Walking Through The Storm

Storm

This post has taken several drafts to get right. There are many storms in my life right now, and some have a profound impact on more than just me, so it makes it hard to write about them.

Testimony is a tricky thing sometimes. But I’m going to try to put it in here right…

There’s a lot of storms in my life right now. Personal finances, obstacles to pursuing the vision God gave me, but the biggest revolve around my health.

I have an intellectual understanding that Jesus paid for my health through the atonement, and that God would not withhold healing from me any more than He would withhold Salvation. It doesn’t help when my brain gets in the way of my Faith.

One of my heroes in the Gospels is Peter. Peter is a walking embodiment of “be careful what you ask for.”

 And Peter answered Him and said, “Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water.”

Matthew 14:28

You have to respect Peter’s humanness. Crazy, but human.

What was Jesus going to respond? “It’s not me. Stay in the boat”?

Fear makes us do and say the craziest things sometimes. The boat was sinking. The storm swamping it. Peter knows the sea. He’s probably known men who had died in similar conditions. He knows the boat will sink.

But he sees Jesus is safe standing out on the water.

“Command me to come to You…”

I try to look to Jesus in the middle of my storms. Right now I take medication for diabetes, blood pressure problems I’ve never had, occasional bouts of anxiety due to PTSD, ADD, and most recently pain management for back pain. In the past I’ve also had depression, gout and a slew of other stuff that’s now dealt with.

But the storms are real. The impact they have is very real. They affect me and the people closest to me every time they strike.

Peter knew he would die if he didn’t do something different. But the way he did it was a bit crazy. He boxed Jesus into a situation He may not have intended. We all tend to do that sometimes.

But Peter was different.

After he boxes Jesus in, he doesn’t back down. Jesus says “Come” and Peter gets out of the boat and walks across the surface of the stormy sea towards Him. He only starts to falter as he’s almost at Jesus, and that’s when his brain kicks in and he looks at the storm instead of the Saviour.

Fascinatingly, Peter begins to sink. He doesn’t drop like a stone. His faith begins to be overwhelmed with fear and he starts to lose sight. But the time he’s already spent with Jesus has had some impact on him. He realises his predicament and calls out to Jesus.

He doesn’t try to go back to the boat.

He doesn’t try to swim.

He calls out to Christ and lets Jesus save him. Again.

It hit me when I re-read the story recently that Peter was essentially at Jesus’s side already. All Jesus does is reach out His hand to Peter. No wonder He asks “why did you doubt?” Peter has already done the hardest part – he stepped out and walked on the water. Only now he’s safe does he let fear take him.

We all do that as well. Within reach of our goal we quit.

But the Bible is full of stories of God’s Faithfulness when His children hold out for His intervention.

Daniel comes to mind. He’s more concerned about God than Nebuchadnezzar, so he allows himself to be thrown to the lions. Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego walk through fire rather than give up and come through without even the smell of smoke on them (Daniel 3:27). Again, Daniel prays for 21 days until the angel appears. He refuses to give up on God, and rightly so because Gabriel’s words are “…from the first day that you set your heart to understand, and to humble yourself before your God, your words were heard; and I have come because of your words. But the prince of the kingdom of Persia withstood me twenty-one days; and behold, Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, for I had been left alone there with the kings of Persia.” (Daniel 10:12-13)

Joseph waits, first as a slave, then as a prisoner. He never stops expecting God’s promise to him to be fulfilled. Years pass before he is elevated to Prime Minister of Egypt, second only to Pharaoh and from there he is given God’s wisdom to save the known world from the famine. King David is pursued for years by Saul after he is anointed king by Samuel, and he never gives up his integrity even when Saul is delivered into his hands, he refuses to lay a hand on God’s anointed.

Others including Esther, Elijah, Elisha, Ruth and Abraham all wait faithfully (eventually) for God’s promise to be fulfilled. In fact, Christians are a part of God’s promise to Abraham.

So why do we have such trouble waiting for God in the storm?

I touched on it in a previous post. We live in a fast-food society. There’s no space in our lives for weathering a storm if it isn’t over instantly.

Sometimes we look for an answer where we ask the wrong question, or with wrong motives. But sometimes it’s simply that we only planted the seed this morning. A harvest takes time to grow.

Miracles are, of course, an exception. Sometimes God moves by cutting through our circumstances, according to the power at work in us. We limit His ability to give through our ability to receive. But even then, He gives us grace and strength to weather the storm.

We just need to learn to stand.

The "Microwave" Ministry

Slowly

The word has little relevance any more. We live in a fast-food society in the Western and pseudo-Western cultures of the world. Everything needs to be instant.

I lamented in a post several years ago (I can’t find the item now, but will link in comments if I do) about an experience I had at a drive-thru McDonalds where in complete earnest the young cashier apologised that I would have to wait “about a minute” for my food.

A minute. For this I got an apology. More recently I was offered a free drink because my order would be five minutes – and that was in a sit-in branch.

We are a people obsessed with instant gratification.

And it’s hit the Church as well. No sooner has someone converted than they are made a leader. And we wonder why so many churches are in crisis.

There is a brandy I read of where a whole pear in contained inside the botpomme_prisonniere_800x600no_boxtle. “Pomme Prisonniere” is expensive, last I saw it was about £100 a bottle so too rich for my pocket, but what struck me was the time and patience it takes to make.

The pear is selected just after the fruit sets. A bottle placed over the new fruit and secured in place. Then the fruit is nurtured carefully and allowed to grow to ripeness inside the bottle. At the time the fruit is ripe it is carefully cut from the tree, the bottle filled with good quality brandy, corked and prepared for distribution.

Aside from the time it takes to distil a fine brandy, the producers add months to the process by waiting for a pear to mature. Producers can lose 30% or more of their crop because the fruit may drop before it ripens or a contaminating agent manages to get into the bottle. Most places that produce this fine liqueur don’t produce much as a result, so the final product is justifiably high-priced.

Imagine the producer wants to make it for sale next week. It’s not possible.

I am privileged to live in a country that, while it seeks to be “Western” in its style, is still very much a developing country. South Africa’s neighbour to the North West, Namibia, is even more left in the past in many ways.

This, in many ways, is a good thing. Age is respected for the wisdom it brings. Character in the small communities is more important than personality. Sadly this isn’t reflected in the political scene in South Africa as the population 25 years after Apartheid is still stuck with a minority elite who hold the money and power, except now they are ethnically black instead of white, and the poverty the majority live in is in stark contrast to the opulence of the fat-cats at the top who feed off them.

I knew a man who worked for a company in Namibia that sold microwave ovens. He was sent to find out why in the smaller towns their stores hardly sold any. His quest returned with the simple answer in the form of a question: “Why do I need a microwave? I have my fire!”

Much cooking in this part of the world is done slowly in a black iron pot over a fire. Not much use for a microwave. I’ve come to appreciate this, and when I go on holiday I look for self-catering places that have a fireplace and iron pots available. The richness of a stew that has been allowed to cook for hours over a slow fire is something I’d never experienced in England, and something should I ever go back that I will continue to do myself.

