A WEEKEND WITH JESUS

To avoid any misunderstanding, let me clarify that unlike many in the institutional church, many other believers around the world are discovering/re-discovering that Jesus is graciously with us and indeed in us 24/7 and 365 days p.a., individually and corporately, and not merely between 9 and 10.30 on a Sunday morning.

Having cleared the ground, let me humbly share with you our fairly representative experience (my wife and I) of last weekend.

For some time our house church (a-la-NT and Watchman Nee, without a senior pastor and a service time and a building) was aware of the personal pain of an intimately-known retired missionary couple who some years back had planted an indigenous church in the Peruvian Alps among an ‘unreached people group.’ Sadly the wife has sustained advanced cancer of the mouth. Thus, we believe by the leading of the Spirit, we gathered in their little cottage on Saturday morning with four other believers to stand with the couple in their hour of crisis (by Monday they had to decide between further drastic surgery or radium treatment), pray with them, confess our common frailties and ask the King of the kingdom for his divine intervention in healing and wisdom (cf Jam. 1:5-8, 5:13ff). We encouraged one another, a little bit of heaven came down, and A.W. Tozer’s words were realised, ‘We need never to shout across the spaces to an absent God. He is nearer than our own soul. Closer than our most secret thoughts.’ In that hour God imparted to us all a remarkable spirit of unity, peace and joy.

Still chatting and laughing at a few wise-cracks from one cheerful brother, we ‘coincidentally’ met a young man passing by while walking a dog. The merry brother, trying to help find a home for a beautiful puppy on behalf of one of us, jokingly asked him if he wanted another dog. His reply was negative, but his comment was interesting, ‘What have you folk been up to? You look so energised by the Spirit… have you been in a Bible study?’ ‘No,’ we replied, ‘a prayer meeting!’ Turns out he’s a fellow-believer, a South African expat from New Zealand, living in Auckland. Melanie and I pricked up our ears because our youngest daughter and family will be leaving within the next month to settle in Auckland. Our friend offered to help them settle in, if needed, and kindly offered his telephone number. He gave us some sage advice to pass on to our children in terms of settling into a foreign city and country. Now what were the chances, in terms of timing, etc?!

The rest of Saturday was spent in taking our energetic grandsons to the beach to paddle in the rock pools, followed by watching a  game of rugby on TV, a national disease amongst many South Africans. On Sunday morning we met in our home for our weekly house church gathering. Young and old discussed something raised during the week, viz. God’s ‘bigger picture’ for his people. Yes, as trumpeted all over the world from many anthropocentric pulpits, ‘God has a plan for your life!’ ‘You are the centre of the universe. Your personal happiness, fulfilment and success is paramount to God!’ Really?? Tragically, such believers have missed ‘the bigger picture,’ viz. that at the end of the day God’s purpose, while including us, is essentially about his Son and his glorification as King of creation! A simple reading of Eph. 1-3, Col. 1, Phil. 2 and Rev. 21-22 among many other passages makes that abundantly clear. The apostle Paul writes so magnificently and Christo-centrically to the church in Colosse threatened by Gnosticism etc (Col. 1:16-17/NT), ‘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 the creation together.’ I have moved in many church circles in my life-time – would it be true to say that many, perhaps most, believers just don’t ‘get it?!’ The psalmist exclaims (Ps. 115:1), ‘Not to us, O LORD, not to us but to your name be the glory, because of your love and faithfulness.’ (cf on this theme DeVern Fromke’s ‘Ultimate Intention’)

We are grateful to say that seemingly all in our group, through the revelation of God’s Spirit, once more got ‘the bigger picture.’ It directly influenced our prayers afterward as we interceded for local and global ministries and needs. We spoke of a new appreciation of ‘the Lord’s Prayer’ in Mt. 6 (cf ‘The Prayer That Spans the World,’  Helmut Thielicke):  the focus is on our Father, who is in heaven, whose name deserves to be hallowed, whose kingdom needs to come (fully) and whose will needs to be done on earth as it is in heaven – only then do our communal and personal needs feature (in this regard one person testified to the helpfulness, some years ago, of Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ sermon-series on the Beatitudes). One can’t look at the living God and his ultimate intention in Christ, and remain the same – impossible!

