MAMZO MARY

‘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.

FOOTNOTES:

* 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]

MISSIO DEI (FOLLOWING JESUS INTO THE WORLD, PT. 4)

[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: Amazon.com: 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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FOOTNOTES:

(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.

MISSIO DEI (FOLLOWING JESUS INTO THE WORLD, PT 3)

‘Knowledge of God is not an escape into the safe heights of pure ideas, but an entry into the need of the present world, sharing its suffering, its activity and its hope!’ (Karl Barth)

Allow me to put before you two very different but necessary mission challenges, as we continue to follow Jesus into the world…

1) The Challenge of Our World Ecology…

God is involved with the world he created, and so must we be. We need to appreciate not only God’s transcendence but his immanence.

Evangelical Christians’ neglect of things ecological is notorious. Decades ago I read Francis Schaeffer’s ‘Pollution and the Death of Man: The Christian view of Ecology’ (publ. 1970). In it he explained that humankind is separate from nature in that all people were ‘made in God’s image’ (Gen. 1:27), yet people are united to all other creatures as being created. They are interwoven into the web of life, related to and dependent upon every other living member of the ecosystem.

The Bible seems to indicate that the world will end in ‘fire:’ ”But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by (‘dissolved with’/NRSV) fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare … But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness” (2 Pet. 3:10 & 13/NIV). Closer examination reveals that the word ‘fire’ also means to cauterize or purify. Similarly, the phrase ‘laid bare’ means to be ‘discovered.’ The argument is that the world will be ‘purified’ at the end of the age and ‘discovered’ by those in Christ in a new earth. This interpretation at least makes sense of the Bible’s many hopeful statements about the world’s future, promising the earth’s liberation from bondage (Rom. 8:18-24) and it’s becoming a place where there will be no more mourning or crying or pain, for the first things have passed away (Rev. 21:1-5) (1).

Pauline expert Prof. Tom Wright in his ‘Surprised by Hope’ has written,“When God ‘saves’ in this life, by working through his Spirit to bring them to faith, and by leading them to follow Jesus in discipleship, prayer, holiness, hope and love, such people are designed – it isn’t too strong a word – to be a sign and foretaste of what God wants to do for the entire cosmos. What’s more, such people are not just to be a sign and foretaste of that ultimate ‘salvation’; they are to be part of the means by which God makes this happen in both the present and the future. That is what Paul insists on when he says that the whole creation is waiting with eager longing – not just for its own redemption, its liberation from corruption and decay, but for God’s children to be revealed: i.o.w. for the unveiling of those redeemed humans through whose stewardship, creation will at last be brought back into that wise order for which it was made.”

I wasn’t aware that William Wilberforce, who fought so hard for the abolition of slavery and the protection of children, also helped found the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA). If we each learn to ‘do our bit’ in our environment, as a family and faith group, great beauty can be restored to our earth, both now and in the future. What practical steps will you and I take in this regard??

2) The Challenge of the Islamic World… (1 out of every 4 people on earth is Muslim)

The world is still reeling from the Taliban’s recent invasion of Kabul in Afghanistan. CS Lewis wisely said, ‘If we are to convert our neighbours, we must understand their culture!’

For decades there’s been a huge neglect of Muslim evangelism, for different reasons. I was blessed during my formal pastoral days to have an astute missionary to Muslims serving on our eldership-board – he helped us keep in touch with the Islamic world and its needs.

Before we can influence Muslims, there are some huge issues that demand urgent addressing. I refer to a recent article, ‘Learnings From Kabul,’ by Dr. Daniel Shayesteh, a former radical Ayatollah-supporter from N. Iran (2). He writes that the fall of Kabul challenges the Western Church to ‘torrid self-examination.’ We in the West have to grasp that for radical Sunni Muslims, particularly, ‘democracy’ = ‘Christianity’ = licentious moral values. During the same period Islam resumed extremism, Western democracy has been fragmenting and declining in every way. From a nurturing ‘shelter’ for Christian beliefs, standards, attitudes and values, Western societies have increasingly become, not only non-Christian, but anti-Christian and aggressively secular, permissive, even pagan. Repeatedly the Church has flirted with emerging social and moral trends, embracing political correctness and affirmative action. The beautiful Gospel of Jesus has, in many places, been gutted, leaving an empty shell that has no authority to speak into its surrounding culture. Furthermore, many ‘Christians’ have embraced ‘moderate Islam’ through ‘ecumenism’ and ‘multi-faith’ events. Thus we have lost our capacity to discern good from evil, truth from heresy and God’s purposes from the wiles of the devil. ‘Sadly, the church now rarely speaks convincingly into its world. On the contrary, in many places it self-consciously teeters on the edge of extinction.’ How did this happen? According to Shayesteh, like with ancient Israel, it occurred as millions of believers ‘went to sleep at the wheel.’ They accommodated the godlessness of the surrounding nations and ‘did evil in the sight of the Lord.’ “Our world is in crisis because all of us incrementally compromise day in and day out. I find myself doing it. I’m reminded all too frequently of Rom. 12:2: of the world ‘squeezing us,’ molding us into the evils of the culture that surrounds us.” So, are you and I, and our faith-communities, willing to prayerfully repent before the Lord? Only then can we begin to impact our Muslim neighbours evangelistically, even those brought to our very doorstep. God created them in his image and Jesus died for them also, didn’t he!? They desperately need the message of God’s unconditional love in Jesus. (3)

[Keep posted for Pt. 4 of Missio Dei]

FOOTNOTES:

(1) Prof. HL Ellison, writing in the late 60’s, comments on 2 Pet. 3: ‘We shall always be plagued by those who insist on finding in Scripture what is not there… So we are told that v. 10 (together with v. 7 & 12) refer to the blowing up of the earth by a nuclear explosion… Such an idea has its place in science fiction but not in sober Biblical exposition. The earth is God’s, and neither Satan nor men can destroy it. What man’s puny A and H bombs have shown is that God can burn up the world by using natural law as easily as He destroyed life on it by water.’ Cf. British scholar Ian Paul’s excellent post ‘Which matters most: sin or climate change?’ (a false dichotomy): https://www.psephizo.com scrutiny

(2) Cf. https://dialogos.co.za/learnings-from-kabul

(3 The story of Nabeel Qureshi makes a brilliant read: ‘Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus.’ Cf. The conversion of Al Fadi, Saudi Arabian Wahabbi Muslim and former Jihadist: https://youtu.be/6az_5mGa3QA

MISSIO DEI (FOLLOWING JESUS INTO THE WORLD, PT. 2)

A Sunday Without Church: In Crisis, a Nation Asks, 'What Is Community?' -  The New York Times
The Universal Priesthood of the Baptized - Light Of Truth

Part 2. What kind of congregation (ecclesia) can effectively journey with God into his world??

