There are two types of tests in life. We will all face them and yet they don’t come with any prior warning or instructions.
They are the test of adversity and the test of prosperity. And both have an inherent default trajectory in terms our relationship with God.
The test of adversity’s trajectory is towards faith in God. Facing adversity, facing circumstances that are clearly beyond our resources our abilities or our understanding tends to lead us towards calling out to God for help, for wisdom and or for breakthrough. And so we see the promise of Romans 8:28 at work in the midst of adversity as we draw nearer to God and as we discover things about God we would never have learnt without these tests. We might not want trials but we do often end up treasuring what is formed in us through them.
The test of prosperity on the other hand has a default trajectory that is away from God. Having the provision we need, having received the things we have prayed for ought to draw us deeper into relationship, faith and gratitude to God (who is the source of those blessings) but from my experience both personally and as a church leader the opposite is in fact often sadly the case.
I wish it were not so but I can confess that my prayer life has often felt more vital and central to my walk with Christ when I am going through adversity.
Just this week I was looking at a group of men from Oasis who meet every week to pray and I started thinking of the guys who were not in the room, guys who had in the past been in the room praying. The pattern was clear, during adversity each one of these men were there regularly but one after another had drifted away from these times of prayer just as God answered prayers for marriages, kids, finances, for businesses, for jobs, for justice in the courtroom…
God knows these two tests and their default trajectories and so he speaks to His people in Deuteronomy 6:10-12 pleading with them warning them not to forget Him in the moment He fulfills the promises He made to them. He warns them of the test of prosperity, the moment after prayers are answered…
“And when the Lord your God brings you into the land that he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give you—with great and good cities that you did not build, 11 and houses full of all good things that you did not fill, and cisterns that you did not dig, and vineyards and olive trees that you did not plant—and when you eat and are full, 12 then take care lest you forget the Lord, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.”
God speaks again through Moses in Deuteronomy 8:11-15 appealing to them.
Take care lest you forget the Lord your God by not keeping his commandments and his rules and his statutes, which I command you today, 12 lest, when you have eaten and are full and have built good houses and live in them, 13 and when your herds and flocks multiply and your silver and gold is multiplied and all that you have is multiplied, 14 then your heart be lifted up, and you forget the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, 15 who led you through the great and terrifying wilderness”
Sadly we know the story, we know that God’s people did exactly what God has implored them not to do when they did enter into their Promised land.
Just this past week my Father answered some prayers I have been calling out to Him for. I know that in this moment there is a test – will I allow these answers to overflow in gratitude and praise, will I allow them to fill me afresh with faith in my Father for other areas of life and ministry where huge questions still persist?
Gratitude to God is an amazing thing when it is expressedby us. It honours God as the source of all blessing in our lives and so simultaneously kills pride and the deceit of self-sufficiency and it fills our heart with love for our Father!
By Gareth Bowley
I was just 12-13 at the time, Dave was probably 25. It’s strange but I can’t even remember especially how I got to youth each week (thanks Mom and Dad I am sure it was you!), but I do remember how I got home. It was Dave’s Kombi! That Kombi was a loud fun place to be, we used to get rowdy at times and even used to sneak up behind unsuspecting pedestrians on Main Road in Cape Town, going really close the the pavement and then suddenly at the right moment all hang out the windows bellowing out our best barking impersonations and then delighting in the heights people would jump to in their moments of sudden terror!
I have etched in my memory a moment driving in Dave’s car when he said something like; ‘I’d like to get to know you better…spend time with you and some other guys to help you grow in God.’
That moment, that short invitation changed my life forever!
Now, unlike the majority of young South African men today, there was nothing lacking in my family, no deficiency in my own dad but Dave’s invitation and the constant commitment to me and the intentional friendship that followed had both a formative and transformative impact on my life.
And so we started meeting as a discipleship group – normally about 4-5 guys and Dave. Our normal rhythm was to meet early in the morning before school and after school before varsity, once a week. We would most often gate-crash the Lautenbach families home, sometimes having to wake family members by knocking on their windows because Phil enjoyed his shuteye! We’d talk rubbish, make a noise, read the bible, pray and share life together often by answering Dave’s questions which often seemed to get right down to the marrow of life. The last question was often; “Have you just lied to me?”! We were mates, Dave was our mate although he was different, he was friend and a father in God.
We got drawn into whatever Dave was up to and loved to just watch him do it, do it with him, have him let us do it and in time feel the release and the encouragement from him to do it on our own. This happened as we became youth leaders, leaders at Summer Camp and on the men’s discipleship hikes that were so formative in all our lives. We read the books Dave had read, and ended up learning to fast and pray and grew in our desire to give our lives for something that would last forever.