Mutton has a deeper, richer flavour than lamb. But it takes longer to cook or it is tough. But it’s worth the wait because the meal is richer for the maturity.

So we look at the Church.

Jesus didn’t call the disciples on Monday and send them out on Tuesday. They walked and Jesus Israellived with Him for at least 3 years before the Crucifixion. I looked at a map of the Holy Land recently and realised just how much time they must have spent walking. Jesus’s ministry took Him from the far North to the far South of Israel.

We know He spoke of Tyre and Sidon in the far North of the country, and ministered around Galilee and South to Jerusalem and the Dead Sea.

That’s a long way to walk. The disciples weren’t marathon runners. A journey on foot of a hundred miles would take days at best, and the group travelled extensively.

Time consuming.

But Jesus probably didn’t walk in silence. He would have been talking and teaching the disciples the entire time. So much that the Gospels don’t directly record in detail because there would be so much to write down.

After Paul’s conversion he goes to be taught of Jesus for several years before he began his missionary journeys. If you’re determined, you can read all four Gospels in a day. But to truly know them takes a lifetime.

By the time I was 11 I knew the basic highlights of Jesus’s life, David and Goliath, Jericho’s walls, Daniel in the lions’ den etc, but I was no way ready to lead a church. In my 20s I sat as a member of the parish council in the church I attended. More prepared, but really I think looking back I was too young and headstrong. I offended many people, and was offended by them during my time in leadership there.

As I got older, my fire was tempered and became controlled. The result was the ability to preach effectively and not alienate people. Now I’m in my 40s and my fire is more explosive again, but with a different outlet – this one – for the words I’ve spent the last 30 years learning and fully expect to still be learning for decades to come.

My ministry of words has taken three decades to reach this point. I have much respect for those who have been able to learn the original languages of the Bible as it’s something I’ve never been able to do. Languages in my own alphabet are not something I’ve been able to master. Ancient Greek and Hebrew alphabets and their associated sounds have thus far been beyond me. But thankfully I have access to dozens of translations that I use to reference my learning. But it’s taken 30 years to appreciate that it takes 30 years.

There is a need for “relevance” in society that is a red herring in Christianity. Jesus talked of fishing and tax collectors and shepherds because his audience was made up of fishermen, tax collectors and shepherds as well as the Pharisees and Sadducees who looked down on them. But His stories are still relevant today.

I lost R100 (about $8) a few weeks ago. It doesn’t sound like much, but in a country where many earn less than R5000 ($400) in a month, and some even less than half that, it’s a lot of money. I turned out every pocket of every item of clothing I’d worn that week. I looked in every bag and under every chair at home and in the office. Eventually I found it fallen under the seat in the car, crumpled up and looking like a till receipt ready to be thrown away. Nobody can tell me the story of the lost coin has no relevance today.

A few years ago my dogs escaped when someone broke open the gate to my home. I spent hours going through the local township opposite my house looking for them. One came home on her own, one was hit by a van and spent time recovering – several weeks. His father sat guard over his broken body in the road and refused to leave him. Finally I found his sister far away from home, put her in the car and took her home. Don’t tell me the lost sheep isn’t relevant.

This country is paranoid about immigrants. At times it makes Donald Trump look tolerant (not often, but sometimes). Xenophobia, racism, sexism are part of daily life here. As an immigrant I regularly encounter it. I live daily as a member of a racial minority where the law is stacked in favour of the majority – at least theoretically.

The leaders need maturity, especially the Church. The necessary wisdom to be a moral compass can only come with time spent in the trenches of the Church. It’s impossible to be a good leader until you know how to follow.

This is obvious to most. But it gets overlooked because an individual is popular and they are promoted to positions of power they are simply not equipped to handle. bc346-sheepThe result is disastrous for followers. They produce borderline heretical teachings (both sides of the border) and like sheep the people follow, assuming that their “leader” knows what he’s talking about because they know the face.

It’s impossible for someone who hasn’t yet matured to impart maturity to others. Look at the secular dictators and pseudo-dictators “elected” in the last century, as well as the “popular” choices being offered come November in America. Hitler, Lenin, Stalin, Castro, Peron, Mussolini, Mugabe and so many others were swept into power on a surge of popular opinion and given positions no sane people would offer such tyrants if they understood the facts. But their nations were so indoctrinated by fear that they let themselves be led into wars by these men because they were blinded by the rhetoric they spouted. They could all have been truly great leaders if they had been able to follow before they were handed power. Instead they had power get them drunk and paranoid.

6d3b6-shepherd-leading-sheepWhat we need in the Church now are real shepherds. Men and women who have sat and learned from experienced leaders from the past and have a sound foundation and understanding to build on. So many “mega-church” congregations have recently hit trouble because they were built on the personality of their founder instead of the teaching of Christ. The need is perhaps greater now than ever before for maturity in leadership. The strength to stand against popular secular opinion unflinchingly, teaching the Truth of the Gospel rather than pandering to popular opinion.

There’s a reason the Bible says God is unchanging.

It’s because man’s opinion isn’t.

Anyone who’s ever led a group in business knows the danger of “Group-think”. It’s the phenomenon where the group simply accepts without question what everyone in that group says simply because they are in that group. Cults are born when that happens in Church. Heretical teaching leads people away from God by simply not challenging one another. It’s like watching a car crash in slow motion. It seems impossible to stop and inevitable that it will happen.

The church I was a member of in Torquay a few years ago had wisdom over it. The individual home-groups were regularly shaken up, members moved around and the result was a solid foundation in a young church. In 3 years I was a member of about 7 cell groups. The shake-up was initially an irritation for me. I wanted stability as my dad had recently died and my world was a mess. It’s only looking back that I realise the changing was what kept me stable and gave me the strength to walk out of depression that almost killed me. Different people at different times in those 3 years spoke words into my life that guided my recovery, something I didn’t see at the time.

But everything hinges on maturity.

My wife tells me to not “druk die vrugte ryp“, or try to force the fruit to ripen. You can’t make the pear in the bottle ripen faster by poking it to make it soft. All you do is end up with rotten fruit.

Spiritually we try to microwave our ministry too often. Granted sometimes we miss the season by waiting, but seasons change and the chance comes round again because God’s promises are without repentance. It took me 20 years to do more than think about Eagle’s Wing Ministries, despite having the chance in the late 90s to step out and create an organisation. I was too afraid, partly, that I lacked the maturity needed to do what I’m doing now. I was nervous that I didn’t know enough about following to be able to lead.

Looking back, I think in some ways I was more equipped then than now to do this. I had a larger support system, more friends – real friends, not acquaintances – who were prepared to call me out if I was wrong, and financially in a significantly stronger place. Today I can count my real friends on one hand, and I don’t see them nearly as often as I’d like to. I rely on email and phone calls to keep me strong and on-track.

But I know more about following now than I did then.

I hope age is giving me maturity.

Carefree Living

There’s a lot of terms that can be used to sum up life in my home for the last few years.

Carefree” isn’t one of them.

Just on my side I’ve battles ongoing with PTSD, ADD, Diabetes and now (finally) I know my back pain is actually a condition called “Scheuermann’s disease” and I’ve had it since my spine was still developing. It’s fun living in this body sometimes.

