A CARING SEED

Almost 25 years ago I held a tiny new born in my arms.
I watched her play dress up and grow older.
I now watch as this same child, now a beautiful woman, comes home at the end of a day exhausted, tired, and often hungry because she hasn’t had time to eat, feet aching.

This child is now a nursing sister dressing up in COVID 19 protective equipment…

I came across this quote recently and it reminded me of this child of mine.

“Way back before you were born, God knew there was a need. So God picked your fertile heart and planted a caring seed. Then He waited and He watched. Knowing before too long, the desire in you to help others would continue to grow strong.” – Edwin C. Hofert

In two months’ time her Community Service year at one of our Government Hospitals will be coming to an end and as she prepares to send out her CV to various hospitals in South Africa, I can’t help but reflect on this year.

There are so many stories and experiences and tears and heartache and pain and joy and hope and desperation that she has shared with us over this year but there two memories that are embedded in my heart.

The first was something that she shared her first week of nursing and the second memory is something she shared yesterday.

She had been nursing for two days when I received a WhatsApp from her telling me about a young woman in her early twenties who had HIV and gastro, was in an isolation room and was dying.  Sarah had gone into the room in the morning and had just known that this young woman would die that day.

She prayed and asked God that she could be there when this woman died…that she wouldn’t have to die alone.

I received a WhatsApp later in the morning saying “God answered my prayer”

She was in the room holding this woman’s hand, stroking her hair and praying with her when she took her last breath.

Yesterday evening as she was leaving after her shift she came across an old man with one leg who was lying on a stretcher in the theater corridor. She stopped beside him and asked him if he was okay and whether she could bring him a blanket.  They started to talk and he told her that he was there to have the other leg amputated.  When asked if there was anyone at home to look after him he confided that there was only his wife, who was suffering from severe depression, and it was going to be very difficult.

She said she felt so helpless and hopeless, nothing more she could do for him, so without words… so she asked him whether he was religious.

He said yes, he was a Catholic and she asked whether she could pray with him and he said yes – and so she prayed.

Way back before she was born God saw this young woman with HIV and gastro, this old man without a leg, waiting to lose his other leg and countless more people and he planted a seed in her heart that He knew would grow and grow and grow.

“So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience” Colossians 3:12

https://www.sabcnews.com/sabcnews/covid-19-frontline-workers-nurses-share-stories/

https://www.africa-newsroom.com/press/coronavirus–south-africa-president-pays-tribute-to-nurses-on-international-nurses-day

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COVID 19, LOCK DOWN & THE BIBLICAL JOSEPH

The man resembling a bandit in this photo is my minister.  I whatsapped him the photo with the caption “Looks like a robbery in progress” and he responded:

“Lols, taking back enemy territory for Jesus”

I love that my minister has such a wonderful sense of humour and that His love of God is portrayed in very practical ways.  This is the time of COVID 19 and he and other Believers have been doing a major food drive. The result is that food parcels are being packed and taken to families, who are literally starving, on an ongoing basis. This photo captures the helpers taking the food parcels from the church to vehicles for delivery.

Satan, via COVID 19, has succeeded in closing church buildings down but in doing so he has opened doors for God’s love to be poured out, via His people, to each other and to a world in desperate need of that love on a scale that has never been seen before.  Added to that, Believers are spending far more time in God’s Word, encouraging others and gathering for ‘cyberspace’ services with their families on Sundays. One of Satan’s tactics to harm God’s people is breaking up the family unit.  Because of Covid, families have no choice anymore – they have to work on relationships as they spend day and night in each others company because of a worldwide lock down.

Covid 19 reminds me so much of the story of Joseph found in Genesis.

