Of Bok Fridays and Ephesians

A few Sundays ago, a guest preacher delivered a homily (I like that word; it has more class and specificity than merely a ‘message’) at our home church, regarding unity, specifically the unity of Believers.


The idea of unity has stood out to me of late, how various people espouse unity but its merely a front, a cute idea without any meat. Recently the Springboks played the Canucks in the Rugby World Cup taking place right now in Japan, and on this particular work day, the televisions in the production area were on (with sound on low) showing the Springbok game live.


The singing of the national anthem by South Africans asserted that “united we shall stand…” however it suddenly occurred to me that I was listening to sentimentality instead of fact. Hardly a day goes by when there is not some controversy in the media about happenings in our country, and I work and live among a large contingent of local South Africans who wholeheartedly and chauvinistically support the New Zealand national team, especially when they are playing against the Springboks.


Bok Fridays


The apartheid government was no less hypocritical than the lyrics to the national anthem, with a coat-of-arms that proclaimed ‘Unitate Ex Vires’ (strength in unity). Groups of people are seldom truly united. Its different with the Bride of Christ.


Or at least there’s no reason that it shouldn’t be.


And so, some days later I found myself in the rare quiet of a morning reading through the passage in Ephesians:




Believers are united to each other because we are primarily united to Him. Reading through the passage, certain words/ideas recur: that God the Father has put thought and consideration into the church and the Believers who make up the Body.


Paul insists that being Believers is strongly and definitively part of his will:


  • Paul was an apostle by the will of God (1:1)
  • Believers are predestined to be adopted by his will (1:5)
  • His mysterious will is revealed, to unify creation (things in heaven and earth) under Christ (1:9 – 10)
  • He works out everything in conformity with his will (1:11)


The Father’s foreknowledge of and grace for us is seen:


  • He predestined us in love to be adopted (1:4 – 5)
  • He chose us before the creation of the world (1:4)
  • He gave us his grace freely (1:6)
  • In fact He lavished it on us (1:8)
  • We were predestined according to his plan (1:11) and his plan will work out


His mighty power selected us, saves us and keeps us:


  • When we believed we were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit (1:13 – 14), a guarantee of our inheritance
  • His power to fulfil our hope is the same resurrection power that raised Christ (1:19 – 20)


The fact that you are a believer or may one day be, can be attributed to the will of God. God foreknowing those who are His, He sets our destiny, an eternal appointment to take our lives in His direction. Its a sure thing because the power over death (resurrection power) is at life in the Christian, and in this we share a unity that the world cannot understand.


The Springboks have won the Webb-Ellis trophy twice in its 32 year history. As a trophy, it is coveted. Any rugby nation would want to win it and retain the trophy every four years. For the supporters in a rugby nation, either a win or a loss binds them together in misery or elation.


Paul’s letter to the Philippians paints the picture that we as believers are pressing on to a prize, although it’s not a trophy or recognition:




The prize is participating in the race. The goal is Christ.


Since the Springboks last won the Rugby World Cup in 2007 under the coaching of Jake White, the innocence for me has been lost. There’s too much politics involved in sport. Too many selfish personalities, different agendas. My relationship with the Springboks is complicated. Honestly, I also have an affinity for the Home Unions.


I’ve found that the unity amongst believers is more significant and authentic than support for a national rugby team. I don’t mind Bok Fridays. But I love Sunday mornings more.


In Romans 5, Paul writes about Adam and puts into context the human story and where it all went wrong for us.


By way of confession, I rarely consider Adam and the fall of man, at least in the same way that I consider historical events to which I was a witness.


Not that I have been a witness to many fundamental moments in world history, but mostly personal ones in my own history.


Although I wasn’t there in New York on 11 September 2001, in a very real sense, I was along with millions of people who were witnessing events in real time. An event that would re-shape geo-politics that would re-shape how we travel and how we think about the nexus of politics and religion.


