The actor Dean Martin was once asked about his drinking habits. “I drink to forget” said Martin, to which the interviewer responded, “Isn’t that sad?” Martin’s retort was classic: “Better than forgetting to drink.” I miss people being able to say something smart without resorting to profanity, so when someone has the moxie to say something, and with comedic timing I’m impressed.
I somehow doubt that this next generation reads enough books or watches old movies to retain some of the magic of the old days.
The noted American Greg Laurie quoted the physicist Pierre Berthelot in one of his recent sermons. Berthelot was heard to remark that ‘within a hundred years of physical and chemical science, men will know what the atom is. It is my belief that when science reaches this stage, God will come down to earth with His big ring of keys and will say to humanity, “Gentlemen, it is closing time.”’
People generally try to ignore the issues of nuclear weapons and thankfully the spectre of their use in anger only emerges rarely, like in 1962 during the Cuban missile crisis. The recent standoff in Korea and war of words between the Americans and North Koreans has a lot of people worried. And rightly so because nuclear weapons are unthinkable. You have to conclude that since their use on Hiroshima and Nagasaki that it is only by God’s grace that they have not been used since.
Speaking of things that are unthinkable, last week I watched a lesser known movie released in 2010 called ‘Unthinkable’, starring Samuel L. Jackson, about government interrogators who explore the issue of how far to push a suspect to get information that will prevent three hidden nuclear weapons from exploding. Or was it four? Watch it to find out.
On any given day, taxis can be observed ignoring the rules of the road – as well as eschewing manners – as far as it is possible to ignore them. It strikes me that the constitution is merely the national legal equivalent of a traffic light. Sometimes politicians like it (when the light is green), and sometimes they hate it (when the light is red). What I see on the roads mirrors parliament where you can literally see the frustration in taxi drivers when the light is not for them. Its an inconvenience and so they proceed anyway and lawlessness on the road in Montague Gardens is the same as lawlessness in the halls of parliament, or Congress, or the Duma.
It reminds me that I need to be different, to listen to the Holy Spirit, whether red light or green.
Some time in the week, the scripture made itself known to me:
“13 “You can enter God’s Kingdom only through the narrow gate. The highway to hell* is broad, and its gate is wide for the many who choose that way. 14 But the gateway to life is very narrow and the road is difficult, and only a few ever find it.” (Matthew 7, NIV)
Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. It makes me think that the road to life, eternal life, and heaven is not by popular consensus.
I realise that it’s probably not helpful to hyper-analyse the metaphors that Christ is using but the narrow gate sounds like something off the beaten path, a gate for the man who has slowed down a little and is looking around, taking a path that may not look like it goes somewhere exciting. The highway to hell sounds like a large multi-lane highway designed by good architects and built by a well-known civils contractor but going to a place that no one wants to end up in.
It’s easy to recognise the difference when observing the culture around us: political correctness has a large tent that welcomes most – including other religions – with the exception of basic fundamentalist Christianity.
They say that the road to hell is paved with good intentions, and in the name of good intentions we have things like easy abortion, all the cannabis you can consume, something like 30 defined genders, see-no-evil and hear-no-evil when it comes to anything to do with sharia law. It’s all acceptable to society but you have a few Christians going about their business and spreading the gospel and all of a sudden, the level of tolerance drops to the bottom.
All that to say, it’s easy to go along, but it’s difficult to take the narrow path and stay on it.
Greg Laurie, a noted pastor in America, tweeted recently: “You don’t enlist in the military and expect a life of ease. Don’t expect the same for the Christian life.”
Unbidden, a song from my time in London returned to me and I thought of it.
Brenton Brown is the lyricist for ‘Lord, reign in me’ and the song describes what I observe, but in ways far better than I could write. A humble lyricist or poet is superior to a blogger, no matter how humble. The noun ‘lyricist’ or ‘poet’ has beauty and the mouth must move just so to say it correctly. Its probably even better said in French. The noun ‘blogger’ is itself a vile, common bi-syllabic description that echoes something crude and could be said by you, me or the most unsophisticated municipal worker equally well.
