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
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
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
Johannes van der Bijl © 2018-07-17

Gambela and Cairo

We left Cape Town International Airport three hours later than scheduled. Ethiopian Airlines at their best. Consequently, the transfer at Bole International Airport in Addis was rather interesting…we had to apply for a visa, claim our bags, and walk around to the Domestic Airport as there were no transfer vehicles available at that hour…only to be told that we could not proceed to the waiting area by the only security person in the building…and there was no where to sit there other than the floor. After speaking to one of the Ethiopian Airlines check-in people and explaining that we had a connection to make, the security person let us through. But we still had a very long wait for the plane to Gambela and not a coffee bar in sight.
When we finally arrived at Gambela airport, our ride was late. She had lost her spectacles and after she found them, she got stuck in the mud as she tried to leave her compound. Ah, the simple life in Gambela.
We were greeted like long lost family…folks started coming to greet us with gifts of eggs, aubergines, a chicken, cold fizzy drinks, a beaded gourd, and other food items…and our students came to love on us, hugging us, holding us, and calling us their mother and father. Louise wept like a child.

The next morning I preached at St. Baranabas. There was much rejoicing…singing and dancing…oh, how we have missed our Anuak family, but boy were we exhausted after the (long) service!

The following day, we started to train trainers in how to make disciples. All the students, first through third years, were present together with priests and lay leaders who lived close-by.

It was such a blessing to be back in the classroom…to be with the folks we love so dearly…to share with them the wonderful material we have discovered since being absent from them. Ah, the Lord is good.

Then the great event itself! The first graduation of St Frumentius’ Anglican College! Our babies were graduating. What an emotional roller coaster for us all. This was what we gave our lives for…and nearly lost my life for…but ever drop of sweat, every struggle, was well worth it.

The training continued until Friday.
Here we are with most of our students.

I had also blessed a tribal marriage in the meantime…a first for me. The English teacher had also joined us and we spent Saturday getting to know each other. What a wonderful retired missionary still giving her all for our Lord and His kingdom! Sunday, I preached at St Luke’s, a Nuer congregation. Again, many tears and much laughter. We left for Cairo that afternoon.

Our flight to Cairo was late as well…for someone who is a stickler for punctuality, this is a bit of a bother. When we arrived, we could not locate our ride to the Diocesan Guest House. We waited an hour as we did not want anyone to miss us, but finally gave in a took a taxi. Just as well…we found out the next day that the driver had got the days wrong! Driving in Cairo at three AM is interesting. This city really does not sleep!

We met up with our dear friends from South Carolina, now serving with SAMS with us at the Cathedral, Kerry and Cynthia Buttram. We had two full days with them before starting the disciple making training on Wednesday. Bishop Mouneer was present throughout the training…only the second bishop to show such interest and solidarity with his priests! We had a marvellous time and they were so thrilled with the material! Pray for them, as this is a very difficult area in which to live as followers of Jesus!

Cairo airport was quite an adventure, to say the least. Going through security with a pacemaker can be rather interesting when no one understands what you are trying to say. But the most, dare I say, entertaining part was when a fight broke out in the security line as we were about to board the plane. A woman was attempting to knock a man senseless with her shoe. I don’t know what he did to her, but it must have been pretty bad for her to lose it like that. Needless to say, we were delayed once again.
Our stop in Addis was wonderful. We spent time with very dear friends, CMS Missionaries, Roger and Lynn Kay. They went out of their way to spoil us rotten.

Louise with Lynn and Roger at Cape Point earlier this year.

We also got an opportunity to say farewell to Rosemary Burke, also with CMS, as she returns to England to wait on the Lord for her next assignment.
Our plane bound for Cape Town…wait for it…was delayed as well. But adding insult to injury, when we arrived in Cape Town, our bags were not with us on the plane. There were quite a number of very disgruntled fellow passengers, especially those with connecting flights! But, I must say, they did get our bags to us in Villiersdorp the very next day…actually just before midnight. So, alls well that ends well.

We are back home now, trying to catch up with emails and life in general. A dear family friend was killed shortly after we got home in a car accident. We are all still in a state of shock as he was so young and leaves behind his young wife and two beautiful daughters. Please keep them in your prayers as they try to move forward.

Thank you once again for your love, encouragement, and support. Thank you for being our partners in the Gospel!

Hugs, love, and blessings.
Johann and Louise

A powerful reminder

A powerful reminder…especially the last sentence. Taken from Nabeel Qureshi’s book, Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus.
THERE IS A SIMPLE REASON I never listened to street preachers: they didn’t seem to care about me. It wasn’t that they were annoying. I found their passion admirable, and I appreciated people who stood up for what they believed. Rather, it was that they treated me like an object of their agenda. Did they have any idea how their message would impact my life? Did they even care?
Sure, there are street preachers who share their message while still greeting people kindly, getting to know others’ troubles, and praying over personal pains, but I never saw them. What I saw were men who would stand on street corners accosting the public with their beliefs. No doubt they reached a few, but they repelled many more.
Unfortunately, I have found that many Christians think of evangelism the same way, foisting Christian beliefs on strangers in chance encounters. The problem with this approach is that the gospel requires a radical life change, and not many people are about to listen to strangers telling them to change the way they live. What do they know about others’ lives?
On the other hand, if a true friend shares the exact same message with heartfelt sincerity, speaking to specific circumstances and struggles, then the message is heard loud and clear.
Effective evangelism requires relationships. There are very few exceptions.
Namibia Trip Report 2018

Namibia Trip Report 2018

Why did you take you so long to get here?” Fr Lazarus Ngube looked at me enquiringly.