According to sociologist Prof. Josh Packard (University of N. Colorado) in his 2015 ‘Church Refugees,’ well over 30 million committed believers in the USA have left the institutional Church in recent years: ‘While everyone’s story is unique, there are some common tensions that emerge among the dechurched. They wanted community… and got judgment. They wanted to affect the life of the church … and got bureaucracy. They wanted conversation… and got doctrine. They wanted meaningful engagement with the world… and got moral prescription.’

Prof. Philip Jenkins (Baylor & Pennsylvania State Universities) in his 2002 ‘The Next Christendom: The Coming of Global Christianity,’ has argued that the greatest movement of the past century was not communism or capitalism but Spirit-filled Christianity. He estimated that in 20 years, two-thirds of all Christians will live in Africa, Latin America or Asia (because the Bible is alive in these continents). He foresaw, in 20-30 years, a 25% ‘Christian’ China (1).

Oikos Australia reports (Nov. 2021) many traditional churches considering other ways of ‘doing church.’ Oikos promotes simple church, focusing on disciple-making in households and multiplication across the nation. In one town, groups are meeting in the town gardens, reading the Bible and praying together, over a shared picnic lunch. Sounds awfully ‘NT’ to me!?

We have missionary friends in N. India. There also, under the Spirit’s reviving, the Good News is spreading from town to town through small groups of ‘simple’ believers ‘gossiping the Gospel’ and baptizing those newly won to Christ.

Recently I attended a Simply Mobilizing Interface Seminar, which reported that 16,000 believers have undergone their extensive discipleship/church-planting training in the Philippines, with the result that these islands now boast one of the greatest church-planting ‘movements’ in the world. This organization reports that the non-Western world now represents about 80% of all evangelicals world-wide.

Chinese Church Support Ministry confirmed a few weeks ago that the Chinese Church is growing by approx. 25,000 new believers every day.

Back in 2005 Douglas Banister published his ‘God On Earth’: ‘The ChurchA Hard Look at the Real Life of Faith.‘ Banister (Gordon-Conwell & University of Tennessee graduate) alerted us to the following:

1) ‘The church is not a machine or an institution. The church is alive, a living cell, organic, chaotic, nonlinear…’ Hmmm…

2) To use a precarious metaphor, the early church was organized like today’s al Qaeda terrorist networks. Contrary to popular opinion there is no ‘one great leader’ coordinating all activity from the top down in such networks. Instead, various cells within the network are interconnected like a spider web. The network has little hierarchy, and there are multiple leaders.

3) We can no longer follow the hierarchical leadership model of the military and corporate world! Personally, I see the Bible preferring an informal ‘plurality of elders’ (cf. Paul’s Pastorals) (function more important than office), leading the body horizontally (rather than top-down) through servant-leaders of Jesus’ ilk: “‘Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord – and you are right, for that is what I am. So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you ought also to wash one another’s feet… servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them'” (Jn. 13:12-17/NRSV) (2 & 3).

I recall with joy my visit to Cote d’Ivoir in West Africa some years ago. I had taken a team to meet with Pr. Dion Robert to learn from his influential cell-based congregation in Abidjan (generally I don’t favour megachurches). He and his elders were the humblest of servant-leaders. Across the front of the huge sanctuary was posted Jn. 13:17,‘If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them!’ [PS, I was privileged to share in a mass baptism (by immersion) of some 250 new, thoroughly-instructed believers. Unforgettable!] Returning to Jn. 13, I’ve seen this servant-leadership increasingly implemented in my own city over a few decades. Years ago Leighton Ford, American pastor and evangelist, called this ‘leading from within.’

Matthew 21 Jesus Cleanses the Temple Kids Bible Story | Sharefaith Kids
[Jesus has a way of upsetting the Church of the day]

How does the contemporary, largely nominal Church get to discipling all ethne? I humbly submit via repentance, revival, reformation and radical following of Jesus. It’s an historical fact that all true revival/reformation has sprung from penitent intercession of young and old, even on the part of a few (Cf. Archives Nov. 14, 2018 on ‘Revival’). By our obedience we can, under God, make a world of difference. I vividly recall meeting Happy (real name) in N.W. China. A grandmother from the USA, she chose to spend much of her time in a key university city. Almost every day she made her way up the mountain to intercede for the children living below. I was so moved by her example that I (prophetically?) called her ‘the mother of nations’ – she burst into tears, humbly accepting my accolade. On my desk there is a pink-and-white veined stone taken from Happy’s mountain. Another team member team related an experience in a Buddhist temple, where a young child followed him all over, repeatedly jumping into his arms while laughing merrily: hereby God showed him the future openness of the younger generation to the Good News!

It’s a ‘given’ that it is Christ himself who builds his Church (Mt. 16:18). Just maybe that’s precisely what he’s doing in our present world, doing it his/the early Church way? My beloved colleagues in traditional congregations agree that, following Covid, ‘church’ can never be quite the same again and that smaller is often better.

Concerning penitent intercession, may I challenge you to begin by gathering regularly with a few ‘simple’ but serious believers in interceding for God’s Church in these momentous days?? John Wesley reminded us that God does nothing redemptively, except through prayer (consider your own redemption!)

