Thursday, 30 January 2014

Growing up in Africa: My early Theological Education.

I was born and raised in Africa, South Africa to be precise.
My parents were both fairly ordinary people, my father was a Policeman at the time, and my mother had worked as a nurse's assistant, but was now a full-time stay at home mother of four children. We were raised in a very traditional and religious environment, our religious education was taken very seriously in the form of weekly attendance at Sunday-School/Catechism.
Being a Pastor here in the USA, and having been a Pastor in the UK for 11 years and 5 Years in Africa, quite often people will ask me where I was educated, its important to establish ones "credentials", yes education is very important but one may ask the question "What do you mean by education?" I think mine stared many years before I really realized that God has His sovereign hand on us, even while we are in our mother's womb.
 For me it began in early 1969, I had just started School in January that year, and was still only five years old. As a family we also attended the local Roman Catholic Church. 
It was during the Church service, or "mass" that the phrase “Thanks Be to God”, jumped out in my mind, and would be the basis my first great theological question. I must remind the readers that this happened in the days before I could read or even before I enjoyed reading.
Part of what was read or recited involved the above mentioned phrase, but this was not what it sounded to me, it in fact sounded like, “Thanks Peter God”. Now even a five year old in those days knew enough about basic Christianity to know that a vital element of our faith is the most sacred and orthodox doctrine of the Trinity, God is one, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. God is Father; God is Son; and God is Holy Spirit, and God is and was not and will never be Peter, Peter was one of Jesus’ twelve disciples, the spokesman of the twelve, and of course a good Roman Catholic also believes that Peter eventually became the first Pope.
Do you see the problem yet? We were all reciting something that was totally unacceptable during the service, “thanks Peter God”, I can tell you that when I was sufficiently literate enough to  following the order of service in the booklet everyone read from, my theological conundrum was resolved once, and for all. It actually read “thanks be to God” it was simply the hurried way the congregation was reading through the order of service; I had misheard the statement what a relief to my then tiny and impressionable mind.
I can truly thank God, for the ability and privilege of being able to read and write, literacy is taken for granted by some many, but what a difference it makes in our lives, and even in the life of a presumptuous young five year old boy.
My next spiritual and religious encounter was to be checkmated by a bishop.
No not in a chess game I assure you, We were living in a small little village not more than about a mile from the Indian Ocean. Our town had this tiny little church, the village of Mtunzini (a Zulu name, that means Place-in-the-shade) actually fell within the boundary of a large magisterial district, as well as being part of a large diocese, and our local priest was in fact no ordinary priest but was in fact the Bishop, Bishop Bulgari.
So as far as the church faithful are concerned we were in a very privileged position, but as far as we  children were concerned, I think I was about six years old at the time. As children we did not fully appreciate the privilege as we should have.
In fact our catechism lessons seemed very long and worse still, terribly boring. Summer weather was unbearably stifling in a day an age when almost no one had air-conditioning. To be blunt, the bishop was as dry as dust and incredibly difficult to understand, the Bishop had a very strong foreign accent.
Incidentally the whole situation concerning having to attend these catechism lessons were my mother’s fault, she was horrified when we moved into town from the Forrest Inn Motel few miles outside town and to find that there were no regular catechism lessons for the local catholic kids. So she did what she did best and made it happen after severely rebuking the Bishop for neglecting our education.
Well one day after school we kids got together and decided that we did not feel like a lesson that afternoon, the collective decision was we would go down to the Church property's small Banana Plantation, to be truthful it was so small the term "banana patch" best describes it.
So we went to this veritable place of refuge, genuinely believing we would not be discovered during the next hour, it was a good idea at the time and the best we could come up with at short notice. Convinced that it was foolproof, O, the disillusionment, it was not to be so, we heard the bishop calling for us, and alas he found us rather quickly in our hideout.
Now was his moment to deal with these troublesome kids and after an absolutely caustic and very verbal attack, he really put the fear of God into us. The Bishop went on about the seriousness of children wasting a bishops time, the sacrilege involved in our neglecting our souls, the damnation that awaited us, if we kept this kind of behavior up, and then the one threat all of us were most afraid of was, he threatened to inform our parents and this he assured us would result in very severe discipline. He did not know my parents as well as I did, what he called discipline was what I understood to be a real hiding, My Father had a belt specially reserved for discipline. We were well and truly check-mated by the Bishop, not only did we never forgot his threat, but we also never misbehaved in his classes again. Learning begins when we respect our teachers, so yes banana's and bishops both have a place in Theological education.
True theology can never be reserved to book learning only, Yes the Bible is our sole source, our unique and inerrant light, it is for us the Word of God. I believe that we must also look back at our lives and appreciate some of those lessons God was lovingly teaching us even before we really knew Him.

