Tag Archive: Jesus Christ


comfort

Let me disclaim this right at the outset – this is not something i have sorted. This is something i wrestle with. Because being comfortable is relative. My ‘simple’ is another person’s ‘luxury’ and my ‘lavish’ is someone else’s ‘scraping by’.

Which is perhaps why we should not be the ones defining comfortable, enough, simplicity et al. That feels like an area where we strongly need to be led by the Holy Spirit as the Bible is not clear in terms of how this looks within the specifics of modern day life and context.

But this is a topic which raised its ugly head again for me this week and i can’t think of a specific example that brought it to the fore. Just a bunch of things i’ve been reading and thinking about i guess.

My theory is this: Many christians that i know choose comfort over obedience.

And they do it in such a way that suggests that this is the Godly way to go about stuff. As if God wants us to be comfortable.

Time and time again, i am dumbfounded by people who can read the bible and see something one way again and again and again and yet somehow end up with the belief that a Godly reality is otherwise.

FOR EXAMPLE

Jesus meets up with a young man [Matthew 19] and tells him that he will have to sell everything he has in order to be a follower. The young man walks away disappointed because he has great wealth.

Jesus has a meal with Zacchaeus [Luke 19] and Zachaeus responds by telling Jesus he will immediately give half of his possessions to the poor and pay back four times the amount to anyone he has cheated.

Jesus is hanging out at a dinner party shortly before He is arrested [John 12] and a woman comes in and pours perfume, worth a year’s wages, over His feet too symbolically prepare Him for burial.

In Matthew 8, a teacher of the law tells Jesus he wants to follow Him and Jesus responds by saying that “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” Another disciple has the request of burying his father before he follows Jesus who responds, “Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead.”

In Matthew 10, Jesus speaks these uncomforting words: ‘You will be hated by everyone because of me, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved.’

How is it possible to read those stories [and others, see the Beatitudes for a long list of more] and come to the conclusion that God is calling us to comfort. Before Justice. Or Mercy. Or Disciple-Making. Or Love.

Or Obedience…

WE HAVE CHOSEN COMFORT OVER OBEDIENCE

In 1 Samuel 15, Saul has disobeyed God’s command on how to deal with a city in the interests of creating a burned offering for God. So it seems, for a minute, that his intentions are good.

22 But Samuel replied:

“Does the Lord delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices
    as much as in obeying the Lord?
To obey is better than sacrifice,
    and to heed is better than the fat of rams.
23 For rebellion is like the sin of divination,
    and arrogance like the evil of idolatry.
Because you have rejected the word of the Lord,
    he has rejected you as king.”

To obey is better than sacrifice.

In Matthew 5 we see that making peace with someone is a bigger priority than offering a gift to the Lord.

i’m not so sure that being comfortable is bad. i don’t think i’m saying that.

But when it comes at the expense of obedience or other things Jesus calls us to…

When it becomes the thing we firmly set our eyes on above all other…

Well then i am saying, that we need to be doing some wrestling and heart-searching and Jesus-following, so that we don’t end up one day standing in front of God with Him looking at us and saying, “I never knew you.” [Matthew 7]

Anyone else wrestling with this? Any thoughts you have on either comfort or obedience? i would love to hear about it in the comments… 

[To take a look at some of my favourite verses in the bible, click here]

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shadows

This is the second extract i want to share from Stephen Lungu’s excellent book, ‘Out of the Black Shadows’ which i just finished reading [get a copy and read it and pass it on!] and this is from right at the end where he looks back over his life from violent rejected gangster to preacher and evangelist and it gives a glimpse of how God’s hand can be present all through someone’s life. This takes place after Stephen Lungu is chosen to be the new International Team Leader of African Enterprise, replacing Michael Cassidy:

‘Michael Cassidy came over to me after the meeting. He hugged me, and said, “Stephen, I have total faith in you. You will take this ministry through. And I give you Joshua 1.5: No-one will be able to stand up against you all the days of your life. As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you.”

Then, after Michael, nine more people came up to me separately that day, with the same verse from God for me. I concluded that God was trying to tell me something!

The International Partnership Board met for a service that night to commemorate my appointment. Michael spoke from Joshua 1. He said:

“We have the same God – but a new leader.

We have the same God – but a new river to cross.

We have the same God – but a new exhortation.”

