Miriam in Samaria 2

 

 Even when those who wrong us do not repent, we forgive…willingly and with love. 

Even those who wrong us insist we did what we did not do, we forgive. 

Even when our forgiveness gets trampled on and scorned, we forgive again. Even when we face ugly rumour-mongering and scorn, we forgive: hate cannot defeat those who trust in God. 

Even if we have to obey the Bible and tell the church of someone’s misdeeds because of ongoing unrepentance, it is with forgiveness and humility…knowing we could so easily be in the same position.  

Even if we tell the church of someone’s ongoing sin, as per Matt 18, it means loving that person…never cutting them off or shunning them …loving them back into the grace of God. 

And oh your sins have been paid in full ….at great price…will you not return to Him? Aya..you know who you are…. please return to Jesus.

This Matt 18 piece is written in the context Aya’s (not his real name) persistent and ongoing harm of the writer…ALWAYS behind her back, and refusing to stop.

 

People who recognise this pastor will try to bring him back to the love and peace of Christ. The writer prefers not to engage with the man personally because of the circumstances that caused it, but will continue to pray for him to find peace and to never act against Christ again in this way. It is Christ he has falsely accused and Christ he has acted against. Whatever you do to the least of these…..

( She has recently tried to engage with him personally, according to Matt 18 with witnesses, but he has refused to answer or apologise for his accusations.)

 

ALL THE WRITER WANTS is a PUBLIC apology for false public accusations,  and restitution.

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Her head swam and her tongue cleaved to the roof of her mouth. She was not sure if she was upright or if the world was real any more.

 

The words echoed hollowly in Miriam’s head. “I have told the elders that you have been inappropriate to me ….all those messages you sent me ….”

She swallowed. Those messages were messages gently asking Aya, especially as lead elder, to stop being too friendly to her.  Besides which, he had made his accusations public before speaking to her on an individual level….Matt 18 made it clear what the process of dealing with issues was.

It was a pretty normal issue for most men to feel attracted to women and to be slightly too friendly – even those she did not notice – but Aya was more close to Christ than most, and she needed him to see her merely as a sister.

She had been so extremely careful every single second of very contact with him to treat him only as a brother. And to pray and pray and pray for him and his dear, darling, beautiful, loving wife Rania.

 

She had even asked him to stop having contact with her altogether and he had simply replied that it was not neccessary.

It now seemed like he was being vengeful for her asking him to no longer have contact with her.

She still had those letters in her possession where she had written and asked him to step back – she could show them to anyone who asked…on each and every single accusation he had made. 

 

None of it had bothered her because she knew he was so close to Jesus he would overcome it easily.

 

However, even more puzzling and frustrating was his seeming to interpret any interaction on her part as expressing interest in him. Even business messages.

 

Satan was really playing with him. This was normal for many men to mistakenly think that a confident woman was expressing interest in himself….it was not abnormal…even in men she did not like, but it was still frustrating.

She had been so gentle and kind and generous in her attitude toward him because that is what God wanted.

She had initially just ignored it and pretended nothing had happened, but had learnt to withdraw more and more and more…..it seemed like the merest bit of contact set him off.

 

It had been such a hypocritical accusation, because, out of hundreds and hundreds of entirely appropriate handshakes and hugs, Aya’s physical contact on one or four occasions had also not been entirely good, but it had been marginal and often referred to by other men as flirting, (or by some as grooming) and it had only surprised and saddened her….she knew it would go away without needing to address it.

What puzzled her the most was how his thinking could be so worldly in this. He was so obviously close to Christ … it just did not fit.

 

How could he even THINK anyone would be expressing interest in a married man more than as a brother?

 

That he would even THINK that she would want him to destroy himself,  herself, the church, people’s faith, his wife and children; his and her reputation; their careers; their relationship with the Lord; and to quite literally kill her parents with sorrow….was beyond belief.

It was utterly bizarre. For her it had been a place of encountering Jesus. In His Holiness and Love and Kindness.

 

At any rate, she had said so many times that she was uncomfortable with Aya’s interpretation of her and with his behaviour that this was a violent shock.

 

She had even tried to ask another pastor to talk to him about it but he had simply been abusive toward her.

At any rate, she had finally said that it might be best if they didn’t have contact any more.

 

And that’s when he had finally come out with this….public accusations of an extremely serious nature. He has never even mentioned any issues before she had said to him that perhaps it was best not to have contact with him any more.

It felt like she had been violently and publicly raped…heaping this FALSE PUBLIC shame on her. Not only by him BUT BY EVERY MAN WHO HAD LISTENED TO HIS ACCUSATIONS.

She had struggled to understand other women when they had said the same thing when they had had false accusations made about them…now she understood too well. Public shaming and humiliation was an exceptionally violent and disembowelling act, and he such a gentle, humble man.

Destroying reputation was very destructive too….destroyed people completely. Destroyed their relationships …sometimes even before they began. Their livelihoods. Their families. Their ability to survive in this life. Reputation was never about what others think about a person…it was about community and about survival. That’s why the Bible viewed it as a fate worse than death.

He continued, “You must be quite insane to be friends with a married man.”

Miriam stared at him speechless. He knew that she was good friends with many married men…it was essential in her skill as herbalist. As was he with many women. It did not make sense. She wasn’t worried about his accusations of insanity…he was just hurt. Little did she know he was to spread it far and wide that she was completely insane -in an act of extraordinary and unusual vindictiveness and – much like Amnon’ s change of heart. It was so far out of character for Aya that something else HAD to be going on.

“You are such a loner, ” Aya added savagely.

Eyes wide, she started to breathe in short gasps. A feeling of panic rose in her. She was far more social than many other widows, even though it was difficult being single. A single person was still an outcast in this part of the world. It didn’t really matter…it was not a big issue for her, but to blame her for the actions of others was a shock.

