Singing praise

http://www.desiringgod.org/articles/what-if-i-don-t-want-to-sing

 

I wish I could sing, but I’m not a singer. However if I were, I would sing like this lady, but obviously in a dude’s voice (and a few octaves lower). So many people can sing and they waste it singing about materialism or the fleeting feelingness of young love, or a thousand other things that won’t matter in ten years. You don’t think stuff like this is sung in heaven all eternity long? The best thing we can do is lend our talents to magnifying God.

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J4VqGsSc8MI

The kingdom of heaven is like

As happens sometimes I found myself in the vehicle fighting my way through distracted and uncertain drivers but listening the music of Rend Collective and specifically the track, ‘All that I am”.

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Iucg_fLH68o

 

The reference is the 13th chapter of the Gospel according to Matthew:

 

45 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. 46 When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.”

 

It may not seem like it to the casual observer, but the kingdom of heaven is present and real. And Jesus – who loved parables – likened the kingdom to a pearl of great price.

 

I thought the parable was easily understood, and it is, but there appears to be more than one way of looking at the parable. A sample of commentaries of the relevant verses follows:

 

https://www.studylight.org/commentary/matthew/13-45.html

 

The kingdom of heaven – knowing God and Jesus per John chapter 17 – is worth all the time and money you could spend on the pursuit. However other theologians see the merchant as Christ looking for treasure amongst humanity. After all, they argue, who amongst humanity searches diligently for God? He is the true seeker. And when he finds THE pearl (the church), he gives his all for it. Either explanation of the parable merely illustrates to me that between Christ and His church, we are the most precious to each other, worth all that we can give to knowing one another.

 

Interestingly the gates to heaven are each made of a single pearl. And I think significant, and really cool.

The really fake Triceratops

This past weekend I was in a shopping mall, probably the last time this year before it gets completely nuts, because between Black Friday and New Year the shops look kind of like this…

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V6-PUpHQlfQ

 

Just in time for the school holidays there was a free teaser for an overpriced dinosaur display and to my grown-up mind, it was a really, really fake Triceratops but to a little girl who looked about 4 years old the fake Triceratops caught her attention. She had no inkling that animatronics isn’t the same as real. And she wanted to comfort this Triceratops who she believed was in need of succour; “Easy there big fella” she says, almost with a thick Brooklyn accent.

 

And it brought to my mind Isaiah 11, a chapter which refers to a return to a golden age when people and animals – especially wild and dangerous ones – will live without enmity or the desire to ravage. A golden age under the rule of the Messiah who has returned, an age that is coming. No nature, red in tooth and claw, no more murders and violence and no more Black Friday madness because there will be no consumerism.

 

The wolf will live with the lamb,
the leopard will lie down with the goat,
the calf and the lion and the yearling[a] together;
and a little child will lead them.
The cow will feed with the bear,
their young will lie down together,
and the lion will eat straw like the ox.
The infant will play near the cobra’s den,
and the young child will put its hand into the viper’s nest.
They will neither harm nor destroy
on all my holy mountain,
for the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord
as the waters cover the sea.

 

I like Isaiah because it’s poetic and filled with soaring ideas but also because it’s inspired by the Holy Spirit. I can just picture a little tyke, like that 4 year old in the mall, directing a few lions to follow her and find some cute baby calves to lick and clean and play with.

 

And if you can’t picture it then observe the following. The weirdest one for me is the goat and the rhino playing silly. That’s just weird. But it offers a glimpse of how God intended it to be and how it will be again.

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=anuSchy5oTY

CQ

If I had a car that was worthy, I know exactly which personalised number-plate I would like: ‘CQ’. It’s kind of like a song from Rich Mullins and another from Lauren Daigle where they sing about seeking God and when sung ‘seek’ and ‘you’ merge in a peculiar construction that sounds like CQ.

Rich Mullins sings a song called ‘Sometimes by step’ which describes his experience of following God, which as the title suggests is step by single step. I’m reminded of the verses from Psalm 119 that Amy Grant made famous:

 

  • Your word is a lamp to guide my feet
  • and a light for my path.

 

In age like ours when we have access to drones, satellite imagery, Google Maps et cetera to get the bigger picture, God’s insistent prerogative is that we see only what we need to see, with Scripture and his guiding us sufficient to give us direction step by step. It means we have to trust in Him all the more and my nature resists that. And I’m sure I’m not alone.