That exhortation for AE, Michael went on, could be found in Joshua 1:16, 17, “Whatever you have commanded us we will do, and wherever you send us we will go. Just as we fully obeyed Moses, so we will obey you. Only may the Lord your God be with you as He was with Moses.”

It was an evening of joy and great excitement, but when I finally went to bed, I lay awake for hours, and wept.

I reached way, way back in my mind, down the long tunnel of the years. I saw the young frightened boy I had once been, screaming in panic for my mother who had abandoned me in the market place. In my mind’s eye, he slowly became the young boy confined behind wire in a chicken coop, covered with bird droppings, crying in misery. He faded, and then I saw myself as a young teenager digging a home in the sand below a bridge, scavenging in dustbins for rotting food in order to stay alive.

The kaleidoscope changed again, and now I saw the naive, hopelessly ignorant young man that I had been, doing violent, vicious things as a member of the Black Shadows.

My life had been doomed, hopeless. In the hate-filled streets of Salisbury in those days I would not have lasted many years.

The scene then switched again – and now in my mind I saw the brave Dorothea Missionaries set out in faith from South Africa in early May of 1962. I saw them work hard to put up that tent near Highfield Township. I saw Shadrach Maloka praying and preparing to preach. I saw, hundreds of miles to the south, two middle-class white Durban housewives kneel to pray in their kitchens on the night of 14 May 1962: “Lord, Jesus, bring one gang leader to know you tonight.”

And that night, 14 May 1962, Jesus had. He’d reached out to me, in all my misery.

14 May 1962. That same night., at midnight, as I had lain in my hole under my bridge, staring up at the stars, dazed by the knowledge of His love, Jesus had spoken to me: “I shall send you to the nations you do not know.”

And He had. From Africa to America, from South America to New Zealand, from the Middle East to Europe, I had been sent to the nations that I did not know.

Now it was 10 August, 2005, 43 years and three months after my conversion. Jesus was calling me to what I believe will be the final great step of my life: to follow in the footsteps of Michael Cassidy, to assume the great responsibility of International Team Leader of African Enterprise.

Jesus spoke to me again on this night also. He gave me the words from Joshua 1: 5,9:

‘No-one will be able to stand up against you all the days of your life. As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you… Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”

Wherever I have been, Lord Jesus, wherever I will go.

You called me out of the black shadows, into the warmth of Your shining love.

You will never leave me. So I shall not be afraid.’

What a powerful story – do yourself a favour and get hold of the book and read the whole story of a life transformed miraculously by a loving Saviour.

[To return to the first part of this series and the short video of Stephen’s testimony, click here]

Following on from the previous post asking if it is okay for a follower of Jesus to get a tattoo, i thought i would share the story behind my tattoo:

THE PLACE

For the longest time i thought it was going to be tennis ball sized and on my left shoulder. Then quite recently, when i started seriously thinking about it [has been on and off thought for at least five years] i realised that the only time that would be seen would be when i wore a vest or took my shirt off. And since i don’t take my shirt off all that often, that seemed like a bit of a waste. Inspired by my wife, tbV’s tat on her left wrist, i started to think that something on my arm where people could see it [but where i could cover it up if necessary] might be a better idea.

THE DESIGN

The main reason i did not get a tattoo years ago, was that i could never figure out exactly what the design was going to be.

i mentioned in the previous post how, the time i felt i got permission from God to get a tattoo, the phrase ‘Seek first His Kingdom’ from Matthew 6.33 was in my head and so i always thought it would be that. It was very much a being marked for Jesus verse and would leave not too much doubt about the meaning of my tat.

i even started a Facebook group a while back and invited artistic friends of mine to submit ideas and drawings, but not enough people took that up and the ones that did were pretty awful [sorry, but they were!]

i spent a lot of time at different intervals searching around on Uncle Google, trying to see if he had any ideas, but mostly got ideas of things i didn’t want anywhere near my body, than things that i did.

Last year when i turned 40 i was given a bunch of money from some really great friends and i decided to put it towards my tattoo and so for a year i have had the inclination and now the opportunity and all i needed was the actual tattoo.

And then Val beat me to it while we were in Americaland, and while i was super happy for her getting a really great tattoo that she was happy with, i felt no closer to having something i was happy with.