The one thing that has never been dampened through all of it is my faith.

I can concentrate for longer periods when it’s something to do with God than other stuff. I’ve struggled to stand or sit for long periods – except (usually) when it has something to do with Jesus.

I don’t think that’s coincidence.

Jesus never promised our lives would be carefree if we followed Him. In fact He promised the opposite. We would face persecution in many forms because the World would hate us just as it hates Him. We become Christians not to get an easy ride.

Anyone who thinks being a Christian means getting the top job with a good wage, 2.5 kids, a house in the ‘burbs with a dog and no confrontation or problems is delusional. Anyone who claims they never have any problems because they are Christians is probably doing it wrong (or smoking the really potent stuff).

The late Dave Duell said at a meeting in England several years ago that if we don’t run into the devil it’s because we’re going in the same direction.

And for the record, the devil’s name is not “Donald” or “Hillary” or “Republican” or “Democrat”. He’s the accuser, the father of lies, the destroyer. He comes only to steal, kill and destroy.

Maybe I should rethink the “name” comment?

There’s enough hate being spewed by all sides in the US election garbage coverage that gets put out over the internet to fertilise the whole of Texas.

Twice.

Weekly.

And the most alarming thing for me is who is spouting this latest drivel. Men and women I’ve previously respected as Christian leaders decrying the Democrats as the “enemy” or Donald as the “antichrist” (ok, that was a bit far, but I can see why they said it).

There’s nothing carefree about being a Christian at the moment.

This time in history is seeing a marked increase in the aggressive nature of Muslims – and I’m not talking about the politicised version present in Daesh. I’m talking about people I know, who I consider friends becoming more radical in their statements, their Facebook posts and tweets.

And it’s a response to what the radical “christians” are saying.

“Love your neighbour” has been replaced with “Love your neighbour as long as he/she is an accurate reflection of your own values”.

It’s a good job Jesus rose again, or He’d be turning in His grave…

Carefree living is what these “leaders” (in the loosest sense of the word) are promising. The freedom to live free – behind a wall. To worship freely – as long as you’re in the same denomination as the elected one. To carry guns freely (unless you’re not white) – because they don’t understand their own constitution.

Orwell wrote in “Animal Farm” that Napoleon the 1984Pig re-wrote the rules to say “all animals are equal, but some are more equal than others.” You don’t have to read the whole book (although you should) to see he was right. 1984 was meant as a warning, but is being used as a “how-to” guide for leadership.

The image here may be a fake – to be honest I’m not certain – but it certainly isn’t far from the truth of the way the world lives right now.

We are supposed to live a life of Freedom, but we happily trade this Freedom Christ gave up everything to purchase for us in order to feel “protected” by the close eye of, well these days anyone with a video camera and a home computer. My cell phone has not one, but 2 cameras on it, designed to get perfect shots in near darkness. My computer has just one – usually covered with masking tape as they didn’t make an “app” that can remove it yet.

But I’m sure Apple are working on it.

The irony is we were far more carefree when we didn’t have access to so much “important” “news” like the Kardashians, who wrote Donald’s latest speech, who allowed some fool who thought he was entitled to hold an opinion different than everyone else at the RNC – and air it.

Folks, I have disabled 90% of the news feeds that were automatically loaded on my phone when I got it. And I still get swamped every day by worthless words.

In fiction there was always said (in the books I grew up reading anyway) to be power in names. Dragons, mermaids etc would never divulge their name to a human because it gave that human power over them.

In Scripture we can see the Truth in the power of Words.

The old adage “words will never hurt me” was obviously said first by a hermit who had never encountered another living person.

Jesus was careful with what He said and to whom He said it. Consider the length of the Sermon on the Mount, and the last teaching He gave the disciples before His arrest in John 14-17. Compare it with how much He says to Herod and Pilate.

Words taken out of context can kill you.

In Business Communication we talk about “interference” in communication. This term refers to what was meant by the speaker and understood by the hearer of a simple phrase.

Take this one:

“God is for you”

Where we put the emphasis can change the meaning completely.

God is for you”, “God is for you”, “God is for you” and “God is for you” all hold different meanings. And by stressing more than one word the number changes exponentially. It’s how the written text in the Bible has been twisted from a key to freedom into a hammer to beat down peoples throughout history.

And we add words to the statements as well. That’s what got Eve into trouble. God said “Don’t eat the fruit”. Satan asks her about it and the message is embellished to “don’t even touch it” either by Eve wanting to sound emphatic or because Adam had added to what God had told him.

We all know the result. Sin. Death.

God is not a Republican. Neither is He a Democrat. He’s certainly not a Communist or a member of the ANC, Conservatives, Labour, Liberal-Democrat or any other political party even (possibly especially) if it says “Christian” in the name of the party.

We are supposed to receive Life in abundance, not elections, and certainly not long-winded self-serving speeches.

Maybe not carefree – that will come after Christ returns and we go to spend eternity with Him – but certainly not oppressed the way we are today.

Russia has just banned all Christian meetings not taking place in a recognised church, and no correspondence of any kind mentioning God may be entered into by two people. Thankfully we are advised in Acts 5:29 to obey God, not men – although in Russia this may start to mean a long state-sponsored holiday to Siberia the way it did pre-Glasnost, and in the Middle-East it could result in decapitation at the hands of a lunatic. In the West and some emerging economies it will probably start costing promotions, employment, housing etc and Christians will be told to “get over” themselves because it’s not “real” persecution. After all, nobody in the West is ever killed for being a Christian. Unless you count Ireland where you need to be the right type of Christian, or America where you need to be the right colour of Christian.

So maybe my life isn’t carefree. In reality it never was after I left home – and for several years before that.

Neither is yours. But we can make moves together to walk back in the direction of the Cross and a life free of the cares of this World if we can just get past our own egos.

Make the step today.

Like Clockwork

Unpredictable

“You never know what God’s going to do!” That’s something I hear a lot.

It’s crazy. People base it on the actions of Jesus as recorded in the Gospels without looking at the Nature of God revealed through the entire Bible.

Jesus restores one blind man with a touch (Matthew 9:29), another by spitting in his eyes (Mark 8:22-25), and another with just a word (Luke 18:39-44). Still another gets mud made from spit and told to wash in the pool of Siloam (John 9:6-7).

He heals the sick with a word here, a touch there.

Completely unpredictable.

Nope.

Look closely at Jesus’s actions. He meets people where they are. “According to your faith” is a phrase He uses several times. He does things that get people to act on their faith.

Consider the universe He created for a moment. Look at the stars above us. Here in the Southern Hemisphere I don’t see the stars I grew up with. I actually miss seeing Ursa Major in the sky, but I still get to see NorthumberlandNationalParkOrion looking down. God designed those constellations. The stars that form them are billions of miles apart, and the Big Dipper wouldn’t look like it does anywhere else but this small blue dot hanging in space.

NASA are planning to send men to Mars in the not too distant future. They already sent probes there. But they were able to do so because they could calculate exactly where Mars would be and the course the ship would need to take to get there at a certain time. We can tell exactly when Halley’s Comet will be back, and we can look back and see when it was here before.

