Jesus the Hedonist

Pleasure

I know, I can hear the cries of “Heretic” floating towards me as I write.

But think for a moment. What motivated Jesus?

Love. The Joy set before Him.

Hang on – “Joy”?

 looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

Hebrews 12:2

Yep. Joy.

There’s a pseudo-puritanical mindset in so much of the church (note the small “c”) these days. Much is criticized about what has become known as the “Prosperity Gospel”. There is something wrong when a large section of an organisation thinks that health and wealth are ungodly.

Jesus never said money was evil, and He never said poverty was Godly.

The concept of Jesus as a Hedonist, a pleasure-seeker, sounds crazy at first. But consider what Hebrews 12 is saying. His motivation for going to the Cross was the Joy set before Him.

Personally I find an onerous task more palatable if I can see what the outcome will be clearly, and that outcome is one I want. I started my degree with the idea that it would help me find employment in South Africa. I met some great people while I was studying, but as the time passed it became apparent that I would need more than a degree and experience to ever be employable in this country. As a result, the work toward the goal became ever more a battle than it had been when I began.

Jesus didn’t have that issue. He saw the Church and Salvation of Mankind beyond anything He had to endure, and it gave Him pleasure.

It’s hard to find a sense of humour in some of the stories about Jesus in the Gospels. He tells one woman He won’t give the children’s bread to the dogs – meaning her. Taken as words on a page it sounds hostile, even xenophobic in its tenor. But her reaction suggests it was something else. Did she see a twinkle in Jesus’ eye? What was His tone of voice and His body language conveying? If you look and see an “in” joke in their exchange it makes more sense. Christ came to save the World, not just the Jews of the First Century. That meant the Samaritans, the Romans, the Greeks and even the “Brexit” and “Bremain” campaigners. It even meant Trump and Hillary supporters.

And He found pleasure in the thought of saving mankind from death.

We have this image of puritanical Jesus walking serenely (but never smiling) with His hands folded around the peaceful pastures of Nazareth. It’s in classical art. The child Jesus clearly came out able to walk, talk and not soil a nappy.

Nope. He came out human. And one of the greatest gifts God gave humans when He designed us was a sense of humour and a desire for pleasure.

Consider sex for a second. God designed the human form as a sexual being. When I caught my dogs in flagrante delicto ten years ago it was clear that it was nothing more than a biological imperative for them. But for humans, God designed sex to be pleasurable.

Now we live in a world that has fallen far from God’s design. Consequently there are perversions of everything God created. Remember when God made humankind He described us as “Good”. And I’m reasonably certain that we weren’t re-designed after the Fall with sex organs that we could derive pleasure from.

God designed sex to be the ultimate act of intimacy between a man and wife. A way of expressing pure love and desire for one another. But that purity has been twisted beyond recognition by the World.

Look at the creation story in Genesis for a moment. Whether you believe it to be literal or a parable is immaterial for the purposes of this line of thought. God lays out creation, builds Eden and tells mankind where to find the gold.

Huh? What?

Now a river went out of Eden to water the garden, and from there it parted and became four riverheads. The name of the first is Pishon; it is the one which skirts the whole land of Havilah, where there is gold. And the gold of that land is good. Bdellium and the onyx stone are there.

Genesis 2:10-12

So God creates everything, makes a garden and places man in it, then tells him where the gold is.

Heaven is described as being paved with gold and giant pearls forming the gates. This is hardly austerity measures. God, it seems, like gold. And He has no problem with us having it.

Money is not the root of all evil. If it were then any amount would corrupt us. Love of money, however, is a root to many kinds of evil behaviours. When Jesus was saying about it being easer for a camel to get through the eye of a needle He wasn’t referring to some gate, but rather He was aiming a laser-sight at the Pharisees in the audience. Their greed and desire for public recognition is well documented in the Bible. Jesus was saying that these men who place so much emphasis on making money and gathering riches would not enter the Kingdom, not because of the wealth per se, but because gathering more wealth was their idol. Money was their god. When Nicodemus came to Jesus and asked what the price of a ticket to Heaven was, Jesus told him he needed to be re-born. Nicodemus later spoke up for the Apostles to the Sanhedrin. He was convinced by Jesus and his focus became Jesus – but it doesn’t say he gave up all his money. The rich sold their things to share with the poor so everyone had enough after the Church began to grow, but not because having things was evil. Rather it was because holding onto things that could feed their friends was.

The love of money, making it the centre of your life and finding it necessary to display how much you have is what Jesus meant when He spoke of the rich not getting into heaven. He never cared how much currency someone gave, all that mattered was the heart behind the gift, and perhaps the percentage it represented. The rich man dropping gold into the offering gave less to him than the value of the copper coins dropped by the widow meant to her.

But I bet Jesus felt like dancing when He saw the widow’s faithfulness.

