The nose bleed seats

Kings Park stadium in Durban seats 52,000 people, although it has been a fair while since the stadium has seen over 40,000. Our guide showing us around the stadium was a lovely young lady by the name of Bethney, who related how before she came to work for the Sharks attended a game at the stadium and heavily pregnant had to endure a walk up to the ‘nosebleed seats’, so called because they are very high.

 

Kings Park was originally built and opened in the 1950s with a view to accommodating 12,000 people, and was renovated in the 1980s.

 

This stadium came to mind when I read a verse of the day earlier this week:

 

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” (Hebrews 12, NIV)

 

The context of Hebrews 12 is chapter 11 which lists the giants of the faith who have gone before and lived the life. These saints who have gone before, giants like Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Elijah are like martyrs inspiring the race of faith as we are running it now.

 

I don’t know about you, but I find that a little intimidating. The ‘cloud of witnesses’ uses the Greek word ‘nephos’ which is allied to ‘nebula’ as if they are being an example for us from the nose-bleed seats up in the clouds.

 

The metaphor of the race speaks to an endurance event, a marathon not a sprint. The imagery is very Roman, evoking the Colosseum in the eternal city where athletes compete surrounded by thousands in a grand witness. The Colosseum was built to accommodate between 50,000 and 80,000 spectators with an average of 65,000, even bigger than Kings Park.

Nose-bleed seats

Throwing off everything that hinders speaks of the disciplined life of the athlete who cuts out easy living to get fit. Sin is pictured as loose clothing tripping us up; we need to get rid of it and run smart.

 

The race is marked out for us. We don’t choose the race but God has chosen our race for us.

 

Someday in the future, we will be among the saints who have gone before, our endurance spurring new Believers to finish the race. They won’t speak of us in the same breath as CH Spurgeon or Billy Graham or John Donne, however you never know who you might inspire by example.

 

I confess that I’m tired but if Wally Hayward can finish a Comrades, then perhaps I can endure.

A Gospel primer, or Who do men say that Jesus is?

The 16th chapter of Matthew chronicles a question that the apostles were asked, and to which the answer means everything. Though not on the same level as Larry, Curly and Moe, the apostles bumbled and stumbled through a lot of Jesus’ ministry, either through foot in mouth, being ham-fisted, or doing the wrong thing at the wrong time…very much like many of us when we’re not at our best.

 

The passage is probably familiar:

 

“13 When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”*

14 “Well,” they replied, “some say John the Baptist, some say Elijah, and others say Jeremiah or one of the other prophets.”

15 Then he asked them, “But who do you say I am?”

16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah,* the Son of the living God.”

17 Jesus replied, “You are blessed, Simon son of John,* because my Father in heaven has revealed this to you. You did not learn this from any human being. 18 Now I say to you that you are Peter (which means ‘rock’),* and upon this rock I will build my church, and all the powers of hell* will not conquer it. 19 And I will give you the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven. Whatever you forbid* on earth will be forbidden in heaven, and whatever you permit* on earth will be permitted in heaven.”

20 Then he sternly warned the disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.” (Verses 13 – 20, NLT)

 

The first thing that occurred to me is that if you take a poll of what people say, most of the time the results will be mixed and the results will bear no resemblance to the truth. The people were confused as to who Jesus was, partly because of the falsehoods sown by the Pharisees and Sadducees, perhaps partly because Jesus kept things close to the chest. Almost certainly because people are generally confused and their opinions diffused, various and nebulous.

 

And then Jesus asked the most important question: Who do you say I am?

 

That is the core question that every soul has to answer. If you answer correctly and it is rooted in belief then it means everything. Its the type of question you would rather not answer incorrectly.

 

Jesus and the disciples were in the region of Caesarea Phillipi, a centre of pagan worship of Pan, Zeus, Baal and other bankrupt worship of dead things and bad ideas. A place so devoid of revelation about the true God that you would probably be better off in cat house/bar in Brazil.

