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This is an unreferenced overview of a longer summary of my response.

How do we/should we respond to the horror of what happened on 7 October 2023 (10/7) in southern Israel and now the war in Gaza and other Palestinian areas?

I respond consciously as a follower of Jesus, from his worldview of God’s kingdom come in his ministry, death, and resurrection. In offering this guidance to think through and respond to the Middle East crisis, I don’t speak for any church, denomination, or organisation.

Our first response as followers of Jesus is to weep and lament.

Soon after 10/7, people began asking me for my response. I repeatedly said, “Jesus wept.” Why? This shortest verse in the Bible shows Jesus weeping with those who weep in the pain and loss of death. The Middle East crisis is very emotional and divisive. We first turn to God and lament the evil that has taken place, weeping with all who weep, processing emotions. We lament for humanitarian reasons: each life is sacred. Lament is the power of prayer that protests in the courts of heaven, invoking God’s justice and salvation. We leave judgement to God, The Judge of all, including the spiritual powers that drive the conflict.  

We cannot keep silent – but we must speak from silence.

We cannot and must not keep silent in the face of the evil that has taken place. It must be condemned. But, we must speak from the silence of listening, learning from all sides of the conflict to discern truth. Then, when we speak, we echo silence, and people hear truth. The divisive nature of this war clouds how we see and hear. Words and names trigger us to label people ‘for’ or ‘against’ to secure our existing narrative. We must sift the information, video clips, disinformation, and propaganda, to distinguish truth from the political ideologies and legitimizing theologies at work – the spiritual powers that condition our thinking.

Give disclaimers – define terms, draw distinctions and degrees.

A responsible response requires disclaimers, defining terms and making distinctions. Truth is the first causality of war. Thus, we give disclaimers like “to the degree this has been fact-checked and verified as true…” To be nuanced is not being ‘neutrally balanced’ or ‘politically correct’, it’s to account for our assumptions. So, we define the ideologies and theologies behind the conflict, and distinguish between key ideas and groups, such as: Jihadist Islam and moderate Muslims; Hamas and Palestinians; Judaism and Zionism; Israelis and the Israeli government; anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism (my summary paper has the details). By conflating/equating these, we stereotype ‘the other’ and treat them accordingly.

Resist the pressure to take sides – side with truth, justice, peace-making.

The pressure to take sides has split the world into pro-Palestinian and pro-Israel. It’s not a matter of, “are you for us or for our enemies?” (Joshua 5:13-14), but are we on God’s side? To side with God in the conflict is to side with truth and justice, as Jesus said, seek first God’s kingdom and his justice. We oppose injustice no matter who perpetrates it. Morality cuts both ways. Jesus and the prophets were not neutral regarding truth and error, right and wrong. What Hamas did on 10/7 was evil. For Palestinians, Israel’s destruction of Gaza to exterminate Hamas is genocidal collective punishment. So, in siding with God, Jesus taught his followers to hunger for justice, make peace, reconcile relationships, transcend “an eye for an eye” by non-violent resistance of evil, as in doing good and loving one’s enemies.

Discern the powers behind – the justifying ideologies and theological legitimizations.

Holy War? Just War? Or Non-violence? We must define and distinguish between these three traditional theologies to see how each side uses them to legitimize what they’re doing. For Hamas, it’s holy war to exterminate Israel. Israel uses just war to legitimize their actions to destroy Hamas. When Israel’s Netanyahu compares Hamas to the “Amalekites”, he invokes Old Testament holy war. Many Christians support Israel on a just war (even holy war) basis. Jesus ended Old Testament holy war in his sacrificial death to defeat evil. He renounced violence, the Law of Just Retaliation (“an eye for an eye”, Matthew 5:38-42), as a means of settling conflict. Jesus lived and taught self-sacrificing non-violence to defeat evil, bringing his reconciling kingdom into places of pain, division, and conflict.     