He searched out pleasure. He opened avenues for us to have a share in that same pleasure. We’ve kind of lost the plot in the West when it comes to that. Pleasure has become associated with excess. Not what Jesus was about. But I don’t think God cares if we drive a Reliant Robin or a Ferrari. I had a Harley-Davidson a few years ago, and the look on the salesman’s face when I told him it was in fact just a well carved lump of metal with a wheel at each end was priceless! I’ll buy another one day I’m sure, but right now I have a chinese 250cc bike that does the same job. And when I sell that on it’s still just a motorized lump of metal with a wheel at each end. For me, the pleasure is in riding it – because I can relax and it gives me time to sit with God. I’ve ridden motorbikes on and off for over 20 years, and it’s always been the same for me. I loved commuting to my last job on my 250cc bike because at the end of the day I could spend half an hour riding home with my thoughts on nothing but the creation around me and marvelling at the majesty of the sunset, the sheer size of Table Mountain and that no matter how bad the day had been the majesty of God’s creation, cool air on my face would give me pleasure and I could arrive home less grumpy than I’d left work.

God gave me that pleasure.

Jesus had the Joy set before Him as His pleasure.

What’s yours?

Seeing Despite the Clouds

Clouds

A dark cloud is no sign that the sun has lost his light; and dark black convictions are no arguments that God has laid aside His mercy.
Charles Haddon Spurgeon
There’s been a lot of turmoil recently in the world. Brexit, the bombing in Istanbul, continuing political turmoil in America. A lot of problems.
The World loves problems. It loves to try to block out the Light by throwing clouds across the sun, or rather trying to hide the Son.
CS Lewis said “A man can no more diminish God’s glory by refusing to worship Him than a lunatic can put out the sun by scribbling the word, ‘darkness’ on the walls of his cell.” There’s a lot of truth in that, as with most of what Lewis wrote. The man had a deep and profound wisdom that I hope in another 30 years I might have 10% of.
But the World hates the Light. It wants to try to dim God’s Glory by throwing clouds across our path. As I’m writing this there is a heavy rainstorm going on outside my window, rattling on the roof and a draught blowing through a crack in the window-frame. It reminds me of another storm.
Jesus had just fed 5000 men, plus their women and children. Conservative estimate may put the total at 12-15000 hungry mouths. And He did it with 5 loaves and 2 fish.
Pretty amazing stuff. You’d think it would make an impression on His closest friends.
I love the disciples. They see such an amazing miracle and then a storm on a boat and they forget exactly who it is they walk with. Clouds cover the event from less than a day before. They get focussed on the immediate situation, the storm.
The clouds.
They lose sight of the One they are walking with.
Peter does a bit better. They all see Jesus walking across the surface of the sea through the storm towards them. The boat is sinking, but Peter realises there’s something more here. He cries to Jesus.
Now something I’ll write about another time is how to ask Jesus a question. It’s too big to go into here in detail. Suffice to say Peter generally before Pentecost tended to open his mouth for the express purpose of changing feet. “If it is you” he calls to Jesus.
“If”.
What’s Jesus going to say? “It’s not me Peter, stay in the boat”? He puts God on the spot. He opens up himself as well.
The storm rages on. The swell is swamping the ship. It’s sinking, and there’s nothing Peter can do to stop it. He’s a fisherman. How many times might he have lost friends to a sudden storm on the Sea of Galilee? Now it’s him that’s caught in one.
But for a blinding moment Peter sees through the clouds and gets out of the boat. In the middle of the sea. And he walks to Jesus. Only when he begins to see the clouds, when he takes his eyes off the Christ, does he begin to sink.
I’ve never “begun” to sink. I step onto the surface of the swimming pool and I don’t “begin” to sink.
But Peter begins to sink. The clouds of the storm have distracted him, but he is still aware of the Son behind them – so he calls to Jesus again. And they walk back to the boat together, over the surface of the water.
What clouds are in your life? Finance? Sickness? Unemployment? Losing a home? Unhappy marriage?
The worst thing you can say to someone who’s depressed is “just pull yourself together”. The clouds of that illness overwhelm to the point that they are blinding.
We lose sight of the light behind the cloud. It’s easy to do.
About 17 years ago my dad was diagnosed with Glioblastoma, a particularly nasty brain cancer with a life expectancy of around 12 to 16 weeks after diagnosis. Treatments available at the time didn’t increase the time he had left, they simply made his last weeks miserable with nausea, drug induced diabetes, and so many tablets it took my mum aver an hour to get them all into him. He’d just be settling from the breakfast dose when she had to start with the lunchtime round.
Dad and I were close. He was my closest friend, my Spiritual brother. We had played and prayed together for most of my life. Now I was losing him. The clouds closed in around me, and despite having been a Christian for almost 15 years at that point I lost sight of the Son behind the clouds.
Depression followed, and brought 4 suicide attempts – a much longer story that I’ll share another time. The clouds swallowed me because I forgot how to look behind them.
Just a few days before he died there was a total eclipse in England. We went up to the top of the local hill where the parish church had stood until arsonists destroyed most of it a few years before. It was an amazing experience, watching the moon’s shadow cover the sun. Birds went to roost, flowers closed, New Age hippies rattled tambourines (much to everyone’s annoyance) but not once did anyone – even the smallest children – doubt that the sun would come out again.
We can deal with an eclipse, but we think the world is ending because of a cloud!
I see death and suffering on a daily basis in South Africa. It’s hard seeing someone come through when they just got the news that they have cancer, or HIV, or whatever the reason is they come to see us (I work at a medical practice). It’s part of the reason I’m getting out from working in that environment. It’s secular. I can’t turn to them and remind them that the Son is still there and on their side. We see many different religious beliefs as well as agnostics, and it tears me up inside to not be able to shake them sometimes and rattle the clouds away even if just for a moment.
I do get the chance sometimes, and that’s very rewarding. But I need more.
We are called to be the Light to the World, to let Jesus shine through us. But then we wrap ourselves up in the same clouds everyone else is covered by and try to hide so we don’t “offend” them.
It’s time to offend some people. Ever notice how the World doesn’t think twice about offending Christians? A conservative estimate suggested a couple of years ago that there are over ten times the number of committed Christians in America than homosexuals – not taking into account those who claim to have a foot in both camps.
Ten times the number.
Where are the “Christian Pride” rallies? Where are the vocal Christians? And I’m not referring to the cranks and crackpots lining up to endorse assorted political “leaders” (and I use the word under advisement), but the voice of the real, grass-roots Christians who can see through the clouds and smokescreen the media whips up.
How have we reached the point where the darkness is overcoming the light?
Clouds blow over. The sun is always there, just behind them.
Look past the clouds in your life today and see the Son shining, reaching out to you.
I’d like to hear: What are three things we can do to help us remember that even when the clouds are there, the light shines through?
And please, no “read the Bible more” or “pray harder” type answers.
Blow the clouds away!