Thursday, 16 January 2014

Understanding the times.

I was reading through Scripture a while back when a phrase jumped out at me, and a day or two later it jumped again, 1Chronicles 12:32 "Men of Israel who understood the times & knew what Israel should do. In "Esther 1:13 "he spoke with the wise men who understood the times."

In the book of Esther, King Xerxes has a mini-crises on his hand, his wife Queen Vashti, and refused his summons. To be fair to her it could have beeb no fun to have to parade for your husband's guests so that they too could admire her physical beauty. The mini-crises was no minor crises, it threatened to spread rebellion into all the households of the Persian Empire, the women of the Empire could all refuse to obey their husbands, something had to be done. No Empire could or would tolerate any kind of rebellion from its conquered subjects, much less rebellion within the houses and homes of the citizens of that empire.
The wisest advice, from the most trusted sources within the king's circles came from "men who understood the times" men who knew what the right course of action should be. Men who would ensure the King acted to preserve the dignity of his own reign, preserve the authority of his own home, and maintain the status quo of the era. Men whose advice would be in short, essential to best interests of the country they lived in.
This advice led to Queen Vashti's permanent exclusion from her husband's presences, and in addition she also lost her Royal Position. Another was chosen to replace her.

In 1 Chronicles, David is on the run from Saul, he has been anointed King by Samuel, but was notyet recognized   as such by the existing King and people of Israel. To cut a long story short, there were many disaffected people within the Kingdom, who had joined up with David, many I am sure for all the wrong reasons, but people rallied to him. From the Tribe of Issachar, there were men who "understood the times" they were sensitive to the way the Lord was directing the nation, they were savvy to the political situation, they were astute men who could "read the writing on the wall".
They also knew what the Nation of Israel should be doing, unhitching themselves from Saul, and hitching themselves to the future King.

Brother and sisters, our King has granted us permanent and guaranteed access to his presence at anytime, we need have no fear of losing our position, or our privilege, the Holy Spirit within us leads us all to become a people who understand the times, we can see the writing on the wall,because we have the Word of God given to us, and we have understanding of the Word, through His Holy Spirit, and through the preaching and teaching of His Word.
We recognize despite living in a country with with political system that is obsolete, obsolete not because   democracy will fail as surely as any other political system will fail, yes democracy is and was superior to communism, totalitarianism, dictatorship etc etc.
If we understand the times we understand that we have citizenship in a heavenly kingdom, we have the King of Kings who can and will never fail us in any way. This year we need to look to Jesus more than ever before, it is better for us to hide in the caves with Jesus, to wander in the deserts with Jesus, its better for us to be persecuted, to be rejected by the majority of the world around us, its better for not to ally ourselves with the fickleness of of changing "value" systems, which is as bad idea as Vashti's attempt at rebellion.

Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Considering the Psalms, and how much they have meant to me over the last 24 years or so since I started reading them in earnest for my daily devotions. I cannot know how many times I have read and re-read all 150. I find it amazing how much more I discover each and every time I open up the Scripture, what a treasure-chest our God has given us, what a feast, the table is always heavy-laden with plentiful nourishment.
I cannot say which Psalm is my firm favorite as I love them all too much, the Lord knows just what to say to me as I read through this oasis of fresh and running water. I want to start this series with Psalm One and its opening statement, an Old-Testament Beatitude for the believer.

"Blessed is the man
 who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked
 or stand in the way of sinners
or sit in the seat of mockers."

How truly happy is the man, this man is in a spiritual state of blessedness, he has God's hand of blessings on him. He is walking closely to the Lord, walking in close communion with his Lord. He is in a true state of prosperity, spiritual prosperity, he is a wealthy man, he is walking/conducting his life with God's richest blessings.

Look at Him fellow believer, this man does not walk any more in the counsel of the wicked, he did once in the past walk this way constantly, but now no longer, he has found talking "short-cuts" in life, doing that which is expedient  practical and sensible, is in fact extremely counter productive, the counsel, the advice, the philosophies of the world run in the opposite direction to the counsel of the Lord, His road, is not an easy one, pathways are much more time consuming, and not very "consumer-friendly" by comparison to the paths the ways the world tells us we should go.
Look again, this man does not stand in the way of the sinners, he is not standing idly by in the market-place of the world, he is not part of the crowd, he does not even stop to re-consider the direction he is taking, he is no Lot's wife looking back, he is not hankering after Egypt, but pressing on the the promised land. The believer has taking up his cross daily and walking to his Calvary, his eyes fixed on the Lord, his Savior.
Our believer who is in a state of God's richest blessings does not even sit for a rest, he ignores the temptation to sit a while, to find temporary comfort in putting his feet up along side  the mockers, who are warming themselves by the fire, Peter sat with them when he denied Jesus on that fateful night, look at the broken heart, the sorrow it caused him. 

