Where is your heart?

I did not know, until a week ago, that David Livingstone’s heart lies buried in Africa. The Scottish medical missionary, explorer and philanthropist had come to Africa at God’s call, criss-crossed the continent on foot, discovered the Victoria Falls and, through his reports sent home, laid the foundation for the outlawing of slavery throughout the civilized world. At his own request, Livingstone’s heart was to be removed from his body and buried under a certain mpundu tree near Ilala village in N.E. Zambia. On hearing of his death, the Dean of Westminster offered burial in Westminster Abbey. And so Livingstone’s faithful attendants wrapped his enbalmed body in bark and sailcloth, and carried it hundreds of miles east to Bagamoyo on the coast of Tanzania. Livingstone’s faith and love so inspired these carriers that they overcame their natural superstition of carrying a dead body for so many months with all the dangers that journey entailed. From the east coast of Africa his body was shipped to England to be buried in the Abbey. The story goes that at the burial H.M. Stanley had to restrain one of Livingstone’s faithful servants from throwing himself into the grave. On his gravestone was inscribed Jesus’ words, ‘Other sheep I have, which are not of this Fold: Them also I must bring, and they shall hear my Voice.’ (John 10:16)

A key verse for me in the OT is Prov. 4:23, ‘Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.’
The author, a man deeply concerned for his son’s welfare, speaks of the teaching he himself had received from his father, the enormous value of which he had proved in the intervening years. He indicates that the key to wise living is what is in the ‘heart.’ The term ‘heart’ in Proverbs and Scripture refers primarily to the mind, but also to our emotions, will, in fact our whole inner being. It is the ‘wellspring’ of our thoughts, passion, choices, speech and actions. It is meant to be filled with God, his presence and truth at all times.
Jesus connected with this reality many times: e.g. in Mk. 7:14-23 where he underlines that it is ‘from within, out of men’s hearts’ that evil or good springs. Quite possibly Jesus is quoting from Prov. 4:23 when he cries out at the Feast of Tabernacles (Jn. 7:38), ‘Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him!’
Note also the challenge Jesus issues to materialistic and consumerist would-be-disciples in his ‘Sermon on the Mount’: ‘For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.’ (Mt. 6:21)

For me personally clarity came in the late 1980’s when an American missiologist came to South Africa to stir up Andrew Murray’s vision of ‘prayer, revival and mission’. I had a kind of ‘missions conversion’ whereby I realised that, out of a heart in tune with the God of the Bible, I was called to ministry in Africa, and that our congregation was obligated to send workers into South Africa, Africa and beyond (some went to Turkey, others to Cyprus and Peru). I renewed that call one star-lit balmy night on the beautiful southern shore of Lake Malawi, when I stood where Livingstone had stood in 1859, where my wife’s forbears had served at the call of Andrew Murray more than eighty years before.
Very recently, driving slowly through a squatter camp (barrio/favela) on the fringes of our city, seeing people with dirty clothing, children and young people with little hope of decent education and employment, hungry and exploited, largely forgotten, I realised again where my heart lies. My heart lies with Jesus, who more often than not worked with ‘fringe people’ (the poor and outcast). It lies specifically in Africa (with all its confusion, tension and frustrations). Here let me incarnate Jesus in life and word for as long as he sees fit.

I humbly ask, where does your heart lie? With Jesus and his kingdom? Maybe somewhere else, in accordance with your location, passion, gifts and calling. Wherever it lies, it should be flooded by our loving Shepherd’s restless words, ‘I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also…’ For surely the congregation, small group, organic house church that is not at its heart truly incarnational and missional, at home and in the marketplace, denies its very DNA. Someone has said, The Church exists by mission as fire exists by burning!’

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THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO SANTA CLAUS…

My thanks to those who responded positively to my last blog, which featured God’s grace in Christ as the ultimate motivator and enabler in God-filled living (see Titus 2:11-12).

One valued friend (a real market-place evangelist) commented: “The non believers I meet on a daily basis all talk about the legal stuff and God being a traffic cop out-and-about writing out offence tickets. No love and no personal relationship. This is how they perceive and see church. Sad hey? Let us make a difference in a small way…”

Whether we like it or not, this is a common perception of ‘church as we know it.’ And one can begin to understand it once we grasp to what extent the church, in many places and generations, has been fed ‘the Gospel of Santa Claus’ instead of Jesus and his grace:

‘You better watch out
You better not cry
Better not pout
I’m telling you why
Santa Claus is coming to town.
He’s making a list
And checking it twice
Gonna find out who’s naughty and nice
Santa Claus is coming to town.
He sees you when you’re sleeping
He knows when you’re awake
He knows if you’ve been bad or good
So be good for goodness’ sake!
Oh! You better watch out!
You better not cry
Better not pout
I’m telling you why
Santa Claus is coming to town!’

