Tag Archive: Jesus


In Acts 7 in the bible, we read about the stoning of Stephen.

Does anyone know what role Stephen had in the early church?

Let me give you a clue: In Acts 6.5 we see him described as “a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit”.

So what did he do? Are we thinking pastor? Elder? Worship leader?

Let me give you another clue: In Acts 6.8 we read that Stephen was “a man full of God’s grace and power”.

If you think of someone like that in your church, what is their role? Any closer to figuring out Stephen’s?

stephen

STEPHEN WAS THE FOOD GUY

So at the beginning of Acts chapter 6 we read how the twelve disciples chose seven men ‘known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom’ to take over the work of the daily distribution of food [a move that was done because a certain group of widows was being neglected and they wanted to make sure it wasn’t so].

And Stephen, who went on to be martyred, and who saw heaven opened and witnessed the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand side of God [Acts 7.56] was one of those seven. His role in the church was to make sure that food was handed out.

BE THE CHURCH BE THE CHURCH BE THE CHURCH

As i have been having intimate book launches and creating space for people to ask any questions they might have about church and God and following Jesus, i am becoming more and more convinced that the church is meant to be so much more of an identity than it is an experience.

This does not appear to be the most popular of opinions. There is a loud and insistent clamouring for church to need to be identified as ‘local church’ and a strong focus on the meeting at the particular place with that certain group of people.

i’m not suggesting for a second that local church is wrong, or bad, or should be stopped or left or run away from. At all.

But we are called the bride of Christ. We are described as the body of Christ. Both identity labels. Sure there is doing attached to both of those, but more importantly there is being. Who we are. Not just on Sundays, in the building. But always, everywhere.

It’s not even as if Sunday is the most authentic picture of who we are – we tend to dress up in a way we seldom dress during the week – portray a persona unlike the reality of what is really going on in our lives [So we don’t get to see people struggling with life or relationships or work or issues – every marriage looks perfect, every individual looks like they have it together] – and go through the religious ritual singing words of songs we often either don’t believe or pay attention to, prayers which sound nice and sermons which are too often comfortable and confirming of where we are rather than challenging where we should be being.

Jesus

i’m kinda tired of feeling like i have to defend my position on this. It feels like too many people have settled for the image of Jesus on the left and far too few are broken before the much closer image on the right.

i believe that being a part of the church means being infused with the D.N.A. of Jesus through the very fact of having His Holy Spirit in us and that it was always meant to be a description of who we are seven days a week, not just one.

It should rally us to social and societal justice, cause us to be more genuinely loving and affected people, move us to use our time, money and skills in the pursuit of the kingdom [not just 10% of them], help us to be more real in our relationships, challenge us towards forgiveness [of EVERYONE who has hurt us in any way] and spur us on to be salt and light and the fragrance of Christ amidst those who are perishing.

While local church is not a bad thing, what i am talking about feels so much bigger. It can be ‘Local Church Plus…’ for sure. And the benefits of community and accountability and teaching and combined worship and sharing of resources should be obvious.

12 Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. [Romans 12]

18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

[Matthew 28]

21 “I hate, I despise your religious festivals;
    your assemblies are a stench to me.
22 Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings,
    I will not accept them.
Though you bring choice fellowship offerings,
    I will have no regard for them.
23 Away with the noise of your songs!
    I will not listen to the music of your harps.
24 But let justice roll on like a river,
    righteousness like a never-failing stream!

[Amos 5]

So today, don’t give up on gathering, but let it be real. Let it be transformative. Let it be spirit-enthusing. And above all let it inform the rest of your week as you leave the building and continue to be the church day in and day out.

legchurch

[To read some more about the book i wrote on church, called ‘i, church’, and how to get hold of it, click here]

easter

When Jesus walked the earth, He called many people to follow Him. And the crowds showed up.

He spoke Truth and Life. He reached out to those at the margins, which in His day included women and children, Samaritans [the foreigner], the diseased and more… He performed miracles… He saved lives people were wanting to kill and He even raised some people from the dead. And the crowds cheered and pushed to get closer to hear His words and touch Him to receive some of that power.

