Beauty in difference

What does the Bible have to say about the current transformation debate spreading across our country? From start to end God has an unmatched heart and vision for all humanity. From the opening pages in Genesis where we are made in the precious image of God, through to Revelation where the people of God spend all eternity together. The central question in the gospels are ‘who are the true people of God?’ and almost every letter of the New Testament addresses the Jew-Gentile conflict to some degree. Let’s consider one such letter. Paul’s letter to the church in Rome.

Welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you for the glory of God.

                                                                                            Romans 15.7

The Roman Context

A few years before Paul wrote this letter, approximately two thirds of the church in Rome was Jewish, while the rest were Greek speaking Gentiles[1]. The gospel had taken root. Synagogues had been transformed into churches. But then tragically due to socio-political reasons, all the Jewish people were forced to leave Rome. They were forced to leave their places of work and worship as families and friends were torn apart by their relocation. Twelve or thirteen years later due to a change in Roman governance, the Jewish people were allowed to return to Rome. This is when Paul pens the letter to the church in Rome.

There had been a growing hostility between Jews and Gentiles and the return of the Jews to Rome only compounded things. It is into this context of hurt and hatred that the Apostle Paul writes “welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you for the glory of God”[2]. When Paul speaks about Jew Gentile unity it was radical. He boldly espoused a vision that there was “no Jew or Greek… for you are all one in Christ”[3] and that “Jesus himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility”[4]. We must see that this was radical inclusion to Gentiles and that it had massive implications on multicultural relationships. We must also sense just how similar their struggle was to ours. Let’s consider each part of Romans 15.7 beginning with the end phrase ‘glory of God’.

THE GLORIOUS VISION

Paul is captured by a vision. It is a vision that he was willing to die for and, as legend has it, he did die for. It’s a vision of all people, both Jew and Gentile glorifying God. How does this happen? The gospel of Jesus Christ. The first eight chapters of Romans is a prelude and explanation of the good news of Jesus. Paul shares the gospel and now in chapter fourteen and fifteen he deals with the implication of this good news; Jew and Gentile must welcome each other as Christ has welcomed you’. The mission of God is that his elect would experience his glory through the gospel. This vision runs throughout the entire Bible.

God made Adam and Eve and said they were ‘very good’[5] and the Psalmist says ‘I am fearfully and wonderfully made’[6]. Every human being born or unborn, irrespective of culture, sexuality or creed is sacred because they are formed and shaped by God in his invaluable image. In Genesis 12 God called a pagan man named Abram to follow him. God promised to make him into a great nation. A nation through whom God would bless all the people of the earth[7]. The nation would become Israel. But Israel forgot their mandate and abandoned the vision. God sent prophets reminding them that he had a plan to rescue and save people from the whole world and that he would do it through his chosen one; the new Israel, God’s perfect Son Jesus Christ. Paul says it this way and uses Old Testament prophecies to show that this has always been God’s plan.

For I tell you that Christ has become a servant of the Jews on behalf of God’s truth, so that the promises made to the patriarchs might be confirmed and, moreover, that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy. As it is written: “Therefore I will praise you among the Gentiles; I will sing the praises of your name.” Again, it says, “Rejoice, you Gentiles, with his people.” And again, “Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles; let all the peoples extol him.” And again, Isaiah says, “The Root of Jesse will spring up, one who will arise to rule over the nations; in him the Gentiles will hope.[8] Ultimately we know that the story concludes with the vision realised as the Apostle John saw it in Revelation. He sees in heaven “every tribe and every tongue worshiping God”[9]. This means that God values different cultures and different people so much so that I will retain some of it in heaven (e.g my characteristically “coloured” grammar!) Paul is a man captured by this biblical vision. Is this biblical vision your framework? Has this vision captured you? It is this biblical framework that inspired Nelson Mandela who was also a man captured by a vision.

I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal, which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.

                                                            Nelson Mandela

Martin Luther King too was captured by vision when unscripted Mahalia Jackson shouted from the crowd “Tell them about the dream, Martin!” and from his heart, from deep within his bones, unrehearsed he waxed lyrical about the vision:

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and we will live out the true meaning of its creed: “we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”

                                                                         Martin Luther King

The biblical framework has many implications and one implication is that it should guide our personal responses to our country’s need. Here are some of the needs we have as a nation. Half of our country go to bed hungry despite the country producing more than enough food[10]. One out of every four of South Africans are not only hungry but go to bed starving[11]. And the richest ten percent of South Africans own seventy five percent of its wealth, while fifty percent own just under three percent of the wealth.

There is something wrong with our country and we do need transformation and you are the influential ones who can fix it. But we need more than just statue toppling, we need people who see the worth and value of all human life. We need to be convinced not that we must merely pursue tolerance and a quota system but that we must value the beauty of difference. There are other visions calling for your allegiance, promising societal transformation yet only the vision of God will provide true heart transformation.

