Can I Get An "Amen"… Oh Brother…

Ok, so anyone who has ever read anything on this site knows I’m a Christian.

I hope.

But I tend to be a bit more chilled out than it may seem from some of my writing.

I write like I would speak at a conference. Or like I’ve heard people speak at conferences in the past. And there’s nothing wrong with it for me in that environment.

But I can’t take a non-Christian friend to a church that’s that way every single week!

I don’t like having to Translate for people I take with me.

I remember the first very “evangelical/charismatic” church service I was taken to. I’d been a Christian a couple of years but I was still only about 14 or 15 at the time, and had only known the Church of England up until then, I thought these people were out of their minds.

The preacher kept asking “Can I get an ‘AMEN’?” from the congregation.

I kept wanting to ask “Why?”

These preachers who have to ask bug me when it’s every week.

Conferences are different. You don’t know the group. They don’t know you. So it’s different at a conference. The crowd comes from all backgrounds and all walks of life, every colour, accent, race background you can imagine all there for one reason – to hear you talk about Jesus. It’s a VERY different experience.

But every week?

Oh Brother!

I took a friend who had been moving towards God to church a few times in England. Then we went to a cell group with his girlfriend – who hadn’t been to church with us.

He was fine, but the girlfriend was completely freaked out. She’d never been to church of any kind, and even a friendly and laid-back “charismatic” setting was too much for her.

And we only had one “can I get an ‘Amen'” in the meeting – ironically from me!

We need to be salt and light to the World. That means they need to understand us.

Jesus drew the most broken people to Himself. Prostitutes. Shepherds. Tax collectors.

In modern society it would be the drug addicts, hookers, bikers, “gangsta” types that He’d reach. Exactly the people so many “evangelical” churches push away with the self-righteous crap they spout.

Their are certain moral absolutes that the World expects us as Christians to overlook today. Sexual immorality – and I’m not only speaking about the LGBTetc extreme here. Sex before marriage has crept so subtly into everyday society that many churches don’t even think to mention it. Not long ago divorce would have ended a local pastor’s ministry following an affair. These days it’s barely a ripple in a high-profile “evangelical” ministry leader’s resumé to be divorced.

The issue is the way the church’s self-proclaimed recruiting branch – the evangelicals – spends the majority of its time behaving in a way that actually drives away even genuine Christians because they can’t relate to the condemnation that pours out of the pulpits.

Again, don’t get this wrong. I’m not endorsing homosexuality, infidelity, promiscuity or any other form of sexual sin. That’s what it is: sin.

Equally, you won’t find this site endorsing greed, selfish ambition, vanity or any other sin.

Sin is self-worship. That’s why it drives a wedge between us and God. We are designed to worship. We all do it. Everyone worships something. Be it Christians, Muslims, Hindus or atheists, everyone worships something.

That’s why the whole “Can I get” gets under my skin. It smacks of worshipping the speaker rather than the speaker pointing to the Lord. And it’s so subtle the way it has infiltrated the “evangelical/charismatic” branch of the church disguised as some kind of Godly behaviour. But it needs a translator to understand it, and it alienates anyone not in that group.

Jesus came talking about sheep to shepherds, lost coins to widows, fish to fishermen and judgement to Pharisees – the judgemental.

He met people where they were. Even when they were dead.

How simple would it be for us to do the same? He saw the hurt in the Samaritan woman at the well. Just think about the story for a moment.

You can find the story in the whole of John 4. It’s quite long so rather than reproduce it here I’ll add it as a link here.

But here’s the breakdown. Jesus sits down a noon. It seems innocuous to us. But this is Samaria. A Jew sitting down in a town in Samaria. At the hottest time of the day.

The woman comes to the well, carrying a heavy water-jar. Again, it seems to our modern world. But this is 2000 years ago. Mid day was not a time to go and fetch water. But this woman comes now. Everyone in the town knows her story. Her heart must have sunk as she sees a stranger sitting on the wall of the well.

A Jew. She’s a Samaritan. She knows what they think of her just for being a Samaritan. Quislings. Impure. Worse than a tax collector.

So she sighs and goes to the well. Broken down. Broken hearted.

Then Jesus speaks to her.

