A question of faith

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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

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More holy than Jesus!

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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…

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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

The Problem with Law and Bacon

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Growing up and finding my footing with God, I often struggled with how to not live under law. I struggled merging the Old Testament rules with the New Testament and frequently found myself in debates around this.

Paul says in Galatians 5:3-4 “again I declare to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obligated to obey the whole law. You who are trying to be justified by law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace” (my emphasis).

Two things stand out here for me; Grace is one. Law is the other.

I feel the message in this verse is “it’s all or nothing”.

However, choosing sides has been made easy for us; we were never actually meant to live according to law! Romans 3:20 “therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin”.

My thoughts and debates around law often took the following shape:

“Tattoos are wrong because it says in Leviticus 19:28 ‘do not cut your bodies for the dead, or put tattoo marks on yourself””. Now, this isn’t an argument about tattoos, rather, it’s an argument that I have found us picking and choosing what parts of the Bible we want to live by. If we are going to go with the law about tattoos being wrong, then we need to go with all the others too (just like Paul says); and some of them are:

  • you can’t plant your fields with two different seeds
  • you can’t wear clothing woven of two different materials
  • you can’t cut your hair or shave your beard
  • you can’t sit near a woman who is menstruating

but worst of all, no bacon for you.

Unfortunately, we cannot pick which parts of the Bible we want to live by and which we don’t. But praise God that He sent Jesus to die, and in so doing, did away with law which means we can now freely eat bacon!!

We no longer need to strive to ensure we’re living up to a list of rules to satisfy God. He is satisfied with us because he is satisfied with Christ (Timothy Lane). If anything, the law was set up to show us just how sinful and flawed we are and how we would never actually succeed in obeying all the rules. Obedience to the law in its entirety was destined to fail.

However, with the law being done away with, this still does not mean we can live however we want. There is still a standard expected from us which Paul goes on to describe; “…live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature…if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law”.

What we are expected to put aside are things like sexual immorality, idolarty, hatred, jealousy and selfish ambition.

Again, we must remember that this is not a new law-list to abide by. There is grace to make mistakes but our love for God drives us to not make the same mistakes over and over again. It is a daily renewing of the heart and mind where the Holy Spirit shapes and forms us, making us more and more like Him every day.

One of my favourite verses is 1 Corinthians 10:23; “Everything is permissible – but not everything is beneficial. Everything is permissible – but not everything is constructive”.

I love that I serve a God who allows me the freedom to make my own choices on a day to day basis, along with His Spirit as I figure out how I should or shouldn’t be living. There is no longer a list of rules to obey – I have the freedom to do what I want. But the precious thing is that I hold in my heart the Spirit – my helper, guiding me as I learn to understand what God wants for me; which choices are beneficial and constructive to me living a pure and righteous life.

Forget about law and rules. Shake it off you. Leave it behind you. Live in the Spirit and learn His voice. Walk closely with Him and you will not wander where He doesn’t want you.

By Samantha Schreiner

He did it again!

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A lot can be said about what praise is – what does it mean in our context of following God, to praise Him? One definition that makes a lot of sense to me is “to tell of all the wonderful things God has done”, to testify.  So praising God has an aspect of reminding the next generation of how great, powerful and faithful God is, and so encourage and strengthen their faith.

We learn more about the person of God each time we experience His living involvement in our lives – we get to know Him uniquely as Saviour, Provider, Friend, Father, Counsellor…  Some of those moments or glimpses of His care and love may fade or even go unnoticed, but nothing sticks in the mind like a miracle!

Psalm 66:5 – 7 is a song of praise – it says: “Look what God has done!”  So I had a look at the two parallel miracles that verse 6 speaks about:

“He turned the sea into dry land; they passed through the river on foot.”

Exodus 14 tells the story of how God did the amazing miracle of parting the Red sea so that the Israelites could escape the pursuing Egyptian army, trekking through the sea on dry land.

“Israel saw the great power that the Lord used against the Egyptians, so the people feared the Lord, and they believed in the Lord and his servant Moses” (v 30-31).