Enough of the meander, back to the song by Brenton Brown:
“Over all the earth, you reign on high
Every mountain stream, every sunset sky
But my one request, Lord my only aim
Is that you’ll reign in me again…”
I was considering the request for rain in hundreds and thousands of prayers from local Capetonians.
I didn’t mean to go there. Because its so corny but we need rain and we need Him to reign. Phonetically speaking, reign and rain are the same but we need both, different things from the same One.
We pray for rain because we know that the world is a system and that He has absolute control of its minutiae, and we have confidence that the rain obeys Him. Nature obeys Him: the solar system, universe, tides in the ocean, tectonic activity and rain all happen by His direction. Nature doesn’t have a choice whether to obey or not. Like the most muscular, mute and agreeable US Marine, nature obeys the commands of her commander. Not so us.
We know what we are supposed to do, and we don’t do it.
We know what we’re NOT supposed to do, and we do it.
If nature behaved this way, the world would be in chaos. And because we behave this way, news organisations stay in business because there is so much bad to get into.
I think of the deists who believe that God set the universe up like a clock that is wound up, and lets it tick, refusing to get involved with the clock and goes off somewhere. As if the universe and its mechanics were a demo mode on a computer game and everything is on auto. I can’t see it happening that way…God is not a gamer, but if he were like one at all, He has His hand on the keyboard and mouse.
28 After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb.
2 There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it.3 His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow.4 The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men.
5 The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified.6 He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay.7 Then go quickly and tell his disciples: ‘He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.’ Now I have told you.”
8 So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples.9 Suddenly Jesus met them. “Greetings,” he said. They came to him, clasped his feet and worshiped him.10 Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.” (Matthew, NIV)
Good Friday is a solemn time for the Christian. It’s good to be reminded of the cross because without remembering the painful awful facts of crucifixion – as well as the mental and spiritual anguish that Christ endured – we would forget the price that was paid.
Of course everyone knows that the chocolates, eggs and bunnies have nothing to do with Easter, and that chocolate should be enjoyed the whole year round.
And so it came to be that on Friday morning we were in church. And a few thoughts were running through my head, and in no particular order:
Jacob Zuma and his relationship to righteousness (or unrighteousness for that matter) reminds me very much of the Pharaoh who refused to let God’s people go, with a heart that got progressively hardened. He attended a Good Friday service and said a few right things however the written news doesn’t refer in detail to the context of the service and Zuma’s actions that were objectionable. The clip on television also looks very much like the president ingratiating himself with Christians with a nudge and a wink, as in, no mention of his culpability or his actions, that Christians are to pray because the Bible says it is so. In other words, he wants to have his cake and eat it, receiving the benefit of prayer without addressing his accountability. On television it came across as spiritual manipulation however I concede that the unedited version of his remarks may have had a different tenor.
Of course, I have to be sure that my heart does not become hardened to Zuma or God’s plans for him, whatever they may be.
We enjoyed communion at church, during which my prayer was being thankful that I’m a part of His life. Because of the cross I’m forever bound to the Son of God with my sins (and there are many) taken care of and handled.
It seems that at Easter, IS and the other enemies of Christianity are particularly hateful. 47 Christians murdered in Egypt this Easter, 74 in Pakistan last year this time. And in between these sacred weeks, there is the hatred of Christians that passes for normal these days in many parts of the world.
A lot of people are worried, which goes to show how tenuous the world balance of power is, politically speaking and how things can go south in a hurry. With world events like this, the market normally seeks refuge in gold.
From the Christian point of view, investing in gold may bring short term gains, but for eternity it is best to remember that God is not surprised by world events, and holds all people in His hands, including the people of Syria and North Korea:
“5 Trust in the Lord with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding; 6 in all your ways submit to him,
and he will make your paths straight.[a]” (Proverbs 3:5 – 6, NIV)
The language of the American founding fathers gave as a reason for splitting from the crown of England, that King George was essentially content to tax the colony in New England into oblivion without so much as allowing representation in his court, and that these actions on the part of the king were so severe that they had no option but to seek a schism.
They noted that division is no small matter but that in their case it was felt to be correct. The founding fathers tended to be very devout and viewed their struggle through the lens of God’s providence and His being for them in their cause. Probably just as fervently, many English Christians felt an affinity to King George and were aghast at these rabble-rousing colonialists. And they too almost certainly had a biblical basis for supporting their earthly king.
