After moving into our new place, we had a couple of minor issues that needed the attention of an electrician and a handyman. Fortunately, our letting agency sent over a nice gentleman who is both. He sorted out a broken light socket in the kitchen, and the next week was sent over again to work on the issue that the doors onto our balcony might be blown in at any moment. The southeaster, she was a blowinâ€™.
We discovered in conversation that this gentleman is not just a handyman of note, he is also a Christian. On top of that lovely discovery, he shared about the way the Lord radically changed his life when he repented and came to faith, and his excellent story includes starting a church in a township nearby. Bonus! He was planning to visit the church in the township the following Sunday and we asked if we could come along. Or we may have been invited, I canâ€™t remember.
At any rate.
Photo by Randy OHC @ flickr
We thought we might be able to organise a shoe distribution with the help of this church, perhaps in the not-too-distant future. And hey, weâ€™re looking for a church to call home, why not explore all the possibilities? This was obviously the beginning of a bit of adventure for a small town gal from Washington, North Carolina.
I am not sure I can accurately describe my experience of briefly passing through the township to attend church there. It is like life is just unceasingly happening — you never know what youâ€™re going to see next, and you might be surprised to find that the people who live there are just surprised as you. As Mr. Potato Head grumbled along through the dusty streets, we saw sights we expected: Mamas with their babies strapped to their backs with bath towels or blankets, people carrying heavy things on their heads, lots of children everywhere. We also saw the unexpected: seven or eight men had picked an entire shack up over their heads, and were moving it casually down a hill to whoknowswhere. Things were so crowded I wondered where they would find a place to set it down. I also wondered if this was an everyday occurrence, but when I saw other people watching and pointing with bewildered laughs and stares, I decided I was fortunate enough to witness something very special. People were dressed up for church and heading in the opposite direction so I wondered if weâ€™d chosen the right church to visit!Â We kept following our handyman friend in the bakkie (truck) in front of us.
A few moments later, we found ourselves inside a small church building, cinder block, tin roof and plastic chairs. Most of the men sat on one side and women on the other, but weâ€™d already been seated before we noticed. (Not that we wouldâ€™ve moved.) The pastor was still sharing the Sunday School Teaching, about fasting, and in my ignorance for a moment I marveled at the encouragement that people who might not have a lot to eat should fast. Weâ€™d sat near the back where there were plenty of chairs, and we took up lots of space, four adults and the Bear. As the church filled up and filled up we gradually scooted together and were cozy and hot by the end of our time there.
The very enthusiastic worship was in a language I didnâ€™t know. Most of the congregation are immigrants from Zimbabwe, so weâ€™ve concluded it may have been Shona. (Unfortunately I didnâ€™t have the words on a screen to try my best with this time!) These folks moved to South Africa in hopes of opportunities for a better life. I donâ€™t know whether they feel like theyâ€™ve found what theyâ€™re looking for. They faced severe brutality recently during the xenophobia attacks that swept across SA. Our handyman friend provided refuge for dozens of people — they slept in his home and shed and garage during the crisis. Many of them now no longer stay in this township, since they left when things were dangerous, but they return for church week after week.
The enthusiasm the people showed for the things of God was inspiring. Sometimes people have different ways of doing things and it is hard for an outsider to look on without being critical. Pledges for the building fund were being shouted out, and people were clapping for those making their pledges. I found myself walking the tightrope of trying to stay above being critical during this bit…but I remembered some lessons from my international studies classes, and the conclusion I often came to, that it is really difficult for anyone who is not a part of a culture to accurately perceive it, because we are all wearing our own cultural lenses. And I suppose when churches back in the States have building fundraisers, those who give a lot often receive praise in one way or another.
The church had had an all-night prayer meeting the night before, and had gone home for an hour or two of sleep, to get something to eat, and then return for Sunday school. I wasnâ€™t sure I could convince the Bear to behave long enough for us to stay through the service…and I admired the stamina of these folks, who didnâ€™t look at all tired to me as they danced and sang and worshiped the Lord. I think I could learn a lot if I stuck around for a while.
