empowered

EMPOWERED

A church without the work of the Holy Spirit being manifested in it, is a dying church. Similarly, those in whom the Spirit of God are not at work are experiencing a spiritual death. The Spirit of God is not only available to some, but to every Christ-follower and He gives life to the church and to God’s people. It seems that many Christians have become complacent about the work and power of the Spirit in their lives, but without Him, life is not really possible.

So, how does the Spirit empower us? Here are some thoughts about three brief ways we can experience God’s Spirit and in which He gives us life and power:

  1. Being filled with the spirit empowers our prayer lives.

We can never underestimate the power of and need for prayer, but busyness often keeps us from it. We often wallow around in the shallow end of faith and wonder why things aren’t really happening, but prayer is almost non-existent in our lives. If we don’t communicate with God, we can’t move forward in our faith journey. By the power of the Spirit of God, we are enabled not just to pray for ourselves and those we love, but even to pray for our enemies and for those who have hurt us. The Spirit moves us from sporadic SOS prayers to a lifestyle of prayer.

2. The Spirit also empowers us to know and walk in our purpose. 

When we don’t live empowered by the Spirit, the purpose of the church becomes about structures – about rules and regulations, programmes, religiosity and ticking the boxes. When we live empowered by the Spirit of God, we are enabled to focus on what’s really important and to live out our faith in real and practical ways. We are enabled to use our gifts and abilities, our resources and our talents to serve others as God intended.

3. The Spirit moves us to action.

At Pentecost, after the disciples were filled with the Spirit, the time of waiting was over and they went out into the world to fulfil their God-given mission. Our default is self-preservation. To step outside ourselves, to reach out to other people, to actually share the Gospel, to physically engage with the poor and the broken does not come naturally to us, but it is the calling to which we are called and the Spirit of God empowers us to do the radical things God asks of us.

 

“But you shall receive power, the Holy Spirit coming upon you. And you shall be witnesses to Me both in Jerusalem and in all Judea, and in Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” – Acts 1:8

The power of one

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Tomorrow we have the incredible privilege of voting. The ordinary people of nation have the profound responsibility of casting a vote as to what kind of nation we want to live in and what kind of future we will choose for ourselves. There are many ways in which it is easy to feel small and insignificant and as though our effort, our reach and ability has no power to really affect any change or do anything that matters, but an election always reminds me about the power of one… my one voice, my one vote, makes a difference.

As a child of God too, I am reminded that my one life makes a difference. One conversation with someone, one prayer, one decision, one surrendered life can shape and change all of eternity. There is untold power in ONE.

Dwight L. Moody once said, “The world has yet to see what God can do with a person fully consecrated to him. By God’s help, I aim to be that person.” There is incredible power in one life, especially one that is surrendered to God. There is power in your one life. What will you do with it?