Four or five beards ago, whilst socialising at Bible study one evening, a remark was made about my facial fuzz and how it bore a resemblance to the infamous terrorist, Osama bin Laden.


A throw-away remark, a light-hearted tease and yet that very evening I broke out the razor and shaving foam. And for a few weeks until the next beard started to take shape, my wife was happy.


Why grow a beard? It’s one of those glorious distinctions between men and women and I grow a beard because I can, although at the same time I admire that about 90% of the men can grow much more awesome and thick beards than I can.


Women cannot grow beards – except perhaps for a limited number of carnival freaks – especially if you consider that they have too low an amount of testosterone. But when I wear one, as much as it grows on my face, it belongs to my wife too. One flesh and all that.


Not all men can grow a decent beard; as I alluded to, mine looks like a bare rug with two or three wisps compared to some guys who look like they’re wearing an afghan carpet on their face. Of course, beard kung-fu has nothing to do with virility. Men are men; they grunt, chew meat, and are generally showmen who like to posture and are useful for opening jars and bottles in the kitchen.


Pretty much most of the Biblical characters in Scripture had beards, and Christ almost certainly had one. In Middle Eastern culture of the day, it was shameful not to have one and in 2 Samuel 10, an incident is recorded which shows Hanun have the beards of David’s servants shaved in half.


Maybe it’s silly, but when I think about facial hair, there are various kinds that seem harmless and others that have certain connotations.

Chuck Norris

The beards worn by Jesus (no photos of that), as well as by Chuck Norris and Robert Spencer are good beards. The ones worn by Osama bin Laden and Al Gore don’t seem as friendly.

Famous moustache

Similar to moustaches: Tom Selleck = good, Saddam Hussein = bad. And the guys in these photos just look comical (although I’m slightly jealous):


It must be remembered though that beard or none doesn’t matter to the measure of a man; that’s a very internal thing and a lesson that Samuel learned in 1 Samuel 16:


But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”


From informal polling done of Muslim men, I’ve discovered that they grow a beard because of their prophet, to model after his reported appearance. And unfortunately for them, beards have become associated with unstable guys with ammo and PETN.


As Christians, whether bearded, goateed or clean shaven, we are to model Christ who in eternity transcends male grooming patterns anyway. No Scripture that I’ve read indicates God the Father has a beard.


However, Scripture does have something interesting to say about my graying mane:


“29 The glory of young men is their strength,
gray hair the splendor of the old.” (Proverbs 20:29)



Hopefully, the older I get, the better I will be as a Believer, whether bearded, goateed or clean shaven.

Thoughts on the rain

The City of Cape Town has traffic signboards along the N1 between Cape Town and Paarl that typically display information about traffic conditions ahead for the driver. The water situation in the city has been dire for some time and the signs remind the driver every day that the dams are currently at 20% or lower and that there are X amount of days of water left. We are all well informed.


Is rainlessness a word? We’re all thinking about rain and if my informal record keeping is correct, December was a dry month with a spit and a spot on 27 January and now within the space of 5 days in March, it has rained twice and although it’s not enough I think I can feel a collective sigh of relief. The rain on Monday evening just past though came with thunder and lightning.

Long awaited rain

The path of water from the surface of the earth to the sky and back down through the advent of rain is so normal it is taken for granted.


He makes his rain fall on the righteous and the unrighteous however he also withholds his rain: In the book of Revelation, the two witnesses in the end times faithfully represent God in the most evil of times:


“3 And I will give power to my two witnesses, and they will be clothed in burlap and will prophesy during those 1,260 days.”

4 These two prophets are the two olive trees and the two lampstands that stand before the Lord of all the earth. 5 If anyone tries to harm them, fire flashes from their mouths and consumes their enemies. This is how anyone who tries to harm them must die. 6 They have power to shut the sky so that no rain will fall for as long as they prophesy. And they have the power to turn the rivers and oceans into blood, and to strike the earth with every kind of plague as often as they wish.” (NLT)


The presence of rain should have a similar effect to a lack of rain: to remind man that he is dependent on God. When there is too much rain, who doesn’t think of Noah and the flood, especially when a rainbow appears in the sky? And when it stops raining for a while, who do we entreaty? God of course.