THE POWER OF LOVE

How is the vision realized? How does God create this kind of people? It is through us welcoming one another as Christ has welcomed us.

LOVE IS MISSION

Jesus preaches on Leviticus 19.18 “love your neighbour as you love yourself”. But when he preaches on this verse he says ‘A new command I give you: Love one another’ not as you love yourself but ‘love one another as I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this will all men know that you are my disciples if you have love one for another’[12]. Paul follows the tradition of Jesus by pointing us to love and welcome as Jesus himself has loved and welcomed us. How does Jesus love? By entering into my space, by living the life I was supposed to live but failed to and then by dying in my place for my sins. Paul is saying the same thing that Jesus is: when you love one another in this way others will see and glorify God. This kind of love validates the gospel. At this point you may become suspicious and wonder what I am actually saying? You may feel that this is not practical or prescriptive enough. You may have questions about who’s right and who’s wrong? Should the statues stand or fall or not?

I don’t think it’s a stretch to imagine that the disciples of Jesus wanted him to prescribe specific actions. Peter was a Zealot – the Umkhonto we Sizwe of the Jewish people. They employed violence to fight against Roman oppression. Then you had Matthew the Tax Collector. A sell-out who extorted his own people by collecting taxes for Rome and lined his pockets through overcharging. And then you had John who may have been a part of the Essene’s. A community who withdrew from general society like the community at Qumran so that they could dedicate themselves to God. Imagine when they all first met and joined the team, and were faced with the question should the statues stand or fall? I imagine Peter would without hesitation arrange for its demolition. John may caution us to pray about it and allow the Spirit of God space to work. While Matthew may be tempted to change the subject to the fact that Zayn has left One Direction. But Jesus doesn’t always prescribe specific action. He does however caution that whatever the action, it must come from love. Why major on love?

LOVE IS POWERFUL

When we love each other in the way Jesus has loved us we will send a message to Cape Town and to South Africa that Jesus is the saviour of the world. They will see and believe. We will not only get the attention of our city but we will send a message to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. There are evil forces behind so much of the turmoil. The message goes like this. Jesus is winning! There is no leader greater because united we follow. There is no force stronger because his love teaches us to love; which is an unstoppable force. Jesus is winning! Even though spiritual forces of evil have tried to divide and conquer, even though it orchestrated the Anglo boer war, Apartheid, xenophobia and afrophobia, we are still forgiving, we are still uniting and we are still preaching the gospel. Jesus is winning because he has given us a new identity. An identity that has superceded yet not obliterated the old identity of coloured, white, black, comrade or Boer. In this identity we have more in common than apart. It has not replaced but it is bigger than. It defines us. We are in Christ. We are children of God. We are sons and daughters or God. We are co-heirs with Christ. You’ve tried to dehumanize us but we know who we are and who we are is royal. Jesus is winning!

In reading this, then, you will be able to understand my insight into the mystery of Christ… This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus… His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose that he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord.

                                                                                                Ephesians 3.4-7

The phrase ‘rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms’ appears again in Ephesians chapter six in the well-known verses about the armour of God. Many times we use those verses for personal encouragement as we take our stand against personal battles which is right. But do you see that the armour of God is giving to the Christian who is fighting for unity in the church? That’s the context. When you join God in his mission of glorifying himself to all people God supplies you with the armour for the fight. And it is a fight. That is ultimately why we are still struggling with these issues. But it is not ultimately a fight against black or white or coloured but against spiritual forces of evil. And it is a fight that we will win and the sooner we open our hearts to the vision of God and stand firm in the power of practicing His love, we will realize it.

TRUE TRANSFORMATION

How do we actually proceed? We do need to talk and pray and transform but how? Does unity mean silence? Does unity mean that we all wear the same t-shirts, go tandem cycling, have sleep overs every weekend? Unity doesn’t mean conformity or uniformity. Christian maturity is the key ingredient to transformation. Here’s how we mature. We serve, submit and we grow up.

SERVE

The Greek word for brothers is used eleven times in this text. The point is that we are family. What is the difference between going for a family lunch and going to a restaurant? You come to serve not to be served. You don’t sit down, place an order, complain if the lasagne is dry or bland and then debate whether or not to return. You get involved, you roll up your sleeves and unpack, clean up, wash plates and contribute. Who has a perfect family? A family where there’s no arguing, no crying, no slamming of doors, no butter flicking? So, why expect your spiritual family to be perfect? Our sanctification is a life-long process. This may take time. When you can see that someone is short sighted in their perspective remember that our sanctification may take a while. When she is insensitive remember – it’s going to take a while, when he speaks you totally don’t hear the vision of God but it may take a while. Instead of critiquing or quitting the family we get involved and become the change we want to see.