Our handyman friend encouraged us to head out after weâ€™d shared about our work with Samaritanâ€™s Feet and Mark brought a word of encouragement to the church. I stood on stage beside him with the Bear and was embarrassed at how wiggly and wild he was being. If your kidâ€™s used to a schedule… As we stood outside and said a few goodbyes before following our handyman friend out, one little girl came over for a hug. I picked her up and gave her a hug and a kiss, and my heart just pined with compassion that I am not sure how to channel.
As I reflect on the time Iâ€™ve spent with â€˜the poor,â€™ in Zambia, in Mexico, and here in South Africa, I am constantly amazed at the joy and contentedness I see in so many faces. Obviously I am not speaking about those in abject poverty, or trying to â€˜romanticiseâ€™ it — but those living in ways that â€˜Westernersâ€™ might consider â€˜poorâ€™ often have a remarkable joy. Perhaps it is because a lot of the ‘poor’ I’ve spent time with are Christians. It challenged me to remember something I heard recently: if you have more than 5 shirts in your closet, you are probably better off than 90% of the worldâ€™s population. (I canâ€™t confirm this and am not sure Iâ€™m remembering it correctly!) But the point is — if you have clothes to wear, food to eat, and a place to live, you have a lot to be thankful for.
We drove out of the township and got some lunch at a nearby shopping mall, which kind of made my head spin. From poverty to wealth in 3 miles flat. There is so much more to say, that is difficult to put into words. Mother Teresa once said,
â€œIn this life we cannot do great things. We can only do small things with great love.â€
The opportunities to do small things with great love are where I am, and where you are. Even if itâ€™s just for one person, I look forward to making a difference.
While Mark and I were back visiting his parents in Bloemfontein, we visited a big church there called CRC (Christian Revival Church). The place was packing out as we arrived for the mid-morning service, and we slotted in sort of to the left of centre in this big building with a huge stage and big TV screens and lights and effects and cameramen. The worship started off similar to what weâ€™re used to in non-denominational churches in most parts of the world â€“ the charismatic, joyful, powerful voices and drums and keys and guitars so on, and then there was a transition, for just a single song, where we were singing in a language which was â€¦ I think Ndebele or Tsonga. I obviously had absolutely no clue what the heck we were singing about, other than I was fairly sure we were singing about the Lord.
The Words were on the screen and I just followed along and did my best with:
WA NYAMALALA NGANA
UMTHWALO WAWA SIZE
Or something of that sort. But then the joy broke loose! The rest of the congregation began getting into it, doing dance movements associated with the lyrics, singing with such joy and passion (and an occasionally what I would call a Latino tongue trill, which I had to join in on).Â I was overjoyed to join in wholeheartedly, although I still had absolutely no clue what we were singing about. Mark and I did our best at our white-folk-canâ€™t-dance version of the dance movements, I was adding in a Latino trill or two, and we were just singing and smiling and joyful to worship God with a couple thousand complete strangers in a language we didnâ€™t understand.
Afterwards I asked Mark if it was perhaps Zulu we were singing in, but his best guess was that it was Sesotho. (Googling the lyrics I remembered didnâ€™t bring about much success. Shame! But we think weâ€™ve concluded it was probably Ndebele or Tsonga.) The guest speaker for the morning was, funny enough, from Seattle, Washington, and we were encouraged by his message. I occasionally felt like I might be one of the only ones there who got the jokes, but everybody laughed. It was altogether such a special and delightful experience, and I hope the next time weâ€™re in Bloemfontein, we can enjoy the fellowship at CRC again.Â It is a blessing to know that if you are in Christ, wherever you are, if there are believers there, you can feel right at home.
Sing it with me nowâ€¦
WA NYAMALALA NGANA
UMTHWALO WAWA SIZE!
After arriving in the country, Mark and I began the difficult task of trying to find a church to call home. It’s really really strange to suddenly feel like you’re “church-hopping” when two months ago we staff members at a church back in Scotland. During our explorations so far, we had a good experience at one church but weren’t sure if it was the right one. (We were bummed they didn’t have a creche/nursery).
I cried as we left another church because I was overwhelmingly bummed that NO ONE talked to us or welcomed us the whole time. And then we visited a third church this Sunday, and the theology and message being preached was so stinking dodgy Mark wanted to stand up in the middle of the service and say, “You’re wrong! That’s not what the Scripture says!”
