You make me feel as Spring has sprung

Just this week, all of a sudden, there it was: buds on the tree and flowers in the fields and the natural world has reassured us that winter has passed and summer is coming.

Summer is near
Summer is near

In answer to a question by his disciples (Matthew 24), Jesus remarked that his return could be discerned by signs, very much like leaves on a tree as summer approaches:

32 “Now learn this lesson from the fig tree: As soon as its twigs get tender and its leaves come out, you know that summer is near. 33 Even so, when you see all these things, you know that it[e] is near, right at the door. 34 Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened. 35 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.”

So, thinking of His return, in my mind I linked a new dispensation with a golden oldie: when I’m feeling old and can say with Gerard Manley Hopkins that ‘The world is too much with us’, spring reminds me that the summer of his reign on Earth – and in my heart – will one day become a present reality. And like love, it makes me ‘feel so young’.

Battle is a highly fluid situation

I’ll be honest; sometimes a John Woo film is a guilty pleasure because it’s pure entertainment: no intellectualism or sophistication but corny lines, odd-ball characters, grand vistas and action moves in defiance of gravity and logic. In ‘Broken Arrow’, John Travolta sinks his acting teeth into what for him and the audience is a fun role. As his character says, ‘battle is a highly fluid situation…’Which is to say that things don’t always happen the way you plan in combat because there are way too many variables and moving parts.

Sometimes we don’t actively think about it but as Christians we are involved in battle. When I say war, it means opposition without being violent, which sounds strange for a war. In his epistle to the Ephesians Paul writes that we are not at war against people but against spiritual forces. And they are in opposition to us.

 

The church is opposed by the world, the devil as well as our own flesh. That’s a lot of opposition but we are called to stay in the fight. Psalm 149:4 says that ‘the Lord takes delight in his people; he crowns the humble with victory.’ We are loved by him and as Christians, he is on our side and takes delight in us. It’s his ‘army’ and he gives his people the victory.

https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Psalm+149%3A4+-+6&version=NIV

His ‘faithful people rejoice in this honor and sing for joy on their beds.’ The word used for ‘faithful people’ is hasidim, or saints and is based on the posture God has for us. Hesed means God’s own steadfast love and as those who receive and give that love in return, we are hasidim.

 

When we immerse ourselves in praise for Him, it’s not an escape from the reality of spiritual combat, it is hope and encouragement for ourselves and each other. It’s a two-edged sword, whether swinging back-hand or forehand, we cut down ideas that are in opposition to him.

 

‘May the praise of God be in their mouths and a double-edged sword in their hands.’

True religion

On a Wednesday morning in late August I came to feel particularly morose about my penchant for personal immorality. Put simply, as happens from time to time I realise that I tend to sinfulness and it was a disturbing thought.

 

If I discarded the idea that there was a God and decided that there was no such thing as sin, or indeed if I decided that I would like to set up an alternative to Christianity, I would do what many misguided men (and women) have done throughout the ages; I would start my own religion.

 

In modern times, a sci-fi writer by the name of Lafayette Ronald Hubbard started a religion called Scientology that resembled a B-grade science fiction script. He made himself and his ideas the centre of that religion and at last count there were 25,000 followers of Scientology in the U.S.

Even more recently there are people who have the benefit of a Western education who nevertheless subscribe to the idea that George Lucas was on to something when he made up a religion for the cultural phenomenon that is Star Wars, and they adopt the beliefs of the Jedi.

http://www.foxnews.com/story/2008/05/13/man-dressed-as-darth-vader-spared-jail-for-attack-on-founder-britain-jedi.html

Man has been inventing crazy religions for a long time. Some are more obviously fake than others but what they all have in common is a refutation of a clear truth: that God is, that He can be known, and that He has made himself known through His Son (Hebrews 1:2).

 

It’s not difficult to devise a religion, particularly if it doesn’t have to be realistic. Just take the things you like doing, make them seem awesomely sacred and make yourself the go-to guy who sets the terms of the religion. You don’t even really need a sacred text these days.

