We are engaged in a great work…

We are engaged in a great work…

“I am engaged in a great work, so I can’t come. Why should I stop working to come and meet with you?” These words of Nehemiah, addressed to those who were opposing the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem, have encouraged us more than once in our Kingdom work.

The enemy is so determined to defeat the work of God’s people that he will use any tactic possible. He will use people, often even God’s own people, to discourage us. He will use situations and stories to incite fear to make us reluctant to go somewhere or to speak to someone or to do something risky and yet important. This should not surprise as, as the enemy used the very same tactics with our Lord Jesus. We are also warned in the Scriptures that we are at war, not with people, but with powers and principalities of darkness in the heavenly places. Satan prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking those whom he may devour. So, we are not ignorant of his efforts.

We find our courage and determination to press on by focussing on Jesus who who was made a little lower than the angels, who took on the form of a slave and came in the likeness of humanity, who was tempted in every way as we are, yet without sin, who endured shame, humiliation, betrayal, desertion, and crucifixion…all for the joy that was set before Him…the joy of knowing that His labour was not in vain. That through His sacrificial suffering and death, many would be reconciled to God the Father through faith in Him.

 

This past week, Louise and I trained a number of potential disciple makers in the Diocese of Natal. The first two days was focussed on the first of the four modules in the LEAD Program training, Strategy. The attendees were mostly clergy and lay leaders. We were so encouraged to hear this group say that, while they have heard about discipleship for years and have even attended various courses on the subject, this was the first time they felt we had given them the tool they needed to do the work!

They were so excited about the material that they decided they want to translate it into their own language, Zulu, so that they can teach many more people how to make disciples! We will be sending them the Xhosa and English versions this week so that they can strike while the iron is still hot!

The second group was mostly made up of lay leaders. For this training we teamed up with Trevor and Estelle, our team members from Growing the Church, as it was the first time we would be teaching this material. We had heard quite a bit about Rooted in Jesus and it is used in many African countries, but we have never been trained to teach it. Estelle worked out a three day program and gave us a few sections to teach and to lead. The training is divided up into teaching sessions, workshops, and practical sessions and everyone participates. It was a lot of fun and the group really enjoyed it. At the end, each participant had an opportunity to say how the course had touched them personally and what they were going to do about it! Watch out Natal!

Once again we were reminded that we are engaged in a great work…that in spite of the many distractions, disappointments, and discouragements that the enemy hurls at us ever so often, we must be determined to press on…because we really do live for Christ and for Christ alone. Jesus faced what He faced because of the joy that was set before Him…the joy of knowing that many would come to the Father because of His labour. By His grace and His aid, we can do the same.

We are engaged in a a great work…we cannot come down.

Poking Holes in Heavenly Places

I seem to be waking up quite a bit in the wee hours of the morning lately…and, when I do, I pray. The news here these days is filled with doom and gloom stories…murders, riots, strikes, corruption scandals, and the like…very little positive. One can almost feel the heaviness in the air.

So, quite naturally, when I woke up at 3 AM this morning, I started to pray for South Africa…and as I was praying, I saw in my mind’s eye an image of my favourite Julia Child’s Tarragon Casserole Chicken. Yes, I did check to see if I really was awake. But there it was, as clear as day…in the darkness, that is. The aluminium foil covered chicken dish, ready to go into the oven…only, it wasn’t my casserole dish…it was shaped like South Africa and it was covering South Africa. As I continued to pray I saw that each prayer pierced the foil, allowing the light of the Lord to shine through onto the dark country below. Hmm, interesting…

What on earth could this mean?

Then the Lord brought to mind a story from the book of Daniel…the prophet was praying for his people. He had learned from the book of Jeremiah that Jerusalem was to lie desolate for seventy years. Realising that this time period was coming to an end, he began to confess the sins of his people as if they were his own and to ask the Lord for forgiveness. Now, we know that Daniel was a righteous man because we are told as much a few times in the book bearing his name, but he had no problem confessing the sins of the nation collectively…so I began to do the same.