Serious researchers have discovered that the flood account of Noah in Scripture is not some mere cute story but has a generational memory in many widely separated cultures, including most famously the Gilgamesh epic which contains many familiar elements from the account of Noah. In other words, there really was a universal flood and generations past remember it.


The rainbow is also known as the war bow because after the flood had satisfied God’s righteous anger, it resembled a bow with the ends pointed down: a picture that might evoke a modern day equivalent, that of a gun lowered: the judgement by water was over.


As much as rain has a meaning in Scripture, so does lightning.


As recorded in Luke 17, the Pharisees again, as they did many times, asked Jesus a question: When will the kingdom of God come?


The Pharisees were a twisted lot who outwardly were concerned about God and the kingdom but who closer to the chest were concerned about self-righteousness and their spiritual hegemony. And they just plan didn’t like Jesus because he threatened that. More than likely, their question about the kingdom supposed that the kingdom was political, and they looked for signs of Rome’s weakness and evidence of Jewish resurgence. And Jesus’ answer corrected their erroneous thinking.


“Jesus replied, “The Kingdom of God can’t be detected by visible signs.* 21 You won’t be able to say, ‘Here it is!’ or ‘It’s over there!’ For the Kingdom of God is already among you.*”” (NLT)


“24 For as the lightning flashes and lights up the sky from one end to the other, so it will be on the day when the Son of Man comes.” (NLT)


The Pharisees were thinking too parochially. The kingdom was not – and isn’t now – a political entity with a visible power infrastructure that can be frustrated. It resides in the hearts of men but when it does make an appearance everyone will see it. Like lightning. Lightning is impossible to ignore and its not usually mistaken for a namby pamby street lamp.


That’s what it will be like when the kingdom is revealed at the end.


Adapted from “Gascoigne’s Good Morrow,” (George Gascoigne; 17th century poet)


“The rainbow bending in the sky bedecked with sundry hues

Is like the seat of God on high, and seems to tell these news—

That as thereby he promised to drown the world no more

So by the blood which Christ has shed He will our health restore . . .

Unto such joys for to attain God grants us all his grace

And send us after worldly pain in Heaven to have a place,

Where we may still enjoy the light which never shall decay

Lord, for this mercy lend us might to see that joyful day.”

Here am I

The theologian John Piper recently wrote an article about the missionary to the Muslim world in the last century, Samuel Zwenger.


Articles and books written about missionaries are actually hard core and just about scare the pants off a guy like me who gets stressed out in traffic or the prospect of a long month. It makes me uncomfortable to consider the sacrifices that these guys make to present the gospel.


Zwenger handed out Christian literature at Al Azhar university in Cairo and yet lived to tell the tale. Something like this would not even be attempted nowadays, a sure sign that Zwenger had some divine covering in going to the Muslim world.


It has occurred to me that the world is a scary place and not always receptive to the gospel. I think of a painting or lithograph I saw once in an old dusty encyclopaedia of French children embarking on a foolhardy crusade to the Terra Sancta (Holy Land). As it turns out, with a surfeit of enthusiasm, and being convinced by a demonstrably false prophet, a few thousand children followed him to the seaport serving as a point of embarkation for the crusade. Half-baked plan and a heap of presumption led those French children into servitude and death.


However, when God does the calling – as Zwenger must have been convinced of – then whatever happens must be used by Him. From a human point of view, a guy like Joseph, betrayed and sold into slavery, would not seem to follow a path that could be used by God in any way, and yet by the final chapter of Genesis, Jacob’s tribe is rescued and Joseph is second only to the pharaoh. The country of Egypt has fallen a long way down since that time.