The Sacrifice

Amazing love, O what sacrifice
The Son of God given for me
My debt he pays, and my death he dies
That I might live, that I might live

Amazing Love: Graham Kendrick

I’d be the first to admit I’m not a huge Graham Kendrick fan. I find his songs too simplistic often. It feels like the magnitude of Christianity is minimised to me in some of them.

But then there’s “Amazing Love”.

From the first time I heard it around 1991 it gripped me. For once the simplicity magnified the message.

John and Charles Wesley wrote of the magnitude of God, His Majesty is ever present in their hymns. I grew up singing traditional hymns in a traditional church in England. The words meant less to me then than the music did. I was singing “Ave Verum Corpus” by Mozart at the age of 10 as a soloist, and I revelled in it. There was something majestic in the sound.

After my brother died, about 9 months later, I committed my life to Christ in the quiet of my bedroom in November 1985. Maybe I’ll write the whole story here some day, but not today. Suffice to say nothing changed in my circumstances, but how I listened to things changed.

Suddenly the words were more important than the melody. The heart behind the music rather than the music itself. At school we sang Durufle’s Requiem, Mozart’s Requiem and other pieces that my classmates sang for the music, I found myself singing for what was behind it.

“Amazing Love” came into my life as a song a couple of years after it was written, and a couple of years after I’d left school and moved away from home. It was a time of upheaval for me. My first serious relationship had ended and I was back in church regularly as a member of the choir. And annoying other modern marvels were being forced on us by a group determined to be “relevant”, who lacked the social connection with the “youth” required. The attempts were laudable, but doomed.96953-calvaryencaustic

Then there was this simple chorus. The words and music captured my heart for Worship and it reached a place of relevance for me.

“The Son of God, Given for Me”

The concept was one that had been on the back burner for me for a couple of years. A well meaning member of the clergy had inadvertently stopped me going to seminary, in fact put me off going to church completely, by giving me advice in a way I couldn’t respond to. Consequently I left home and moved in with my girlfriend instead of going to Bible College.

Now this song poured fuel on the embers that had been stoked and my Faith was growing again.

“My Debt He pays, and my death He dies, That I Might Live”

The whole Gospel summed up in once sentence. I didn’t weep because I was too broken emotionally to be able to – another VERY long story – but something inside me snapped home.

My debt, His Sacrifice. He went to the Cross for me. If I were the only one who would ever respond to the event on that hill, Jesus would still walk up and let them execute Him, just for me.

Just for you.

It blew my mind. Even now over 20 years later that chorus strikes my heart like very few others have done.

Jesus died for me personally. Now I’m a huge believer in the importance of being part of the Body, but the thought that it was so personal was brought back to the front of my mind by this one little chorus.

I love the old hymn “Amazing Grace” because it does much the same, but this was fresher for me. I needed the refreshing splash of the reminder against my weary face.

933ba-dali2b-2bchrist2bof2bst2bjohn2bon2bthe2bcrossThe modern church has done much to make God accessible again, the way Jesus and the disciples did 2000 years ago. Sometimes it tries too hard and misses so badly I want to distance myself from it. But then there’s songs like this one. Priceless gems hidden, even forgotten now because it was 25 years ago when it was written, that can rekindle a flame.