He said, “I have come to show you how it is possible to live a God-following life in its entirety in a way that loves God, loves people and takes care of the earth we live on.” The crowd nodded.

Jesus said, “Follow Me, do what I do, and you will know life to the absolute fullest.” The crowd chanted their approval, waving palm branches and singing songs of worship to the One they had chosen to follow.

Then He died…

[and the crowd silently snuck off into the shadows]

LET HIM WHO IS WITHOUT DOUBT… NOT REALLY REQUIRE FAITH AT ALL…

Today we celebrate one of the biggest days of doubt. Jesus hanging on a cross. This wasn’t how it was meant to be. We were expecting Him to overthrow the Roman government and begin His new kingdom of life and love and peace. And yet for the most part, people looks defeated and watched as His blood and life slowly dripped away…

On the biggest day of doubt, it seemed as if the enemy had won and even Jesus Himself seemed to agree as He gasped out those words, “It. Is. Finished.”

He had also said, “Destroy the temple and in three days I will rebuild it.”

And something about “Your body is the temple of God.”

And on the third day, Easter Sunday to come, we will witness the big miracle, the victory over death and the hope of a better life to come.

Better life for all.

But today, as we look on the cross, we can be okay with our doubt.

James 1 is a hard one for the doubters among us:

But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind.That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do.

Although one wonders [and hopes] if the bit about “When you ask” is relevant in that piece.

After all, why would anyone need faith, if there was no doubt?

Faith surely indicates the presence of doubt, of questioning, of wrestling, of wondering if we have believed in the right one…

Otherwise it surely would not be needed, right? Then it would simply be belief…

Because Hebrews 1:

Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for.

Confidence and assurance. But also ‘what we hope for’ and ‘what we do not see’.

Do i believe in the Jesus story? Absolutely. With everything in me.

Do i have doubt? In the face of all the critics and the church’s chequered history and some of the messed-up-ness in the world and feeling far away from God experientially? Absolutely. A lot.

But i am comforted by Jesus’ interaction with this father who had a demon-possessed son that Jesus was about to set free.

21 Jesus asked the boy’s father, “How long has he been like this?”

“From childhood,” he answered. 22 “It has often thrown him into fire or water to kill him. But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.”

23 “‘If you can’?” said Jesus. “Everything is possible for one who believes.”

24 Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”

And while Friday is the day to look on the cross and see the hopes and dreams and ideas of what the world could like fading away into nothingness and despair and question and chaos and brokenness and pain…

Sunday is coming…

eastersunday

manenberg

My new friend, Portal Pete [as i call him, or Pete Portal to his other friends], shares some thoughts as to why he and his wife Sarah decided to intentionally move into Manenberg:

“Why would you move to Manenberg?”

“Christianity is an invitation to be part of an alien people who make a difference because they see something that cannot otherwise be seen without Christ. Right living is more the challenge than right thinking.” This means that “what makes the church ‘radical’ and forever ‘new’ is not that the church tends to lean toward the left on most social issues, but rather that the church knows Jesus whereas the world does not. In the church’s view, the political left is not noticeably more interesting than the political right; both sides tend towards solutions that act as if the world has not ended and begun in Jesus. These ‘solutions’ are only mirror images of the status quo.” (Stanley Hauerwas: ‘Resident Aliens’)

I believe that there are simply no economic or political solutions to the economic and political problems the world faces and itself generates. If the assertion that God (and not capitalists or terrorists) rules the world, then it logically follows that only through Jesus’ sacrificial love ethic will the transformation of communities, societies and nations be possible.

Let’s get personal. Last October, my wife Sarah and I felt God ask us if we would move into Manenberg. We had recently arrived back in Cape Town from a year studying in London, and were initially looking for a sweet little Victorian cottage in Observatory. But we couldn’t let go of the deep-set feeling that commuting from the suburbs into Manenberg each day would just perpetuate the unhealthy prevailing narrative of whites going to ‘help’ those living in townships. The fact is, ‘being with’ is a lot more meaningful and generative than ‘doing for’.