That is a long long story that probably deserves its own blog post, but for now, the short of it is, it was not a church that was faithfully preaching the Word of God. I don’t really know what exactly they’re preaching. Something from the Book of Second Opinions I guess. It is funny that one of my recent posts discussed how God’s Word can be misconstrued to say what people want it to say if they come to it with an agenda, and and not with the desire to understand the Truth. Anyway, we left the whole ordeal with a rather yucky taste in our mouths, so to speak. And then we had some realisations.
One simple commandment that is easy to forget is “Seek first the kingdom of God.” As Mark and I left the service and began to talk about the experience we’d just had, we realised we should’ve first asked the Lord… “Where do you want us?” And then listened for His leading. How simple is that? Seek His kingdom first. Seek His will first. Seek His way first.
Instead, we just started floating around visiting churches on the recommendations of others and on personal whims. We were just looking at things based on our own opinions. This church doesn’t have a nursery. Nobody spoke to me at this one and it made me cry. (Mind you guys — moving to a new country might give you a few tough moments here and there!) This one is preaching heresy. Ugh…great.
We probably could’ve saved ourselves a lot of hassle and heartache if instead we’d first said, “Jesus, please direct our steps. By Your Holy Spirit, please lead us to the church where You would have us added.”
While I don’t think the Lord will be leading us to settle in at the church that is preaching heresy, I do think He has a way better idea than we do of the right way, and the best way, which is His will. If we’re not listening to Him, then we’re just choosing based on our own measuring sticks. We might as well be asking, Do I feel comfortable in the seats at this church? Does their carpet match most of my church clothes?
It is GOOD to be reminded that His ways are higher than our ways… So now instead of using our own measuring devices to figure out what we think is best, we have asked God to forgive us for not seeking Him first, and we are going to actively seek Him, and ask Him where He would have us put down our roots. I’ll let you know how it goes. 🙂
Sunday morning the Bear woke up with a sneezy, coughy, chesty cold. (I laugh when I use the term chesty — I first heard it when I went to the doctor with a bad cold for the first time in Scotland. He asked “Are you quite a chesty person?” Having no clue at first what “chesty” meant, I wanted to say, “Om, I think you can look at me and tell, I’m not a particularly chesty young lady. haha) Anyway! Asher had a cold is his chest, and we decided to stay at home, because this seemed to be the same cold he’d been struggling with since we passed through Scotland, and the weather wasn’t nice, and we thought rest would be the best thing for him.
We listened to some worship music and praised the Lord, listened to a podcast sermon, and spent time in prayer together while Asher had his usual morning nap. (Praise the Lord, he sleeps 2 – 2 1/2 hours every morning!) I was challenged to the core by something the pastor said over the course of that sermon. He was talking about an interview he’d seen of an atheist celebrity, who was talking about people trying to share the Gospel with him. The celeb said, “It doesn’t bother me so much, the people that preach to me. I don’t believe it, but what bothers me is the people who don’t. I mean, if you really believe there is a hell, how much do you have to hate someone not to tell them about it?”
Whoa. I thought that this was an incredible comment to make, and a perceptive observation. I think one of the greatest lies of the enemy, totally from the pit of hell, is the lie that there is no hell. Or that God is too nice and lovey dovey to ever send anyone there. Sometimes I find myself wanting to believe that. It is nicer to believe there isn’t a hell. It is nicer to think no matter what we live like in this life, the outcome will basically be the same. We want to believe all of our family members will be in heaven with us. If we do believe there’s no hell, then we don’t have to share the Gospel, and we can kind of just live how we want. The problem is, that is not what the Bible says! Ouch!
If you remember a wee while back, I was deep into the parables of Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew, and began to recognise a pattern. Jesus is constantly warning about the wrath that is to come, and more specifically about all the people who think they’re okay, but aren’t. Think about the wise and the foolish virgins (Matthew 25) — all of them were waiting for the bridegroom. Some of them just weren’t ready for him. Think about the parable of the talents in the same chapter. All of those guys were servants of the Master — some of them just didn’t understand who the Master was, or what His expectations were.