Recognise the bad news, the divine Policeman in the sky, the scare and guilt tactics, the individualism and consumerism, the salvation by your own bootlaces, the ‘cowboys don’t cry’ tone, the impotent moralism? (‘be good to granny and kind to the cat’)

Compare this with the good news of Jesus in Eph. 1, Col.1, etc! Consider Col.1:6ff (NLT)
‘This same Good News that came to you is going out all over the world. It is changing lives everywhere, just as it changed yours that very first day that you heard and understood the truth about God’s great kindness to sinners… Christ is the visible image of the invisible God. He existed before God made anything at all and is supreme over all creation. Christ is the one through whom God created everything in heaven and earth. He made the things we can see and the things we can’t see – kings, kingdoms, rulers, and authorities. Everything has been created through him and for him. He existed before everything else began, and he holds all creation together.
Christ is the head of the church, which is his body. He is the first of all who will rise from the dead, so he is first in everything. For God in all his fulness was pleased to live in Christ, and by him God reconciled everything to himself. He made peace with everything in heaven and on earth by means of his blood on the cross. This includes you who were once so far away from God. You were his enemies, separated from him… yet now he has brought you back as his friends… he has brought you into the very presence of God, and you are holy and blameless as you stand before him without a single fault… continue to believe this truth and stand in it firmly. Don’t drift away from the assurance you received when you heard the Good News.’

How’s THAT for good news, magnificent motivation, colossal empowering as we live in our topsy turvy world?? We have surely all witnessed the impact of this gospel on history, nations, societies, families and individual lives.

As the Swiss Reformed theologian, Karl Barth (1886-1968), rebelling against the dead liberalism of his day, said again and again, ‘all knowledge of God is exclusively determined by and is depedent upon the knowledge of Jesus Christ.’

If you’re still in ‘church as we know it’ and not committed to ‘church as she ought to be, ‘ THINK AGAIN…

Amazing grace and God-filled living…

I some times get the feeling that, in order to recapture ‘the fear of the Lord’ in the Church today, people (including myself in the past) attempt to foist OT revelation on NT revelation (full daylight is so much better than evening shadow). E.g. folk feel that the NT puts so much emphasis on ‘God’s love’ that any sense of ‘the fear of the Lord’ is lost. One person I was attempting to mentor said to me, ‘If I know that my school teacher is going to give me ‘hell’ if I don’t do my homework, I’ll make sure that I do the necessary!”

How often church leaders are afraid to entrust their disciples totally to God’s love, lest they become antinomian. Of course, they will become antinomian if they don’t properly grasp God’s great love in Christ]

My question is, would I not excel more as a child if I have both a healthy respect for my parents plus the assurance of their steadfast love for me? My wife and I could relate one or two stories…

It’s amazing how, for much of my early Christian life and pastoral ministry, I read the Scriptures through guilt-driven and legalistic eyes. Long before I saw the promise of God in a Scripture, I would get bogged down with my responsibilities and previous failures. Not that privileges don’t carry with them corresponding responsibilities…

I’ll give an example of a striking scripture featured in our local newspaper a few days ago, viz. Titus 2:11-12. In these verses Paul is instructing Titus (his convert and co-worker in Crete, Ephesus and Corinth) on the very foundation of Christian living. The scripture reads (NIV): “For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. It (my emphasis) teaches us to say ‘No’ to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age.” Titus and and his fellow-believers should live in the way outlined because God has graciously acted for their salvation in Christ. In Christ the very grace of God ‘appeared!’ [‘grace’ is one of the great Pauline words, being used by him 100 times out of a total of 155 occurrences in the NT – it highlights the free-ness and extravagance of God’s gift in Christ. Furthermore, we can’t separate God’s grace from Christ, because He is the very summation thereof].

To summarise, there is nothing here about ‘fear,’ only the surpassing grace of Christ.

We could also mention 2 Cor. 5:14-15, where, with regard to the ministry of reconciliation, Paul stresses the compelling love of Christ as our motivation. Yes, he mentions ‘fear’ in v. 12 – however, is he not here simply emphasising his great sense of accountability as a servant of the Lord?

What about the call to ‘work out our salvation in fear and trembling’ in Phil. 2:12? Look at the context, 2:1-11, where Paul lays the foundation of that responsibility viz. Christ’s breath-taking self-humiliation on our behalf, hence v. 12’s ‘therefore.’ Note also v. 13’s under-girding promise: ‘For it is God (the God of 2:1-11) who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.’

How many times have I sung John Newton’s historic hymn Amazing Grace without getting the message, ‘Twas grace that taught my heart to fear, And grace my fears relieved!’

As my son recently reminded me, ‘Love will lead you where fear never will!’ Not natural or craven fear, not religion, not rules and regulations, not the law, nothing in all the world.