She must have almost died of shock. Firstly He’s a Jew. Secondly He’s a man. This breaks so many “rules” it’s impossible to list them all.

He asks for water. For Him to ask for water from her is as likely as Him asking for a pork chop dinner. She’s a Samaritan!

She draws the water for Jesus. She probably expected Him to use it to spit on her. But her curiosity is peaked. I love verse 9 in “The Message”:

The Samaritan woman, taken aback, asked, “How come you, a Jew, are asking me, a Samaritan woman, for a drink?” (Jews in those days wouldn’t be caught dead talking to Samaritans.)

Jesus doesn’t care about convention. He tells her she should rather be asking Him for Living Water – eternal Life.

For a moment, she is confused. He has no bucket, no rope, nothing to draw water with. After all, He just asked her to give Him a drink.

Jesus explains, and for the fullness I look to the Amplified translation of verse 14:

But whoever drinks the water that I give him will never be thirsty again. But the water that I give him will become in him a spring of water [satisfying his thirst for God] welling up [continually flowing, bubbling within him] to eternal life.

She’s all but forgotten her initial fear now, and asks Jesus for the water He offers.

I’d love to see the look on Jesus’s face. A thirsty heart, here in Samaria. Looking for Him, the Messiah. One who truly loves His Father. I can imagine the twinkle in His eye as He sees her heart open to everything the Father offers. His playful nature shining through His smile.

But she misses it for a moment. She doesn’t see the twinkle as Jesus says “Fetch your husband”. Her heart breaks. But there’s something different in Him.

She could have said “He’s out of town”. Or “He’d be in the fields now”. Or any number of other things except the truth.

But she tells the truth. “I have no husband”.

Well, part of the truth anyway. She’s coming to the well at noon to avoid the accusations of the other women. She’s living with a man who won’t even give her his name, but he must have been taking a “husband’s” pleasures. Giving herself to a man who refuses to enter a covenant of marriage because she believes for whatever reason that it’s all she’s worth.

The town harlot. Condemned by everyone in the village. Jesus is the first person she’s met in years who speaks to her with respect, who doesn’t instantly judge her. Who isn’t repulsed by her presence. So a half-truth will suffice. The stranger doesn’t need to know she’s “sexually immoral”. He can just think she’s unmarried, or a widow. No need to rock the boat of this man who’s treated her with decency.

But Jesus knows already. “That’s nicely put: ‘I have no husband.’ You’ve had five husbands, and the man you’re living with now isn’t even your husband. You spoke the truth there, sure enough.” (The Message)

Her heart must have broken even more, but she tries to deflect. “Oh, you’re a prophet?” Quick, change the subject before it gets ugly – after all, she still needs to draw the water.

You [Samaritans] do not know what you worship; we [Jews] do know what we worship, for salvation is from the Jews. But a time is coming and is already here when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit [from the heart, the inner self] and in truth; for the Father seeks such people to be His worshippers. God is spirit [the Source of life, yet invisible to mankind], and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.”

John 4:22-24 Amplified

He calls her out again. It’s not about where you worship. Samaritans don’t know the truth.

But there’s no judgement in His words. She replies that she’s looking for the Messiah.

The absolute Joy Jesus must have felt when she said that. The delight in His heart as He says ““I am he,” said Jesus. “You don’t have to wait any longer or look any further.”” (verse 26, The Message)

Then the disciples return. They must have been used to the unusual by this point. It may only be chapter 4, but they already know by what already went down that Jesus is not your average bear. After all, He already turned water into wine – a lot of wine – in Cana, drove the traders out of the Temple in Jerusalem, prophesied His own Resurrection, and begun His miracle ministry.

But this is still a shock. He’s talking to a woman. No respectable Jewish man would talk to a woman in public – especially a Samaritan woman. But they know well enough to keep their mouths shut about it.

The woman runs back into town telling everyone about her encounter with Jesus. The Message says in her confusion she left her water jar, but most of the others just say she left it. She came to the well with a burden, literally and spiritually, and runs back into the town with neither.

There’s a parallel here with the day of the Resurrection. Mary Magdalene, a prostitute, is the first person to declare the Resurrection. Here, the town harlot is the one to reveal the presence of the Messiah.