Liberation Theology. A political theology that uses fixed Marxist categories of social analysis to legitimize the liberation of the oppressed, with a ‘just revolution’ to overthrow the oppressor – by force if necessary. To the degree it is used to legitimize the Palestinian struggle for justice with the use of violence, it serves the ideological powers of Hamas.

Dispensationalist Theology – Christian and Jewish Zionism. Many evangelical Christians support Israel from an underlying dispensationalist theology: God deals with humanity in dispensations, first Israel, then the church, then Israel in the end-times. This gave birth to Christian Zionism, which preceded Jewish Zionism, the ethno-nationalist ideology behind the establishment of Israel in 1948. This theology teaches two people of God in two covenants with two destinies. Jews are God’s chosen people of the Abrahamic covenant with the destiny of the land. Christians are the church of Jesus’ new covenant with a heavenly destiny, raptured into heaven before the Anti-Christ and the tribulation. So, for Christian Zionists, Israel is key to God’s purposes: every event that happens in the Middle East is interpreted as end-time fulfilment of unfulfilled prophecies. The result is uncritical support for Israel and Netanyahu’s far-right Zionist coalition. They label those who don’t support Israel, “replacement theology” Christians – anti-Semites. Besides misinterpreting scripture, it demands loyalty to Israel, giving no room for nuance or critical engagement. That’s a sure sign, among others, of dispensationalist Zionism being in service of ideological power.

So-called Replacement Theology. Traditional theology doesn’t use “replacement”. Christian Zionists use it of their critics, saying Reformed covenant theology teaches the church has replaced/superseded Israel as God’s people. The New Testament uses “fulfilment” in Christ. Paul warned Gentile Christians not to be arrogant regarding Jews, thinking they’ve replaced Israel, calling Jews “Christ-killers”, etc. It’s anti-Semitism, the seeds of the Jewish holocaust. To the degree such ideas are used by Christians to criticise or reject Israel, and/or to support the Palestinian cause, it’s in service of the ideological powers that divide and rule.

Jesus and Apostolic Kingdom Theology

Traditional covenant theology teaches one people of God in one covenant with one destiny, fulfilled in Messiah. “Covenant” is a subset of “kingdom of God”, which was Jesus’ mission of fulfilment and lens of interpretation. He didn’t abolish (replace) Torah and the Prophets but fulfilled them (Matthew 5:17). He fulfilled ALL God’s promises (2 Corinthians 1:20), including the Abrahamic, Mosaic, and Davidic covenants in the “new covenant” of his kingdom, sealed in his blood. It redefined the people, land, city, and temple, transcending the territorial faith of Judaism. God’s people are all who believe the gospel of God’s kingdom come in Jesus. They are Abraham’s children, heirs of the promises. Circumcision is of the heart, not the flesh. Unbelieving Jews are distinguished from believing Israel: they’re cut off and Gentile believers are joined to believing Israel. There will be a revival of ethnic Jews at the end of the age when all Israel will be saved. But that doesn’t imply return to the land. The holy land is God’s kingdom come in Jesus, with the inheritance of the nations, the earth. The temple and its sacrificial system, which ended in AD 70 as Jesus predicted, was his body and ministry of the kingdom. God’s Jewish-Gentile people, the church, is now the temple in which he dwells. The city is transcended in the heavenly Jerusalem, “mother” of believers, while “present Jerusalem is in slavery (to sin) with her children” (Galatians 4:24-26, Revelation 11:8, 21:2).        

The church doesn’t replace Israel but fulfils her calling and destiny in Messiah Jesus. We recognise modern Israel’s right of existence as restorative justice after a long history of suffering injustice. We don’t see Israel as the fulfilment of unfulfilled promises, but evaluate her on the basis of justice, as we do all nations. The only way (politically) to guarantee peace and security for Israel is to also guarantee peace and equality for Palestinians. Thus, we support a negotiated two-state solution, each within agreed secure borders.

Conclusion: Defeat the powers – be God’s people, be peacemakers.