 

My religion (based on where my sinful nature leads) would involve a group gathering weekly to obsessively watch re-runs of rugby victories by the Sharks and Ireland, where the sacred meal of nachos and beer would be consumed. Afterwards my acolytes would sit in a circle around a fire and quote movie lines to one another and pay only lip-service to God. During the rest of the week we would market the religious gatherings on social media. Millions far and wide would read my ramblings and see the wisdom of my insight into my favourite things…

 

I do watch the Sharks and Ireland play rugby and I do like quoting movie lines when they are relevant to a situation, but He calls me to read Scripture and more importantly quote Scripture whenever possible (any time is appropriate).

 

I do consume nachos and beer on occasion, but he calls me to self-control.

 

I do put out my ramblings in public and use social media, but He calls me to prayer (the original Facebook – with God), and He calls me to point the way to him.

 

My religion would look pretty stupid; His truth is obvious. False religions offend me and I’m rather glad that trusting in God also means fessing up to my failures and tirelessly re-adjusting so that I’m on the straight and narrow.

https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Romans+6%3A23&version=NIV

Romans 16:19 says

Romans 16:19 says ‘I want you to be wise as to what is good and innocent as to what is evil. The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet…’ (and a bit of verse 20 in there as well). (ESV)

 

It occurred to me this week while reading a novel that there are a lot of ideas in books that are not good for intellectual consumption by the Christian. At the same time, if we only read novels or non-fiction with a Christian theme we can come to live in a bubble, which is not helpful when trying to reach out to the world. Paul’s letter to the Romans addresses those whose faith is under siege from people with dodgy motives, and the advice is to be excellent at what is good and innocent of evil, remembering that God will ultimately crush the enemy under our feet.

 

So, I can be aware of Taylor Swift, Game of Thrones, the strange music of Nicki Minaj and the content of countless novels without letting myself get pulled in by them.

Broken record

The world record for the 400 metre running event had stood for 17 years, and at the 2016 Rio Olympics it was decisively broken by a young athlete from South Africa by the name of Wade van Niekerk.

 

I had never heard of this young man before however in a sports mad country like South Africa eager for good news, his world record and gold was trumpeted as the best news in a long time. Far different from the Ethopian swimmer who competed at the games and came stone last by half a length in the 100 metres freestyle. One a subject of bemusement and the other a subject of fulsome praise.

 

http://www.kare11.com/sports/olympics/ethiopian-swimmer-finishes-last-brings-social-media-joy/296388288

 

But I like what Wade did next. He didn’t take the praise and make a bubble bath and luxuriate in it, he tweeted a message saying ‘Jesus did it’.

 

This action is most unlike many people who are talented and know it and seldom stop to consider the One who gave them the talent and ability to perform sporting feats, or indeed any other endeavour. Wade decided to build God’s kingdom instead of his own. To the Christian, the motivation behind tweeting what he did was instantly recognisable.

 

Kingdoms are being built all the time, even by those who don’t have a lot of power. We tend to use the power and influence that we do have to order things around us in the way we would like, and unfortunately it comes so naturally.

 

Donald Trump has a kingdom; he’s a rich man with power and prestige and his name is immediately recognisable. Mark Zuckerberg has a kingdom called Facebook and many of us use it on a weekly basis; he has influence and power because of it. If there were social and electronic media in the time of the tower of Babel, we might find mp4’s and tweets about the greatness of that particular city and the name may even have been branded. Babel was an example of people building their own kingdom.

 

Whilst it is true that wealth, influence and power are not inherently wrong, these things apart from submission to God are not good things and we abuse them.

 

Wade van Niekerk opted not to build his kingdom when he tweeted what he did, he built God’s kingdom. He went even further by donating half a million rand to a neo-natal organisation.