But Jesus never once asked if He could get an “amen” from the crowd…

Fresh Start

OK, this New Year fits several categories…
Marathon
Capable
Someday
Exquisite
Hopeful
And hopefully Successful

The year began with the news we have been wanting for three years. My wife has been offered a job in England. For three years we have fought our way through what has felt like a monster battle, a marathon of a race, where we have lost almost everything except our lives – and even that’s been touch-and-go at times.

It’s often felt like a “someday” existence, looking for hope. The writer of Proverbs said:

“Hope deferred makes the heart sick”

Proverbs 13:12a (NKJV)

It’s certainly felt like that for us. So many times our hopes have been dashed or postponed. The torture has felt never-ending.

Depression. Heart-sick existence.

But then the year started with a call from England. An agency who had rejected her had a new person look at her CV and called to ask if he could put it forward to a hospital group he felt would be a perfect fit. We agreed, not expecting much as the group he mentioned had rejected the CV out of hand six months earlier.

The next day came the call to set up a Skype interview with the hospital the following Thursday. We agreed, and I taught my wife very hurriedly the basics of how to use Skype!

The interview went ok. I was sitting out of sight and found myself wincing at some of her answers to their questions. To be honest, had I been the interviewer, even making allowances for technology and nerves I’d have questioned if the fit was going to be right.

Friday morning, 11am South African time – 9am UK time – the phone rang. The hospital wants her so badly they are going to apply to be sponsors with the Home Office so they can employ her faster.

We were completely bowled over.

“But when the desire comes, it is a tree of life.”

Proverbs 13:12b (NKJV)

After 3 years, her ability has been recognised. The offer is there.

Exquisite doesn’t begin to describe the pleasure of that moment. Even being admitted to hospital the next day didn’t tarnish the feeling.

Of course, now we have a new marathon to run. Immigration to the UK ought to be a simple affair. After all, I’m British and we’ve been married over ten years. Nobody could possibly call the last few years a marriage of convenience. But paperwork is needed. The length of our relationship is, apparently, irrelevant to the UK. As is me being a British Citizen, because I don’t have an adequate income in Pounds. So the next part of the race begins.

But it’s a fresh start. There’s hope again. Suddenly “someday” has become “8 weeks from now”.

House-hunting, finding a suitable job to generate an income for me, organising the quarantine for our dogs, packing and re-packing boxes has become a daily ritual. Writing – which I feel passionately is what God has for me moving forward – gets pushed aside for the “practical” stuff.

It’s easy to lose sight of the truly important in the busyness of the business of moving our life to the other end of the planet. But writing, and when the doors open speaking, is what I know God has called me to do.

His timing is perfect. And He calls us to be fully alive – that is His Glory. Our success – whatever He calls us to do – brings Glory to Him.

So my prayer for us, and for anyone taking time to read this today, is to find His purpose for our life, keep Him at the centre of it through the teething time of a new beginning, and let Him lead us into success beyond our imagination!

The Safest Road

“Indeed the safest road to Hell is the gradual one – the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts”

CS Lewis: The Screwtape Letters Ch 12

I’ve walked a fairly “safe” road the last few years spiritually. If you’ve read much of this blog, that may be a surprise to you as my writing tends to be from my heart but my actions in my daily walk get diluted by the issues of a daily battle, complicated by studying, working, married life and so on.

We all suffer these distractions if we are not careful. I lost sight of how blinkered I’d become until recently when my wife and I were forced to take several major steps of Faith. We made them tentatively at first, leaving the flat where we had been living for a year to move back in with my mum and finally making the decision to finally and definitely move to England as soon as possible. Within a few days of the final hard decision being made, and me declaring that “No matter what, we will move to England in the next three months”, my wife was contacted by a new agency, had an interview with a company she had previously been introduced to by another agency and rejected by, and offered a permanent job in Somerset to begin as soon as possible. The interview was last Thursday, the offer made on Friday morning, just nine hours later. We went out to dinner to celebrate Friday night and…

I was admitted to hospital on Saturday morning with a mystery infection in my foot that isn’t responding to prayer (first rebuttal attack as always), oral antibiotics, steroids or any other medications. My sugar control shot to pieces and so now I write from a hospital bed, not feeling even slightly ill, but told it could be quite serious. The phrase “e-coli” has even been thrown around this morning!

