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Blessing Same Sex Couples – The Big Church Split?

Some friends asked for my response to the division taking place in the Anglican Church over the blessing of same sex legal unions. I write in my own capacity, not on behalf of any church or denomination.

I have been saying for years now:  History will prove that the challenge of human sexuality will be the issue of our time. It has been brewing since the sexual revolution of the 1960s, to throw off traditional religious and moral constraints. It has now evolved into the ‘sexualized-political self’ with the LGBTQ+ agenda for social recognition and human rights. Same sex ‘marriage’ and religious ‘gay ordination’ are high on the agenda.

This will split Christian denominations and organisations, churches and followers of Jesus, like few other issues have in church history. Why? Because it’s about human morality. It’s not about agreeing to disagree philosophically on human sexuality, then blessing each other to do our own thing. It’s about sexual ethics, which assumes the biblical vision of human sexuality as God designed and intended for the flourishing of society and creation. 

The Anglican split – the prophetic symbol?

The past few decades have seen debate and disagreement in this regard in denominations and churches. Often acrimoniously so. No less in the Church of England (C of E). Founded in 1867 in London, the global Anglican communion of the C of E has 85 million adherents. It is made up of 42 member Churches, also called provinces.

On 20 February 2023 this issue reached a head. Ten primates (Archbishops) of the Global South Fellowship of Anglican Churches (GSFA), representing 22 provinces in Africa, Asia, and South America, sent a statement to the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, and to the press. “With great sorrow” they informed him that they reject him as head of the Anglican communion, “as the C of E has departed from the historic faith passed down from the Apostles by this innovation… she has disqualified herself” as the mother church. They called for repentance from “taking the path of false teaching.” The Secretary General, Anthony Poggo, acknowledged receipt of the letter “with sadness”.

Why has GSFA done this?  Because on 9 February Welby presided over the acceptance of a controversial motion in the C of E’s General Synod. While keeping the orthodox meaning of ‘marriage’ (between one man and one woman), the C of E will allow their clergy to bless same sex legal unions, as long as the prayer-ceremony is not done ‘in church’. This was done in the name of equality for LGBTQ+ people, after years of pressure. Welby said he himself will not bless same-sex couples; however, for the sake of unity in the Anglican Church (between conservatives and progressives) he proposed this compromise. He was “extremely joyful” it was accepted. But ironically, it has made the division open and official.  

This is hugely significant because GSFA claims to represent up to 70% of global Anglicans. It is like an earthquake sending seismic shock waves throughout Anglicanism – even in the broader Church of Jesus Christ. Since the communion’s founding in 1867, there has never been such a rejection of the Archbishop of Canterbury. It is, in my view, a prophetic symbol, warning all Christian denominations and churches everywhere to proactively face this issue. There is no neutrality or middle ground. Let me explain.

Biblical authority and interpretation – Biblical sexual ethics.

For Christians, this is about biblical sexual ethics for human flourishing. Dallas Willard has shown how moral knowledge has disappeared in academic institutions and in society. What is true or not true? Right or wrong? How do we know that? On what basis or authority do we decide what is true and reliable knowledge of reality? Is human rationalism our authority? Or science (‘research says…’)? My sexual feelings as knowledge of my gender self? Socio-political correctness? Cultural pressure?

Christians, historically, believe the Bible is God’s revelation to humanity, our authority and rule for life and faith. Jesus said, if we hold to his teachings we will know the truth, and the truth will set us free (John 8:31-32). Scripture, however, must be correctly interpreted because we can make texts mean whatever we want them to mean – the challenge of hermeneutics, principles of interpretation.

At the end of the day, the Anglican split over blessing same-sex legal unions – and the issue of gay ordination, and the explosion of gender dysphoria with (now) 72 gender identities – is about the authority we give or do not give to the Bible, and how we interpret the texts. This is where orthodox-evangelical and liberal-progressive hermeneutics part ways.

It is essentially about how we interpret the eight key texts referring to homosexual practice: Genesis 19:4-5, Judges 19:20-23, Leviticus 18:22, Leviticus 20:13, Romans 1:24-32; 1 Corinthians 6:9-11; 1 Timothy 1:8-11, Jude 1:5-7. I summarise the positions without exposition of the texts.

Orthodox-evangelical hermeneutics holds to the way Jesus and his Apostles and the Church throughout history interpreted and applied the texts. The texts teach that homosexual practice in whatever context is moral/ethical sin, disordered desire that destroys God’s creation design for human sexuality, defacing God’s differentiated image of male and female. God’s loving prohibition on all homosexual practice is universal, for all time, for flourishing society. And God’s loving power is available for sexual redemption, healing, and transformation, as Paul teaches in 1 Corinthians 6:9-11, “such were some of you, BUT you were washed, sanctified, justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” To deny this is to deny the (power of the) gospel of Jesus Christ. It means working compassionately with the very real subjective struggle of same sex (LGBTQ+) orientation.  

The recent development of liberal-progressive hermeneutics regarding human sexuality and marriage is a novelty in church history. It emerged from the 1960s sexual revolution, developing a theology that affirms LGBTQ+ practice, with chosen self-identities, justifying beliefs and legitimising ideology. They interpret the above texts to affirm and bless LGBTQ+ practice in consenting adult, romantic, erotic, monogamous relationships.

Among their principles of interpretation, the most common is ‘irrelevance’. They argue that the narrative texts (Genesis and Judges) are about inhospitality and social injustice of forced rape, thus irrelevant to loving same sex relationships today. The Leviticus texts are about Israel’s ritual purity and impurity laws in light of the idolatrous sexual practices of the Canaanite tribes, thus not relevant to loving same sex relationships today. The Jude text is about sex with angels, not relevant to today. The three Pauline texts are about coercive and exploitative homosexual sex – men with boys and masters with slaves. Paul and the Greco-Roman world did not know about sexual orientation and loving consenting adult same sex relationships (which is simply not true), so his three texts are irrelevant.  