Many of us were as good as eyewitnesses to 9/11, a moment in time that drew us all together, an event that formed the creation of a zeitgeist as absolutely as the Kennedy assassination defined the 1960’s.


In the years since then, we have seen the explosion of the internet and its uses, driverless cars, innovations in space travel, the ubiquity of social media. And into this context, I want you to think about Adam, as Paul did the Romans as well as the church today.


You may wonder what the significance of this is. It’s the foundation that explains why we are the way we are, and it is in light of this that the cross is so significant and makes sense.


Paul accepts the account of Genesis 3 and the fall of man as a historical fact, an event that actually took place.

Aardappels (potatoes); neither the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, nor the ‘root of all evil’, just un-made French fries

And like 11 September 2001, I was as good as there. So were all of us. My genetic make-up is infused with my relationship to Adam and to his sin.


12 Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned”




Is it fair that we who have been born after Adam bear the penalty for his actions? You may not think so, but consider that if Adam’s sin could trickle through to us and infect us, the righteousness of Christ could be introduced to us and take away that sin.


Engage in a thought-experiment: You stand on your own, not associated with Adam at all, a free moral agent who can sin, or not sin in the garden. How long would you or I have lasted in state of sinlessness? Adam and Eve had every benefit and still managed to find themselves in a mess.


You didn’t make the rules, you didn’t establish the principles that govern righteousness and sin. Adam and Eve fell, and that present fact is so deeply ingrained in our human experience that we no longer consider it consciously.


One sin was all it took to condemn all humanity going forward. Paul writes ‘one trespass resulted in condemnation for all people’ (5:18, NIV).


One sin. All humanity. That’s a big deal, that’s how serious sin is.


Paul compares and contrasts Adam and Christ. Both were sinless from the beginning and both performed acts that had consequences for all mankind:


15 But the gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many!




Adam’s sin was tragic but Christ’s sacrifice (and gift of righteousness) was stupendous. As completely as one sin infected the human race, it was to a greater degree that one act of righteousness by Christ brought grace to man.


One righteous act, that’s how significant it was. To wipe out sin, centuries and millennia of it.


Paul compares and contrasts Adam and Christ. Both were sinless from the beginning and both performed acts that had consequences for all mankind. This is what is called a ‘Federal Theology’. A federal state means that representatives speak for and represent the people that choose them.


The natural man is born in sin, sins, chooses yet more sin and in the default setting, is represented by Adam. We are born in Adam. We are born-again in Christ.


Adam represents us whether we choose that he does or not. The only alternative choice we have is Christ.


Although I wasn’t there in New York on 11 September 2001, in a very real sense, I was along with millions of people who were witnessing events in real time. And like 11 September 2001, I was as good as there when Adam and Eve sinned.


In a very real sense, I was also there in Jerusalem when Christ was crucified. A historical event, a true event that I ‘witnessed’ and more importantly, took part in. I go to the foot of the cross often.


The gift is greater than the trespass. We are all familiar with sin and the consequences, and the fear of death. Paul writes that even more certain and overwhelming than sin and death is the grace to ‘reign in life’ for the Believer.




If the reality of sin is pressing on us, the reality of life through Him is even more present.


Acknowledgement to:


Bible Commentary

In perspective

When I set out to study through the book of Romans, I began with the idea that I don’t merely want to know more about God, but to know Him more and be changed in the process.


There are plenty of people who know a lot more about God in a theological sense than I do, but that might not mean a thing in the grand scheme. Knowing what is true and internalising it is not the same thing. Truth is like a tool…if we don’t pick it up and use it, it’s merely theoretical and of little use.


On a practical level, the question is there: of what use is theology? Are there any practical uses for knowing Scripture on a more than basic level? If I look at the epistles of Paul the answer is unequivocal: Yes, theology is practical and applicable.


Paul unpacks deep theological truths in his epistles before rounding them out with practical steps to walk in.