All I can do is laugh! I think it’s getting to my fellow inmates, but it’s nice to be the most positive voice in the room. I have things in common with everyone, some of which I can share – a love of motorbikes, a dislike of crashing motorbikes, quality and portion sizes of hospital food and how hard it is to sleep in hospital – and some of which I have been told in confidence, and I will not break that.

Something that has been hard for me in the last 24 hours has been to sit still. I don’t have much of an option here, but with my head racing at a billion miles an hour being forced to sit still is not a bad thing. I chatted to David, the chap in the bed opposite me, for a while this morning. Neither of us slept much last night but I found myself suddenly sharing a part of my testimony I’ve not spoken out loud in over ten years with him. I don’t expect to see a harvest personally, but it felt like planting a seed for the first time in years. I’ll leave it to God what happens next for him, but for me I found a sudden peace and stillness I’ve missed for years. Then I decided to open my Christmas Present to myself – a book of devotionals called “Knowing the Heart of God” by John Eldredge. Today’s passage was 1 Samuel 3:9 “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening”.

Apparently God has a sense of humour – but I’ve thought this for 30 years.

There is much to do before I can move to England. Our dogs must be quarantined for rabies and housed in suitable kennels for the duration. I feel dreadful leaving them for so long, but the upside will be having them with us or their twilight years as they are both over ten now, so for big dogs they are ageing now.

dsc00031Their father, Cadbury, died of cancer as a young dog, but their mum, Beamer, only passed a few months ago at the age oIMG_20160531_154122f 12.

Losing her was a shock for us, the picture to the right was only taken a few weeks before she died and she was still very much herself, just a loss of appetite. It turned out that was caused by liver cancer and she would have only had a few weeks left and they would have been very painful. Having watched Cadbury deteriorate over three weeks from cancer a few years ago we elected to not let her suffer.

What does this have to do with a safe road though?

Basically, we were tempted to take the easy road.

A week ago I was offered a small business in South Africa for no financial investment. A friend’s father has decided to stop his gardening business and I was offered the use, for a profit share, of: the pickup, several top-of-the-line weed-eaters (strimmers) and petrol run gardening tools as well as a generator and some electrical equipment. I have some experience from a few years ago in building and garden maintenance and the thought of a ready-made business is beyond enticing at a time when a white foreigner in South Africa is almost unemployable.

The offer came days after I’d made the declaration about going to England, and it’s incredibly tempting. It’s easy work for me – employ a couple of men to do the heavy work, do the business management and marketing stuff myself and a nice little business to keep things ticking over here. A month ago I would have jumped on the chance, but I felt something say “Hold Back!”

So I asked for a few days to mull it over and discuss it with Rene. She reminded me of my declaration of Faith that we were going to England. Now the offer for England is there, and I’m working on not just the move, but also a series of Kindle books to publish via www.smile.amazon.com (that’s amazon.com but with a portion of your purchase being donated to the charity of your choice – mine is Andrew Wommack Ministries, but choose your own!) over the next two months for Lent, Easter, Ascension Day and Pentecost. It’s all happened so fast even my faster-than-normal brain is spinning!

It would be easy to say “let’s stay in Cape Town” and do the gardening and Rene stay in her practice.

Easy.

Safe.

But hunting lions is not easy, and it’s certainly not safe. I may be the first person in history to be leaving living in Africa to hunt his Lion!

My passion is Christ. I hope that is obvious from these scribblings. But I’ve found it near impossible to find a church I was able to integrate into here. I know it’s me, not the churches that’s the issue, but it still grates that it’s over ten years since I’ve been an actual member of a church locally. That’s not to say I’ve not attended, or that I’ve not had regular fellowship with other Christians, in particular my wife’s family and my dear friend Thuli Nkoyana (whose poem I published on this site here) without whose encouragement I may never have got this far with my writing.

But staying put is safe. At least, it seems to be.