She had never judged him….she did not know what it meant to be a man, so it was not her place to judge. She simply prayed that he and his wife would find joy in each other to the exclusion of herself.

Later, she was to learn that he had accused her behind her back of unusually filthy and vile things that simply had no basis in truth….Things he has had not even discussed with her or queried with her whether his perception was correct… It was profoundly distressing.   Things that were beyond her understanding as a woman. (In our day and age his behaviour is known as sexual harassment.)

 

She did not judge men for their issues, but to impute something so repulsive to her was beyond her comprehension. Men were very different but she did not think that they would go around deliberately destroying a woman’s good name because they were angry with her.

Were they deliberate lies? She doubted it, but he did seem determined to protect his image at any cost. This was not him. He was just not LIKE this.

She was always truthful…..always….. so it was hard to accept that he would lie about things like this – especially as he seemed a truthful man.  He seemed to fear God.  Only people who did not fear God lied. This was SO out of character. He was such a gentle, kind, godly man!! He must be out of his mind in some sense. Satan had to be toying with him as with a mouse.

 

She had a completely clear conscience before God about how she had interacted with him….100%. She did not understand people who were not 100% self-aware. Examining one’s heart under the Holy Spirit led to a profound awareness of even the slightest sin…did people here not do that? She couldn’t understand.

She did not know how deep and bitter his hatred and malice were to become.

She was also to learn shortly after that what it was to be shunned… – by an entire congregation of people. Based on the slander that he had spŕead.

Word had spread rapidly, and she was judged as being in the wrong, even though she was famous for her impeccable character. It was not something she could boast about, because it was Christ in her, but all the same…to take away someone’s name like that was to destroy her continually….every day for years to come…socially, work-wise and in many unseen ways.

Right now, all she could do was leave…betrayal was to lead to profound betrayal by other elders in other places…persecution by people in Jewish ekklesia seemed to be her lot. Strangely, she was to find refuge with the Samaritans.

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I do beg the man’s friends to help him in this…..because he has to face a LIVING God who is a CONSUMING FIRE and will not tolerate wilful disobedience such as making false public accusations without repentance. God has already spoken in striking the church with lightning… Will he hear God’s voice?  For Aya’s salvation’s sake, please get him to publicly apologise to the person concerned and to make financial restitution for the destruction he caused. Perhaps then revival will break out in South Africa….when pastor’s start repenting in tenderness of heart and mind.

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Restitution

The scriptural call for restitution

Why, in our South African situation, is there now a call from South African ‘black’ brothers and sisters for restitution?  Mostly, this post will focus on Scripture.

If many ‘white’ people have apologised and many taxes and businesses are pouring billions into social upliftment, and there is BEE, and many people working as volunteers to redress the past,  why the call for restitution?   There IS already surely a huge amount of restitution.

Is it a matter of unforgiveness, or of not recognising that Christ has already paid the price for sin? Is it a matter that people don’t recognise that we are all just sinners and all in need of forgiveness (Rom 3:23)? Or is it that such complainers are not dying to themselves (Luke 9:23)?   Surely we are told to bear persecution?  Indeed that we will be blessed (Matt 5:11)?  (Um, from the church – I am not sure this is correct.)

I think it is a bit more complex than that. Whilst everyone recognises that the price for sin has been paid and that we need to die to ourselves daily; and to forgive, there are also other factors at play.

Firstly, the church is the primary vehicle of reconciliation in the world. If we are not demonstrating true reconciliation amongst ourselves, we are living a lie. If we are being used by God as instruments to reconcile the world to Himself, then we ought to be truly reconciled with one another. (2 Cor 5:18)

Secondly, not all sin is the same. Whilst all sin is EXTREMELY serious, God views some sin as more serious than others. A sin by a Christian teacher (James 3:1);  or a sin directly against God more than humans (blasphemy – like misusing the pulpit for personal anger); or other things that are an abomination (e.g Prov 6:16 – 19) in God’s sight are sins that are more serious. (If we look at the parable of the log and the speck in Matt 5, we see an example of this.) IT DOES NOT MAKE ANY OF US ANY BETTER THAN THE OTHER.. .ALL SIN IS EXTREMELY VILE AND HORRIFIC. It simply means that some sins are more serious.

In addition, the impact on people’s lives must be takeninto account. Hitler’s sin was surely greater than that of the Jews, yet all could be as forgiven as the other. In fact, Jesus saw the sin of the Pharisee who could not see his sinfulness (as opposed to the tax collector), as the greater sin!!!!  The daily impact of apartheid and other prejudicial practices is still perhaps not fully understood, in my view, by my own ‘white’ culture.  (Yes, the writer also recognises that there is sin in all parties involved – but am focussing on the abuse and misuse of the power we may not realise we have had as white people).

Thirdly, once a white person says:” oh we are all sinners, let’s forgive and move on”, there is serious doubt as to whether there was repentance in the first place or that the seriousness of sin or level of destructive impact has been recognised.   Thirrdly, it is not a scripturally accurate term, as we are now ‘in Christ’, and so our identity and behaviour are transformed.     Fourthly, it does not take into account the huge cost the forgiver has to pay to absorb the consequences of the guilty party’s sin into their daily lives.

The reality is this type of person, or group of people, is bound to continue to view sin lightly and to carry on with unreformed, destructive behaviours. True transformation has not yet come to such a person or group of people.  To gloss over sin is never a response to true grace. True grace makes us weep over our smallest sin and go to great lengths to make amends with those we have wronged without pointing fingers at them or at their response. Because we LOVE Jesus. (Matt 5:23; Luke 19:1 – 10)

Fourthly,  Salvation and holiness in the West are seen as individualistic.  Biblically-speaking in many senses, and in many parts of the non-West, they are both more communal.  So, if someone sins against a person or group of people, the latter could remain silent and die to self.  That is scriptural too.