It’s not so simple, being able to say without doubt that in this world, that such and such a position is wrong and unbiblical, particularly when it is legal or lawful.
And so we come to Jacob Zuma, who by general and well-referenced consensus, is the worst president in South Africa’s short democratic history. Some Christians believe that prayer is the answer, others that prayer is the answer, but so is using legal means of protest.
What’s the big deal? Why is Zuma thought of so poorly? Too much material to condense, but Google may be of assistance to chronicle the rape allegations, the corruption charges, the disbanding of a government investigation agency because they were getting too close to bringing Zuma down, the tender fraud, the use of government funds for personal use, the arms deal, the numerous cabinet reshuffles, the firing of the finance minister for not going along with the latest boondoggle.
On Friday just past, many in the country paused to protest…
…just as many paused to pray. So what to do? Does protest signify a lack of belief in prayer?
Is there a middle ground? A place where there can be a meeting of minds? An overlap?
Paul was very specific in his letter to the Romans that it is appropriate for the Christian to be submissive to the state:
“1 Everyone must submit to governing authorities. For all authority comes from God, and those in positions of authority have been placed there by God. 2 So anyone who rebels against authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and they will be punished.” (Romans 13, NLT).
Christians are also to pray:
“1 I urge you, first of all, to pray for all people. Ask God to help them; intercede on their behalf, and give thanks for them. 2 Pray this way for kings and all who are in authority so that we can live peaceful and quiet lives marked by godliness and dignity. 3 This is good and pleases God our Savior, 4 who wants everyone to be saved and to understand the truth.” (1 Timothy 2, NLT).
Paul however as a Roman citizen was not afraid of using his rights. After causing an uproar in Jerusalem and getting arrested by the Romans:
“24 The commander brought Paul inside and ordered him lashed with whips to make him confess his crime. He wanted to find out why the crowd had become so furious. 25 When they tied Paul down to lash him, Paul said to the officer* standing there, “Is it legal for you to whip a Roman citizen who hasn’t even been tried?”
26 When the officer heard this, he went to the commander and asked, “What are you doing? This man is a Roman citizen!”” (Acts 22, NLT).
We also see what the Lord dislikes (hates), and as recorded in Proverbs 6:
“6 There are six things the Lord hates—
no, seven things he detests:
17 haughty eyes,
a lying tongue,
hands that kill the innocent,
18 a heart that plots evil,
feet that race to do wrong,
19 a false witness who pours out lies,
a person who sows discord in a family.” (NLT)
El Presidente is not doing very well taking that list into account. So, to summarise,
The Christian should submit to lawful authority
When praying, Christians should intercede for those in authority as well
Practical lesson from Paul: if you have rights under the state, there’s nothing wrong with using them
There are things that the Lord detests and He cannot be pleased with Zuma’s conduct or personal moral state.
So, to take a break from my personal opinion, I have sought out the wisdom of my wife, who is not afraid to rebut my points…
Me: Does Zuma’s public misdeeds meet the threshold of God’s standard of what makes a leader unfit for office? Or does the fact that God appointed Zuma mean that we shouldn’t judge and let God deal with it?
Wife: We are called to pray for all in authority. To submit to authority, even if that authority is corrupt. My main point is that God is in control, no matter the chaos we see around us. He has put people into government and it is He who will take them down by whichever means he sees fit, in his time. When we protest against someone in government, firstly, most of the time it is done during work hours – so our work then suffers. 95% (my opinion) most protests end in violence, property damage and injury to people’s body’s, sometimes even death.
Based on past protests, I do not feel that Christian’s are called to protest. They may not be the ones instigating the violence, but they are indistinguishable in the crowd and so people hear that Christians joined in the march and people see the violence and God’s people get bad reps and in turn God gets more bad press.
Me: Is it possible for prayer and lawful protest to be consistent with a Christian witness?
Wife: Again, as I mentioned above, 95% of protests end in violence, property and bodily damage. There are instances where Christians have organised a peaceful protest (for e.g. prolife protests). The Prolife protests are not against people in authority, so I have no problem with that form of protest. Planned Parenthood is not an authority over anyone, we have the choice whether to walk through their doors or not. As citizens of a country we are subject to the authority put over us.
