Trusting God

Trusting God

1 Kings 8:1-6, 10-11, 22-30, 41-43    Psalm 84    Ephesians 6:10-20    John 6:56-69

Trusting God

 

A story has been told about a man who went hiking up Table Mountain. As he was walking, the famous tablecloth descended upon him in thick, impenetrable folds – so thick he could not see where he was walking. He knew he needed to get off the mountain as quickly as possible, so he gingerly picked his way forward towards the path leading down to the parking lot below. At one point, he misjudged his step, slipped on a wet rock, and went plummeting down the cliff side. As he fell he instinctively grabbed for something that would break his fall…and to his relief, a rather large bush just happened to be growing out of the side of the mountain, and he clung on for dear life.

 

But he knew this relief was only temporary…he had to find a way to get his feet on firm ground so that he could scramble to safety…but he could not see anything and, try as he might, swinging back and forth with his legs, he could not feel anything. Then he felt the bush give a little…some soil and a few pebbles fell on his head. It was only a matter of time before his weight would prove to be too much for the bush’s shallow root system and his perilous descent would recommence.

 

So he summoned every ounce of strength left in him and cried out with the loudest voice he could muster.

“Help! Is there anyone out there? Please, help me.”

To his immense surprise, he heard a voice remarkably close by…in fact it almost sounded as if the voice was close to his ear.

“I am here. Do not be afraid.”

“Oh, please,” the man cried. “Are you able to help me?”

“I am,” the voice replied, “Are you willing to trust me?”

“Yes!” shouted the man, “Yes, I am. Please help me. Quickly.”

“Let go of the bush,” the voice said calmly.

“Say what now?” cried the man.

“Let go of the bush,” said the voice.

“Let go of the bush? You’re kidding me, right? That’s not funny. Please, I am very scared…and I’m slipping…the bush is giving way…help me. I can’t hold on much longer, please. I don’t want to die!”

“I am here to help you. You will not die if you just trust me. Let go of the bush…there is a wide ledge a few feet below you. Trust me. I give you my word. Just trust me. Let go of the bush.”

For a brief moment the man hesitated. Then he screamed: “Is there anyone else out there?”

 

It is interesting to me that at the very heart of Solomon’s Temple – in the holiest place – the Holy of Holies – was a box containing just three rather ordinary things. One was a simple earthenware jug filled with a flaky substance…a small sample of Manna …the other was a simple wooden staff that had once budded…and the other was a block of stone with some words carved into it. If you didn’t know what these things were, they would look very plain and ordinary…

 

But in the right context, these things were very precious, not necessarily because all three were miraculous, but because they each had a remarkable story to tell…the strange, unknown bread graciously provided from heaven to feed God’s people in the desert… the dried out walking stick that had miraculously sprouted buds and flowers to confirm the God-given leadership of the High Priest, Aaron, Moses’ brother…and the Ten Words of God, or the Ten Commandments as we call them, carved out of rock by the very hand of the Almighty Himself.

 

You see, what made these items worthy of their placement in such a hallowed space was that each one represented the trustworthiness of God’s Word in the past…and, in the belief system of the Ancient Israelites, if God had done it before, He could be trusted to do it again in the present and in the future.

 

Or to use the words of the great King Solomon: “Praise the Lord who has given rest to His people Israel, just as He promised. Not one word has failed of all the wonderful promises He gave through His servant Moses. May the Lord our God be with us as He was with our ancestors; may He never leave us or abandon us.”

 

God’s Word is trustworthy…what He says He will do. But how can we be so sure? Well, basically because He has a proven track record. The stories in the Bible are there to show us that in spite of what humans think…in spite of what humans fear…in spite of what humans do…in spite of doubt, skepticism, cynicism, weakness, despondency, indifference, and sheer unbelief…God has always proved to be faithful to those who trust Him…and, graciously, sometimes even to those who do not trust Him.

 

Trust. I want you to see that this one word is key…it is central to our faith…trust. But not just a disembodied trust…it is a trust that is founded on His proven and tested Word.

 

When King Solomon dedicated the Temple, his focus was on the Word of the God Who had proved Himself faithful to His people and to His king. “You have kept Your promise,” he said, “You made that promise with Your own mouth, and with Your own hands You have fulfilled it today.”