 

The pagan temples were built into the side of a cliff from which a spring used to flow to the Jordan. Apparently at this site, goats were sacrificed as well as pigs, whose bodies were thrown into a watery pit. Imagining what it might have been like in Jesus’ day, not a nice place. This is the setting for the gates of Hell, a centre for pagan worship.

It was near this spot where Jesus asked the apostles the question about who they said he was and is. Simon Peter answered for them: “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” This type of knowledge was not something that he had learned about from other people or trendy religious people; only the Father in heaven revealed this to him.

 

In a way, that is how every Christian must recognise Christ: by revelation, by way of an epiphany. Accepting Jesus as the Christ is a spiritual encounter, not an intellectual assent, and although the intellect must be involved – because we are not molluscs – this position can only be arrived at spiritually.

 

Taking into account which area they were in with pagan temples and worship of false gods, Jesus cleverly uses that as a picture, a real-world metaphor of the gates of hell that stand against the truth and that the church would overcome. And true enough, on this day, no worship of pagan deities takes place at that site, but the church endures.

 

And Jesus also cleverly plays on words when he says that Peter’s (Petros) revelation is a rock (petra) that will serve as the foundation for the church.

 

I don’t know what fascination for paganism there is for the modern mind. But apparently it’s trendy, along with atheism, Christophobia, exploration of over 30 gender types, and a cornucopia of other self destructive behaviours. The difference is that none of these things embraced by people are in any way a revelation from the Father.

 

Now, I don’t endorse the whole thing about the holy grail, but see the scene from Indiana Jones as a metaphor:

 

In the end, choosing revelation from the Father is choosing wisely.

Thoughts of purity

There is a dark corner of our Renault – in the footwell by the back seat – where mysteries dwell, including a CD case containing music from that artistic period better forgotten…the 1990’s.

 

A long forgotten CD was inserted into the appropriate slot and I found myself listening to Petra, who were probably most popular around the time when people in bands had really bad hair on purpose. Although dated musically, the sentiment is timeless and with music this 90’s you sometimes find yourself listening to the words and imagining the melody into the background:

 

“Whatever things are pure and true, (I want to)
Think on these things
Whatever things are filled with virtue
Think on these things
When my mind begins to stray
I want to think the other way
Think on these things
Think on these things”

 

This is lifted right from Paul’s letter to the Philippians:

 

“8 Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.” (Philippians 4)

 

The idea is that some bad things spring from the mind and that to fight against that you have to unpack some good ideas, almost like putting in your earphones and turning up the volume on some good music when you’re at a rap concert and its getting dodgy.

 

It’s not as far out as it sounds. When my mind begins to stray to negativity and evil, then oftentimes I will hear a song by Petra in my head, or another song that gets me thinking right, like Praise & Worship.

 

Thinking about impure things, sometimes the Presence seems far away, as if we were MacBeth wading through murder and ethical twists and turns that leave no solution and it’s in those times where we hunger for God in the middle of the bloodbath, the scene of the crime, that we can see Him, both the way out and the destination.

 

As Jesus said on the Sermon on the Mount:

 

“Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they will see God.” (Matthew 5:8, NIV)

 

I don’t read scripture as much as I should, which is not a good admission to make. I’m missing a few spiritual meals. Listening to Christian music is almost like the equivalent of scarfing down a power bar, or a few crackers in between meals.

 

Sometimes, if you’re serious about the lyrics of Christian music, it can lead you to the word; power bars and crackers can lead you to hunger for daily bread and a solid meal.

 

And in the moment when you need direction because you could really mess it up, it may be that a song would play in your head. And so (I hesitate to say for your listening pleasure), I present Petra’s advisory to think on the things that are true and virtuous:

Strong tower

On an ordinary flight to Durban, and by return to Cape Town, my castle walls could not hold out the rampaging pagan hordes of anxiety. You see, I’m afraid of pretty much everything, particularly when it comes to heights.

 

On an intellectual level I can appreciate the science behind it: pressurization of the plane at 30,000 feet, the shape of the wing operating under Bernoulli’s principle and providing lift, taking into account the thrust provided by the engines.