Joseph was the beloved son of his dad – we are the beloved children of God

Joseph’s brothers first planned to murder him but then sold him into slavery – Satan attempts to murder the faith of Believers and keep them in slavery to addictions…fear, worry, alcohol, drugs…the list is endless

Joseph was sold to Potiphar, one of King Pharaoh’s officials, and he soon rose in authority to become head of Potiphar’s estate – many Believers find favour in their work places, and God blesses their businesses and families in abundance

Potiphar’s wife took a fancy to Joseph and tried to seduce him. When Joseph refused her advances she falsely accused him of trying to seduce her and he was thrown into jail – many Believers lose material things and positions because they take a stand for God and won’t compromise or give in to temptation

Instead of blaming God, feeling sorry for himself or becoming bitter and angry Joseph interpreted the dreams of other prisoners.  Two years later, when Pharaoh had a dream that no-one could decipher, someone mentioned Joseph.  He correctly interpreted the dream and Pharaoh appointed him second-in-command of Egypt.

During this time of Covid 19 many Believers have lost their jobs, their businesses and some of them have lost their lives.  Instead of blaming God, feeling sorry for ourselves or becoming bitter and angry we need to start cultivating a deeper faith in our God. So that, we too, can say to the evil one what Joseph said to his brothers on being reunited with them over twenty years after being sold into slavery:

“Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.  So then, don’t be afraid.” Genesis 50:19-21

Lord, we pray that during this time of Covid 19, we will draw closer to You despite our circumstances. We ask that you will grant us faith, courage and joy during this time when the world as we know it, is in such turmoil. Amen

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PREPARING FOR THE GROOM by Teubes Prinsloo

The past few weeks I have received various words from God, which I am prophetically praying over, making sure I understand the context for myself.  Since lock down started I, (like many I am sure) have been asking Him how all this fits into my understanding of the “end” times?
I went with what scripture says and then encouraged my family with the one thing I felt Jesus say:

“I AM COMING BACK BUT THE TIME DOESN’T MATTER”

It was a reminder that He is the Bride Groom and He will come for His bride.

I started praying into the accounts that referred to Him coming as a Bride Groom. I read about the 5 wise and the 5 unwise virgins  – Matthew 25:1-13.
I read about a Father sending invites to all to come to a wedding reception but nobody accepted His invites. I read that he took those from the streets to join in the celebrations. I read of gnashing of teeth and cries of those outside, hard times for those who rejected the invite – Matthew 22:2-14.

In my own heart I started feeling Jesus speak to me about each story. I felt the Holy Spirit say “you see many people are like the 5 unwise virgins, they are running around, enjoying life, saying they know the Bride Groom will come.  Every time I warned them they just laughed, they never learnt to trust Me when I told them they are running on empty, they never filled their ‘lamps’ with oil.  They never looked to Jesus as their sole provider because life was good, but now that the difficult times are on them, they run to those who are like the 5 wise virgins. They are all asking “give me some of your oil , your peace , your hope , your understanding?” But those, like the 5 wise virgins, can`t share what they  have accumulated.

I believe we find ourselves in times where people are “running” after any solution, looking for answers from friends, the government, church leaders, other religions instead of running to HIM who IS the solution. And when He says “I AM THE WAY” they get offended, they scoff at the idea that He can and will supply their needs. They will rather look to man instead of just trusting His word. I believe many find themselves in a position where they thought they knew God, while living a life far from Him. Now they find that they have no solid foundation, they are not cemented on Him as the Rock and the storms are about to break their lives into pieces.

The words Jesus spoke  “For I do not know you” rings loud in many ears who thought they “knew” Him because they “did” all the “good works” which only inflated their ego.  It was never done for Him. We must not try and find solutions for every problem people bring to us, we must refer them to Jesus. They must fill their “oil”from Him personally. The “oil” you have is now not enough to sustain them also. They need to fill their oil now before the real storm hits. These times, I believe, are like a Spiritual Tsunami, the big swell is still coming. People need to learn how to “float” on Him so that when the swell overtakes those that try to run they will be “in” Jesus on top, relaxed in the knowledge that He is in control.

I write this as an encouragement to all of us to lead our friends and our family to the feet of Jesus. Be bold when they ask for help. Do what Peter did in Acts 3.