There is perfect order in the universe God created. In 1999 I sat on a hill in Devon with my dad watching a total lunar eclipse. We knew to the minute what time it would start, when it would be at it’s total cover, and when it would be over. But astronomy isn’t the only thing that is so perfectly ordered.

The physical laws that govern this universe are constant. Gravity, thrust and lift, the speed of light and sound are universal constants that allow us to make aeroplanes, chairs, television, in fact everything we have physically in this world we have because God designed the laws of nature to allow us to have them.

Yet we find a way to describe God as unpredictable when it comes to our daily lives.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m as guilty of it as everyone else.

But I realised something.

God is not unpredictable. I am.

I was healed of gout 12 years ago (roughly – I lost count!). Before that I had a badly injured ankle healed when my vicar laid hands on me and prayed for it during a service, I’ve had other injuries healed, sicknesses healed, but I’m still diabetic.

Why?

Because I don’t let God heal that. It’s not conscious. I hate the condition. On the medication I take I can never learn to fly (which my wife is pleased about), which is something I’ve wanted to do since I was 3 years old and saw “Reach For The Sky” for the first time. 41 years later I still want to learn to fly. I’ve even picked out the plane I’d like to own, but I need to be healed first.

We limit what God can do in our lives. As a result, it seems as though God is unpredictable. Some people pray and get hundreds, thousands or even millions of dollars while others seem to be subsistence living. But God is no respecter of persons. All He takes into account is how we use the Faith He gives us.

It’s said that the man who expects nothing from God and the man who truly expects everything from Him will both get what they truly expect in their heart to receive.

Saying that does not go over well with most people.

But God set out the Law of Faith. He made things predictable, and set out details of how to receive from Him. We claim “you never know what God’s going to do” and “God’s sovereign Will” as reasons we don’t see answers to prayer.

But look closely at the Gospels for a moment.

Not once did Jesus refuse to heal someone. There were times when the healing was partial initially (the blind man who saw men walking as trees in Mark 8) and was unable to do much in His home town, because of their lack of faith.

And they took offense at Him [refusing to believe in Him]. But Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his hometown and in his own household.” And He did not do many miracles there [in Nazareth] because of their unbelief.

Matthew 13:57-58 [AMP] (Emphasis added in italics)

And it’s not just here we find this problem.

Yes, again and again they tempted God, And limited the Holy One of Israel.

Psalm 78:41 [NKJV]

We see it in God’s people not trusting Him to provide for them even before Jesus:

“Will a man rob God? Yet you are robbing Me! But you say, ‘In what way have we robbed You?’ In tithes and offerings [you have withheld]. You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing Me, this whole nation! Bring all the tithes (the tenth) into the storehouse, so that there may be food in My house, and test Me now in this,” says the Lord of hosts, “if I will not open for you the windows of heaven and pour out for you [so great] a blessing until there is no more room to receive it.

Malachi 3:8-10 [AMP]

So we don’t trust God to be true to His word, and we “tithe” generally less than the 10% put before Abraham. In my church where I grew up it was joked that the collection of the offering and “tithe” it contained showed that the average income of the parish was around £10 a week per household.

But this I say: He who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.

2 Corinthians 9:6

God laid out before us a simple law. Seed-time and harvest. We reap a crop of what we sow. Literally, if a farmer wants to harvest corn, he doesn’t sow wheat. If he wants to sell beef at the market, he won’t raise sheep. This is obvious to us.

But we get very confused in more figurative things. What we speak are the seeds we sow. Negativity and anger will only reap sadness and pain. When we give our time to someone, we often miss that we suddenly may seem to have more free time for ourselves. The same goes for our finances. When we give freely to God’s work – really letting go of that money, not watching closely to see where it gets spent – we reap financially as well.

Some churches and ministries have begun to offer a 90 day money-back guarantee on tithing. I was shocked to hear about it, but the people who have taken them up on it have found an increase in their lives physically, emotionally and financially, with a low percentage coming and asking for their money back! (see Christianity Today 90 Day Tithe Challenge  for an article about this movement).

Perhaps we need to take God at His Word. Predictability is actually one of His gifts to us. He is, after all, the same yesterday, today and for ever.

So how can we possibly think He will be unpredictable?

A People Afraid

Fear plays a huge part in life today. It always has in some way or another.

But there’s a new wave now, more alarming than at any time in my life.

Instead of selecting leaders based on their strength of character and courage, we have begun to select them based on their fear-based rhetoric.

Cowardice has become the order of the day. Men and women elected because they personally are terrified of everything.

Oh, they won’t admit it. They claim their position on immigration or terrorism or gun control is coming from their place of strength, but the truth is they are afraid, and they reach out to others who they can build that same fear in.

Fearful leaders are inevitably tyrannical in their rule. Mugabe in Zimbabwe, Saddam Hussain in Iraq, Idi Amin, Stalin, Lenin, Mao, Putin, and the most obvious one of all, Adolf Hitler:

Martin Niemoller documents an extreme example of this. He was a German pastor who took a heroic stand against Adolf Hitler. When he first met the dictator in 1933, Niemoller stood at the back of the room and listened. Later, when his wife asked him what he’d learned, he said, “I discovered that Herr Hitler is a terribly frightened man.” Fear releases the tyrant within.

Fearless Chapter 1: “Why Are We Afraid” by Max Lucado

It takes a special kind of person to be so consumed with fear that they can infect an entire nation with it. But it takes special circumstances for that country to be so gullible that they fall for it.

Someone posted on Facebook a few months ago, just after Donald Trump had made his first comments about watching Mosques, registering Muslims and stopping Mexican illegal immigrants, a picture of a bowl of M&Ms. The bowl was huge, the caption read “There are 100,000 chocolates in this bowl. 10 of them will kill you if you eat them. How many will you eat?”

Fearmongering at it’s basest level.Ten out of 100,000. The storyline below went on to say how the refugees were being infiltrated by ISIS terrorists and how as a result none of them could be trusted etc, etc.

And people bought into it.

Christians bought into it.

A Spirit of Fear has gripped the world in a way not seen in 80 years. And it’s tearing the world apart.

There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love.

1 John 4:18

9/11 set in motion a chain of events that has caused the creation of enemies far more deadly than Saddam ever was. George W and Tony Blair flat out lied about the reasons for going into the Gulf War. Thousands of young soldiers on both sides were killed or mutilated as a result. Both men had no military experience personally, something the leaders in the Second World War all had. Perhaps as a result fear was a factor in the decision to go to war. The need to appear strong and decisive in the face of the attack has haunted the globe since.

This week saw a horrific event in Nice, France. Another mass murder by a man it is said was a “radical Islamist”. The events in Europe are increasing, as is the level of fear reported. The Brexit victory was driven by scaremongers who after they won vanished so quickly it was more scary than their win. Apparently they had not considered the possibility of victory, and what to do with it. They just spouted fear-filled rhetoric.

Donald Trump talks of building a wall on the border with Mexico and banning all Muslims from entering the USA. Pure fear talking, but the terrified people respond to it. Recently there have been reports of African-American men being told to “go back to Africa” by whites, who apparently have no clue about why the Black population went to America in the first place – they are simply afraid.