In a parting word to the Believers in Philippi, Paul writes:


“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.” (NIV)




To emphasise Paul, the things that he has taught the Philippians, he tells them to ‘put it into practice’. And in a real sense, the peace of God would be with them as they do so.


This passage also illuminates the idea of perspective; Paul urges the Believer to think about what is right, noble, pure, the things of God. A large part of operating as a Christian involves the life of the mind.




Speaking personally, the most fundamental change that theology brings is to change my perspective. I read this week of the final phase of a court case in the State of Texas.




The court heard that a police officer Amber Guyger entered what she thought was her apartment after a 14-hour shift and being the wrong floor, she encountered her upstairs neighbour, Botham Jean, who she supposed to be an intruder in her apartment, drew her weapon and fatally shot him.


A tragedy, precisely because it was avoidable if things had panned out differently. Found guilty of murder, Guyger was due to be sentenced in the court room of Judge Tammy Kemp.


The victim’s brother spoke at the hearing, extending his forgiveness, urging her to turn to Christ and asking the judge for permission to hug her, which the judge allowed to gasps and sobbing from the court gallery. The judge also withdrew to her chambers to fetch her personal Bible and present it to Guyger, along with a hug.


Stunning! How awesome the perspective on display, the theology applied to a tragic situation which was supremely practical, life-affirming and rooted in forgiveness.

Yebo Nkosi Yethu

As September emerged from the frigid wastes of Winter that is only now retreating to its cave, you may think that the advent of Spring is welcome.


And it is. But as happens from time to time, I accidentally expose myself to too much local news, and when this happens, I enter a malaise that can barely be described by words.


The negative news reports hammer home like blows from a mad pugilist. Barely has one punch to the face been felt, when several are delivered to the solar plexus. They build one upon the other.


This is the reason why I read news from abroad. It’s remote and serves as political entertainment.


The 2016 election in the U.S., the 2020 race, the Brexit chronicles. None of these directly affect me, are entertaining and are easily available..


An image occurs to me: the story of the little Dutch Boy who put his finger into the dike to stay a disaster.




I’ve never read the story (a story within a story: ‘Hans Brinker’) but that’s okay because the author Mary Mapes Dodge wrote the tale about Holland without having set foot in the Netherlands.


The imagery of me inadvertently reading local news is like the Dutch Boy with his finger in the dike trying to stem an ocean of negativity trying to breech the levy. The levy is my survival mechanism built on the principle of FOFO: fear of finding out.


Too much exposure to local news and I don’t have enough fingers to plug the holes.


On Sunday 1 September, early in the morning, I was alone in prayer, holes leaking all over the place and I found myself in Psalm 27:




I need to seek His face instead of seeking the news.




I catch a glimpse, a hint, a ghost in the light of local news that I will yet see His goodness in the land of the living. It’s not Biblical, but my mind forms a word-association with a city in Rhode Island called ‘Providence’.


Providence: under the providing care of God.

Spring is here, for real

I have to look to Him. Later that morning in church, we happen to sing the song ‘More than conquerors’:


“When waters rise

I lift my eyes up to your throne”.


My relationship with my own country is complicated.


I listen to Chris Tomlin’s ‘How Great is Our God (world edition)’ and the Zulu in the song gives me goose-flesh: Yebo Nkosi Yethu (Yes, Our Lord).


I listen to ‘Nkosi Sikeleli iAfrika’ and I feel nothing. Perhaps it’s the perception of the ruling party’s assumption that God has a wallet with His party membership card as the most prized possession, that He can be defined by politics, or even more heretically, by a political party.


My relationship with my own country is complicated.


My relationship with my God is simple.


There are holes in the dike.


Waters are rising.


I lift my eyes on a Sunday morning in September.


I lift my eyes up to Him.


I see merely a glimpse of what His providence may unfold for me in this land.


I wait for Him.

Google Emoogle Bible

My playlist in the vehicle keeps me going in the morning. My commute, when relatively free of the vehicular zombie hordes on the road, and including my playlist, is my most productive time of the day for thought and introspection.


