Loose it!

Posted on Updated on

BREAK-FREE

When I thought about it, I realised that the word “forgive” has much of the abstract difficulty to explain as the word “love”.  So I decided to investigate.  One of the Oxford dictionaries explains it like this: “to stop feeling angry with somebody who has done something to harm, annoy or upset you.”  Simply controlling your emotions then…

The Afrikaans dictionary says: “nie toereken nie; oor die hoof sien; uitwis (sonde)”.  So here, the culpable person (the one who deserves blame) is exonerated, set free from his/her accountability…

Looking at it this way, it may not always be such an easy thing to do!  When we have been wronged or hurt, or even when someone we love has been wronged or hurt, our natural reaction is to want retribution.

According to the Tyndale Bible Dictionary, forgiveness is a uniquely Christian doctrine.  We forgive because God forgives us.

When we consider God’s example in dealing with the wayward nation of Israel in the Old Testament, His forgiveness meant to let go of the transgressions, to remove it – to wipe it away.  He never thought on it again, He did not remember it, He put it out of sight.

“The past acts and deeds of sin are not denied, but there is no longer any bondage.  Forgiveness brings freedom.”

Jesus’ parable of the unforgiving servant (Matt 18:21-35) puts into perspective how much we have been forgiven, in comparison to the little we need to forgive others. The first servant owed what could be considered MILLIONS of rands to the king, while the second servant owed the first a mere couple of rand…

Some things are arguably easier to forgive than others.  Some things may be more easily considered “a mere couple of rands”.  I say this with great caution, being aware of how many terrible things are being perpetrated against people, but even the worst of offenses should still be considered small in relation to the fact that Jesus had to offer His completely sinless life as restitution to save ours – for ETERNITY!

If an eternal perspective doesn’t make forgiveness easier, consider the following, more immediate, benefits:

  1. It sets YOU free
  2. It sets the offender free (also for God to deal with him/her)
  3. It prevents the enemy from getting a destructive hold on your life
  4. It pleases the Father!

Considering everything else, the last reason would be my greatest motivation.

Yes, our emotions often take longer to catch up with our decision, but even in that we can trust God to help us.  Once we decide to forgive, we must resist the urge to dwell on the incident, the wrong that was committed.  We must make a conscious effort to put it behind us.  We learn, we gain wisdom, but we must continue to love.

Jesus ends this parable with a stern warning – God considers this an important matter!

“So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.” (verse 35)

Let’s go back to Matt 18:18.  “Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”  Can we read this in relation to forgiveness?  To forgive someone is to release (loose) them of their culpability.  Is that not what love does?  Is that not the way of humility?

In both these instances, Jesus is specifically speaking of our responsibility towards our fellow Christians.  Why? Because in the way we act towards each other, the world should see the love of Jesus being portrayed in our lives.

Our interaction with each other should be a testimony to our being one body, connected to the head, who is Jesus Christ.

Yes, we make mistakes.  Yes, we hurt each other.  None of us are immune to our sinful nature and our human fallibility.  So, let’s also be quick to forgive.

by Lise Oosthuizen

Advertisements

The heart of the matter

Posted on

bible

Do you know that Jesus loved the law?

He grew up a Jewish boy and was schooled in all aspects of the law.  He loved the law, because it was given by the perfect lawgiver – His Father.

Why did God give the law? His motivation was love – He wanted to show His children the best way to live.

All of the law, so specifically detailed in the Old Testament, is summed up in two parts: love God with all you are, and love your neighbour.

The thing that made Jesus angry was the way the Pharisees added to the law:

He answered them, “And why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition?” (Matt 15:3)

The only negative thing about the law, is man’s interference: adding man-made rules and traditions to God’s perfect law, and enforcing these as a means of salvation.

The Pharisees did not love God or His law (verse 7-9).  They only wanted to control people by means of the law.  We have no place trying to control another person.  Each person will give an account of his/her own life before God.

Let our focus be to please God, not people.  Let us love God with all our hearts, our minds and our strength, and love our neighbour as ourselves.

by Lise Oosthuizen

To follow or not to follow…

Posted on Updated on

2015-09-10-09-03-29--112386636

Our congregation has the vision to help people become followers of Jesus. This is not just a nice sentiment, but carries the weight of true conviction for those who turned their life around from out of the kingdom of darkness into God’s kingdom. It implies a change in lifestyle, however gradual.