Daniel’s prayers ended with these words: “O my God, lean down and listen to me. Open Your eyes and see our despair. See how Your city – the city that bears Your name – lies in ruins. We make this plea, not because we deserve help, but because of Your mercy. O Lord, hear. O Lord, forgive. O Lord, listen and act! For Your own sake, do not delay, O my God, for Your people and Your city bear Your name.”

The interesting thing is, there was a delay…of twenty-one days! Not because God was hard of hearing or indifferent or unwilling or unable, but because the messenger sent to Daniel from God had been delayed by someone – or something – called the “spirit prince of the kingdom of Persia”. He was delayed until Michael, the Archangel, came to his rescue.

But that’s Old Testament stuff, right? Not so fast…

Paul tells us in Ephesians 6 that “…we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places.” There are unseen forces at work in the heavenly places…and they are working against us. But we are also told in several places that these forces, including their diabolical leader, have been conquered through the sacrificial death of our Lord Jesus on the cross and that, if we resist him, he must flee.

So, my prayers shifted, once again, to spiritual warfare. I prayed to the Lord to send thousands of angels to do warfare against these forces of evil hovering over this country…especially the spirit of lawlessness that seems to be running rampant throughout the nation.

I prayed for the purging of wickedness from the face of this land…for the outpouring of God’s Holy Spirit…for conviction of sin, righteousness, and judgment…for repentance and revival. And, in my own words, I echoed the prayer of righteous Daniel…”We make this plea, not because we deserve help, but because of Your mercy. O Lord, hear. O Lord, forgive. O Lord, listen and act!”

Prayer pokes holes in heavenly places…prayer somehow lets the light of Christ shine through. And so I am happy to be woken up in the wee hours of the morning as I know that I am dependant on the Lord…without Him…without His help…without His Holy Spirit…I am nothing and I can do nothing. I need Him…and so I pray…I plead. Lord, in Your mercy, hear my prayer. Cast out all that is evil…all that is not from You…and bring Your peace to bear upon this country. In the victorious Name of Jesus!

Dark Curses

Dark Curses

I woke up just after midnight. When I have nights like this I pray…usually for our children and grandchildren, but often also for our ministry and the countries in which we serve.This morning, the Lord brought to mind something we witnessed about three years ago while visiting Louise’s sister. A Sangoma (traditional witchdoctor) dressed in all her diabolical regalia, was walking up and down the streets of Villiersdorp, muttering away to herself. Apparently, she had been doing this throughout the village for some time. But as I never saw her again, I forgot about her…until last night.

The weather app on our phones had predicted much needed rain. But a very strong wind was blowing, threatening to blow away the clouds. I listened to the gusts as I pondered the image the Lord had brought back to my mind…and then I made the connection.

This Sangoma was more than likely cursing the village and the farms in the valley. The drought really started about three years ago, even though the rain had been tapering off for a while prior to that.

I have lived in Africa long enough to take curses very seriously…and so I began to rebuke the curse and prayed for it to be broken in Jesus’ Name. I also confessed the sins of our people, regardless of ethnicity, as the prophets used to do in the Older Testament…and I begged the Lord for mercy and for the rain to come. As I prayed, the wind settled down and it began to rain. Softly, at first and then a bit harder. Good, penetrating rain.

It is still raining as I write. Obviously, we need weeks and months of this sort of rain before the dam shows any significant change…but this is a start, right?

I am continuing to pray against this curse…may this be the end of its power.

My reading for this morning was from 2 Chronicles 29-32…the story of Hezekiah’s reign. In chapter 32, King Sennacherib of Assyria invaded and mocked the Lord God and insulted King Hezekiah. Then Hezekiah and Isaiah cried out in prayer to God in heaven and the Lord sent an angel who destroyed the Assyrian army.