Peace-making. To be God’s people is to be peacemakers, intervening in non-violent ways to break the cycle of violence, seeking a negotiated peace based on (relative) justice.

Presence. Peace-making is bodily presence. If Israeli and Palestinian believers crossed the divide, the wall of hostility that Jesus destroyed in the cross, they could repent, reconcile, and unite as Christ’s one Body in the land. They would then have authority in real terms to intervene to make peace, and thousands of international believers would join them.  

Praying. We make peace by prayer and intercession, our most powerful weapon of warfare to defeat the powers behind, because we address the sovereign God, ruler of the nations.

Prophesying. We do peace-making by proclaiming the good news of the Prince of Peace. And by speaking truth to power, fearlessly challenging injustices on both sides of the divide.

Protesting. We do peace-making by public protest, as and when required. Like Jesus and the prophets, we act out the truth we speak as and when needed for all to hear. Discernment is needed when it comes to public protests, so that we’re not in service of ideological powers.

May the Lord have mercy and bring shalom to Palestine and Israel.

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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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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!

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CALLING – Its Sevenfold Nature and Life-Cycle

I did these teaching notes for the video presentation to the South African Vineyard pastors and leaders retreat, March 2021.

“As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle…”  Paul to the Ephesians 4:1

What is a biblical overview of the nature of calling? Especially in regard to pastors and leaders? Do we live a life worthy of our calling? The one call we all receive to follow Jesus in his Kingdom (Ephesians 4:4)… but also the specific callings (“graces”, Ephesians 4:7,11-16) related to gifts and functions, roles and places of service in Christ’s Body and in God’s world. This paper is what I have come to understand, over the years, as the nature and life-cycle of biblical calling, drawn primarily from Jesus’ life, leadership and ministry. And also from my own experience, as per the invitation to teach on calling. 

The pattern and points below apply to all, though each person’s experience is unique and different. We can learn from the many inspiring examples of calling in scripture (and church history). But don’t be like David trying on Saul’s armour to pursue your calling. Each person must find and do what works for them. In my case, God has worked with specific dates, times and messages. Maybe not the case for you. Either way, we all need the clear conviction of calling.  

General Call:  Salvation and mission.

Jesus’ generic call to everyone: “Come, follow me and I will form you into fishers of people” (Mark 1:17). We follow Jesus in his Kingdom community for the sake of the world. Being born from above with eternal life, we are discipled (spiritually formed) in God’s family to do God’s mission in the earth. I heard Jesus’ call and gave my life to him on Friday evening, 7 June 1968, at First Baptist Church, East London. That is where and when I began to follow and be formed to fish people for Jesus! The rest (below) followed on from that.

Specific Call:  Vocation and service.

The general call informs our specific call in the sense that our worldly occupation (fishing, teaching, doctoring, trading, managing, etc) becomes our Kingdom vocation – where we live God’s reign, doing his will on that piece of earth as it is in heaven. By the age of twelve, Jesus’ consciousness had developed to a deep sense of specific calling: “I must be about my Abba’s business” (Luke 2:46-50). His prayerful study of the Hebrew scriptures and the voice of God’s Spirit in his heart, led him to believe that he was ‘the one’ to proclaim and teach, enact and inaugurate God’s Kingdom. My specific calling was in the early morning of Wednesday 11 November 1970, during my quiet time, while reading a chapter in Isaiah. It was overwhelming. I wept and wept. I knew God had spoken to me! Dare I believe what I heard?   

Confirming the Call:  Affirmation and empowering.

In various ways and at different times God confirms and empowers his specific call, his destiny for us in our role and place of service in the Kingdom. What Jesus dared to believe about his call and destiny in God was confirmed by power encounter at his water baptism: That God was Jesus’ Abba, affirming his identity as his beloved son, empowering his call to lead a new Exodus into God’s Kingdom (Mark 1:9-11). There were also confirmations of the call during his ministry (e.g. Luke 9:28-36). I’ve needed many confirmations, most of which I wrote down, to refer to when needed (as Paul instructed in 1 Timothy 1:18-19). However, the big confirmation (public recognition and release) came on 20 January 1975 when the elders at the Bellville Assembly of God in Cape Town, laid hands on me and sent me as a youth pastor to Salisbury, Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe). The call ‘unfolded’ a year later with an open door, a further call, to plant a church in the next town. And so began my journey of planting and pastoring.

