12 August 2018

Dear Friends,

Yesterday, Women’s Day, I spent much of the day in the garden composting the soil around our plants and top dressing the grass and trimming the roses for Spring etc.  At one point as I was mixing the compost into the soil around the roses with my hands (quite vigorously) I accidentally thrust my right thumb into the stem of a very thorny rose bush.  It was with such force (do I sound dramatic J) that the thorns actually broke under the pressure of my thumb and one of the thorns got lodged DEEP into my thumb and the tip broke off and is currently nestled neatly under the skin of my thumb!  That such a small thing can cause so much pain and discomfort!

Of course, the point (excuse the pun) is not lost on me that I quite literally have a thorn in my flesh J.  Whether or not it was the Apostle Paul who coined this phrase, it certainly was made popular through his mention of it in 2 Corinthians 12:7 where he used it as an analogy to represent some or other pain in his life that did not want to leave him.  We are never told what the ‘thorn’ was, but we are told how Paul reasoned what God was doing in his life through this ‘thorn’, i.e. that it kept his pride in check and built his character. 

I am very thankful that my body is busy fighting against the thorn in my flesh and already a little bump is developing which will push the thorn out and bring great relief, but the truth is that most of us live everyday with ‘thorns’ that will not or are unable to go away.  Perhaps it is a chronic physical condition that you live with, or the presence of a person/relationship that causes great discomfort, or a personal struggle against an addiction…. The question to be asked is, what is the Lord able to do with this ‘thorn’ in your life? 

Paul comments that God’s response to his ‘thorn’ was, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”  May God’s grace be sufficient for you. 

With all my love,

Chris

 

5 August 2018

Dear Friends,

Last night the lesson at The Bethel Series was simply entitled, The Church.  It is one of my favourite Bethel lessons.  By taking a broad look at what is revealed in the New Testament about the community that gathers around Jesus, the lesson plainly presents a number of key defining attributes of the Church and so helps us remember who we are called to be and what we are called to do.

Without summarizing the entire lesson, I want to highlight just one of the defining characteristics mentioned, i.e. that the Church is a community of reconciled people.  It is true that in the world at large there are many things that separate people and leave us alienated from one another, with walls (often literally) between the rich and poor, strong and weak, men and women, young and old, and differences of culture and race, but this is not to be the case in the Church.  From its very beginnings, after the Day of Pentecost, the Church was, by design, meant to be a community in which barriers come tumbling down.  

To quote from the Bethel lesson, “Striving to pursue its mission of reconciliation, the community of faith proclaims the theme that whoever we are and whatever our status, we are citizens of one planet, owing our life to one Creator. The church further proclaims that it is its joyful task to encourage each person, irrespective of race, sex, status or ability to be reconciled to God in Christ Jesus.”

In Galations 3:28 we are told that in Christ “there is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female”.  This does not mean that our differences of race, age, gender, culture, social status etc. do not exist in the Church, as if we become some kind of bland homogeneous group of clones.  Of course not!  But, the differences or diversity (which is to be celebrated) cannot and must not be used as an excuse to treat each other differently.  NO!  We are a reconciled community.  This is particularly significant during the month of August in RSA because we are reminded in this month that women continue to be mistreated, abused, dismissed, disempowered, objectified, harassed and looked down upon simply because they have a different physiology to men.  It is ludicrous and ungodly!  As followers of Jesus we must not perpetuate the lie of patriarchy that claims that women are less than men.  And, to the men reading this, I don’t understand why we must feel threatened by this truth, as if our manhood depends on us oppressing and subjugating women!  What nonsense!

I pray that Midchurch will truly be a reconciled community in which all people experience love and respect and acceptance, in the name of Jesus!

Lots of love,

Chris

 

29 July 2018

Dear Friends,

PUBLIC SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENT!

Please do not forward to anyone texts/whatsapp messages or voice notes that claim or at least pretend to be reliable information about critical matters in the life of our communities and broader society…. Unless, you have checked whether the information being touted is indeed true!

Like you, I receive (daily) messages claiming all sorts of facts about serious issues.  The messages are often inflammatory and alarmist, and feed into prejudices and stereotypes.  Sometimes there may well be some kernel of truth to the matter being addressed, but it has then be coloured by misinformation and rumours.

For example, yesterday I received a voice note of a woman claiming that today, Friday, all petrol stations would be closed to boycott the petrol prices and so everyone had better fill up their tanks.  At first, it sounds like a helpful bit of info, but it was actually aimed at creating a sense of alarm and even fear because it fed the myth that our society is lawless and falling apart.  A quick google search revealed that the voice note was fake news.  A few reputable news sites were warning people not to believe the voice note. 