We get reminded every so often that Jesus came on a very personal and intensely focussed mission by books. Authors like Max Lucado, CS Lewis and John Eldredge remind us just how Jesus was a soldier battling the forces of the enemy from inside enemy-held ground.

I loved the movie “The Dirty Dozen” growing up, and “Where Eagles Dare” and “Guns of Navarone” were favourites too. More recently the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy struck the same chord. The heroes had to go into territory held by a ferocious enemy that would not hesitate to kill them if they were caught. If we read the Gospels, particularly John’s, we see the same threads. Here is an individual set down in occupied land, surrounded by people who want to kill Him. When we teach Sunday School, how often do we remind the children that Herod ordered the slaughter of all boys under the age of 2 years as part of the Christmas Story? I don’t remember that being part of the local pageant.

But it sets the scene. Eldredge described Jesus as “hunted” in “Beautiful Outlaw”. If I listen to Andrew Wommack’s teaching I can’t help hearing the way the enemy was hounding Him, and as a result us.

He gave up Heaven. Streets of Gold with gates made of a single pearl were exchanged for a cave, surrounded by livestock and a food trough lined with hay for a crib. This is the ultimate “black ops” mission. The fate of the entire human race is at stake. Jesus undertakes it willingly and humbly.

How dare we not be in awe of that?

Awe

Empty Road

Empty

Living in South Africa I’ve gotten used to long drives. For example, non-stop it’s about 17 hours from my home in Cape Town to Johannesburg, so the trip takes 2 days.

It’s the same going to my wife’s family in Namibia. Again, about 17-18 hours drive.

On the Namibian road, like the one in the feature picture, you can drive for a very long time in a very straight line and not see another vehicle. It’s largely deserted except in the cities, and much of that is desert like the movies show it. Not all, but a lot.

The first time I drove up was exhausting. Thankfully the car had aircon or I’d be a puddle. Even with it running full we were hot. There’s little or no cell phone coverage and no emergency phones on the roadside. If you break down or have an accident you have to hope someone else comes along, and that they stop.

It’s empty.

There’s a lot to be said for emptiness. It encourages conversation between travellers. It also can mean long silences when you run out of topics. Music is helpful as a distraction.

The road is hypnotic. The emptiness unceasing and the landscape unchanging for hundreds of miles at a time.

It sets me thinking about life as a Christian.

Christianity isn’t a sprint. At least, it’s not meant to be. It’s a marathon and then some.

There’s a lot of emptiness in much of our road though. Far more than God intended.

Jesus said He came to give us abundant life, but so often it feels like walking a straight road through the desert. It feels like nothing changes. There’s as much ahead after ten hours walking as there was when you set out. Only now you’re hot, sweaty, tired and sick of walking.

We’re supposed to walk alongside one another, but the road feels empty. My wife and I have different paths even after over a decade of marriage. There are things about one another we just don’t “get”. Every couple has those things, and it’s only a problem if you let it be. I know couples who lost sight of why they were together because of their differences and split up. I know others who embraced them and tried to join in with each other’s stuff – sometimes it worked, sometimes they split up. Most of us are somewhere in the middle.

So the road feels empty.

And there’s a BIG difference between “empty” and “open”.

And open road holds possibilities, hope and adventure. I’m a biker and I love the open road, especially if there’s nothing else around. I used to go out for a ride when I lived in England, just to ride. The road was open and I just went. Sometimes I was home an hour later, sometimes five or six. I loved it.

But an empty road, a road that never changes, is a road that can break your spirit.

The road starts with something life-changing.

For me it started at 2:55pm Wednesday 20th February 1985. A phone call. “Robin’s dead”. Nobody else I know has walked that path. I was not quite 13 years old. Robin was younger, taken by a moment of stupidity and childish impetuosity when he swung out in front of a driver.

There have been times on my road where I’ve been through bustling activity. Those I can deal with. But the emptiness between them, even after 31 years, can be soul-destroying.

Other things hit people and set them off on their empty road. Cancer, addiction, AIDS, divorce, marriage (if it’s the wrong choice), bereavement, so many other things that can set us off down empty roads.

Our focus has become our own walk. We don’t pay attention to what’s going on around us.

So our road feels empty.

But it’s an illusion. We’re surrounded by others, we just don’t see them. There are always people with us. We just have been conditioned into a self-centred existence. Western society is incredibly selfish. Not so long ago in some of the European cultures around the Mediterranean you could buy a house with a “generational” mortgage over a century. Your children and their children would inherit the house and it would become their home. Now the American culture of self has infected it and that is changing society. The concept of a “single” European culture is laughable, except it’s being rammed down everyone’s throat. Dire warnings from the far left about leaving the EU and from the far right about staying. Apparently if Britain stays it will cripple the economy, cause unemployment and weaken the currency, whereas if Britain leaves it will cripple the economy cause unemployment and weaken the currency.