Sunday afternoon was spent quietly at home, with time to refresh and reflect, before tackling the new week. May God richly bless you and your community, wherever in the world, as you spend ‘every day with Jesus!’

PS. When Moses came down Mt. Sinai to share God’s law with the people, we read that he was unaware that his face was ‘radiant’ because he had spoken with the LORD (Ex. 34:29ff). Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones in his Joy Unspeakable (The Baptism of the Holy Spirit) recounts how during the Isle of Lewis revival of 1939, meetings were held not so much in chapels but in houses. A believer invited a disinterested friend along to one of the house prayer meetings. She wasn’t keen to go but was at last persuaded. ‘She failed to get in once or twice because of the crowd but eventually succeeded in getting in. And the thing that led to her conversion was the sight of a little child in that house. The woman suddenly saw the face of this child shining, and that was the means of her conviction of sin, her need of a Saviour, her salvation and her being filled with the Spirit.’ You just never know what God can do in the marketplace with a face that is shining with the Presence…

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HIDDEN TREASURE

Recently there was a BBC report of an extremely rare Ferrari found in a French barn, covered and forgotten under a pile of magazines for almost fifty years. Now to any of my respected women readers, for some of us crazy men, Italian cars (Ferrari, Maserati) and motorbikes (Ducati, Aprilia) are works of art vying with a Monet painting or Michelangelo sculpture. Mind you, the closest I’ve I’ll ever get to a Ferrari is my 2005 Italian Fiat cheapy! Coming back to the Ferrari in the barn, it was an extremely rare Blue California Spider, one of only thirty-seven ever made, once owned by the French Actor Alain Delon, and sold at a recent Paris auction for $ 16 million! (I can almost hear my name being scribbled down on prayer lists…)

In that NT chapter jam-packed with fascinating stories and puzzles, Mt. 13, Jesus the Master story-teller shares a two-sentence puzzle with any would-be followers (he prefaced it with a solemn, “Are you listening to this? Really listening?”): “God’s kingdom is like a treasure hidden in a field for years and then suddenly found by a trespasser. The finder is ecstatic – what a find! – and proceeds to sell everything he owns to raise money and buy that field!” (v.43-44, MSG).

Throughout his gospel-account, Matthew carries the story of ‘the kingdom of heaven’:  in fact, he refers to it some thirty-three times! Why? Because the Master was always talking about it, it was his central message. By ‘the kingdom of God’ Jesus meant, not the longed-for political kingdom of Second Temple Judaism, but rather God’s sovereign intervention of righteousness and peace through his Christ, a present reality and future hope for all who believe. He meant by it that realm in which God’s will is as perfectly done on earth as it is in heaven (Mt. 6:10). What Jesus is saying in 13:43-44 is that it is worth anything in all the world to enter, share in, live in and proclaim that kingdom! Ultimately the kingdom is, as Peter discovered, the King himself, i.e. ‘the Christ, the Son of the living God’ (Mt. 16:16). To summarise, no earthly aim, ambition, habit, pleasure, material thing, position, prestige, relationship, friendship, way of life or honour can compete with the urgent, present and future glory of Jesus’ kingdom. NT scholar Floyd Filson wrote, ‘It is wisdom to surrender everything else to obtain the joy and privilege of sharing in the Kingdom.’ 

Does our profession of faith and our lifestyle reflect this ‘selling everything’ to buy Matthew’s ‘hidden treasure?’ Earlier Jesus himself had said, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven… For where you treasure is your heart will be also” (Mt. 6:19-21). As one Keswick speaker put it, “Before we can pray ‘Thy kingdom come’ we must pray ‘My kingdom go.’ What rules us as those who bear Christ’s name? Or better, who rules us? What constrained people like James Hudson Taylor to give up all for the salvation of the Chinese people and Mother Theresa for the poor of India? Better, who constrained them? Make no mistake, the kingdom is something to be proclaimed, not sat upon:  when Jesus was indicating ‘the signs of the end of the age,’ he added At that time many will turn from the faith… the love of most will grow cold, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.’ Sadly, these days folk who have a genuine concern for the salvation of the lost and the needs of the poor are labelled old-fashioned, ‘religious’ and social do-gooder’s:  what if they are not driven by guilt and duty but compelled by Christ’s reconciling love? (2 Cor. 5:14ff).