The driver’s seat is my chapel.


The music is my choir.


The music and lyrics to Bethel’s ‘It is well’ bowl me over on this morning. I’m singing along:


‘Through it all

Through it all

My eyes are on You…’



Except I suddenly realise in the last few days, my eyes haven’t been on Him at all. I had been consulting Google about a set of facts but they were wrong.


Google can provide facts, but little context.


Emoogle (my emotions) can motivate for good or bad, but the signals are often murky and transitory.

Local tree prematurely suggesting that Spring is already here

The Bible is the only source of truth.


I recently begun starting off my prayers with: ‘I look to You’. I was supposed to have been but last week I was totally swayed by context-less information harvested from Google coupled with emotional troughs.


In realizing I wasn’t looking to Him, I started to look inward, disgusted, but also to Him after a sufficient time spent grovelling in self-pity (useless, but unavoidable). A Louie Giglio DVD message about the human body references the ability of our brain to filter out about 95% of the signals reaching our brain from the rest of the body. This is essential because there is a glut of signals and the brain prioritizes.


Similarly, our worldview is formed by the information we sample and taste and Google is easy and instantly accessible. Most often however, its agenda-driven and wrong. Looking to Him is counter-intuitive, but I reckon it involves consciously filtering out most of the internet and allowing His word a bit of time and space to change us.


For me, it doesn’t happen as often as it should, however I do endeavor to persevere.

The Filthy Thirteen

The 1965 novel, ‘The Dirty Dozen’ by E.M. Nathanson opens with an aloof, factual report in military-speak that details the execution by hanging of one Enos Gardiner at Marston-Tyne prison in the ETO (European Theatre of Operations) during WW2, before the author re-examines the same event through the eyes of the novel’s protagonist, Major John Reisman.

Classic movie

E.M. Nathanson wrote the novel after hearing whispers about a famously raucous unit from WW2, although he was never able to confirm anything more than rumour.


Loose lips sink ships and all that; it was different time and philosophy where in the service of the war, secrets were more willingly kept by that generation.


Subsequently, the story came to light of a notorious outfit that was named the ‘Filthy Thirteen’, a particularly rambunctious unit in the 506th PIR in the 101st Airborne.




Although the Filthy Thirteen were not composed of condemned men or military prisoners, they were kind of rough.


In the novel, ‘The Dirty Dozen’, the army devises a scheme that seems unlikely to work, specifically, to yank a dozen guys off death row, or from long sentences, the most disagreeable, rebellious malcontents and form a functional military unit to conduct a brazen assault of a Nazi chateau in France just prior to the D-Day landings, thereby inspiring confusion in the Wermacht officer class.


When I read Romans 5 and think about this novel (I’m reading both simultaneously), I get yet another picture of Christ saving the helpless, hopeless, and otherwise irredeemable.




We were yet sinners at the point just before we were saved. Not unlike the Dirty Dozen awaiting punishment for horrible crimes, destined for the hangman’s noose like Enos Gardiner, but at the last second when all seems lost, we got a reprieve.


I’m trying to conceptualise what it must be like to be a condemned man on death row and then to suddenly, without expectation, be told that the hanging is no longer happening. It would be simultaneously real and unreal the next morning on waking up.


Real, as in I expected to be dead but I’m waking up alive.


Unreal, as in, how can this be? And will pinching myself actually convince me that it’s true?


It’s in a state of abject hopelessness that we have suddenly been presented with hope. I glimpse a picture of this scene through the lyrics to ‘Come to the table’ by Sidewalk Prophets:


“Just when all hope seems lost

Love opened the door for us…”




The kingdom available to those formerly considered unclean, ruffians and vagabonds. We are invited to the table.


A quote I read recently by John MacArthur: ‘God is more willing to save sinners than sinners are to be saved.’ The imperative is that the banquet must be full.




Paul writes: ‘Very rarely will someone die for a righteous person, although for a good person someone might possibly dare to die.’ (Verse 7).