 

And based on the fact that God is a promise keeping God, Solomon could confidently pray: “May You always hear the prayers I make…May You hear the humble and earnest requests from me and Your people Israel…(may You hear the prayers made by) foreigners who do not belong to Your people Israel…when they pray (to You)…May Your eyes be open to my requests and to the requests of Your people…May You hear and answer them whenever they cry out to You.”

 

The message seems clear: just as God heard the prayers of His people down through the ages, so surely He will hear the prayers of His people today and tomorrow and for all time, because He is a promise keeping God…He is a faithful God…and His Word is trustworthy.

This truth is crucial to our lives as followers of Jesus especially when it seems as if all hope is fading…when we just don’t understand…when we cannot understand…when we are hanging on by our fingertips…perhaps hanging on to things that are in themselves not trustworthy…things that are fragile and feeble and weak and failing.

 

Now, for a moment, I want you to put on the sandals of the disciples in Capernaum as they heard those baffling words spoken by their Rabbi, Jesus. Ready?

 

There you are listening – all anticipation – what is He going to say and do this time? And then you hear Him say: “Anyone who eats my flesh and drinks My blood remains in Me and I in him.” You do a double take? What was that? Eat human flesh and drink human blood? Cannibalism? Seriously? Surely that can’t be what He means, right? It has to be a metaphor…bread of life…bread of heaven…flesh and blood…this is really so hard to comprehend.

 

And then as you are still scratching your head, you see many other followers leaving…and they are leaving in droves!

 

Now, don’t judge these deserters too harshly…theologians are still arguing about the meaning of this text…during the Reformation, people lost their heads and were burned at the stake because someone did not understand what Jesus meant by “Eat my flesh and drink My blood”.

 

But then Jesus turns to you and says: “Are you also going to leave?”

 

Can you hear it? What is behind this question? “Do you trust Me?”

 

How did Simon Peter respond? Listen carefully to what he said. “Lord, to whom would we go? You have the WORDS that give eternal life. We believe and we know you are the Holy One of God.”

 

How on earth did they know?

 

Well, during the time they had spent with Jesus these disciples had come to believe and know first-hand that the words of Jesus were trustworthy. He had not failed them before. He had done all things well. Why then would they abandon Him when the going got tough…when things were hard to comprehend…when it seemed as if they were on the losing side?

 

Now, don’t get me wrong. I am not talking about fatalism. I’m not espousing a “Let go and let God – a que sera, sera attitude to life. I’m not even talking about blind faith.

 

No, what I am referring to is the Word of a God Who has made promises with His own mouth and has fulfilled those promises time and again. The Scriptures and history itself testifies on His behalf. What He promised He did…His Word is trustworthy…

 

And it is this Word that helps us through trials and tribulations and troubles…it is this Word that defeats unbelief…it is this Word that quenches the fiery arrows of the evil one…it is this Word that keeps us afloat in the storms of life…it is this Word that is our only offensive weapon in the armoury of God.

 

What God has promised, He has done…what God has promised, He will do…what God has promised, He does. He is trustworthy…the Scriptures testify to the fact…the saints throughout history testify to the fact…and I am sure your own lives testify to the fact.

 

This is one of the reasons why I love the Eucharist so much. This is a picture…a portrait of our Lord’s trustworthiness. Way back when sin first entered our world, God promised that He would send someone…the Seed of a woman, as the older translations have it…to set things right. And He did. The second Person of the Trinity…the Son of God Himself…left His glory…He set aside His majesty…so that He might take on human form to annul a penalty that was mine…to die a death that was mine…to pay a ransom that was mine…

 

Here at His Table, we see His Word re-enacted…performed…demonstrated…with simple and ordinary elements…bread and wine…as simple and as ordinary as an earthenware jug, a dry walking stick, and a piece of stone. But in the context of this gathering of His people, these ordinary, simple elements take on a whole new meaning…a profound meaning…a life changing meaning…here these elements tell us a story of promise and fulfilment…a story of faithfulness…a story of love…a story of trust.

 

So when the clouds descend upon your life as a blanket…when you simply cannot see one step ahead of yourself…when you are hanging on for dear life…when others are losing hope…when so called common sense and logic fail you…trust Him…trust His Word.