Contesting the Call:  Testing and warfare.

The devil immediately contested Jesus’ specific call, including the confirmation of identity as ‘Beloved Son’ and empowering for ministry (Matthew 4:1-11). Jesus overcame the attack by God’s Word. His calling was contested again and again “at opportune times” throughout his ministry. Satan tried to dissuade and disqualify Jesus from pursuing his destiny – even trying to kill Jesus (Luke 4:28-30, 8:22-25) – culminating in the ultimate test in Gethsemane. Our biggest battles are often toward the end of our lives. The longer we lead and the more we fulfill our call in God, the more Satan attacks. I’ve been through deep dark valleys of the shadow of death – spiritually, psycho-emotionally and physically – that nearly defeated me in God’s call on my life. We can all testify to this. God brought me through as I learnt, like Jesus, to “offer up prayers and petitions with fervent cries and tears to the One who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. (Thus) he learned obedience from what he suffered” (Hebrews 5:8-9). It’s a real life and death battle, but each test/trial is overcome by deeper levels of surrender in trust of the Father: “Father, not my will, but yours be done”.

Unfolding the Call:  Discernment and obedience.

The nature of vocation is that it unfolds with further calls within the overall calling. If we follow by the obedience of faith in deeper surrender to God’s will, it brings us through to completion in God’s call on our lives. With each step of the unfolding call we contend for our destiny in God, to reach our full potential and maturity in the Kingdom. The gospels show Jesus’ discernment of his unfolding call in different events and places around Palestine, that eventually led to the cross – vindicated in resurrection. I could share many developments and turning points in the unfolding call of God in my life. Some changed me forever, e.g. 12 years working for Kingdom justice and reconciliation, by planting a multiracial church, in Soweto under Apartheid. To know how to discern, and obey, each next step in the unfolding call is really important.

Completing the Call:  Perseverance and finishing well.

Pastors and leaders, the journey of vocation is a long obedience in the same direction. My general call (1968) led to a specific call (1970), resulting in public confirmation and sending (1975). Now, 46 years later – what a journey! I’m currently ‘re-firing’ in the fullness of calling, to end well. I’ve taken Jesus and Paul’s words as companions, often in earnest prayer to persevere and finish well: “Father, the hour has come… I have brought you glory by finishing the work you gave me to do… I am coming to you now” (John 17:1,4,13). Oh that I may complete the work the Father has given me to do! In Paul’s words to Timothy, “Keep your head in all situations, endure hardship… discharge all the duties of your ministry. For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time for my departure is near. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day” (2 Timothy 4:5-8). 

The Legacy of the Call:  Reward and rule.

Do not allow evil, or uncrucified flesh, or unhealed brokenness, disqualify you. Run in such a way to get the prize (1 Corinthians 9:24-27). Throw away anything that entangles you, looking at Jesus and the cloud of faithful witnesses who have run the race before us (Hebrews 11 & 12:1-2). We live in their godly legacy. Our calling in this age is training for reigning in the age to come. Fellow leaders, will you run a good race and complete your call? Will you leave a good legacy for future generations, for God’s glory, by the grace Paul describes in 1 Corinthians 15:10?

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Watch my video presentation of these teaching notes.

Paul to Timothy, lead-pastor in the church at Ephesus, “You then, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others” (2 Timothy 2:1-2).

“One of those days Jesus went out to a mountainside to pray, and spent the night praying to God. When morning came, he called his disciples to him and chose twelve from among them (to be with him), whom he designated apostles” (Luke 6:12-13).