Both sides make out the other is an empty road, desolate and bleak with nobody around to help us.

That’s what is happening in the Church. We’re conforming to the pattern of this world instead of being transformed by renewing our minds in the light of the Holy Spirit. America is leading the way down this path. The “socialist” left is almost indistinguishable from the “evangelical” right these days. Policy debates have been replaced with personal slanders and jibes. And yet somehow this country with more debt per capita than Greece is the one everyone wants to be like.

Yikes.

Because that really is an empty road, and the trip is led by the vacuous and incapable who rely on charisma not character. They are empty vessels. When I was a kid we travelled by train a lot. I used to love watching the freight trains with the oil cars come past, but you could tell which ones had oil in them. They were quieter. Empty vessels make a lot of noise. Useless, worthless noise.

Like politicians from all sides. I’m sure we could reduce Global Warming by simply banning politicians from speaking. The hot air they generate…

But this isn’t a political blog, so I’ll stop on that track.

It’s empty.

We need to open our eyes, or rather we need to get back to letting God open our eyes. We need to see the people around us, take time to really see them. You know, like the Early Church did. All the people had everything in common so none were in need Acts tells us. They met in each other’s homes, saw to it they were all fed. Those who had gladly gave up everything to provide for those who didn’t. They had substance.

Today we have hot-air preachers in mostly empty (and draughty) old churches that need the hot air to heat them.

But there’s a fire coming. This emptiness can’t go on forever.

In the 1700s, Wilberforce stood against the “greed is good” element in Parliament and fought them tooth and nail until he won and slavery was abolished throughout the British Empire. In the 1800s, Lincoln stood fast against the South and saw the end of the Civil War and delivered the Emancipation Proclamation, but never got to see the results in his lifetime. JFK stood strong against entering Vietnam. After Chamberlain’s failure to stop Hitler with words, Churchill led the Allied thrust against the Nazis’ tyrannical rule until it was wiped out. Mandela stood fast against Apartheid.

In every generation men and women have stood as a remnant for God when greed has overwhelmed society. Fullness of character battling against the empty rhetoric and hopeless roads.

We have companionship on our journey. Jesus is beside us every step of the way. He makes sure our roads are never empty.

We just need to open our eyes…

Always Present

Companion

Christianity is about more than simply “getting into heaven”. In recent years the Gospel has become little more than an After-life Insurance Policy.

Add to that the erosion in the belief of a literal Hell and it’s small wonder so many people simply can’t be bothered to believe until the last minute.

Let’s face it, the Christian life is not easy. Look at the list of things under the “not allowed” column.

  • Sex
  • Money
  • Power

Hang on, that’s not accurate. It is what often gets taught in some denominational churches, but it’s not what the Gospel is about.

Consider sex for a second.

It’s allowed. There’s a Godly context for it – Marriage – but it’s created to be fun. Pleasurable. Enjoyable. The pinnacle of Earthly intimacy.

Of course outside the boundaries of a Godly context it’s the opposite. It may seem like fun in the moment, but I’ve had so many conversations where the theme has been “I wish I hadn’t”. In the original version of “The Magnificent Seven”, Steve McQueen’s character tells of a man who took off all his clothes and jumped on a cactus because it “seemed like a good idea at the time”.

What about money? Didn’t Jesus say money was the root of all evil?

No.

He said the love of money was a root of evil. If money were inherently evil then any amount would be dangerous. Abraham was Blessed by God to the point that countries asked his family to leave because his family on its own was more bountiful than the entire country they were resting in. Solomon was the richest man ever because he trusted God. After Job was restored, God gave him back more than he’d lost. Money is not evil, but making it your idol is.

Power corrupts. So they say. But if that were true why did Jesus say the disciples would receive Power when the Holy Spirit fell on them? Surely He was therefore corrupting them if power corrupts in every instance?

Selfish ambition corrupts good morals. I look at the Presidents and possible Presidents from around the world. Robert Mugabe started out as a decent man who wanted freedom for his people, but after so long in power he has a need to hold onto that power. Jacob Zuma was a freedom fighter alongside Nelson Mandela, but his rise to power has been about personal gain rather than the betterment of life for the people he “governs”. Donald Trump seeks power to match his alleged wealth, Hillary Clinton seems to have her own selfish agenda behind the scenes as well. They seek power when the Presidency is supposed to be a role of Service. Somehow I can’t see many of the World’s Presidents wrapping a towel around themselves and washing the feet of their companions.

Ah, there’s the root.

The Gospel is about Companionship. Fellowship. God Himself originally designed man to be His companion, and woman to be man’s companion.

His friend.

He gave mankind dominion over the Earth. The only other being said to have dominion is God Himself. Christ recovered that dominion, and immediately handed it back to us – with Him as co-pilot now, not as a dictator, but as a companion to walk through life with.

We need His companionship, and He desires ours. He desires ours so much He had Himself nailed to a Roman Cross 2000 years ago so we could have Him as a companion in this world.