 

There are always 4 forces operating on a plane in flight: thrust, lift, drag and gravity. It’s the drag and gravity that concerns me, and the fact that lift and thrust depend on the schooling of the gentlemen who designed and built the engines, wings and airplane and also the schooling and experience of the guys flying the airplane.

 

So, not even on the taxiway, and already the adrenaline was flowing. The castle walls of logic and calm had been breached and you could give that man – me – a Bells.

 

When in a place of anxiety with Barbarians past the gate, I naturally prayed and set into operation a principle found in Proverbs 18:10:

 

The name of the Lord is a fortified tower;
the righteous run to it and are safe. (NIV)

 

When my own place of safety fails – which it does often – I don’t really want to be cut down in the open by Visigoths of fear or Vikings of calamity; I run to the tower that is the Name of the Lord.

A strong tower

The righteous run to it and running is not passive and implies faith. The tower doesn’t come to me but I run to it. I run to it in prayer which is immediate and direct.

 

The Name of the Lord encompasses His character and all that men know historically from scripture and all I know experientially from my own life. This tower is not new, I’ve been there many times before. It is a familiar refuge.

 

The strong tower is a place where the defenceless and their defence fit into each other like a seal. As depicted in the movie Braveheart, William Wallace ran to that tower asking the Lord to give him the strength to die well. Whether seeking refuge in the Pentagon from attack, or seeking refuge from flesh-eating zombies in New Jersey and holding up in a block of flats, the imagery is familiar.

 

Consider the alternative: having no hope, calling on no one, or living firmly in that river in Egypt, denial.

My game report

So, we travelled the 1,270 kilometres by air to Durban from Cape Town to experience a live game of the Sharks in the home of rugby in KZN. I myself had never been there, having only come to appreciating rugby later in life, and therefore I had never watched the Sharks play in the Shark Tank.

Home of the Sharks

Becoming a fan after we left Durban evokes my discovery of avocados. Avocados are native to South America and the Aztecs viewed the fruit as both a delicacy and an aphrodisiac, probably because avocados grow in pairs and resemble something familiar to most men of child-bearing age. The name avocado comes from the Nahuatl word ‘ahuacatl’ which means ‘testicle’. One word I suppose which doesn’t come from the Greek (Mr Thermopoulos may disagree). Avocados are plentiful and large in Durban and I only came to taste them after we left that fair city for Cape Town.

This is the Shark tank

On this particular weekend, the last pool match of the season against the lions, the Sharks lacked avocados, if you catch my drift, and in something resembling a collection of cuckolds, gave the game to the visitors. The referee of the day certainly helped as I observed with my own four eyes with the assistance of television replays, by penalising the Sharks heavily at the ruck, while pretty much giving the lions a free lunch at the breakdown; the penalty count was 14 to 7.

 

As far as the referee was concerned, it was almost a home game for the lions. Just before half time the lions dotted down a try, and from my position I thought the try-scorer had his feet in touch. The referee would have wasted nothing in checking with the TMO, but opted not to. Other home teams receive the benefit of the doubt, just not the Sharks usually. I have a theory that referees are generally inconsistent and many fans of various unions have their opinions about this. When referees officiate games where the Sharks are involved, many times they seem to have an off game. Rugby is a momentum game and a referee can easily hamstring a team if he takes a dislike to them for whatever reason. Or if he favours the opposition.

Supersport, the guys in the studio don’t exactly like the Sharks

It has occurred to me that South African referees view the lions as the South African team with the best shot at winning the title, and that with the lions first on the table, that they would have the best chance. I can’t shake the notion that with referees being human, bias may occur. The Sharks may not have wanted to win this game too badly, but maybe the officials didn’t either.

Good practice doesn’t equal good game
Too many red jerseys in that crowd
Fireworks; game over
Everyone mixing after the game

We toured Kings Park the day before, walking the hallowed ground and observing the history of the place. Before the Sharks players enter the corridor out to the playing field, they pass a large mirror where they are invited to consider the ‘man in the mirror’ and what it means to represent the proud rugby tradition of Kwa-Zulu Natal. One wonders what they observed in the mirror that afternoon.