One would need to go into much more detail to do justice to how these and other texts are interpreted to affirm current LGBTQ+ orientation, identity, belief, and practice.

It logically follows that…

First, if one upholds the authority of scripture that teaches same sex erotic practice is morally sinful, in whatever context it takes place, then one cannot bless same sex couple legal unions, wherever it may take place. It would be endorsing their sinful lifestyle choice; the most unloving thing to do if one lives by the biblical understanding of God’s love. Jesus didn’t condemn the woman caught in adultery, but said, “leave your life of sin” (John 8:11).  

Second, to allow blessing of same sex legal agreements and maintain the biblical meaning of marriage, is contradictory and untenable. Orthodox-evangelical hermeneutics says that same sex legal unions destroy God’s creation design in his image of male and female, where sexual erotic practice is purposed exclusively for marriage between a man and woman, for the flourishing of human society. Marriage is an ‘ordinance’ of creation.

Whatever one calls it, whichever way one looks at it, same sex couples are both functionally and legally redefining 6000 years of the meaning of marriage. It is their right to have civil legal agreements with all the benefits that accrue, but it is not marriage and never will be. To ‘bless’ it in any shape or form is to permit and empower its redefinition of marriage.     

Third, this is an either/or issue, mentioned earlier. To straddle both sides or stand in the middle holding both sides together, or to propose and accept an ethically compromising motion – all with the honourable motivation to keep unity – is unreality, as we’ve seen with the Anglicans. It is, in reality, a pacifying of one side that alienates the other.   

Fourth, the GSFA are nothomophobic provinces”, as a Labour MP called them. The meaning of homophobia has been changed to ‘cancel’ anyone who disagrees with same sex practice. It has always meant ‘fear of the same sex’ – for various reasons. Since the sexual revolution it has been used to mean irrational dislike, fear, hatred, and prejudiced discrimination of gays. Google the word and see. Personally, I disagree with same sex practice from a biblical understanding and ethical conscience, yet I know I don’t have any irrational dislike, fear, hatred, or prejudice against gays. Does that make me a homophobe?

Last, it is ultimately a matter of worldview and authority, of true or false teaching, as the GSFA say. Because blessing same sex legal unions in God’s name is a denial of the power of the gospel of Jesus Christ, which saves, heals, and transforms us. The gospel re-identifies us as God’s male and female image bearers, restored in God’s (new) creation design.

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‘Neutrality’ in the Russian-Ukrainian Conflict?

Utter and complete shame on the South African ANC (African National Congress) government for its so-called ‘neutrality’ in the Russian-Ukraine conflict while recently receiving Putin’s foreign minister Lavrov on an official visit, and planning military exercises with Russia. 

President Ramaphosa and his team have no moral integrity by siding with the dictator-murderer Putin, who said at the beginning of the Russian invasion of Ukraine his goal was to “demilitarize and deNazify Ukriane”. In so doing he has militarised and Nazified Russia. It’s been his plan all along.

But it’s been 11 months of genocide and mindless destruction of the infrastructure. He has murdered over 7000 innocent civilians, as verified by the United Nations High Commissioner of Human Rights (Google it).

As a pastor and spiritual leader in South Africa, I am ashamed of my government and I cannot be silent. As God said to Israel through the psalmist, “You do these things and think I remain silent, taking me as one just like yourself, BUT now I rebuke you and lay the charge before you” (50:21). 

The LORD rebuke you, Ramaphosa and the ANC, and Putin and all who endorse and support him.

Putin’s primary endorser and empower-er is his spiritual patron, the Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church, Kirill, whom God will hold accountable. 

This is what Lazar Puhalo, retired Archbishop of the Orthodox Church in America,  recently said:

“Heretical Patriarch Kirill of Moscow continues with his Messianic delusions about ’Ruskii Mir’ (Mother Russia) and continues to support the mass murder of Ukrainian civilians and the genocide of the Ukrainian people, the unspeakable war crimes of dictator Putin. This is the true face of theocracy— a Church which thought to manipulate the State but was enslaved by the state in a manner that even the Soviet Union could not accomplish. Russia has been invaded by no one but is committing literal genocide on a peaceful, democratic nation. Theocracy is not ‘rule by God’ but madmen, deluded dictators, presuming to speak for  God. The Moscow Patriarch has taken his place with the leaders of the Taliban and the savage dictators of Iran, to the humiliating shame of Orthodox Christianity. Thank God for the Ecumenical Patriarch, Bartholomew I of Constantinople (who speaks out against Kirill and Putin)”
Though the quote is not taken directly from this article, click here for Lazar Puhalo’s analysis of ‘the Messianic delusions about Mother Russia’ of Kirill.

As Barbara Brown Taylor said, “Human beings never behave more badly toward one another than when they believe they are protecting God”

Lord have mercy!

Christ have mercy!

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If you could ask for anything – yes, anything – what would it be?

Imagine if God appeared to you saying that he will give you whatever you ask. Above all else, what one thing do you want?

That’s what happened to Solomon after he became King of Israel at about 20 years old. God came to him in a dream at a place of worship, saying, “Ask for whatever you want me to give to you” (1 Kings 3:4-14).

Kings commonly asked for long life, or wealth, or the death of their enemies (1 Kings 3:11). Kings and Queens and national leaders embody their people, representing their hopes, wishes and desires. Everyone wants happiness, health and long life, riches, peace and security with no enemies. It’s the equivalent of the ‘Health & Wealth’ gospel – the quest for power, miracles, prosperity… the good life!    