Me: Would it be wrong to pray for God to deal with Zuma decisively?
Wife: There is no problem praying that. But if it is not God’s will to do so, are we prepared and do we have the faith to accept His answer? We are told by God in his word, that if we pray according to his will, all we ask will be done. We are also told to pray without ceasing. How often do we pray something once or twice and think “what’s the point, God obviously isn’t going to answer the way I want”? There are instances in scripture, where God has a plan and is able and willing to execute it, but due to his people constantly seeking him and asking for a different outcome to what he originally was going to do, he changes his plan. He changes his mind. The key is to CONSTATLY SEEK HIM, BESEECHING him to do what we ask for the sake of his people rather than what he seemed to be planning to do.
God is not a stone, set in his ways and there is no swaying him. Abraham pleaded and negotiated with God for the sake of his nephew Lot. God told Abraham what he was going to do, and Abraham dared to negotiate with him. Yet God listened to Abraham, and relented.
Another example is Nineveh. God told Jonah he was going to destroy Nineveh, unless they repented of their evil ways and turned to following God. Jonah didn’t run in the opposite direction because he was afraid of what the Ninevites would do to him. He KNEW that God would relent and not destroy that unholy, diabolical nation, if they heard God’s message and repented. He didn’t want to give them the chance.
In protesting are we not saying to God, there is nothing you can do about this situation, you wont change your mind, so perhaps we can change things by taking things into our own hands, or we don’t want you to save our government because we don’t feel they are worthy of saving?
Me: Would it be wrong to pray that God remove Zuma from office?
Wife: Not at all. Again, like above, praying according to God’s will is never wrong. Praying without ceasing is never wrong.
Me: If it’s not too personal a question, what did you pray regarding Zuma?
Wife: I Pray that God will soften Zuma’s heart. That he will come to know Jesus as his saviour. Cos above all else, Zuma needs Christ just like the rest of us. Remove Christ from our lives and we are exactly like Zuma.
I pray that God would heal our land, whether that be by removing Zuma from power or by saving him and him being a great witness to other nations of God’s glory.
I pray that we as a nation would shine his light to the rest of Africa, to the rest of the world. That through these circumstances we find ourselves in as a nation, His glory would shine. That many would come to know him as their saviour.
It is often through hardships that people realise their need for Christ. If things were easier in our nation, would we be seeking Him as often as we do? Would we bow the knee, humble ourselves and seek his face?
There is a meme on facebook, from “Grateful Addicts in recovery” that I absolutely love.
“I asked God: Why are you taking me through troubled waters?
From a spiritual Saturday morning to the agony of the Sharks being robbed in their game that evening, to the sleep deprivation that turns me into an amalgam of a zombie and an incredible hulk, there was one respite: church on Sunday morning before sleep deprivation hit me full force.
Andy Hawthorne: if you’ve never listened to Andy Hawthorne, picture a Manchester native, with an accent as recognisable as Eliza Doolittle. For the duration of the service, I forgot about the lack of sleep and the heartrending loss of the Sharks because it got real.
Andy founded the Message Trust, an organisation that sends out ‘Eden Teams’, volunteer Christians who move to a messed up part of town and form a beachhead from which the Message can go out. I was simultaneously challenged about my own parochialism and selfishness as well as inspired to think that in some small way, I could do something to make a difference.
Andy related the experiences of his team, and recounted what happened to ‘his mate Dave’, who prayed for a drug addict on the streets of Vancouver who had just died, but who then revived/resurrected.
Do resurrections happen on the dodgy streets of Vancouver these days? Andy says that it did.
Never having personally witnessed a resurrection, I find it difficult to believe every report of the miraculous because I know that some people exaggerate sometimes or make stuff up. Not that I suspected Andy or Dave of being economical with the truth, but I want a couple of witnesses or corroboration.
I have no problem believing that the miraculous did happen: there is a certain empty grave in Jerusalem.
I have no problem believing that death is not a cul-de-sac where God is concerned; I like God’s question to Ezekial:
“The hand of the Lord was on me, and he brought me out by the Spirit of the Lord and set me in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. 2 He led me back and forth among them, and I saw a great many bones on the floor of the valley, bones that were very dry. 3 He asked me, “Son of man, can these bones live?”
