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9 August 2010: Fighting the Unfightable:Key 8 – GET up – Be a roof crasher!

This week we look at the final key in fighting the unfightable.  How to respond when the odds are against us, when there seems no way out and when we are outnumbered by people, circumstances or emotions.   We already discovered that it will require to:

  • GIVE the glory,
  • KEEP the urgency
  • WATCH the enemy. 
  • COUNT the cost
  • SEIZE the opportunity
  • TAKE the position.
  •  CHOOSE your weapons

This week we look at a key issue in fighting the unfightable:

 

  • GET up

Judges 7:15  When Gideon heard the dream and its interpretation, he worshiped God. He returned to the camp of Israel and called out, "Get up! The LORD has given the Midianite camp into your hands."

This might seem like the obvious but the truth is that unless we GET UP and GO OUT we will never live victorious lives.  Good things don’t come for those who wait, it comes to those who GET UP There is no real theology on this issue.  Talk is cheap.  Just do it!

We have just finished the seminars on the island of Timor when a young pastor suddenly jumped up and proclaimed before all his colleagues "now I am ready to die for Jesus!"  I knew these were no idle words.  Every single pastor attending these seminars were directly or indirectly involved in the massacres on the Island of Ambon.  Many of their churches were burnt down and several has lost loved ones in the attacks on Christians.  As the meeting concluded I saw the young pastor making his way towards me.  "You being here has inspired me to go out and share the gospel in other areas" he announced.

I am happy to hear that brother, where has the Lord called you to?" I curiously enquired.  His answer astounded me:  "To Ambon!"  "Are you sure.  This is like signing your own death certificate.  You know that all Christians are fleeing the massacre and you want to return.?"

His response was simply like one who belonged to a "mat community".  "My brother, if I don't go back to tell the people of Jesus, who will do it.  I am willing to give my life to Jesus!"

One of my favourite stories in the Bible is about the gang of roof crashers that GOT UP, defied all decency, placed their paralysed friend on a mat, destroyed the roof of a strangers house, interrupted a good sermon (Mar 2:1) and presented themselves in a very unfashionable manner.  When the Saviour (verse 5) SAW how much faith they had, Jesus said to the paralyzed man, "My son, your sins are forgiven."

WOW, what an awe inspiring act of selfless love and commitment.  It tells the story of faith in action that achieved the impossible.

I believe there are only two kinds of Christians in the world, figuratively speaking:  Those who fellowship inside the building or those that fellowship around the mat. 

The church was formed as a community to serve within a community.  The Church is not a place to sit down but to GET UP.  It is an institution that exists only for the purpose of it’s “non-members”

These four men ACTED their commitment to their friend.  It was not their empathy that made an impression on Christ.  It was not their prayers or intercession.  It was the ACT OF GETTING UP and doing something!

It needed a gang of roof crashers to intercede and serve.  When the lame man is lowered through the roof we read that Jesus SAW  their faith and the paralytic was healed. 

  • The friends had nothing to ask for themselves. 
  • Their desire was to see to the needs of the friend. 
  • They owned up to the responsibility of taking care of the one who had nothing to give in return. 
  • There is no record in scripture that the friend said or asked anything.  They simply DID. 
  • There is no record in scripture of the names of the friends.  It was not important
  • It is not what Jesus heard that moved Him to heal. 
  • It was not the plea's or the prayers but simply a hole in the roof, four sweaty faces and the commitment of friends who cared more about the well being of friends than their own status, their own reputation or their own safety.

This is probably the one single biggest need in the world today. 

  • Not your sympathy but your empathy
  • Not your fortunes but your friendship
  • Not your presents but your presence

BUT for Christians to GET UP and JUST DO IT

May God have mercy on us

2 August 2010: Fighting with Fruits - Key 7 – CHOOSE your weapons

The weekly devotionals are currently excavating the lessons learnt from Gideon in Judges 7 as he fought the unfightable”.  Three hundred men against an army of soldiers, armed to the teeth and ready to kill.  How do we enlist into a Spiritual legion that will become vessels in the hand of an Almighty God to fight the impossible.  There are certain keys in becoming a servant in the Kingdom of God that are crucial in the battles we face day to day.  We already looked at:

  • GIVE the glory,
  • KEEP the urgency
  • WATCH the enemy. 
  • COUNT the cost
  • SEIZE the opportunity
  • And last week we looked at key number 6: 
  • TAKE the position. 

 

This week we look at a key issue in fighting the unfightable:

  • CHOOSE your weapons

Judges 7:16  Dividing the three hundred men into three companies, he placed trumpets and empty jars in the hands of all of them, with torches inside.

How do you convince 300 soldiers to lay down their weapons and take up trumpets and jars to fight their enemy?  Simple: By imparting a faith in a Power far greater than own.  Only when we really, but I mean really, believe will we look at the enemy in the same proportion than we look at God.  This must have been a simply ridiculous order to the courageous army of 300 men who now faced an enemy of 135,000 men armed to the teeth (Jdg_8:10).  But by now they knew that Gods plans never involved the obvious and His weapons were always the unexpected. 

We read in Revelation 12:11  that we will overcome our accuser, the devil, by the blood of the Lamb (the victory belongs to Him) , and by the word of our testimony (our trumpets) ; and that we loved not our lives unto the death (empty vessels) .

 Paul explains clearly in  

As  Christians we need to learn that we are called to a spiritual battle that will involve the non-obvious, even the foolish, and we need to choose our weapons wisely. 