Not Solomon. What he wanted most was “a discerning heart” (1 Kings 3:9). In Hebrew, literally “a hearing heart”. Able to listen deeply and patiently to all sides of an issue. Including God. Hearing God’s whispers – God’s word and will in each situation. The ability to listen, evaluate, and know what is right and wrong. To distinguish between good and evil.

God responded, “I will give you a wise and discerning heart” (1 Kings 3:12). The Hebrew lev hakam wenabon is “a heart of wise discernment” – the wisdom to discern truth from untruth.

This is, arguably, the greatest need in our postmodern world of post-truth, where lies and fake news are the order of the day. Where lying presidents lead the way. “Truth is nowhere to be found… truth has stumbled in the public square, honesty cannot enter” (Isaiah 59:14-15). The battle for truth, for reliable and true knowledge of reality.

The crisis in our world is (due to) the failure of leadership, which, in turn, is the failure of character. The failure of ethics and truth in leaders, and in people in general. The way of the leader is the way of the people. We live with narcissist, power-hungry, nationalistic leaders.

We don’t know what truth is anymore. How do we know what is true? What can we trust as reliable knowledge of reality? More so, WHO can we trust for truth? WHO is true?

Accurate knowledge of reality is not enough. We need wisdom. Wisdom is the skilful application of knowledge to make the correct decisions in each situation, by discerning good from evil, right from wrong, for the wellbeing of all concerned. The Truth sets us free (John 8:31-32).

What Solomon asked and received was the character quality most associated with good godly kings, as in Isaiah 11:1-5. This text was prophetic of the Messiah-King, Jesus, who lived by God’s “Spirit of wisdom and understanding, of counsel and power… to judge with righteousness… with justice he will give decisions for the poor and needy…”

Such wise discernment is both given and acquired. Discerning wisdom is both gift and training. Solomon says we acquire it by treasuring God’s Word within us, by inclining our ear to God’s Wisdom, by literally crying aloud for insight and discernment, seeking her as for hidden treasures – because God gives wisdom, from his mouth come knowledge and understanding (Proverbs 2:1-9).

Do you cry out for discernment and wisdom? How much do you want it?

Hebrews 5:14 says that the spiritually mature in God are those who have trained their faculties, by practice, to distinguish good from evil. How mature are you?

Solomon’s purpose in asking for wise discernment was to lead and govern his people well (1 Kings 3:9). It was not for his own sake, for his ego, popularity, or success. It was for the people’s wellbeing and prosperity.

And his posture was not that of entitlement or presumption because he was king. He identified himself before God as “your servant” (1 Kings 3:7-8). He saw himself as God’s servant to serve the people by listening to God in the silence of his heart, as he listened to the people in their need, challenges, issues, etc. That is how he discerned what was really happening, where truth lay, what was good and right – the will of God in each situation.  

Finally, in asking for discernment and wisdom, God also gave Solomon long life, wealth, and the defeat of his enemies. As Jesus told his followers, “Seek FIRST the Kingdom of God and all the other things you need will be given to you” (Matthew 6:33).

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Those who Grasp for Power

Grasping for power divides people, especially leaders.
It reveals character – both bad and good character.

This was the essential message of my morning meditation today, from 1 Kings 1:5-10.

Adonijah was 35 years old when he made himself king.
Why? Because, the text says, he was…
a) “very handsome”,
b) and next in line (King David’s fourth son, 2 Sam 3:4, after Absalom).

What did he do? Promoted himself by…
a) public displays of power (getting chariots and horses, and sending 50 men to run ahead of him),
b) manipulative lobbying with leaders,
c) threw a coronation party, inviting those whom he knew would support him.

BUT some respected leaders did not support him. The two ‘buts’ in v.8 & 10 show that Zadok the chief priest and Nathan the prophet, among other leaders, did not support Adonijah. They sought to confront and undo his wrongdoing.

Adonijah’s ego-driven attitude and actions divided the people, especially the leaders in Israel. This exposed bad character (those who supported him) and good character (those who did not). That’s what happens whenever anyone, especially leaders (spiritual, civil, business, and political), grasp for power. And God allows it to reveal character, exposing people for who they are.

The Hebrew name Adonijah means “my Lord (Master) is Yahweh (God)”. In 35 years of formation, Adonijah had not learnt to submit his will to God, to make Yahweh his real Lord and Master. Adonijah’s father, King David, “never interfered with him by asking, ‘why do you behave the way you do?’” (v.6, sadly, a lack of fathering). By grasping for power he rejected his God-given identity and purpose embodied in his name. His self-serving behaviour showed that he ‘self-identified’ as “my Lord is Me”.

Have you been tempted to power, to make yourself a leader, to be king?

IN GOD’S KINGDOM, power and leadership is always given, never ever taken. One is only and always invited and appointed by others, those above you, by God. There is NO self-promotion, let alone self-appointment, in God’s Kingdom.

Adonijah followed Lucifer, who grasped for ultimate position and power: God’s throne, to be God. All who grasp for power and all who support such leaders reveal the character of Lucifer, whether they know it or not. Such leaders and people do the will of Satan on earth as it is in hell.

The ultimate reversal – undoing of this corrupt and evil way – is through Jesus. Though equal with God, he did not consider equality with God something to grasped or held on to. Rather, he stripped himself of position and power and made himself nothing. Taking on the nature of a slave, he selflessly served, obeying God all his life: “not my will but yours be done”. To the point of death. Even death on a cross. Therefore God highly exalted him, giving him all authority and power in heaven and earth. He is the true Adonijah, “my Lord is (really) God”. All true followers of Jesus do God’s will on earth as it is in heaven.