I live in South Africa, a country well known for violence. Prison of FearI’m white, my wife isn’t. After the end of Apartheid legalised interracial marriage – a fear-based ban by a terrified minority – it looked like things would be ok. Fast forward from 1994 to 2016 and I get strange looks from people when I walk with my wife. I generally ignore them.

But Government in South Africa since Mandela has become corrupted by fearful men. Policies have become law that prevent non-Blacks from getting top jobs, or sometimes any job. Instead of investing in the education of the masses the terrified politicians have lined their own pockets and tried to protect their fortunes. The result is increasing crime, unemployment and poverty.

All because of fear.

But the Bible says:

 For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, “Abba, Father.”” (Romans 8:15)

The phrase “Do not be afraid” appears in some form or other hundreds of times in Scripture. I was once told the count is 365 – once for each day of the year – but I have never counted myself. It does seem to come up a lot though.

The early Church feared the Freedom they had been given Spiritually. Some of them made a return to old sacrificial offerings, others began to insist new converts be circumcised – something that might drive men away from the faith! Paul writes in several of his letters reminding his readers that the Law of the Old Covenant has now been replaced by the Law of Faith in Jesus, and lived his life with no fear of man.

Through the centuries there have been thousands of Christians martyred for their faith. They lived with no fear of men or Man’s laws because they are free in their Spirit. It’s the 21st Century now, and still Christians are persecuted across the world. It takes many forms, from beheadings in the Middle-East to ridicule in the West. Anything that seeks to silence our voice for Christ is persecution.

But the truly fearful people are the ones who seek to silence us, and the ones who allow their voice to be silenced. When Paul was told he would be imprisoned if he refused to stop talking about Jesus, he kept talking. The result was that he then ended up teaching the prison guards about Jesus. Everywhere he went, in every circumstance, Paul talked about his friend, Jesus, who knocked him off his donkey and forgave him for everything.

We need to be the same. Especially in a climate of fear such as we have today.

We are called to be Peacemakers.

Not cowards.

Jesus: The Unwelcome Guest?

Guest

We all get those annoying calls.

light_ofthe_world_hunt
“Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to dine with him, and he with Me.” Revelation 3:20

Be it the doorbell, telephone, email, whatsapp or delivery method of the moment, we all get the call from that person we really don’t want to hear from at that moment (or ever sometimes).

 

Just when you want to spend time on your own, or with your spouse there comes the chime.

“Can I pop round for 5 minutes?”

Your heart sinks.

To be fair, I’ve been the annoying caller as often as I’ve received them. When I first left home I wasn’t used to having friends – real friends – my own age. I didn’t know the etiquette. I’d lived a very isolated life, partly by choice to avoid pain, and partly because my pain overflowed and infected everyone near me so I got left out a lot until that point. I was not quite 20 when I left home, and I was welcomed into my then girlfriend’s group of friends from her university Christian Union. I was wary because I felt quite hurt by church at that point. I’d been set on a path to study for ordination in the Church of England, then because I was considering moving away and – for financial reasons initially – sharing digs with the girl I was dating my vicar told me he was withdrawing support for my application.

“Living in sin” wasn’t something I’d thought about, mainly because I recognised already that as far as sin goes we’re all pretty much in the same boat, just wearing different coloured blocks of concrete on our feet as swim-fins. Any sin separates us from God.

But I had this radical idea that Jesus was bigger than that. That He got into the boat with a chisel and chipped the concrete away so we could be free of the burden and walk with Him.

Apparently I was wrong was the message I got.

So I abandoned the hope of becoming a “professional” Christian and found myself wandering aimlessly into business management and customer service, never finding a passion for what I was doing, and resenting having been coerced into that stream.

I kept coming back to the idea of Jesus knocking on my door though.

My Grandfather was a minister, a Salvation Army Officer in his youth. He would advise me “The Holy Spirit is a Gentleman, David. He never forces His way in. You need to invite Him.” I didn’t get it back then. I was too young angry to grasp what he was telling me.

coyote vs tunnel.gifJesus is a guest in our life. He will not force His presence on us or His wisdom over our own. If we choose to follow a different path, He will wait patiently while we smash headlong into the cliff, like Wiley Coyote in the “Roadrunner” cartoons, then pick up the pieces and help us back to the safe path with Him after we’ve tried to force our way through the painted illusion a few times.

Basically, He waits for us to get tired of the constant bruising from running into an imaginary tunnel we painted in the first place and reach a place of acceptance where we invite Him to come in and share Wisdom with us.

I’ve heard preachers say God can’t be surprised. I don’t believe that’s true. There are several places where it’s recorded that the behaviour of the Israelites was so bizarre that God says “And they have built the high places of Tophet, which is in the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, to burn their sons and their daughters in the fire, which I did not command, nor did it come into My heart.” (Jeremiah 7:31) God is horrified that people created in His image could do something as horrific as human sacrifice, to the point that t was something He had never even imagined – He was surprised.

Even more surprising was that it was a regular happening, not just a once off.

We look back today in horror at the practice. Maybe a thousand years from now people will do the same when they look at selective abortion in lieu of exercising choice before the pregnancy.

But Jesus waits to be invited in.

If you don’t believe in healing, don’t worry: you’ll never have to deal with it. Same goes for financial Blessing. Jesus is a guest. He will never force us to accept a gift we don’t want.

Just consider for a moment: We were given Free-Will that God Himself has said He will not interfere with.

Imagine you go to a friend’s home and during your visit he kicks the cat. It’s his cat. You can sympathise with the feline, ask him to stop, threaten to leave, even threaten him with bodily harm for the assault; but at the end of the day you can’t un-kick the cat. And you can’t force him to never kick it again unless you take the cat away from him.

But you’re a guest in his house. And maybe what you see as abuse is a game they play together. The “kick” may have been more gentle than it appeared. I rough-house with my dogs. Anyone seeing me play with them would think I was being harsh, but I guarantee I come out of it worse for wear than they do.

As a guest in another’s home, we are invited in and the homeowner has the right to eject us should they choose to, or not let us in in the first place.

Jesus comes as a guest to us. He’s not SWAT with a search warrant and breaking down the door – although He has the power to do that. He comes as a guest and awaits invitation.

A personal example. When I moved to South Africa I wasn’t 100% certain it was the right timing so I invited Jesus to show me it was. I went to an estate agent to put my home on the market at 12pm. On the way home I got a call from the agent saying he had someone wanting to come and see the property right now. At 12:30pm I pulled into my drive to find agent and prospect waiting for me – I still don’t know how they got there before me. At 12:40pm the prospect accepted the full asking price and by 1pm the paperwork was signed confirming the sale of the house. In context: two doors away and identical house had been on the market for over a year for a lower price. The buyer had seen that house and rejected it as the price was too high.

So I moved to Cape Town. Very relieved I might add.

I had diabetes and gout at the time. After I’d been here for about a year the gout flared up and I was essentially crippled by it. I couldn’t walk and just the weight of a sheet made it feel like there was in insane imp inside my toe joint using dynamite and axes to hammer his way out. I prayed and felt the Holy Spirit tell me the gout was done.

