Random reflections

When the prophet Job was tested and lost just about everything, after he had contemplated his losses, he asked questions of God which basically boiled down to ‘why me?’ In turn God peppered Job with eighty or more questions that although Job wouldn’t have an answer for, Job would be able to read between the lines and get the message that perhaps he would simply have to concede that his perspective was limited and to trust God.

Questions are valuable and invite contemplation. Some questions actually don’t have any answers – at least that we would know – and only in the mind of God is everything known. The following is a sample of some of the questions that I’ve been thinking about lately:

Will the South African cricket team ever win a world cup of any iteration?
For as long as I’ve been following sport, cricket has been there and has provided part of my identity as a South African male. The T20 final will be played tomorrow between England and the West Indies. Once again, in a final, South Africa is not there to finish things off and win. In every cricket world cup that South Africa has been a part of there has been an epic choke at one time or another. Some believe that the national psyche is damaged by years of racial politics in sport and that is the reason we will likely never win it. I would be happy to be proven wrong.

How do the leaders of countries get themselves and us into such a mess?
Robert Mugabe, Jacob Zuma, Barack Obama, Tony Blair, Vladimir Putin, David Cameron, and foremost in my mind lately, Angela Merkel have taken their countries to some pretty dark places in situations that have marred their legacy and some that are still developing now. History is supposed to serve as a lesson in what mistakes not to repeat and it seems that the current crop of world leaders is doing a pretty bad job. Is it because they have lost their perspective? Or are surrounded by advisors with an agenda? Or are they simply out of their depth? What is wrong with us the voters who keep electing them?

How far will the political West go in submitting to Islam?
There was a time when freedom of speech was vigorously safe-guarded in the West and it appears that since 9/11 the political class in the West (US, UK, Rest of Europe) came to the conclusion that if their countries treat Muslims with more respect and cede a bit of their freedoms, that everyone would be able to live in harmony. Rodney King once famously asked in the context of race relations in the US, ‘cant we all just get along?’ Well, what is free speech worth to you? Are you willing to submit to Islam? This is basically what the geo-politics now boils down to. You are allowed to praise Mohammed, however if you criticise Mohammed what will happen? I you remove the freedom of your citizens to criticise Islam what will the results be? Can we even guess?

Will there ever be an end to ‘racism’ as a political tool?
According to the Scriptures we are one race, the human race. And we’re not even a very nice race at times when you come to think of it. We have major problems, moral problems, mental problems, spiritual problems, you name it. We are one race but many ethnicities, so more properly if we display bias towards or against a people-group we are committing ‘ethnism’. Because of the complete over-use of the term ‘racism’ it has essentially lost its meaning. Regardless of what it is called, I’m not sure there will ever be an end to people using ethnic differences to manipulate groups of people for political gain. Sadly.

Will we run out of oil soon?
Objectively speaking, the oil deposits trapped in the earth are finite. The Daily Mail website reported today that the Saudis have built up a war chest amounting to slightly more than 2 TRILLION dollars in preparing for the day when oil deposits will run out. They’re the guys who are running the biggest oil cartel in the world and they know that the fun will stop someday. When it does they will have a purse that would be the envy of a hundred Gupta families. By the time that happens people will have figured out a way to live without the oil. That’s what people do. We’re a sinful lot however we are collectively very clever. You can bet your last buck that someone will make a heap of money out of everyone though.

Is there anything better than a braai?
I’m not sure. Will let you know later this afternoon…

Balancing the books

You’ve probably heard the name: Bernard L. Madoff. It’s been in the news but maybe you’ve forgotten the salient points; Bernie Madoff was born 29 April 1938 and is about to mark his 78th birthday while serving year seven in custody in a 150 year sentence.

Bernie is in prison because his fraud was profound, and frankly unprecedented. When time came for his sentencing the federal guidelines had only envisioned fraud amounting in the millions of dollars. Bernie had committed fraud to the tune of $64.8 billion, over 40 times what legislators had envisioned as the maximum that a fraudster would filch. The investment management division of Bernard L. Madoff Investment Securities, which was founded in the 1980s, received investments from individuals, other funds, banks and companies and promised a return of 10%. Such good returns – even in years when the markets did poorly – could not be replicated by other investment firms who wondered how Bernie was managing to do it all.

Most people just thought he was awesome at investments and did not question things too much. Bernie however was engaged in a Ponzi scheme of epic proportions and probably didn’t intend for things to get so out of hand. But it all came crashing down on 11 December 2008 when he was arrested, and if anyone had to guess they might imagine that Bernie knows by now – if he knew anything – that it simply wasn’t worth it.