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Prayer as The Way of Silence

“Solitude and silence are the most radical of the spiritual disciplines because they most directly attack the sources of human misery and wrongdoing.” So says Dallas Willard, in his foreword to Invitation to Solitude and Silence.

The monastic movement experienced and taught prayer as the way of solitude and silence. They saw it as a journey into the silent desert of surrendering love.

We follow Jesus in our conversion through the waters of baptism, confirming our identity as God’s beloved sons and daughters. Then the Spirit leads us, as with Jesus, into the desert of prayer.

If we follow and obey, we enter the inner desert of the heart through solitude and silence with God. That is the sacred space of testing and purification that transforms us for fullness of life with God.

The monastic practice of stillness (hesychia, quiet rest, tranquillity) was the essence of this life of prayer. It was a way of death and dying to live eternal life here and now. That’s why the monks taught prayer as “the remembrance of death”, discussed in my book Doing Spirituality (I cite the sources, p.250/1).

They called it the remembrance of death because the daily practice of being alone with The Alone is a progressive self-stripping from idolatrous attachments, false dependencies, and selfish preoccupations, to be lovingly attentive and responsive to God – as Jesus was.

Such silence is a desert of spiritual warfare. Though we greatly need it, few want to go there. Because it presses our buttons and reveals who we are. Totally naked and utterly dependent on God. We learn, however, to let go, to relax and be still. To release control by surrendering our faculties to God, the Transcendent Reality of Perfect Love.

In fact, the monks went so far as to say that prayer, the way of stillness, was a regular rehearsal for the day of our death. On that day we (will have to) surrender the whole of who we are, all our faculties, to God, in one final act of faith. No one will escape the spectre of death that enfolds us in its shroud of silence.

Evagrios the Solitary (345-399) said, “The way of stillness (of silent prayer) teaches you to remember the day of your death… visualise the dying of your body… and the day of your resurrection”.

This is not a morose religious exercise, but a facing of death. We break denial of death by dying daily through silent prayer, to live eternally in each moment of every day. Because God, in Christ, has defeated death through resurrection.

We participate in Jesus’ silent stripping – naked on the cross alone with the Alone – by which we die to our false self and rise to our true self in Christ, to hear God’s voice in each moment of each new day. We rise to live the Transcendent Reality of Perfect Love. We echo silence, like Jesus.

In summary, solitude and silence with God is a daily dying to the distractions and clamourings that demand our attention, that hook and feed our “uncrucified flesh”, that constitutes our false-self (Paul speaks of “dying daily” in 1 Corinthians 15:31, Galatians 2:20, Romans 8:36). And so we learn to die well, to let go and let God be God.

By trusting God in our ‘little deaths’ through prayer-full silence, we will “never die” as Jesus said (“not taste death”, John 11:25). We will seamlessly pass from this world into the next. It will take us some time to realise we have died, due to the quality of God’s abiding companionship in the silence of surrendering love.

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God became human: How does that make you FEEL?

It’s the third day after Christmas and I’m still struck by the absolute wonder of the Creator-God becoming human in (baby) Jesus. I’ve been thinking, essentially, what does it mean? And how does it make us feel?

By becoming one of us, in essence, God accepts and loves us for who we are. The ‘Incarnation’ means God affirms our humanity, blesses our body, dignifies our unique personhood. 

God doesn’t sit in heaven dealing with us in terms of what we do or don’t do. God becomes one of us, dealing with us in terms of who we are… his broken but beautiful image on earth.

THAT loving acceptance, incarnate in Jesus, heals and transforms us. We’re not changed by performance, motivated by rules or guilt or fear of punishment. We see this loving acceptance in the remarkable story of Jesus and the women caught in adultery in John 8:1-11. We see it ultimately in the cross, in the bruised and broken image of God dying in our place.  

THIS reality determines not only our beliefs, but our feelings. How does it make you feel? The more I ponder it, the more it makes me feel truly accepted and deeply loved.

Why this question about feelings

Because emotions are important. They are powerful in our human formation. Feelings can develop into patterns that become fixed in our body, forming thoughts, beliefs, moods… for better or worse. Negative feelings, left unattended, dominate. They paralyse our will and determine our (poor) self-image and self-worth(lessness). They lead to dysfunction, and ultimately, to destruction.

In short, feelings are like unruly children clamouring for our attention. If not disciplined, they become merciless masters. However, if disciplined and trained under God, they are transformed into good servants of God’s truth/reality.

For example, I’ve struggled with dominant feelings of rejection since childhood, due to psycho-emotional hurt. You may struggle with loneliness, or anger, or worthlessness, that darkens and deceives your mind into believing the lie that you’re unloved – even though you have family and friends who love you. Why? Because you still FEEL unloved.  

Such desolate feelings incarnate themselves in our body over time and become our posture, resulting in ‘issues’ of mental health, physical ailment, relational dysfunction. Oscar Wilde said that by the age of 45 or 50 we all have acquired, even developed, the face that we deserve! Faces reveal emotional states, sometimes fixed for life, for better or worse.

How can we change this?

By learning to pray our feelings – as taught in my Praying the Psalms Volume Two, Praying our Challenges & Choices. I don’t have to accept desolate feelings when they arise. I’m NOT a passive victim of my emotions. They’re asking for attention. So, I consciously process and release them to God. I ask God, again and again, to lift them off me, while I wilfully reverse them by asserting the truth that God accepts and loves me for who I am – in all my brokenness and beauty.  

Consciously throw yourself into the loving arms of God, your real Father and Mother, as often as is needed. Picture yourself being held, just as Mary and Joseph adoringly embraced the babe of Bethlehem. Just as Jesus grew into a profound awareness of being loved by Abba (Father) in each moment of every day: “you are my son (or daughter), my Beloved, in whom I delight”. Just as the Father ran and embraced and kissed the returning son.