Random November Reflections

So, November has been quite a month for the history books and a number of thoughts occurred to me:

 

With the appearance of a supermoon and a series of three significant earthquakes in the same week, some old thinking patterns were dusted off. After all, it isn’t every day that you have three significant earthquakes and a supermoon. And I know that it’s not just for my academic amusement because at least two people lost their lives in the earthquake in New Zealand, but the news did hearken me back to my early Christian years…I remember that the local churches here in Cape Town put together an ad campaign called ‘Are you ready?’ which was screened in movie theatres before the main attraction and Christians wearing ‘Are you ready?’ T-shirts stood ready to engage movie-goers in conversation afterwards. The Second Coming seemed a lot closer then, at least in terms of possibilities and I got that same feeling for a few minutes this week.

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The political earthquake called Trump struck America on Tuesday just past and is it just me or did liberals insane with fear look like vampires running from the sign of the cross? Acted like it too with all the hyperventilating, anger, shouting and working at volume through the 5 stages of grief as observed by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross. Being as it was so unexpected, I began to wonder of there was some God-angle to it all. Trump faced the most opposition imaginable and still won. Now, don’t get my musing as an endorsement of Trump in terms of his personal morality, but I read via an opinion in www.charismanews.com that Trump represented what some Christians believe to be a modern day Cyrus, as referenced in Isaiah 45:

 

1  This is what the Lord says to Cyrus, his anointed one,

whose right hand he will empower.

Before him, mighty kings will be paralyzed with fear.

Their fortress gates will be opened,

never to shut again.

2  This is what the Lord says:

“I will go before you, Cyrus,

and level the mountains.*

I will smash down gates of bronze

and cut through bars of iron.

3  And I will give you treasures hidden in the darkness—

secret riches.

I will do this so you may know that I am the Lord,

the God of Israel, the one who calls you by name.

4  “And why have I called you for this work?

Why did I call you by name when you did not know me?

It is for the sake of Jacob my servant,

Israel my chosen one.

5  I am the Lord;

there is no other God.

I have equipped you for battle,

though you don’t even know me,

6  so all the world from east to west

will know there is no other God.

I am the Lord, and there is no other. (NLT)

 

  • I will raise up Cyrus to fulfill my righteous purpose,
  • and I will guide his actions.
  • He will restore my city and free my captive people—
  • without seeking a reward!
  • I, the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, have spoken!” (NLT)

 

Well, that’s what someone has observed and I for one cannot absolutely refute it as I do get the distinct impression that something beyond the rational and political has been going on.

Make America Great Again
Make America Great Again

And, I’m not scared in the least.

 

I’m an old fashioned guy and I literally subscribe to quaint notions like freedom of speech, acting with honour and behaving with manners and it seems like I’m part of a dwindling fellowship. I think the country and the world would be a better place if we had English manners (saying ‘please’ and ‘thank you’), had priorities like proud US Marines (God, duty, honor, country – in that order) and were serious about freedom of speech. It seems like many in the world don’t want the mess that comes with free speech; too many snowflakes are getting hurt feelings and so we must tell Christians that they cannot talk about sin, or righteousness, or the salvation in Christ.

 

Is there such a thing as American exceptionalism? The idea that God has a covenant with America, the idea that America has a unique part in the history of nations, the idea that turning their backs on God will cause God to remove his blessing…a lot of people in America think that the notion is ridiculous, but if a sizable portion of Americans pray and live like it is, well I think they might be on to something. The only other country that seems to take God seriously, if only in terms of a distant national muscle memory, is Israel.

 

Kingdoms and countries inevitably rise and fall. There is no easier example than asking whether one can pay a visit to the Roman Empire. Thankfully, God’s kingdom of heaven (which Jesus announced 2,000 years ago) is still near today and the articles of its citizenship have not changed in all that time.

 

The only real unity is in Christ. All other associations, clubs, religions and political parties inherently have a message that has a finite shelf-life. If you take the Scripture at face value, the gates of hell could very well prevail against the Democrats or Republicans (or both), or Liberals or Tories or Social Democrats, or Springbok supporters or Taoists or Scientologists.

 

Not that I think it would be required knowledge in heaven, but I would like to know who shot JFK and what really happened on that ‘grassy knoll’ at Dealey Plaza in Dallas in 1963.

Make America Great Again

Before the election kicks off and before the insane pressure gets too much and the talking heads make themselves blue in the face, I just wanted to say…

…is it just me, or does Hillary have the dress sense of Kim Jong Un? Jokes aside, I was thinking when a moth and runny nose was keeping awake at 03h00 this morning: Hillary is actually very European and but for an accident of geography might be running as German Chancelloress. Trump just seems more American: brash, bold, impossibly confident and he would not be as popular in Europe.

I’ve done a lot of reading about the election and other matters related to it, and I’ve watched some rallies and what I see is: corny Americans – almost exclusively Republicans – loving on their country, reciting the Pledge of Allegiance, singing the Star Spangled Banner and horror of horror to those too cool for school, actually praying before the rally and before the Donald comes up to speak.