Samuel Zwenger faced trials too, losing his young daughters overseas, and later losing his wife. This is hard core stuff, but he endured it. And yes, the pants are still sacred off me in thinking about it.


Would I be willing to hear and obey if God told me as he told Abram?


“The Lord had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.” (Genesis 12:1, NIV)


Would I be willing to offer?


“Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I. Send me!”” (Isaiah 6:8, NIV)


I remember reading through ‘In the footsteps of Jesus’ by Bruce Marchiano (1997) where the actor Bruce was taking part in a mission play Down Under in Oz, lying on the floor and staring at a hair ball with a dead spider in it and feeling like he didn’t want to be there and yet when God calls, who can resist?


What I was thinking is that God expects our push-back and reticence and knows all along that we’ll end up going where He says, and in the process of disagreeing with Him, we learn wisdom, patience and humility and a bunch of other things. All this thinking from reading an article on


Now that’s hard core.

The Enoch academy

There is a place in the Natal midlands called Marianhill Monastery where some school boys once went on an outing back in the 80’s.


I remember the bus ride, and the sense of peace and quiet at the monastery, a monk in overalls who was repairing a car and a few guys tending to plants. This takes me right back to the evenings before sleep when I used to worry about whether I would be assigned to the army or navy for national service which was mandatory for all boys leaving school.


To my unsophisticated reasoning, I had also observed the pace of modern life and vowed to not get on the great hamster wheel of crazy living because once on, how do you get off, right?


Who wouldn’t be drawn to a quiet, unassuming life of work and devotion?  As a casual student of Scripture, I was always fascinated with the account of Enoch who is mentioned in a list of genealogies in the 5th chapter of Genesis:


“Enoch walked faithfully with God; then he was no more, because God took him away.” (v 24, NIV)


Enoch became the father of Methuselah and we can conclude that he had a wife and a number of children according to this account. And yet he was able to walk so intimately with God that God took him directly home, seemingly without the normal agency of death.


I wanted to be like Enoch but saw the only possible way as monasticism and a withdrawing from the world, but of course that is not what He has called us to. As the church, we reflect God who engages with the world and human beings as opposed to withdrawing. The Enoch academy is not hiding from the world behind the walls of a religious community but being a part of it.


If Enoch was able to start and raise a family and be concerned with the world in his time, and simultaneously draw near to God, then it should be possible for us.


These days, I also look at Enoch’s being taken away as a template for the rapture. There are many schools of thought by guys a lot smarter than me – with more degrees than a thermometer – as to what the rapture is and whether it even exists as we understand it. Whether I experience it or not is not the point, but to have the same posture and experience that Enoch did: it’s walking with God, not sprinting.

A fine vintage

Some days on the commute to work, I become surprised at the amount of Sharks decals on cars, particularly since Cape Town is the home of the Stormers. And I’m left with two possibilities: either the Sharks fans from Natal have become part of a large diaspora and many have settled in Cape Town, or the Sharks have a lot of fans from the 1990’s when they had their breakthrough decade and those people still support the team based on those performances.


What do the Sharks have to do with the price of eggs? Or being a Christian soldier? Well, it comes down to people. On Facebook, a meme emerged of a picture of a rugby player with the words overlaid: ‘Jesus loves the All Blacks’ and I have no doubt that he does. I’ve long been of the opinion however that he can’t possibly be impressed by their shady tactics in the pursuit of winning.


It has also emerged from a poll that I’ve seen online that many in the U.S. who watch football pray for God to help their team win.


I’m not so sure about that but I have prayed for the Sharks as men and for God to grant them a good game.


I’ve also recently had a penchant for listening to Frank Sinatra on my daily commute owing to a renaissance of discovery of all the more palatable older music than a lot of the shlock that passes for listening entertainment these days. And Sinatra sang this song about life and women and how it’s like a fine wine that ages. I thought the lyrics were very well written and the idea quite clever.


According to stuff I’ve read about Frank, he loved women like he would have loved wine had he sampled from multiple vineyards. I’m a little different in my partiality to my wife and a taste for merlot, to the exclusion of all other wines and women.