Jesus to Father, “I have revealed you to those whom you gave me. They were yours; you gave them to me and they have obeyed your word. Now they know that everything you have given me comes from you. For I gave them the words you gave me and they accepted them. I pray for them. I am not praying for the world, but for those you have given me, for they are yours” (John 17:6-9).

Defining Leaders who Raise up Leaders

In the words of the invitation to me:  “How do we raise up leaders to their full potential, which means laying down your own ego, ambition and personal success.”  That is character leadership.

My definition: Leadership is – and is measured by – not how many people and leaders follow you, but how many leaders of character you raise up to lead with/alongside you, who go even further than you in Kingdom leadership. Good leaders develop new leaders to lead in team with them, and to send them out to exercise leadership in the authority of character integrity.

The leader who lays down her/his own ego, ambition and personal success, in selfless service of other leaders to develop them to their full potential, will raise up leaders who lay down their own ego, ambition and success. This is leading by love, in the Spirit of Jesus. To love is to see and honour people as the very image of God, freeing and coaching them to be true followers of Jesusnot of yourself, of your personality and charisma.

If you don’t lay down your ego, ambition and pursuit of success, you will raise up leaders who serve your ego, ambition, success. Those leaders, in turn, will lead by their own ego, ambition and pursuit of success – you impart who you are, not who you say you are. This is leading by lust, in the spirit of the world. To lust is to see and relate to others as objects of use (even abuse) for your purposes and ego-needs, to achieve your vision and success.  

This is the spirituality of leadership as opposed to the technology of leadership.

Spirituality of Leadership versus Technology of Leadership

The spirituality of leadership is about the formation of love. It is about the “who?” and “why?” questions. Who do we follow? Who leads us? Who forms me as a leader? The truth is: we all lead as we are led in our thinking, believing and behaving, whether we know it or not. We are all formed, for better or worse, by following someone or something. Hopefully, it is godly mentoring of character leadership in our lives. Or who/what leads/mentors you in your life? Tell me to whom or what you consistently give yourself – your attention – and I will tell you the kind of person and leader you are.

Why do we do what we do? Lead the way we lead? Why do we watch this video, read that book, learn from this “leadership expert”, that particular theology? Yes, we make those choices, no one else. Spirituality is about the reasons and motivations of the heart. Who is it all for? Me? For my ego, my success? Or for God’s glory and the genuine empowering good of others? The human heart is deceitful above all things, who can know it? (Jeremiah 17:9). We avoid doing the hard heart work of examining our mission, core values, mixed motives and unthought-through reasons for doing what we routinely do. So we default to leading by other dynamics: do what works, what is popular, copy others, cut & paste… we resort to personality, pragmatism, programs, techniques, gimmicks.  

The last sentence is the technology of leadership. It’s about the “what?” and “how to?”. What is leadership? How must I do it? Just tell me what to do and how to do it. Give me the secret: “The 5 Easy Steps to Leadership Success”, “The 4 Keys to Raise up Leaders”. It is ‘push & pull’ to achieve an outcome. Make it happen! Multiply leaders and grow the church! Get the show on the road!

Technology is ‘pragmatic technique’, the functional use of means to an end in ever more efficient ways. It is ‘outcomes-based’ production to achieve and have the ‘things’ we love: personal/church success, respect/admiration, the best ‘product’, the ‘latest thing’, the good life. We end up loving things and using people to get those things. The way of Jesus is to love people and use things. To love others as God’s image and use things God has created (including technology), to serve and empower people for their own good, for God’s purpose for them, not for our purposes.

The (post)modern mind says we can and will resolve all problems through technological innovation and progress to achieve human utopia. Beware, technology is not neutral. It forms us in its own image to the extent we do not critically engage and use it wisely in loving service of others.