That’s what’s scary. Jesus is continually making it apparent that a lot of people who think they are all right with Him aren’t. Perhaps I can slightly modernize this statement for you: “Not everybody who says, ‘Yeah Jesus, you’re my homeboy…I mean Lord’ will enter the kingdom of heaven. The people who will are the ones who actually make Me their Lord, by doing My Father’s will. And when judgement comes, a lot of people are going to be like, ‘Hey Jesus! Remember me though, right? I prayed a prayer when I was five. Okay so maybe I didn’t do much after that but…remember me?’ Or, ‘Hey Jesus, I made you my Lord! I went to church every Sunday. And I did stuff in Your Name.’ But I’m going to have to reply, ‘I didn’t know you. Depart from Me. You ignored my commands and did your own thing.'” (Matthew 7:21-23, heavily paraphrased)
Now some of you might get a bit huffy at this point and say, “well, is our faith justified by our works, or are we saved by grace, and through faith? You make it sound like we work our way to heaven.” That is definitely not the case. I don’t believe your works get you into heaven — and hope you won’t believe that either for a second. Just like Ephesians 2 explains it, our salvation is by grace, and through faith. It is absolutely a gift of God, and it is not by works, so that no one can boast that they earned it in their own merit. And Romans 10 makes it clear again — if you confess with your mouth Jesus is Lord, and believe in your heart God raised Him from the dead, you’ll be saved.
So is there a contradiction here? Not at all. If we really believe Jesus is who He says He is, and we confess Him as Lord, and actually mean it, then we are saying He is our Lord. Meaning He is boss. He is in the driver seat and we are riding shotgun. Â With the gift of His Holy Spirit, we can begin to follow His lead for our lives. As sheep spend time in the presence of a shepherd, and begin to learn His voice, we spend time in the presence of God, begin to learn His voice and His ways, and where He leads us, we follow.
If you are going to claim Christianity, it seems apparent from Scripture that there’s more to it than coming down to the front and praying a prayer once when you’re eight years old. It sounds to me like Jesus says, “Come and die, and find your life again in Me.” “Follow Me.” And if we really believe what the Scriptures say, then 1) we have to obey them and 2) we should be warning people about the judgement that is to come.
The only thing I know for sure we can do now that we won’t be able to do in heaven (besides sin) is share the Gospel. Because everyone in heaven will already know it. So here’s the opportunity. Start by asking, “Do I really know Him?” The next question is, “Do you?”
Matthew 22. Parable of the Wedding Feast. Wow. Praise our amazing God — who saw it fit to speak in parables, so that those who desire to get their hands dirty and wrestle with understanding will find life and encouragement, and truth.
Jesus spoke this parable to the chief priests and the Pharisees. It was a stern warning against their self-righteousness. At this point, the ‘religious folk’ were already pretty ‘peeved’ at Jesus’ preaching, and were trying to figure out how to ‘lay hands on him’ (but not in a nice way).Â Seeing they may see and not perceive, And hearing they may hear and not understand; Lest they should turn, And their sins be forgiven them. (Mark 4:12 / Isaiah 6:9,10)
In the parable, Jesus says the kingdom of heaven is like a king who arranged a marriage for his son and then sent out his servants to call the people who were invited to come, but the people weren’t willing to come. He sent out other servants, saying “Tell them it’s ready! Come to the wedding.” But the people who were invited made light of it and went their ways, one to his farm, another to his business. And the rest seized his servants, mistreated them, and killed them. When the king heard, he was really really ticked. He sent out his armies and destroyed the murderers and their city. Then he sent his servants out to the highways to invite as many as they found to the wedding. So they did gather together all whom they found, both bad and good, and the wedding hall was packed out for the par-tay.
Then the king came in to see the guests, and he saw a man there who didn’t have on a wedding garment. He was like, “Dude, how did you get in here without a wedding garment?” And the guy was speechless. So the king said, “Handcuff him. Footcuff him. Take him away, and cast him into outer darkness; there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
Jesus ended all this by saying, “Many are called, but few are chosen.”