And so – in April this year we moved in. Best decision ever, because it has allowed us to listen to, learn from, and be friends with, those whom we would never have otherwise met. Put slightly differently – when you are neighbours with someone, you develop an equal relationship based on familiarity and friendship. When you visit somewhere to ‘help’, ‘minister’ or ‘serve’, you develop a skewed relationship based on providing something. (Sidenote – I once heard someone say ‘the poor [whoever you think they are] don’t need soup and shoes – they need a place at your table for the next twenty years.’ I couldn’t agree more. Though, it’s those the world views as rich who would really benefit from eating with those seen as poor – not vice versa.)

I believe that if Jesus was alive in human form today and moved to Cape Town, he would live in Manenberg – or somewhere like it. And so, if the Christian life is about trying to follow Jesus, and be like him in everything, it seems quite clear that more of us should be living amongst the poor, traumatized, disempowered, violent and addicted.

Here’s my reasoning:

Jesus came from an accursed and belittled place. (John 1:46)

He himself was financially poor. (Luke 2:24 – his parents offered two doves rather than a lamb – a sign of their financial poverty.)

He seemed to spend more time amongst the poor and marginalized than the influential. (Mark 2:15)

And he was misunderstood for doing so. (Matthew 11:19) 

Might Manenberg be a contemporary equivalent of Nazareth – accursed and marginalized? Guess so, based on newspaper headlines and conversations I’ve had with Capetonians: 

 

“Manenberg?! No man, those people aren’t right.”

[Middle class coloured friend]

 

Or… “Listen, what you’re trying to do is noble, but those people will never change, they’ll just take advantage of you. Look, you don’t understand them like we do. There’s a reason people don’t go into those areas.”

[Middle class white friend]

 

Or… “You mustn’t go there – it’s too dangerous, the people are evil.”

[Black lady I met in a taxi].

 

Are Christians commissioned to walk as Jesus walked? Yup.

Is discipleship about ‘being Jesus’ to the world? For sure.

Might this mean exposing the first world myths of ‘quality of life’, ‘security’ and ‘comfort’? I reckon.

What about the apartheid mindset of fear and division? That too.

Does it not then follow that to move into Manenberg actually makes more sense than not?

 

Ah – hmmm – about that…

[For the post i wrote on Intentional Living and trying to decide where we are going to live next, click here]

As we continue on with Mark, we have this very interesting passage that might leave us wondering why Jesus kept the disciples around.

But then if you’re anything like me, you’ll probably be super glad that He did. [and does!]

Join me as we look at Mark 14. 27-42 and maybe take a moment to thank God that He uses the foolish of the world to confound the wise…

 

 

[For the next part of the story where Jesus heads to the garden and is arrested, click here]

DAY 29

The Bible mentions seven things that Jesus says while hanging on the cross. I found this online site that looks at each statement [calling each one a ‘word’] and thought it would be a great resource for us as we head towards Easter.

Task: Meditate and reflect on ‘The third word of Jesus.’

The third word is based on Jesus’ words in John 19:25-27.

Spend some time of reflection on the elements of this 6 page powerpoint presentation as we reflect together on the second word Jesus spoke on the cross.

A reminder that His word is a lamp to our feet and a light to our path.

cross

[for the next post in the series, click here]

this has been quite an eventful week.

WORLD VISION AND SAME SEX MARRIAGE

World Vision made a dramatic did-they-really-not-expect-the-reaction-it-got decision involving allowing employees to be in same-sex marriages.

the Evangelical response was strong with notable Christian speakers such as John Piper and Franklin Graham speaking out against the decision and many Christians apparently withdrawing support for World Vision and specifically for the children they support via World Vision.

a day or two later World Vision does a wibbly-wobbly and reverses their decision with president Rich Stearns answering some questions about the matter which included the fact that some of their staff had resigned because of stress:

We had a few in the past few days resigned partially because of stress. You can imagine some of the folks in our call center that our answering our 800 line. They’re receiving an earful of anger. I think we had a few people who couldn’t handle the stress and the anxiety created by the incoming calls.

the decision being reversed also had a dramatic impact on the organisation:

Within an hour of the reversal, the call volume dropped. The angry calls stopped and dropped to a much lower level. Some of the sponsors called back to reinstate their sponsorships.