Brothers and Sisters, brethren, if you have ever walked, stood or sat where you should not have, look to the Savior, find forgiveness in him, look at his kind compassion for you, he restored Peter, will he not restore you also?

After restoration, take the counsel of this blessed Psalm, follow the advice in God's word and experience a special blessing in your life! 

Friday, 23 November 2012

Sitting here at my desk, having worked this week at preparing my Sunday Morning message, I'm reflecting on the quality of my work, yes I have spent 5 years of full-time Theological study, I had brilliant proffesors at the Baptist Theological college of Southern Africa and before that at Johannesburg Bible Institute, I have been constantly preparing and preaching messages for a number of years, mostly six messages a week sometimes more and lately a lot less. I have a reasonable library of books behind me, some pretty "heavy-weight" ones at that, I still have my mind, and a half-decent one in working condition, not as good as it once was, but sharp enough, I have been in Pastral ministry for most of the last 20 years, I have read the Scriptures countless times, and yet, why is it that I am so disturbed, so uneasy everytime I finish my preparation?

I think because I come under conviction that at the end of everything, if it is all "boiled down" I am just a common garden variety of sinner at heart, Yes I have my faith in Christ, but I have absolutely no faith in myself whatsoever, I know myself as well as I want to, and know my deep inner untrustworthines, my inner wreck of a thought-life, a mind so easily distracted by the things and ways of the world, I am weary of myself, of failing the Lord all the time, failing my Wife and family, failing the Church, failing myself.
The marvel is that He has chosen to use such a frail vessal in His service, that astonishes me everyday of my life, His grace to me, a totally undeserving sinner.

Sunday, 15 April 2012

A Pastor's Heartache

One of the aspects of ministry that the pastor finds so difficult to deal with is the constant, if not steady flow of visitors to churches. I call them "spiritual hitch-hikers" people who attend for a few weeks, sometimes even months but dont make any effort despite invitations to make a commitment to becoming involved in serving. 
Low and behold seemingly at the smallest imagined provocation these people disappear, What is the problem, do some Christians really believe they can faithfully serve the Lord but never "put down roots" in any local church?
How have preachers failed? Is it in fact the fault of Biblical preaching that this problem has gone on for so long, it is no longer happening "under the radar" but is an open secret. try challenging these poor hitch-hikers and you will never see them again, it shows that they have no interest in coming under Church discipline nor do they understand the level of protection and support the local Church can give them, and indeed earnestly desires to do so. The problem here is very difficult for the Pastor to deal with, other than challenging and inviting, begging and pleading, there is nothing else to be done. Yes of course prayer is the first recourse and  also the final recourse of the pastor

There is also another problem in the Church that the pastor must however take full responsibility for, and that is  for the "spiritual hijacker", wolves in sheep's clothing, men who will have every appearance of orthodoxy, be fairly knowledgeable of Scripture, but have a hidden agenda. 
In my native country the "high-jacking" of vehicles is tragically a  very common activity and one that often comes with fatal violence inflicted on the victim. The "spiritual high-jacker" does not realize that the results of his 
attempt to overthrow the existing Pastoral team cause spiritual injuries that are no less hurtful and devastating to the Sheep at a local Church. 

We Pastor's have been warned in many places in Scripture to be on the lookout for these people, yet when it happens we are sometimes taken by surprise, I know something like this has happened to me and it still smarts. I thought I would be able to spot such a destructive influence a mile away. Indeed I have been able to spot a number of such people and take appropriate action, but on the one occasion I let my guard down, because I wanted to believe the best of the man and I wanted the best for the Church that was under my care. Well it just goes to show, that old adage of "no good deed goes unpunished"

The Spiritual hitch-hiker's injury to the Church is like that of heart-disease, it is a silent killer, slowly choking many small congregations to death, some are already on deaths door, but do not yet know it. This injury is a slow killer, the lack of commitment, and spiritual apathy has been slowly creeping its way in the front door, and almost imperceptibly exercising its strangle hold on the life of the Church at large.
The Spiritual high-jacker's injury to the Church is a lot less subtle, he is a wolf, wolves don't wait for their food to die of natural cause before they eat, they need to kill, destroy, they need to make their victim too weakened to resist the injury about to be inflicted. The wolf might wait patiently for a convenient time for himself to strike, and that will be as brutally quick as he can possible make it be. Strike he will, he has his own agenda.