Exodus 15 records a song of praise by Moses and a praise dance and song by his sister Miriam.  These songs probably became part of the cultural heritage of the Jews, so that the generation who experienced the wonder, could inform and encourage their children.

Unfortunately this generation was destroyed during their 40 year wandering in the wilderness, and when the next generation is standing at the threshold of their inheritance – the promised land, God renews their faith by doing the miracle that probably immediately brought back their parents’ testimony – He dried up a path for them to cross the Jordan river!

At the Red sea God protected and saved them from the pursuing enemy.  At the Jordan river God promises to “without fail drive out from before you the (enemy)…” (Jos 3:10).  He affirms His protective involvement with His people.

These two miracles gave the nation of Israel an amazing testimony. But God’s work is never one-dimensional and for both Moses and Joshua these miracles were God’s confirmation to them and to the nation that God elected them to lead His people.

Let us hold on to the miracles God performs in our lives.  They may be little things that happen in answer to heartfelt prayer, they may be breathtaking and make us want to run out and tell everybody.  I make a point of sharing my big and small testimonies with my children, but I’m challenged to also record what God does in my own and my family’s lives, to be able to carry the testimony to the next generation.  Each testimony strengthens our faith in the living God we serve!

by Lise Oosthuizen

Life is hard!

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As I grow older I realise more and more that nothing on this earth has true security.  Time is constantly changing, money easily loses value, property prices are unpredictable and if the political situation in a country is perceived to be unstable, all the securities in terms of investment goes out the window.

Families often drift apart as siblings grow older – whether emotionally or, in the case of many South Africans, many people emigrate and then families are literally torn apart.  Friends can be a great source of comfort and encouragement, but even this can be lost through misunderstanding, conflict or a change in one or the other’s circumstances.

In this life we are constantly challenged to find a firm foundation, an immovable rock on which to stand. A place of security and rest.

How easily we become distracted from putting all of our hope and trust in God.  This one thought is like a repeated chorus in Psalm 62:

“For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence, for my hope is from Him.  He only is my rock and my salvation, my fortress, I shall not be shaken.”

David reminds himself and us, that there is only One who can fulfil that role.  There is only One who can give us hope, who can be a fortress of true safety in the midst of uncertainty, who can be our Refuge when the storms of life are raging all around us. God alone!

“Trust in Him at all times, O people; pour out your heart before Him; God is a refuge for us.”

by Lise Oosthuizen

Laying down the law

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It is probably inevitable that the idea of propriety is so strongly ingrained in the psyche of the Afrikaner.  We traditionally grow up in an environment where rules and obedience are made very important.

So I was wondering: do we really experience, or even acknowledge, true freedom in our walk with God? Of course, in his discourse in Galatians, Paul is referring to the Old Testament Law, but it seems that in today’s Christian life, any expectation can become a law, whether openly or subtly enforced.

The power of expectation and propriety can dishearten a Christ-follower who wants to please God: how to talk, how to behave, what to do and what not to do, etc.  Sometimes so many structures are put in place in the church community that it may hinder people from the joyful experience of freedom in serving and following God, in response to His overwhelming love.

Of course order is important, and without structure very little is accomplished.  But what is the motivation behind these rules or the structure – to enable, or to control? In the church family, maybe we should stop laying down the law, and start letting go of the law.

The law has its place, it is not void of meaning. It confirms to us that we are sinful, that we cannot save ourselves, and that we desperately need a Saviour (Gal 3:10-11).  “So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith” (Gal 3:24).

Each believer is at their own place of spiritual growth, becoming more and more like Jesus.  We are all on the same road, following God, and should love and encourage one another, not restrict and control each other. “For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbour as yourself” (Gal 5:14).

I am learning about this freedom.  “Kancane kancane” (little by little) I am starting to understand my own freedom in Christ bought with His precious blood, and it becomes easier to practice grace and love towards others.

Gal 5:1 “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery”.

by Lise Oosthuizen