[Please look out for Parts 3 & 4 of our Missio Dei series and check the footnotes below]

FOOTNOTES:

(1) Cf. prophetic@revivalschool.com, anzac@welovegod.org Cf. TIME’S David Aikman and his ‘Jesus in Beijing’ (publ. 2006)

(2) The academically-minded, cf my MTh Dissertation,“Toward A ‘Reincarnation’ Of Church In The Twenty First Century: The Re-Emergence Of ‘House Church.” Many helpful books on ‘organic church’ are available, e.g. Frank Viola’s ‘Finding Organic Church,’ ‘Re-Imagining Church,’ ‘Pagan Christianity’ (co-authored with George Barna), etc.

(3) Cf. Wayne Jacobsen’s ‘Can Institutions Be Redemptive?’ Blog Lifestream.

MISSIO DEI (FOLLOWING JESUS INTO THE WORLD, PT. 1)

[To understand where I’m coming from in terms of Jesus, community and mission, please see my Blog ABOUT… respect to my followers who may not see these issues quite as I do, but let’s at least have an open mind and be prepared to think out of the box]

Top 3 Missio Dei Quotes & Sayings

Recently I’ve been writing on the inward journey into true worship, now it’s time to contemplate the outward journey into a lost world (Jesus certainly believed it was/is: cf. Lk. ch. 15). Worship and witness are inseparable! Consider with me the passage related by the evangelist Mark where Jesus was healing a demon-possessed man (1) who had ‘bowed low before him’ on the far side of Lake Galilee: “As Jesus was getting into the boat, the man who had been demon-possessed begged to go with him. But Jesus said, ‘No, go home to your family, and tell them everything the Lord has done for you and how merciful he has been.’ So the man started off to visit the Ten Towns and began to proclaim the great things Jesus had done for him; and everyone was amazed at what he told them” (Mk. 5:1-20, especially v. 18-20/NLT). Another very obvious link between worship and witness is found in Jesus’ ‘Great Commission’ (Mt. 28:16-20). In some ways worship and witness could be compared to believers’ breathing IN and breathing OUT – and these in balanced rhythm. Put another way, we could speak of spiritual input and spiritual output. It’s a case of balance, which is often an elusive target, for me at least!

My esteemed missiology professor, Dr. Ralph Christensen, had the habit of asking his students ‘Where is God??’ After some vague guesses on the part of his students, he would respond ‘God is going into the world!’ The celebrated South African missiologist, Dr. David Bosch, often affirmed that ‘Missiology is the Mother of Theology.’

Recently my wife and I attended a missions prayer-breakfast with Mike Burnard of Dialogos (2). With his blessing I list some of the details he shared…

A) On Displaced People (recall Jesus’ refugee experience in N. Africa: cf. Mt. 2:7-23, 8:18-22). [Have you, or people you know, had such an experience as is happening in Afghanistan right now? I’ve been stranded in foreign countries for a few days once or twice, and that was traumatic enough!]:

  • Approx. 82 million people around the world are displaced at this time, including 35 million children.
  • Most refugees are currently fleeing Syria in the Middle East, S. Sudan and Somalia in Africa, Myanmar in the Far East, and Venezuela in South America.
  • The tiny country of Lebanon, has hosted the most refugees per capita in the World: yes, they live in tents and humble conditions but at least they’re safe. Germany, under Angela Merkel, the daughter of a humble pastor with a heart for the needy, has taken in some 50,000 Syrian Muslim refugees and housed them. A spin-off is that Muslim converts are reviving ‘dead’ German congregations! (3)
  • Mike Burnard has pointed out that while fleeing, these dear folk are most open to receiving the Good News of Jesus. Mike also left us with this pearl of wisdom: treat people like refugees and they will remain refugees – treat them as those made in God’s image and they become the children of God!

B) On Afghanistan.

  • In many ways the hub of the Muslim world. Population: 39 million.
  • The average age is 26. Many of these young adults have only known war in their life-time.
  • We need to pray especially for women (hugely restricted), children and the aged.
  • The only non-Muslim country bordering Afghanistan is China, with whom trade is cherished. You may have heard of ‘The Back to Jerusalem Movement’ mentioned by TIME journalist David Aikman in his ‘Jesus In Beijing,’ referring to Chinese believers’ desire to take the Good News ‘back to Jerusalem’ via the Muslim countries of the Middle East. Mike mentioned a Chinese pastor visiting Afghanistan who was invited to explain the meaning of Christianity to a class of school children. Praise God!

C) On Covid.

  • The pandemic (4 million tragic deaths since March 2020: 38 million have now been vaccinated), among other things, has led to huge poverty and unemployment worldwide. What a ministry- opportunity for the Church in our day. In centuries past the saints were magnificent in serving plague-ridden societies, even when endangered themselves. Is. 6:8’s challenge is to one of obedience, ‘Here am I, send me!’ (Listen to the powerful song at the foot of the page)

D) On South Africa (Mike’s/my home country).

  • 20% of the population suffers daily hunger. 10-20 children die of malnutrition every day.
  • 33% are unemployed. In the Eastern Cape where I live it is nearer 40%!
  • Many opportunities for evangelizing the nations are right on our doorstep, with refugees from Zimbabwe, Somalia and the Far East coming to South Africa.

The task of mission is not only for some believers, e.g. evangelists, ‘career missionaries,’ etc, but for EVERY ONE of us wherever God has placed us (cf. Paul’s sermon in Athens and specifically Acts 17:24-28). You and I as worshipers of the living God are called and privileged to humbly and obediently follow Jesus into his world!

NB. Part 2 considers a ‘must ask:’ what kind of Church is able to complete Christ’s Great Commission in these problematic and unparalleled days? What kind of Church can journey, with God, into his world?? Many are convinced that the traditional, institutional Church as we know her, can never get the job done. So many exciting things have happened since I researched this subject for a Master’s a decade ago. E.g. in Mongolia they’re now talking of establishing heavenly families – I like that immensely, because it all started with God’s divine family (the Trinity) and his first family on earth. Once more we need ‘new wine-skins’ (Mt. 9:16-17) for the application of ancient truth, a mixture of something very new and something very old. A few weeks ago the media reported that, because of global shipping problems, there has been a shortage of glass bottles, which in turn has affected the wine industry worldwide and in South Africa: hence wine has been sitting in barrels for longer, leading to it tasting ‘like a sawmill!’ (not that I would know the difference, lol). Join me for Part 2 soon…

FOOTNOTES:

(1) In my pastoral ministry of close on 50 years, I’ve been confronted with the demonic many times. My experience is not unique but is shared by thousands working on the front-line, especially in Africa, South America and the Far East. E.g. Dr. Michael Cassidy (Cambridge and Fuller graduate), head of African Enterprise for so many years, relates many occasions where he and his team were confronted with ‘evil supernaturalism’ during their evangelistic visits to the major cities of Africa. Certainly Jesus, his disciples and the people of the 1st century AD weren’t unintelligent and naive nincompoops (consider Luke, Paul, etc) as so many ‘clever’ modern/post-modern existentialist scholars would have us believe. Surely it is sheer arrogance on our part to put Jesus of Nazareth and his early followers in some kind of ‘primitive/mythical’ box. He interprets us, not we him! (Prof. Thomas Oden, describing his journey from Bultmann’s ‘demythologization’ of the NT to Christian orthodoxy).