But prior to their prayers, the King encouraged his people by saying, “Be strong and courageous! Don’t be afraid or discouraged because of the king of Assyria or his mighty army, for there is a power far greater on our side! He may have a great army, but they are merely men. We have the Lord our God to help us and to fight our battles for us!”

Curses are serious. I will not treat them lightly. But neither will I be afraid of them as I know that He that is in me is far greater than he that is in the world. There is a spirit of lawlessness that has been unleashed upon this land…of that I am certain. But we will continue to pray against it and whatever curses have been spoken out against the Lord and His people in this country.

Pray with and for us!

April Newsletter 2018

April Newsletter 2018

“I would like to contribute to your
ministry vehicle fund.” The older gentleman had just handed me a few dollar
notes. “I don’t think it’s more than ten dollars,” he added. “It is not much,
but I hope it will help.”
I felt tears welling up in my eyes. Perhaps
this is how Jesus felt when he watched the widow put her mites in the Temple
treasury.
“Seed money,” his friend said. “The Lord
will multiply it until it is enough.”
Little did they know that that soon after
another man would add an extra US$15,000 to our vehicle fund…and the next day,
we would receive news that someone else had donated another US$7,500! And…would
you believe it…a few hours later we would receive yet more news of another
US$7,500! Seed money indeed! We now have enough to purchase a suitable ministry
vehicle.
God is faithful…and this is His kingdom (see
Matthew 6:33).
This has been a whirlwind trip. We have
travelled many miles and spoken many times in various places in the South
Eastern United States. Thankfully, we also got to meet two new grandchildren,
one from each family, and we attended the youngest one’s baptism. We visited
with many good old friends and made many new ones. It was hard to say goodbye!
But we have been renewed and refreshed in
so many ways. We were blessed by amazing sermons and talks, Bible studies,
prayers, and spoiled rotten by many. We took long lovely walks along the beach
at St Christopher’s Camp and Conference Centre in between meetings, praying
about so many things and for so many people and praising God for His greatness
and goodness and mercy and love.
It is hard to believe that two months ago,
we were in dire straits, not knowing if we would have enough financial support
to stay in the mission field. While we have lost a few faithful partners over
time, we have gained new ones over the past few weeks. We have also gained more
prayer warriors…and we are truly grateful for each and every one! Because of
you, we can do what we do…without you…no, I don’t even want to think about
that. We are a team…together we are witnesses to Jesus to the ends of the
earth!
Louise and I are all anticipation as we
return to South Africa this Wednesday! Our layover in London is about 9 hours,
and we are planning to meet up with our French “son” and his lovely wife for
lunch. Because of this long layover, we will only arrive in Cape Town on Friday
morning, and thankfully we will have the whole weekend to recover. When we have
received all the funds for the vehicle we will begin looking for something
suitable immediately as we have plans to go to Namibia in June.
But first things first…we are scheduled to
train in Kwa-Zulu Natal the weekend after next together with the Rev Trevor
Pearce, the Growing the Church Director. He will be training us in teaching
Rooted in Jesus by letting us train others with him…in service training, so to
speak. We will also be training trainers in Strategy.
We are truly grateful for all our partners
in ministry. As I said, you are part of a team that works together to build our
Lord’s Church. This ministry would not continue without every one playing their
part.
Nine dollars does not sound much, but the
Lord never looks at the amount…He looks at the heart…and He is still in the
multiplying business!
Thank you for your prayers and your support
and your love and your encouragement. We give thanks to the Lord for every one
and we pray only His very best blessings on each one. He knows your heart and
your needs and He loves you with a love that simply cannot be measured or fully
comprehended.
I have been meditating on and praying
through a prayer of David’s for weeks now and will continue to do so in the
future. I encourage each one of you to do the same. 1 Chronicles 29:10-20.
If you would like to write to us in South
Africa, here is our new address:
6 Van Eeden Crescent
Villiersdorp, 6848
South Africa
If you would like to call, our cell number
will be 00 27 72 958 5845.
Love, hugs, and blessings.
Johann and Louise

Love Enough To Tell

Love Enough To Tell

What is the limit of love? Indeed, does love have a limit?