Now, I’m not an idiot, I know Democrats don’t like a fair fight and they have a history of electoral skulduggery. Hillary is so nakedly ambitious that everything is political and calculated and schemed and involves connivance. What is the one thing they are missing? God of course.

I’ve read a lot of comments online about people praying for Donald. You’d think God knows a lot about whats going on if only from the prayers of His people. And God has a funny way of sometimes answering prayer spectacularly. Donald has asked for wisdom and prayer and he may get both, as well as a chance to use it for his country.

So, Donald Trump is playing electoral 21 in Vegas and the odds are stacked against him, but prayer…

You never know.

We hold our hearts out to you

For no particular reason that relates to a personal sin, I was thinking about how God deals with our moral garbage. Think YOU magazine, ‘Big Brother’, ‘7de Laan’, Michael Jackson and a dozen television series describing the lives of the most dysfunctional people in the world, and add to that a side order of depravity and larceny and you have the type of environment that we live and breath in…

 

…Tuesday was garbage day and the municipality came and took two black bags of foul refuse away never to bother our home again. It made me think about the garbage that we present to God every time we call his name and approach him and ask him to deal with it so that He could visit in our house.

 

He will adios the garbage every time.

 

We don’t know what to do with it but he does. Compare it to unsolvable problems, messes and garbage the world over:

 

Can you solve what’s wrong with the Springboks right now?

Can you solve South Africa’s deep racial and political problems?

Can you solve the riddle of which is more unpalatable – Hillary or Trump?

Can you solve the Syrian crisis?

Can you solve your sinful and self-destructive impulses?

Can you un-sin your way to purity after blowing it for the zillionth time?

Can you put the horse poo back in the animal by way of the rear?

 

For the unsolvable and messes with no answers, I love the words from the song by Petra:

 

 

“Here we are gathered once again under your Name

Thinking of the ways we all have caused you shame

But we can find consolation in the things that you said

We are all bound in our hearts by a common thread

 

We look to you who made us one

To give us strength and bring our hearts back to where we’ve begun

 

So together we hold all our hearts out to you

And we all can believe You know just what to do

Heal and forgive us make us all just like new

Jesus we hold our hearts out to you

Jesus we hold our hearts out to you.”

Falling down

It was an ordinary Wednesday afternoon in most respects, except that one traffic light was out and that was all it took to send the traffic situation into bedlam.

 

For those who are not familiar with a vehicular oddity in South Africa, please Google ‘South African taxi’, which more resembles a van but with an utterly insane driver who has no respect for the rules of the road. The passengers must actually be terrified by having to use this form of transport, but use it they do.

 

And from long experience I don’t have high expectations of taxis that routinely speed egregiously, use the designated bus lane without a dent on their conscience and change lanes like a bumblebee in a flowery meadow on bee-cocaine.

img_20161102_191238

What shocked my normally – moderately – expression were the other people who should have known better but in the moment resorted to their survivalist, selfish other: a white guy in a humble car in the next lane who rode so close to the car in from of him that there was no space for the width of a dinner plate, refusing to let anyone in front of him, even when the joining lane had rights; a Muslimah in an SUV who changed lanes in an intersection not caring that the perpendicular traffic would be inconvenienced and satisfying her desire to change lanes only to change back moments later.

 

By the time everyone got home I imagine that the tension and departure from the rules of respect and manners was forgotten but it made an impression on me. One traffic light down could do all of that. From my observation we are closer to chaos than many realise.

img_20161026_201619

And it reminded me of a movie called ‘Falling Down’, starring Michael Douglas. The lesson of the movie is that polite society is a fraud and a fiction however to my mind, what erects itself as a castle against chaos in society is the family.

 

The most basic level of society is the family and if you mess that up then society is the poorer, which is why I think we generally find ourselves in the mess that we’re in.

img_20161026_201721

But to bring it down to where it should be, God created the idea of families, and of nations for that matter. I think of God’s call on Abram in Genesis chapter 12:

 

“1 The Lord had said to Abram, “Leave your native country, your relatives, and your father’s family, and go to the land that I will show you. 2 I will make you into a great nation. I will bless you and make you famous, and you will be a blessing to others. 3 I will bless those who bless you and curse those who treat you with contempt. All the families on earth will be blessed through you.””

 

In these modern times, particularly in the West we are a polyglot of ethnicities and families but families are the basic units of society. Families are God’s idea and his bulwark against the chaos that would naturally ensue without a traffic light or a cop on every corner. Think about where the most heat is on the church in these modern times, over the role and shape of the family.

 

Of course, God’s family takes precedence over mere flesh and blood.

 

From the 18th chapter of Matthew: “20 For where two or three gather together as my followers,* I am there among them.”” God is a Father and we are His children. I think, if ever I face a traffic snarl again the likes of which I described, I will look for a brother or sister in Christ and try to show love and consideration even in the midst of the chaos.