SUBMIT

One person considers one day more sacred than another; another considers every day alike. Each of them should be fully convinced in their own mind. Whoever regards one day as special does so to the Lord. Whoever eats meat does so to the Lord, for they give thanks to God; and whoever abstains does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God. For none of us lives for ourselves alone, and none of us dies for ourselves alone. If we live, we live for the Lord; and if we die, we die for the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord. For this very reason, Christ died and returned to life so that he might be the Lord of both the dead and the living.

                                                                                     Romans 14.5-9

We belong to God. Jesus came for you, lived the life you couldn’t, died in your place to ransom you from the power of sin. Now you belong to him. Every part of my life must come under the overarching Lordship of Jesus Christ. My culture, my likes and dislikes, my spirituality, my sense of right and wrong it must all come under the lordship of Christ. Some cultures eat other people – cannibalism. It’s not ok. That part of the culture must come under the lordship of Jesus. But often there are cultural blind spots that we can’t see on our own. Culture is to us what water is to a fish. We don’t know we are in it. So we need hearts that are submissive to the Lordship of Christ and open to each other. We must pastor each other and lovingly study the Bible together so that we can start having transformative insights about our cultural blind spots. Whether it be individualism or ancestral worship, tardiness or selfishness, no culture is perfect. It takes a submissive heart towards Christ, time and a loving community to identify cultural blind spots.

GROW UP

There are four helpful categories in Romans 14 and 15 that show four attitudes. These verses are about identity markers such as food, kinship and various interpretations of the Bible and it was a big deal to these people.

  1. JUDGEMENTAL- STRONG[13]

The strong are those who have the right belief. Paul says in Romans 14.14 that all food is clean. Jesus says the same in Matthew 15.11. But the judgemental-strong are those who have the right answers but the wrong attitude. They know that all food is clean but they judge those who can’t eat. They are proud and arrogant and they look down at the weak in faith. Once I heard two Christian co-workers argue over drinking alcohol. The guy with the right belief (that it’s fine to drink alcohol) was really mocking the other guy’s view. What he didn’t care to know was that the other guy had come from a home with an alcoholic father. You can be right and still be wrong. In the racism discussions it’s so easy to say all the right things with the wrong attitude. You don’t say the wrong things but something is ‘off’, it may be an unwillingness to be sensitive, an uncaring approach and it’s not Christ like.

  1. CONDEMNING WEAK[14]

These guys are probably Jews who grew up believing that certain foods would defile them and so they are not ready to transition to the teachings of Jesus about all foods being clean. But they are not only wrong in their doctrine, they condemn those who eat! Sometimes when we have been hurt and someone comes close to the sensitive area we can respond by being very condemning. During my student years I tried sharing the gospel in Long Street on Saturday nights. But I got lambasted by an older Christian guy who felt that it was ungodly for me to be in Long Street in the first place. He condemned the action because he was unable to reconcile how I would remain unaffected by that environment. Weakness in ourselves can often surface as condemnation towards others. Perhaps there is an area of hurt or weakness in your heart because of our country’s history. Won’t you identify what these are and ask God to heal and restore you.

  1. PITIED-WEAK[15]

Paul says that for some people if they can’t eat certain foods then that’s ok they shouldn’t. They should just be fully convinced in their own minds. If you can’t drink alcohol, then don’t. But what’s implied? It’s that you’re weak! No one reads this and goes ‘yes! That’s me! I’m the weak person and proudly so!’ Paul is gently but not so subtly calling the weak to greater strength. There is hurt because of racism and it’s possible to know that you can’t engage in this discussion or that you can’t hang out with certain people of a particular cultural group for a while. That’s ok but know that God has a plan to grow you and a vision to give you. He doesn’t want you to get stagnant and stay there.

  1. TRULY STRONG[16]

This is where God wants us. Know that you can eat anything but have the ability to not eat because you love your brother or sister. I have the right but I am overwhelmed by my sense of responsibility to my fellow brother or sister. This is how more mature Christians deal with less mature people. You sacrifice for your brother or sister like Christ sacrificed for you. We sometimes even give up our right to be offended or hurt in order to win them over. Sacrificial love will take different forms for different people. But what is certain is that all South African Christians must start to emulate Christ and welcome each other. It takes this kind of attitude to engage in truly transformative relationships and build a truly transformed nation.

This paper is a summarized transcript of a sermon by Ryan Saville given at a Fusion Student event on 15 April 2015. For more articles by Ryan please visit https://ryansaville.wordpress.com or http://www.jubileestudents.co.za .


[1] Gentile is the term the Bible uses to refer to non-Jews.

[2] Romans 15.7

[3] Galatians 5.16

[4] Ephesians 2.14

[5] Genesis 1.31

[6] Psalm 139.14

[7] Genesis 12.3

[8] Romans 15.8

[9] Revelation 7.9

[10] That’s 46% live off R20 a day. That’s 23 million is at risk of hunger.

[11] That’s 20% live below the food line which is R10/ day and are not able to feed themselves. That’s 10.2 million starving people.