I’ve never been a member of the military, although I have great admiration for those who have served in the finest units with valorous distinction. I wouldn’t have ever been any good at it: I prefer to not be cannon fodder for what could possibly some nameless battle in a pointless war that is predicated on the exercise of politics instead of a righteous cause of defeating a moral evil.


Politics and power? Not worth dying for.

A man who serves a cause that is right? It’s rare that someone would give up their lives for such a person.

A good man? A benevolent man? Some people might.


Scripture contrasts this with what He did for us. In the logical economy, were we even worth a drop of sweat? Worth even a thought?


And yet He considered it worth His life.


It’s a profound thought to get one’s head around. Paul then argues that if God saved us when we were his enemies, how much more will He love us now that we are His children.




God’s grace is incredibly extravagant, going beyond the dirty dozen.


The filthy thirteen.

The sinful several billion.

The grace greater than gold.

Holy Spirit moments

I’m not your typical prayer warrior but there is definitely a list of people that I pray for on a regular basis. Owing to the fact that I miss a day here and there, I’m not that guy that lives and breathes prayer like some people do.


That being said, my prayer landmarks are as known as the features on my face (I’m no oil painting).


Hello small nose, Buenos Dias grey hairs and recently shaven neck-line. Howdie there male-pattern hairline and Austin Powers spectacles.


I run through the familiar list in my head as I find my regular bay in the parking lot every morning


…those who need repentance and faith; sometimes classified by generation, sometimes by family grouping, sometimes by patriarchal delineations…


…then those waking up in pain that morning – physical pain, pain from mourning, both fresh and longer term wounds, years in the past but still remembered, like scar tissue in the mirror every morning…


…then those who follow other religions…


…sometimes the prodigals.


All people the Father has a heart for.


Strange thing happened though: the week before last, I was working my way through the list, and without consciously thinking about it, I heard myself praying for my Chinese brothers and sisters being persecuted.


I hadn’t been thinking of China at the time and yet there they were in my prayer all of a sudden. It was like noticing something on my face that I’d skipped over for a long time.


And in the interim, its not like God used my prayer to re-order the geopolitical landscape in the Orient, and I’ll probably never find out, but I really think it was of God – a Holy Spirit moment.


It took on a different meaning in church the following Sunday when from the pulpit, they mentioned a fresh round of persecution for Chinese Believers by the Xi government. Naturally, we were urged to pray for our brother and sisters. I like very much that God had me offer a short prayer for them in advance of knowing what was happening.


It reinforces the idea that He knows what we’re going through. He saw the Children of Israel oppressed by the Egyptians and He sees His children being persecuted all over the world.


These Holy Spirit moments are unpredictable and authentic.


Like some random lady beaming out a 500 MW smile at me for no particular reason when I was having a rough morning (It made me remember that He smiled on me).


Like that time we skipped church on Sunday to do some time-sensitive banking and before we had to get ready, and on a whim, we put a Louie Giglio DVD on and the whole family engaged and sat still for a half hour – a miracle in and of itself.

Breakfast and Bible

Like the early Saturday morning I woke up and instead of putting on a DVD, I cracked on with Romans and yoghurt and was fed both nutritionally and spiritually.






Holy Spirit moments.

Winter 2019

For he spoke and stirred up a tempest that lifted high the waves. (Psalm 107:25, NIV)
but a mist[a] went up from the earth and watered the whole face of the ground (genesis 2:6, RSV)
On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. (Revelation 22:2, NIV)
When he thunders, the waters in the heavens roar; he makes clouds rise from the ends of the earth. He sends lightning with the rain and brings out the wind from his storehouses. (Jeremiah 51:16, NIV)
Mesmerizing mist

Sharpened by battle

Romans 5: Paul is moving on from the fundamental truths of what happens in and to the Believer to the question of what happens next, how we grow and mature. The question is whether this whole way of living simply by faith will work. There are two ways of being hit in the head, with not much difference in the result. We either see it coming and wince, or we are sucker-punched.