Under the sun

This past week saw the Scripture reading at church intersect with a certain hippy song. While reading up about the 60’s hit called ‘Turn, turn, turn (to everything there is a season’ I discovered that it was sung by a band called ‘The Byrds’. It may have occurred to Pete Seeger who wrote the song that there was irony in the fact that the band that popularised the song passed into the folds of history and that even to their notoriety there was a season.

 

But perhaps Pete Seeger does not see irony as eagerly as someone like me who tends towards Irish.

 

The writer of the book of Ecclesiastes observed by the third chapter that there is a timing, pattern or rhythm to life and from a strictly naturalistic point of view that there is a time for everything under the heavens (or otherwise phrased as under the sun).

 

It’s not an exhaustive study but there is an idea that God times things in

 

  • the way we live daily,
  • in our lives and their finite-ness (beginning, content and end),
  • in the timing of His purposes for His plan of redemption, and especially
  • in the first and second coming of Christ

 

Our lives follow a daily pattern: “And there was evening and there was morning – the first day” (Genesis 1:5 NIV).

 

The circadian rhythm with which we are all intimately familiar, the rhythm of light and dark encompassing 24 hours; waking, working, resting and sleeping. According to Christ’s prayer, we are to ask the Father for ‘our daily bread’. Though we see things from the point of view of a monthly salary, the Father seems to look at our practical concerns on a daily level.

 

Within our lives there are also different times as the writer of Ecclesiastes notes and as Peter Seeger popularised with that hippie song from the 60’s:

 

“There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under the heavens:

    a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
    a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,
    a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,
    a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing…” (3:1 – 5 NIV)

 

 

There are larger patterns in life with the most obvious one a time to be born and a time to die. Like the Capital Letter at the beginning of a sentence and a full stop. Brackets, book-ends on a shelf. We have no control over when we are born and when we die, a timing of God’s own choosing and not a random fate as those think who tend towards atheism.

 

As goes human life, so goes plant life: plant (born) and uproot (die) although I enjoy the contrast – taking us out of a womb serves as the start of life and putting us in the ground as the end of it, whereas cultivated plants grow in the ground they are placed and when they die we take them out of the ground.

 

There is indeed a time to kill and heal, to tear down and build. When SEAL team 6 raided the Bin-Laden compound in Abbottabad it was a time to kill. Killing is not pleasant but sometimes it is appropriate in a given time for righting a wrong or punishing evil. There are also many times in the life of a country where it is appropriate to set aside time for healing. Some cultures are very inventive, like the Irish who combine a funeral and a party and call it a wake, thereby combining the time of mourning and dancing…and sometimes to excess with drinking as well. A time for every opposite activity and result.

 

Why scattering of stones? Sabotage, you can’t farm in a quarry. There is a time for everything, to embrace and another when to embrace would be appropriate. Strangely enough, most of us have enough emotional intelligence to discern when the proper time is for things. From another point of view, timing is about our reaction to things that happen to us. The actual circumstances and the timing of those is not up to us.

 

 

God’s timing is perfect: “But when the right time came, God sent his Son, born of a woman, subject to the law.” (Galatians 4:4 NLT);

 

The intervention of God was evidently waiting for the right circumstances for Christ to enter the world. How does a mere human being even try to make sense of that from a point of view of logic? Logic and reasoning are too small, inadequate. What about all the people who lived and died before Christ and merely had nature as a witness to God? From our point of view that is like a math puzzle without a solution but for Him who knows everything – and who has a perfect sense of fair play – it is not insurmountable.

 

And again: “He gave his life to purchase freedom for everyone. This is the message God gave to the world at just the right time.” (1 Timothy 2:6 NLT).

 

Even the spread of the message was evidently planned for first century Palestine as occupied by Rome. Again, why not in the internet age? Google would have served to effectively spread Christianity but then our faith might be as shallow as an app that we could use one day and discard the next when we get an upgraded smartphone. But God chose that era in a sovereign act of will whose wisdom will doubtless floor us one day when we have the capability to understand.

 

“From then on Jesus began to preach, “Repent of your sins and turn to God, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near.” (Matthew 4: 17 NLT).

 

The timing was just after John the Baptist had been arrested and the where was in Capernaum in Galilee. Why Capernaum in Galilee and why then? A dusty, probably neglected shore of the lake. And probably not exactly catching Capernaum at its finest hour. I have no idea what to make of it except He knows what he’s doing.

 

And the conclusion of history is timed to a moment when it will be right: “For you know quite well that the day of the Lord’s return will come unexpectedly, like a thief in the night.” (1 Thessalonians 5:2 NLT). This is yet to come but I wonder if I will get to see the timing of it, and marvel.