[12] John 13.35

[13] Romans 14.1

[14] Romans 14.1

[15] Romans 14.2,5

[16] Romans 14.14-15

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Tolerance Homosexuality & Diversity

I was asked to give a lecture on the above-mentioned topic at a local film & media college called AFDA in Observatory Cape Town. This is my transcript. It in no way is a reflection of the views of AFDA but I’m making it available as a few of you have asked me for it. Hope it stirs some thought.

I want to introduce a big idea that makes tolerance hard, then chat about tolerance & racial diversity, then tolerance & homosexuality, and maybe leave 5 min for Q&A. 10.10

1.RELATIVISM & TOTALITARIANISM

This my family (I had a picture of my family). We’re super diverse. Sachi is half Japanese. Her mom is full on Japanese. Her mom owns a Samurai sword and often swops her ‘Rs’ & ‘Ls’ which makes talk about the elections very awkward. I’m a thoroughbred Cape Coloured. I like tongue at Christmas and I have family members who could steal the milk out of your coffee. And our son Jude is, well, I’m still working it out. He has a big blond Afro and stormy blue eyes. But I don’t like being left alone with him in public because I’m going to have some old lady stare at me puzzled with that look ‘put that white baby down’.

I know from first-hand experience that along with racial diversity comes plurality – different world-views coexisting & sometimes colliding. Therefore we need tolerance. I’m thankful for pluralism because in Cape Town you can eat Chinese food, Thai food, Sushi even though most times it’s the same Indian guy who makes it all.

But there seems to be a cultural shift from pluralism to relativism – the idea that there is no absolute truth. What’s true for you is true for you; it doesn’t have to be true for me. This way of thinking started to develop after the Second World War, which was really a war against fascism. Hitler, Mussolini and Franco; all totalitarian leaders held the view that everyone must conform to their ideology and they used violence to achieve conformity. This led many philosophers of the 20th century such as Karl Popper to develop the idea that any claim to absolute truth is inherently totalitarian and threatening. Isaiah Berlin who also lived through the atrocities of Nazism argued that the enemy to freedom was monism, the conviction that there is one single belief into which all other beliefs must fit. Culture therefore became critical of anyone who claimed knowledge of absolute truth. Hence pluralism – freedom of religion, speech, etc but this morphed into relativism – a complete rejection of absolute truth. I get it. Pluralism is hard. But is truth the real problem? And is there a middle road between relativism and totalitarianism? Besides you cant have tolerance – that is disagreeing agreeably when everything is relative. Relativism is both/and philosophy. The law of non-contradiction. No absolutes. So there is no need to disagree. And totalitarianism on the other extreme which is either/or. Do this or …. Has no room for tolerance too. Is there a middle way? This has implications for diversity and sexuality.

2.TOLERANCE & DIVERSITY

If you don’t really believe in anything you can’t stand for anything and today we need a youth revolution for racial unity. The map of apartheid is still the map of the Western Cape. People still live in the same places, go to the same schools, hang out in the same class groups. We have been politically desegregated for 21 years but functionally still live segregated. And the ‘youth’ who are doing something, are doing it in such an immature manner that it shames those who dreamt and fought for a new South Africa. G.K. Chesterton speaks of the power of relativism.

The new rebel is a skeptic, and will not entirely trust anything. He has no loyalty; therefore he can never really be a revolutionist. And the fact that he doubts everything really gets in his way when he wants to denounce anything. For all denunciation implies a moral doctrine of some kind; and the modern revolutionist doubts not only the institution he denounces, but the doctrine by which he denounces it. . . . As a politician, he will cry out that war is a waste of life, and then, as a philosopher, that all life is waste of time. A Russian pessimist will denounce a policeman for killing a peasant, and then prove by the highest philosophical principles that the peasant ought to have killed himself. . . . The man of this school goes first to a political meeting, where he complains that savages are treated as if they were beasts; then he takes his hat and umbrella and goes on to a scientific meeting, where he proves that they practically are beasts. In short, the modern revolutionist, being an infinite skeptic, is always engaged in undermining his own mines. In his book on politics he attacks men for trampling on morality; in his book on ethics he attacks morality for trampling on men. Therefore the modern man in revolt has become practically useless for all purposes of revolt. By rebelling against everything he has lost his right to rebel against anything.

                                                                                   G.K. Chesterton

Is this descriptive of our relativist generation, a generation of Millennial who are into controversies for controversies sake and the flavour of the month with no deeply held convictions? You know who wasn’t a relativist? Nelson Mandela:

I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal, which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.

                                                                                   Nelson Mandela

Here we see the third way emerge. He had a conviction of truth but it was wrapped up in grace! I once witnessed Mandela walk into a crowded room on his way to give a public speech. Instead of hurrying to the podium he stopped at the door and proceeded to shake the hand of every single person in the room. Here we see the third way emerge. Mandela won the heart of South Africa through truth & grace. Martin Luther King had a conviction of truth when unscripted Mahalia Jackson shouted from the crowd “Tell them about the dream, Martin!” and from his heart, from deep within his bones he waxed lyrical:

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and we will live out the true meaning of its creed: “we hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal.”… I have a dream that my four little children will one day be judged not by the colour of their skin but by the content of their character.