Jesus said:

If anyone would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me. (Matt 16:24)

We have probably all read this verse many times – and scan over it as easily as we sing the songs proclaiming we will lay down everything for Jesus’ sake… Is it really that easy? Do we truly understand what it means?

I was startled this morning to read an Afrikaans translation where three options for the Greek word “aparnesastho” was given: “jouself verloen/afsweer/ontken”.  These are strong terms!  It can be translated with words like “renounce”, “disavow”, “contradict”. Denying yourself means to NOT do as you please, to NOT make your own wants/needs/dreams/desires the most important thing in life.

I don’t know about you, but to me it seems that the modern Christian mantra has become more and more focused on our own desires and working to make them reality, because that is what God wants for us… I don’t necessarily agree… And maybe I’m missing the point, but allow me to continue this train of thought, however unpopular.

Am I willing to lay down everything, even my own life, to follow Jesus? We live in a country where we still have a great amount of religious freedom.  We are not generally confronted with the choice between being killed for following Jesus, or staying alive by renouncing Him.  Losing our lives in the context of this passage, to us, has a more subtle meaning.

We live in a world inundated by media that urges us to believe we need very many things to be happy and fulfilled.  A nice house, nice care, nice clothes, the best in technology, phones, computers, entertainment media… Maybe you are strong enough to say, alright, I can give that up, and live with only what I need to survive…

But what if it comes to having a husband/wife, a family, a wonderful fulfilling career, the best education for myself or my children…  What if the cross we take up means a life devoid of those things that we feel makes us happy?  What if taking up my cross means allowing God to take me in a whole different direction than where I was wanting to go?

I am not saying we should all dive into an ascetic lifestyle! But what if all of that is taken away from you?  Will you still follow Jesus with your whole heart?  Will you still trust that the Father is working it all out for your benefit?

So, really, I’m inviting you to think it through with me, today.  I’ve had to think it through for myself many times.  And its hard to imagine what life would be like without all the stuff and people we love, without the hope of realising our dreams and desires, but maybe it is a good way to establish where your heart really is.

Our life on this earth is not a game played to gain as much as we can from it. It is an opportunity to live a life that acknowledges God’s sovereign rule, a life that pleases HIM, that gives His Word, His instruction, His direction first place.

It helps us correct our perspective when we set our minds on eternity.  I would offer up everything here, however painful I’m sure it must be, to know that my eternal reward is to sit at the feet of my Lord, and behold His beautiful face forever:

For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father and then He will repay each person according to what he has done. (verse 27)

by Lise Oosthuizen

Have you seen it?

Posted on Updated on

abstract-wallpapers-blurred-wallpaper-wallpaper-35390

The magnitude of our response reveals the extent of our comprehension.

Jesus tells two parables in Matthew 13:44-46, that both have something of great worth which is hidden. The treasure was hidden in the field, the pearl is hidden within an oyster’s shell in the ocean.

In both parables the object of great worth is found, is discovered, is uncovered and it’s true revealed value then dictates what happens next…

The value of the discovery of the treasure/pearl is so great that it is worth selling everything in both instances!  More than this it is worthy of great joy even in the sale of everything in the case of the treasure in the field.

So, the two individuals who sell everything when they discover the item of great value are not being sacrificial they are being prudent and wise because they have truly comprehended the value of the item in question.

Imagine you somehow knew with absolute certainty that if you bought a certain numbered ticket in a very very prestigious competition in which the tickets cost R500 000 each but the prize was 5 Billion rands, you would not be unwise to sell your house to afford the ticket, you’d be unwise to not act on the certain information you had at your disposal.

Similarly, the magnitude of our response reveals the true extent of our comprehension regarding God and His kingdom.

Those who have not seen the infinite value of following Jesus wholeheartedly will not lay down all other things, will not prioritise the church and God’s mission, will not relinquish their own agendas in this present and temporary life so as to lay hold of God’s greater and eternal plan for their lives!

The degree to which we wholeheartedly unreservedly give our lives for the cause of Christ through His church reveals the degree to which we have truly seen or not seen the infinite value and treasure of Jesus and living for His kingdom and His will in and through our lives.

May I, may we, keep seeing with greater and greater clarity the inexpressible value of our relationship with Jesus Christ and may we therefore live lives that are worthy of what we have seen! Amen.

By Gareth Bowley

A question of faith

Posted on Updated on

Nice_sweet_children_playing_in_sand

Are we also a generation like the one Jesus encountered while ministering here on earth? In Matthew 11:16-17, the Master Storyteller paints one of the most interesting pictures to me, of children sitting in the market place, calling to their playmates:

“We played the flute for you, and you did not dance;

We sang a dirge, and you did not mourn.”