How do our faith-communities shape up in the light of Mt. 13:44? When planning a local world missions conference last year (2014) the organising committee was hard pushed to come up with the name of one preacher/congregation in our city of 1.5 million people and many hundreds of congregations where one would be guaranteed to regularly hear ‘the gospel of the kingdom’ and the name ‘Jesus.’ Self-fulfilment and self-improvement courses aplenty, pop psychology, principles of godliness and success, the ‘gospel’ of prosperity, justification by faith alone (for which I am eternally grateful to Martin Luther), ‘what you need is sound doctrine’ (if information changes people, why do so many medical doctors smoke?), morality, the ten commandments, our ‘Hebrew roots’ (I am eternally grateful to that Jew from Nazareth) and a Torah life-style, evangelicals’ ‘you didn’t get it right (i.e. living for Jesus) the first time, just try harder,’ etc. Yes, all these, but ‘the gospel/good news’ of the kingdom?’ The apostle Paul exclaimed ‘if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ…’ (2 Cor. 5:17-18). And then there is his vision of a totally and gloriously restored creation! (Rom. 8:18-25) (cf. Rev. 21 & 22).

O to discover, or re-discover (as I did, by sheer grace, some years ago) the ‘hidden treasure of the kingdom!’ A few nights ago, half-way between consciousness and sleep, I thought of Charles Wesley and the ecstacy he must have felt when he penned

‘O for a thousand tongues to sing

My dear Redeemer’s praise,

The glories of my God and King,

The triumphs of His grace!

——-

Jesus! the name that charms our fears,

That bids our sorrows cease;

‘Tis music in the sinner’s ears,

‘Tis life and health and peace.

——-

He speaks, and, listening to His voice,

New life the dead receive,

The mournful, broken hearts rejoice,

The humble poor believe.

——-

My gracious Master and my God,

Assist me to proclaim,

To spread through all the earth abroad

The honours of Thy name!’

THE SPREADING FLAME

Hebrews 12:29, ‘for our God is a consuming fire’  Luke 12:49, ‘I have come to bring fire on the earth’

In my last blog (Times of Refreshing from the Lord) I wrote of meeting some ‘organic church’ leaders in Cape Town, hearing their story of what God is doing in the suburbs and townships of the Mother City, and feeling prompted to invite one of them to share his personal journey with our organic church network in Port Elizabeth. That visit took place this past weekend.  About thirty of us gathered in the Hattingh’s ultra-spacious Summerstrand home on the Saturday with forty plus on the Sunday. We inter-acted very informally, sharing in some profound moments together. ‘Brother F’ gave input from the Scriptures and personal experience, which inspired and challenged each one, young and old, from the well-off to the poorest of the poor. Many thanks to the many who prayed for this event, both in South Africa and around the world – your prayers were abundantly answered! Herewith some ‘snippets’ of the weekend…

F shared the early beginnings of God’s dealings with him. As a young man from a non-Christian home he used to go and pray for hours on end in the bush adjoining Kwanobuhle (Uitenhage). One unforgettable day, during one of these prayer times, God fell on him with ‘tangible fire,’ imparting a vision of fire spreading everywhere. In 2003, finding no answers in local churches (in fact only misunderstanding and rejection), he broke with the institutional church to heed God’s command to ‘go to the nations.’ In this journey God directed him to Cape Town where he knew nobody, however he sensed that God’s fire would begin there and eventually spread from the southern tip of Africa to Cairo, Jerusalem and all the earth.

When I first met F, I challenged him about the Eastern Cape, not knowing that God was already busy! In 2014 he had been offered a trip to Zambia and Cairo, but while busy preparing his visa he felt pressed to decline in order to visit his ‘Jerusalem,’ to start the fire in the communities’ of Uitenhage and Port Elizabeth before being released to the nations.

Meanwhile in Cape Town, beginning in Gugulethu and continuing on into Philiphi, Harare and Khayelitsha, the Good News of the Kingdom was taken from house to house, community to community. While being unfamiliar with the organic church movement around the world, God was busy using F in accordance with its most basic fundamentals, viz. the headship of Christ, the proclamation of the kingdom, the priesthood of believers, meeting from house to house (Acts 2ff), and signs accompanying the proclamation of the Kingdom. People were converted, various ailments were miraculously healed, ‘shebeen queens’ (illegal liquor and witchcraft outlets) were delivered from the demonic, marriages were healed and homes filled with God’s glory, a community development centre was opened, and so on. In one instance in Harare Township a young boy who was lame and had a dumb spirit was instantly healed, beginning to play and talk with the other children. In it all, no glory was taken for themselves but given to God alone.

