The heritage of the saints

Today happens to be Heritage Day in South Africa, and were it not on a Saturday, would be a public holiday. And boy do we love our public holidays in this country.

What this translates to for much of the country is having a braai. There are other parts of our multi-faceted culture (all of 11 official languages), but when you drill right down to it, we basically all love food.

And so we begin…

Outstanding conditions for the braai
Outstanding conditions for the braai
Making preparations for the braai
Making preparations for the braai
Braai tools
Braai tools
What are those random tools doing there?
What are those random tools doing there?

As people of God, we have a heritage that comes from Him:

“no weapon forged against you will prevail,
    and you will refute every tongue that accuses you.
This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord,
    and this is their vindication from me,”
declares the Lord.” (Isaiah 54:17, NIV).

I do sometimes wonder though whether the sacrifices in the Temple in Jerusalem smelled in any way like a braai…

Stairway to heaven’s tube station

Sometime this week I climbed into the shower determined to do two things: clean myself and engage in prayer. It may seem odd to think about engaging in prayer in a shower but I offer you a short story and an observation…

 

…many years ago when I was on a Christian camp up in the Northern Transvaal, I was not what you might call in a happy receptive state because of a young lady. So, I got irritated with everybody in the main hall who was focused on the preacher and his message and I retired to the bathroom to seek the solitude of a cubicle. I was minding my own business when some guy took a cubicle nearby to take care of some toileting business, and I listened horrified as he alternately called out quietly a ‘Praise the Lord’ to something in the sermon and grunted with the exertions of his bodily movement…

 

So, with the passing of a few years my perspective is that while we see nakedness, going to the loo and showering as inappropriate for even thinking about God, He made us like that and it perhaps doesn’t bother Him as much as it does us. And, if some random guy can praise the Lord while conducting earthly business, then I can think about God and pray while the shower is on the go.

 

Except that my mind just doodled in random directions and I couldn’t get any prayer going.

 

As recorded in Scripture (Genesis 28), Jacob was on his way to Harran to find a wife and made camp at what he thought to be a random place, using a rock for a pillow (I imagine he padded it with blankets), and there had a dream of a staircase with angels ascending and descending on it, almost what to a 21st century mind could be described as an escalator to heaven’s tube station, and at the top of the stairway stands the Lord. There God promised to give him the land he was sleeping on and obviously descendants to fill it.

 

I like what Jacob said after he awoke: “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I was not aware of it.” (verse 16, NIV).

 

Sometimes, in what seems to be a random time and place, God reveals Himself. And like Jacob, we are surprised.

Finding God in unexpected places
Finding God in unexpected places

I have been in chapels and cathedrals and not encountered God when I was expecting it. At other times I have been driving while eating a McDonald’s meal, and had a profound experience with God. Or aimlessly walking through a banana field in White River while on my own and feeling down. Or while driving to work on a week morning of all times, getting flicked in the place where tear ducts are activated, moved by a song. Or sitting in an otherwise deserted lounge in London watching an episode of ‘Little House on the Prairie’.

 

With God telling Jacob what he did, it makes me think that God has already been (and is waiting) in whatever place I find myself, especially in the places where I don’t expect it.

 

 

I’m not advocating trying to have a spiritual experience in the loo – that just seems a little off – but it just seems to me that with an open heart, you never know where or when God may speak to you. So when you hear his voice, just go with it.

The picture of grace

This week I remembered a poem that I had memorised from a dusty, hardcover poetry text-book that I know is stuffed in a cupboard somewhere. In what seems to be from a long time ago, in a galaxy far far away: the 1990s.

 

Read it as a sinner having a conversation with Christ (Love in the poem).

 

Love bade me welcome. Yet my soul drew back 

                              Guilty of dust and sin.

But quick-eyed Love, observing me grow slack 

                             From my first entrance in,

Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning,

                             If I lacked any thing.

 

A guest, I answered, worthy to be here:

                             Love said, You shall be he.

I the unkind, ungrateful? Ah my dear,

                             I cannot look on thee.

Love took my hand, and smiling did reply,

                             Who made the eyes but I?

 

Truth Lord, but I have marred them: let my shame

                             Go where it doth deserve.

And know you not, says Love, who bore the blame?

                             My dear, then I will serve.

You must sit down, says Love, and taste my meat:

                             So I did sit and eat.

But that’s not all

Sometime last week while driving to work I caught a glimpse of the morning sky, which looked like it was on fire. Maybe it’s particularly this time of year because it wasn’t the only morning where the sun was setting the morning clouds aflame.