You are God’s beloved daughter/son, accepted for who you are in Christ.

THIS is how God becoming human makes you feel… if you embrace it.

Practice it.

Live it.

Be and become it. 

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2021 Christmas Meditation: Mary as a Model of Discipleship

Intro & background

I was asked to share a meditation on Christmas in two churches. So I chose this story in Luke 1:26-38. And I decided to publish my notes for any who may be interested.

Luke’s nativity story is from Mary’s perspective, after his “careful investigation from eyewitnesses, to write an orderly account”, so that “you know the certainty of what you have been taught” (1:1-14). This is in contrast to Matthew’s nativity story, which is more from Joseph’s perspective.

We see the wonder of God’s coming into the world in baby Jesus, the Messiah-King, by human-divine agency: Mary and God’s Spirit. It involved not only Mary’s body, but her whole being, and her whole world.

“Christ-mass” is the celebration of Christ (Messiah-King) coming into the world. It involves the mystery of human-divine agency. Thus, there is a long historical Church tradition of Mary as a model of faith and obedience, a model of Christian discipleship.

As God came into this world through Mary, so God comes into our world in and through you and me. We see her example of availability and agency. God comes in us, through us, to the world around us, forever changing it!

Thus we can learn five things from Mary as a model of Christian discipleship in Luke 1:26-38, from “Christ being formed in you”, in the words of Paul (Gal 4:19).

  • Be-Loved: Mary in Hebrew is Miriam (v.27), meaning “beloved”. Gabriel came to Mary, greeting her as one “highly favoured, the Lord is with you” (28). God didn’t choose Israel because she was numerous or obedient, but because he loved Israel, “set his affection on her” (Deut 7:7-9). The same with you. God chooses you, comes to you, not because you’re strong or intelligent or whatever, but because he “so loved” you (John 3:16). Mary was troubled and amazed by this greeting, this affirmation of love (29). Who am I to receive this visitation, this greeting, this message? We too struggle to receive grace and favour… to be loved. We need to learn how to be-loved. And to believe it!
  • Be-lieve: “Don’t be afraid” (30). Fear is the opposite of faith. Fear is the mortal enemy of belief. The explanation of what God would do in her, and through her into the world (30-33), required faith. “Faith comes by hearing and hearing by God’s word” to us (Rom 10:17). God’s word, his promise of what he will do, sounds too full of wonder to believe! But Mary believed! Her life story speaks of faith in God, in what God was doing, bringing the King/Kingdom through her into the world. She believed that “nothing is impossible with God” (37). God’s coming into this world requires you to believe God, to believe his word and works to you, in you, and through you.
  • Be-brave: “How will this be?” (34) is not unbelief. It’s a genuine query of faith. Being a virgin, she was unsure how it would happen. How will God do it? What must I do? To believe and keep trusting, when it seems naturally impossible, calls for courage. And to fall pregnant before the wedding was socially scandalous, an ‘illegitimate’ conception (Matthew 1:18-19), that would radically affect her life. Christ being formed in her changed her, and her world, completely – against all controversy and opposition! She was brave in Jesus’ conception, in his birth, in his life, ministry, death, and resurrection… a model of discipleship. God’s coming into this world in/through you calls not only for faith, but real courage. Be brave!
  • Be-intimate: “The Holy Spirit will come on you… overshadow you” (35). Mary was available to God for intimate communion. God’s life and purposes are conceived, nurtured, and birthed in/through you by spiritual union with God. Christ being formed in you shapes and defines you in every way, in all dimensions of your being and becoming. Mary is our model of ongoing intimacy with God by his overshadowing/indwelling Holy Spirit.
  • Be-humble: “I am the Lord’s servant, may it be to me as you have said” (38). Humility is accurate self-knowledge and self-acceptance in true dependence on God. False humility is inferiority – it’s self-humiliation. On the other hand, superiority is presumption and pride – it’s self-exaltation. As you make yourself fully available to God for intimate relationship, you become his servant, humbly doing his will on earth as in heaven. Therefore, God comes into this world through humble servants… who are beloved, who believe, who are brave, who live in and from intimacy with God.

Happy Christmas!

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The Wounded Healer Story

I am currently just over half way through writing Praying the Psalms Volume Two – Praying our Challenges and Choices. Working on Psalm 41, where David prays his weakness and sickness, made me think of the old rabbinical story of the Wounded Healer. I thought I would share it for those who have never read this insightful little parable-story about the Messiah.

Here it is… with my introductory comments, taken directly from my book Doing Healing, pp.16-18.

Rabbi Yoshua ben Levi came upon Elijah the prophet while he was standing at the entrance of Rabbi Simeron ben Yohai’s cave.
He asked Elijah, “When will the Messiah come?”

Elijah replied, “Go and ask him yourself.”
“Where is he?”
“Sitting at the gates of the city.”
“How shall I know him?”
“He is sitting among the poor covered with wounds. The others unbind all their wounds at the same time and then bind them up again. But he unbinds only one at a time and then binds it up again, saying to himself, ‘Perhaps I shall be needed to help someone else bind up their wounds, and if so, I must always be ready so as not to delay for a moment’. He is the Messiah, the wounded healer.”

This amazing little story comes from the Jewish Talmud, written between 250 and 500 CE. Henri Nouwen has popularised it in Christian circles. He shows how its meaning is fulfilled in Jesus of Nazareth, and also through “the ministers of the Church of Jesus Christ” (Nouwen’s phrase[1]).

The basic message is that Jesus made his broken body the source of healing for the world. And his followers are called to care not only for their own wounds, but for the wounds of others. How? By making their wounds a source of compassion in bringing Christ’s healing to the world. This is distinct from the wrong idea that our wounds — or taking on other people’s suffering — can bring them healing.