The financial toll was staggering for the countless investors who trusted Bernie; some couples and families were literally wiped out, and there are people who literally lost millions. Those investors who were flimflammed proverbially put all their eggs in one basket. This idea doesn’t make much sense in this savvy and risk-averse culture however there are always people taking big risks for a potentially big reward. As long as there are people with money there will be schemers with a way to re-distribute the wealth their way.

You have to have money to make more of it. It doesn’t grow on trees and certainly didn’t in the Garden of Eden. Genesis records that the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil had seeds and that Eve considered it good for eating, which is how we know it wasn’t a stack of $100 bills. Traditionally, wisdom means that we mitigate risk and manage it, hence investment firms, stock brokers with portfolios, long and short term insurance. Whole industries are predicated on the idea of risk management and risk-aversion.

How different this is in the Kingdom of Heaven, which seems to make little sense in the light of our daily, worldly experience. The Kingdom of Heaven says in sum that we should put all our eggs in one basket if that means that we trust God with everything. In the Kingdom, diversification is bad and the economy works very differently.

In the Kingdom, the first will be last and the last first. Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven. The poor in spirit know that they are in need and that this world’s economy could one day Madoff them, but God’s economy never will. It may seem foolish to trust God that much and to extravagantly ‘waste’ one’s life doing his will but those who do are blessed. Do you remember the story of the woman who broke the alabaster jar of perfume and poured it over Jesus? What that woman did was profound and Jesus understood the gesture, and the disciples did not, and that woman is remembered for the right reasons. It seemed wasteful, however to that woman, the contents of the jar were worth a lot and that made it a sacrifice. Another lesson here: you can’t worship Him enough.

Jesus told a parable of the Master who came to settle accounts as recorded in Matthew 18. This illustrates that the Master’s accounting is precise and what is more, fair and balanced in accordance with the degree of skill of the servant.

The world’s economy is vastly different from God’s economy however the principle of debit and credit can be applied to the keeping of books. His books always balance and where there is a debit – as there is from time to time – He uses his Grace account to wipe out the debt.

Bernie Madoff owes a moral debt for the crimes he committed and in the economy of God – if Bernie Madoff wants to appropriate it – that moral debt can be wiped clean.

Matthew 6: 19 – 21

19“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

As they say in the classics

I remember as a very young Christian attending Edgemead AoG before it became trendy to do so. Before Powerpoint presentations and sound systems and Hillsong (that’s how far back I go), there was Pastor Noel Cromhout and John Martin as elder in the congregation.

We would sing ye olde classic hymns that didn’t need drums and electric guitar and I think everyone was pleased with the arrangement. And though I never really spoke with elder John Martin, just from his demeanour at the pulpit and his general smoothness, I considered him a rock star and wanted one day to be like him.  He has since fallen asleep and yet the memory of him remains to this day.

There’s something about experience in life and the perspective of having been through it that is genuine and timeless. Just this past weekend I was reviewing the singing scenes from ‘The Sound of Music’ with my daughter, who has yet to enjoy some of the classics that I intend to introduce her to.  In one scene Fraulein Maria is dancing with Captain von Trapp and the subtleties of their reaction to each other speak volumes. She gets red-faced dancing with a man that she has feelings for. How demure, how realistic if you compare it with the ham-fisted, overbearing and over-the-top way of telling stories in movies nowadays.  Bad writing, CGI and near-porn is not art, no matter the budget. Several films spring to mind.

I reckon that’s why people love the classics. They have stood the test of time and date well. I also think of Clint Eastwood’s classic, ‘The Outlaw Josey Wales’ where the script writer came up with pearls that are quotable today, and so much more appropriate than our rap culture type of language today that relies on profanities beginning with an ‘s’ or an ‘f’.

From the movie:

Senator: Fletcher, there’s an old saying, to the victors belong the spoils.

Fletcher: There’s another old saying Senator. Don’t [pee] down my back and tell me it’s raining.

-*-

Bounty hunter #1: You’re wanted, Wales.

Josey Wales: Reckon I’m right popular. You a bounty hunter?

Bounty hunter #1: A man’s got to do something for a living these days.

Josey Wales: Dyin’ ain’t much of a living, boy.

-*-

Grandma Sarah: This Mr. Wales is a cold-blooded killer. He’s from Missouri, where they’re all known to be killers of innocent men, women and children.

Lone Watie: Would you rather be riding with Comancheros, Granny?

Grandma Sarah: No, I wouldn’t.

-*-

The 1993 movie ‘In The Line of Fire’ feature’s Eastwood’s character trying to get his law enforcement partner to bring back an old-fashioned word: cockamamie. Everything about Eastwood in that movie is classic.