We immediately have peace with God, access to God and the hope of glory. These fit us for heaven but it is our duty and calling to live the Christian way on earth.




The use of hardship as a tool to the Christian is much like war to a soldier. From reading a stack of books over a long period of time I know that professional soldiers are not war-junkies. Their eyes are fully open to the horrors of war and what it can do to themselves and their brothers and yet they are alive with excitement when they’re called upon to deploy.




Every soldier engages with discipline to prepare himself and the only way he can know if he is what he thinks he is, is to test himself in combat. Will he pass the test? Will he thrive as a soldier in battle? It’s the same for the Believer.

Sharpened by the battle

I realise the implications of what I’m saying: People have been hammered by circumstances, some are going through a spiritual battle even now. I do not relish the idea of hardship, which I suppose makes me a below-par Christian. I was thinking a lot about the thesis in the Marvel Cinematic Universe about the baddie, Thanos, and his Malthusian notion that the universe is overpopulated and needs culling. To achieve the balance, he sets out to acquire the infinity gauntlet with the applicable stones and snap half the universe out of existence. Our heavenly Father has created and refuses to uncreate. Nobody is phased out of existence and His goal is not balance (which is sufficient as a comic-book level motivation but that’s about all) but salvation and thereafter maturity.

Screenshot: Marines in training

For all men to be saved.


For all saved men to be mature.


And it’s in the service of both of these outcomes that God uses suffering. I wish there were another way, but it’s His wisdom, His prerogative and the best that I can do is let my wounds make me a better soldier, a sharper instrument.


To quote…myself:


“Cling to Him

Even if He allowed you to be wounded

Even if He wounded you”


The algebra of Grace

Do me a favour, and go to the live US debt clock which constantly updates a running number as to the debt accumulated by the Federal government:


That’s some scary stuff right there. As at Monday, 22 July 2019 the debt stands over $22 trillion. The guys in Congress seem disinclined to deal with the problem and the clock just keeps on ticking like a quaint gimmick that can tickle the funny bone of a person who has the curiosity to look it up.

According to a gander of Forbes.com, the world’s ultra wealthy are only collectively worth $8.7 which is far below the level of US Federal debt.

Taking the difficult path to settling this debt, or rolling it back ever so incrementally, is not politically on the table, an unsolvable problem created by congressional intransigence combined with the thrill of spending other people’s money.

The math problem isn’t only inherent in scenarios with pure numbers, but with potential numbers as well. Like a debt clock ticking ever further away from a solution, peace in the Middle East hurtles towards greater levels of unsolvability. Numbers rack up: days since the last violent incident, the number of victims on either side, the compounding of incorrigibility in succeeding generations.

Plot social trends on a graph and you will see that Republicans and Democrats in the U.S. have moved so far away from each other that there is barely common ground. Trends in South Africa also present a problem when it comes to statistics for joblessness, social security, and upward mobility.

These are all problems that people with far greater knowledge than me grapple with today, and have for years, decades, sometimes centuries. Simply put, the math doesn’t add up. These are only the problems I know about…there’s a whole six-pack of cans full of worms worth of problems and unresolved questions:


All these problems and questions are actually beyond us. We cannot solve them, which should be a blow to our hubris. I glimpsed an equation in words to a song this Sunday in church, words I had heard often and suddenly saw the algebra of Grace at work: one one side my moral debt, on the other side God’s righteousness and in-between the not-equal sign.

The words: ‘of the grace that is greater than all my sin’.

The symbol for greater-than.

Of the grace that is greater than all my sin…

Grace > my sin. This is an equation that takes place daily and the debt clock is reset to zero. Grace is scandalous (why should He pay it?), breath-taking, load-lifting and frankly, not truly comprehensible.

My sin may not be as bad as some, but it may as well have been $22 trillion. I couldn’t pay it.

Thank heaven for the algebra of Grace.