Apart from the phrase, it was always going to be likely that i had something F.I.S.H. themed as my nickname is Fish which stands for Faithful In Serving Him and so i started to think that might be a viable option. i have always liked the Christian fish symbol, or Icthus, which represented the words for Jesus, Christ, God, Son, Saviour and so played around with ideas on that:

icthus

i had also played around with the idea of the crown of thorns [which Jesus was made to wear on the cross as a form of mocking Him claiming to be the King of the Jews] and the idea of using nails to make the fish symbol which i had seen and liked before:

Eventually, with my 41st birthday approaching, and having not gotten my tattoo done in Americaland, i decided i just needed to do something. So i put a call out on Facebook and a friend of mine suggested a friend, and found me an email address and i emailed her and arranged a meeting. i arrived for the meeting and the shop’s name was ‘The Devil’s Rejects’, which is a little bit of an off-putting name for a follower of Jesus, until i realised that as a follower of Jesus, that pretty much does qualify me as a devil’s reject and so how appropriate. i had emailed Christina some of my vague ideas and so felt pretty dumb when i sat in front of her and she asked me if i had any more and i said, “No, not really.” But as we chatted i moved from the idea of a picture of a fish to simply the letters of F.I.S.H. [one of my motivations was a conversation starter in terms of being able to share about my faith] and we spoke a bit about the kind of lettering i had imagined and even though we didn’t progress very far, by the time i left, i felt like i had some ideas to work with. My Facebook community suggested a place to hunt down some fonts and i discovered a few i thought might work and i sent her the idea for just the word F.I.S.H. and also my idea to have some crown of thorns type lines around the word as kind of edgy border. A day or two later, Christina sent me two potential designs. The first one pretty much fell into what i had asked for/suggested but was completely nothing like i was looking for. The second one in some ways was also not what i had been thinking at all, and yet it instantly dived off the page and into my heart and became exactly what i wanted. She had decided to go with the fish shape which i had given up on and i absolutely loved [and love] the design she came up with which kinda used the crown of thorns imagery i had sent her to create the shape of the fish. The writing was perfect and apart from moving the words ‘Faithful In Serving Him’ [which i had told her later i would like in cursive] from inside the fish to below the fish so it would be more legible and then lining it up with the curve of the fish, it was almost perfect. tatdesign i scheduled an appointment for a few days later [to give me time to do a blood donation which i have missed for three years while in Americaland, cos, you know, African blood!] and every day i would open up the email with the design and just be in love with it all over again. i think one of my biggest fears was that i would get to the point of getting a tattoo done being okay with it and not absolutely stoked. Settling is one of my biggest fears. But having wanted this for so long and spent so long trying to figure out what i wanted and never being quite happy with what i came up with, it just felt like it would never come together. But every day, a few times a day, i would open up the email and smile and be in love all over again. I had found my tattoo. And i was 95% happy with it. Loved loved loved the whole thing, but was a little nervous about the ‘i’. i had asked for it to be a small ‘i’ as opposed to the capitals of the F, S and H. This has significant meaning as one of my favourite verses in the bible is John 3.30 where John the Baptist is talking and says about Jesus, ‘i must become smaller, He must become bigger.’ This is the main reason i always write my ‘i’s as small and always capitalise the He and Him when referring to God. Just a simple tradition i have in place to honour God and remind myself that it is all about Him.

THE FINAL TWEAK

So when i sat down in front of Christina for the tattooing to happen, i explained to her i didn’t want to derail the process or freak her out as we were about to begin [i imagine rule #1 of Getting a Tattoo done is ‘Don’t piss off your Tattoo Artist!’] but the smallness of the ‘i’ was the only thing stopping it from being absolutely perfect. She immediately suggested a solution and BOOM! Game on. i cannot recommend Christina Andrianatos enough [she is so good she even tattoos herself sometimes – and she would even improve your Spongebob Squarepants tattoo if you asked her to] – so gracious and patient when she had to deal with this clueless guy trying to figure out the tattoo – and then great in communicating back and forth until we had something i was happy with – completely gentle and reassuring throughout the whole process – answering questions and completely professional in every aspect. After all, when she was done with me, i had one of these: 2015Tat Exactly! How hot is THAT??? So super happy, worth the wait and can’t wait for it to be fully healed up so that i am ready to go.