It had taken us longer than usual to get to Windhoek as we had wanted to first visit Fr Martin Kauna in the isolated coastal town of Luderitz…so we had taken a long way round through Sendelingsdrif (Missionary’s Fjord) where we were floated across the Orange (or Gariep) River from South Africa to Namibia. This is a harsh and rugged landscape, but because of the generosity of our partners in the US, we had what we fondly call “The Godmobile” (thanks Jim Bannister for the name!), a Mahindra Scorpio 4 wheel drive SUV…and she was at her best on the most challenging roads, whether rocks and boulders or really thick sand. One of the things I like best about the Godmobile is that she “purrs” when in 4 wheel drive.

So, it had taken us four days to get to Windhoek instead of two…plus I was presiding over a wedding in the stunning Kalahari dunes. My cousin’s daughter had asked if I would consider officiating when we saw them at her grandmother, my aunt’s funeral last December. What an honour! Anib Lodge was the location…very close to where my cousin and I grew up…so while we made new memories we also remembered old ones.

Four days later, we started the training at St Michael’s Anglican Church in Katatura…

But I knew that travel time was not what Fr Lazarus was talking about. He was talking about the disciple-making training we call Strategy. The small group of four, Fr Lazarus, Fr Immanuel, Fr Paulus, and sister Eunice (we also had a pre-med student the first day by the name of Fillemon) all agreed that this material was what they had been waiting for a long time.

Following Bishop Martin Breytenbach’s lead, we took three days to complete the training instead of two. It is such a huge paradigm shift from the maintenance method (or attractional model) to the missional method (or disciple-making model) that one has to allow time for questions, discussions, and reflection. At the end of three wonderful days, we decided we needed to start making plans to return next year, but not only for three days in Windhoek!

Because of the vast distance and the great expense of getting folks together in one place for training, we thought it best if we travelled throughout the length and breadth of the country, training in as many areas as possible. Such a feat would take about three months…but it would be well worth the effort!

We also visited the smallest Anglican Cathedral in the world…St George the Martyr in Windhoek…that also happens to be the church where I was baptised back in 1962! Apparently, the font had been donated to St Michael’s a few years ago…but we didn’t know that until we had gone. Sigh…next time.

We spent two more days with my dear cousin and her husband at their lovely retreat close to Rehoboth. It was a good time for us to rest and for Louise to recover from a very nasty tummy ailment.

We returned to South Africa to find that our Lord was answering our many prayers for rain! The level of one dam went from 4% to 40% overnight! We have yet to see our Theewaterkloof dam, but we have heard that it is significantly fuller than when we last saw it two weeks ago! Praise the Lord with us for His grace and mercy!

God willing, Louise and I will leave for Ethiopia and Egypt this Friday. We will be attending the first graduation of the College we started four years ago where I will deliver the main speech. We will also be training students, local priests, and staff in both Strategy and Foundations while there. And I will also be presiding over the blessing of the marriage of one of our former students! We will then move on to Cairo where we will meet up with so many dear friends, and also train folks in Strategy.

Please keep us in your prayers…we really need our Lord to bless this trip with His amazing life-changing Presence! Then again…we always need Him, don’t we? We really can’t do anything without Him and we really can’t do without you all either! God has given us an amazing body of people with all sorts of different talents and skills – we need each one of you if we are to function in a healthy manner.

Thank you again and again for your love, support, encouragement, and partnership in the Gospel!

Many blessings
Johann and Louise

Think new, do new…

Watching this video reminded me of what we always tell our trainees when we introduce them to Strategy and Foundations. This is a paradigm shift. This is not the way you are used to “doing” church!
In this video you will see how a man who knew perfectly well how to ride a bicycle has to change the way his brain works in order to ride on a “backwards” bicycle…it took him eight months of daily practice to actually get it right! But then, when he tried to ride a normal bicycle again, he found that his brain had to be reprogrammed again!
This is exactly what happens when we try to implement the training.
Think of it this way. Jesus made disciples. That is what He did for most of His adult life on this planet. He had a certain method that He used and it worked! Then, some time in history, perhaps during the Middle Ages, someone changed that method…someone recreated Jesus’ model and turned it around…made it “backwards”. Suddenly the church was inward focussed and started concentrating on building beautiful buildings and filling them with beautiful things so that people would come to them. That was not Jesus’ model! Jesus went to where the people were…He never started a building campaign, other than that made out of living stones…you and me!
So, now we come and we train you to follow Jesus’ method…the original method…the way this Church “bicycle was supposed to be used. But now you find you can’t do it…you have to reprogram your mind and your spirit to return to the Master’s original plan.
BUT, it can be done…if we practice daily and just do it. Discipleship needs to be done like Jesus did it if it is to bear lasting fruit…abundant fruit.
There are three types of people in the Church:
“Think old, do old” people who simply are not willing to change their thinking and ways of “doing” church.
“Think new, do old” people who have the knowledge, but not the understanding and therefore are not able to implement the truth they have learned about disciple making.
“Think new, do new” people who have both the knowledge and the understanding and therefore think and behave in a different way from the way they used to “do” church. This takes a lot of time, frustration, and dedication to get to a new way of thinking and doing…but, as I said before, it can be done!
PRESS ON beloved disciple makers! Press on and the Lord will reward you in due time!