Jesus is not only the Jewish Messiah; he’s the Liberator and Saviour of the whole world precisely because he is the Wounded Healer. Jesus “took up our infirmities and carried our diseases” (Isaiah 53:4). Matthew quoted this Messianic prophecy when he observed Jesus’ compassion as he patiently “healed all the sick” late into the night (Matt 8:14-17 cf. 9:36). Jesus felt their pain and suffering deeply in his own body; therefore he was compelled to reach out and heal them in mercy, through the power of God’s love.

This kind of Messiah saves Israel and the world. Our Western success ethic says the strong and popular, the powerful and prosperous, are the leaders and saviours of the world. The weak and wounded are losers! They suffer because they are failures (so says the dominant mindset). The weak need to be saved — how can they save others?

But Isaiah 53, as fulfilled in Jesus of Nazareth, turns these values on their head. Jesus had “no beauty or charisma that attracted us to him. In fact, he was despised and rejected, a man marked by weakness and pain — the kind of person others despise. So we turned from him in disgust, believing God was punishing him. But little did we realise he was doing it for us! Our pride blinded us to the fact that he carried our suffering and sickness, our sin and death. He was punished by God for our sin, so that we might be forgiven! Indeed, by his wounds we are healed!
(My RAP, Revised Alexander Paraphrase, on Isaiah 53:2-5).

God uses the weak, the lowly and despised, to “bring to naught” the proud and powerful (1Corinthians 1:18-31). In this passage Paul says the message of Christ’s cross is “the weakness of God” that saves the world — which proves to be God’s wisdom and power!

We must remember, says David Bosch, that the cross is the hallmark of the Church. When the resurrected Messiah appeared to his disciples, it was his scars that were proof of his identity, and because of them the disciples believed (John 20:20). Will it be any different with us, his followers? Will the world believe, and allow us to touch them, unless they can recognise the marks of the cross on us? (Bosch asks)[2].

The followers of Jesus enter into, and continue his ministry as wounded healers; not in the ultimate sense of accomplishing salvation (only he can, and did, do that); nor in the triumphalist sense of wealthy world leaders or high-powered motivational healers; but in the immediate and humble sense of being instruments of his compassion and healing.

By being in touch with our own wounds we learn to receive healing from Jesus. Then we have mercy on others who suffer in their wounds, and sensitively touch them in Jesus’ name. We feel the pain and suffering of the world in our own bodies, for we too are weak and broken by sin. To the degree we deny our own weakness, not being in touch with our own brokenness, we tend to treat others harshly, having little or no compassion on those who suffer and are in need.       

The lesson we learn from the Jewish parable is this: While we attend to our own healing, we must always be ready to help heal others. We must avoid the extremes, either of a preoccupation with our brokenness in a culture of self (“me, myself and I”); or an obsession with healing others as if we are their saviour (in denial of our own brokenness). My own story is about this very parable — my life-journey in becoming a wounded healer. And if I’m honest, due to the waywardness of my own heart, it’s been a slow learning from Jesus, as he repeatedly has come to me in my sin and brokenness, patiently and passionately ravishing my heart again and again with his healing love[3].

[1] Henri Nouwen, The Wounded Healer (New York: Image Books, 1979). I have added the last sentence as summary of the story.      

[2] A Spirituality of the Road (Scottdale: Herald Press, 1979), p 82. Kosuke Koyama calls this “stigmatised theology”, which is true “Apostolic theology” (i.e. the lives and teachings of the apostles were marked by Christ’s suffering; being sent into the world as Jesus was) in No Handle on the Cross (Maryknoll: Orbis, 1977), p 37. See Philip Yancey and Paul Brand for an insightful discussion on the importance of stigmata (markings on the body), and its outworking in social stigma in helping us to recognise disease or healing, and attitudes of rejection or mercy, in relation to Leprosy and now HIV/AIDS, in The gift of Pain (Grand Rapids, Michigan, Zondervan, 1993), pp 313-316.  

[3] Other auto-biographical reflections on my life journey are found in the first chapters of Doing Church (Cape Town, VIP 2000), and Doing Reconciliation (Cape Town, VIP 2004).

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A Christian Pastoral Response to SA Violence

“When the foundations are being destroyed,
What can the righteous do?”

Psalm 11:3

My wife and I are part of Freedom House Church in Salt Rock, South Africa. It’s in the province that was hardest hit by the violence this past week. I drafted the following statement with the church leaders. The purpose is to pastor our people, and whoever wants to listen, by giving perspective and guidance on how to respond to what has happened. It was, clearly, an orchestrated attempt to divide and destabilise the nation in reaction to our previous President Jacob Zuma’s arrest, for the purposes of shifting power to his faction.

The images of wholesale looting by thousands of people, burning buildings and ransacking infrastructure, have been seen internationally on TV and social media. One watches with utter and total dismay, with tears of lament. The death toll stands at 117 (today, 16 July), with damage estimated at 16 billion rands (over $1bn). And it is still not fully under control, though the army has been deployed in the last two days. Deeply traumatic for all South Africans. No need to go further into the details, they can be read in the news media. What do we do?

First, we encourage you to pray David’s words in Psalm 11:1-7, phrase by phrase, to process your feelings and perceptions – to pray our response as the people of God. After 10 years of corrupt rule, our nation seriously weakened by state capture and economic rape under Jacob Zuma’s rule, and with the devastation of Corona and lockdown, and now this week of devastation. What do the righteous do when the foundations of society, of our nation, are being destroyed?