 

Dearest beloved brethren, place God’s Word in the most sacred space in your life…at the very centre of your existence…and allow it to be the governing force behind everything you think and do and say. Only then will you be able to trust Him…

 

Johannes W H van der Bijl © 2018-08-20

An invitation for South African Church Leaders

Here’s an invitation for South African pastors and priests and your community leaders to the Divine Renovation Conference that will be held in Johannesburg from the 13- 14th of August 2018 at the Church of the Resurrection Bryanston OR 16 August St Joseph’s Morningside Durban OR 18 August Holy Redeemer Bergvliet Cape Town.
We are honoured to have Father James Mallon, Catholic priest and the author of the bestselling book “Divine Renovation: From A Maintenance to A Missional Parish”, http://www.divinerenovation.net/the_book an engaging guide for parishes seeking to cultivate dynamic faith communities centred on missionary discipleship, as our keynote speaker. Father James Mackay of the Docklands in the East of London will also be speaking on his experience with the Divine Renovation model. (See video clip links below…)
The message of Divine Renovation has resonated in the hearts of hundreds of pastors and the laity throughout the world. It has inspired and motivated them to act and seek help in transforming their own faith community.
R150 for Durban and Cape Town which are one day events.
We are very excited and look forward to having you and your community leaders with us.
Thank you so much and God Bless.
Check out these interviews:

Resources for Missionaries and Wannabe Missionaries

Three Resources for you:
The Call is not Enough:
In this first article, Ryan writes: “I had a psychotherapist a few years ago who I often brought personal issues of meaning and vocation to.   I remember him saying, “The need does not necessitate the call.” In essence, he was saying that the existence of an issue in the world—be it social, political, humanitarian—does not mean a certain individual is called to engage it or help solve it. The unique ways in which we are each made informs how we are designed to be in the world, how we are meant to live and serve. And just as the need does not necessitate the call, the call does not necessitate the readiness. Or put differently, even when we are we called, it doesn’t mean that we are prepared to go. The call is not enough.”

Why Missionaries Nee to Know their own Wounds

The second article deals with wounds…and, indeed, the need to deal with our wounds.

From the Inside Out by Ryan Kuja:

And…Ryan has also written a book: https://www.amazon.com/Inside-Out-Reimagining-Mission-Recreating/dp/1532616392/ref=sr_1_fkmr0_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1527779893&sr=8-2-fkmr0&keywords=ryan+kuja

LEAD Report: December 2017 to July 2018

Since our last report, Louise and I have
trained in the following areas.
December 1-3, 2017: George – 20
participants
February 13-18, 2018: St Mark the
Evangelist – 27 participants, including the 7 leaders trained in September
19-20 2017 who assisted in this training
February 22-25, 2018: Johannesburg – we
trained 23 previously Strategy trained participants in the second of the four
modules called Foundations
March 9-11, 2018: Cape Town Youth Leaders –
26 participants
March 16-18, 2018: Klerksdorp (cancelled
just prior to planned training)
March 20-May 4, 2018: deputation in USA
May 16-20, 2018: Natal – Strategy 14
participants
                                                 