                                                                              Martin Luther King

Truth has never been the problem but its been thrown out with the proverbial bathwater. Men & woman changed the world by believing and loving deeply. I can’t speak about tolerance if no one cares; if there is no right and no wrong. Let me tell you what’s wrong.

List Facts About Poverty

  • If South Africa was this class then half of you are probably going to bed hungry despite the country producing more than enough food.[1]
  • If South Africa was this class then 1 out of every 4 of you are starving.[2]
  • If South Africa was this class then richest 10% of South Africans own 75% of its wealth. While 50% own 2.4% of the wealth.

Get Personal – stand up if:

  • If your family earned R12000 or more last year. You are in the top 20% of the worlds wealthiest.
  • If your family has sufficient food, decent clothes, live in a house or apartment and have reasonable means of transportation. Please stand. You are among the top 15% of the worlds wealthiest.
  • If you have any money saved, a hobby that requires some equipment or supplies, a variety of clothes in your closet, two cars, and live in your own home, you are in the top 5% of the worlds wealthiest. (everyone was still standing at this point)

There is something wrong with our country and you are the ones who can fix it. Instead of only asking you to speak nicely, I want to envision you. The Biblical vision has no mention of tolerance. Because all monotheistic religions believe in the Imago Die that is that we are made in the image of God and therefore irrespective of how young or old, rich or poor, we are equally valuable. In Genesis 1 God made Adam and Eve and he said they were ‘very good’. In Psalm 139 the Psalmist says I am fearfully and wonderfully made and in Revelation the last book of the Bible the writer has a vision of heaven and he sees “every tribe and every tongue worshiping God”. This means that God so values different cultures that I will retain some of it heaven, my characteristically coloured grammar will be there in heaven – ‘Yous guys! Come check this out; all my teeth is back’.

It’s wrong to just amass wealth when half our country is starving. God cares about every cultural group. People call it capitalism, I tell you it’s wrong. And over the next three years of your life at AFDA will your time and your money be spent on you alone, on having fun only, or will you invest in making a difference in somebody else’s life?! Will you speak and engage in a proud egotistical manner or will you learn from others. Point number 1 in life you will not find ultimate happiness in the things you accumulate but in the people you appreciate. Practice tolerance. Persue truth with grace. Make a difference.

3.TOLERANCE & HOMOSEXUALITY

I’ve spoken to loads of people about social justice and they applaud it, but the underlying scepticism emerges when they say to me; ‘why is that you speak so passionately about racial equality but then discriminate against gay people!?”. And I know that’s the question that many of you have; ‘What is your churches view on homosexuality? And are you truly practicing tolerance in this area?’ So, here are three things that we believe the Bible says about homosexuality.

A.LOVE

Christians must not only tolerate & respect people who differ in culture or creed or sexual orientation, but they must love their neighbours. Jesus told a parable of The Good Samaritan (Luke 10). There’s a man lying beaten by the side of the road the religious people walk by and the person you least expect; a Samaritan; like a taxi driver, stops to help. What’s the point? You’re spirituality is worthless if you cant show love. It was Frederich Niche, the atheist philosopher who said that love & power are inversely proportional. The more power you exert in a relationship the less you love. Jesus tells this story and then he lives out the story by being undressed, tied to a pole, face down and then brutally whipped by Roman Lictors with flagellum whips made from lead balls and shards of glass, that systematically tenderized and ripped his body apart and then he died on a cross literally from a broken heart. At Jubilee we welcome anybody, LGBT whoever you are, straight from the clubs and you will be welcomed. You can belong before you believe because we follow the example of Jesus.

B.HUMILTY

The Gospel pulls the self-righteousness out of a Christians. Because often it’s not what you say about homosexuality but it’s the way you say it. So many gay people have been hurt by Christian’s who don’t get the gospel because of self-righteousness.
A Christian who understand the gospel cannot be intolerant.

VIOLATION

Lastly, the plain teaching of the Bible is that marriage consists of one man and one woman providing mutual comfort & love in a complimentary fashion for as long as they are alive. That means no sex before or outside of the husband-wife marriage covenant. So homosexuality along with loads of other heterosexual behaviour is not only a violation of God’s will but of oneself. It’s like the car manual that you get with a new car – it says change the oil every couple of months, don’t drive the car in the red, it’s not busy work its living in the way you were designed to live. It’s being who you are, everyone else is saying ‘be who you want to be within the realms of the law’ but the Bible alone says be true to yourself. So the question really isn’t what does the Bible say about homosexuality, the question is ‘did Jesus raise from the dead?’ If he did, he is God, and he knows you better than you know yourself.

