‘To him who has the Son, Scripture is an open book!’

(Martin Luther)*

‘Mamzo’ is the isiXhosa (one of South Africa’s 11 languages) for ‘Mum.’ It’s given to a dear and honoured Mum (or Gran), as with Mary, Mum of Jesus and his siblings. Mary would have fought tooth and nail against kind of veneration – she believed Yahweh alone deserved that honour. Yet Mamzo Mary teaches us much as Jesus’ disciples (apprentices).

A young Jewish virgin between twelve and fifteen, Mary was engaged to a salted and respected Nazareth carpenter-builder, Joseph.

Luke, the physician-historian (1), gives us a glimpse of God’s mighty intervention in young Mary’s life through the angel Gabriel: “Confused and disturbed, Mary tried to think what the angel could mean. ‘Don’t be afraid, Mary… you have found favor with God! You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be very great and will be called the Son of the Son of the Most High…'” (Lk. 1:26ff/NLT). Wow! These words vibrate with other-worldly majesty, mystery and purity. At the end of the exchange between Mary and Gabriel, she simply and remarkably responds, ‘I am the Lord’s servant. May everything you have said about me come true’ (v. 38). Now put yourself in ‘her sandals’ for a moment, then accelerate to 2021 and Christendom’s degeneration to ‘what can you do for ME’ instead of ‘I am at YOUR disposal, my Lord and King!’

Next Luke records ‘The Magnificat,’ ‘Mary’s Song of Praise’ (1:46-55). Obviously Mary had a poetic gift, inspired by God’s Spirit – take a moment just to soak in her magnificent words (perhaps from a good Bible version/paraphrase you’re not used to)…

All climaxes in the actual birth of Jesus (2:1ff), the angel of the Lord visiting the shepherds in the Bethlehem fields, the armies of heaven singing ‘Glory to God in highest heaven,’ followed by the shepherds’ rushing off to see the baby (and afterward publishing their findings far and wide)… By sharp contrast, Mary ‘kept all these things in her heart and thought about them often’ (2:19/NLT). Or, ‘Mary kept all these things to herself, holding them dear, deep within herself” (MSG). These words reveals a pensive, deep-thinking lass to say the least! You know, there are sometimes words and events, so sacred in our experience, that they compel us to silence and contemplation before sharing them with others. Today we’re familiar with so many highly publicized, dramatic ‘conversion-stories’ of music and sports and movie celebrities, lasting just a few months or short years before their behaviour or words betray them. The 17th century French mystic Francois Fenelon said, ‘When God deals with your old nature He heads straight for the center of all that you hold most dear. Allow Him to bring you the cross in the very center of who you are. Don’t grumble and become agitated when the process starts: Silence and peace will help you much more than being upset.’

Some years later, following Joseph and Mary’s 12 year old’s staggering Passover dialogue with the temple leaders and his parents’ frantic search for him, ‘he returned to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them. And his mother stored all these things in her heart.’ (2:41-52). ‘His mother held all these things dearly, deep within herself.’ (v. 51/MSG)

While, as far as we know, Mary didn’t accompany Jesus on his missionary journeys (too busy serving the family?), she surely followed him in her daily thoughts and prayers. Notice e.g. Mary and Jesus’ intimate, even playful interaction at a wedding feast in Cana (Jn. 2:1-11): Jesus is not being disrespectful when he addresses her as gunai, often rendered ‘woman,’ but saying something like ‘Hold on, Mom dear…’ When touring Israel, our Israeli guide described Mary’s attitude as typical of a Jewish mom showing off her son, i.e. ‘My son can do anything!’ And he really could and did, turning water into sparkling wine, among many other greater things!

From the example of Mary, we learn 3 valuable lessons (the Good News is more corporate than individual):

1) The importance of Internalizing the Word. Mary from her childhood had learned to ‘soak in’ the Hebrew Scriptures. In my country, Afrikaners love to dip a rusk in coffee, soaking up the coffee and enjoying the softened rusk. This internalizing of the truth is threatened today by the horrific 24/7 bombardments of social media! Rose, one of our house church members, recently taught us how to engage in daily ‘thought-prayers,’ turning our meditations into short praises and petitions to God (2).

2) The importance of Externalizing the Word. Mary, from the beginning, probably unwittingly, became an evangelist of the Living Word. After all, her testimonies formed one of the key ‘primary sources’ of the evangelists. She spoke the Gospel in word and deed. Where are our gifted evangelists today, I often wonder?? (Eph. 4:11) And how urgently do we need every believer’s life and way to speak of the magnificent Saviour in these days of ugliness, confusion and fear! Have we learned to put our ‘lamp on a lamp-stand’ for all the world to see, the shining the result of careful ‘listening’ to the Scriptures?? (cf. Lk. 8:16-18)

3) The importance of Serving the Word. Mary’s whole life became one of humble and obedient servanthood to her son and Saviour (Lk. 2:46ff), including her fellow-followers and community. She’s found at the Cross (Jn. 19:25), her second major bereavement, Joseph having died earlier. She’s found in the assembly praying for the coming of the promised Spirit (Acts 1:12-14). Faithful to the very end.