 

James and John were apostles of Christ and although they followed Christ and were concerned with the kingdom of God, as recorded in the 20th chapter of Matthew they took a little too much interest in their stature in the kingdom. It is possible to be about our Father’s business but to think too highly of ourselves in the process.

 

In the kingdom of God, the first will be last and the last will be first. One day, that Ethiopian swimmer who made a hash of his race and came last might be first in the kingdom of God, and Michael Phelps last.

 

I have no insight but I’m saying it may be. What ultimately counts is not what a person can do, but what they are prepared to do and accomplish for God.

Polls, polls, polls!

It was a matter of mere weeks after the election of George W. Bush and already a team was tasked with his re-election. As recorded in ‘Dead Certain’ by Robert Draper (Free Press, 2007) the re-election team concluded that there was a diminishing group of undecided voters in the U.S. that it was possible to influence in elections and that the answer lay simply in turnout. If a candidate and his campaign could motivate his base to show up on election day then the race would normally be won.

 

This salient fact is why the current race for the presidency in the U.S. is so interesting. In theory news organisations and pollsters interview a representative sample of voters and ask a series of questions, and voila! The idea is the same as a sample of soup: you don’t have to eat a whole vat of soup to know what it is going to taste like, you just need to take a spoonful of a properly mixed portion.

 

In this scenario, Hillary Clinton has the race in the bag and The Donald may as well simply quit.

 

Your average pollster will affirm that polls are generally correct, as this panel does in the link:

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1E2Nl0AQx0Y

 

There is the possibility however that pollsters – being biased human beings – will formulate questions or provide non-verbal cues to the interviewee that will presuppose the desired outcome. But maybe I’m being unkind.

 

Then again, maybe I’m not. The press for many years has been known as the fourth estate, keeping the government in line by exposing corruption and abuses. In theory, they are a mirror for society and simply report what is. A cursory study of news content these days shows that the media has not reported news without bias for some time.

 

Polls, if done correctly and without bias have a place in reporting an election race but it is plain that the race has not been reported without bias by most of the mainstream media.  A poll can be used to illuminate voter opinion but it could also be used to influence voter opinion. That has to be acknowledged as a possibility.

 

According to a question-and-answer app by Zip, Trump has the edge on Clinton based on the amount of anonymous feedback from respondents:

 

http://www.usatoday.com/story/tech/2016/08/13/app-maker—trump-win-election/88640044/

 

This app eliminates the possible bias of interviewers over the phone but it calls into the question of whether the sample is representative. What is interesting is that it shows a heavy leaning for Trump among smartphone users. If this has any correlation with voter turnout on election day, Hillary may be in for a long night.

 

Polls aren’t always right. It bears remembering that God is always in control, even over elections in America where a voting public has grown increasingly cold to Him.

I will trust in you

On an average Monday morning you certainly wouldn’t expect to be driving in to work and happen to come across God. To many, God seems very Sunday, or Saturday at a push but certainly not Monday which is normally a serious start to the working week.

 

Nevertheless, there I was driving while listening to Lauren Daigle’s new album. The emotion normally comes first for me and meaning expressed in words later. So the words of the song took me back to the garden of Gethsemane where Christ is faced with his imminent torture and death and he prays to His father, “…if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will but yours be done.” Luke 22:42 (NIV).

 

It occurred to me that these are words that Christ doesn’t speak lightly. Sure, he is the Son of God but he’s also human (in an emotional and physical sense) and this type of thinking would not normally leap to mind.

 

He prays to take cup of suffering away. I can understand that; not one of us seeks out and values suffering, especially in the midst of it. And this is where Lauren Daigle’s lyrics come into it…

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qv-SXz_exKE

 

When you don’t move the mountains I’m needing you to move;

When you don’t part the waters I wish I could walk through;

When you don’t give the answers as I cry out to you;

I will trust

I will trust

I will trust in you.

 

When He doesn’t move the mountains: 15 years in stasis at work, affirmative action, health problems of my loved ones and brethren at church, I will trust.