“One day Peter and John were going up to the temple at the time of prayer—at three in the afternoon. Now a man who was lame from birth was being carried to the temple gate called Beautiful, where he was put every day to beg from those going into the temple courts. When he saw Peter and John about to enter, he asked them for money. Peter looked straight at him, as did John. Then Peter said, “Look at us!” So the man gave them his attention, expecting to get something from them. Then Peter said, “Silver or gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.” Taking him by the right hand, he helped him up, and instantly the man’s feet and ankles became strong. He jumped to his feet and began to walk. Then he went with them into the temple courts, walking and jumping, and praising God. When all the people saw him walking and praising God, they recognized him as the same man who used to sit begging at the temple gate called Beautiful, and they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him”

“Gold & Silver I have not”…but I have Jesus..and Him I give to you.

People may look to you for help. Please share and help where God leads, but don`t forget to give them Jesus.

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GO DEEP by Bill Webster

“Put out into deep water” (Luke 5: 4)

What the church desperately needs are people engaged in Christ’s service who are prepared to go deep with God. Where are you in your life and service at the present time? Exhausted, frustrated, dispirited, angry? Maybe you look back to the start of your Christian service and remember your enthusiasm, your keen sense of calling and your vibrant optimism. People were going to hang on to your every word and lives were going to be transformed. You were going to help build up the body of Christ and mobilise believers to evangelise the world.

But the years have gone by and the stark reality of the difficulties and frustrations of service have set in and you have become disillusioned by the church hierarchy, difficult and fractious members and the constant demands of serving others.

A colleague in pastoral ministry recently said to me, “People don’t realise how demanding ministry is. Sometimes I just feel like walking away from it all.” Perhaps you feel that way, too.

Is there an answer to dashed hopes, spiritual lethargy, lost vision and fruitlessness?

Put out into deep water!

Simon Peter and his fishing partners had spent the night in fruitless fishing. They had toiled long and hard and hadn’t caught anything (Luke 5: 5). Jesus told Simon to put out into deep water and let down their nets for a catch (v 4). Maybe Simon thought, what does Jesus know about fishing? After all he is a carpenter, isn’t he? Maybe just to get Jesus off his back, he reluctantly agreed. Of course, we know the rest of the story – two boats so crammed with fish that they began to sink.

I want to encourage you to put out into deep water into:

God Himself – Romans 11:33-36.
God’s love – Ephesians 3: 17-19.
Prayer – Psalm 42: 7 (read the whole Psalm).
God’s Word – Colossians 3: 16.

Ezekiel, the Old Testament prophet, pictured water coming out from under the threshold of the temple. As the water flowed, it got deeper and deeper, first a trickle, then ankle – deep, then knee – deep, then waist – deep, then deep enough to swim in. The water symbolises God’s life, and the blessings that flow from His throne. Most of Ezekiel 47 is a picture of life, fruitfulness, large numbers of fish, nourishment and healing. Isn’t that what we long for?

“O God, I’m so dry and disillusioned.  Take me deeper into you, heal me and bring new life into me and my service, through Jesus Christ our Lord”. Amen

Readings:  Luke 5:1-11 and Ezekiel 47:1-12

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WE, THE CHURCH – PART 4: AN INJURY TO ONE IS AN INJURY TO ALL by Mike Muller

Reading: 1 Corinthians 12:12–27

“If one part suffers, every part suffers with it”
(1 Corinthians 12:26)

The motto of the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) is: “An injury to one is an injury to all”. This is likely not an original idea, for the Industrial Workers of the World, an international trade union that was formed in 1905, used and popularized it. It has also subsequently been used by a number of labour organizations. Some believe this slogan has roots as far back as the 1880’s with a very early American labour organization called the “Knights of Labor”, whose slogan was “That is the most perfect government in which an injury to one is the concern of all”. These slogans reflect the commitment of the Unions to further and protect the interests of all workers; also, their commitment to take care of each other. Is it possible that the slogans are derived from our text? It would seem so.