However, as we see Paul so often do, in a group of people who believe in Jesus, it is important to address sin/expose it or make people aware of it.  So, where if black people still, after finding that they forgive white people, still find unhelpful attitudes and behaviours, it is important to speak up – from a position of humility, but also from a position of Scriptural authority and for the sake of the church/fellowship (Matt 18: 23….etc)

It is also vital from a relational point of view.  If we are to establish trust again, then moves need to be made by the offending party to ensure the person knows that they are truly repentant (words plus action) and will actively seek the offended party’s good in all things above their own honour and interest (Phil 2: 3- 4).   Only then are they scripturally in a position for reconciliation.

So restitution. Surely no one can pay the debt that we owe God or each other? Indeed not! Only Jesus can, as only He is perfect and perfectly loving, and has already paid the price.  (e.g. 1 Pet 2:24)\

The Old Testament contains quite a few verses that relate to restitution.  (E.g. Exodus 22: 2- 3).  Some people believe this to be part of the Old Covenant.    However, we see Zacchaeus in Luke 19 offering to give back far more than he stole by his abuse of power – more than was required by the law.  Eph 4:28 says that the thief now needs to produce goods to give away to others.  (Restitution)

Why?  Here I go to guessing what might be the purpose of making restitution.

  1. It helps the victim to feel that justice has been done – even though restitution, no matter how large, can never make up or atone for any sin.
  2. It helps the GUILTY party to lay down their guilt. Many people, even if requesting forgiveness, and receiving it, struggle with guilt FEELINGS.   The guilt is gone before God, but the guilt and shameful feelings linger.   This act of restitution – though small compared with their sin – is an act of obedience to God and shows true contrition.  It very often helps the person to restore their sense of identity in Christ as a new person.
  3. It lays the foundation for relationship-building, where possible, or at least for other community-restoration.
  4. It helps the guilty party not to act in that way again – as they understand at least some of the cost involved on the part of the forgiver.

 

So, if there is already restitution, why a new call?   My personal view is that it is because it has been done through institutional channels, rather than personal ones.

 

I think that in this post I have only laid the scriptural ground for restitution.  Perhaps I shall leave the details of this  topic for another day.

 

How and when and where and who and what are perhaps best left to a later post.

To Him be all the Glory!!!

 

 

In all things…

Romans 8:28:  speaks of God working all things for good for those who love Him and are called according to His purpose….

This is often used  in a trite way by well-meaning people who wish to bring a quick fix to a situation.

The verse in context, however, is used in a far more meaningful way…bringing with it hope and a firmness of conviction, as well a deep, powerful joy and delight.

This, then, is my testimony to this.

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I speak from the context of love and forgiveness for those who have wronged me – even those who have wronged me in very serious ways. This does not mean that if they have not apologised that they have received forgiven in themselves.  Jesus makes it clear that we have to make right with others as well as God. See Matt 5 for example.

I thank each one of you for having contributed to my journey of becoming stronger and wiser in Christ; and for enabling me to become more like Jesus as my love for each one of you grows stronger.

What happened happened and still holds destructive and devastating consequences in my life to the extent that I am no longer able to be part of a congregation or fellowship because of the extreme levels of hatred directed toward me, although I attend sermons and am still able to serve.

This is my story….  …I have always been very well loved.  Not popular, but deep bonds formed with young, old, rich, poor, different cultures.

Along with that came the deepest and most profound respect and trust from anyone who got to know me – my integrity in all and every sphere was well-known and deeply trusted, because of the life of Jesus in me, as with most other Christians I know.

Like Paul, however, I wish to expose what happened for the sake of the body of Christ in Johannesburg.  I too sin and see my sin as supremely awful, but I am unable to take on the sin of others.  I am not worthy to do so.   In addition, the body of Christ needs to be radically different, and therefore Paul called people to repentance – whether the sin was against him or others.   The body needs to waken from sleep and turpor….and be called to be radically different.

When I returned to South Africa from living overseas, I faced violent hatred and rejection and lies and hypersuspicion and paranoia and extremely malicious false accusations…..wild accusations of every kind under the sun – sometimes by people who were otherwise godly; and sometimes by people close to me but who did not know me.  Complete hysteria surrounding anything I did or said or did not do or not say would be an accurate description. The amount of things people made up about me was highly disturbing in both nature and number.

As I have mentioned elsewhere, this was only amongst some white people. People of other cultures and many white people showed me the same respect and love that had always been part of my community.

Quite a number of times the attacks were by pastors and their cohorts – a number of whom I did not know or had never met.  I was faced with all numbers and many kinds of brutal, vile, creepy, slimy accusations by what eventually amounted to hundreds of churchgoers – mostly behind my back. Of course none of them had even so much as a grain of truth  …It was brutal, violent, malicious, unkind venom to make up things like that about any person, never mind spread them.   Mercilessly harsh attacks. Lack of fear of God.

 

Jesus said: ‘Whatever you do to the least of these, you do it to Me’.

I was betrayed many many many times over in this slander – sometimes by the same person/s.  Over and over and over again.

The people concerned were most not obedient to the Bible to confront me personally with their false accusations – mostly because they knew it could  be blown out of the water with ease.

Scripture says one ALWAYS must speak to the person concerned first before using others. (Matt 5)

EVERY SINGLE ONE of them spread very publicly…the most horrific slander about me that anyone could imagine….and refused to talk to me about issues. I heard many things said about me behind my back many years later. I needn’t tell you how deeply it hurt….particularly on those occasions where I had acted with the deepest integrity and holiness and grace and love, by the grace and only by the grace of Christ.