(2) Cf. diaLOGOS at http://www.dialogos.co.za

(3) Here’s another encouragement for those pursuing the organic way. Marcus Rose of Joel News states that 1,000 new house churches have been planted in Germany (of all places) over the past 20 years. Where there’s life, there’s hope. Especially when/where Jesus is around!

(4) For starters, see Howard Snyder’s excellent ‘Radical Renewal: The Problem Of Wineskins Today.’

THE BEAMING OF HIS BEAUTY (GUIDELINES FOR TRUE WORSHIPERS – PT. 4)

WE CONTINUE WITH THE BLESSINGS AND SPIN-OFF’S OF TRUE WORSHIP…

(4) Worship enthuses our spiritual disciplines.

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Classic Christian disciplines include Bible reading, prayer, meditation, simplicity, frugality, etc [If you want to get to know more about these, I would highly recommend the writings of Dallas Willard, especially his ‘The Divine Conspiracy’ ]. Now, it’s one thing to know these disciplines and even to attempt them, but to do so with enthusiasm and joy is a different matter! The renowned French Christian mystic, Madame Jeanne Guyon (1648-1717) indicated that when ‘fervour and desire for God’ are present in our hearts, obedience becomes so much easier. Someone leading our weekly house church gathering recently reinforced this by quoting Ps. 119:32/KJV: ‘I will run the way of Thy commandments, when Thou shalt enlarge my heart!’ (KJV). Struggling with regular Bible reading and prayer, and the other disciplines?? Ask our good Father, not so much for his blessings, as his person and presence in your innermost being! Ask until it begins to happen. Ask others in the body to pray with you in this regard.

(5) Worship creates true fellowship. I have elsewhere mentioned A.W. Tozer’s comment on 1000 pianos: when tuned to a single tuning work, they are automatically tuned to each other (1). I’ve seen this principle worked out in reality again and again in Christ-centred gatherings, of whatever kind, and there’s just nothing like it. You see, God is a fellowship within himself. He exists in a loving, self-giving community made up of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Because he is community, he creates community wherever he is received (Jn. 1:12). When we love the triune God, we spontaneously begin to experience loving koinoinia, and the world is forced to take note. This is why Jesus prayed, and continues to pray, that his followers ‘may all be one. As you Father are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me’ (Jn. 17:21/NRSV). I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but Jesus’ prayers have always tended/still tend to be answered! (2 & 3)

(6) Worship sustains us in our hardest trials. The Apostle Paul, amid his and Silas’ persecution by the Roman authorities and imprisonment in Philippi, are pictured in Acts 16:23-35 as singing hymns at midnight, albeit with battered bodies and hoarse voices! Their praises (and prayers) became earthshaking both physically and spiritually, bringing their miraculous release and the evangelization of the jailer and his extended family! The Apostle Peter, writing to the scattered and persecuted assemblies of Asia Minor, reminded them that amid their greatest sufferings, as a result of the Good News, ‘you rejoice, even if now for a little while you have had to suffer various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith … may be found to result in praise and glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed…’ (1 Pet. 1:6ff/NRSV). Even today, the hotter the fires of persecution around the globe, the deeper believers’ worship and inexplicable joy! [Some years ago in several visits to China twice, I witnessed this personally among ‘underground’ communities]

(7) Worship carries us to heaven and makes us like Jesus. Paul writes about this so beautifully in his Second Letter to the Corinthians, as he outlines their call to ‘new covenant worship’: The Government of Death, its constitution chiseled on stone tablets’ (3:7ff/MSG) can’t establish true worship and make us like Jesus, because those under the Old Covenant are still ‘veiled’ in their minds and hearts. ‘Even today when the proclamations of that old, bankrupt government are read out, they can’t see through it… Whenever, though, they turn to face God as Moses did, God removes the veil… They suddenly realize that God is a living, personal presence… And when God is personally present, a living Spirit, that old constricting legislation is recognized as obsolete. We’re free of it! All of us! Nothing between us and God, our faces shining with the brightness of his face. And so we are transfigured much like the Messiah, our lives gradually become brighter and more beautiful as God enters our lives and we become like him!’ (v. 15-18/ MSG). The Apostle John wraps up this glorious thought: ‘Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is’ (1 Jn. 3:2-3). What a statement, what a hope! (4)

In conclusion, do we really believe that, by sheer grace and obedience, all the above is possible for us, even before we enter God’s new heaven on earth? Let’s ask Paul: ‘Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit!’ (1 Cor. 3:17-18/NRSV). [One of our house church teachers pointed out how the final verse of Charles Wesley’s hymn ‘Love divine, all loves excelling’ reads, ‘Changed from glory into glory, Till in heaven we take our place; Till we cast our crowns before Thee, Lost in wonder, love and praise!’ ] It’s not only possible but desirable! My reader, do you really believe this? Do you (personally) know anything of this?? It’s not for the special few, but any and every believer, according to the promise of God!

FOOTNOTES:

(1) Please take a look at Tobie v.d. Westhuizen’s outstanding post, ‘GOD’S LITTLE PEOPLE!‘ He blogs under naturalchurch.