Paul presses the church to understand that they ought to be living the Christian life together, to the extent that the well-being of each one must be the concern of all. When some are hurting, there is cause for concern and the need to pay attention to that breach in the body. On the other hand, when there is reason to rejoice, we should celebrate with one another.

Vital, of course, is the need for care and concern without partiality; something that was a matter requiring attention in the Corinthian church. Life in the Body was marred by a socio-economic divide that existed. In part, this was why they were taking each other to the courts. This was also why they were celebrating the Lord’s Supper in an atrocious manner.

Thus, Paul’s rebuke in 1 Corinthians 11 is designed to bring repentance and a realization that concern for all was required to function properly. At the same time, their problems would expose the frauds who had slipped in to drain the life from the Church – and in turn, reveal those who had a genuine faith (See 1 Cor.11:17-22 cf. 2 Cor.2:9).

It is clear that the Gospel calls God’s people to live in ways that reflect what it means to be a tight-knit family. The best way Paul could communicate this was through the metaphor of how our bodies work at a most basic level. Everyone knows that when one part of our body is in pain, the rest of our body finds it difficult to carry on running smoothly. Similarly, we simply cannot ignore “broken” or “sick” parts of the Body of Christ and proceed as though all is well. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it. How to mend the unhappy part will be determined by a good, biblical diagnosis.

God’s Spirit calls the Church to seek truth and justice, and to graciously care for the poor in its midst – guided in love, compassion and mercy by scripture, as we share a common faith. We need to acknowledge the ties that bind us; recognise our interdependence, which surpasses cultural and social expectations; align ourselves with God’s mandate to care for and love one another, which may demand the shedding of ideologies and cultural thinking when it proves to hinder the call of the Gospel.

Our reading brings us to this conclusion: That there is great joy in belonging: “You are the body of Christ and members in particular” (V27). This then is our chief joy: that we belong to God and to one another. He chose and called us. We did not choose him. He opened our eyes. We did not find him through self-learning, or through self-searching; or through self-effacement. Instead, God in his mercy and goodness drew us to himself. And so, unity, not uniformity, is what God wants for his Church as we faithfully fulfill our ministry together, without fear or favour but in mutual care and respect.

Loving, heavenly Father, we know that our own sinfulness many times leads us to treat others unequally, often to the point of being hurtful. We try in vain to justify our actions, but cannot escape the glaring truth that your Body is too often in agony because of our neglect, either as individuals or when we band together against each other. Forgive us and help us to be reconciled to one another so that we will weep when our brothers and sisters weep – and rejoice when they rejoice. Help us to realize that we are one in the bonds of Christ’s love. Amen

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WE, THE CHURCH – PART 3: INTERDEPENDENCE by Mike Muller

Reading: 1 Cor. 12:12–27

The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!”
(1 Corinthians 12:21)

We are one body, yet made up of different parts. We have things shared, but at the same time we are diverse in so many ways. Paul’s analogy of the human body draws his readers to a logical conclusion: No part exists without the other. This means that our diversity is not grounds for independence; rather we are to realise our deep, Spirit-created need for each other. Verses 15-25 speak to this issue in a profound way. But interdependence in the church is quite a challenge. There are at least two ways in which the Corinthian church needed to understand this aspect of Body life:

The first is in verses 15-20, characterized by the statement: “If the foot should say, ‘Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,’ it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body” (V 15). Self-importance, on one hand, and a lack of self-worth on the other, is two extremes which may bring about a sense of “not belonging”. This may be exacerbated by others in the church reinforcing either of those perceptions, resulting in a kind of “paralysis” of the Body. It is likely that this is more an issue among people who feel they have very little to contribute.

The second way the challenge of interdependence is addressed is characterized by the statement: The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I don’t need you!’ And the head cannot say to the feet, ‘I don’t need you!’” (V21). This has to do with the notion that some feel they can do without others…that they can do without the Church. Paul’s point is that if our physical bodies behaved like this, we would be in a world of trouble! Some might say, “I love Christ more than I love the church.” But Jesus is the head of his Body, the Church. Such a “disconnect”, therefore, is deeply problematic.

