It’s been over a month since my last blog post, the past 30 days have been quite a busy time with a youth camp, mission trip and other ministry commitments. (Keep an eye out for our next Newsletter with more details) I’m now in East London enjoying some down time with family, looking forward to spending Christmas in Cape Town Yay!
I thought it be a good idea to write a few words about the virgin birth as it relates to Christmas. It’s actually a significant and important Christian truth. A one time, never to be repeated incident. Have you ever taken time to think about it? Does it not sound strange? Why did God orchestrate things this way? Is there a reason for such a dramatic, unusual event? Let me try to shed some light by reminding you of a few truths regarding this miracle done by God. I know this is a unusual post for my blog but hey; its Christmas! Here we go…
- The virgin birth is a fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy. Isaiah 7:14 tells us this 700 years before it actually took place. It will be a sign to the people, that this truly is the Work of God. This prophecy joins the hundreds of other specific prophecies about the life and work of Jesus Christ.
- The virgin birth ensures the divinity and humanity of Jesus. If Jesus came to earth apart from any human parent it would be difficult to see how he could be truly human. Also, if Jesus was born of a human father AND mother (The 100% natural way) it would be difficult to see Him as truly God. Wayne Grudem the theologian explains it like this:“God, in his wisdom, ordained a combination of human and divine influence in the birth of Christ, so that his full humanity would be evident to us from the fact of his ordinary human birth from a human mother, and his full deity would be evident from the fact of his conception in Mary’s womb by the powerful work of the Holy Spirit”.
- The virgin birth made possible his perfect sacrifice for sins. Every human being inherits a sinful nature. (Romans 5:12, Psalm 51:5) We are born into sin and sin because we sinners. What about Jesus? He is unique and stands alone as righteous. He did not receive a sinful nature because he was not conceived of man. Luke 1:35 says that Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit, a powerful act of God, Because He did not inherit a sinful nature, because He is God and because He died in our pace and for our sins, we can be reconciled by His blood.
- To prove salvation comes from God not people. The virgin birth shows us that salvation comes from above, it comes from God. Our source for hope and life can never be found anywhere else except in Christ. If we worshipped Mary or anyone else except God we will be committing idolatry. We would be sinning. It’s true that Mary delivered Jesus at birth, yet Jesus had to deliver Mary from sin. Mary did nothing for her or our salvation, Joseph did nothing, God did it all. The miracle of the virgin birth attests to that.
I hope these points inspire you towards worship this Christmas season. We celebrate the day God broke through into human existence to finish a mission. The great work of reconciliation between a sinful man and a holy God. Let’s not forget the true meaning of Christmas, lets not forget the significance of the virgin birth.
Social media and news broadcasts have been buzzing over recent violent attacks in Paris. This of course is a horrible tragedy and our hearts go out to those who are mourning the loss of loved ones. It is during times like these when people start thinking about ideology, religion, morality and justice. A quick look at Facebook will demonstrate a myriad of opinions, comments and emotions emanating from different perspectives and world views.
As a Christian, I believe with the apostle Paul that we are engaged in spiritual warfare.
For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Ephesians 6:12
There is a very real enemy whom the Bible calls the devil.
He has some authority: 1 John 5:19
His intention is to steal and destroy: John 10:10, 1 Peter 5:8
He deceives people: 2 Corinthians 4:4
His defeat is decreed: Revelation 20:10
I often wondered why Satan continues his business if he knows his end is coming. Does he still think he can win? Does he want to drag others with him in anger? Is he throwing a temper tantrum?
Think of a child screaming in a shopping centre. I’m sure you have seen this before. Little Johnny sees something he wants and asks mom. Mom says no and then the action starts. “You will give it to me!” “I hate you!” “I’m not moving from here!” Johnny starts throwing things around and screams as loud as possible. We roll our eyes, whisper to our friends what we would do to Johnny if he was our child and we continue shopping.
Why is Johnny acting like this? Simple, he’s angry, he’s not getting what he thinks he deserves, and now he is throwing a tantrum. I think the devil is exactly like that. A spiritual being who wants to be a object of worship rather than a worshipper. He thinks that he deserves glory and will do whatever it takes to get it. He hates God, he hates Christians, and he finds pleasure in destruction. He has been throwing a tantrum ever since he was cast down from heaven. Isaiah 14:12-14
The effects of his tantrum are widespread. We read about it on the news every day. So I am calling my Christian friends to respond to what is happening in the world with open Bibles. Think about these things theologically instead of being whisked away by the crowds. We are in a war, the kingdom of man rages against the kingdom of God. Our duty is not to pick up weapons and bombs. Our duty is to share the good news along with acts of kindness and compassion. To lay down our lives for the sake of the gospel. We shine with brightly lit lamps to the glory of our God who promises to be with us and promises to make all things new at His second coming.