This generation sought every reason to disparage the signs of the coming Messiah.  They were comfortable in their current paradigm.  There was no space for a huge change as would be implied by the evidence of Jesus’ ministry.

Throughout Jesus’ ministry He was confronted by those who chose not to believe Him or in Him, but rather criticize what He was doing.  They needed to find a different explanation for the miracles He performed, for the lives He changed. And what was easier and more controversial than blaming His power on the work of the devil?

Today there are still many people who chase after miracles, as if that would bring them faith.  But I do not believe that miracles can create or sustain faith.  A miracle may spark in a searching heart, the reality of a living God, but true faith is only sustained by a relationship with the Faith-giver.

I have witnessed the craze of “miracle rushes” (like “gold rushes”), but the outcome was usually sensation and controversy – often with the character of the miracle working preacher exposed as bearing fruit contrary to the gospel.  And even in this, Jesus gives us a tool to discern when His Spirit, or the enemy, is at work – “Yet, wisdom is justified by her deeds.” (verse 19). A tree can be evaluated by the fruit that it bears – and so each ministry stands or falls by the fruit of its minister/s, no matter how many or spectacular the miracles/”miracles”.

Where does faith come from then?  Can we work up faith within ourselves like they proclaim in many movies: “if you only believe”…?

Faith originates with God.  He gives everyone a measure of faith.

So why do some people not believe the gospel message?  It comes back to God’s original design – that He gave man a free will, an ability to choose for himself.  Some choose to use their faith for the purpose it was given – to believe in God.  Some choose to deny this gift of faith and reject God, or use their faith to believe in something contrary to God (it is obvious, for example, that due to lack of evidence, evolution is a faith based competitor to Christianity).

It boils down to the choice we make.

By the grace of God, I chose to believe the gospel message of salvation through the completed work of Jesus on the cross.  I choose to believe in the Bible as the infallible Word of God.  And in my walk with God, there were times when I was confronted with arguments against this choice, and I had to examine my faith, and the reasons for it.  And still, every time, I choose to believe in the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

God is faithful in every way.  And when you choose to enter into a relationship with Him, He confirms your faith and allows it to grow as you come to know more and more of His awesome person.

Yes, He performs miracles! Yes, the way He shows His living involvement in our daily lives is an amazing encouragement that helps our faith to grow.

Let us seek His miracle-performing power for the reason of His glory, not as a crutch for our faith.

by Lise Oosthuizen

More holy than Jesus!

Posted on Updated on

151830383_d1

Surely not.  That’s not possible.  And yet Jesus unashamedly motivated His hearers, motivates us to act in this life, with the prospect of future gain, future reward into eternity when He said;

“Don’t store up treasures here on earth, where moths eat them and rust destroys them, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 Store your treasures in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal. 21 Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be.” (Matthew 6:19-21 in NLT)

Jesus doesn’t tell people what we might think He’d say.  Jesus doesn’t discourage storing up for oneself at all.  What Jesus does do is changes the address!  Jesus changes the destination of our saving up, from this life to the next.  Jesus is motivating us by the prospect of future gain, future reward for us as a result of how we chose to live in this life.

“Scripture simply does not teach what most of us seem to assume – that heaven will transform each of us into equal beings with equal possessions and equal responsibilities and equal capacities.  It does not say that our previous lives will be of no eternal significance.  It says exactly the opposite.” Randy Alcorn 

But that’s not a “pure” motivation I hear you say; ‘because then I am only doing this thing because of what I will gain in the end!’  Admittedly, there are many motivations for godliness for living sacrificially serving others with all that God entrusts to us.  The greatest of which is surely the spontaneous response of love we have towards God that flows out of a heart that has seen the wonder, depth and majesty of God’s incredible love, grace and mercy.

But let’s not throw out what Jesus proposes as a motivation for how we should live in this life.  Let’s not try to be more holy than Jesus!  Or than Paul, or Moses for that matter.

Jesus is recorded mentioning rewards 15 times in the gospel’s as a motivation for living life now on this earth! (Matthew 5:12; 5:46; 6:1; 6:2; 6:4; 6:5; 6:6; 6:16; 6:18; 10:41; 10:42; 16:27; Mark 9:41; Luke 6:23; 6:35)

And Moses’ clearly was clearly motivated by reward:

“By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be known as the son of Pharaoh’s daughter. 25 He chose to be mistreated along with the people of God rather than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a short time. 26 He regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ as of greater value than the treasures of Egypt, because he was looking ahead to his reward.” (Hebrews 11:24-26) 

Paul’s was clearly motivated by the prospect of a reward in heaven…

“Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. 25 Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. 26 Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. 27 No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.” (1 Corinthians 9:24-27) 

If Jesus encouraged you to and godly men like Moses and Paul were motivated by rewards do you not think that you should be too?