(2) Douglas Banister, American theologian and author, has concluded in his book ‘God On Earth’ (and I heartily agree): ‘Likewise, the church is most like God when it abandons hierarchy, power, and rank and emerges as a parallel community ordered by mutual submission, self-giving, sacrifice and love… It means we should not structure our communities according to a corporate business model or a military chain-of-command model…’ [Ironically, as I write this, our city churches are once more promoting a well-known Global Christian Leadership Conference… I believe these conferences (I attended many, with my church leadership) have largely misunderstood the NT Ekklesia and promoted a corporate-business model, often with disappointing moral and spiritual results]

(3) Concerning the trinity, Banister summarizes (cf. 4th century Gregory the Great, Gregory of Nazianzus and Basil the Great) as follows, ‘while Christ submitted himself for a season to the Father for the purpose of his work on earth, this was not an eternal submission. There is no hierarchy in the trinity; there is partnership, interdependence, and mutual submission.’ He also cites the 4th century Athanasian Creed proclaiming that all persons of the trinity are ‘co-equal,’ ‘none is afore, or after other: none is greater, or less than another.’

(4) Having observed the institutional Church from the inside and outside for half a century, I honestly believe that many church-attenders (in my country at least) try to worship and serve God from an Old Covenant perspective only. I could name denominations (I have family members in them) – many of their members openly say they’re ‘trying’ to be Christians and appear totally lacking in that ‘blessed assurance, Jesus is mine!’ Even their faces say so. Somehow they seem blind to the superiority of Christ’s new covenant and the Spirit’s joy and gladness! (Heb. 8: built on Jer. 31 and Ezek. 36).

‘Send your Spirit, Lord, breathe on us all, let your fire fall!’

‘THE BEAMING OF HIS BEAUTY!’ (GUIDELINES FOR TRUE WORSHIPERS – PART 3)

Brother Lawrence (1614-1691) was born to very poor peasant parents in Lorraine, France. To escape poverty he joined the French army. One day he noticed a barren tree in mid-winter, stripped of all leaves and fruit, waiting silently and patiently for the sure hope of summer abundance. He recognized in that image his own life. The sight kindled within him a love for God that never ceased to burn! He volunteered to serve as a lay brother in a Carmelite monastery in Paris. A big, awkward fellow serving as a cook in the kitchen, he discovered the secret to holiness as ‘practicing the presence of God in the ordinary business of life.’ A classic booklet bearing that title was published after his death. The story goes that when he was dying a brother asked him what he was doing: he replied that he was doing what he had been doing the past 40 years, viz. worshiping God! You see, for brother Lawrence, worship was primary and death secondary. Incidentally, it came to me that the best way to deal with our worldliness of heart at this moment is to likewise focus on worshiping our beautiful God, amid the ordinary business of life, including the trials of life and whatever our enemy throws at us (e.g. the isolation of Covid, loneliness, despair, depression, weariness in well-doing, etc), then self-crucifixion becomes just a tad easier!

We come now to some of the spiritual spin-off’s and practical implications of a life of true worship:

(1) Worship precedes work. We are worshipers before we are workers. Many Christian leaders have made the fatal mistake of reversing the biblical order. One thinks of the prophet Isaiah’s encounter with God preceding his call to ministry (Is. 6:1-8). One thinks of the great awakenings in 18th century England, marked by the devotion, worship and music of the Wesley’s. In my personal experience I find that any depressed mood on my part is almost immediately lifted by listening and worshiping along to one of Charles’ many revival-inspired hymns of praise! ‘And can it be…’

(2) Worship impels/propels our ministry: the apostle Paul wrote of this in his 2nd Letter to the Corinthians, concerning our all-important ministry of reconciliation: ‘For the love of Christ urges us on, because we are convinced that one has died for all, so that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raised for them’ (2 Cor. 5:14-15/NRSV). Reconciliation is very hard work (1), and in our personal and corporate endeavours we shall need the propelling power of Christ’s love to succeed in the Church and in our torn-apart world. When I grow weary in this ministry of reconciliation, I often fall back on the words of Helen Keller (deaf and blind American author and activist, 1880-1968), ‘I am only one, but still I am one. I cannot do everything, but still I can do something; And because I cannot do everything I will not refuse to do the something that I can do.’ God’s love will empower us in whatever he lays on our heart to do, whether big or small. ‘He aint heavy, he’s my brother!’

(3) Worship is ‘key’ to overturning any kind of idolatry. One of the earlier Minor Prophets, Hosea, sketches a picture of Israel’s continued infidelity to God despite his repeated expressions of divine goodness and love to the nation: “When Ephraim spoke, there was excitement; he was praised in Israel; but he became guilty through Baal and died. And now they keep on sinning; they have made metal images, idols of silver, as a result of their skill‘sacrifice to these,’ they say… Yet I have been the LORD your God ever since the land of Egypt… there is no savior besides me… When I fed them they became satisfied; and their hearts became proud; therefore, they forget me…’ (Hos. 6:13:1-6/CEB). Ch.14 describes God’s plea to return to him, with a promise of gracious healing: ‘I will heal their faithlessness; I will love them freely… I will be like the dew to Israelthey will again live beneath my shadow, they will flourish like a garden; they will blossom like the vine… Ephraim, what do idols have to do with me? It is I who answer and look after you. I am like a green cyprus tree; your fruit comes from me’ (14:1-8). At this point, think of some of the idols found in our world and even among God’s people today… search your own heart as to any signs of idolatry, conscious or unconscious.

What can break these shackles? Certainly not the ‘gospel of trying harder,’ nor more discipline, rules or ceremonies. Only ‘The Sight of Peerless Worth!’ (Ora Rowen):

‘Idols once they won thee, charmed thee

Lovely things of time and sense;

Gilded, thus does sin disarm thee,

Honeyed lest thou turn thee thence.