I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world. John 16:33
South Africa has been abuzz in recent weeks with student protests all over the country. Students are protesting against university fee increases, advocating that education should be an opportunity for all, not a privilege for the elite. The desired fee increases will exclude many poorer students from tertiary education and I agree 100% that this is unacceptable. No willing mind should be excluded from a good education. So government did listen to the united student voice and next year will see 0% fee increases. For most students this is simply the start towards the final dream for free quality education. Now a lot can be said about how the crisis was and is being handled but this is not a political blog so I refrain from going down that avenue.
My simple thought was on the word privilege and its emotional attachment. When you look at recent student protests you cannot deny the passion, zeal, enthusiasm and strong emotions emitting from the crowds. They want equal opportunity for all, away with privilege, we want opportunity to execute our freedom!
Now, what I am about to say next is definitely not to sweep the politics under the carpet or to undermine the problems, simply a thought that jumped to my mind in the midst of the crisis.
Stop, pause, and think about your Christian privilege living in South Africa. You have opportunity to hear about Jesus every day of the week. You can enjoy Christian community. You can take your pick between scores of Churches in the city. You can take your pick between 50 different versions of the English Bible (Although I do believe some translations are better than others). You can read the Bible in your native tongue, you can sing, worship and live out your Christianity in complete freedom. But this is not the case in many countries. Did you know there are about 180 million people who do not have the Bible in their language? Did you know that there are many population groups who have never heard the name Jesus let alone a clear presentation of the Gospel message? Did you know that there are Christians today who are beaten, abused and killed for praising the name of Jesus? Did you know dear South African Christian that YOU are privileged!
Now…how should we respond to this? I don’t think privilege should lead to guilt, not at all. But I do think it should lead to profound thankfulness accompanied by great compassion towards those who do not have it as good as we do. I am speaking to my Christian friends and asking if we can get just as zealous, courageous, emotional, and passionate about spreading the fame of Jesus as we do with social justice issues? Put yourself in the shoes of those who don’t have it as good as you do. Think it through, and may God help us.
If you perhaps have this passion but are not aware of what you can be doing to advance the cause of missions take a look at OMF’s 6 ways to get involved:
I’m writing this blog in bed, unable to sleep because of a mix of loud sounds rumbling through the building. Someone is playing guitar with 3 or 4 voices singing Jesus music out of tune. There is talking and laughing, ping pong balls bouncing and all this is happening at 23:45. This is day 4 of our missions trip to Hammanskraal. 16 Of us are involved in spreading the gospel through a Holiday Club, sports ministry and teens ministry. We are based at Bethesda Outreach and so far we have had a great time, allow me to give you a quick peek at what we have been up to.
Over the course of three days we ministered to a community named Bosplaas. There were around 70 children and it was a great joy to demonstrate love and spend time with them each day, declaring the life changing message of the gospel. Our team got involved in many different areas.
One of the great things to see during this trip is how a bunch of diverse, young (As young as 14) and largely inexperienced people can be used by God in such an exciting way. Short term mission trips is like bending the bow on someones life, preparing them for a life of passionate service for God. I pray this for our group of 16 young men and women. Praise God for using ordinary people for spreading His glorious name.
Revelation 5:12 saying with a loud voice, “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!”
Aven and I were privileged to go to Japan for 11 days over the Easter holiday. We enjoyed delicious food like ramen, sushi, squid and rice dishes; to name a few.Experienced a culture so very different to our own, and got to see and participate in many unique activities and we thank God for all of this. We started our trip in Tokyo which is just a gigantic metropolis with millions of people wearing business suits and face masks, hurrying along with their daily routine. To give you an idea of the sheer size of this city; 36 million residents! That’s 50% bigger than the world’s second biggest metropolis. The population size is not the only impressive thing. There is an energy and buzz around this place. From the massive glowing billboards in Shibuya, to the 7 story arcades and electronic stores in Akihabara. Tokyo also hosts the world’s busiest pedestrian intersection, imagine THOUSANDS of people crossing the street from all directions at the same time, well we saw it with our own eyes, crazy! Tokyo is also home to the world’s busiest train station, Shinjuku station has a whopping 35 platforms, 200 exits and transports around 3 million people A DAY! And it doesn’t end there. On the corner of every pavement is a set of stairs going down to a train station. Go down these stairs and you walk into massive underground malls with restaurants, department stores and underground streets. There is literally a city under the city. This friends is a big place. Yet surprisingly everything is super efficient, incredibly clean and extremely safe. People park on the side of the road and leave their cars idling while they go do their shopping. On top of that people are courteous, polite and always end off their conversations with a smile and a bow.