 

Looking back after the match, coach Robert du Preez opined that part of what might have gone wrong was the players’ thinking about travelling to Canterbury in New Zealand to play the crusaders if they were to beat the lions, a journey by air of 11,815 kilometres, approximately 10 times the distance we travelled to get to Durban. That would mean around an entire day of travel by air.

 

http://sharksrugby.co.za/a-shot-at-redemption/

 

An admission perhaps that the team was thinking tactically and not with their avocados? However human it may be, not giving one’s best at all times is almost certain not be rewarded with winning. Winning comes by way of winning, not by losing tactically.

 

Nevertheless it was good to see the hallowed ground where rugby memories were made. The next day we watched along with around 30,000 other fans the game we had come to see. I was happy to be around a sizeable number of fellow Sharks. Going to Newlands with my apparel is not a friendly experience. Verbal abuse in the throes of drunkenness by the local Cape fans has happened. Many lions fans attended the game and I didn’t witness any verbal abuse or anything of the sort from local Sharks supporters. What I did witness however was extreme arrogance on the part of lions fans, also known as ‘swagga’: an attitude of having imaginary and oversized avocados. Standing around a skottel waiting for the game with fellow Sharks supporters, one particular lions fan drove slowly past, found my eye and uttered a scornful ‘humph’.

Skottel time

When the lions next lose as I hope they do, I will think of this rude man who is no gentleman.

Glad I got to see you Kings Park

After the game, I suppose the locals were gutted but that didn’t stop them from having a skottel and scarfing down some boerie rolls to a live band. Apart from the team performance and the disappointing result it was a good day. The ones who lost the most were the Sharks fans and one Stephan Lewies on the occasion of playing his 50th Super Rugby game. 10 – 27 the full time result.

KP1 and KP2

Coach Rob du Preez speaks about redemption. Redemption in sports depends on how much the team wants it, and in the latter half of the competition, I have yet to be truly convinced. It’s not just the losses, but the way a team loses.

 

The loveliest part of the trip for me was taking part in the 5km park run along the beachfront in Umhlanga: no sporting disappointment and talk of redemption, and that verse that I had read on YouVersion:

 

“The name of the Lord is a fortified tower;
the righteous run to it and are safe.” (Proverbs 18:10, NIV).

I bless the rains down in Africa

So, I was flicking through radio channels this morning and came across the 1982 Toto hit, ‘Africa’.

 

Immediately I thought of the Castle Lager advert featuring this song. Best I can make out, the ad was made back in the 1990’s by an ad agency named Ogilvy, but I may be mistaken. Whoever thought of it made an epic advert lasting just over a minute that captures the zeitgeist of what it means to be a modern South African, adrift from your country:

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4zmQBNnaAeQ

 

When I heard this song, a lot of thoughts sprang to mind and emotions came to the surface:

 

Frustration at Africa’s many missed opportunities;

 

Mourning for what could be if things were different but will probably never come to pass because of the tragic nature of this continent and her people, but specifically South Africa and her people;

 

Thousands and perhaps millions of wistful South Africans, salivating over the memory of boerewors in far Northern climes, having washed up in a wave of modern Diaspora, seeking a life that cannot be lived in the homeland;

 

Alan Paton’s novel, ‘Cry the beloved country’…the country stopped crying in 1994 with the advent of universal suffrage, but from the dreams of a political husband, a battered spouse of a country has emerged, crying more than ever before;

 

Wondering when the dysfunctional people of Mzansi are going to get their act together and at least get serious about behaving appropriately that God can actually bless Africa (Nkosi sikelei Afrika).

 

I know plenty of people who have left for overseas, which is what makes the advert so powerful. In many ways, as I’ve discovered, a South African can live in his own country feeling as if he is thousands of miles away and his country disappeared when he wasn’t looking.

Of mausoleums

This morning as I was driving in to work, and trying to work up an attitude of prayerfulness, I basically said thanks for the cross and the empty tomb, and right then and there I started thinking about the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington…

Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

…probably because it’s been in the news recently, what with the 4th of July less than a week in the rear-view mirror.

