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.

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?

Anger Management

“Be angry, and do not sin” Ephesians 4:26a

I have a temper. This I know. I’ve struggled with it for most of my life. More than lust, more than anything else I get angry. I see red.

Especially when someone I love has been hurt.

But not exclusively.

Anger gives place to the enemy in my life. It always has done. I have a mean streak that can be downright sadistic at times, and it’s not something I’m proud of. This is a confession, not a boast. It is the source of my greatest weakness, but when channelled correctly it can be a source of great Godly strength.

Unfortunately for me, most of the time it get misdirected.

We all have an aspect which allows the enemy to get a foothold in our hearts. Mine happens to be my temper, but I know people who struggle with greed, lust, envy and all manner of things that can be positive attributes if we use them the way God intends.

What it comes down to at the end of the day is pride.

It’s a sense of being wronged either by a perceived sleight, or someone else getting the promotion, the raise, the lotto win or anything where we believe ourselves to me more “deserving” than the other.

Sometimes it’s not wrong. I have had several people through the last 30 years come to me for help because they have been raped, assaulted or abused in some way. It’s not wrong to feel anger about the event. Nobody deserves that kind of tragedy in their life. It’s not wrong to be angry that cancer has afflicted a member of your circle. God hates those things. When Christ returns and the World is destroyed and reborn they will cease to exist. All pain and anguish will vanish and we will be left with Joy.

The problem for me – and many others – is the inability to separate the action from the perpetrator. Christ drove out the money-changers and traders from the Temple (twice) because He was overcome by zeal for the Holiness of God, not hatred for the men themselves. He went to the Cross as much for the traders as He did for the Disciples. Some of them may have been in the 5000 added to the Christian numbers after Peter’s sermon on the day of Pentecost in Acts. Others may have never returned to the job. For all we know, Zaccheus may have been among them.

Anger in itself is not sinful. Consider Jesus’s actions:

  1. He sees the Temple court being used for decidedly ungodly trade
  2. He looks around for cords and takes the time to braid them into a whip
  3. He takes the whip and marches into the Temple
  4. He starts a riot. Tables are overturned. Animals are driven into a frenzy.
  5. His anger is controlled. He gently releases the doves rather than throwing the cages to the floor

There is nothing pacifistic about the actions of Jesus that day. The Renaissance paintings portraying Jesus as about 120lbs soaking wet cannot be accurate. Could such a man single-handedly cause such a riot? This was a freight-train power, unstoppable and immutable. Hardly a nine-stone wimp’s actions. I weigh over 200lbs and I doubt I could do what Jesus did that day.

Yet there was no sin in His behaviour. It was a measured, calculated and controlled use of force. There are no recorded injuries from His actions (except the pride of the traders). Even the animals are unhurt, if a little panicked. Sinless anger.

Would that this were my skill.

I don’t fare well when I’m angry. And people get hurt. Usually emotionally, but I’ve been known to throw a punch (although not in the last 26 years or so). But that capacity is constantly present, just below the surface.

Paul says we need to take our thoughts captive and submit them to Christ. It’s something I struggle with. I remember Tony Campolo, a man whom I respect but don’t always agree with, at a festival in 1990 in England saying he was once asked “Would you be free from your burden of sin” and his response was “Ya know, it’s not really that b2ec7-p1030925_editedmuch of a burden. Actually I like it. I wouldn’t do it so much if I didn’t enjoy it!”

I can identify with that when it comes to anger. It’s a place I feel comfortable. It’s familiar to me. Anger has been a refuge for me for 30 years. I hide in it and let my sheer physical strength and mental brute force run amok of anything that gets in the way.

Hardly Godly.

But we are called to control ourselves. Or rather we are called to submit ourselves to God before we react. For me that’s a work in progress.

But we can make progress.

I have more peace in my heart now than I did when I began writing this post a few hours ago. Nothing externally has changed, in fact in some ways things have got more complicated.