Rooted in Jesus
June 12-14, 2018: Namibia – 4/5
participants (one participant had to leave after one day’s training)
By invitation of, and fully funded by,
Bishop Mouneer Anis, Egypt, North Africa, and the Horn of Africa:
June 25-29, 2918: Gambela, Ethiopia – 26
participants
July 3-6, 2018: Cairo, Egypt – 12
participants
Louise has created a contact email database
on the My Anglican website to help us keep in touch with those we have trained.
A lot of follow-up work is done in between trainings in which participants
receive various resources to help them implement the training, namely videos,
Bible Studies, different disciple-making manuals, various articles on disciple
making, and so on. If we find something that may be helpful, we pass it on,
like the recent Thy Kingdom Come Prayer Initiative. We also coach and encourage
participants from time to time asking for feedback and questions and stories.
When we do receive emails in return, we answer them promptly according to what
is addressed.
We have also been trying to settle into our
new home and community and have been actively engaged in our own local parish,
St Augustine’s in Villiersdorp.
Disciple making requires a huge paradigm
shift for many of our trainees that involves modelling, life transformation,
multiplication (making disciples who can make disciples), community or
people-centred focused ministry rather than church-based programs, changing
priorities, and every member ministry. The training is based on what we believe
is Jesus’ model for disciple making using the Gospels as a basic platform. It
includes a 60-Day Study on the Life and Ministry of Jesus that encourages the
trainee to read through all four Gospels.
Investing in the lives of a few, with a
view to creating active disciple makers, takes time and a lot of personal effort.
It took Jesus three to four years. In an age of instant everything and quick
fixes, this initially appears to be a problem. Quality is often overlooked when
the focus is on quantity.
Some of the responses to our coaching
questions have revealed that many participants are extremely busy. One
participant told us that he did not have time for regular prayer and Bible
reading, much less personal retreat time, as he served on various committees
and guilds, was responsible for several churches, and was engaged in further
theological studies by extension, among other things. We counselled him to
prayerfully consider his priorities.
We have been encouraged by some forward
movements, such as the case with St Mark’s second training where previously
trained participants trained others with our assistance. Johannesburg was also
the first to host the second module Foundations. Participants in Natal were so
thrilled with the Strategy material that they are in the process of translating
it into Zulu. Namibia has asked us to come back to train again, using the 4
trained participants, but in the more rural areas in the north and, perhaps,
southern Angola.
We have noticed that when the Bishop of the
Diocese is involved in the training the participants tend to be more motivated
to implement the training. We saw this yet again in Cairo with Bishop Mouneer.
Participants in Gambela implemented what we were training even during the
training! Participants seem to be more motivated when their leaders show
personal interest.
A lack of funds needed to pay for the
training manuals, our travel, and our board and lodging costs seem to be a
problem for some Dioceses.
Since our deputation trip to the US, we
have managed to raise enough funds for a 4X4 vehicle and for fuel for the trips.
(Many thanks to our US ministry partners!) When possible, we camp in
inexpensive parks or camping grounds close to the training, or stay with
friends, family, or parishioners to try to cut down on living expenses. We are
also working on the manuals to see how we can cut down on printing costs as
well. Louise and I will be part of a two-day revision of both Strategy and
Foundations with the J-Life leaders early August.
We still have 13 Dioceses left in which to
train participants in Strategy. Those already trained are being encouraged to
a) implement the material personally, b) begin planning a second training in
which they train other trainers in their Diocese with our help, and c) begin
planning to be trained in the second module, Foundations. It is important to be
trained in all four modules if one is aiming at a permanent shift in the manner
in which disciple making ministry is done.
We also hope to be offering training in
Rooted in Jesus in the near future, as it is a very useful resource in the
process of making disciples.

Sermon preached at St Augustine’s Villiersdorp

I had the honour of celebrating the Eucharist at St Augustine’s Villiersdorp this past Sunday…here is a copy of the sermon I preached.