As He looked out from the Cross, our companionship was the Joy set before Him. It was the motivation behind His actions, His Sacrifice.

What amazes me is the idea that a Perfect God desires our companionship. He could have just wiped out mankind and started again, but His Love for us stopped Him from doing that and drove Him to rather seek us out and give up Himself for our sake.

About DavidMy wife is my companion. Marriage is a portrait of God’s relationship with us. It’s not always easy. In my 13 years of marriage we have endured some heavy battles, but our companionship with each other has seen us through them.

My friends are my companions in this life as well. I have few people I reserve the accolade of “close friend” to these days. They are people I allow to speak into my life and who allow me to speak into theirs. Currently I can count these companions on one hand.

And companionship has nothing to do with proximity. My Best Friend lives a thousand miles from me, but when we communicate there is a kinship there I have nowhere else except in my marriage, where the bond is strongest.

But my most important companion is Jesus.

And He’s only a whisper away.

That’s Companionship.

 

 

Perfection

Perfection

The “Featured Picture” here I took a couple of years ago at my home. I grow my own herbs and at the end of the season there’s always something I’ve not used all of. That year it was mint. The plant flowered, something I rarely see as I use a LOT of mint when I’m cooking, much to my wife’s annoyance (she thinks I’m trying to make dinner taste like toothpaste).

I was sitting on the stoep of the house and along floats this bee. I never antagonise them. They usually die if they sting us, so I’m not worried about a single. It calmly floats over to the mint flower and settles down, collecting nectar.

It had never occurred to me that mint could have nectar until that moment. I grabbed my camera and snapped the shot, such simple beauty. And the bee, so perfectly designed to perform the job of collecting nectar from such tiny flowers.

I looked at the mint, it was suddenly a thing of such visual beauty to me, not just another herb. The flowers in a bunch at the tip of each stem, perfectly aligned for a bee to come and collect from them.

So I began looking at other things. This sunssunset a1 2002et was taken in September 2003 at Slangkop Lighthouse near Kommetjie. The picture is a little grainy because it was taken the old-fashioned way – film not digital. I’ve been to the spot many times since, but never seen the alignment of sun and lighthouse the same way again. The timing was perfect for the photo.

We live in a world created so perfectly ordered that we can predict to the second when an eclipse will take place, when tides will be high or low, and how high they will be days, weeks in advance.

Consider the laws of nature, the constants that allow us to fly in aeroplanes: gravity, thrust, lift, stalling speed. These constants are set in stone. A scientist can predict precisely how much thrust is required at a certain wing dimension to achieve lift and therefore flight, and at what speed the airflow must continue to travel around the wing given its dimensions to maintain that flight – the stalling speed.

Frequency of light and sound. 186000 miles per second, the speed of light is a constant. 1100 feet per second in air is the speed of sound. These are constants. Certain mediums change the rates, so different gasses produce different speeds for sound and light, glass, perspex etc change the speed of light to produce filters, but this is only possible because the initial speed is a universal constant.

Mankind is now looking at ways to get humans to Mars, presumably because we need to find more landfill sites. But the trip is only plannable because we know exactly where Mars will be at any given moment.

It is known when Halley’s Comet will be round next, and when it’s been around before. It has been hypothesised that it may even have been the “star” the Magi followed to Bethlehem spoken of in the Nativity story – the exact date of Christ’s birth not being known but the time the comet was about is very exact, and fits the general timeline.

Consider the mathematical odds of life. Billions to one against this rock floating around a star of sufficient size and density, far enough away that it doesn’t scorch the ground, close enough that the rays provide enough heat. All the other variables that even 0.0001% out mean life cannot exist. Yet so many choose to convince themselves God cannot be a reality.

I bet you were wondering when God would appear in this post.

The requirements to not believe in God are so much greater than the requirements to believe. To be able to be convinced that life happened here by chance takes far more faith than believing everything was created by something far bigger than we are, with a form of intelligence beyond our own. The arrogance of it is even more staggering.

To believe there is no God is staggering. Being convinced that the world and life is a chance fluke is ignorance of the highest order. I can’t explain the process an egg goes through to grow into a chicken in terms of the science behind it, but I’ve never met a scientist who could answer why life happens in that egg. We know the chemical make-up of the egg. We can mix the ingredients to the exact proportions, but if we put it in an incubator we’ll never grow a chicken. Life is not simply a chemical reaction. If it were we could replicate it.

The perfection of creation is only matched by the flaw it carries. Us.

When we rebelled against God we brought death into this universe. God responded by giving us Grace to counter it. The cells in my body replicate themselves and produce identical copies of themselves. We call this “growth” and “life”, but if the new cells are identical to the old ones, why do we age? Chemically there’s no reason for ageing I’ve yet to be told, although I’m open to comments on this post explaining it (as long as you use small words please, I’m a simple man of faith, not a brilliant scientist – I leave medicine and science to my wife, a doctor, who can’t explain it either).

