Whatever it takes

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I’ve been reflecting a great deal over the last few weeks of the account of the healing of the paralysed man in Mark 2. The story about the healing and about how this man’s life was changed forever, but it’s about so much more than that. It’s about Jesus and His power, but it’s also about the friends of the paralysed man who brought him to Jesus. I think they are unsung heroes of faith because they displayed incredible compassion and amazing determination.
The truth is that our faith journey requires determination and a “whatever it takes” kind of attitude and these friends of the paralysed man display just that. These guys had a mission… to get their friend well and healed, and they were going to see it through no matter what. I believe that we can learn a great deal from them about what the mission requires and what it means to have determination in our faith.

 

The mission requires faith

We don’t know anything about the paralysed man or his friends’ background. All we know is that they had decided to bring him to Jesus to be healed. They must’ve seen a miracle Jesus had done or heard Him preaching… or maybe they had only heard about Him. Either way, they had FAITH that Jesus could and would heal their friend. They made the decision to take him to Jesus, even though it was difficult and even though they encountered obstacles along the way because they believed that He could make a difference in their situation. Do you bring your situations to Jesus? Determination starts with faith and a deep-seated belief that when we draw near to God and seek Him, amazing things can and will happen.

 

The mission requires persistence

The four friends had decided to get their friend to Jesus and so they carried him, who knows how far, to get to where Jesus was teaching and when they got there they encountered what some might have seen as an insurmountable obstacle…. Jesus was out of reach. There were too many people and there was no chance of them getting close enough to Jesus to get Him to notice or heal their friend. Many people would’ve given up at this point and just turned around and gone home, or maybe waited in the crowd in the hopes of catching Jesus’ attention as He came by. But not these friends. These guys were not going to let anything stop them from completing their mission. They climbed up on the roof of the house and started to take it apart so that they could lower their friend down to Jesus. They remind us that persistence is a necessary part of being on mission with God. It is one thing to have faith, but our faith cannot simply be a once-off decision or short-lived commitment. It must go hand in hand with perseverance.

 

The mission requires community

The paralysed man would never have been able to get to Jesus and receive healing on his own. He needed those four friends to carry him there, to persevere and make a plan when things didn’t go the way they thought it would and to get him to the feet of Jesus.
In the same way, each of us needs a community of people around us who help us get to Jesus.Sometimes we are like the man on the mat and we need to be carried into the presence of Christ when we are too weak or broken to get there on our own.And sometimes, we are like the friends who have to do whatever it takes to help others get into God’s presence when they are to weak and broken to get there on their own.

Those who lead also need to carefully consider the way these friends went about their task. It would’ve been impossible if each one didn’t stick to their corner of the mat they were carrying. So often we try to push ahead and carry things on our own, but the reality is that we need each other and we need each person to simply carry their corner of the load so that we can see Jesus’ miracles revealed.

May we have the faith, the persistence and the people around us to help us do whatever it takes to keep pursuing Jesus with all our hearts.

S.T.A.R.T

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Isaiah 43:18-19 reminds us that God is a God who does new things. He brings rivers out of deserts and beauty from ashes. He speaks light into darkness and He makes all things new.

At the start of this new year, here are some things I’ve been thinking about and challenging myself to do in order to make sure that I make the right start and make the most of this new beginning…

 

S – Stop making excuses

“Whoever conceals their sins does not prosper, but the one who confesses and renounces them finds mercy.” – Proverbs 28: 13

Sometimes we are our own worst enemies. Often, we know exactly what’s preventing us from living the abundant life God intended for us or what is hindering our growth or our relationship with Him, but we’ve become so masterful at justifying our sin that we don’t ever stop making excuses long enough to just get real with ourselves. So this year, let’s commit to just stop… to stop making excuses and to do what we need to do to become the people God wants us to be. Let’s surround ourselves with people who are honest with us and can tell us the truth about ourselves.

Let’s also stop making excuses as to why God can’t use us. We need to remember that we are the messengers, not the message, and that no matter what may have happened to us or what we are facing, God can and wants to use us.

 

T – Take Inventory

Spend some time taking stock of your life, and particularly, your spiritual journey.

What aspects of your life and heart need spiritual renewal? What did you learn last year and how can you ensure that your experiences and those lessons are not wasted? What did you learn about God, and about yourself?

 

A – Act in faith

Once we’ve stopped making excuses and taken inventory to figure out where we are, the next step is to move forward in faith and to ensure that our actions line up with our faith. Without faith it is impossible to please God. With faith, anything is possible.

 

R – Refocus your mind

There are so many things that vie for our attention and so often, our minds and thoughts are consumed by the messages the world throws at us, so let’s commit to ensuring that we are focusing our minds on the right things. Romans 12:1-2 reminds us not to conform to the world’s pattern, but rather to be transformed by the renewing of our minds. Commit to doing things that set your mind and heart on God this year. Make time for Him, read, grow, learn, discover and eliminate things from your life that distract you and focus your minds on things other than God.

 

T- Trust God

Finally, when all else is said and done, trust God. Pray bold prayers that will mean that you don’t just coast safely through 2017, but that will mean you will step out boldly in faith. For what are you believing God this year? Trust Him and leave your worries, burdens and cares in His capable hands. Trust Him to do something amazing in your life and to use you in a way you never imagined.

 

May you START this year right, run the race with endurance and finish strong.

The Day of Reconciliation

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Today South Africans celebrate the Day of Reconciliation. In the past, this day marked important events for very different people-groups: the Afrikaners and the ANC. It was celebrated as Dingaan’s Day on which the Afrikaners celebrated their victory over the Zulu nation in 1838, and it was marked as a significant day in 1961 when the armed wing of the ANC, Umkhonto we Sizwe, was officially launched and carried out its first attacks against the Apartheid Regime. And yet today, despite the divergent origins of the day, it is celebrated as a day of reconciliation, of coming together despite differences and against the odds. It is a day of deciding and believing that we can overcome all that divides us and create a new future, together. It is a reminder of the miracle in which we exist as a nation – one we often take for granted – but one that holds so much promise for those who continue to have faith in a shared future.

Our country’s divided and painful past means that in many ways our nation is still divided and so we must do the ongoing and often painful work of continual reconciliation. The role of the church is more crucial, now than ever, in bridging divides, in breaking down barriers and offering healing and hope. We all have a critical role to play in healing the wounds of the past and choosing reconciliation and the coming together of the oppressor and the oppressed.

Christmas time reminds us that God Himself is the author of reconciliation. He bridged the unimaginable divide between God and humanity, perfection and sin, to reconcile people to Himself. He came to give us a fresh start – to make us new and to restore relationship with us. And so, we are reminded, “All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: be reconciled to God. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:18-21)

Those who have been reconciled with God and made new by Him are given the task of bringing His reconciliation to the world. We have the role of holding onto the belief that all things can be reconciled if people are willing to come together and make a new way. New beginnings are still possible if we are committed to receiving them and creating them.

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?