Is this intolerant. No. Tolerance by definition means disagreeing agreeably. Is this another form of totalitarianism? No. Its truth comingled with grace. There’s no coercion into conformity. It’s an invitation to a relationship with a person – Jesus Christ. Pursue tolerance but don’t settle there. Move on to love, humility and the pursuit of truth. And may many of you come to know the unconditional, identity changing love of God that he lavishes freely on any who would believe in Jesus.

[1] That’s 46% live off R20 a day. That’s 23 million is at risk of hunger.

[2] That’s 20% live below the food line which is R10/ day and are not able to feed themselves. That’s 10.2 million starving people.

Never Say Never

The first course for the post-grad in becoming a mature Christian.

Main Title.

God’s sovereignty my weakness

Subtitle.

Learning to trust God’s wisdom and timing through shattered dreams

Hannah was barren.

Barren women seem to be God’s preferred vessel for raising up history makers. Why is that?

Because the breakthrough moment is not having the child, or finding the husband of your dreams, or the healing, or the promotion, or anything else. Breakthrough is when I humbly and with all my heart believe that God knows best. Maturity is a journey. And close to the destination is a place called ‘Trust God’. When you have lived there for a while you are ready to change history.

Hannah lives at a time when “everyone did what was right in their own eyes” (Judges 21:25). This made finding a loving godly man hard. But Hannah seems to have a good man, and it seems like he loves her, except here’s the problem, Hannah doesn’t really have him. She is sharing her husband Elkanah with the overly fertile, bitchy, second wife Peninah!

She might be future mom to history maker Samuel but does Hannah feel like a history making mom to be? No, she’s not walking on sunshine saying stuff like “sticks and stones Peninah… God is good all the time, all the time God is good, I’m too blessed to stress”. Have a look at verse 7, 8, 9 and 15 again, she’s really struggling. It’s as if the Bible gives you permission to struggle through God’s graduate school programme.

So, in the face of being ridiculed for not being able to have children, with her face buried in ‘snot en trane’, how will she respond to years of disappointment?

Options.

  1. Accept Defeat Acquiesce to the challenge; get comfortable with disillusionment, quite praying, quite obedience, quite gym, live off cookie dough ice cream & rom coms. Just settle for 2nd best, wear the shortest skirt gets the biggest jerk as a boyfriend, don’t try anything that takes risk, and don’t commit to anyone for fear of failure, etc.
  2. Embrace Bitterness Hannah could have embraced her anger and chucked it in the face of the world, she could have repaid Peninah’s insult, and bought a few angry bumper stickers for her Camel, and drive it badly like a crazy woman on their way home. You’ve met this person.
  3. Help God Take matters into our own hands and help God out. Abraham and Sarah couldn’t fall pregnant what do they do? Sarah suggests that Abraham should sleep with her maidservant Hagar so that Sarah could adopt her child. Look how that worked out! When we take matters into our own hands, by running ahead or lagging behind God’s plan we end up compromising the commands of God, to get the blessing of God.
  4. Turn to God Run to God, even when we don’t like what he is doing.

I hate asking for anything. But I’ve come to realize that God grows healthy humility in my heart through getting me to ask of him most when I have received from him the least, pray most when you feel like it the least because it’s at those times when God is shaping your prayer. She runs to God. She throws herself at the “throne of grace” (Heb 4:16). She embodies what Jesus taught “Father… give us our daily bread” (Matt 6:11), “ask and keep asking, seek and keep seeking, knock and keep knocking” (Matt 7:7).

So, should we thank the ‘Peninah’s’ in our lives? If it were not for her mockery, Hannah would not be driven to pray the kind of history altering prayer she prayed “Lord Almighty, if you will only look on your servant’s misery and remember me… give her a son, then I will give him to the Lord for all the days of his life” (1 Sam 1:11). An interesting thought from something I read recently… During the reformation John Calvin was headed to Strousbourg. His desire was to study and write in support of the protestant reformation. But he couldn’t travel directly to Strousbourg because of a war between Francis I and Emperor Charles V. So, in order to dodge the fighting he travelled via Geneva. When he got to Geneva William Farel threatened him with the judgement of God if he didn’t stay and continue the reformation in Geneva. Geneva was really important for the reformation. But shall we say that we owe Calvin’s impact on the reformation to Francis I and Emperor Charles? Shall we say thank you Peninah for annoying Hannah and driving her to pray more effectively? Or shall we see that God uses even the trials and constant disappointments, the mockery of others and the tears as instruments to shape even the prayers we pray. So, let’s trust him when we understand and when we don’t. And never say never!