Within an hour the pain, swelling and discolouration had gone completely. It’s never come back. I’ve not changed my eating habits in any way, in fact my eating habits should have made it much worse by now, but the gout is gone. When God does a work, it’s complete.

But I’m still diabetic. I couldn’t trust Jesus enough to let go of that. So I still have it. Every so often I get the prompt “Ready yet?” My heart says a resounding “YES!”, but my mind gets in the way. I get filled with “what if” questions. “What if it doesn’t work?”, “What if this isn’t God?”

So I’m stuck with diabetes until I can get my head out of the way. I know from Isaiah and Peter that by Jesus’s stripes I’m healed – of everything. I’ve seen in not just with gout but also with acute injuries to most of my body at some point. But somehow I can’t get it through for the diabetes.

That doesn’t mean God doesn’t heal diabetes. I know people He has healed of it. It just means Jesus won’t force Himself on me. He goes as far as I allow him to.

He is a guest.

If you visit a friend for a week, you don’t redecorate the house. It’s not yours to do. You’re a guest.

Why do we think Jesus would be any different when He comes into our life?

He stands and knocks, and waits for an invitation.

Surely you have room for a guest?

Paradise Lost

At once as far as angel’s ken he views
The dismal situation waste and wild,
A dungeon horrible, on all sides round
As one great furnace flamed, yet from those flames
No light, but rather darkness visible
Served only to discover sights of woe,
Regions of sorrow, doleful shades, where peace
And rest can never dwell, hope never comes
That comes to all; but torture without end
Still urges, and a fiery deluge, fed
With ever-burning sulphur unconsumed:
Such place eternal justice had prepared
For those rebellious, here their prison ordained
In utter darkness, and their portion set
As far removed from God and light of heaven
As from the center thrice to th’utmost pole.

Paradise Lost: Book 1 [John Milton]

What a description. Milton’s vision of Hell, a realm of Darkness

This place, forged by God before time itself began in preparation for any rebellion.

Adam and Eve were sent from the Garden of Eden, but Satan was sent to Hell. Milton’s imagery is stark and unrelenting. There is power in the words, but as vivid as the description is it does not begin to describe the war we are fighting.

 In the beginning [before all time] was the Word (Christ), and the Word was with God, and the Word was God Himself. He was [continually existing] in the beginning [co-eternally] with God. All things were made and came into existence through Him; and without Him not even one thing was made that has come into being. In Him was life [and the power to bestow life], and the life was the Light of men. The Light shines on in the darkness, and the darkness did not understand it or overpower it or appropriate it or absorb it [and is unreceptive to it].

John 1:1-5 Amplified

“The darkness did not understand it or overpower it or appropriate it or absorb it [and is unreceptive to it].” How much more of a description of the situation in the World today do we need than these words, penned by John, the Beloved Disciple around 2000 years ago?

Prophetic? Maybe. Accurate? Certainly.

We walk as figures of Light in a dark world, just as Jesus did. Soldiers of Christ in a war that makes the Normandy Invasion look like a kindergarten outing.

The World – especially in the West – stands against everything the Gospel stands for. We must live in the World, without being corrupted by it. And that’s not easy.

We start out as children of darkness, then we are born into the Kingdom of Light when we accept Christ. But this transformation is an ongoing process. It only truly ends when we pass from this fallen World into the World to come, where Christ makes all things new, wipes away every tear and Death itself is vanquished.

Some of my wording in this entry is deliberately reminiscent of the older hymns I grew up singing as a child and young Christian.

“Onward, Christian soldiers, marching as to War”L_Middle_Ages_-_Crusader, “Soldiers of Christ! Arise and put your armour on”. Calls to battle. Powerful words from an age when Christ and Christianity was taken seriously, when Christians shaped all walks of life by building schools, prisons, hospitals and a welfare system to support the poor – which in the majority of places have been taken over by Government and the Christian beginnings eradicated until we are left with schools where God is eliminated from the curriculum in favour of the religion of Atheism; prison systems where if you weren’t a hardened criminal when you went in, you are by the time you come out; hospitals where religious influence is minimised at best and usually restricted to prayers over the dead; and a welfare system that encourages the poor to stay poor rather than seeking to help them find a way out of their poverty – it encourages the disabling of the most vulnerable.

Where did I lose youHow can we not see the darkness in this change? As Christians, how can we live with the bastardisation of what was created by our forefathers to uplift and help all people, beaten into a tool to keep the weakest weak and protect the most powerful and rich?

I think Jesus would look at the Church today, or rather what passes itself off as it, and wonder what happened. There were so many things in the first hundred or so years of Christianity that were done by Christians without hesitation. They gave up possessions, land, houses, family and ultimately their lives rather than see another person in need or deny the presence of Christ in their life.

Today, things are somewhat different. Too often church has become a social club we go to on a Sunday – sometimes – rather than a description of the people who make up the group.

I had the experience of living in the lives of about 30 or so young Christians when I was in my 20s, from the area around Totnes in Devon, England. We lived in each others lives, ate at each others homes. If one person had a car and another needed transport there was no question of demanding petrol money – it was practically forced on the car owner! We would go over to see someone for coffee and end up staying three days. We met together as a group, yes, but the group didn’t define us. Our presence in each other’s lives did that. It was the most amazing time of my life, Spiritually, and although it somehow evaporated those people remain fast in my heart. I would not, no: I could not be the man I am today without the input from those young men and women of God. At 25/26 I was one of the oldest in the group. I was regularly admonished and corrected by younger members, some of them still under 17, who held wisdom and insight far beyond many adults – and I deeply miss their presence in my life on a daily basis.

There was Light in that group. A Light that the darkness of the World couldn’t grasp and couldn’t overpower. We shared everything and thought nothing of it.

But the driving force wasn’t from us, the members. It wasn’t from the church eldership either. The power behind it was we were drawn together by something much bigger than ourselves. Bound together by love, respect and a desire to grow ever closer to Christ as one body. Young men and women sharing space with no question of impropriety even occurring to anyone. We’d crash on the floor together at the end of an evening, sleep on sofas and beds in spare rooms without any question of “motive”. It was simply we were drawn by a desire to grow together.

Darkness never entered the group.

It couldn’t. We looked out for each other too much for it to have a chance to.

It was a reflection of Paradise for me. Heaven on a smaller scale (with less gold on the floor).

It’s not too late. If it could happen in a small group of youth, it can happen on a larger scale.

We can build a vision of a reflection of God’s World in this Fallen state simply by returning to the principles of the Church as led by Peter, Paul and the Apostles.

Paradise does not have to be lost.

The Folly of Legalism

What to do when everything is Forbidden

“Thou shalt not…

So says much of the opinion from the Pharisees. It’s echoed in the doctrines of Catholicism, Anglicanism, Lutherism. Calvinists swear by it. Southern Baptists in particular have a long list.

The Law in the Old Covenant was misunderstood in a huge way. The ancient Jews thought it had been given to them so they could earn a way to Heaven. They completely missed the point.