To face that level of hatred from so many people and to be hated by entire congregations for things I simply did not do…. goes beyond multiple betrayals. Some congregants recognised their hatred and malice some years later,  and apologised, but the main perpetrators never ever did.

God had used me to expose things in their lives that He seemed to want to deal with, and each and every one of them is in a more spiritually sound place as a result, but they hated me violently for it.

They were not talking about who I actually am, as my integrity in Christ, like with all who love the Lord,  could not be faulted in any aspect because of His Holy Spirit in me. I am still a GREAT sinner and I have a great Saviour, but as to integrity…Christ in me has done a great work.

It was a strange and terrifying time. They also attacked my relationship with the Lord, as though they were strangely omniscient.

Not only did they attack me, but whoever attacked me always then gathered others to attack me as well – that is called mobbing. It is also a very strong guilt reaction.

I always find it interesting that people who are in the wrong in a situation always talk to others about it….using the name of the person involved. The Bible speaks very strongly about slander and gossip…even listening to it is soundly condemned.. see Proverbs for many verses. 

This was fairly unending and profoundly abusive – unrelenting for 7 – 9 years.  There was no let-up or time where there was not something excruciatingly painful happening, some major attack on my identity or character- to my face….(Notwithstanding all the revolting and rather sick things said behind my back and told to me by others.)  Most who passed on the horrific slander did not even bother to check with me whether x.y and z had happened before passing the message on ‘just out of concern.’  ‘Malice poorly disguised’ is what Jesus would have called it.

These people also put a negative lens on everything I said or did because of their guilt.  Everything I did or said had a weird, creepy and deeply negative spin put on it.

People who did not know me  – proclaimed that they had deep insights into me that only omniscience or a very deep understanding can bring. They even had the most extraordinarily deep insights into situations they knew nothing about…or only one sentence.

Many of the attacks came out of the blue from people I did not even know.  Certainly most of the attacks were sudden and exceptionally violent.

Yet listeners grabbed onto it as though it were true _ even when they could see the evidence right in front of them that it was not even slightly true. (In most other countries, people who say ugly things about others behind their backs are rejected.)

(For women, who love harmony and trust and openness and respect and getting on well with people, this is a particular agony. )

I always wondered how people in the church could conjure up such ugly things, never mind say them, about someone.  How people can hate so deeply and pretend to be following Jesus. How they can be filled with so much malice and vindictiveness if they put Jesus first and love Him. Actually, it was Satan behind it all – using people. They were certainly hell-inspired accusations. And why do I use such strong words? Because I want people to know the free on of forgive was from such deep sin. To be forgiven much is to love much.

People who made the accusations most often knew these accusations or alleged ‘events’ to be outright lies, or misdirection. Misdirection means that a guilty person points in the direction of another in order to draw attention from the big issue in themselves. Misdirection is a very shrewd and cunning move, as most people seem to be taken in by it.

Thereafter, even after some of the perpetrators had apologised and I had forgiven them, one or two persisted in viewing me in a strangely negative light and engaging in further reviling and hatred.

This obviously does not come from Jesus, but He graciously permitted it.

(This means there were some apologies eventually, but very few apologised – I deeply respect those who love Jesus enough to obey Him.)

I know that people like Madame Guyon, Bunyan, Hudson Taylor, Spurgeon and many, many more faced the most violent and creepy accusations  known to mankind at the beginnings, and sometimes at the ends, of their ministries, but I did not expect this, as I am pretty much a nobody, and happy to be so.

I also know that the people from Nazareth reacted to Who Jesus was in this way, but that was little comfort…this was the church…my family, not people who are supposed to oppose me. They are supposed to be on the side of Jesus.

Satan was doing his worst and using people to do it.

The accusations were often a form of rather brutal public shaming …..and I will not discuss shaming or its dehumanising effects here.  Or the wide- scale rejection, cold-shouldering and outright hostility that goes with that.

Suffice it to say, I recognise that I have walked the path that Jesus walked, and feel humbled to have been counted worthy to follow this path.

I did not respond much or at all to the ‘stuff’  for the most part – I remained completely silent –  until eventually I felt the Holy Spirit guiding me to respond and defend myself…sometimes rebuking people firmly. (If you need to rebuke a leader, then you need to rebuke a leader – Scripture commands us to do so.  That is love.)

Eventually, I had to repent of my own sin too, but unfortunately that repentance was often abused.

It was not a positive thing for the church in Johannesburg to be indulging in this level of violence and reviling and persistent negative attitudes  – it does great damage to His body.

Instead, a call to love and kindness and refraining from gossip and false accusation was in order.

It is not healthy for Christians to read everything a particular person does through an unrealistically negative lens – it is unhealthy for one’s soul, as it promotes arrogance and pride, and is a form of reviling,  but also leads to the biting and devouring one another that Paul talks about.  Instead, we are to  view others as better than ourselves. (Phil 2:3)

At any rate, God enabled me to forgive all involved, but the trauma remained until I began to see purpose in my suffering – how God was using it to the good.  I had to get out of the most recent traumatic situation first, but soon God started showing me how he was to use it for His glory and His name.

It started with my talks on cultural differences. A friend pointed out to me how apartheid had brutally shamed a people in a way that their identity, their dignity, their humanity,and I could identify.  I could understand what that meant:  The uphill battle for respect and honour and dignity and plain old simple humanness.

God used that to help me understand a lot more what apartheid had meant, and how it traumatized people.  Sure, a group trauma is easier in some senses to bear than individual trauma, but most people brutalized by apartheid had it in much more long-term doses.  I could still stand in solidarity – even though my being shamed and rejected and spat on was a much shorter period of time.  That was a blessing to me.