Not the crushing of those idols,

With its bitter void and smart,

But the beaming of his beauty,

The unveiling of His heart…

‘Tis that look that melted Peter,

‘Tis that face that Stephen saw,

‘Tis that heart that wept with Mary,

Can alone from idols draw –

Draw, and win, and fill completely,

Till the cup o’erflow the brim;

What have we to do with idols,

Who have companied with Him?’ (2)

FOOTNOTES:

(1) Dr. Michael Cassidy’s ‘Footprints in the African Sand’ makes a wonderful read as to reconciliation through prayer and the Cross. His organization African Enterprise was mightily used of God over decades to save the South African nation from a bloodbath in 1994. Further north, in Rwanda, the toll was almost 1 million lives in the genocide of the Tutsi tribe. Sometimes I think that the work of reconciliation in SA has hardly begun. Sadly in a way, sport (SA are the current Rugby world cup champions) has been an amazing uni-fier and has in many ways outstripped the Church in recent years. The Church needs the fullness of Christ’s love to empower us to complete the task. PS, you can find watch the amazing story of ‘The Threatened Miracle of South Africa’s Democracy’ at https://youtu.be/QtGrymp/EpTs

(2) Through Alcoholics Anonymous, world-wide, many a shattered life and family has been restored through the application of this ‘new attachment’ principle.‘At the end of your tether, there is God!’

WHY NOT COME BACK IN A WEEK OR TWO FOR PART 4, SO THAT YOU MAY PROCESS THE ABOVE IN MIND, HEART AND LIFE!?

‘THE BEAMING OF HIS BEAUTY!’ (GUIDELINES FOR TRUE WORSHIPERS – PART 2)

True worshipers learn to focus on the beauty of the Lord. A few years ago, American pastor-author Brian Zahnd wrote an excellent book, ‘Beauty Will Save the World,’ subtitled ‘Rediscovering the Allure and Mystery of Christianity.’

Brian Zahnd | Facebook

He rightly sees as ‘key’ to Christian witness the Church’s practice of the Beatitudes (Mt. 5). Let me add, how beautiful must be the author of the Beatitudes! (1)

There are many ‘photographs’ of God’s beauty in both the OT and NT:

  • ‘God’s love is meteoric, his loyalty astronomic, his purpose titanic, his verdicts oceanic. Yet in his largeness nothing gets lost; Not a man, not a mouse, slips through the cracks.’ (A David Psalm, Ps. 36/MSG) (2)
  • Referring to Jesus, the author of Hebrews writes to messianic believing groups considering retreating to Judaism in order to escape persecution from the Romans: ‘Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, but in these last days (i.e. Pentecost onwards) he has spoken to us by a (or the) Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom he also created the worlds. He is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being, and he sustains all things by his powerful word. When he had made purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high…’ (1:1-3/NRSV). Wow! He goes on to warn against ‘neglecting so great a salvation’ and Saviour! (2:3)
  • The apostle Paul commends Christ’s humility and glory to his readers: ‘He had equal status with God but didn’t think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what. Not at all. When the time came, he set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human! Having become human, he stayed human. It was an incredibly humbling process. He didn’t claim special privileges. Instead he lived a selfless, obedient life and then died a self-less, obedient death – and the worst kind of death at that: a crucifixion. Because of that obedience, God lifted him high and honored him far beyond anyone or anything, ever, so that all created beings in heaven and on earth – even those long ago dead and buried – will bow in worship before this Jesus Christ, and call out in praise that he is the Master of all, to the glorious honor of God the Father.’ (Phil. 2:6-11/MSG) Small wonder the early Church put these words in hymn form!
  • The evangelist Matthew pictures Jesus and his Kingly reign not only as a ‘hidden treasure in a field’ (13:44) but also as ‘The Pearl of Great Price:’ ‘Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls; on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it!’ (13:45-46) My friend, if necessary, in our materialistic world (and Church), sell all you have to possess this unique pearl of inestimable value!
  • The apostle John has ‘the last word’ in the last book of the Bible in his vision of the magnificent, crowned Lamb of God: ‘“Then I looked, and I heard the voice of many angels and the living creatures and the elders; they numbered myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, singing with full voice ‘”Worthy is the Lamb that was slaughtered to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!’ … And the four living creatures said ‘Amen!’ And the elders fell down and worshiped.’ (Rev. 5:11-14/NRSV).
  • As the poet Ora Rowen (1834-1879) wrote long ago: Hast thou heard Him, seen Him, known Him? Is not thine a captured heart? Chief among ten thousand own Him, Joyful choose the better part!’ We’ll come back to the rest of this poem in Part 3…

To be a true worshiper, even with the sight of such divine beauty in view, remains difficult today because of at least two things: the ‘worldliness’ of our world and the worldliness of our hearts. Idolatrous self-love has exploded in our time and remains a colossal threat to our world and even the Church. It is certainly the problem of society at large today, this ugly enthronement of ego instead of the Peerless One. So pervasive is this spirit, that the apostle Paul warned of its seduction 2000 years ago already: he wrote to Timothy and the churches ‘Don’t be naive… As the end approaches, people are going to be self-absorbed, money-hungry, self-promoting, stuck-up, profane, contemptuous of parents, crude, coarse, dog-eat-dog, unbending, slanderers, impulsively wild, savage, cynical, treacherous, ruthless, bloated windbags, addicted to lust, and allergic to God. They’ll make a show of religion, but behind the scenes they’re animals. Stay clear of these people.’ (2 Tim. 3:1-5/MSG). French mystic Francois Fenelon gave sage advice to the believer and the Church amid such ugliness: die to yourself (i.e. sinful self: Mk. 8:34; Gal. 2:20), separate yourself from the unnecessary and restless thoughts which grow out of self-love, accept the Cross and you’ll find peace even in the middle of turmoil. Whatever you do, he says, volunteer for your own death and do not push it away! (3) Centuries later the great George Muller of Bristol put it like this,‘There was a day when George Muller died, utterly died to his own opinions, performances, tastes and will, died to the world, its approval or censure, died to the approval of my brethren and friends, and since then I have studied only to show myself approved unto God.’ Small wonder he lived as he lived and accomplished what he did! Maybe you and I have fallen far short in these critical matters, yet I am encouraged that God knows the intent of our hearts.

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PART 3 coming up in the next few weeks, d.v.