A couple of years ago I read a great book called “The Year of Living Biblically” by AJ Jacobs. He describes it as “One Man’s Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible”. It’s a brilliant and funny look at the crazy Laws of both the Old and New Testaments. A satirical (I hope!) look at legalism.

The thing is, as amusing – and trust me, it’s amusing – as it is, Jacobs focusses on the things forbidden by the Bible. I think to make a point.

And it did. It got me thinking about what I believe, and why I believe it.

The point of the Law was to demonstrate to the Jews that Salvation in every area was impossible to achieve by following a set of rules. Jesus equates holding anger in your heart to murder and “appreciating” the figure of the girl across the street as adultery. Just in those two simple thoughts at some point we’ve all been guilty of murder, coveting, adultery, etc, etc…

And I do mean all been guilty of it.

Pretty much the only thing that got a jail sentence under ancient Law was debt. Everything else, they killed you. That’s why when Jesus is brought the woman caught in the act of adultery nobody throws a stone. In retrospect, every one of them realised they were as deserving of stoning as the woman was.

I heard Donald Trump say he’d never asked forgiveness from God because he’d never done anything that needed forgiving. Maybe in terms of outward actions he’s right – unless you count adultery anyway. But he’s demonstrated what his thoughts are countless times, and I think we can agree this is a man who lacks a moral compass.

Not that Hilary Clinton is any better. She just knows how and when to keep her mouth shut (mostly). Politics is rife globally with morally bankrupt pseudo-leaders claiming innocence. In South Africa, Jacob Zuma was tried for rape shortly before being elected President, and the Constitutional Court held that several hundred counts of corruption and failing to uphold the Constitution should be prosecuted against him.

It seems like anything goes these days.

Nothing it forbidden any more.

St Paul had a similar problem in the church in Rome. Much of the society there can be seen in modern attitudes. Things which were absolute negatives by Mosaic Law were so commonplace nobody noticed them as sin any more. They were just a part of the way things were. Temples had prostitutes in them – some had more than the brothels did – murder was put on daily as entertainment in the Coliseum and Circus Maximus in Rome and the amphitheatres around the Roman Empire.

What do you do when society demonstrates no moderation?World Law

Demonstrate Holiness.

Worldly society is gradually changing the rules for mankind. When warned of changes, Christians need to be the ones to initiate reforms. Throughout history for 2000 years that’s what has happened. Abolition of slavery, education for all, welfare handouts (alms), legal age of consent, age of majority, ending racism and sexism (or trying to). These have been done, and are being worked on by Christians. Men like William Wilberforce, John and Charles Wesley, William Booth, Billy Graham, CH Spurgeon and many other lesser known but equally important men and women of God have changed history.

But their focus was mainly on what was not forbidden rather than a list of decrees on stopping behaviour.

Consider your toddler. “Don’t poke the dog” is seen less as a command and more of a challenge issued to small children. My own brother died because he didn’t listen when my parents told him not to go out on his bicycle to the local garden centre because the road was too dangerous. He was nine. He caused an accident that left him dead and scarred an innocent motorist’s memory for life because of Robin’s actions.

No, “thou shalt not” has never been particularly effective. Even the death penalty doesn’t deter people these days. And why should it? Popular society has decreed there is no literal Hell, the devil doesn’t exist and God is this guy in a dressing-gown with a beard down to his knees who is a vegan pacifist. Of course that god would let anyone in to heaven.

But there are moral absolutes. God’s opinion on sinful thoughts and actions is perfectly clear. The Bible also says God does not change, but rather:

Jesus Christ is [eternally changeless, always] the same yesterday and today and forever

Hebrews 13:8 (Amplified)

The Holy Spirit gives Peter a vision of all kinds of animals lowered in a blanket from Heaven, and he is invited to kill and eat (Hebrews 10 & 11) both kosher and ceremonially unclean animals. (Personally I’m glad. I love bacon!) This is an echo of Jesus’ words that it is not what we eat, but what comes out of our mouths in the form of anger or hate that makes us “unclean”.

All things are lawful [that is, morally legitimate, permissible], but not all things are beneficial or advantageous. All things are lawful, but not all things are constructive [to character] and edifying [to spiritual life]. Let no one seek [only] his own good, but [also] that of the other person.

1 Corinthians 10:23-24 (Amplified)

In the New Covenant, Jesus has completed the Law and granted permission to us to act how we choose. But Paul shows this freedom is only free because it has boundaries of morality and decency.

Not all things are good for us – even if the law of the World says they are ok. Man’s laws must be placed behind God’s, and it’s our place as Christians to see that they are.

Now before the extreme right wing gets their rifles out let me quantify that. (For the extreme right wing, that means I’m going to break it into small words for you so you understand.)

We should seek to protect those who cannot protect or speak for themselves. That includes babies being terminated.

PUT THE RIFLE DOWN!

It NEVER means “go shoot the doctor and blow up the clinic”. There are times when the safety of the mother needs to be considered. In the case of pregnancy by rape, the issue must never be an absolute forbidding of termination.

What it does mean to be “pro-choice” is that you are free to make the choice before the pregnancy. Sex outside marriage is not God’s plan, but if you’re going to do it at least make sure no unplanned pregnancy can happen. Abortion should never be a contraceptive option. No baby should be aborted because they will be inconvenient.

Sex before marriage is permissible in so far as it’s no longer something to be executed for, but it’s not beneficial for us. It gets in the way of our relationship with God.

I love “Bones” on TV. One of the greatest things is the battle inside Booth, the “good” Catholic, over his standing with God before he marries Brennan. He has a child with her and they live together but he can’t go to confession any more because he would have to confess sexual immorality and he can’t get absolution because his confession needs to be from a place where he will repent and completely stop the unGodly behaviour, but he won’t because he’s “in love” with Brennan.

Forgiveness is hard to come by when everything is forbidden.

It’s easy to go to God and be forgiven when it’s something we didn’t mean to do, want to do and will never do again. But when it’s something that brings a little happiness it makes it difficult. Blocks between us and God get put in place the second we say “forbidden”.

Samuel L Jackson’s character in “The Negotiator” tells his colleague to never say “No” to a hostage taker. It closes options.

God, I believe, recognises this in us. He meets us where we are.

And what was forcibly forbidden under the Old Covenant is more gently guided out of society through forgiveness and repentance – the complete turning away from these actions that threaten our relationship with God.

Forbidding leads to intolerance and hate.

And there’s enough of that without the Church adding to the mayhem. We should be the Peacemakers.

Everything has a Context…

“I am a rock,
I am an island.”

I am a Rock; Paul Simon 1965

I’ve had this song stuck  in my head for a couple of days now. I like Simon & Garfunkel. Their songs often reflect where I am. Billy Joel is another favourite of mine, in fact I’m fairly sure his “Innocent Man” album was written specifically about my life at that point!

I’ve been feeling a little out of sorts recently. My focus, which with ADD isn’t great to start with, has been off. Physically I’ve been in pain for longer than I can remember and it’s getting worse, my psychologist had to postpone my appointment with him for this coming week (I see this guy because he’s also got Bible Study qualifications – my experience with non-Christian psychologists has been less than great and very expensive) and my ability to help the people I care about as an individual is compromised because of all of the preceding factors.