2 Samuel 7:1-14a    Psalm 89:20-37    Ephesians 2:11-22    Mark 6:30-34, 53-56
Building God’s House
I love reading the Old Testament…because it
helps me understand the New Testament so much better! So much of understanding
the New Testament is dependent on our understanding the Old Testament.
Take our reading for this Sunday as an
example. Here the great king David announced his intention to build a house for
God to the prophet Nathan. The prophet thought it was a good idea and gave the
king the thumbs up. But that night, the Lord revealed to Nathan that this was
not to be…in fact, rather than have the king build God a house, God was going
to build the king a house…an eternal dynasty of kings! And one of these
kings would build God a house…
Now, of course, we all know that it was the
great king Solomon who built a house for God…a Temple so marvellous that people
came from all around just to look at it.
But, like with so much of the Old
Testament, there is something greater here than what first meets the eye. God
had an even greater kingdom in mind…a spiritual kingdom that would encompass
the globe in its entirety, whose King would be His very own Son. A Son who would
also be a descendent of David.
We see the same double application in our
Psalm for today, Psalm 89. At first glance it seems clear that the psalmist was
talking about king David…which, of course, he was…but once we know the bigger
fulfilment of this prophetic word, we realise that the “first-born Son”
destined to be the “mightiest king on earth” would be greater than David.
The genealogy in Matthew testifies to the
fact that the royal line of David ended with Jesus…after the destruction of the
Temple in AD 70, all the genealogical records of the Jews were destroyed. Since
then, no one can claim to be a descendent of David with any degree of
certainty. So Matthew presented Jesus as the fulfilment of the covenant
promises God made with David. His is the kingdom that will continue before God
for all time…His royal throne is the one that is secure for ever…and He is the
Son who would build and, indeed, is building the house of God…but unlike
Solomon and the ecclesiastical and political leaders of His time, Jesus is
building this house with living stones.
And to this day Jesus is still building this
house…but He is using us, His Body, His Church, to build it. So, in a sense,
Jesus is building the house of God by working with and in and through the
living blocks of the house.
Now, we see the beginnings of this house in
the Gospels. While the ecclesiastical elite of the day were to be found in the
synagogues and in the Temple, Jesus was found walking in the fields, on the
lake shore, in the market places, in the towns and villages…you would find Him
wherever the people were. You see, the synagogues and the Temple had entrance
restrictions…no lepers, no prostitutes, no tax collectors, no sick folks, no
sinners, no foreigners (especially not Samaritans!)…but the house Jesus was
building was to be open to all.
And the reason for this is quite
simple…this house was built on compassion…mercy, grace, love, forgiveness…
When Jesus looked at people, He did not
first look to see if they measured up to His standard…in fact He knew that no
one measured up to His standard! What Jesus saw when He looked at people were sheep
in desperate need of a shepherd.
You see, Jesus came to break down dividing
walls…the walls of hostility…walls that kept people out of the house of God…walls
that created two exclusive subsets out of the one human family: insiders and
outsiders.
In fact, the house that Jesus is building
is one that exists for those outside. The Church is the
only organisation in the world that exists for those who are not members.
As far as Jesus is concerned there are no
such things as divisions in His house…no Jew nor Gentile, no male nor female,
no slave nor free…there is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father
of all, who is over all, in all, and living through all.
Is it not tragic then that we, who claim to
be followers of Jesus, are all too inclined to do the exact opposite…to create
divisions, to build walls, to keep outsiders out and insiders in, to feed fear,
distrust, prejudice, and general hostility that separates individuals,
communities, and even nations. Rather than imitating the one who came to bring
peace and unity between us and God and between other people and us, we imitate
the ones who oppose Him and His kingdom. The self righteous, the proud, the
arrogant…those who esteem others less than themselves…those who – to use Pam’s
story of the village divided by a river – break and smash bridges rather than
build them.  
Sometimes these divisions are serious and
quite obvious. Divisions based on ethnicity, or on language, or on
socio-economic differences. But more often than not, these divisions are more
subtle…
The great apologist, Lesslie Newbigin once
said that spiritual renewal will only happen when “local congregations renounce
an introverted concern for their own life, and recognize that they exist for
the sake of those who are not members, as sign, instrument and foretaste of
God’s redeeming grace for the whole life of society.” Think about that for
a while…chew on that for a moment. (REPEAT).
If we want spiritual renewal in our
church…our community…our village…our country…we really need to stop engaging in
navel gazing. Why are we here? Why do we exist as a church? How are we like the
one we call Lord and Saviour?
Our Lord’s final command to His followers
was rather simple.
Be a community that creates followers of
Me. Tell other people about Me. Live your life in such a way so that those who
don’t know Me will see Me in you.
We call this command the Great Commission.
Wherever you go in the world, make disciples of every people group, make them
part of My house, train them so that they will obediently live out the
Christian life, and never lose sight of the fact that I am right there to help
you do this.
Most believers know these verses found in
all four Gospels and in the opening chapter of the book of Acts. Some have even
memorised them. Others have discussed them in committees and sub-committees and
sub-sub-committees…and have pondered on what it might look like should we ever
actually do what Jesus commanded us to do. We love to talk about evangelism…we love to talk about making disciples…and we love to find the many
reasons why we are not able to engage in either one of those activities…
Think on this: If I said to my sons when
they were little, “Go clean your room”…I did not expect them to return after a
while and say, “Dad, we memorised what you said to us. You said, “Go clean your
room.” We can even say it in Greek and in Hebrew. And we have also invited a
group of our friends around so that we can discuss what it would look like if
we actually did clean our room.” (Thanks Francis Chan!)
No! They wouldn’t do that because they knew
better than that. They knew that they ought to do what they had been told to
do. So why is it so different then when Jesus tells us to do something?
Jesus said, if we truly love Him, we would
obey His commands. Why do we call Him Lord if we do not do what He tells us to
do? Why do we say we follow Him when in actual fact we do not walk as He
walked…we do not imitate Him…we do not follow His example?
Dearest beloved brethren, why are we here?
Why are we here in Villiersdorp? Do we, as a church of Jesus Christ, exist only
for ourselves? Are these gorgeous stone walls here to keep others out? Or are
we perhaps here to bring them in? Now there’s a novel thought…are we here to
break down the very obvious divisions here in Villiersdorp? Are we here to make
a dent in the wall of blatant polarisation?
Are we here to build God’s house or our own?
May the Lord grant us the wisdom and the humility to answer that question
honestly.
Johannes van der Bijl © 2018-07-17