FOOTNOTES:

(1) Zahnd argues, ‘To a generation suspicious of truth claims and unconvinced by moral assertions, beauty has a surprising allure. And everything about Jesus Christ is beautiful! His life, his miracles, his teaching – even his death and certainly his resurrection – are all inimitably beautiful. A Christianity that is deeply enchanted by Christ’s beauty and thus formed and fashioned by this beauty has the opportunity to present to a skeptical and jaded world an aspect of the gospel that has been rare for far too long. Where truth and goodness fail to win an audience, beauty may once captivate and draw those it enchants into the kingdom of saving grace… the story of Jesus Christ is breathtakingly beautiful.’ (p. xv)

(2) David has a sense of humour too – see his ref. to the ‘mouse.’ I recall pioneering house churches in slum shanties built with rusted corrugated iron sheets. In one such, while gathering with the family and children at dusk, mice would run over your feet with no-one freaking out! Once in a while the candle in the tiny room would blow out due to the wind-leaks in the iron sheeting walls. But nothing could interrupt the sweet fellowship around the message of Jesus!

(3) Cf. Fenelon’s ‘The Seeking Heart.’ How I have personally struggled, and continue to do so, with these deeply soul-searching issues the past months… I must say they’re a little easier to contemplate as I approach the last lap of my life! My younger readers, don’t waste as much time as I have in this vital matter…

‘THE BEAMING OF HIS BEAUTY!’ [GUIDELINES FOR TRUE WORSHIPERS – PART 1]

Coincidence? Respected fellow-blogger David Bolton (‘Christ-Centred Christianity’) has just commenced a teaching series on ‘Worship,’ simultaneous to our unpacking this vital subject in our local house church. He kindly referred me to T. Austin-Sparks’ (the British evangelist and author, 1888-1971) who stated that ‘Worship is the Critical Issue of the Universe!’ Austin-Sparks refers us to the Bible’s fascinating ‘final utterance’ on worship penned by the Apostle John in the Revelation 21:22 (‘The New Jerusalem’), ‘I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb’ (NRSV). The implications for our/the universe’s worship of God, our ecclesiology (doctrine of the Church) and eschatology (doctrine of ‘The Last Things’) are earth-shaking: Christ is our temple on earth and in heaven, and his people, indwelt by his Spirit, are his ‘portable temples’ (Gr. naos = ‘shrine’) in the present world, individually and corporately (1 Cor. 3:16-17 & 6:19). Breath-taking!

(1) AN ESSENTIAL TRUTH FOR ALL TRUE WORSHIPERS…

Our chief calling in life is to worship the only true God! Matthew makes this abundantly clear in his record of Jesus’ response to the Pharisees’ question regarding the greatest commandment: ‘”‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This the greatest and first commandment…'” (Mt. 22:37-38). The godly A.W. Tozer (1897-1963) once remarked, ‘My ambition is to love God more than any of my generation!’ By the way, he defined worship thus: ‘to feel in your heart and express in some appropriate manner a humbling but delightful sense of admiring awe and astonished wonder and overpowering love in the presence of that most ancient Mystery, that majesty which philosophers call the First Cause but which we call Our Father Which Art in Heaven.’ Even in his day Tozer was appalled by the superficial corporate ‘worship’ taking place in many churches – how much more we in this day of mega-churches and smaller versions in our egoistic ‘all about ME’ society!

Worship simply must become the focus of our life. We’re all aware of the Westminster Shorter Catechism’s ‘the chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy (!) him forever.’ The Church Father Augustine wrote, ‘Thou hast made us for Thyself and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in Thee.’ In the ‘Good News According to Paul,’ i.e. his Roman Letter, the Apostle commences with mankind’s innate need to worship someone or something (Rom. 1:18-32). In a nutshell, God has made himself known to every human being: via his creation, humanity’s conscience and supremely through the revelation of his Son born into the world. However, down the ages, humankind has chosen not to honour God or give him thanks, exchanging the splendour of the immortal God for images of humans, birds, animals or reptiles… they have exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is to be praised forever!

Today still, people will exchange the liberty of Christ in worship for the bondage of religion and religious acts. It has been pointed out that one of the biggest problems facing the Church in the past and today is the externalizing of worship (cf. David Bolton’s latest blog), i.e. relegating worship to a particular time, place, ritual (e.g. the eating of/abstinence of certain foods), etc. In the 1960’s a genuine spiritual revival broke out in Kwazulu-Natal Province. There were conversions aplenty, healings, exorcisms, etc. I visited the Mission a number of times in its earlier years. But gradually, over the years, a hierarchical and legalistic structure overtook the life of Christ, even to the extent of persecuting those who left the group and sadly, reported instances of sexual abuse. I believe that another deception in our time has come via the Hebrew Roots Movement, obsessed with the Torah, Jewish ceremonies and diet, etc – I’ve mentioned this life-sapping heresy a number of times in recent years. Now we are not saying we can’t make use of Christian symbols, such as the Cross, in our worship. We are simply saying that worship is essentially an inward thing, a matter of mind and heart. If anybody made this abundantly clear it was Jesus himself in his dialogue with the Samaritan woman, as recorded in Jn. 4:19-24: “The woman said to him, ‘Sir, I see that you are a prophet. Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem… the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.'” Madame Guyon (1648-1717) (dismissed by the Roman Catholic Church for ‘heresy’ and imprisoned by the King of France in her latter years) defined worship as essentially being about God’s holy and delightful presence: she wrote of this in a little poem, Content:

‘My Lord, how full of sweet content,

I pass my years of banishment!

Whe’er I dwell, I dwell with Thee,

In heav’n, in earth, or on the sea;

Whe’er I dwell, I dwell with Thee,

In heav’n, in earth, or on the sea!’

In all this, let’s not neglect to appreciate how much our Almighty Father longs for our worship! ‘The Father seeks such to worship him…’ (see Jn. 4 above). Contemplating this, my mind went the Parable of the Prodigal Son (I prefer to call it ‘The Story of the Waiting Father’), in Lk. 15:11ff: “So he (the lost son) set off and went to his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him…” (v. 20). In our retirement village, two doors away, there is an elderly lady always on the look-out for her visiting daughter. I park my ancient SUV under a car-park tree in front of her cottage. Often, on hearing the sound of its rather noisy diesel engine, she’ll peep through her door or bedroom curtains – could it perhaps be her daughter’s car?? Coming back to the lost son, I can imagine the Father looking out for me and thinking to himself, ‘I wonder if Erroll’s coming to visit today? I wonder if he’ll make time today, just for me??’ And so he looks for your intimacy as well, on a daily basis, no matter where or what time or under what circumstances! Know that however faltering, it’s infinitely valued and enjoyed by our God and Father!