Supporting the Sharks is very much the way Frank Sinatra described wine, women and life. It matures as we do and hopefully concludes with the song:

“But now the days are short, I’m in the autumn of the years
And now I think of my life as vintage wine
From fine old kegs
From the brim to the dregs
It poured sweet and clear
It was a very good year”


When I was 17, it was a very good year. And when I was 37 and 40, where the Sharks won the Currie Cup. There have also been times in-between when epic games against implacable opponents have been won, like in 2014 when a 13-man Sharks squad beat the Crusaders on their home turf. Or like 2012, as with 2014, making it to the finals only to fall short where what could have been is so agonizing.


I may yet go through my years without the Sharks ever winning the Super Rugby title however I doubt that 2013 is going to be their last Currie Cup title and at the conclusion of my support when I go to what Shakespeare called ‘the Undiscovered country’, I think the vintage will be sweet and clear, a very good year.


Although perhaps, at the end of it all, I won’t give a flying tick’s flatulent outburst in space about the Sharks at the conclusion of my vintage. At the end of the day, I just want to end well and strong and be able to look back and think that it was good.

Vault 7

It’s been a fairly exciting week, like something out of a le Carré spy novel with revelations from Wikileaks that the CIA is using hacks, malware and back channels through software firewalls to spy on people via their smart phones, Samsung televisions, e-mails, and pretty much anything electronic.


Perhaps even computerized motor vehicles can be sabotaged, and what once was conspiratorial hyperbole has suddenly been confirmed as plausible.


Never have we had a US President tweeting about being spied on. And although we may have suspected the CIA of having almost magical powers of collecting SIGINT, now thanks to Wikileaks, we have confirmation.


This issue of not only of concern to Americans, but to all of us because the CIA has a remit to operate overseas and our devices are ripe for manipulation and spying.


Former Judge Andrew Napolitano rightly concludes that legislators have given rise to a monster that having been born is greedy for more.


This situation echoes the creation of ‘The Machine’ as portrayed in the sci-fi series ‘Person of Interest’. Privacy has become a myth.


While the enemies of the West revert to trade-craft from the 1980’s to bypass the electronic methods of the CIA or NSA, the average Westerner’s inner thoughts and motivations are prone to the sticky hands or peeping Tom eyes of Uncle Sam or its contemporaries.


While it is true that God sees everything and in that sense we are never alone, I find myself willing to trust the Heavenly Father fare more than a government agency with my otherwise private thoughts.


When we pray or fast, we have a Father who sees what is done in secret as Christ reminds us in Matthew chapter 6.


For the believer, it behoves us to avoid secrecy and actually ask God to examine us. From Psalm 139:


23 Search me, God, and know my heart;
test me and know my anxious thoughts.
24 See if there is any offensive way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting. (NIV)


The Ides of March approaches, which commemorates the assassination of Julius Caesar. When people know what you think, and when they don’t like what you think, you may have power to influence and that may be a danger to someone with an agenda.


The CIA doesn’t target everyone for assassination, but neither do they appear to be particularly vigilant with people’s secrets.


And in a supreme irony they who have taken secrets are now exposed. We cannot know what OPSEC may have been compromised by the divulging of methodology, however the spy agencies have operated without consequence for some time against the people they claim to represent.


They will adapt and move on.


But don’t you like how God keeps a secret. And moreover, despite what he finds on examining us, continues to work with and support and provide for us.

Confession is good for the soul

I didn’t have a particularly hedonistic Saturday: a kiddies party and entertaining, perhaps eating a little too many sausage rolls, but nothing that qualifies as gluttony, sloth or avarice. The Sharks won their home outing against the Waratahs but I did not given in to the temptation of pride.


And yet on a perfectly ordinary Sunday morning praying through a prayer of confession prayed countless times before, I became thankful for confession and the ledger that balances it with forgiveness and repentance.


The whole idea that His mercies are new every morning.