What inspired me to dig a little deeper into this was the realisation that I hadn’t the foggiest idea why that one dude got kicked out just because he wasn’t wearing the right thing. Like what if he was poor and couldn’t afford a wedding garment? Or what if he spilled something on it last week — they didn’t have oxiclean back then! Â But my friends, there is so much to more to the story than just what not to wear!
In this parable, praise God, the feast is the Gospel. It is a continual feast of good things — forgiveness and pardon from sin, favour of God, peace of conscience, hope of eternal life. The King, God, provides this eternal feast for us, through Christ, and His work on the cross. The original invited guests — the Jews — RSVP’d “B.B.R.” “Busy Being Righteous.”
This is Jesus’ indictment against the religious folk of the day — they should’ve been rejoicing that the promised One had arrived, but they were too concerned about losing their power and status to believe Him. The prophets of old were unsuccessful in their continual invitations to the Jews to believe the Gospel. John the Baptist was unsuccessful, and so was Christ himself. They told the Jews the entertainment was almost ready — the kingdom of God was at hand. The apostles and ministers of the Gospel were even sent after the Resurrection, to tell them it was come, it was quite ready; and to persuade them to accept the invitation. The natural man neither discerns, nor desires, the things of the Spirit of God.
The invited guests made light of the invitation — “perhaps the messengers are making too big a deal out of it? It’s probably not all that great.” They could feast just as well at home. Multitudes perish for indifference. It’s kind of like they’d seen invitation after invitation in their Facebook inbox and they were like, “I’d rather just chill out at mi casa.” Clicking ‘ignore’ is missing the feast of all eternity.
So the businessfolk and the farmer folks rejected the invite, (let not your work distract you from the One thing that is needful) and the others — who would’ve been religious leaders, if they weren’t tradesmen — treated the King’s servants spitefully. Like Saul of Tarsus who became Paul, many have persecuted the messengers of God. Â In speaking of the King’s armies, Jesus is prophesying the destruction of Jerusalem and the death of many many Jews at the hand of the Roman armies, 40 years after his time. That happened people!
Now here’s where the story gets really good for us — the invitation is extended to the Gentiles. And unless you’ve some Jewish heritage in your back pocket, this is good news for you! The Lord has extended the invitation to all, through Christ, to enjoy the goodness of the Gospel and right relationship with God. But what of the gent who pitches up in the wrong outfit? This is a warning we should definitely listen to. You or I might be just like him.
There are many professing Christians in the Church today. But when the King comes in, (when God returns in all His glory) He is a discerner of hearts, and He will know who belongs and who doesn’t. As Matthew Henry puts it, “How durst thou claim a share in gospel benefits, when thou hadst no regard to gospel rules? […] Despised sabbaths and abused sacraments must be reckoned for, and judgement taken out upon an action of waste against all those who received the grace of God in vain.”
Jesus is teaching the fear of the Lord. This man, afterwards, could not speak. He was convicted and without excuse. It will be better in the day of judgement for those who never heard about Jesus than for those who heard and did not take heed to follow Him and obey His commands.
So what the heck was this guy trying to wear to the feast? His own righteousness. He was trying to get into the feast on his own merit, in view of his good deeds and good works. Listen to Jesus, people! Your own good works are never going to be good enough for a holy God. Fear God and obey His commands! What TO wear: the righteousness that Christ lived out, and died to give you.
Many are called, but few are chosen:
Setting aside those who made light of the invitation, as well as those who make a profession of religion, but the temper of their spirits and the tenour of their conversation are a constant contradiction to it; setting aside the profane and the hypocritical, you’ll find that few, very few, are chosen … many are called to the feast, few chosen to garment — to salvation, by sanctification of the Spirit.
The Sermon in a Nutshell: Jesus often talked about people being really surprised in the judgement day. “Jesus we were pals! You know me! You’re my buddy — it says so on my t-shirt.” “Depart from me, I never knew you.” Your mission, should you choose to accept it, and your invitation, should you choose to receive it, is to accept the gift of salvation bought for you on the cross by Jesus, and then to begin to demonstrate that you understand the significance of the gift of Jesus by loving Jesus and obeying His commands. Jesus’ invitation is the only invitation you’ll ever receive to the feast that will last for eternity. Don’t click ‘ignore this invitation‘!!!