Until next time, d.v, for PART 2…









THE ROAD TO RESTFULNESS

[Matthew’s Sermon On The Mount Venue Today – Overlooking the Sea of Galilee]

PROPOSAL: THE ROAD TO RESTFULNESS LIES VIA MEEKNESS

We surely all desire true restfulness in these days of great restlessness, right?? Please patiently track with me as I unpack this biblical principle and its implementation…

(1) Our first key-scripture is Mt. 5:5/NRSV, ‘Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.’ This forms part of Jesus’ radical ‘Sermon on the Mount,’ more particularly his ‘Beatitudes.’

Perhaps we did not realize that these words first occur in the OT and in David’s Ps. 37:11, ‘But the meek will inherit the land and enjoy great peace.’ It’s worth reading the preceding verses as they constitute a build-up to this conclusion. Someone has suggested that ‘meekness’ in this psalm may be summarized as ‘humble dependence on God the Father with nil arrogance toward our neighbour’ – I like that…

The Beatitudes capture and express the essential kingdom-life of Jesus, which we are called to ingest and digest and display on our earthly journey, by the empowering of his life within. They proceed from the fullness of the Godhead, were perfectly embodied in Jesus’ person and actions, and are are now urged upon all Jesus’s followers. In Mt. 5 Jesus’ teachings are aimed at Jesus’ inner circle of disciples, while in Lk. 6 they seem aimed at kingdom ‘insiders’ and ‘outsiders,’ i.e. anyone who would follow him. On this it is interesting to read Dallas Willard’s ‘take’ on the Beatitudes, and his definition of a disciple as an ‘apprentice’ [1] – no matter how long we’ve been serving Jesus, we shall always remain apprentices/learners, even to the end! Also, bear in mind that when the Bible speaks of ‘meekness’ it does not imply ‘weakness’ (‘remember the children’s hymn, ‘Gentle Jesus, meek and mild’??), in fact it requires the utmost strength and self-control under the mighty power of Christ, indwelling his people!

Matthew’s and Luke’s ‘meek’ is like a many-faceted diamond, waiting to be studied from different angles. It has been variously translated, often substituting ‘humble’ for ‘meek’ (e.g. the NLT). ‘Happy are people who are humble, because they will inherit the earth’ (CEB). ‘The meek and lowly are fortunate! For the the whole wide world belongs to them!’ (LB) ‘You’re blessed when you’re content with who you are – no more, no less. That’s the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that cannot be bought!’ (MSG paraphrase). It’s worthwhile pointing out that ‘blessed’ means more than ‘happy’ (makarios): in Luke 6 it can even be rendered ‘lucky’ in the sense of being fortunate. We all know that happiness can vary according to our mood and circumstances – ‘blessed’ really refers to the believer’s ultimate well-being, to that distinctive spiritual enjoyment shared only by those who share God’s life in Christ.

(2) Our second key-scripture is Mt. 11:28-30/KJV, ‘Come to Me all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am meek and lowly in heart, and ye shall find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy, and My burden is light.’ These words follow on Jesus’ prayer of thanksgiving to the Father in Mt. 11:25ff.

Mt. 11 beautifully clarifies that it is meekness that leads to restfulness! We see these twin-graces amply manifested, throughout the NT, in the person and attitudes and actions of Jesus. Here Matthew is addressing Jesus’ disciples who were struggling with the yoke of the Pharisees’ legalistic teaching (cf. E. Peterson’s paraphrase in his ‘The Message’) or burdened under the yoke of hardships of different kinds. Matthew promises that all who come to Jesus will find in him both a personal relationship and relief from burdens that would ultimately crush them. Henceforth any follower of Jesus is not called to do and perform in order to find acceptance and rest in Christ, but fully rest in him and his unfailing companionship. What an unspeakable blessing, as many saints and hymn writers have testified over the ages!

Note also, for the apprentice of Jesus, it’s not a matter of caring about ‘greatness’ in our own eyes and in the eyes of others. Meekness means not being fooled by ourselves and not worrying about what the ‘world’ thinks/says of us – as long as the Lord himself is pleased with us. No longer do we have to defend ourselves, but rest happily in God’s defence of us (cf. Rom. 12:14-21): note, any un-forgiveness or anger or bitterness toward others stirs up restlessness rather than restfulness! Meekness means no more pretence, artificiality and hyprocisy. Every believer and every Christian leader needs to seriously grapple with these issues – authenticity (a rare gem in today’s ecclesia) will always come to our rescue and bring us peace in the midst of the battle.

(3) Finally, some personal application…

a) Meekness means becoming like trusting ‘little children.’ The spiritual and ethical standards are so high that to live them out meekly in Christ’s kingdom at present is well-nigh impossible, except by the very Christ-life within us!

b) Meekness demands ‘moment by moment’ surrender to Jesus our Saviour and Lord. You may recall Dr. Andrew Murray’s favourite convention song, ‘Moment by moment I’m kept in his love, Moment by moment I’ve life from above, Moment by moment till glory doth shine, Moment by moment, O Lord I am Thine!’

c) Meekness demands a radical faith in Christ’s gracious acceptance of our surrender. He shelters us under the wings of his love. I believe it was Wayne Jacobsen who related the story of a fireman damping down smouldering stumps after a ravaging fire. He saw a black lump before him, kicked at it with his boot, only to reveal a mother-hen burnt to death but from under her wings her little chicks appeared, safe and sound!! That’s a picture of Calvary, of Calvary atonement and love. That doesn’t imply licence on our part to live as we please, but inspires us to a life of eternal gratitude to Jesus and trust in his sovereign love!

FOOTNOTES:

[1] Cf. Dallas Willard’s classic, ‘The Divine Conspiracy.’

[2] I found Allan Halton’s blog on Mt. 11:28ff, ‘The Easy Yoke,’ insightful. Well worth a visit: he blogs under ‘The Mending Feast.’