 

When he doesn’t part the waters: pain and death, hospital visits, Tracy’s lung disease, I will trust because Christ did.

 

When he doesn’t give me the answers:

  • What promises in Scripture are for me?
  • What promises may I have misapplied?
  • Why did I think my whole family was going to be raptured and not taste death?
  • Why hasn’t he rebuked the godless?
  • Jesus also asked tough questions: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Psalm 22).

 

There is no other option but to trust in him. Because Christ did.

Rescue is coming

Take a look at the montage from the 2013 movie ‘Lone Survivor’ which I watched again recently; it’s about SEAL training which is notorious for being tough. Most guys who take part don’t make it through the course but for those who do they enter into a brotherhood that endures for life and for those who pay the ultimate price, unto death.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2C72qF0uC7U

The movie chronicles the deployment of 4 Navy SEALS during operation Red Wings in 2005 in Afghanistan where Marcus Luttrell was the titular ‘lone survivor’. Those who enter the military often have similar characteristics of Christians who survive in a hostile world. In a world without honour we stand as brothers in service to the Lord and ought to act like it every time one of our brothers is in need.

 

Watching just the opening sequence of the film, I’m reminded that Jesus, the Son of God, went through something far tougher than SEAL training to rescue his brethren.

 

1 John 3: 16 (NIV): “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters.”

 

Marcus Luttrell managed to make contact with the U.S. military and as depicted in the movie, when they conducted a rescue, they didn’t muck about. God the Father goes looking for those sheep that may have gotten lost and I can’t imagine that he goes small in rescuing his sheep, his loved ones.

 

I’m really thankful that I’m never out of reach of His rescue.

Pearly Beach

On the occasion of a trip to Pearly Beach, I was reminded of God’s creation and how the sea features in Biblical accounts, in the life of Christ and in Scripture to illuminate truths about God:

Discouraging messages on the journey
Discouraging messages on the journey
The lights of Somerset West from Sir Lowry's Pass
The lights of Somerset West from Sir Lowry’s Pass
Pearly Beach
Pearly Beach
Typical fynbos
Typical fynbos
Matthew 7: 24 - "Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock."
Matthew 7: 24 – “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock.”
Psalm 24: 1 - "The earth is the LORD's, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it."
Psalm 24: 1 – “The earth is the LORD’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it.”
Proverbs 8: 29 says that "he gave the sea its boundary so the waters would not overstep his command..."
Proverbs 8: 29 says that “he gave the sea its boundary so the waters would not overstep his command…”
1, 2, 3 4 5, once I caught a fish alive.
1, 2, 3 4 5, once I caught a fish alive
A fish, the symbol for Christianity
A fish, the symbol for Christianity
This reminds me of the modern parable of the footprints in the sand, Christ walking with us in the hard times
This reminds me of the modern parable of the footprints in the sand, Christ walking with us in the hard times
Simple faith, but profound
Simple faith, but profound
It wouldn't be South Africa without a braai
It wouldn’t be South Africa without a braai
Getting the braai done in the dark
Getting the braai done in the dark
Evening falls in Pearly Beach
Evening falls in Pearly Beach
James says that ‘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.’ (1: 6)
James says that ‘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.’ (1: 6)

Here’s my heart Lord. Speak what is true.

A new month brings new things and a fresh reading of an ancient passage of Scripture brings a fresh perspective.

It’s a month before the onset of spring here in the south and on the occasion of local government elections here in South Africa, while awake at 04h30, it was time to read Scripture.

 

I had been listening to Lauren Daigle’s album and the following song helped prepare me to say ‘here’s my heart, speak what is true’:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WTDoDA-1lsE

Proverbs presents the appeal of Wisdom to the reader. Wisdom is better than the alternative if we look at all the idiocy in the world today, and the toll of that idiocy which is quite adequately covered by the news media. Wisdom isn’t merely knowledge otherwise we could study to become wise. There are lots of educated people who are monumentally unwise. These are simple facts.