BUT…

Things are changing. Finally.

Despite the best efforts of my family I’ve felt very isolated the last few years. As a group we’ve had some major issues to deal with, which are not my testimony to share, and as an individual I’ve had to deal with an altered reality after finding the context of my early life changed by initially one, now two medical discoveries: ADD being the first, and a diagnosis of Schoemann’s Disease – a condition where the vertebrae in the thoracic part of my spine are not “normal” leading to chronic back pain – being the second, and I only found out about that a month ago. It changed the context of my life – again – and I’m dealing with the change that means for me, and my perspective of who I am and have been for 44 years.

“Have you considered my servant Job?” asks God several times in Job. Satan takes his family, influences the “helpful” comments of his wife and friends, bankrupts him and finally is given leave to attack his body as long as he does not actually kill the man of God.

Job refuses to curse God or blame Him for his current situation, no matter how bad it gets. He can’t see it, but somehow he recognises there is another perspective to what he’s experiencing and God will be faithful if he remains true to his God.

So true he remains.

And God restores him with more than he’d originally lost.

Job realises his life is part of a context he can’t quite see.

Now I said things are rough. I’m not Job, but I can see how the guy could be tempted to quit. Isolation is not a good thing. Job’s friends and his wife left him feeling isolated, marooned on his own private island of contemplation.

That’s the part where I identify. 17 years ago at this tie of 1999 I was facing the imminent death of my dad from cancer. We knew it was coming, the tumour in his brain could not be completely removed because – as I understand it – a glioblastoma sets “roots” into surrounding tissue. Brain tissue. The tumour they removed was the size of a grapefruit. For a while dad’s personality returned, but there was damage. He lost his sense of balance and had to use a wheelchair or walking sticks to he didn’t fall over. I had made a mistake that had undone my faith to see him healed: I had asked the doctor straight out if the tumour would kill him. Rookie mistake. We place weight on the words spoken by experts, and when the answer came back “yes”, my ability to pray without doubt for healing was shattered and I didn’t have enough time for it to recover before he died.

I’ve built walls,
A fortress deep and mighty,
That none may penetrate.
I have no need of friendship; friendship causes pain.
It’s laughter and it’s loving I disdain.
I am a rock,
I am an island.

I felt alone then, despite my mum’s best efforts. I realise now she needed me to need her so she wasn’t alone, but I was broken badly and couldn’t get past it.

In many ways I feel similarly broken at the moment. Lots of people are reaching out to help, but I seem to be unable to express what I really need – probably because I’m not 100% sure. I want them to be around and help me with what I’m going through, but at the same time I want them to butt out and leave me alone to do things my own way. The two are mutually exclusive.

I have my books
And my poetry to protect me;
I am shielded in my armour,
Hiding in my room, safe within my womb.
I touch no one and no one touches me.
I am a rock,
I am an island.

But things are changing. My time as an island is drawing to a close, finally.

Our regular receptionist is on leave this week so we have another lady filling in. I find it easier to relax with our stand-in for some reason I have yet to figure out. My wife is going to be in doing more hours, which I’m nervous about but is a good thing in the long run. We have a lady starting this week who I’m training to take over the part of the job I can no longer do. Exciting times.

We live in an isolated world today.

Growing up, “social networking” meant having my best mate over to play “Elite” on my computer, a few of us getting together to go for a walk, cycling to the local reservoir or just to hang out and talk. The internet hadn’t been invented yet, and my current SIM card has more memory than my computer did then.

Simpler times. And harder to be isolated in. We were there – physically – for one another. When my brother died I was with a good friend. I spent the next few days in the company of him and a handful of other real friends, not “virtual” ones.

I wasn’t an island. I couldn’t be. At a party I’d be the guy sitting in the corner making small-talk with the potted fern, sure, but in real-life when the ones tormenting me were split off from the group I was also the go-to guy for real advice. And I had go-to friends when I needed advice as well.

There’s a place here in South Africa I love to visit, although it’s been a couple of years since I was able to. Jongensgat has 2 timber cottages that have electricity and running water but no phone. No TV or internet either. My cell-phone gets no reception there.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
View from Jongensgat cottage

When you go with a few people you have no option but to interact. There’s no sense of urgency. Whilst there is a kitchen, cooking is done over a slow fire by the door in a potjie – a cast-iron pot that resembles a small cauldron – and the stews it creates take several hours to cook, so you settle down with a glass of wine, scotch (or two), cider or beer and talk. It’s a great way to be.

You get to really know people after a few days in that environment. The artificial barriers we put up as social norms begin to come down and we rediscover we were meant for fellowship. God was right when He said it is not good for man to be alone. Alone we kind of find new and improved ways of screwing up – not that it is possible to underestimate the impact of large groups of stupid people.

But to be able to unplug with people you care about and remind yourself why you care about them is very important.

Even Jesus had friends. He spent over 3 years walking around the countryside with 12 guys, talking, joking, eating, sleeping and praying together. And that’s just the time we know about from the Gospels. He was over 30 when executed, so some of those guys He’d probably known for some time. He was God, but He was human too – and humans are designed to function around other humans. His nature as God could not escape the fact that as Man, Jesus had needs. He needed rest, sleep, companionship. Maslow’s hierarchy would apply to Jesus just as much as it does to you and me.

Yes, Jesus drew away from time to time to be alone. We all need to do that sometimes, but He came back because as a man He was designed to need company of humans – and God designed humans to be His friends, not automatons mindlessly worshipping Him. Before the Fall, Adam walked with God in the cool of the evening as a friend. God wanted to get that back, so He dressed Himself in Jesus’ body and became that He wanted to be reconciled with.

God didn’t want to be an island. He didn’t design man to be either.

And a rock feels no pain;
And an island never cries.

We’re not islands. Our lives have a context within the life-stories of those we are around.

My dearest friend is a young woman I met a few years ago. She was my boss at the company I was working for at the time, brought in from another city. I miss her company dreadfully because other than my wife, she’s the only friend I’ve had in over 20 years who makes me forget to check my phone every five minutes. The truest friend I’ve made in many years. One of her poems is an entry on this blog, “If I Give Up Now”, and is a post I frequently re-read myself. Please have a look as I know it will Bless you in ways you won’t realise unless you read it!

I’m not afraid to have female friends. It’s part of not being an island for me. Billy Graham made a point of never being alone with a woman so he could never be accused of improper conduct. There’s wisdom in that, but sometimes the softer nature or stronger nature of the opposite gender is exactly what we need. If the only waves to strike shore were stormy the coastline would be destroyed in no time. Similarly if all the waves ever did was to lap gently on the rocks there would never be any change. Nature needs soft and hard impressions, so do our spirits. That’s why God made men and women different from one another. A woman’s strength is often hidden in softness, a man’s softness hidden by strength.

Things happen in life. During the last 30 or so years in mine I’ve seen new lives enter the world, held the hands of the dying, attempted suicide, buried over 20 family members – some of whom I’m now older than – made and lost friends, loved and been loved.

I’ve also isolated myself and allowed myself to be brought back in by the ones who love me.

I’ve learned that while I can be an island, this life is so much better if it’s shared.

 

Island