Jesus’ words in Matthew 6:19-21 mean nothing if they are not meant to motivate us by causing us to consider the eternal reality of life after death and causing us to consider how this life impacts that life forever.  Jesus was urging His hearers to consider how their use of their money, time, relationships, possessions so as to have an eternal impact by opening their eyes to the possibility of rewards in heaven.

I live my life as a love response to God, who loved me first, I live my life to love and serve God’s people knowing that as I do God feels my love for Him (Hebrews 6:10), but I also live my life here on earth to hear the words “Well done” from my Father at the end of this age for the way I lived, for the choices I made and according to Scripture what awaits me after those two words are eternal rewards in heaven with Him.

What a motivation for godliness, for serving without grumbling, for living my life and your life for Him who died for us and who is coming back for us!

By Gareth Bowley

When suffering is not wrong…

Posted on Updated on

Concept of a stressed businessman under pressure

All too frequently I assume that if there is suffering or a trial of some sort in my life or the lives of those I love or in the lives of those I am responsible for as a church leader – I assume that something is wrong.

Are you ever like this too?

When we have to make a decision and then after that decision things don’t go as smoothly as we would like them to, we can find ourselves re-considering whether we made the right decision after-all.

We feel this because we think that if we made the right decision then why is this circumstance feeling so hard, why did I get sick, why did that accident happen, why, why….?

When God called Nadine and I to come and serve Him by serving Oasis Church in Amanzimtoti I needed to sell my stake in a business so that we could buy a house to live in.  We knew God had spoken, what had been a 15yr journey of working out my sense of call had become clear as we were called by Oasis Church and sent by Jubilee Community Church in 2003…

And then it happened!  I had sold my shares in a business to someone so as to pay for the house.  The agreement was signed and sealed and on that basis we bought our home…

However, then the trial started as the person I’d sold the stake in the business to began to delay proceedings and payment.  

Eventually after delaying and delaying he eventually reneged on the deal entirely and we had a house that we had moved into but didn’t have the money to pay for it and couldn’t afford to have a bond big enough to pay for it!
Why? Why Lord?  Did we make a mistake? We thought we had heard the Spirit’s leading in coming, in finding the house, in finding a buyer for my stake in the business….why this, and why now?

Today in my reading of Matthew 4:1 I was struck by these words;

“Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.”

You don’t see that on Jesus t-shirts and bumper stickers and Pinterest posters!

We don’t like the idea that suffering can come from the hand of our loving Father through the agency of evil.  But read it again, Jesus was lead by the Holy Spirit into a place of temptation by the devil.

It reminds me of Jospeh’s declaration to his brothers at the end of his tumultuous and tragic journey from his dad’s house to the palace in Egypt- “You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good.” (Genesis 50:20a in NLT)

Suffering and trials are never pleasant but they can produce incredible fruit that doesn’t grow under any other circumstances, fruit/character that our loving Heavenly Father wants for us and wants in our lives (Hebrews 12:7-11)

I remember that after struggling with our crisis for a number of months worrying and at times waving my fists at my Father, I had a moment where I stopped fighting the circumstance which actually I knew wasn’t ultimately the making of this man but actually under the sweet sovereignty of my loving Father and I came to appreciate that my Father had brought me to this place for His purposes in my life, to produce the type of fruit that only grows in contexts like this…

Remarkably, not long after that ‘aha moment’ another buyer emerged and the deal was cancelled with the first guy and another was concluded and the money was paid and we could move on.

Jesus was lead by the Spirit into a trial for something within the purposes of Father God, could it be possible that a trial you are in might be similar? Hebrews 12:11 makes it clear that the fruit that could come from enduring a trial only comes to those who have been ‘trained by it’.

Will you be trained by it if all you ever want is for the trial to stop, if all you could ever consider is that this hard thing is the work of the devil (which it may well be but still under the loving control of the sovereignty of Your Heavenly Father)?

We are suffering averse, I know I am!  But a truly biblical perspective can help us in our suffering and can alert us to possibilities that could transform the impact on us from something that is merely negative to something that God uses for incredible good.

By Gareth Bowley