Addictions

It’s been said that to be alive is to be addicted. That implies that addictions come in any form, could be a person, a feeling, an activity. Rugby is a personal example. I’d bet that this multi million rand industry consumes more time, money and passion from the average Christian South African than the Christ does. It’s Saturday. I’m readying myself for the game, because even if a bro doesn’t like sport, he likes sport. You know. I’m trying to find my most manly clothes, while simultaneously memorizing the names of the squad, the curry cup finalist for the last five years and the last world cup most spectacular tries. Rugby is supposed to make you feel manly, manly my foot, I feel like a teenage groupie. My man friends pic me up, we joke around, its jovial. Until we get to the stadium. Its like we stepped onto another planet. I try and crack a joke with my best friend Tim. He ignores me. Guys don’t talk when they watch rugby. The game’s of to a cracking starts. The stadium erupts. The Roman Coliseum has nothing on Newlands. And the reserved soccer mom’s and rich and the classy all transform into a dangerous mob, you can feel the violent tension in the air and the line between barbaric and civilized seems rather tenuous. Suddenly, it’s a high tackle on Habana. I hear this vulgar, deafening scream “Cmooon REF!! Are you blind”. I pause to take cognizance of that belting roar that, well that just came from me. I blew it again. May as well join in now; “tackle boys…Take them out” I shout. Man I love Rugby. Maybe even a little too much.

Defining Addiction

Addiction is the attachment of desire to a particular object through willful enslavement. It is sinful, deceitful and deadly.

So, how do we deal with it? The starting point is understanding God’s response to our addictions. Namely, he doesn’t like it very much and he wants to help us. His first response may be surprising to us because its wrath. Romans 1:18-19 reveals the disdain that God feels towards false gods (or addictions) that we wilfully enslave ourselves to. What we call addiction the Bible calls idolatry and its message is clear; no  idolater (or addict) will enetr the kingdom of heavon 1 Corinthians 6:9.

God’s wrath

Addiction to sex, coffee, wine, or work doesn’t please God. But the wrath that the author (Paul) is speaking of in Romans 1 is not the wrath of God that will be meted out at the judgment day. It is the immanent wrath of God. Three times Paul says “God handed them over to their wickedness” (vs 24, 26, 28).

Addiction may be an indication that God has ‘handed a person over’. People who find themselves in this downward spiral lose control, as the light of God leaves, all that is left is darkness. Addiction may start with pain killers, then something heavier then a joint, then TIK. It may start with soft porn, then hard porn then prostitutes. It may start with getting tipsy socially to loosen up, then getting drunk a few times then turning to the bottle when you’re down, then alcoholism. Working really hard during varsity, then late nights at office, then workaholism. It may start as an intense desire for a boyfriend or girlfriend, then a few more compromises to keep Mr. or Mrs. Wrong and then a lifetime married to the wrong person. If you find yourself in this downward spiral and you are out of control, maybe it’s an indication that the light of God is leaving because you have chosen to attach your desire for God to an idol.

God’s grace

God’s second response to addiction is grace. God sends Jesus to appease his wrath and die in our place for our sin (Romans 6). In terms of addiction Jesus is our means for freedom. Because of what Jesus has done there is hope that once again our desires may be free. Anyone who has struggled with addiction knows that you share a love hate relationship with the object of your attached desire. You love the pornography and you simultaneously hate it. You love the gossip and you simultaneously hate it. You wish that you had the freedom to detach, to un-nail your desire from the food, from the cutting, from sarcasm, but you can’t. There are demonic forces and our body of sin which firmly nails our desires to the object of our addictions. Psychiatry has revealed that the brain plays mind tricks on those who try to detach their desires. Your body actually fools you into sustaining your addiction.

The more you struggle against it the more your mind strengthens your addiction. Like hooked fish reeling for freedom, the more you fight against it the stronger its grip grows.

Grace is the only power strong enough to unhook us. How? In two ways:

1.     Jesus frees your desire

2.     While The Spirit takes control of the fight.

The Bible offers a view of the psychological makeup of human beings. It says that all people are created to worship God for eternity.  Ecclesiastes 3:11 “He set eternity in the human heart” and so from the heart pours forth worship constantly. We have an innate desire to admire God and worship him but instead of attaching our desire to God we attach it to other things, feelings or people. This is idolatry and it’s sin. And sin further separates us from God. The more we worship idols the less conscious we become of God, because sin deadens our capacity to experience God. But through the death of Jesus God opens up a way for us to have our deepest desire met. He gives us himself, through Jesus, by the Holy Spirit. This is an act of grace.

So it is the grace of God that leads us to repentance (Romans 2:4). It is the true, real, tangible, unconditional love of God for you that changes you.God’s love is an immeasurable and unstoppable force.

His deep loving kindness, humility and grace, patients and forgiveness, care and provision for his children is an inexpressible force that melts the heart of billions of people year after year after year, it trumps karma, it trumps any high you have ever had, it has transformed innumerable addicts, it is the reason why I am alive and not dead or in jail cell, it is the reason why thousands throughout history have testified of the freedom they have found in Christ and why some would rather die than turn away from all consuming lover of their soul.