Then I began speaking to women, and have been able to say something of value because of my own experience, and the certainties of the faith and hope that God has been teaching me.

So, my testimony to this verse is that God uses ALL things to the good for those who love Him. This is an absolute certainty – something to have firm hope in.  As firm as we do have faith in gravity. Or rather more!!

To Him be Glory.

Is there any reason for a pastor to stop teaching?

This important topic follows from 1 Tim 3:2, where it says that an elder must be blameless.  James 3:1 adds to this when he says that teachers are to be even more so – as they will be more strictly judged.

 

So, what does it mean to be blameless?

Well, it means that no-one can truthfully accuse you of any ongoing sin.

Firstly, 1 Tim 3 goes on to say that the teacher must be prudent.  Prudent means wise, circumspect.  So, for instance, a person who is prone to resentment may not  teach, as such may use the pulpit to execute their anger or resentment, and this is both imprudent and blasphemous.

Similarly, a person who struggles with vindictiveness may not be in the teaching office for the same reasons.  Vindictiveness, or revenge, can be very subtle, and teachers can overlook their own actions, forgetting that God can see the heart. It can be subtle forms of getting back at a person.  It can manifest in gossip, or it can manifest in deliberate exclusion.  It can also manifest in taunting people with words or issues they know will hurt them.  Or it may be doing something small – for example,  someone scratches another’s car with a key when no one else is looking.  No matter how insignificant the scratch, malice is present, and this reveals a very deep problem in a person’s heart.

Similarly, a person prone to regular outbursts of anger should not teach… Now, it can be equally true that anger can be very calm….it can reveal itself in goading someone or stirring them up, as Gal 5:26 mentions. This is sin, and from that verse, it seems that God holds the person who engages in goading responsible for the other person’s anger that ensues.

Anger can be expressed in the sweetest of tones, but the content of the conversation, and the level of meanness therein,  will reveal the truth of whether a person is angry or not.  Often, it is another person who will express anger – but the real anger is found in person number one, who says nasty things.

Furthermore, violence is a disqualifier. This Scripture, (1 Tim), says that an elder must be gentle, and peaceable.    If a person is violent in a physical or verbal way, even, as mentioned above, if expressed in the sweetest tones, they should be disqualified from teaching.  If they do not improve, then they should be barred for many years.

Violence and anger can manifest themselves  in a negative attitude toward a person or coldness toward them.  Coldness can be subtle, but God is not blind to it, and it certainly disqualifies a person from teaching, because its roots are in pride and arrogance.

Violence and anger may result in gossip,too,  or in allowing others to gossip about third parties.

I think the word that sums up the qualities that are required is ‘loving’ .  (And in another passage, Scripture speaks of love being without hypocrisy – that is, love must be genuine).  Scripture is very clear that hatred is a salvation issue (Just about the whole of 1 John speaks of this).  So, all malice/ hatred will disqualify someone from being a teacher – whether bishop or pastor’s wife or archbishop, the issue is the same.  Malice, mockery, disdain, which are all part of  hatred can be done behind closed doors….but God knows.   It still disqualifies a person.

If an elder is to be respectable, then he will refrain from being self-centred.  If he or she is focused on themselves, then there is still too much pride in their hearts for them to teach effectively.  Self-centredness and self-reliance demonstrate a poor understanding of the gospel – which proclaims that we all desperately need God and that we can do no good without His power.

Instead a respectable elder will show selflessness in his manner whether in looking after others or during conflict.  During conflict, a spiritually healthy elder will only be concerned with his or her own actions before God and not focus on the other’s.  (A good leader will also take the bulk of the responsibility for any conflict on him or her – self.  This is maturity and humility, as it follows the pattern of the servant-hearted leader and addresses the issue of power, but that is a side-comment. )

A healthy elder will be respected when he views others as better than him self, and will continue to see himself as the worst of sinners.

Another important thing to mention is that of interaction with spouses.  A person’s first and only loyalty is to Jesus Christ.  If a spouse is resentful or angry or in any other way sinning in a situation where a third party is involved, we will be most helpful if we challenge them to be more Christ-like.  less resentful, and more gracious, rather than agree with their sin and be led into sin ourselves.  If we are not yet able to be like that, then the question is whether we should be teaching at all….if Christ is not our focus, then it is questionable whether we can be found to be blameless.

There are, of course, the normal issues surrounding money, sex and power,but those I leave for others to explain.

If an elder’s character does not live up to this, and he remains in power, then you might wish to  refrain from being under his authority by not being involved in ministry in his church, even if you are part of the congregation.

Teaching is a huge responsibility, and all elders need support and prayer, just as they are there to serve others.  One thing for certain: no man is an island, and as part of the body, elders need to be very close to God and call on His strength.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Revival on Kwasizabantu (3)

To speak of miracles and conversions to Christ and release from evil spirits sounds like being in biblical times doesn’t it.

However, that, to my mind, was not the greatest miracle.

To me, the greatest miracle was people living together in community across language groups.  To be sure, we had to take on the cultural norms of the Zulu, but many Afrikaners came, as did Zulus.  There was no hierarchy dividing cultural groups.  The leaders were drawn from different language groups, and included women as well as men.

I don’t know exactly how harmonious it was – but having lived there for 2 years, I think I can say it was fairly harmonious.  People were all given tasks to do, and there was too much activity going on for conflict.  In any case, people confessed their sin to one another before conflict could occur, and took the Bible very seriously on Matt 18 and dealing with conflict there.

Besides which, people were not concerned about other people’s hearts as much as they were their own.

The co-workers from non-Zulu groups all learnt Zulu, and took on the shame-honour cultural practices.   So, slacks and shorts were forbidden for women; and dating was taboo. People got married by being convicted in their hearts as to whom to marry, and approaching the pastors about it.