An atheist is simply a man with no invisible means of support. What hope can there be in an atheistic existence? For an atheist, the purpose of life is to die. The end product is to return to being nothing more than a pile of chemicals sitting in the dust.

How depressing.

I may not be perfect, but as a Christian, my faith gives me hope. Hebrews 11 states Faith is the substance of what we hope for. It is the evidence of what we have not yet seen. How perfect that is.

God is perfect. Jesus is perfect.

We are being made perfect.

I’m a work in progress. So are you.

On a path to perfection… Enjoy the ride!

Hiding the City on a Hill

City On a Hill

I live in Cape Town at the moment. It’s a beautiful city, nestled in the shadow of Table Mountain in South Africa. If you go up the mountain it’s impossible not to see the city as it sprawls out below you.

My favourite city I’ve visited is Rome. Built on seven hills it’s imposing as you drive towards it. You can’t miss this combination of modern and ancient architecture from a distance. In the city itself is the Vatican City, an independent city state within the city of Rome. Despite its size and fame, the first time I went to Rome I walked right past it twice before I found the entrance.

You are the light of [Christ to] the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden” says Jesus in Matthew 5:14, yet somehow we try to hide this city. We are supposed to be salt and light to the World, yet we’ve missed that as well.

The very notion of Christians having something relevant to say has been usurped by bigoted stereotypes wandering around with an attitude of “You’re all going to Hell, directly to Hell, Do not pass ‘Go’, Do not collect $200” towards everyone. So little Grace is expressed, so little offer of welcome and forgiveness. Small wonder people think the KKK represent Christianity today. True Christians are virtually silent!

Why are we trying so hard not to make waves today? Where is the outrage at unjust and bigoted speech from the so-called “evangelical” political groups? Where is the commentary on the bigoted speech of the candidates themselves?

We’re hiding our cities way too effectively. So effectively in fact that nobody realises they’re there!

It’s not acceptable for the voice of the “Christians” to be a representative from a xenophobic, racist, sexist group. That is not our city!

Christ calls us to be a group where everyone is welcome, equal before Him. No one sin is to be called out as worse than another. If He is coming from a place with many mansions (John 14) then that sounds like a city to me. Is it so terrible to think that someone is worse than we are because their sin is different than our own?

Greed is sinful. Can anyone honestly tell me either of the two US frontrunners don’t exhibit greed in their lifestyles? Trump has his private jets with gold fixtures, Hillary hasn’t driven herself in years. Yet they both claim to be in touch with the “average” American.

Right. Sure they are. And I bet they wash their hands as son as possible afterwards.

Folks, why are we hiding our city? Why is the Salt and Light to the World putting itself in a cupboard or under a table instead of shining out for God’s Righteousness?

We are called to be in the World, but we behave of the World too much. All of us.

I watch too much TV. I don’t watch when broadcast, but I like to find a good series and I’ll watch the whole thing as fast as possible. “Boston Legal” – all 5 seasons in 2 weeks. “Stargate:SG1” 10 seasons in 8 weeks. You get the idea. I watched “Grey’s Anatomy” and “Private Practice” in short order as well. The morality of the characters is borderline, the behaviour is so far from Christian values as to be not worth considering. On TV, almost without exception, Christians are portrayed as out of touch do-gooders, moralistic and holier-than-thou, interfering busybodies. Ministers are shown as weak and boring. I have yet to see a series where Christians are accurately depicted. Why? Because non-Christians can’t write Christians and non-Christians (generally) can’t play them convincingly. The Christian TV movies that get made generally go straight to video, and often make me cringe. The message is almost always too judgemental.

Oh yes, I’m judgemental too. Add that to my list of sins.

We are a flawed city, a city made of broken and damaged stones that Christ has rearranged into something beautiful. We need to acknowledge our flaws – all of them – and step away from them. My late Grandad died at the age of 80 having been a Christian since his mid teens. He was in the Salvation Army as a minister during the War from 1939-1945 and was a good man. Not a perfect one. Even after 60+ years he was still learning new things about his Saviour. A few days before he died he phoned me, very excited, because he had a sense that God was calling him on to new things. He had been to a service the previous day where he had felt moved to go to the “Mercy Seat”, kneel down and cling to it. Now Grandad was many things, but good at getting on his knees physically was not one of them, yet this octogenarian minister felt Christ lift a burden from him and could do nothing but fall to his knees – literally – in worship. He never hid his faith, but he never forced it on anyone either. People would stop him in the street and ask him what was so “different” about him.

When was the last time that happened to you? It’s been years since it happened to me.

We hide our light too much. We collectively hide the City of God and hope to blend in with everyone around us far too much.

In “Boston Legal”, James Spader’s character, Alan Shore, says to a clown “You’re a clown. Be funny.” It’s obvious that this guy in funny clothes and make-up is supposed to make children laugh, but he talks about unfunny things.

You’re a Christian. Be Salt and Light to the World.

Be a City, Built on a hill.