The heavens declare the glory of God
The heavens declare the glory of God

I couldn’t help but think of Psalm 19:

 

The heavens declare the glory of God;
the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
Day after day they pour forth speech;
night after night they reveal knowledge.

 

For those who have never read Scripture or been exposed to the Good News, merely looking up at the sky on any given day provides a glimpse of the Artist behind the view. The fact that it’s vast and stretches as far as the eye can see in all directions, and is held in place by gravity so that everything doesn’t spin off out into space…well, that says to me that when God makes something, it works. The system that we call the atmosphere, the sky, hasn’t malfunctioned since the dawn of creation. That’s a 100% record.

 

There’s so much more to what we can deduce about God from studying the sky, but as the infomercials intone, ‘that’s not all’.

 

Psalm 19 switches up a gear from referring to God (of creation) and proceeds to explain the One who made a covenant with people, as seen in Scripture. Deeper, more detailed, more information, more intimate. The law (Old Testament) shows HaShem, Adonai who reveals Himself to His people:

 

The law of the Lord is perfect,
refreshing the soul.
The statutes of the Lord are trustworthy,
making wise the simple.
The precepts of the Lord are right,
giving joy to the heart.

 

The sky is awesome and revealing but Scripture takes it many steps further. He tells us his Name, but as the infomercials continue, ‘that’s not all’.

 

God shows us what He has done (sky/the heavens).

Then He tells us His Name and gives us commands (Scripture).

Then He becomes flesh and shows us He is our father (Christ).

 

We come to the incarnation: God assuming flesh and living on earth. And He reveals to us that He is our heavenly Father. To the Jews living in the 1st Century this was frankly unthinkable. But it turns out to be true.

Pray for those

I read too much news, so much so that I might get withdrawal symptoms if I no longer had the means to access it online. It’s important to know what’s going on in the world however I tend to forget but need to remember that it doesn’t necessarily have eternal significance.

 

Of particular interest to me has been the 2016 race for president in the U.S. and I had a thought that crossed my mind: what if I was being too hard on Hillary Clinton?

 

And then I read an article she wrote this week commemorating the September 11, 2001 attacks and what her strategy is regarding ISIS and it proved to be naive in the extreme and is basically the same strategy conducted by Obama, and has proven to be a failure.

 

And then I resumed my former posture to Mrs Clinton.

 

Hillary isn’t merely a candidate however, nor merely a former senator or first lady or Democrat, she is a woman, wife, mother, grandmother, and apparently a Methodist as well. And it occurred to me in the light of her swooning on Sunday that she needs prayer. I can’t think of a single person that doesn’t need prayer, so that certainly qualifies her. Jesus taught his disciples to pray for their enemies, and although believing a different political philosophy doesn’t make someone an enemy I think we tend to harden our hearts against those who oppose us, in whatever way, shape or form.

 

“44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” (Matthew 5, NIV)

 

So, I did what I hadn’t done before; I prayed for Hillary. Not that she would be successful in her political philosophy, but that she would be healed and live her life with enjoyment.

 

If I had a list of people that I would find it difficult to pray for, it would include Democrats, ANC Members of Parliament, President Jacob Zuma, the members of CAIR and basically the entire All Blacks team.

 

If Christ could pray for those crucifying him, could I not find it in my heart – as un-generous and small as it is – to pray for people with a different political, religious or sporting philosophy?

 

It was biblical for me to pray for Hillary and even more so for me to continue to pray for her, and indeed all those who vex me, and particularly for those who persecute either me or my fellow believers…

 

…which means we need to pray for ISIS. Now there’s a thought.

Where were you when

It’s almost that time when the date September 11 appears on the calendar and most people remember where they were and what they were doing when they heard about the attack on the World Trade Center in New York City.

Although it’s a solemn day for many people, most have forgotten the utter horror of that day. For me, its not only a matter of where I was when I heard the news, but what I felt, and what my first impressions were.

http://www.wherewereyou.org/

I was at work and it was afternoon here in South Africa and somebody mentioned that something was happening at the World Trade Centre, and my first thought was for a building in Kempton Park in Johannesburg where negotiations had taken place for the transition from apartheid to democracy. Naturally, I wondered why some people would have a beef about that particular building. Until I saw the images (someone had switched on the television in the tea area). It wasn’t Kempton Park, it was New York.

And I knew that those people in the higher reaches of the tower were in deep, deep trouble. The fire and rescue guys weren’t going to be able to get there for a long time. I knew as I was watching the screen that people were dying in that moment.