It was certainly a community, and a community that knew the behavior expected of them.  People had a role and function in that community, and operated in those roles with efficiency and pride – as to the Lord.  Some, who are not used to shame-honour communities, found some of it a little coersive.  But that was a Western viewpoint.  From the point of view of the communitarian, community boundaries have to be established and adhered to – graciously, but firmly.

In South Africa at the time, this was unheard of – and very subversive.  Although they seldom preached against apartheid openly (they would have been shut down had they done so), they treated all as equals, whilst being sensitive to some cultural differences.  Everyone was trained in their tasks, and took orders from those not necessarily of their own cultural grouping.  And  there was respect – from all to all.

This was indeed a miracle, when some in South Africa were treating others as less than human.

Praise God for His work in this arena.

 

 

Forgiveness

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Forgiveness – an ideal or a possibility?  The beauty of forgiveness cannot be denied, but often the reality eludes us.

This is a question I asked a while ago, and feel I am more qualified to answer it now than previously. I had heard a number of times from Christians and non-Christians that forgiveness was merely something you did for yourself. This made me uncomfortable because it did not seem to fit with the biblical picture God gives us of forgiveness.

(Of course to discuss forgiveness, one needs to discuss repentance from God’s point of view, and to discuss that, one needs to discuss what is sin.)

I’ll just begin with forgiveness and see what God has to say about it in His Word.

Firstly, in the Old Testament, forgiveness is rarely talked of unless in relation to God.  God was the One who needed to forgive, and Who forgave.  We do see one or two instances of forgiveness in practice, such as Joseph with his brothers, and David with his Son Absalom.  However, we see God as the One being offended in every sin in the Old Testament, something we as modern-day Christians would do best to remember.

Secondly, we have the Lord’s prayer telling us to forgive others and our Father will forgive us ours.  Matt 14: 12 – 15 is one place where it is mentioned, and it also says that if we do not forgive others, neither will our Father forgive us.  The text is often explained away by well-meaning pastors, but it is hard to see how it can mean anything other than it says: “If you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”

In Matt 25:21, Peter comes to Jesus and asks how many times we should forgive someone who sins against us, and Jesus replies ‘Seventy times Seven.’ This is a really a great amount and shows a deep generosity of spirit.

Sometimes Jesus says to rebuke an offender, and IF THERE IS REPENTANCE, forgive.  (Luke 24.3)  We will discuss this later, as we see that there is a link between repentance and forgiveness.

God gives us many other commands to forgive, so that is essential in our walk.  Scripture doesn’t talk about the size of the sin – merely the need to forgive.

What then do we make of this?  It seems impossible.

I remember the Old English saying, “To err is human, to forgive Divine.”  It is only possible with Jesus in us – sending out His streams of forgiveness through us. The verses in John allow us this understanding: John 15:1 – 11 speaks of our abiding or remaining in Jesus, and then verse 12 speaks of loving one another as He loved us.  This would not be possible if His love were not flowing through us.

Besides which if Jesus forgives another person, who am I to NOT forgive them?   After all, their sin against God was greater than their sin against me, as we saw from the Old Testament.

Forgiveness means more than allowing myself to let go of an offence.  It is also about letting the other person free from the debt that they owe; seeing them in a more positive light; and increasingly having a positive attitude toward them.

It thus means more than simply letting go of resentment.

Further, forgiveness is mostly talked about whether there is repentance or not, although it is assumed.  Then there is the passage in Luke (above) that talks about repentance being the prerequisite for forgiveness – so what are we to think?

To answer the question, then, I think of forgiveness as God has forgiven us.  He has already forgiven us because of the cross.  However, we do not receive that forgiveness until we ask His forgiveness – until we repent.

That is how I reconcile the Luke 23 passage with the other passages about forgiveness.  My job is to forgive – no matter what – whatever another person’s action or reaction.

However, the other person cannot receive that forgiveness unless they repent.

(To repent means to apologise to both God and human for what we have done wrong.  Without an apology, there is no repentance – See for instance Matt 13.24.   In fact, many times in Scripture, we see the need for restitution as well….something our South African audiences are discussing at the moment.  As an example, we have Zacchaeus in Luke chapter 4, who offers to restore more than what he stole.  )

So, if we forgive, we have done what we are to do from our side – in obedience to Christ.  If the other person repents, we can have restored relationship with them, but if they do not, it is impossible, as there is a block preventing true connection.  That block cannot be wished away or ignored.  It is there, whether acknowledged or not, and it needs to be removed by true repentance.

This of course does not cover small offences, which love can cover over without any harm being done.

In reality, this is a process.  We have to affirm our forgiveness every time a new offence occurs, and not add it up to the other’s account.

Forgiveness also does not mean healing.  The two are definitely not interlinked. Consequences of sin remain – both for the offender and the target, and so healing often only comes in rediscovering purpose and finding treasures in the midst of pain.

What then is repentance?

Firstly, it is agreeing with God that we have sinned against Him by sinning against one of His creatures.  It is acknowledging that we are wholly and completely in the wrong and have gone against who we were created to be.

It is about remorse for what we have done – not about feeling sorry for ourselves.  If someone claims we have sinned against them and we cannot see it, it is important to find out what it is, because there may be some times that we cannot see our own faults.  An eagerness to find out what it is we have done against others will bring good relationships.

Repentance is not self-pity.  It is not about feeling sorry for ourselves when others tell us we have done wrong.  Repentance is  about going public with our wrongdoing and confessing it to others where needed.  James 5:16

Repentance also recognises that we don’t have to wallow in guilt or shame.  Repentance recognises that we can be and are forgiven by God – freely and without restriction.   Repentance recognises that we are free from that sin from that hour.  Repentance recognises our human frailty, but God’s delivering power.