Philosophy of Leadership: Raising up Leaders  

The spirituality of leadership is our character formation in Christ’s love and his Kingdom vision and values – and the leadership that flows from that. It determines not only the who and why, but also the what and how. Who do we identify as leaders and potential leaders? Why do we want to mentor them to their full potential? What do we see God doing in them? What kind and style of leadership are we coaching them into? How do we raise them up into leadership with integrity of character? How do we develop their full potential in Christ’s love and his Kingdom vision and values?

By prayerfully answering these questions before God, with the help of other senior leaders, we develop a Kingdom ‘philosophy of leadership’ to build leaders from the bottom up.    

This brings me back to my opening texts. First Paul’s strategic instruction to Timothy with five levels of leadership development: Paul > Timothy > other witnesses > reliable leaders > qualified to teach others. And then Jesus’ leadership process: gathering disciples, prayerfully recruiting leaders from among them to be with him, training them in the word and ways of the Father, and then deploying them in leadership and ministry.  

To conclude. In drawing all this together I make the following observations, based on 46 years of experience in full-time leadership and ministry, planting and pastoring churches.

We need an ever clearer vision of Jesus and his Kingdoman ‘updated’ correct understanding of Kingdom theology. My pursuit of the historical Jesus and his Kingdom mission makes me fall in love with him ever more deeply, fuelling my passion to follow him ever more closely. This is our “first love” as Vineyard, to which we must return (Revelation 2:4-5). Our first love is The Love that was there at first: God’s Love in Jesus, by which we live, love and lead (1 John 4:19).

We need a clear (Kingdom) philosophy of leadership and ministry. What John Wimber called a five-year plan to build from the bottom up. Few pastors (I mean that) take the time to do the heart work of defining their mission and vision, values and priorities, practices, personnel and programs – then implement and keep to it for integrity with God, themselves and the people. Most pastors, therefore, live from hand to mouth, lead from month to month, even week to week without a visionary plan. They change things as “the Lord told me” and chase after the next best thing, “blown here and there by every wind of teaching” (Ephesians 4:14).

The focus, and the means, of the above two points must be discipleship (apprenticeship). Our Great Co-Mission from/with the Risen King is: “go make disciples” in “all his authority” (Matthew 28:18-19). We can only make apprentices of Jesus and his Kingdom – not of ourselves and our kingdom – to the degree we ourselves are disciples who passionately pursue Christlikeness. And, therefore, we can only raise up leaders of character who reach their full potential to the degree we ourselves are leaders of character, growing into our full potential.

How do we make leaders by making disciples of Jesus? By following Jesus’ model mentioned earlier. What Wimber called the ‘Vineyard mantra’ of IRTDM (below). Leaders commonly fail to do IRTDM. It explains the lack of new leaders, the lack of the next generation of credible leaders of character, and therefore, the lack of genuine church growth.

(I have discussed at length IRTDM and how to develop a Kingdom philosophy of ministry in my book Doing Church. Though it seems widely read, it is not widely implemented. A regular mistruth I find among leaders is, “I’ve read this [or that] book”. Well, if they have, then they haven’t understood it, or they haven’t implemented it. Rather read less, slower and repeatedly, and implement more. Read fewer books by truly godly authors and do what they teach).

Identify:  Prayerfully ask Jesus, Head of the Church, to show you who – which potential (younger) leaders – he is giving you to raise up and develop. Note, they are already disciples who hang around and learn, who function and minister with you.

Recruit:  Go and meet with them individually, present the vision of Jesus to them, inviting and calling them into a relational process of formation and development.

Train:  Teach and equip them into leadership by modelling and “on the job” coaching as they practice ministry and leadership in whatever you give them to do. And also, by more formal learning/training times in course work and other programmatic ways.

Deploy:  At the appropriate time, when “reliable and qualified” (as Paul says), they can be released with the laying on of hands into whatever level of responsibility, in leading whatever ministry for which their calling and gifts are suited.

Monitor:  We watch over them, ‘checking in’ regularly to see how they are doing, to keep coaching and further develop them to their full potential. And then we get them to repeat the process with other potential leaders. So, we ‘grow’ leaders who raise up other leaders.