It was the days before smart phones with apps and twitter and what not and there were a few people watching the news in the tea area, everybody watching a moment in history unfold. You just knew it was history as it was happening.

I also knew (without the news guys doing much speculating) that it was a terrorist attack and the perpetrators were almost certainly Islamic extremists. The visuals were raw and compelling: great clouds of ash moving like a pyroclastic flow after a volcanic eruption, two Redwoods among buildings crashing to earth in horror, and for me the worst part of the coverage, the falling human beings.

Some time later two French brothers, Jules and Gedeon Naudet released a documentary. They had been embedded with Engine 7/Ladder 1 in Manhattan and filmed the carnage at the World Trade Center, including the impact sounds of those falling human beings striking at the foot of the building.

As it turned out, a super-fit Battalion Chief named Orio Palmer reached the impact zone in tower 2 before the building imploded, meaning that I was wrong and that rescue was coming and but for the collapse, would have saved lives.

Never before had I witnessed (via television) such a profound news event. The Sunday following, the pastor preached a sermon about 9/11 and referenced the events as pointing to the return of Christ…and yet it has been 15 years since that day. Countless acts of terror have occurred since then, and although 9/11 was not the first terror attack ever committed for me it remains the benchmark.

A NYPD policeman was heard at the time remarking that at least it meant that the terrorists didn’t have nuclear weapons. Heaven forbid.

9/11 illustrates for me that:

  • There are lots of horrible people in the world;
  • In 2001, and through 2016 Islam is, unfortunately, not a religion of peace;
  • A decent nation provoked to righteous anger is an awesome thing, just ask Isoroku Yamamoto after Japan had attacked Pearl Harbor, where he apparently remarked, “I fear all we have done is to awaken a sleeping giant and fill him with a terrible resolve.”
  • The CIA tried to prevent bad things; they have HUMINT and SIGINT, but only He has GODINT and even the events of that day serve a purpose in His Kingdom;
  •  Without the Prince of Peace, there can be no peace.

Sacred hoodie

With the start of September I was reminded that it is almost the start of the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah, which begins on the evening of 2 October. According to the Jewish calendar it will be the year 5777 (they count from the time of Adam & Eve in the Garden of Eden).

 

Though the West is increasingly post-Christian we still to this day count from the birth of Christ bringing us to the year 2016 Anno Domini (A.D. – the year of our Lord).

 

When I think of the Children of Abraham and the Temple and people in Jesus’ time, I think of beards, robes, phylacteries, sandals and the tallit. The tallit is that shawl that Jewish men place over their heads when they worshiped in prayer. Jesus would also have had one. Those who were sick aimed to touch the hem of his garment.

 

Before the Temple was built in Jerusalem, the Children of Israel sojourned through the desert with a Tabernacle, a large tent erected to meet with G-d. The tallit was like a personal version of the Tabernacle, where the worshiper could screen out the distractions in his periphery and find some private time and place to meet with G-d, like a sacred hoodie.

 

I thought of that verse in Isaiah 30 where the prophet speaks to the people about finding God in the midst of adversity, affliction and idols: “Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, “This is the way; walk in it.” (verse 21, NIV)

 

It’s not easy to tune out the distraction on the periphery and look straight ahead, listening for Him. There’s an 80’s pop song about how ‘video killed the radio star’ and although it’s merely a pop song (and the writers intended it for a different message than I’m using it for), it illustrates the difference (for me) between distractions which are visual and in 3D, versus the timeless Voice competing against ever more hi-tech and bombastic present and future worries.

 

It’s not easy to hear the voice of God. This month I’m going to renew my effort to tune out too much media and instead listen for his voice.

 

Resource material: www.jewsforjesus.org

Holy Listening

All over the world in prayer, the Children of Israel are saying:

 

Sh’ma Israel Adonai elohenu Adonai echad

 

“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.” (Deuteronomy 6:4 NIV)

 

Colloquially known as the Shema, this ancient prayer begins with the instruction to Israel (and us) to ‘listen’. The word translated as hear is better understood as ‘listen’. Listen O Israel. Implicit in the word listen is the idea that to hear is to obey. I discovered an illustration of this in Afrikaans: the word ‘obedience’ is translated into Afrikaans as ‘gehoorsaamheid’, ‘hoor’ being the word for hearing.

 

Listening to Him opens us to God’s heart in all things. Holy listening. Which means we need to be quiet and listen.

 

Psalm 46:10 – “He says, “Be still, and know that I am God;
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth.”” (NIV)

 

Resource material: www.hebrew4christians.com