I know that those years in Dave’s discipleship groups have been the single biggest reason why I believe that I am today at age 42 still walking in the purposes of God, those years formed me, formed my love for God, my desire to live for His purposes and formed my character.
In his letter to Titus Paul says; “To Titus, my true child in a common faith” (Titus 1:4). When I read this I thought of Dave and how he could say to me, say to many like me; ‘my son in the faith’.
I’ll never forget the one meeting we had when Dave got a serious look on his face, opened the bible to 2 Timothy 2:2 and having read it declared that if we did not begin to pass on to others what He had been giving to us he would have to cease to meet with us! We were given 6months to find someone else, other younger guys or lease mature believers to then gather around our lives. Our assignment was to simply do what Dave had done with us again and again.
When I read Paul’s greeting to Titus I felt challenged again, and it’s a challenge that I believe every Christ follower who has known Christ for more than 2years should feel; “Who are your spiritual sons/daughters?” Who have you, who are you pouring your life into? Who would call you ‘Dad’ or ‘Mom’ in God?
Dave was that guy for me. But the challenge is who can say that I, that you have been that guy, that woman for them?
Discipleship is an intentional relationship, it requires effort to start and effort to keep going. Discipleship has aspects of friendship, teaching, imitation, accountability, equipping & release for the purpose of stimulating greater love & devotion to Jesus and His mission in the lives of others.
To disciple is to develop LOVE for Jesus, FAITH, CHARACTER, GIFTING in another and then RELEASING them to do as you have done with them.
At the moment I have three young guys who call me; ‘Dad’. Two of them have their own dad’s, but it is my joy to know that Dave’s fathering of me, Dave’s challenge to reproduce what he had deposited in me and modelled to me has in fact happened.
In South Africa, we live in a fatherless generation, we have a crisis! Who can honestly call you ‘dad’ or ‘mom’ in the Lord? I urge you to take this to heart, to share your life intentionally with others, to ask God to open your eyes to those around you who’s lives will be transformed like mine was if only you’d take the initiative and invite them to share life with you. Will you?
By Gareth Bowley
So, as a christian, would you like to be known as the guy who likes to put himself first?
As I read 3 John, I could sense the frown on the brow of the wise apostle John, around 80 years old by this time, he must have mentored numerous church leaders.
He bluntly points out the way in which Diotrephes hampers the work of the kingdom: he talks wicked nonsense against those in authority in the church, he refuses to show hospitality to travelling evangelists, and acts harshly against those who want to welcome these brothers into the church and possibly their homes.
The bottomline is this – he likes to put himself first.
It is really easy to fall into the trap of putting ourselves first. When we get angry, when we insist we are right and someone else is wrong, when we feel our rights have been violated, when we feel entitled, when we feel we’ve been treated unfairly, when we don’t get our way. When we prefer to speak rather than listen. When we treat others unkindly. When we feel, talk or act in rebellion. When we push to get our point accross at all cost. Even when we feel sorry for ourselves – it is really pride in a different garment.
God names rebellion in the same breath as withcraft and idolatry – it means the same thing: we sit squarely on the throne of our lives in obstinate contrast to allowing God to be King. We like putting ourselves first.
John continues to explain that acting like Diotrephes is an evil not to be imitated, and that those who do evil have not seen God. So they are deceiving themselves and others.
Sometimes I listen to how people talk and find it hard to try and reconcile it with how they live and act. Because actions do speak louder than words. Diotrephes seems to have a leadership position in the church, and yet, his actions do not speak of someone who knows, loves and follows God.
In contrast to this, John confirms the good reputation that Demetrius has built up. And interestingly he connects what people know about Demetrius with the truth. His words and actions are clearly reinforcing his good character as a true follower of Christ.
The same is said of Gaius in the beginning of this letter – his fellow christians gave a good testimony of him and John commends him on “walking in the truth”. In other words, there is a clear correlation between what he confesses and how he acts and lives.
Gaius shows their visitors hospitality and love.
He also obviously has a teachable spirit as John uses the opportunity of this letter to give him further pointers to show practical love and support to these workers in God’s field: “You will do well to send them on their journey in a manner worthy of God…”
So, the question to ponder when reading 3 John is: who are you really? Are you living a lie – pretending to love God and others, but really putting yourself first, or are you walking the self-sacrificing path of the truth in Christ?
Anyone can learn church language. The true test is not whether we say the right things, but whether we do the right things – walking the truth in love.
The true test is whether you like to put others first.
May my words be few and my actions speak of the love of God.
by Lise Oosthuizen
Psalm 84 was written in the era of the old covenant when God’s presence was tied to a place but now in this era of Jesus having come, the temple curtain having been torn and the Holy Spirit having been sent by the risen Christ this is my re-mix version of the Psalm especially in the light of John 1:1-14 & 1 Corinthians 6:19. Original in italics, remix in bold.