F touched on his prophetic journey. He personally does not claim to be a prophet but God has graciously used him prophetically, speaking through a vivid picture perhaps, or a word of knowledge (it is interesting that he was prayed for earnestly by godly prophetic grandparents over many years, that he might follow in their train: note parents/grandparents). In our discussions we agreed that God can use anyone to bring a prophetic word, as the occasion requires.

What about leadership? In a township context one has to understand the culture of leadership by the chief/induna: it’s a one-man leadership style, and the subjects must simply follow. People are always seeking a Messiah or a Moses or a ‘Man of God’ who will lead them into the Promised Land [see my blog critiquing ‘Prophet’ TB Joshua of Nigeria, ‘So What Makes a Prophet?’]. In the organic church in Cape Town all leadership bows to Christ as Head (Col. 1) and is in its essence ‘servant leadership’ (Jn. 13).

Regarding ‘the Kingdom message’… F pointed out how this was the focus of Jesus from beginning to end, i.e. the Messianic King and his domain: Mt. 4:17, Mt. 24:14, Lk. 4:43, etc. I found one sentence challenging, i.e. regarding our role in the kingdom, ‘Before we can become custodians to the keys of the Kingdom, we must have an encounter with the King of this precious kingdom and experience the Kingdom.’ On the Sunday morning we spent a brief time worshipping the Lord, and then under the Spirit’s prompting, prayerfully laid hands on a number of folk with different medical conditions – God’s presence was powerfully evident among us, and we look forward to hearing the testimonies of those prayed for in the months ahead. All was conducted without ‘histrionics,’ everything took place quietly, sensitively and in order (1 Cor. 14).

While we ran out of time and did not deal with the ‘Cape to Cairo’ vision, herewith some pointers from F’s notes:

  • God is visiting South Africa in many ways, but presently he is not using the strategies of the past, he is doing ‘a new thing.’
  • The coming revival will not be man-made or ‘organised’ but will break out in small gatherings and groups on the ground.
  • God is no longer using the ‘one-man model’ of an Elijah (1 Kings 19) to bring down the fire. He is busy raising up the hidden 7,000 who have not bowed the knee to Baal.
  • This fire is not going to be the ‘big ball of fire’ that is in one place but will be like little fires spreading across the country, combining to become a spreading fire across the land.

Three final, personal impressions on the part of my wife and myself:

  • We were encouraged by the maturity of our local believers as they participated in the weekend activities: great questions asked, insights and scriptures shared, spontaneous song, serving one another, talking to one another (there were many cultures present), encouraging, exhorting, breaking bread, etc – a taste of NT church life as described in Acts 2:42ff, 1 Cor. 14:26ff, Heb. 10:19ff.
  • Organic groups must avoid becoming in-grown, with ‘birds of a feather flocking together.’ We must reach out to believers different to ourselves, especially to those broken people outside of the Church who need him most [cf an excellent blog, Beware the homogenization of church life,  http://www.insearchofthecity.com/ ]
  • Unlike the consumerist attitude in traditional churches (‘feed me, pastor’) each one must take responsibility for his/her own spiritual life. Each branch must see to it that it remains connected to the life-giving Vine (Jn. 15). To change the metaphor, yesterday I was buying a roast chicken for supper at a supermarket. While the lady at the counter was packaging the hot chicken, I decided I would have a sandwich to keep me going until the evening. I asked for the cheese and salami sandwich pack on display, and she just stared at me. Only then did I realise that there was no glass between me and the sandwich pack, all I had to do was reach out and take it!

As I write, the Cape Peninsula is on fire with enormous, life-threatening veld fires. The destruction is enormous, but this kind of fire must happen every decade or so to burn out the old ‘fynbos’ and resurrect the seed underground, producing the kind of flora that wins the Chelsea Flower Show in England year after year! God’s cleansing fire is painful, but the resulting renewal is out of this world. Pursue and spread God’s fire, wherever you are and no matter how insignificant you feel – God is abundantly faithful.