I said so much about Tokyo but we did see other parts of Japan too. Hiroshima as we know is where the Nuclear bomb fell, ending World War 2. We got to go to the memorial park and the atomic bomb museum. It was a deeply emotional experience and we learnt so much about the cost of war. There is a story of one girl who suffered from radiation poisoning and died 10 years after the bomb. She believed that if she made 1000 paper cranes she would have a wish granted. She made the cranes, wished for health, but died shortly after that. Because of that story, the crane has become the symbol for hope and peace in Hiroshima, I also believe God used it to stir in us a passion for Japan. 1 Timothy 4:10 “For to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe”.
After Hiroshima we went to Kyoto, the previous capital and centre for traditional Japanese culture. It is a beautiful city, especially during cherry blossom season. The city is also full of Buddhist and Shinto shrines. You cannot walk 100 meters without seeing a temple or shrine of some sort, they are literally everywhere. Shinto worships the forces of nature, polytheism and animism, whereas Buddhism is all about following an ethical code of conduct in one’s life, practicing meditation and renunciation. For Japanese people, its more than a religion, it is a way of life. It is a complete worldview, intertwined with their arts, culture, literature, lifestyle, history and heritage.
How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? Romans 10:14
After Kyoto we hiked the Nakasendo trail giving us a little taste of Japan’s natural beauty. On our way we saw multiple signs warning hikers against bears…yikes! We stayed in a old postal town called Magome, very pretty and so far removed from the jolly madness of Tokyo.
Our last 2 days was in a town called Nikko, another fascinating place filled with shrines and temples. It is here that I looked like a complete idiot attempting ninja training and Japanese sword fighting. It’s a lot more difficult than in the Kung Fu movies 🙂
All in all we had a great experience but this article is not simply meant to be a travel guide. Looking at a country like Japan where Christianity is less than 1% I cannot help feel an overwhelming sense of sorrow. The thousands of people we passed by…where will they spend eternity? Those 36 Million residents in Tokyo? Those 127 Million citizens across the country? After thinking about it for some time there are three ways in which people can respond:
- God must not be good…yes you heard correctly! Some would argue: How could a loving God send millions of people to hell? They don’t know any better! God must either not be real or the Bible must be wrong.
- All religions lead to salvation. Just look at the devotion, discipline and morality of religious people. How can you say this is wrong? Christians are nothing more than bigots, claiming they have the only truth.
- In the words of Isaiah the prophet: “Here I am, send me”. I am aware that not everyone is called to be a missionary in Japan yet I trust that along with me you believe that Jesus is The Way, The Truth, and The Life, and that no-one comes to the Father but through Him. There is no other name by which men, women and children can be saved but the name of Jesus. So many are trapped by deceptive lies and us Christians have the truth that can set them free.
Could I ask that you pray for the country of Japan? Maybe even try to connect with a missionary who is serving there. Maybe even go there yourself! They will not believe, unless they hear, and they will not hear unless someone goes. Pray that the Lord of the harvest will send labourers to Japan.
Often we hear Christians talking about being called. Pastors being called to ministry; missionaries called to serve in a foreign country, such big decisions that demand absolute certainty of God’s leading and direction. I have personally experienced this when I felt called to ministry and again when my wife and I have felt called to serve as missionaries in the east. But how does anyone know if they are called? How can we be sure this is God’s leading? Let’s consider how God called some of the leaders in Scripture.
Abraham heard the voice of God through direct revelation when he was called out of his own country. Moses had a personal experience with God as the LORD spoke to him through the burning bush. Samuel heard the LORD’s voice when he was called as a boy. The disciples were directly called by Jesus, Paul had a personal encounter with Jesus on the Damascus road. These are but some examples where God clearly and undeniably calls someone for service. None of these methods are normally used by God today, I have not yet spoken to any pastor or missionary who felt called because of a similar miraculous sign given by God; yet Christian workers still speak about feeling called, how can we be sure? How can we know that our tug to going east is not just curiosity or a selfish sense of adventure? Well let me give you a few guiding lights which has helped confirm things for us.
– God’s hand of providence
God guides His children through circumstances and events that happen throughout our lives. These events do not just happen randomly because God is sovereign, even over the seemingly mundane things in our lives. It is only when we look back that we begin to see how God has sustained us and led us; bringing certain people into our lives, orchestrating a move, a new job, even something painful like sickness or financial loss can be used by God to bring about His purposes in our lives. In our case God has given us opportunity to do some travelling. (Thailand, Turkey, Japan) What started out as a simple interest in travelling has providentially grown into a desire to work as missionaries. This is but one example of how God orders events in our lives that would shape us and propel us toward His will for us.