For many people, especially the trendy and cool, talk of sin and repentance is not very fashionable, and the alternative – to mollycoddle sin and embrace it – leads to a familiar human story without a happy ending. Ask the many broken lives in Hollywood, or the fashion or music industry.


I came across a link to an article on Drudge Report about priests and exorcists seeing an increase in people flirting with evil.


This has led to an increase in the need for exorcisms. It’s something which the Catholic Church has formalised in the training of priests but for some reason isn’t emphasised in the evangelical tradition. The key remark in giving the context is that “the ordinary work of the devil is temptation, so it is sin that gives him a foothold in people’s lives. They all encouraged people to have strong prayer lives and to go to confession and receive the Eucharist frequently.”


The context: “Father Lampert cautions people not to give too much attention to the devil, as well. “The focus should be on God and Jesus Christ,” he said. “When I remind myself that God is in charge, it puts everything in perspective, and the worry and fear dissipates.””


The main point is that walking closely to God will see to it that your soul is protected. And God is pretty serious about looking after his sheep.

Ready to repel fake news

There’s been a lot of hay in the news media lately about ‘fake news’ and as someone who studied with a view to journalism, these are exciting times because the world of news reporting is being shaken up and it’s about time.


The media has long held to the notion that they are the fourth estate, standing as a bastion guarding the helpless public against the excesses of the other three estates: the legislative, the executive and the judiciary, in other words the all-powerful state government. Little did they imagine that they had largely become the establishment which they claimed to despise.


CNN was the main promoter of the idea that anything from the Trump campaign specifically and anything from the Republicans in general was ‘fake news’ however this term was applied as a fulcrum to expose CNN’s own bias by conservatives. And so when you lose control of a term, you re-brand and they came up with ‘viral deception’ about which some wit declared that CNN now has VD.


Put-downs have become faster and rebukes more vicious in our world, and it is in this world that the Christian lives with the task of holding out the gospel. In Peter’s first epistle he reminds the believer to do the following in the midst of cruel opposition:


“But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect” (verse 15)


It bears remembering that the enemy has infested popular and mainstream culture to such an extent that believers are daily bombarded with psy-ops. Doubts and fears are weapons of war, to which our defense is the Truth: Scripture. I’m of a mind this morning to apply Scripture to any situation that arises and moreover to quote it. The enemy hates it when we quote Scripture and really hates it when we do so in the proper context.


What’s happening in the news is merely a reflection of a fierce battle of ideas that is also taking place in the heavenlies. If we aren’t able to see the spiritual realm, we merely have to read the news to catch a glimpse.


It’s a time for the dishonest media to be hoist by their own petard, but more crucially, it’s a time for the church and individual believers to thrive in the climate of deception by holding out the truth.

Being prepared

I was listening to a sermon last week. The subject was eschatology – the doctrine of end things, a subject which many Christians tend to either not pay too much attention to, or pay too much attention to.


Greg Laurie was delivering the sermon and it was a recording from shortly after 9/11 and the most distilled point I derived from the sermon was a question. What will you be doing when Christ returns?


There are any number of things any of us can do at any time, and if Christ had to return you might ask yourself beforehand: is what I’m doing a good thing? And am I doing it correctly? In all seriousness, I would not like to be in my morning commute at the Second Coming because that is a time when I’m not at my best. Browsing through Drudge report ( recently I came across a curious headline about a man in Japan who died after a stack of porn 20 feet high collapsed on top of him. What an embarrassing way to go.


After looking it up, the story turned out to be somewhat ‘fake news’ (an overused term in today’s new cycle) as the stack hadn’t collapsed on him, but he did die from a heart attack and collapsed on the stack which didn’t hold its form but served as a magazine barrier preventing the fluids from his decaying corpse reaching the apartment below and leaving the body to remain undiscovered for months.


In the 12th chapter of Luke, Christ likens his return to servants waiting for their master to arrive from a wedding banquet (verse 35), and that they should have their loins girded in old parlance. In other words to be ready to go at a moment’s notice when the word is given.