We don’t panic! We do not listen to the inner and outer voices of fear that suggest all sorts of things (“flee to the mountains”, vv.1-2). We look up to Yahweh. God is on his throne, still in charge! God sees everything. He empowers the response of the righteous. He will judge those who love violence (vv.4-7). The alternate Hebrew phrase is, “What is the Righteous One doing?” For those who have eyes of faith, God is working in this to unmask, judge and defeat the evil that uses poor, desperate, hungry, angry communities, as expendable means for their purposes of power. Let us work with God, “who loves justice”, to defeat that evil.

What does this mean? From a Biblical worldview of God’s Kingship, it means

We do not minimise or deny reality (what’s really going on) by escaping into super-spiritual warfare unrelated to reality – a triumphalism over emphasising ‘Kingdom now’.

Nor do we succumb to it in fatal acceptance and fear, or glorify it in reactionary comments, anger, racism, or retaliatory violence – a humanism of over emphasising ‘Kingdom not yet’.

Rather, we face reality honestly with God, humbling ourselves, learning to lament by praying psalms – to lament the pain and injustice of all who suffer. Yet, at the same time, we engage reality in faith and hope of Greater Reality – God’s Kingship – breaking through for human good.

Therefore, we call on you to…

Intercede for leaders, national and local (1 Timothy 2:1-5), for good governance, for “the foundations” of ethical values to build an equitable, just and caring society, that all “may live peaceful and quiet lives”, which is “good and pleases God”. I.e. God’s will is ethical governance for the good of human society. We are not powerless!

Prayer is our primary weapon because principalities and powers work in and through leaders. The powers behind the happenings in South Africa must be defeated, both spiritually and politically – the reign of corruption and state capture. Our nation will NOT be offered up as a sacrifice on the altar of the politics of the ruling party, the African National Congress (ANC). Our nation is NOT at the mercy of a life and death battle within the ANC, but at the mercy of God. God is King! Pray God’s Government intervenes through courageous, wise, decisive leadership in President Cyril Ramaphosa and his team.

Not only pray, but presence yourself in community action to intercede and intervene for the good of society. God wills good society. Your prayers have authority by your presence on the ground, in the street, in self-sacrificial service to your neighbour, “doing good works”, that your “light shines before people” (Matthew 5:16). An amazing outcome of this week’s evil work is the community mobilisation, sacrifice and care, we are witnessing. The response of communities is inspiring and hopeful. Followers of Jesus should be involved as examples of such activism, especially in protecting the vulnerable, feeding the hungry, working for justice, job creation, empowering the poor, and loving the ‘enemy’.

By your presence, proclaim the good news of God’s government that does not fail. Your presence in service gives you authority to speak about the reason for your faith in God. It’s interesting volunteering with the guys doing roadblocks, listening to the talk, their anger, cursing, even racism. Guard your heart and mind, and mouth, in terms of what you think and say. You can further fill the air with fear and anger, or you can gently share your response to the situation in South Africa from the hope of God’s Kingdom, from the viewpoint of faith, reconciliation, healing, truth, justice.

Go beyond proclaiming to pastor people, by following up those who respond, who are open to God’s government in King Jesus. People are desperate for hope, disillusioned with human government, which will always fail us, one way or another. God’s government will never fail. We pastor by walking with people through what’s happening in their lives, in their families, in the nation – in their fear, confusion, insecurity, etc – by patiently answering questions, teaching them to live in and from God’s Rule and Reign. We pastor people by giving godly perspective through prayer, presence, proclamation and provision of God’s love and care.

As we did during lockdown, we encourage you to pastor one another in the Freedom House family via regular contact and connect groups. We encourage you to break bread and share the blood of Jesus with each other. Especially with the vulnerable, the elderly and lonely. We encourage parents to sit regularly with their children and pray with them. And explain – at age-appropriate levels – what is going on, giving the perspective of God’s Kingship and our security in him: “In the LORD I take refuge… for the LORD is righteous, he loves justice, the upright will see his face ” (Psalm 11:1,7).

May God have mercy on South Africa

May God defeat the evil powers bent on destruction

May God intervene for truth and justice

For the poor and suffering

May God heal our nation

Nkosi Sikelel iAfrika!Woza Moya, woza!

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You can listen to the talk/watch the video of the teaching based on these notes.

In South Africa we celebrated Youth Day on Wednesday 16 June. Today, Sunday 20 June, we celebrate, internationally, Father’s Day. It is appropriate that they are a few days apart because it speaks to us of fathers and sons, of the older and younger generation.

We remember the brave youth of 1976, who marched from Orlando West High School on the streets of Soweto against the proposed imposition of Afrikaans by the Apartheid regime as the language of education in black schools. Hector Peterson was the first student killed by the police on that day, with another 500 killed in the following weeks, in the protests and riots that followed. What happened to that generation? Were their wounds ever healed?

Many (or most?) have become fathers and mothers. So, what of their children? What of the youth today? We live with so much pain and tragedy in our nation, in the youth, but also of broken fathers and mothers. Stats South Africa recently reported that since the corona pandemic the unemployment rate has risen to 43%, with youth unemployment at 74%, in a country where the median wage is R3 600 a month (275 USD), and poverty is above 55% across all groups and 84.2% among indigenous Africans, with the Gini coefficient at 0.63. What an enormous challenge. The frustration, anger and pain of the youth is a ticking time-bomb. We talk of the fatherless generation. Of father-failure. With it comes broken and toxic masculinity expressed in destructive ways, as in gender based violence. God help us.   

Samuel Osherson said, in Finding our Fathers: The Unfinished Business of Manhood, “The psychological or physical absence of fathers from their families is one of the great underestimated tragedies of our time”.

And Edward Stein said, “Psychological fathering is what the world is in need of more than ever in its history. There is a considerable body of scholarly evidence that civilisation will stand or fall with whether such fathering is available in sufficient quantity”.     