This is why Paul said in “I am not ashamed of the Gospel, because it is the power of God unto salvation for all who believe” (Romans 1:16). This is why Paul repeatedly refers to himself as addicted to Jesus; he is slave (doulos in Greek) of Jesus. It is the amazing love that God has for you in Christ that makes you willfully enslave yourself to him and not to an idol. But why then if I am a Christian do I still find myself developing addictions?

Jesus frees your desire, while the Spirit takes control of the fight…

Because it doesn’t matter who you, in the words of Bob Dylan, “you have to serve somebody”.  All people are slaves. All people serve a master. What psychologists call “mind tricks” the Bible calls “the flesh”. The Greek word used is sarx and it is translated as “sinful nature” in the NIV. The sinful nature, the flesh, the sarx is the part of us that hates God. And before you become a Spirit filled Christian the Sarx is your Master. The sarx opposes God and any non Christian is a slave to their sinful nature.

Now when you become a Christian you receive the Holy Spirit in your body. The Holy Spirit does two things: (1) it is a down payment for a new body. So that the flesh, the sin nature, the part of you that hates God is guaranteed to be transformed into an incorruptible, sinless body (1Corinthians 15). So, in other words the battle has been won. But since you will only be transformed at the second coming of Jesus the Holy Spirit does a second thing (2) it takes up the place the sarx once had as commanding officer inside you and the Holy Spirit fights against the flesh until that day when the sin nature is completely destroyed. So, while the battle has been won, the war rages on. The flesh is a defeated foe but it is still dangerous and will fight until the bitter end. This is why Christians still struggle with addictions!

For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever[c] you want. (Galatians 5:7)

So, within every believer they have their sarx and the Spirit of God waging a war against each other. There is an inner battle that you and I are a part of, my flesh hates the things of God and loves evil, this is why you love your addiction and some part of you right now does not want to be free from porn, gossiping, control, sarcasm. But the Spirit of God inside me hates the things of the flesh and wares against it, this is why you hate your addiction if you are Christian. Listen to Paul describe this in Rom 7:21-25:

So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. 22For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; 23 but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. 24 What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? 25 Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!

So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in my sinful nature[a] a slave to the law of sin.

But now I must decide which master I will obey, my old Flesh master or my new Spirit Master. Which general will I fight for? And sometimes you hear a general call out to you and you are not really sure which general it is and then later you realize it was the Sarx, and you inadvertently blew it again, other times you hear the general tell you “pass me some artillery I want to blast the Spirit general out of here” and you obey.

There is a battle waging inside me for control of my soul.

The Holy Spirit is doing the fighting, now what is my responsibility? My responsibility is to be obedient to the Spirit General. As long as I am obedient to the Spirit General I will not fall. I must please the Spirit General. The picture that Paul paints is of a young private reporting to an experienced and legendary war hero General. The General loves you and the General wants you to spend time with him. The more energy you put into building your relationship with the Spirit General the more ground the General takes for you. But if your relationship with the General isn’t great, you don’t really listen to the General, you do your own thing, you even spend time with the Sarx General, the enemy, well then the Sarx General takes more ground. Paul’s words are sobering “do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. 8 Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.” (Galatians 6:7)

There are some people who have such a good relationship with the Spirit General that they hardly ever fall. I think Enoch was one of these guys. The Bible says that “Enoch walked faithfully with God; then he was no more, because God took him away” (Genesis 5:3). As someone said God must have said to Enoch, you’ve been walking well, I guess we’re closer to my house than yours, come on over. Paul too encourages all of us to strive towards this:

Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. (Phil 3:12)

And it is for freedom that you have been set free (Galatians 5:1). So, we are destined for freedom, take hold of that freedom now. But victory will cost us. Practically what does this mean? It means Obedience.

Paul says in Romans 12:1

I urge you, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God – this is your spiritual act of worship.

Obedience to the Spirit is your spiritual act of worship.  It starts with being obedient to the Bible, the Spirit inspired Scripture.

If the Spirit has spoken to you, then don’t try to understand, try to obey. If the Spirit has not yet spoken then seek the Spirit this week. Understanding follows obedience and obedience follows an encounter with the Holy Spirit. You need to go home and wait on the Lord. Wrestle with him in prayer. Seek him until you find him. Pray unceasingly until your heart is enlightened and illuminated by the Spirit. And if you have heard him speak to you this evening, then you need to quite your addiction now. Burn your idol now, smash it now. Leave in a hurry, if you have an internet connection that leads you astray, disable it. Stop playing with the enemy. If you have a person who flirts with you and leads you into inappropriate engagements, delete their number, delete them off facebook, cut them off now. If you gossip then confess your slander to someone now. This is your sacrifice. Crucify that deadly defeated Sin General. To experience the un-nailing of your desire you will have to be re-nailed to the Cross and crucify your flesh. Consider this helpful prayer as you allow God to win your freedom for you.

I wait now in silence, Lord, that the good may spring up and the evil dissipate.

 

May the ocean of your light continually overcome the ocean of my darkness.

Amen.