The Twitterer was on fire with every well-known Christian writer/speaker/blogger having something to say including Rachel Held Evans:

I have never in my life been more angry at the Church or more embarrassed to be a Christian. It feels like a betrayal from every side.

ABORTION

meanwhile, on the other side of town, i posted a story from my friend, Irma, as part of the Taboo Topics section of my blog, on the topic of abortion, where there were special circumstances with both of the babies she lost and where she and her husband had wrestled with the decisions and ultimately she admitted that she still didn’t know if they did the right thing.

i am very much pro life and anti abortion, but when you read a story like Irma’s you realise how not black-and-white those issues can be when there are lives at risk and beyond the issue itself i was very interested to see how people, especially christians, would respond and for the most part there was a lot of love, grace and compassion on offer, but then also responses like this:

I don’t think that there is Any excuse for abortion. We have to suffer for our children and truly lay down our lives for them. those born normal and not. not just abort when the child doesn’t look normal or deformed. thats playing GOD. people died during child birth to give birth to babies that died , were sick and weren’t normal. no amount of justification will remove the fact that you took away a life. I don’t think God favors abortion, under any circumstance. He is a God of forgiveness, yes, but this is coming across as someone who just took things into their own hands and doesn’t have the faith that they speak so much about.

LET’S LET GOD BE GOD [as if we could stop Him!]

A couple of things to take note of:

# In Matthew 22 Jesus is asked what the most important thing is and His response is to love God with everything [heart, soul, strength, mind] and to love our neighbour as ourselves. [Later on He adds enemy to people we need to love and reminds us that His definition of ‘neighbour’ is everyone else in the world and particularly the person in need]

# In John 13 we read: “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

# In James 1 we read two important things to take note of here: 26 Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless. 27 Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world. Tight reign of tongue and look after orphans and widows.

# In Matthew 25’s parable of the sheep and the goats, those who are sent to eternal punishment were not sent away because of their bad theology or because they failed to judge those who had messed up – they did not hit the mark because they ignored the hungry, naked, sick, thirsty, imprisoned etc.

There should be no doubt that our primary focus needs to be love. God is going to be doing the judging and each of us will stand in front of Him one day giving account of our lives and actions and maybe more importantly the times we failed to show love, compassion and grace, mercy and forgiveness.

Jesus has a lot of encounters with terribly sinful people and the ‘Go and sin no more’ of his encounter with the woman caught in sin is a reminder that He never takes their sin lightly or dismisses it. But we don’t see Him making the ‘horrible sinners’ feel bad and in fact He is accused of hanging around with the drunkards and prostitutes which means that they probably enjoyed being around Him and not because He made them feel bad i imagine. In fact the major time we see Jesus making people feel bad, it is the Pharisees and the Sadducees who held so strongly on to ‘the law’ and used it to place heavy burdens on those seeking God.

THE POINT

God is the judge – let Him judge.

We are called to hold people accountable yes, but let the phrase “Speak the Truth in Love” always be our guide and mentor.

And whatever we do, wherever we get it wrong, or are not sure, we HAVE to always get LOVE right. That is the highest call on us and we cannot get that one wrong. Love, compassion, grace, mercy, forgiveness, friendship, community… but always LOVE.

God will be God. [He’s pretty good at it!]

love

How do you put a positive spin on the words, “All men will hate you because of Me”? Especially when they come from the mouth of Jesus [which makes them a little bit harder to ignore or explain away].

Perhaps that is why Mark 13.1-13 is not a particularly popular passage for those who don’t specifically preach continuously through the Bible? The rest of it is End of the World stuff which generally is good for an audience, so let’s take a look and see what this passage has to say to us:

 

[For the next passage with Jesus talking about end times, click here]

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