 

The third chapter of Proverbs explains what it means to trust the Lord.

 

My son, do not forget my teaching,
    but keep my commands in your heart,

 

There is time for work and play, entertainment and snooze sessions in the sack, but there is also a time to ruminate on, recall to mind, write about, discuss and think about the Scriptures and what it means for us. Often the time to consider the Scriptures is in the midst of every activity of life with the exception of sleeping. To keep his commands in my heart makes me think of my favourite movies, poems or even some political speeches that I can remember off by heart. His word should be that familiar and meaningful to us that we can recall it. Jesus himself when he was tempted quoted Scripture that was applicable and appropriate for every type of temptation he faced.
for they will prolong your life many years
    and bring you peace and prosperity.

 

Many years and prosperity brings to mind quantity and quality – the best of both. Living in wisdom is living right. Sin brings fear of punishment but living in obedience brings peace.

 

Let love and faithfulness never leave you;
    bind them around your neck,
    write them on the tablet of your heart.

 

Love and mercy – the same posture that God has towards us. Wearing something on my neck – say a cross for example – might be a sign of something that has meaning for me. A necklace is an outward sign, writing on the tablet of my heart in unquestioningly internal. Thinking of writing on the tablet of my heart I’m reminded of tablets with deep impressions that are easy to read. Inscribed deeply, not like chalk and a chalkboard that can be wiped with the flick of a wrist only for a newer message.
Then you will win favor and a good name
    in the sight of God and man.

 

After Jesus’ parents lost him when he was a boy and then found him in the Temple speaking with the doctors of the Law, the second chapter of Luke records that he lived obediently under the direction of his parents, and grew wiser and stronger, pleasing to both God and man. Living in wisdom is noticeable and emulates the Master.

 

Trust in the Lord with all your heart
    and lean not on your own understanding;

 

Truth as opposed to logic: ‘Logic’ can be convoluted into a pretzel with more twists than a multi-season day time soap opera. Truth is. Trusting in the Lord with all our hearts is actually better than all those people who have more degrees than a thermometer but not the sense of a goose.
in all your ways submit to him,
    and he will make your paths straight.

 

Commit everything you do to Him; cover it in prayer, seek his counsel and He will guide you. WWJD: what would Jesus do? The Lord is a shepherd, he guides us, not leaving us to our own devices…he even goes looking for the sheep that may wander off.

 

Do not be wise in your own eyes;
    fear the Lord and shun evil.

 

Human wisdom can – and does – wreak destruction. It is in fact very easy for a person to be impressed with their ‘cleverness’. Only he is good, and fearing him is shunning evil. Also, not many people are impressed with conceit, but not too many people can argue with genuine humility.
This will bring health to your body
    and nourishment to your bones.

 

There are health benefits to trusting, following and obeying God. Hedonistic rock stars, depressed atheists and those following convoluted religions take a hit in their bodies. It makes sense that we should live like the Maker said we should.

 

Honor the Lord with your wealth,
    with the firstfruits of all your crops;

 

It’s important not to hoard from the Lord. It all belongs to Him anyway. However we all know that this is not as easy as it seems. To my mind it also means not giving him sloppy seconds and thinking that He’s impressed with it.
10 then your barns will be filled to overflowing,
    and your vats will brim over with new wine.

 

God is more than able to bless someone with more than they ever thought they could have, but the perspective shouldn’t be forgotten that the main thing is to seek the Giver, not the gift.

 

11 My son, do not despise the Lord’s discipline,
    and do not resent his rebuke,
12 because the Lord disciplines those he loves,
    as a father the son he delights in.

 

Discipline is based on relationship. Your average stranger may mutter under their breath about unruly children in public but only an older family member normally corrects a child. When he disciplines us, it’s because we’re in the wrong and he teaches us a lesson.

 

When I read Scripture, especially lately with the book of Proverbs, I see a wise Father I can trust.