For many of us, it does…love does have a limit. We love as long as it is convenient for us to do so…so long as our personal safety and interests are not jeopardised…so long as it is not hazardous to our lifestyle or our comfort…so long as it doesn’t cost us too much.

But our Lord’s love goes way beyond all limits to the point of giving up His life and dying for those He loved. Jesus’ love – and the love He wants us to manifest in our lives – is a selfless love that always considers others before considering oneself.

John 3:16 tells us that God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son…and this becomes the standard…the benchmark, if you will, for Christian living. Jesus thought it was so important that He repeated it five times prior to the Ascension…once in each Gospel and once in the Book of Acts.

Love enough to tell. Go into all the world and make disciples of all nations. Be my witnesses even to the ends of the earth. Love enough to tell…even if it means giving up that which is most precious to you…even if it means giving up your life. Love enough to tell.

That is what Jesus did – He gave His life a ransom for many – He died so that you and I may have life and free access to God the Father. The Gospels and the rest of the New Testament make it clear that there’s an expectation that those who claim to follow Him ought to love in the same manner…that we, like our Lord, would give up our lives for the lives of others, indeed for the life of the world.

The disciples of Jesus and their disciples understood that. In the book of Acts we see Peter and the other Apostles boldly proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus to the very same crowds and council that called for His death on the cross just a few weeks earlier. We see Stephen confronting a hostile group and paying for it with his life. We see members of the Early Church witnessing to Jesus in spite of severe persecution. They loved enough to tell.

If you love Me, Jesus said, you will obey My commandments. Those who accept My commandments and obey them are the ones who love Me. All who love Me will do what I say. This was Jesus message to His disciples – and to us – in our Gospel lesson for today. Show your love for Me through your obedience to My commands.

Go and make disciples, Jesus said. Wherever you go – in your own backyard, your hometown, your state, your nation, or across borders or oceans – wherever you go be My witnesses, even to the ends of the earth, Jesus said. These words are known as the Great Commission…these words are commands…imperatives…not suggestions…not options…they are commands. All who love Me will do what I say. Wherever you go, make disciples of all nations…

Philip understood this and so he did not hesitate when the angel of the Lord told him to go south down to the desert road that runs from Jerusalem to Gaza. He went because he was told to go. He loved the Lord and so he did what was commanded. He went and met with a highly unlikely convert…an Ethiopian Eunuch. Oh yes, this man was wealthy and powerful and thus a very promising prospect for anyone seeking a convert…but he was a Eunuch and according to the Law of Moses, Eunuchs were barred from full conversion to Judaism.

But this didn’t stop Philip. He was told to go and so he went and so he witnessed to this man…and this man accepted Jesus and was baptised into His Name. Philip loved enough to obey…and thus he loved enough to tell…and consequently one of the first Gentile converts to Christianity was an African.

But this should not come as a surprise to us. The Lord clearly states even in the Old Testament that He wills for the nations…those nations other than the Jewish nation…He wills for all the nations of the earth to worship Him. Psalm 66 commands us to tell the world how glorious He is and it petitions God to let the whole world bless Him.

God so loved the world…that He gave His only begotten Son…He loved enough to invade our world, to give up that which was most precious to Him…so that the world might know Him…so that we might be His forever…

You know, people often ask us as missionaries what we miss the most. What they mean is what do we consider the most difficult thing to leave behind as we go to our host country – or in our in own case, host countries. What do we consider to be our most precious sacrifice? Usually they mean food or comfort or a position or a profitable income or something like that. But for us, the most precious sacrifice is plural. Our most precious sacrifices are our sons, daughters-in-law, and our grandchildren. To leave them behind is the most difficult part of obeying our Lord’s call to serve Him in Africa.