So, today we honour our fathers, for better or for worse, and we seek their well-being. We honour our youth and seek their highest good, by being the best fathers/parents to them.

Paul says in Ephesians 6:1-2, “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.  ‘Honour your father and mother’—which is the first commandment with a promise— ‘so that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.’” Not all of us are privileged to be fathers or mothers, but all of us have a father, were born of his sperm. No matter what your experience of your father has been, you can seek to forgive and honour him – with God’s help – for in so doing you honour God your (real) Father.

Turning the hearts of the fathers to the children & children to the fathers

God said via the prophet Malachi (4:5) in 430 BC, “See, I will send you the prophet Elijah before that great and dreadful day of the Lord comes. He will turn the hearts of the fathers (parents) to their sons and daughters (children), and the hearts of the children to their fathers (parents); or else I will come and strike the land with total destruction.” Broken and toxic fathering and mothering, and lost sons and daughters, with the deconstruction and disintegration of marriage and family in our day, is the “total destruction” of society.

The prophecy is fulfilled, at least in principle, in the birth of John the baptiser and Messiah’s coming. It is quoted, and interpreted, in the New Testament by Gabriel regarding the birth of Zachariah’s son, John: “He will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the parents to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just (righteous)—to make ready a people prepared for the Lord” (Luke 1:17). Arguably, the greatest need in our world today, for redemption and restoration, is to turn the hearts of the fathers and mothers to the sons and daughters, and vice versa, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord for the good of society, for the renewal of the world.

Note, a) in both texts it is first the hearts of the fathers (parents) that turn to the children – the older we grow the more we need our children, and need to turn to them in forgiveness, reconciliation, healing and harmony… in order to die well and to bless them. And b) the “turning of the children to the fathers (parents)” is rephrased as “the disobedient to the wisdom of the just/righteous” – role of fathers/mothers is to impart “the wisdom of the righteous”, the right way of being, right way of living, of thinking, speaking, behaving.    

What “wisdom” do we fathers impart? That of “the just”, from God, from heaven? Or the “wisdom” that is “earthly, unspiritual, demonic”, as James 3:13-18 says. Jesus said to the Pharisees, “You are of your father the devil. You carry out your father’s desires, a murderer from the beginning. Lies are his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44). Do we lie to our children? Or tell the tough truth in love? Whose ‘fathering nature‘ do we represent and live? God’s character/wisdom? Or the devil’s nature/“wisdom”?

Therefore, from these texts, and from men’s studies, mature (godly) fatherhood is marked by three essential characteristics:  truth, wisdom and compassion.

Defining fatherhood/fathering

Paul says in Ephesians 3:14,  “I kneel before the Father (Pater) from whom every family (patria, fatherhood) in heaven and on earth derives its name (its nature and character)”.
God’s fatherhood is the source and definition of all fathering and family in all created reality. Our fathering (and mothering) ought to express God’s fathering/parenting. Parents represent and communicate God to their children, for better or for worse.  

Note: this does not mean God is father as in male. We, men, have done a great disservice by using male-dominated language without discernment or disclaimers, in effect conveying the idea that God is a man. God is (S)spirit and does not have a body (John 4:24). The inclusivity of gender in regard to God in the Hebrew Bible goes unnoticed: God is father, but is also portrayed in mother/feminine imagery. It’s a theological concept, not a biological reality. In fact, the Spirit (Ruach) of God is consistently a feminine noun in Hebrew (e.g. Genesis 1:2).

How does God father us? What are the characteristics of God’s fathering/mothering?

There is much to say about the many features of (God’s) fathering/mothering, but here are a few key ones taken from Mark 1:10-11, “Just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven (from God): ‘You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.’

Fatherhood is the Source of Life:  God gives life. We’re born-again by God’s ‘seed’, sperma, Jesus Christ (Galatians 3:16). Parents make/give life… fathering is generative to all around.  

Fatherhood identifies us in being:  “You are my son, my daughter, my BELOVED daughter/ son”. Biblically, we do not self-identify – God identifies us in creation and in new creation.
“He brought me into his banqueting hall and his banner over me is LOVE” (Song of Sol 2:4). Fathering/mothering identifies (gives identity to) those around them – as LOVE – as truly and uniquely loved… by God… through the gift of both biological and spiritual parenting.

Fatherhood affirms us in person:  “In whom I am well pleased, on whom my favour rests, in whom I delight”. These three phrases are all correct possible translations from the text. This is the power of pronouncing blessing. Fathers & mothers truly delight in those around them, as say it! They affirm others as “well pleased”, conferring favour on them, as God does.

Fatherhood empowers us in doing:  “Heaven was torn open and the Spirit descended on him like a dove”. Parenting is empowering… or is meant to be… to empower young people, and all those around us, to do the good works that God prepared in advance for us to do (Ephesians 2:10). Fathering & mothering is an impartation of spirit, of God’s Spirit. It is an equipping with what is needed to facilitate and enable people’s full potential in God.

Concluding recommendations

Turn your heart to your father (& mother) by “go & find” them. Reconcile with them. Heal your ‘father/mother wound’. Sort out whatever needs to be sorted out.

At the same time, take responsibility for your own wounds, your unresolved ‘stuff’, and get help and healing to grow through it, so that “it” becomes a source of healing to others.

Then honour your father and mother in whichever spiritual and tangible ways you can.

Seek to humbly father/mother others in a psycho-emotional-spiritual sense, as God gives you this kind of ‘ministry’ opportunity to those willing to receive it. Seek to be, under God, a living example of God’s fathering/mothering to all who want to draw on it by virtue of them seeing and experiencing it’s reality flowing in and through you.

Mature spiritual fathering and mothering is not so much a doing of things as it is a being of person, a way of living, a spirit of loving… in truth, wisdom and compassion.

God bless you!