I said, “Sovereign Lord, you alone know.”
4 Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones and say to them, ‘Dry bones, hear the word of the Lord! ” (Ezekial 37: 1 – 4, NIV)
Short answer: the dry bones live!
It occurs to me a few days after Andy’s sermon, that I may not see bodily resurrections a lot, but have witnessed a more profound sea-change: the saving of a soul. And Andy brought it back to the winter of 1910, and William Booth’s final year.
Booth founded the Salvation Army – which is still around today – and when asked for a word of encouragement he sent a telegram to a gathering because he couldn’t be there himself. I suppose telegrams are expensive, so he sent a one word message: “O-T-H-E-R-S”.
It was a dark and cold Saturday morning, which accentuated the salmon sky with the rising sun and at the end of a busy week with barely the mental breathing space to think a thought through to its conclusion, I did then what I should do every day, find a quiet spot, brew a pot of coffee (the equivalent of breaking out the fine china) and crack open my Bible for a reading.
On Thursday of the following week, I cannot remember now why I was in Psalm 18; however that’s where I was.
I like the Psalms a lot; I know David only wrote about half of them, but I reckon David was a man of deep emotion and profound zeal for the Lord. Of course, it probably takes some time to get there, as I’m discovering with the hiatus between my spiritual ambition and my spiritual fact/position on any given day.
The context of this Psalm is David’s response to God’s deliverance from the hand of David’s enemies.
Verse 27: God rewards and honours humility
Verse 28: He gives life and sustains it (or He takes it away, either way its His prerogative); He overpowers situations and turns darkness into light
Verse 29: Obstacles are put into perspective, whether climbing an actual obstacle or meeting an enemy in battle
Verse 30: His way is literally perfect and his word literally flawless
“27 You save the humble
but bring low those whose eyes are haughty. 28 You, Lord, keep my lamp burning;
my God turns my darkness into light. 29 With your help I can advance against a troop[e];
with my God I can scale a wall.
30 As for God, his way is perfect:
The Lord’s word is flawless;
he shields all who take refuge in him. 31 For who is God besides the Lord?
And who is the Rock except our God?” (NIV)
Verse 46: He lives and responds to me
Verse 47: He avenges those who oppose me and takes up my cause
“46 The Lord lives! Praise be to my Rock!
Exalted be God my Savior! 47 He is the God who avenges me,
who subdues nations under me, 48 who saves me from my enemies.
You exalted me above my foes;
from a violent man you rescued me. 49 Therefore I will praise you, Lord, among the nations;
I will sing the praises of your name.” (NIV)
I was feeling pretty good, and even a little unperturbed by events in South Africa in the last week. It’s not like Jacob Zuma has been building up to what he pulled last week in shuffling the cabinet to pull in the drawbridge, it’s been near constant scandal, one after the other.
I went to Paul’s letter to the Romans, the 13th chapter of which deals with civil authority in a nation. Basically Paul’s point is that Zuma is there with God’s permission and forbearance:
“Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. 2 Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves.” (Verses 1 – 2, NIV).
Paul’s letter was to Christians under Rome, and Rome was not warm and fuzzy. Simply watch the Ridley Scott movie, ‘Gladiator’, or watch ‘Ben Hur’. Rome had a heavy hand, and some questions occurred to me:
Is Zuma more overbearing/odious than Rome?
If Christians could live in Rome and still be Christians, can’t we in South Africa now?
Is it okay to pray for God to remove Zuma? Since He appointed him/rules over him?
Saturday proceeded just fine until a rugby game that evening, where it is generally acknowledged that the Sharks were hard done by and their opposition was given an unfair advantage (references follow at the tail end of this post); Strange, that a country being pulled apart at the political seams doesn’t bother me but my team having a bad day at the office does…
…and so was Paradise lost, and there followed disturbed sleep, several episodes of ‘24’, temporary insomnia and an inability to be normal for most of the Sunday that followed. And I was glad that Christ didn’t return early that Sunday morning.
And yet, following Paradise Lost, there is Paradise Regained, but that is another post…