All Good Things

I’d intended this post to be an uplifting one. New beginnings on the new site and all that.

The problem is that life gets in the way of my plans too often.

I meant to write this a week ago. Then I got thrown a curve. Beamer, my beautiful Swiss Shepherd, decided to stop eating. Now this is a dog that will ingest anything, so turning down freshly cooked chicken with rice meant something very wrong. A trip to the vet and a course of antibiotics later and she was no better. This time we insisted she be seen by the senior vet, an old-fashioned vet who’s been practising over 50 years.

He felt around her abdomen and told us there was nothing we could do. She’d lost a lot of weight and her muscle mass was eroding. Cancer would be the cause.

So after 12 wonderful years of companionship we had to say goodbye to her.

In “Beautiful Outlaw”, John Eldredge describes a game his Golden Retriever taught himself, carrying a rock to the top of the hill, then pushing it down the slope and giving joyful chase. Beamer was a lot like that for me. Before her I was scared of dogs, but having had a life surrounded by them for 12 years now I’m delighted to have seen God’s handiwork in them.

It’s not easy to be the leader of a pack of dogs. Yes, while standing up I had a distinct advantage, but once I was seated I was hopelessly outmatched. Beamer was the second oldest. Snuggles, my wife’s dog, was many years her senior. The two of them got on fine until Beamer realised she was about 7 times the size of her elder, at which point we had to start keeping them apart. Someone suggested we get another big dog to play with Beamer, so Cadbury, a Golden Retriever with the common-sense of a daffodil, entered our lives at the age of six weeks. Beamer promptly sat on him. Repeatedly.

Then we realised we needed to have her spayed. Since Caddy was not only male but a pedigree we decided to spare the knife, but before we could do anything, Beamer came into heat. Caddy was not a year old yet and we had no idea just how strong his drive was. Nine weeks later and we had another 11 dogs, smaller but chaotic. We kept 2 of them and the family was complete.

A year later we had a grumpy 5 kilo Snuggles and four 35kg monsters bouncing around the place. At my heaviest I was only 118kg, so they had me beat in weight and numbers. Sitting down became a tricky task as I needed to position myself so they didn’t swamp me.

Beamer was the boss. Very much so. Caddy, despite being stockier, just didn’t have the will to dominate her. The two younger ones, Magellan (Maggie) and Sam, were boisterous as only young dogs can be. Sam picked a fight with a van when he was just a year old. He survived so we called it a draw. The following year he got a cancer in his back leg, so the vet amputated at the hip. Now at ten years old he rules the roost. With 3 legs.

But Beamer was very much my dog. She would stay by my side, sit at my feet and walk to heel (mostly) any time we went out. We played with her ball in the pool. She’d drop it, I’d dive for it, throw it and she’d fetch it so we could begin again. She exuded life and embraced it in a way I loved.

I collected her ashes today. I think it was even harder than holding her paws as she slipped away.

“…surely a live dog is better than a dead lion” Ecclesiastes 9:4b

I learned a lot about God from Beamer. We see Him where we look least sometimes until we look back.

After the pups were born there was a period of about 6 or 7 weeks when she had to feed them, but she only had 10 teets, and there were 11 pups. Every morning I would go to the bathroom where she had given birth. I would open the door and she would come out, carrying the same puppy each morning. She jumped onto our bed, dropped Sam onto our pillows and went back to feed the others. After a few minutes she would come back to check on him. Once they were all fed, Sam by bottle and the others by her, she would come back, collect him and put him back with the rest of the litter. The trust, the generosity was amazing. And a reflection of God.

One day there was a splash from the garden. Two of the pups had fallen into the pool. Beamer stood on the side of the pool and tapped the water. They swam towards her. She repeated the procedure until they got to the shallow top step where she could get in to take them out because they could now stand. Doesn’t God do that for us? He leads us from the dangers of the deep into the shallows where we can play in His presence then He lifts us to safety.

When we started to have to part with the puppies we had to lock her outside while the prospective new owners collected their charges. Part of the reason we kept Maggie and Sam was we saw how she would come back in and hunt around the house looking for the missing puppy. When Sam had the accident he was away for several weeks recovering. My wife and I went to see him every night, so we came home smelling of him. She went nuts. The following year when he had his leg removed she tried to stay in with him and comfort him. Sounds very familiar to how the Bible describes God’s love for us.

So thank you Beamer. The most unlikely theologian anyone could meet. It was a blessing to have you in our lives, even for so short a time.

Ringing in the Changes

More a notice than a post:

In the next few weeks I am going to be moving this blog from here over to a WordPress site that will be hosted through the main website for the ministry, www.eagleswingministries.org

I will still post here, but it may be links rather than a full article. This is a result of pressure to expand the ministry which will only truly be possible by self-hosting.

On the site will be the blog, and we will be developing a “Member’s” area which will have additional materials and merchandise which will be added over time.

I hope you will follow us in the move, but rest assured, the articles on this blog will remain freely accessible.

Thanks

David