Further, what is sin?

(Apart from the obvious that it is something that displeases God – and that we ought not to murder, steal, lie etc.)  I think that in the modern age, we tend to minimise sin/talk it down.

So, if we talk about malice, which is the desire that someone comes to harm, we can forget that cold-shouldering is also part of malice.  Consistently refusing to answer someone’s text messages, or refusing to greet them, or trying to have as little as possible to do with them, or walking away from them when they are trying to talk to you is malice.  Malice is part and parcel of hatred, and hatred is something with eternal consequences.  (1 John 2:9)

Love does the opposite of those, and that is what we were created for!!!!

There are other examples, but the emphasis is on forgiveness, so we shall end on that positive note.  Forgiveness is for all who come in repentance to God.  Forgiveness of others is made possible by God in us.  Forgiveness brings life, and brings hope, and is given to us freely and without any obligation.  

Bless you!!!

 

Revival on Kwasizabantu 2

Genuine Faith:

“I want what you have got.”

That was my first impression when we visited the mission station in the early 1980s.

For the first time in my life, I saw what genuine love for Jesus looked like. I had met many Christians and not understood the message of the gospel from their lives….but these lives radiated a joy and peace, as well as a depth of love that could not be counterfeited.

They confessed their sins regularly to one another…no one claimed to be perfect. They also had a lot of counselors on hand to counsel through sins and to hear confessions and pray for people. That is how many people came to be healed of physical illnesses…through confession of sins, more than prayer for healing.

It made everyone who went there sensitized to sin and evil in a way that most Christians who go to church are not.  The Holy Spirit worked in great conviction and power: God chose to move amongst the Zulus in an unusual way.

All of us who went through there developed a very high degree of integrity – not from our own strength, but from God’s.

Whatever went wrong there afterward – and there are some hair-raising stories – the beginning and middle of the revival were about genuine, strong, deep faith.

Whenever there is a work of God, there the devil is at work too – in a very powerful way.  And so many people who lived at the mission station got hurt from things that happened afterward.  In fact, the leaders went astray in some small ways – but never as badly as I have seen leaders go astray outside of this mission station.

The Mission used to criticize Christians outside of their circle – as they were living carnal lives, and engaging in compromised living.  They did have a point – what these people saw as a result of continual repentance of small sin and restitution, and changed lives, was far beyond the experience of the average pastor in South Africa.

In the next blog, I wish to talk about just how miraculous this was in ways that perhaps have not been recognized fully – but particularly pertinent in the light of the South African struggle currently.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Revival

Revival on Kwasizabantu Mission Station

I had a very unusual upbringing, but it is only now that I begin to revaluate it and appreciate it just how astounding the events that I was caught up in were.

I grew up on a mission station in Natal.  When I say ‘grew up’ I actually mean I spent my 12th and 13th years there, and then spent three or four more years going to the branch of the mission station up in Joburg.

However, the impact that it had on my life was so far-reaching that it seemed as though I grew up there.

The following comes from the foggy memory of a 12 /13 year old girl, so if in places I may be not 100% factually accurate, I pray forgiveness.

From the outset, I want to say: these people were very anti-Charismatic and anti-Pentecostal.  They were very against Healing Crusades, or any ‘healing’ of a public/showy nature.   Most people who experienced miraculous physical healing experienced it as a result of confessing their sins or the very private laying-on of hands – behind closed doors, with just two or three people in the room.

The people who were healed were told not to speak of the healing until it could be ascertained by the medical profession and the leaders could discern if the person’s life was changed as a result or not.

In the end, miracles such as healing someone of AIDS or raising a number of certified-dead people to life; healing deafness etc. could not be hidden.

But, the leaders emphasized, these were not the ‘real’ miracles.  The’ real’ miracles were the changed lives of the people; meeting with God and being transformed.  The rest was simply God showing His power.

They spoke out most strenuously against the Toronto Blessing as a counterfeit revival, as they had seen first-hand what real revival looked like.   And so I begin.

KSB (Kwasiabantu) had started with a small group of German missionaries working amongst the Zulus.  It was in Mapumulu, a place between Greytown and Stanger. The sleepy little village does not have much going for it, but it was there that God chose to exercise His power in a very remarkable way.

The Zulus are a proud nation who had been strong warriors for generations.  These German missionaries may have belonged to the Lutheran Church at one stage – or they may not.  I am not sure about this.   I say this because of the emphasis on confession which I shall describe later.

They had not had much breakthrough in their work, but one day they were praying and seeking God’s face about it, when God convicted them of being ashamed about Him.  They had been closing their windows when they prayed, in order that the neighbours might not hear.

Once convicted of this sin, they prayed together again  – this time with the windows open.  The results were one of last century’s greatest miracles  – in so many ways.  (This was in the 1960’s).

God came upon them in power, and they were weeping over their sin.  Not only that but others began to spontaneously come to them from the surrounding houses and countryside, and were also deeply convicted of sin.

They started seeing God doing the most extraordinary miracles.  They saw how God cast out demons from a girl kept chained to a pole – after one or two ‘tries’.  Then, one by one, more people came under the conviction of the Holy Spirit and became lovers of Jesus.

There were many on the mission station when I lived there who loved to tell of how they came to know Jesus.  One lady who was part of the No 1 Choir (they had a no. 2 and a no.3 choir) gave voice to a testimony of deliverance from great evil.

She had been a witch, with strong powers in witchcraft.  This had led to her being tormented by evil spirits and deep darkness.  One day, she had a dream where she saw a large tent.  She heard someone telling her to go to that tent where she would be helped. (At this time, the place was not known as Kwasizabantu – the place that helps people.  That came after many people simply gave it that name.)