 

I realised I didn’t know much about it, beyond the fact that a soldier never stops guarding it, and to stand in guard at the tomb is a mark of great respect. Soldiering is messy, and war, and a whole lot of unpleasantness. But it is also respect and honour and discipline, many characteristics that are missing in today’s world.

 

Those same characteristics make for good and useful Christians: respect, honour and discipline.

 

According to my research, the tomb houses the remains of an unknown soldier from World War 1. Six stone wreaths are etched into the stonework, one for each of the major campaigns of the war. Next to the tomb, are three memorials representing unknown soldiers from World War 2, the Korean War, and then one for all wars since then and to come. It remains open as the remains of the soldier killed in Vietnam was since identified using mitochondrial DNA testing.

 

The tomb has been guarded 24/7 since 1937 by the 3rd US Infantry Regiment, the oldest active infantry unit in the military. The Tomb Guard badge is the least awarded badge in the army, with only the astronaut badge being awarded less. The Tomb Guards perform their duties in iterations of 21 steps or 21 seconds, symbolising the 21 gun salute given to fallen soldiers.

 

The utilitarian nature of the tomb in Arlington can be compared with the tomb of Mohammed in Medinah. It is a curiosity since Mohammed once criticised Christians who revere the graves of holy people, and his resting place has become a place of pilgrimage for Muslims who venture there, and yet the grave of Islam’s prophet is apparently cordoned off. Almost like the site is wanting to draw a crowd but have it stop short of revering the subject too intimately. Muslims were once derogatorily called Mohammedans owing to the suggestion that they worshiped Mohammed and were slavishly reduced to copying every one of his sayings, actions, habits and peculiarities, so much so that Mohammed’s saliva was sought after.

Mohammed’s mausoleum

Having looked at photographs of the mausoleum at Medina, the site holds no fascination for me as a Christian.

 

Apparently, other Islamic figures are laid to rest alongside Mohammed with a space reserved for Jesus.

 

Jesus has had a tomb however, and it is this empty tomb that provides the hope of resurrection. No bones rest in the tomb. There is debate about where precisely the tomb of Christ was. Some say the site now occupied by the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, and others that the Garden Tomb is where He was laid. I suppose that there are other theories. I myself have no idea but I like the picture of the Garden Tomb because people haven’t built stuff on top of it…the Garden Tomb is simple and looks like a tomb.

The empty tomb

I’ve read that there is a plaque at the tomb with the words of the angel, ‘He is not here, he has risen’. It’s an appropriate image. Of the many things the 1989 Indiana Jones movie got wrong about the Holy Grail, one thing it probably got right was the humble cup of a carpenter that Indie chose well at the conclusion of the movie. On earth, Jesus didn’t have a lot of cool stuff, but likely basic possessions and garments and a borrowed tomb with no frills.

 

Not the ceremony of a state sponsored memorial for fallen soldiers.

 

Not the gold and black curtains and polished marble floors of an Arabic sepulchre.

 

A simple resting place, used for mere hours, now empty which fills the Christian with hope.

Lessons from a chunky monk

Just when I thought the Sharks were putting together a season leading to something resembling a shot at the title, they dish up a weekend like the one just past. Other professional rugby unions find ways to win and sometimes win ugly.

 

The Sharks manage the converse, finds ways to lose ugly. It doesn’t make for pretty reading:

 

http://kwese.espn.com/rugby/matchstats?gameId=290888&league=242041

 

Not only the Super Rugby side (there was nothing super about them) but the Sharks XV lost ugly to a Bulls XV playing with a man in the bin from the 27th minute.

 

On weekends like this, I think of the words of the chunky monk from 1991’s ‘Robin Hood: Prince of thieves’. After refusing to yield to Robin Hood and his bandits, and being put on his backside for his troubles, the friar prays, ‘Thank you Lord for teaching me humility’.