Throughout the ages, one of the easiest ways for the church to create divides within the Body, has been along socio-economic lines. This was demonstrated by the disastrous way in which the Lord’s Supper was being celebrated in the Corinthian church.

James takes the Church to task (James 2:1-4) regarding discrimination arising among themselves: My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favouritism.  Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in filthy old clothes also comes in.  If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, ‘Here’s a good seat for you,’ but say to the poor man, ‘You stand there’ or ‘Sit on the floor by my feet,’  have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?” 

Discrimination along any lines within the Church is just another way of saying: “I don’t need you!” But the Church will always be made up of people in need and those who are well-off. As such, neither “group” should wait until things improve before trying to share life together authentically.

Any way in which we say “I don’t need you,” to those who worship alongside us, flies in the face of God’s desire for us to intentionally love and care for each other in the power of the Holy Spirit. Therefore, let us hear God calling us to be the Body of Christ, and members in particular, who provide love and care to each other in an environment of trust.

Loving, heavenly Father, we know that your heart breaks every time we treat each other in ways that deny your love for us. Please forgive us and help us to be known as Christ’s disciples by the love we show to one another; evidenced by how we care for and accept each other as members of the same Body – who are called by your name. Amen

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WE, THE CHURCH – PART 2: A CELEBRATION OF DIVERSITY by Mike Muller

Reading:       1 Cor. 12:12–27

 “Now the body is not made up of one part but of many.” (1 Corinthians 12:14)

Paul began by writing about things shared; what we have in common. But this could lead us to conclude that difference or diversity has no place in the Church; that commonality because of things shared makes us into one grey mass. But this is not the case, for a “body isn’t just a single part blown up into something huge. It’s all the different-but-similar parts arranged and functioning together.” (verse 14, The Message)

The Church is not a place where giftedness and God’s creative purposes are stifled under a kind of communism. Rather, there is a tension that must be recognized and held onto: On the one hand, what we have received and share in; and on the other, how different we are from one another in gifts and callings.

No matter how we collectively represent the Lord Jesus Christ as his body, his voice, hands and feet will always be many colours and languages and nations (Rev.7:9-10). Yet, the existence and importance of diversity in the Body of Christ is not simply about the various roles we play, but includes our human diversity.

With this in mind, we need to consider the following question: What parts about our diversity are to be held onto and celebrated, and what parts about our diversity are to be recognized as things that hinder life in the Body of Christ and our witness as a Christian?

The Corinthian church had failed to “discern” the body as redeemed and valuable in Christ. Their God-given diversity was ignored and instead, they alienated each other and denied what God had called into being.

Diversity will always be part of the Church; along the lines of education, colour, wealth, nationality, language and even culture, to name a few areas. But we have to take a good look at what makes us different from one another and consider whether those differences are being used to divide or to unite.

One of the most difficult areas of diversity facing the Church is along socio-economic lines. John Stott talks about the problem in this way:

“…if we are embarrassed either to visit other people in their home, or to invite them into ours, because of the disparity of our economic lifestyles, – something is wrong. The inequality is too great. It has broken the fellowship.”

In South Africa, the problem of economic disparity is compounded by our history of Apartheid. Dealing with this issue as the Body of Christ therefore, remains one of our ongoing challenges.

That said, diversity can be the source of great opportunity and joy because of who we are and because of what we do together, in and through the Church in Christ’s name. While difficult to manage, our diversity provides an opportunity to see the majesty of God in his creative wisdom. And when we understand this, we will see the powerful impact of people gathered together, serving God. It is about people who are committed to Christ and each other in diversity, serving together in Spirit-created unity. Otherwise Paul would not have made this statement in the first place.

Faithful heavenly Father, we thank you that you love your Church. It is the Body of Christ. We affirm that this is what you imagined beyond the Cross. Help us to love and appreciate each other, no matter how different we are. Help us to recognise the gifts in each other – and to encourage their development, for the sake of Christ, the Church and the world. For we are your people, called by your name, O Lord our God. Amen

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