It is of course essential that pastors and missionaries have the necessary gifts and abilities. This does not mean that only certain Christians are called to full time service. All Christians are called to holiness, worship and mission. However the body of Christ is diverse and certain tasks requires certain gifts. This is also true in our desire to do missions in the east. If we are not gifted in the right areas, we should not go. Advice I was given as a seminary student was never to try and identify your gifts before you actually start using them. Over the years I have found myself doing many things; music, outreach, preaching, leading Bible studies, events planning, discipleship, youth ministry etc. I now have a pretty good idea of what I am good at and what I stink at. I feel my gifts are suitable for missions in a foreign land and the same goes for my wife who has a passion to teach children. Ultimately it is God who rescues sinners and builds His church and He uses us in many different ways. Identifying how God has gifted you gives good direction as to where He has called you.
– The Church
God has instituted the Church as the primary messenger for His gospel. The mandate to go and make disciples has been given to the church collectively and so the lone ranger approach towards mission is bound to fail. If we consider Acts 13 we see how the church at Antioch, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, set apart Barnabas and Saul for the work God has called them to. The church then prayed, fasted and laid their hands on them as they were sent off. This shows us that God operates through His church in the calling and sending of missionaries. When one consider a call then the counsel of other men and women in the church must be taken seriously. A calling cannot be pursued if it is not recognised and affirmed by the church. This demands prayer from both the individual and the church and a joint humility and sensitivity towards the leading of the Spirit. My calling to pastoral ministry came mostly because it was suggested by men in the church wiser than me and later confirmed as the Lord began to use me in this specific role. Now as my wife and I prepare for missions we must continue to remain sensitive and submissive to Christ as well as the body of believers He has placed us in. We have been called into the family of God and without the family’s support and prayers we cannot take on the call to missions.
– Feeling the need
Sometimes God impresses a need upon the hearts of His servants. I think of Nehemiah’s calling. He did not receive a miraculous sign before giving up his lofty position as the king’s cupbearer to go and rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. It started with Nehemiah feeling the need. Weeping for the condition of his people. This led him to action and God continues to propel people into missions because they not only see the need, but feel it in their bones. For us it happened gradually as we saw the lack of gospel light in the east. In Thailand and Japan less than 1% of the population are believers. The dominant religions are Buddhism and Shinto. Many people in the east might never hear the good news as clearly as we hear it so often in our churches. Two situations during our visit to Japan has really stood out as defining moments in God calling us. One was when we visited the atomic bomb museum is Hiroshima. One of the displays included a story of a young girl who contracted radiation poisoning and would face the reality of death at a young age. There is a legend which says that if you folded 1000 origami cranes you would have one wish granted. This young girl folded those 1000 cranes, wished for health and life, but died shortly thereafter. To this day the crane has become a symbol of peace, hope and determination. If only someone gave this girl the hope of the gospel! That Jesus died for her sins and by believing on Him she would have eternal life! The second incident happened as we were walking through the streets in Tokyo. We walked past a primary school as the bell rang for break time. We witnessed hundreds of children coming out to the playground and Aven asked me the haunting question…how many of these children will ever hear about what Jesus did for them? It is moments like these that are used by God in calling His children to service. I am sure God has given you feelings like this too, are you going to act?
This last point might be a bit hard to explain because it can be rather subjective. The term I would like to use is “unio mystica”. The mystery of an intimate relationship with God. Please don’t misunderstand, I am not advocating that human beings can be gods, but simply what the Bible defines as a relationship with God through Christ. The wonder of the gospel is that God not only saves us from hell, but brings us into an intimate relationship with Himself. Consider Galatians 2:20: “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live but Christ lives in me, and the life I now live I live by faith in the son of God who loved me and gave himself for me”. Ponder these magnificent words: Christ lives in me! Because Christ lives in us there is that mystical but notable inner voice that directs us and calls us to service. Now this hardly happens outside the ordinary means of grace. Don’t think that God will speak to you when you are not reading, praying, worshipping and meeting with the saints. God quietly directs us as we are obedient to Him in the ordinary spiritual disciplines.
I hope this has been helpful in some way, even just perhaps clarifying our own sense of calling. If you wondering whether God has called you then ponder these points: Can I see God’s hand of providence? Am I gifted in the ways suitable for this calling? Is the church supportive? Do I feel the need? Can I sense the inner voice of God as it comes through my spiritual disciplines? May God bless you as you live out God’s calling upon your life and do pray for us as we prepare to minister in a different part of His vineyard.