But we know that those who claim to follow Him must obey His commandments…we must do what He did…we must love like He loved…we must love the world…we must love enough to tell others about Him so that they might share in the kingdom together with our families. It has been said that missionaries are those that leave their families for a short time so that other families can be together forever…and so we go and so we love and so we tell.

John tells us in his first Epistle that we know what real love is because Jesus gave up His life for us. That’s the biblical definition of love. Love enough to give up our lives for others as He gave up His life for us. But then he warns us not to simply say that we love each other, but rather to show the truth by our actions. Love is not some abstract emotion or thought or idea…no, love is action…love is doing…love can be seen and felt…

And now that we know God’s love we have to ask ourselves – and be willing to answer ourselves honestly – how we then ought to live. Many people claim to love God but disobey His commands. God wants us to love Him with our whole heart, soul, mind, and strength – in other words with our entire being – everything we are and everything we own – and He wants us to love others as we love ourselves.

So, the glaring question is, do we love God? If we love Him, our lives must demonstrate that fact through our love for others. That’s the message John is trying to convey to his readers. That there are two great loves – love for God and love for our neighbours – and these two great loves cannot be separated. They go together hand in glove. In fact, John will go on to say in the very next chapter that anyone who does not love does not know God, for God is love. Such a person, John says, is a liar for if we don’t love people we can see, how can we love God, who we cannot see?

So, here’s the question again…do you love? Do you love God? Do you love others? Can that love be seen in action…in your behaviour…in your life? Can it be measured in terms of sacrifice? Do you love like Jesus loved? Are you like your Lord?

Some southern African nations have an interesting ritual they perform when they want their new-born to have the same traits as that of a person highly respected in the community. When the infant is ready to start eating, they invite this respected person to their home so that they might be the first to feed the child, usually with their hand…they might even be expected to chew the food first so that the child also ingests their saliva. The parents believe that the good qualities of the respected person will then be passed on to their child.

God is the Father of all believers. God is love. People who accept Jesus as Lord of their lives ought to be like their Heavenly Parent…they ought to possess the character of God…His good qualities…His love…His selflessness…because they feed on His Word. God has given us His Word to be a life-changing agent…and the Holy Spirit is our Guide as He is the one who leads us in all truth. He inspired the authors of the Scriptures to write what they wrote…and now He illuminates the Word so that we might understand and apply what we read. God’s Word is meant to shape us and mould us and make us more like Him so that we might reflect His light in the darkness of this world…that the world might see Him through us and worship Him with us.

But there is perhaps an even greater image of union with God than this…in one of the most controversial passages of Scripture, Jesus says, “Anyone who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me and I in Him.” The precise meaning of this utterance has been debated ever since is was said, but the underlying principle is simply this…feed on Jesus and you will be part of Him…you will remain in Him…and He in you. These are the very words we use in the service of the Holy Eucharist…that we and all the whole Church may be made one body with Him, that He may dwell in us, and we in Him.

Focus on Jesus…intentionally focus on Jesus…study Him…meditate on Him…until you know Him so well that it is almost as if He is in you and you are in Him…

But that is the purpose of this union…it is so that we might be like Him…the Eucharist is a meal of remembrance in which we celebrate His ultimate sacrifice for the life of the world through the giving of His life for ours…the breaking of His Body…the shedding of His Blood. Here we feed on Him by faith. And when we partake of this feast, we proclaim His death until He returns…it is meant to be a witness to us and to all. It is a meal of love…but a love demonstrated primarily by an action of selfless sacrifice for other…for us…for the world…

Do you love like Jesus loves?

As you come to partake of this tangible symbol of love…His broken body, His shed blood…a life given for life…ask Him who was sent to lead us in all truth…ask the Holy Spirit to reveal your heart to you as He sees it. Does your heart reflect His heart? Do you love as He loves? Or do you measure your love by convenience?

Dearest beloved brethren, do you love enough to tell?

© Johannes W H van der Bijl III 2018