1 How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord of hosts!
How special & privileged are all people in whom Your Spirit dwells now, God almighty!
2 My soul longs, yes, faints for the courts of the Lord;
My soul longs for, yes even despairs when I am not intimate with You Father;
my heart and flesh sing for joy to the living God.
My heart, my whole being responds to your tangible presence, God who is alive in me.
3 Even the sparrow finds a home, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young,
Even sparrows have a place they belong, & swallows a place of safety for bearing young
at your altars, O Lord of hosts, my King and my God. In Your presence O God almighty
They’re in Your presence continually almighty God, my King and my God
4 Blessed are those who dwell in your house, ever singing your praise! Selah
Blessed are those who live aware of your presence, they will always be worshipping You!
5 Blessed are those whose strength is in you,
Blessed are those whose strength is in You,
in whose heart are the highways to Zion.
those whose hearts are set on eternity with You now and forever.
6 As they go through the Valley of Baca they make it a place of springs; the early rain also covers it with pools.
Because You’re with them, even in them, even desolate hard times & places can be transformed into times & places full of the life of God & refreshing;
7 They go from strength to strength; each one appears before God in Zion.
Those who walk with You and with You in them are getting stronger each day until each one appears in glory in Your glorious presence at Your appearing at the end of the age.
8 O Lord God of hosts, hear my prayer; give ear, O God of Jacob! Selah
God almighty, Father God, God of covenant promises please hear my prayer now.
9 Behold our shield, O God; look on the face of your anointed!
I speak to myself saying; ‘Behold your defender, God with you’. Father please see me now.
10 For a day in your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere.
Father God, better is one day with You, in your presence, having You within me than thousands elsewhere far from You.
I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of wickedness.
The allure of the world has no allure for me I am content to know You, to know Your presence to know I am your child, I don’t need fame or fortune when I have You.
11 For the Lord God is a sun and shield; the Lord bestows favor and honor.
God You’re the One who gives me life, You’re my protector, You bless me again and again and care about my honour.
No good thing does he withhold from those who walk uprightly.
God, You are better than I could have ever imagined, more gracious, loving, generous & kind towards those who have put their faith in You.
12 O Lord of hosts, blessed is the one who trusts in you!
God almighty, blessed is anyone who puts their trust in You!
I think that many women struggle with themselves: We engage in self-shaming talk and we are hard on ourselves. We feel and carry around guilt and shame even though we don’t really know where it came from. We often feel the need to apologise for who we are, and the way that we are.
so God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.
It’s easy for us to hear that we were made in the image of God, but HOW are we as women, made in the image of a God we believe to be masculine? How is she made in the image of Him?
You emotions, your vulnerability, your spirit, your gentleness or your fierceness, your rising and falling, eccentric, reserved self – that is from the image of God. There is no mistake in who you are. There is no mistake in how often you cry, how sensitive you feel, how deeply you are moved by “insignificant” things or how loud and questioning you can be.
Song of Songs 4:7
All of you is beautiful, my darling; there is no flaw in you.
No, no. There is no mistake in who you are.
By Samantha Schreiner
There I was sitting on a wooden jetty overlooking an estuary reading a book trying to re-charge after the first 8yrs of ministry in my role as an elder leading the team in the local church I serve. I was tired. No more specifically I was frustrated! I remember thinking/praying/moaning to God that I felt a little like He had not kept his side of the deal…
Embarrassingly, I remember reciting some little “righteousness-list” in my head at the time stating how I had served God as a leader in some form or capacity in local churches for just short of 20yrs already by that stage, I had pursued purity as a young man and was married as a virgin, had never been drunk, followed God’s call and sold-up my stake in a business in Cape Town and moved the family to Amanzimtoti when God called us to…
…and where had it gotten me? The church was struggling again, not many people were being saved or healed, leaders were few, money was tight and at times I felt alone as a leader. I remember this distinct sense that God had somehow dropped the ball, a sinful sense that I deserved better because of my performance!
In God’s grace He rebuked me in the most remarkable way and took me on what became a month-long journey of God revealing the rot in my heart and re-wiring/reforming me to the point where I eventually repented to the Church publicly one Sunday morning of the way I had been poisoning the church with my wrongful heart attitude.
It’s not just what we do that matters but why we do what we do and what we believe doing those things does for us.