Thank you Lord for teaching me humility

The bloggers of Onward Christian Soldier are proceeding onward to the fair coastal city of Durban to what I fear will be a terrible loss to their next opponents, thereby ensuring that we are cleansed of pride. Supporting the Sharks as we do, we could never boast in them because they are very very flawed. All we could boast in – with Paul – would be the cross of Christ; not our own achievements or the sporting glories of Natal, or anything else.

 

http://www.brandonweb.com/sermons/sermonpages/luke28.htm

 

Friar Tuck – if we’re being serious for a moment – has mixed messages as far as being a Christian is concerned. While being humbled, he also puts a lot of emphasis on beer (any fool can eat grain, but the Lord intended it for more divine purposes of consumption, namely beer), and pushes a corrupt bishop out of a tower to his death, although in fairness, the bishop was a wolf, not a sheep. I wouldn’t put those lessons on an elevated plane.

 

However, after having considered himself judgemental towards Azzeem, Robin of Locksley’s companion, the friar admits:

 

“Today the Lord has taught me a fine lesson. And though I may think I am Godly, I know I am not worldly”. That’s a good place to be in. So, as we prepare for the game, we can acknowledge that being able to attend is the gift of God and enjoy it accordingly whilst not getting too hung up by the result.

Being careful

There are some gems in the book of Deuteronomy: the 10 commandments, the Shema, and a significant number of the scriptures that Jesus quoted when he was tempted. If Jesus thought it was important then it can’t hurt to take a gander.

 

I was reading through the 6th chapter of Deuteronomy early Saturday morning and I enjoy reading it because it’s such a pivotal chapter. Observant Jews pray and quote the Shema daily:

 

Shema yisrael

Adonai elohenu

Adonai echad

 

“4 “Listen, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord alone.*” (NLT)

 

The response to this is that the people of God are to love Him with all their hearts. That is the heart of Scripture right there, to love God. The New Testament tells us that we love Him because He first loved us, and it reveals to us the sacrifice of His son. Yet our response to grace is the same as to the law: to love the Lord.

 

Verse 6: the commandments are to be on our hearts and this evokes not just commandments on stone, but on human hearts as the Holy Spirit inspired Jeremiah:

 

“33 “But this is the new covenant I will make with the people of Israel on that day,” says the Lord. “I will put my instructions deep within them, and I will write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people.” (Jeremiah 31, NLT)

 

Verse 7: we are to impress them on our children, and talk about them because Scripture is bread and life, revelation, truth.

 

Verses 8 & 9: we are to symbolically carry scripture and place it on our doorframes; the Jews wore phylacteries and placed mezuzah on their doorframes. Nowadays we have wrist bands and branded apparel.

My mezuzah

One thing I hadn’t noticed before when reading the 6th chapter of Deuteronomy, a repetition of a certain phrase:

 

Be careful to obey (verse 3)

Be careful that you do not forget (verse 12)

Be careful to obey (verse 25)

 

Being careful is like the way we treat a new car or an honoured guest in our home. Would it surprise you to know that I have often not been careful? De Sculpe. However it was good to be careful to start Saturday morning right, as I did this past Saturday. The exhortation to be careful suggests to me that we can’t just wing it, this being a Christian thing, we can’t half-arse it.

 

After all, practice makes perfect, or as perfect as we’ll ever get.

Always pray, and keep it real

My theory is that the brain waves required to concentrate on driving a vehicle safely operate on a completely separate wavelength to the ability of the brain to think about and process spiritual things. And that these two wavelengths can produce waves simultaneously. If light can have a wave and particle nature, I don’t see why my theory may be unreasonable.

 

A theory is normally tested to confirm whether it is true, whereas for me I have often meandered through spiritual contours while driving, especially in the morning.

 

What really sucks is that when praying, my thoughts tend to be parochial, and as Cliff Richard sang, ‘like a rubber ball, [they] come bouncing back to [me].’ When it comes right down to it, I would like His blessing but know I don’t deserve it, haven’t earned it and what’s more the thought occurred to me – and not for the first time – but, why should he bless me?