She went, met with Jesus through conviction of sin, and was delivered of her demons through prayer.  The freedom and joy that this dear lady exhibited even many years later was a sight to be seen.

I could tell of the man who, once convicted of sin, was also convicted deeply by the Holy Spirit that he had to go and make restitution for something in his childhood.  He had stolen 5c from a store.  He went to the store, and found only the store -owner’s son.  Once he had confessed and offered to make some form of restitution, the son, struck by the power of God in this man’s life, confessed that he too, wanted this life in abundance, and landed up committing his life to God.

I remember a French lady, who was extremely mentally ill.  She used to shout at us on the mission station and frighten us.  The leaders had tried to help her, but felt they had failed.  However, she insisted on staying, and so worked on the mission station doing some sort of really delicious cooking.  Over the course of about 4 years, she was healed.

Of course we had the tsotsis coming to Christ; and the terrorist who came to plant bombs, only to be convicted in the service where they were to have planted bombs.  There are so many stories of this kind of miracle – of violent men whose lives changed dramatically; but also of quiet stories of meeting with Jesus in a new way and being transformed more slowly.

There were many many more miracles of different kinds, but a blog post cannot be too long.  So, I shall continue later.

The image of God

The Bible says we are made in the image of God.  1 Gen 1: 26: “So God created humankind in this image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.”

Then of course came the Fall, and that image was marred.  However, in each and every human being, there is still the image of God visible and beautiful, no matter how sin has marred it.  Sin is still an alien thing.  It does not belong to our humanity.

I am seeking to look for  more beauty in each and every person I meet.  I am seeking to see them through God’s eyes, and not my own.

So, if I meet a homeless man begging at a robot, I want to be able to engage with him not as a potential thief who may harm me, but as a person primarily in need of God’s overwhelming generosity and kindness.  Yes, I do pray for God’s protection, and I believe He will honour that if I honour Him in my interaction with people who are despised by the world.

I also do rejoice in the image of God that I have already found in others.

So, I have one or two friends that have serious psychiatric illnesses.  However, with medication, they are very high functioning indeed.  My Cape Town friends gave me the example of being dedicated to these friends in sickness and in health, and viewing them with deep respect.  They are often the most kind and generous individuals with a high degree of creativity and love – more so than those around them who have not been diagnosed with mental health issues.

(That is why I get really angry with people who in conflict tell the person they are in conflict with that they are mentally ill – it is always profoundly derogatory to do so.  Yes it may be abusive, but it is also utterly demeaning to those who really do struggle with mental health.)

Then, I can look at the image of God in my mother, who is the most extraordinarily loving and saintly person I have ever met.

Or, I could mention my brother in law, who looked after both his mother and his aunt when they were dying in extraordinarily self-sacrificial ways.  Not only that, but his service at work and at home demonstrates unusual selflessness and portrays the image of God.

Perhaps I could mention of the poor people I met in Alex, who despite not knowing God personally, had a personal dignity and a beauty that was lovely to see.

Whoever the person in front of us is, they still bear the image of God, and therefore are people to be loved and cherished.

 

 

Empathy

The personality of empathy

I have recently discovered that there is a personality that is not often talked about. It is called an empathetic personality.

This is a personality that deeply feels the emotions that others express and cares profoundly about others’ pain.

Sometimes, we feel too deeply. Yes, it is not exactly another’s pain we are feeling, but we enter into the emotions and pain that others express in a way that the other 80% of the population cannot understand.

This will often drive us to action where angels fear to tread if someone we care about is traumatised or in pain.

Strangely enough, we are not the personality suited to taking up arms in someone else’s defence, as we are quite gentle, sensitive individuals.

It is one of the reasons we don’t watch the news….we cry over the suffering we see there too much.

Although we are ideally suited to careers with compassion, it destroys us if we find too much suffering.
Because we are sympathetic and are fully able to see the other person’s point of view, one of the things which we are not able to tolerate is a perpetrator acting like a victim. We lose respect for perpetrators who twist and distort our words and actions into something negative so that they can take on victimhood status.

We are people who take more than our fair share for the blame in any situation, but we are not prepared to respect anyone who acts like a victim when they are the perpetrator.
The same happens when a perpetrator who has done extreme sin criticises our reactions. Our reactìons are never as strong as the action, and it is appropriate to take strong action.

As far as we are concerned,  Hitler does not get to criticise the reaction of the Jews.

In addition,  we may  have strong emotions, but we never ever exaggerate what we feel. In fact, we understate it.  However, our strong emotions can sometimes be seen as a weakness.

 

If we play a part in conflict, or do something wrong, we are happy to take full responsibility without worrying about the other person’s reaction, as long as it is not too strong.
The other thing about us is that we are extremely skilled at reading body language and micro expressions with an astounding degree of accuracy. Some non-Christians call it second sight, but all we are doing is reading what people give away through their own body language. Of course, there is no 100% certainty, as closeness and people’s private circumstances also play a part in body language.

Because people are unaware of just what and how much they give away, it can be frightening to hear. To us, people are fairly see-through unless they are able to hide their nonverbals.

It makes us into walking lie-detectors. We can smell a lie a kilometre away, and it irks us terribly. Of course, because of personality, we will seldom be so rude as to mention it, but we will not trust those people.

We would rather tell the truth against ourselves than even if it means severe punishment than face ourselves with a lie on our conscience.

We are also extremely self-aware. All the time. This can be pretty exhausting for us.

However, the great thing about being around an empathic personality is that you will feel deeply understood and loved and comforted and accepted and not judged for anything you do…unless of course, you attack us violently.

Even then, God has given us a tremendous capacity for forgiveness… If that forgiveness gets abused, then that is when we get really angry.

On the whole, empathetic personalities have a lot to give, and help the world go round.