In Psalm 73 the writer is perplexed & envious of what he has observed – the prosperity, the good health of the wicked/arrogant/proud who are always at ease and always increasing in riches (vs2-12). His experience doesn’t match his stated belief which is that “Truly God is good to Israel, to those who are pure in heart.” (vs1) And so eventually he exclaims;
“All in vain have I kept my heart clean and washed my hands in innocence.” (Psalm 73:13)
The writer bemoans his ‘good works’ because they haven’t produced the results he was looking for. However what this outburst reveals is that his heart’s true motivation was “I DO THIS TO GET THAT’ – it was transactional. He was like me, sitting on that jetty grumpily reflecting…
I have lived like _______ and you, God haven’t done _________!
Like me (in 2011), the psalmist’s WHAT was fine but his WHY was wrong and his belief regarding WHAT DOING THOSE THINGS DID FOR HIM was wrong.
Our lives of holiness, or service to God don’t earn us anything. Timothy Keller says; that it’s religion that says that; “we obey to be accepted”, the Gospel however, says; “we’re accepted and so we obey”. We live lives as worship to God flowing out of a heart response to the most incredible love and grace and mercy that God has shown to us.
So, WHAT we do, how we live really does matter but what it vital is WHY we do what we do and what we are doing it for, what we think THAT ACHIEVES FOR US is vitally important.
This Psalm is so rich because it doesn’t end with the frustrated questioning that it’s first 15 verses are characterised by. The whole Psalm hinges on vs17 when the psalmist enters God’s presence and suddenly gains a new perspective in God’s presence. In the presence of God, eternity comes into view and this perspective changes everything. His timescale has been too short, he has prematurely and incorrectly judged God.
He begins to see his own folly and the sinfulness of his heart (vs21-22) and then unleashes some of the most amazing worship in all of Scripture;
23 Nevertheless, I am continually with you; you hold my right hand.
24 You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will receive me to glory.
25 Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.
26 My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.
27 For behold, those who are far from you shall perish; you put an end to everyone who is unfaithful to you.
28 But for me it is good to be near God; I have made the Lord God my refuge, that I may tell of all your works.
Life doesn’t often go according to our plan or timing or even our sense of fairness, but knowing that God is with us personally, knowing that our faith and future are secure in Him is enough for me.
He made me do it! I don’t know about you but I know that I said those words many times growing up as one of four siblings. Excusing one’s own behaviour by pointing to the behaviour of others justifying your own behaviour on the basis of that of others.
In Genesis 37 the story of Jospeh begins and it’s family dysfunction right from the start with Scripture recording no less than three times in the first 8 verses that Jospeh was “hated” by his brothers.
Why? Well this family is a recipe for conflict, it is like the proverbial haystack soaked in petrol just waiting for a spark! Think about this family for a moment with me; Jacob’s family has two wives who are sisters! Two wives must be complicated but two wives who are sisters – phew. There is deep pain and jealousy here as Scripture records that he openly loved one more than the other (Genesis 29:30). To make matters even more complicated these two sisters were competing seemingly in some form of “baby race” trying to produce offspring, jealous of one another so much so that both of Jacob’s wives at some point have their husband there two female servants as additional wives for Jacob.
Now, Joseph and his brothers had not been responsible for this family context, but it was the one in which they were growing up in and were having to deal with.
Based on all that’s gone before, we ought not to be surprised to read in Genesis 37:3 that Scripture records that Jacob loved his son Jospeh more than any of his other sons. He had done this before, with his wives, openly displayed preference.
And so, his brothers were provoked to jealousy and hatred for Jacob. It recorded four times in the first 10 verses of the Genesis account of Joseph’s life story that his brothers were hated him vehemently and were also jealous of his favoured status within the family. Their hatred that only grew as their dad gave him a special robe and also when he unwisely spoke of dreams he had received of the future to come that painted him in a favourable light compared to them.
Can you empathise with these brothers? They must have felt some sense of justification in their heart attitude towards their brother because of all the family history of dysfunction and now also due to the favouritism shown to him by their father.
Is their hatred not justified, caused by the family circumstance and the actions of their father and their brother too?
Paul David Tripp says;
“People and situations do not determine our behaviour;
they provide the occasion where our behaviour reveals our hearts.”
We are not in control of many things, but we are responsible for our response. Joseph and his brothers did not pick their family, they didn’t choose their father or have control over his decisions and actions, but they were responsible for their behaviour, their response.
They hated Joseph, they allowed that hatred to simmer, they shared it, they spoke to each other of it and ultimately they acted on it when they plotted to kill him and ended up selling him as a slave and then they sinned again by deceiving their father and causing him heart ache for years to come.
We need to own our sin, the circumstances, other people didn’t “make us do it” and don’t justify our sinful actions, attitudes or words. This quote by PD Tripp has been so helpful to me forcing me to continually see with clarity that people and situations just provide me with the mirror I need at times to see what is truly in my own heart.