If you get a chance to read Bruce Wilkinson’s book “The Dream Giver” then do so. The story of Ordinary, from a land of Nobody’s who dreams of being Somebody is great, but the disturbingly accurate description of the land he comes from where the people go to their normal job in their normal car then come home and sit in their normal chair and watch their box for entertainment is such an accurate picture of society – all it needs now is to add in iPads and Tablets and it’s today’s society. Scary stuff.

But as Ordinary sets off to leave the land of Familiar to pursue his dream he encounters resistance from people he least expects it from. It’s the same for us. If we go after what God puts in our hearts to do it upsets other people’s lives as well as our own. Our sudden absence (or presence) in their life changes their familiar dynamics. I know my mum isn’t looking forward to us moving. She’s become very quickly adapted to our presence in her home and has stated how much she’s going to miss us. But sometimes we have to follow our dream even if it means disrupting, even hurting, the people we love.

The thing is, taking the safe road usually means moving away from God’s Will for our life. Satan doesn’t resist people moving in the direction he wants them to move in. Or sometimes the resistance is a token easily overcome. We exchange our grand, God-given vision for a smaller, more comfortable one. And we quietly sit in our comfortable life, taking the safe road, dying and not even realising it or living a fraction of what God had stored up for us.

Take the road less travelled. There will be risks. There may be dangers untold and losses unexpected, but the rewards are greater.

But be warned, there are things that will happen:

  • Friends will abandon you
  • Family will disown you
  • You will have to choose between your call and your day-job (if they’re different)
  • You are declaring war on an enemy who will stop at nothing to destroy you.

It’s hard on the front line of the battle. The pioneers who went West and settled America or South and settled Australia, New Zealand and South Africa faced unimaginable hardships. The men fighting in the trenches on the Somme a century ago faced death from the enemy and from the living conditions.

Some quit the battle. They turn back and look for the easier road.

But ours is not a road that is easy.

But it leads to the only truly Safe destination.

Keep Calm and…

Carry on Learning

23rd August saw the 17th anniversary of my dad’s death. I don’t usually keep track of the day, for several reasons – not least of which is that the event was a major part of the trigger that launched me towards depression and four [failed] suicide attempts.

Keeping calm isn’t my strongest suit. I’ve mentioned in previous posts that I have a short temper. But I do consider myself to be a lifelong learner.

We essentially have two options in life. Growth or death. There is nothing else.

For over a year after my dad died I actively sought death. Instead of allowing myself to grow, I sank into a black pit of depression.

Just a few weeks before dad was diagnosed we had gone to a conference in Devon, just for the day. It was around the time of the Columbine shootings.I remember as one of the teachers had to return to his church in Littleton. We listened, worshipped and prayed. We went and had lunch, then the afternoon and evening sessions. Great teaching and amazing worship. Then a call for someone with cancer to go and receive healing. Nobody moved.

I didn’t know at the time, but my dad was already taking massive doses of painkillers for headaches. And I mean MASSIVE doses. A box of Nurofen a day.

A month later he collapsed with a massive brain tumour. He lived just 3 months more.

We both learned a lot from the experience. One important thing I learned was that not every minister gets it. At my dad’s bedside the day he went Home, the vicar came to pray with us and for him. He asked Jesus to take dad to himself and give comfort to those left behind. He said we can’t know God’s plan.

Dad had fought this sickness. Even then, he was fighting. I told him if he wanted to go that we’d be ok, even though I wasn’t sure. John, the vicar, was a decent guy. He wanted to do the right thing. But my dad was 56, just 12 years older than I am now, and far short of three score and ten. God limited man’s days to 120 years after the flood. 70 or 80 was an observation by Moses, not a decree of longevity by God. There were prophetic promises spoken over dad just a few weeks earlier that went unfulfilled because of his death. God’s Word does not return void, but we can curtail it’s effect.

When Jesus went to Nazareth in His ministry, the Bible says He could do very little in His hometown because of their lack of faith. He was not honoured because they thought they knew Him.

They didn’t.

They knew their concept of Jesus. Son of the carpenter. Brother of James and son of Mary. His earthly siblings were still living there. They couldn’t see the forest because their own trees obscured it.