[For the answer to the question, ‘Just how painful is getting a tattoo?, click here]

Boko Haram…

Charlie Hebdo…

Pupils in a Gauteng school re-enacting dog-fights…

Sometimes, far too regularly, it seems like the world has gone mad. What are we to do?

i was encouraged by this excerpt from a Dutch friend of mine who sent this as part of his end of year newsletter:

One thing has become clearer to me than ever before: Jesus Christ is the only hope for man and mankind. Especially studying the chapters 5-7 of Mathew’s gospel where we find the so called Sermon on the Mount, convinced me afresh of the incomparable life, mission and words of Jesus. Too easily the spiritual life is seen and interpreted as disconnected and separated from the world. Jesus however teaches how to live our lives well in a hostile world: there truly is hope! His mission was to restore the link between God and man, and between humans. It all starts with the restora-tion of the relationship between God and the individual. That restoration delivers man from his insatiable hunger for entitlement, power, money, and to be right. Being set free from all of these self-destructive attitudes and behaviors man is able to give himself to the other, no matter how strange, or impossible the other seems to be. [Jan Den Ouden]

This inspired me to spend some time reading Matthew 5-7. As in the whole thing. For the next couple of days. Too often we read through a passage and think some things and then move quickly on to the next one. i have learnt that it can be super helpful and enlightening to take a passage [or a book like i did with Philippians reading the whole thing every day for a month a few years ago] and immerse yourself in it. Once you get past the normal things you have taken from it before, you often have your eyes opened to other things God might be saying in there.

Too many people who call themselves ‘christian’ in the world seem to think the whole thing is about what they believe. Whereas with Jesus it was always about how you live. Life now, not a focus on heaven one day. How do you ‘Love God and Love people’ [including your neighbour and your enemy] in practical ways that improve the state of their lives and make the world a better place, right here and right now. How do you look beyond yourself to the needs of those around you.

ubuntu

 

Bruce Collins is one of my best friends in the category of ‘people i have hardly spent any time with at all’ – our spirits seem to connect strongly when it comes to God and life and relationships and things and i just love his passion and wrestling and honesty… he has a great gift for writing too which is why i am reblogging this post of his which feels like something i could have written… so much doubt and wrestling combined with so much of knowing…

i believe… help me overcome my unbelief…

Barista Bruce's Brews

I’ve read so much lately that challenges the central tenets of what I believe: mostly articles and posts ranging from the horrors perpetuated in the name of “Christianity” to the rational short falling of what we hold to be true a followers of Jesus.

I must contextualise this post a little, too: on a purely cerebral level, there are many things that potentially bother me about faith in Jesus. There are many “so-called logical” arguments that challenge Christianity that seem to make perfect sense to me; when viewed in isolation, of course. Furthermore, I don’t believe that the church has always allowed us to engage with our doubt. Doubt, in my experience, has always been frowned upon. Guilt has ensued. I think, however, that doubt is an integral part of authentic belief.

I digress.

Despite all this, I believe now more than ever before in the reality of Jesus: God…

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character3

How do you judge good character?

 The idea or concept of ‘Character’ and ‘A person of good character’  seems, to me, to be a bit of subjective or elusive in terms of definition.

And so, instead of trying to come up with any kind of definitive definition [is there such a thing as a non-definitive definition?] of what i mean when i talk about a person of character, i thought it might be more helpful to describe some aspects that i [and possibly some others, and hopefully also you] think of when i think of the idea.

I started by suggesting that having a more positive than negative presence on social media [and in life in general] was one way of assessing character.

CONSISTENCY [aka BE WHO YOU ARE] 

For me, something that is a huge aspect of character is the trait of consistency. 

Now this doesn’t necessarily mean being the same way in different circumstances and with different people, but it does mean being the same person.

You won’t behave the same way with the CEO of a big company as you would when doing a family dinner or as you would when hanging out with a group of your mates. So I’m not saying that. What I am strongly saying is that in terms of the person you are, you will maintain that in the different groups of people and contexts, not trying to come across as one thing with one person and a different thing with another. That would be the term two-faced, which is the opposite of character. And in fact is closely linked to the word hypocracy which derived, as you all know from the Greek word ὑπόκρισις (hypokrisis) which was used to describe an actor [someone pretending to be someone else].