Rain, an answer to prayer

The psalmist, David pondered the question as it related to mankind,

 

“3          When I look at the night sky and see the work of your fingers—

the moon and the stars you set in place—

4           what are people that you should think about them,

mere mortals that you should care for them?*” (Psalm 8, NLT)

 

On this particular morning it wasn’t the winter sky or canopy of stars that got me thinking about my place, but other human beings. Compared to other people, especially fellow Christians, I have a difficult time concluding that I come out on the top end of any continuum.

 

Christians are getting thumped by the boot of fascists and rendered headless by the knives of Islamists, and getting fined senseless by social justice warriors in government…or are facing unemployment, poverty, sickness, dread disease or death…and they’re rocking it.

 

I haven’t been tested, not like others. And they’re better than me, purified by suffering, refined by fire. Why should he bless me?

 

It’s the end of the month and I’m not about to waste away from hunger, but I merely had fruit and mini-cheddars and it so happened that a lady at work celebrated her birthday by bringing soup and rolls to work for us, her colleagues. I’m not a total idiot; I can see the hand of God when it’s that obvious, a colleague’s birthday coinciding with a desire for bread.

 

What if he hadn’t provided the bread? After all, other people go without food? And I’ve prayed for things only to receive news of the opposite.  Would He still have been thinking about me if my day had remained bread-less?

 

Why should he bless me and not the truly hungry? Of course, He may also have done that, because I don’t see a speck of dust’s worth of what goes on in the world (I miss 99.9999999% of what really goes on). Other believers keep going with greater impediments than I could ever face. They keep on believing and praying and serving with greater obstacles in their path than I could ever face, or likely will ever face, and here am I, holding a pity committee with me, myself and I on what probably amounts to a weekly basis. Therefore I suck, so why should he bless me?

 

I couldn’t ever be worthy of a blessing, at least unique to me. But it continues to escape my understanding that grace is not like economics; everything in my training, schooling and life experience teaches me about worth, intrinsic and earned, about hard work, about earning something and grace doesn’t fit the paradigm.

 

I want him to bless me because I want Him to show his favour, to let me know that I don’t suck wholesale. The correct and spiritual answer is that I want to be blessed to be a blessing, but can I confess that I don’t think as spiritually as I ought to a lot of the time?

 

I was reminded of the parable of the persistent widow in the parable told by Jesus in Luke 18; the purpose of the parable is to teach us that we should always pray and not give up. In this case, the request is not for a blessing, but merely for justice, for relief from an enemy. The widow had a dispute and justice for her was denied repeatedly by a corrupt judge (which reminds me of many aspects of corruption that make daily headlines here in South Africa, but I digress). And yet she didn’t stop appealing for justice, and wore the judge down. A sermon I listened to this week, suggested that the corrupt judge feared a physical beat down from this widow, so she must have been pretty forceful.

 

If a corrupt judge can listen to a persistent widow, then our heavenly father with all his goodness and grace can grant us an audience and listen to us when we don’t deserve it. And maybe even bless us because of grace instead of what scraps of ‘merit’ we can scrounge up.

 

Of course, prayer is far more than just us asking for blessing. It’s aligning ourselves with His heart and perspective and entering into a posture of listening instead of only talking. One of the lovely aspects of prayer is that we can be truly honest with God…no need for airs and graces.

 

The inside is consistent with the outside.

These dishes are not hypocrites, unlike Pharisees

The very next story in Luke 18 is of the Pharisee and the tax-collector and their prayers juxtaposed. The tax-collector who asked for mercy received it whereas I reckon the Pharisee went away empty handed, and empty hearted.

 

We’re all full of sin and wickedness on the inside, but it’s better to deal with it and approach God in prayer in honesty than be like the Pharisees, whom Jesus rebuked very strenuously:

 

“27 “What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs—beautiful on the outside but filled on the inside with dead people’s bones and all sorts of impurity. 28 Outwardly you look like righteous people, but inwardly your hearts are filled with hypocrisy and lawlessness.” (Matthew 23, NLT).

 

If my cup is unclean on the inside, I may try to manage my brand to other people, but I can’t do that with God. Keeping it real.