I love to look at nature. The complexity of a flower and the intricate design of a pollinating Beeinsect like a bee or a butterfly. I try to not allow my own concept to prevent me seeing the glorious design God has put in place. Bees are truly incredible creatures. There is so much we owe this humble insect, yet most people seem terrified of them. Most people don’t get that if a bee stings you, it dies. Stinging is not on a bee’s “to do” list every morning.

The bee flies because it has no concept of aerodynamics. I’d never get into an aircraft that looked like a bee because at school I studied aerodynamics. I don’t know how a bee flies. It shouldn’t.

But a bee doesn’t know it shouldn’t, so it does. Simple faith.

I sit on chairs in the faith that they will hold me. I’m a big guy, 220lbs, and there have been times that faith has been misplaced. But generally chairs hold me. Otherwise I’d stand all the time.

I learn.

We do what we know we are. Proverbs 23:7 says “As he thinks in his heart, so is he.” The context is of a selfish rich man paying lip-service to giving, but the concept holds true to all of us. We cannot behave in a way other than how we perceive ourselves to be. If we are not committed to growth, we will perish. It’s that simple.

Growth is not just the concept of new ideas, but to be prepared to stand fast on ones that have stood for thousands of years despite current societal and political trends. It’s hard when the World labels us “backward” or “x-phobic” (whatever the “x” of the moment is). But I’m more concerned about opposing God than man. We all should be.

God doesn’t change. No “shadow of turning” as the hymn puts it. “Thou changest not, thy compassions they fail not; As thou hast been, thou for ever wilt be” (Great is thy Faithfulness).

We forget because remembering puts us in a quandary. There is no genetic reason for most behaviour. Including homosexuality, but not limited to it. Nature vs Nurture would seem to suggest heavily that Nurture – or errors in it – plays a role, a significant one, in our development.

I was accused often of being gay at school because I wasn’t a sportsman I was a musician, and outside school my main hobby was ballet. At six feet tall and about 190lbs I was the least likely dancer you could meet, but a dancer I was. I loved it. It was a “safe” place for me. I got the chance to express something through dance I couldn’t anywhere else, even in music. But I never doubted my sexuality. Very definitely NOT gay! I learned that respect for women Marilyn Monroe spoke of in one movie, a girl can walk through a backstage area nearly naked and not be molested, but put the same girl fully dressed in an office and she’ll be harassed was the sentiment. I forget which movie it was, I seem to remember a billionaire pretending to be a normal guy to woo her in it. I just remember the idea and thought about it a lot. Several of the girls at dancing were also at the sister-school to the boys school I went to and the comments the boys made were usually disgusting about them fully dressed. I can honestly say I never even thought that and I’d seen WAY more than they had over the years. The ladies were people to me, not objects.

I also learned young that looks change in a second. It’s folly to base a life on appearances. What taught me was the story of Simon Weston, the young officer badly burned in the Falklands War in 1982. He became a hero and a celebrity after his injuries on the HMS Sir Galahad scarred him physically, but the strength of who he was came through.

Learning is not optional.

Actually, I suppose it is. We can walk around ignorant if we choose to. Dad used to say “You can lead a horse to water, shove it’s head under the surface and waggle it’s tongue up and down. It drinks or it drowns!” He never literally tried it, but as a teacher he saw it with kids in his care, and the colleagues he worked with. The older, more experienced ones retired as the younger, inflexible and arrogant became the bosses and learning was replaced with memorising for testing.

The burden of working with the short sighted system pushed him into retirement.

We try to carry more than we should much of the time. We forget or ignore Jesus’s 8e422-unequal2byokeinvitation to take up His yoke and let Him give us rest, so we end up laughably unevenly burdened.

The result is burnout on a massive scale.

I know many people, formerly solid foundation (seemingly) based Christians who have walked away after a rough time hits them.

Broken marriages, depression, rejection by churches that should know better. They contribute to the destruction of the lives of the men and women, and the children they bring up.

Sadly, it’s too often the case. The psychological persecution is more effective than threat of a sword or a gun. A better example for the enemy’s camp is to turn one away from God, because that’s what people remember, not the thousands who stay, but the one sheep that wanders off.

But if we remain open to correction and growth, we can withstand anything.