By way of practical application, two lessons:

(a) ‘Key’ to the disciple’s and ecclesia’s life today is the attitude of our heart toward God. At all times it should be, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ (Lk. 18:13-14/Parable of the Pharisee and Tax Collector). Do we reverence Jesus? How do we speak to/of him? Do we willingly submit all to his Person? The Wisdom writers advise us: ‘Guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life’ (Prov. 4:23/NIV). Even better, ”Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flows the springs of your life.’ (NRSV).

(b) Believers, corporately and individually, learn to take time with the Word: as a run-of-the-mill believer, a particular verse/passage, illuminated by the Spirit, can charm me for weeks on end! After soaking it up, I usually share it with our house church for corporate enrichment. In this way God’s Word sinks in so profoundly that it becomes part and parcel of our everyday life, whether we realize it or not.


* Cf. Quote from Rob Stroud’s recent post ‘Out of Context,’ blogged under ‘Mere Inkling Press.’

(1) To grasp the Evangelists’ differing birth narratives, see Dr. Ian Paul’s blog dated 15/12/21 under Psephizo and the article by James Bejon of Tyndale House. E.g. Matthew’s narrative presents Jesus as a Moses-like leader, Luke’s as a Samuel-like servant.

(2) With this insight, you’ll read Jesus’ renowned Parable of the Farmer Scattering Seed (Lk. 8:4-21) very differently, for it reveals degrees of ‘hearing’ (CS Lewis spoke of the simplicity yet complexity of the Christian message): the term ‘listen/hear’ is mentioned 6 times in the passage. When Mary and the family later ask for Jesus, who had been swamped by the crowds, he gave this unique definition of ‘family’ (not in a derogatory way): ‘My mother and my brothers are all those who hear God’s word and obey it.’

(3) Here in Mandela Bay, in the early 1990’s, God through Pr. David Thomson of Argentina gave our metro pastors a city-wide vision of the Kingdom. After the talk, David challenged a core-group of leaders to remain behind, pleading with us not to talk about this revelation for a good number of months: sadly (I believe), we lost much of the impetus of that vision through some not taking that call seriously. [Ed Silvoso’s ‘Harvest Evangelism’ & ‘That None Should Perish’ tell the transformation stories of Resistencia, San Nicolas and Mar del Plata in Argentina. For interest’s sake, the vision had 5 critical paradigms: discipling nations; reclaiming the market-place; seeing work as worship; being salt and light; eliminating poverty]

Resistencia Chaco Argentina Stock Photo | Adobe Stock

[Resistencia, Argentina]


[From addressing the global ecology and Islamic mindset we turn to some practical applications]

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Some time or another, believers are constrained by Christ’s love to ‘step out of their comfort zones’ to follow their Master into a turbulent world: ‘If you want to walk on water, get out of the boat!’ (John Ortberg) Hence I dare you to step out of the boat with me – a very scary (I’m in my 70’s) but rewarding experience…

Where does Christ’s mission-mandate rate in your personal life and local assembly? Is it central or peripheral? A recent missions training-day in my city highlighted several practical issues:

a) The training could have benefited from the fact that the Gospel/’Good News’ commences, not with Gen. 3 and the ‘fall’ (however important) but with the beauty of God’s person, creation and communitas in Gen. 1-2. How many popular ‘gospel presentations’ fail this test?

b) I was arrested by the statement, ‘mission is God’s pathway to maturity:’ “After calling the crowd together with his disciples, Jesus said to them, ‘All who want to come after me must say no to themselves, take up their cross, and follow me. All who want to save their lives will lose them. But all those who lose their lives because of me and because of the good news will save them'” (Mk. 8:34-35/CEB). Every time I hear these familiar (over-familiar?) words, I’m ‘undone!’ Jesus’ balance between the inward and outward journey scrutinizes our claims to maturity, both individually and corporately.