The servants also have their lamps lit along with their garments ready. It is midnight and a great house is absent its master who can arrive back from the banquet at any time. With their robes tucked out of the way and lamps in their hand, they can go about their preparation and be looking at the same time. Think of Belinda Carlisle’s 80’s hit about her loved one leaving a light on for her.


Christ uses the picture of the owner of a house who would we waiting to repel a thief if he knew when the thief would try to break in. Who wouldn’t? If any one of us knew when Christ was returning we would be ready like we were given the name ‘Ready’ when we were born, but our Parents decided to call us something else instead. It’s the same idea: since we don’t know we should have a posture of readiness. Using a modern historical context, it would be like the Americans in their bunkers with their satellites and bombers on high alert looking at launches from the Soviet Union, on constant standby.


40 You also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.”


This morning I woke up thinking about the weekend and news on Twitter, whereas what I should be thinking about is the return of the King and ordering my thoughts and activities accordingly.


Because one day, at a time and place we don’t know, that could be it.

Preparing for war

A story is always better than a dry, sanitised technical treatise on any subject, which makes sense if we look at Scripture as being different from a scholarly and thoroughly annotated book on theology.


Scripture has theology and most often it’s in terms of a personal context; theology is always affecting someone, either by way of understanding or inspiration or punishment or in any number of ways.


Which is why I can appreciate an author, taking a dry technical report, and building a story around it, thus bringing things to our level and helping us understand the technical jargon. And so it is with Bill Forstchen, taking the subject matter of a report accessible on the internet (at and fashioning a story that personalises the facts and gives it such an emotional punch.


Forstchen’s novel ‘One Second After’ / Tor Books / 2009) places the protagonist, a professor and former military man, John Matherson, in the middle of a new dark age without technology, but as dangerous as ever. As part of the town council, John devises a way to defend the town of Black Mountain, North Carolina against a band of marauders named ‘The Posse’, using military tactics that work in any situation regardless of technical sophistication and based on the ubiquitous rifle and handgun.


It got me to wondering about if my suburb had to defend itself against marauders amidst an apocalyptic backdrop.


However, after Sunday’s sermon, I was reminded that as Christians we are at war constantly. If not involved in daily skirmishes, we are constantly – or should be – on a tactical footing.


Peter reminds the believers:


“8 Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings.” (1 Peter 5)


We have any enemy that Paul likens to a lion. A lion singles out the weakest prey in the herd and targets it, and to mitigate that we have to be vigilant, or as Paul says, to have a ‘sober mind’ and ‘alert’.


In time of war, it is a grievous offense for the soldier on watch to fall asleep or put himself in a position where he is vulnerable through drunkenness or other means. The Uniform Code of Military Justice labels it dereliction of duty and Title 10, Section 892, Article 92 is the relevant reference which probably most USMC grunts could quote off by heart.


I’m very much aware that there are three elements that tend to war against me as a Christian: The world, my own flesh, and the evil one. Before Sunday’s sermon, I realised that I’m much more vigilant pertaining to my own flesh and the world: I know when my flesh is pulling me in the wrong direction and I can spot falsehood and worldliness from a mile away.


I simply don’t think about the directional evil in the world, and Paul notes that it is good to be sober and alert and be ready to repel attack.


A good soldier is alert and sober, on watch, knowing that an enemy is targeting his weakness.


A good soldier is prepared with situational awareness, actively performing a threat assessment and having a tactical plan.


A good soldier is always training, reading Scripture and praying (imagine this cadence…”This is my bible. There are many like it but this one is mine…” from Full Metal Jacket).


A good soldier is filled with poise, precision and audacity to which must be added resolve.


A good soldier always seeks have the initiative and regain it if lost.


A good soldier is always carries out the orders of his Superior and relies on, as well as supports, his fellow soldiers.


Being a soldier is mainly about discipline because someone who is disciplined can be of use.