Another one I received was a picture or table listing the top 10 most violent cities in the world, with Pretoria, Durban and Johannesburg in the list.  It was sent around as another example of the state of disaster that our nation is in.  I don’t deny for a second that there are huge social challenges in our nation, the most obvious being the high level of poverty and economic inequality, but a search of the web revealed from a reputable site - www.worldatlas.com (and others) - a list of the top 50 most violent cities in the world and Cape Town is at 15, below St Louis in the USA, and Durban at 44, below New Orleans and Detroit.

I can go on and on.  I do not live with my head in the ground, like an Ostrich, and deny the problems of our society, but I do not accept any purported facts from text messages or Facebook posts until I have checked it with reputable news agencies.  If you want to be part of building our nation, do not spread false information which only causes fear and anxiety.  Fact check what you are sent before forwarding it.

HERE ENDS THE PUBLIC SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENT

Love,

Chris

 

22 July 2018

Dear Friends,

I saw something this week that disturbed me very deeply and, without being melodramatic, speaks to the disconnectedness that plagues our broken society.

I was on my way back from Lanseria Airport and I stopped at the Total Petroport on the N14 to buy some water and a chocolate smiley.  The cashier was assisting another customer ahead of me and so I waited my turn.  However, what transpired between the customer and cashier was jarring.  The entire time that the cashier attended to the customer, the customer was on an animated phone call with someone else.  In fact, after paying, without acknowledging the cashier once, she left the shop and walked to her car, paid the petrol attendant (also not acknowledging him) and got into her car and drove off, still in conversation on the phone. 

When the customer left the cashier and I stepped forward I did not realize that I was shaking my head a bit, because when I looked up to greet the cashier, she just smiled at me and shook her head too, knowing that the customer before me had treated her like nothing more than a vending machine.  It was quite bizarre to watch.  During the entire transaction of placing the goods on the counter, to getting her purse out and placing her card in the card machine and punching in her code and taking the receipt and goods, she never once looked at the cashier nor acknowledged that there was another human being in her presence.

It is not OK to treat others in this way.  I am sure that the conversation she was having on the phone was engaging (she certainly was engrossed in it), but it would have cost her nothing to say to the person on the phone, “Excuse me a moment, I just need to pay for something”, and then greet the other human being, who was about to serve her, and engage in a brief yet meaningful moment of human connection with the cashier.

In isiZulu you greet another person with, “Sawubona”, which literally means, “I see you.”  Do we see one another?  Do we see the people we interact with every day as fellow human beings loved by God and worthy of a moment of our time and attention?  Or do we perpetuate the disconnectedness of our society by simply seeing through or past others?

Love, as Jesus loved. 

Chris

 

15 July 2018

Dear Friends,

A year or so ago during worship I shared a video clip with you from the website – I Am Second – in which the Hollywood actor, Stephen Baldwin shares, in an absorbingly witty confession, how his life moved from a place centered around money, fame and selfishness to a life centered around him no longer mattering, but rather God being first in his life, i.e. where he would be second.  Stephen Baldwin is a Christian and the website (www.iamsecond.com) shares similar stories of celebrities and other well-known members of society who have chosen a life of faith in the Lordship of Jesus.

One of our members sent me a newspaper article that appeared in the Pretoria News today, the 12th of July 2018, in which Stephen Baldwin’s daughter, Hailey, is mentioned.  She is now engaged to superstar Justin Bieber.  In recent years Bieber has been increasingly open about his faith in Jesus and his change of heart and life.  His Instagram post announcing their engagement affirmed this.  He wrote, “I promise to lead our family with honour and integrity letting Jesus through his Holy Spirit guide us in everything we do and every decision we make.... The thing I am most excited for is that my little brother and sister get to see another healthy marriage and look for the same!  God’s timing really is perfect.  We got engaged on the seventh day of the seventh month, the number seven is the number of spiritual perfection…isn’t that nuts?  By the way I didn’t plan that.  My goodness it does feel good to have our future secured!  We’re gonna be better at 70 baby here we go!  ‘He who finds a wife finds a good thing and obtains favour from the Lord!’”

Some of us may find it strange or unusual to speak openly like this on social media, but I suppose when you live in the public eye and connect with fans through social media, what better way for him than to express love, commitment and faith in Jesus on a platform that will reach millions.  It is refreshing and encouraging when people with such a huge fan base (and therefore with great influence on others) express their faith in such familiar and confident terms. 

I pray God’s rich blessing on Justin and Hailey and pray that their marriage will indeed be an example of faith and faithfulness to many.

I am going now to post something on Instagram and let’s see if it makes the Pretoria News smiley.

Lots of love, Chris