For me, Jesus Christ was such a great example of this. He definitely carried Himself differently when addressing the Pharisees or speaking to the crowds than when He was merely hanging with His disciples or having one on one encounters with people. But who He was didn’t change. He didn’t change His message or demeanour to impress the crowds. He stayed consistent in terms of who He was and the message He was delivering, but changed the style and way of speaking to be relevant to whoever His audience was.

Be who you are. Trust that that is enough and if it not then change who you are, not how you present yourself. But Dr Seuss said it well:

seuss

What are some of the things you think defines character?

[for the next part on character looking at living out what you speak, click here]

If you haven’t yet read the story of Nigel and Trish and their five children who moved into Hillbrow in South Africa to do life, then you are one of the few. That story has been blowing up on my blog with over 2000 views [that’s ‘blowing up’ on my blog] and 350 Facebook shares.

People are resonating with the story. There is something about it that just reaches out and grabs you [and i imagine makes a lot of people uneasy or nervous in a kind of wait-a-minute-do-i-need-to-now-go-do-that kind of way].

I want to suggest that it is the idea of incarnation. 

One dictionary definition i looked up for incarnation described it as ‘the action of incarnating’ which was not so helpful. Another said it was ‘the bodily manifestation of a spiritual being’ which at least starts to give us something to work with.

It has been given as a description of what Jesus did which is well described in Philippians 2:

3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, 4 not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.

5 In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

6 Who, being in very nature God,
    did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
7 rather, he made himself nothing
    by taking the very nature of a servant,
    being made in human likeness.
8 And being found in appearance as a man,
    he humbled himself
    by becoming obedient to death—
        even death on a cross!

Basically, God, in the form and person of Jesus, came close.

After years of sending messengers is the form of leaders and angels and prophets, God took a step further and came to deliver the message and demonstrate the way to live Himself. He came and lived it amongst us. And forever took away our ability to say, ‘God doesn’t understand. He doesn’t know what I’m going through.’ Well yes He does, because He was here. He gets it.

It’s about not so much looking to your interests as to the interests of others [which Jesus strongly called us to in His ‘Deny yourself, take up your cross daily and follow Me’ speech of Luke 9.23]

Now as followers of Jesus we have the Holy Spirit living in us and so everywhere we go there should theoretically be ‘the bodily manifestation of a spiritual being’ – but the question that needs to be asked on that is how often do we end up looking like us and how often do we end up looking like Jesus?

Here is another story i read about a South African family who look to be at least trying to ‘get’ this to some extent. Although their experiment definitely led to mixed responses from those around them:

‘Some condemned it as a “stupid experiment” and exploitative, calling for them to be “burned in their shack” by locals. Others applauded their courage in bridging South Africa’s massive wealth divide.’

And the same kind of story resonates in this American family, the Albrechts, who have lived in the UK since 1992 and have taken in around 250 homeless people over the last 7 years.

I would say that is one of the strongest lessons we have learnt or observed from our time over here. That moving in to the area ad building relationships with the people around you is one of the most effective ways to really get the chance to share your message [because the loudest sharing of it comes from the day to day of how they see you live life]

It is what resonated with me in my favourite book of all time, ‘No Compromise: The Keith Green story’ where Keith and his wife started taking people into their home within a few months of being married and they ended up on a farm with a community of many people [a lot of whom started out from a place of being down and out]. It wasn’t comfortable or cool or hipster or anything like that. It just felt like the word of God and so they did it.

i love how the word ‘nation’ is present in the word ‘incarnation‘ as well as the word ‘in’

do i think everyone is called to move into a poor, broken-down neighborhood to help bridge the gap between rich and poor and incarnationally make a difference around them? absolutely not. but i do think a lot more people are called to than are presently doing it. i also know that it would be a lot easier if people did it in greater numbers – so groups of friends moving into the same neighborhood [and i would thoroughly encourage the need for some form of relationship to be present before just deciding to move into a rough neighborhood]

i also think this is powerfully linked to the concept of stability – committing to an area, a community, a workplace for a considerable length of time.

maybe the question each of us should be asking is, ‘Why should i not go?’ and then, if there is an answer, stay where you are. there are a growing number of us who believe that poverty will end when the rich meet and get to know the poor. when they move in as neighbors and become some measure of friends.

are you being called? and what scares you about this most? [because i imagine this scares some of you a lot]

in Jesus, the Word became flesh

for most of us the challenge is seeing our flesh become Word…

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