I appreciate very much the old timers that have been through it all and have heaps of experience but almost zero the arrogance; I could only hope to be as wise some day.

Proverbs 4 advises that wisdom is really important (and from my limited experience, superior to mere knowledge):

My children,[a] listen when your father corrects you.
Pay attention and learn good judgment,
for I am giving you good guidance.
Don’t turn away from my instructions.
For I, too, was once my father’s son,
tenderly loved as my mother’s only child.

My father taught me,
“Take my words to heart.
Follow my commands, and you will live.
Get wisdom; develop good judgment.
Don’t forget my words or turn away from them.
Don’t turn your back on wisdom, for she will protect you.
Love her, and she will guard you.
Getting wisdom is the wisest thing you can do!
And whatever else you do, develop good judgment.
If you prize wisdom, she will make you great.
Embrace her, and she will honor you.
She will place a lovely wreath on your head;
she will present you with a beautiful crown.”

Of course the acquiring of wisdom comes at a cost of life experiences; failures and first chances squandered so that second chances take on new meaning, learning the lesson that only He is really in control, that our ability to manipulate things is illusory.

He is the one we should always look to…and I’ve found that the old timers are great reflections of the fear of the Lord, the beginning of wisdom;

As Fraulein Maria says: When the Lord closes a door, somewhere He opens a window.

As for me and my house

Today is one of those days when I look at the news and almost lose hope for the human race. In addition to my own personal sinful proclivities, I learned that Islamists have reportedly crucified a catholic priest over the holy weekend, along with the news that 70 or more Pakistani Christians were murdered by ‘suicide bomb’ as they were celebrating the Easter holiday in a park. Never mind the attacks in Brussels last week that took the lives of more than 30 Belgians.

It’s difficult to be able to look beyond that and connect with God in the midst of this context. How much more difficult must it be for the Christians who are directly suffering?

From an article by Joseph Scheumann on www.desiringgod.org, the author says that suffering:

  1. Is multi-faceted and complex (there are more ways of suffering than Smartie colors)
  2. Happens in a context of community; we seldom suffer alone, church is about sharing the load with fellow believers,
  3. Prepares those who have suffered to minister to those who are going through a similar crucible,
  4. Is a battleground where there are two options (a lesson learned from Job): curse God or praise Him in the midst of suffering,
  5. Prepares us for glory; after all, this world is not all there is.

Scripture says in the book of Isaiah that Jesus himself was a man of sorrows and familiar with suffering.

Try and picture the following verses as Believers looking back on the times they may have doubted God and felt overwhelmed with their mortality and now in heaven can say the following:

Isaiah 25:8-9New Living Translation (NLT)

He will swallow up death forever!
The Sovereign Lord will wipe away all tears.
He will remove forever all insults and mockery
against his land and people.
The Lord has spoken!

In that day the people will proclaim,
“This is our God!
We trusted in him, and he saved us!
This is the Lord, in whom we trusted.
Let us rejoice in the salvation he brings!”

As for me and my household we will praise the Lord…

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An Introduction

On the eve of Whitmonday (the day after Pentecost) in 1865, an English school teacher and curate, Sabine Baring-Gould quickly knocked out the lyrics to a marching song for a group of kids that were to march from Horbury to Yorkshire, later apologising for the faulty lines and the speed with which the marching song was written – 15 minutes.

Today however it is one of the enduring hymns of the church. Sometimes the things with smallest beginnings endure to everyone’s surprise.

On 27 November 2009, while visiting Tracy in hospital she told us all that she had dreamt about this song and that it was for us. Tracy was in hospital because of a lung disease that was never diagnosed – she fell asleep on 11 June 2011 at 36 years of age – and in the intervening years, like soldiers, we her family have had to continue marching.

The meaning of this life and the next is found in knowing God, who created us and has a plan for all of us, and this is the truth that we walk in and the truth that Tracy walked in and is our destiny.

Meet your new manager
Meet your new manager

In Paul’s letter of 2 Timothy he says to “endure suffering along with [him], as a good soldier of Christ Jesus.” The world is a fallen place and there have always been wars and there always will be wars until the return of Christ, and soldiers have therefore always been with us, as has suffering. The motto of the United States Marine Corps is the Latin ‘Semper Fidelis’, where they pledge to always be faithful to the Corps. We are in a greater army, a heavenly Corps and we will be faithful to our Commander and King. This blog is an invitation for you to consider your place in His Kingdom and continue to march as a good soldier into the future and destiny that He has laid out for you, never giving up or surrendering to temptation or despair.

Atten-hut!