c) In contrast to the OT’s largely selective anointing of prophets, priests and kings, we should be struck by the NT’s major, ‘game-changing’ drum-roll of the Spirit poured out on all people for the sake of the Kingdom (Acts 2:17-18). Note the apostle Paul’s clear statement in 2 Cor. 5:17-20, ‘Therefore, 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 and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ… 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!’ ‘Reconciliation’ appears 5x, ‘us’ 4x! How wrong the Calvinistic Strict Baptist Fraternal in the late 1700’s got it when newly-ordained Englishman William Carey rose to plead the cause of world mission: an older minister interrupted,“Young man, sit down! You are an enthusiast. When God pleases to convert the heathen, he’ll do it without consulting you or me!” Thank God Carey ignored the silly old man. He went on to serve in India for 41 years at great personal cost, translating the NT into Bengali and earning the legacy ‘The Father of Modern Missions!’ (1)

d) We noted the amazing growth of the Early Church, when persecution and mission was ‘normal Christianity.’ Take the story of the little Thessalonian assembly, ‘The Lord’s message rang out from you, not only in Macedonia and Achaia – your faith in God has become known everywhere!” (1 Thess. 1:8-9) Interestingly, subsequent to Christianity becoming the state religion under Constantine, the NT ecclesia drastically faded in life, power and mission, for centuries! Over the past 200 years, ‘Christianity’ has once more become a global force, although the challenges are enormous: with approximately 6.5 billion people strangers to Jesus and some 714 local churches for every 1 un-reached people group. What does this say about the state of the Church today? The seminar suggested that the task is do-able in a generation, ‘If we get back to what God intended Christianity to be from the beginning – a movement of the Spirit!’ (Zech. 4:6-7).

e) On the Church being an ‘organism that is organized,’ I would personally counsel against over-organization which throttles it’s very life!

f) The seminar submitted that in addition to the biblical metaphors of body, family, etc, we may add contemporary metaphors like hospital, refueling station or even an airport/a rail terminal facilitating God’s people on their outward journey.

g) The ideal is for every congregation (or network of congregations) to reach a ‘critical mass’ in mission:

I relate my ragamuffin missions-story. I was raised in a nominal Christian home, at age 14 Christ graciously encountered me, resulting in my new birth and simultaneous call to preach. Besides my Bible, the first two books I read were ‘Teach Yourself Preaching’ (sigh) and James Hudson-Taylor’s story ‘The Man Who Believed God.I confess to losing the plot somewhat in High School due to academic and sporting pursuits. However the Lord graciously restored my sense of call during my first year of training as a chemical engineer. After 3 years of study and work, I was privileged to undergo 4 years of excellent theological training, an anonymous party sponsoring all my accommodation and tuition fees. Again I confess to somewhat neglecting my missional sharp-edge during my first two pastorates, but God patiently disturbed me in the 3rd and 4th. A North American, David Bliss, came to South Africa in the late 80’s to revive the message of Dr. Andrew Murray and his trumpet-call to ‘prayer, revival and mission.’ David Bliss and a prayer-warrior David Mniki from the Transkei brought their shared burden to the Eastern Cape. This was followed by two decades of annual city-wide conferences in Port Elizabeth under the banner of Bless the Nations, monthly ‘concerts of prayer,’ a ‘lay’ missions school I was privileged to lead, etc. During that move, our local congregation and others in our Metro gained, under God, the required ‘critical mass’ for outreach locally and abroad. In co-operation with various missions agencies, our congregation was able to to send missionaries into various parts of South Africa, the Middle East (Turkey and Cyprus) and South America, including a church-plant among the un-reached Quechua/Morochucos in the high Peruvian Andes. Other congregations in our city commissioned missionaries to Northern Mozambique, Egypt, Russia, Uzbekistan, Thailand, Japan, etc.

Let me conclude by honouring David Bliss’s erstwhile professor of evangelism at Gordon-Conwell Seminary, Dr. Christy Wilson, veteran missionary from Afghanistan and speaker at one of our earlier conferences.

Where No One Has Heard: The Life of J. Christy Wilson Jr.: Wilson, Ken:  9780878086313: Books

At this time my wife and I had been considering a possible missionary career in Malawi. Providentially, we hosted the saintly and prayerful Dr. Christy Wilson in our home. What a man of prayer! After sharing our interest in Malawi with him, he wisely challenged us to instead motivate world missions pastorally. God kindly gave us a measure of success in this regard. I share this story to show that even a Joe Soap believer like me or small assembly can impact our world for the Kingdom!

Are you and am I, and our church-family, willing to follow Jesus into his world, even if it means ‘taking our little candle and running to the darkness?’ (cf. song below) With such a scary step comes Christ’s personal assurance ‘I am with you always,’ to the end of the age! (Mt. 28:20)

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(1) On the other hand, what about the pre-Reformation Bohemian martyr, Johannes Hus, and the subsequent 18th century Moravian revival movement in Herrnhut Germany, which did more for global mission than the Church world-wide? By 24/7 prayer alone, they sent missionaries to Greenland, the West Indies (selling themselves into slavery for Jesus’ sake), the USA and even my native South Africa.