I remember standing in front of nearly 800 pastors on the island of Timor facing a serious dilemma.  Most of the Pastors were victims when Christians were attacked on the island of Ambon in Indonesia.  They lost homes, Churches and even family during these attacks. They were hurt and devastated and needed answers to the challenges they faced.  As soon as I started preaching the one pastor stood up and interrupted me:  “My brother, tell us, must we accept the persecution from the Muslims or must we retaliate?  We are tired of forgiving just to be attacked again.  We believe it is time to defend the honour of God and retaliate.  What must we do?” I perfectly understood the challenges.  I have met those who were attacked and I have seen the scars on the bodies of those who simply accepted the attacks.  I understood there was no easy answer.  Then another pastor interrupted: “No my brother, tell this Pastor he is wrong, the Bible tells us to accept our suffering.  We will dishonour God if we retaliate.  Seventy times seventy we need to forgive.  Tell us brother, is this true?”

The Lord simply took over.  I looked at the pastors and replied as follows:  “The Bible is clear dear brothers, you MUST retaliate!”  There was a silence.  I sensed the division.  I could see the smiles on the faces of those who agreed and saw those who disagreed getting up, ready to leave the hall.  “Wait brothers” I intervened “Before you leave, let me finish my sentence.  Luke 6 teaches us clearly to retaliate, but in doing so we so we need to choose our weapons.  When someone curses you, you don’t just accept it.  You retaliate by blessing him.  When someone mistreats you and persecute you, you don’t just accept it.  You retaliate by praying.  When someone takes your cloak you retaliate by giving your undercoat.  When someone slaps you in the face, don’t stand for it.  Retaliate, turn your other cheek.”

It was as if the burden of just accepting suffering was broken and we continued the seminar.  They were satisfied.

Yes, we must retaliate.  BUT we must choose our weapons according to the character of Christ, the crucified

 How do we deal with crime, violence and injustice.  Do we just accept it as Christians and allow evil to continue.  Do we retaliate with hatred, fear and violence?  No dear friends, we retaliate according to the battleplan of God for His glory and His honour.  But, the retaliation is not the issue.  The weapons are the issue.  The weapons of our battle is clearly described in Galatians5:22

Gal 5:22  But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,  gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.

Fighting with fruits?  Yes, choose your weapons wisely

 

26 July 2010: Fighting the unfightable - Key 6 – TAKE your position

During the past 6 weeks we looked at Judges 7 and discovered the keys in “fighting the unfightable”.  We discussed the following keys in coming to an understanding of being a servant in the Kingdom of God.

  • GIVE the glory,
  • KEEP the urgency
  • WATCH the enemy. 
  • COUNT the cost
  • SEIZE the opportunity
  • And last week we looked at key number 6: 
  • TAKE the position.  (see devotion of 19 July below)

I received an email yesterday from Agape Family Ministries in Grabouw with a testimony that probably describes the seires of devotions on "Fighting the Unfightable" the best.  It involves servanthood, it involves sacrifice, it involves urgency and it involves seizing the opportunity.  BUT ultimately it involves the glory of God, His Kingdom and His unexplainable but glorious purposes.  Please read the testimony of beautiful Analbell who was born without a brain, who was created for a purpose and who died for the glory of God.

If you would like to support these servants of God at Agape Family Ministry and their servant ministry please contact Gerrit and Ami Coetzee at agafam@mweb.co.za

Take your position: Become an Annabell for the glory of God

Recently we had the funeral of our beloved Annabell. She went to heaven on the 17th of June – on my birthday. For two years and two months Father God has allowed us to be part of her life. Our miracle child! When the social worker of one of the hospitals phoned me about this child I immediately wanted to say NO – NEVER. This will cause us a lot of heartache again. They were very honest and told us that this baby was born without a brain, just a brainstem. She cannot live longer than a few days, maybe a few weeks, but they needed the bed and cannot keep her in hospital – will we take her and just give TLC (Tender Loving Care).

There was no follow up appointments or anything – they were so sure she will die. We said yes and from the first moment we set eyes on her she was so beautiful and took her place in our hearts – everyone just loved her. She was three days old and did not have a name. We named her Annabell. The mother left her in hospital. People’s first reaction when they hear this is shock – how can a mother do such a thing. Here at Agape we have learned not to judge – we leave that with pleasure to our Heavenly Father. He knows every person and every circumstance – therefor He is the only righteous judge.

A few weeks after she came to us the family phoned and ask about her and then we met them. Beautiful people. The mother was only 17 years old – still a child herself. They become close friends and visited Annabell often – even take her home for a day or two. When she was two months old we decide that she deserves a follow up visit at the hospital so that they can look at her head that is growing too fast from the water accumulating in the head. When we phoned they did not want to give us an appointment and reassure us that she will die soon. Then one of our local doctors came to visit and phone the hospital. I can still hear her telling the doctor on the other side: “I hear what you say, but I am standing in a place where many miracles took place – we want an appointment.” Some of the doctors were very sympathetic; others just believe what they medically know and did not want to put in a shunt to drain the water. After much pleading they did put in a shunt, but when it got blocked up – they refused to do anything more. Then we just kept her and trust God to help us to do our best for Annabell.

Here I want to applaud our housemothers in Asiphe Home for our disabled children. They are the best – because of their love and dedication to the children. To handle a child like Annabell where the head is almost as big as her body, is very difficult – almost impossible. With all the love and care they lifted Annabell on their lap and feed her as a normal baby. She drank out of a bottle and ate her food by mouth with a spoon. It was touching to see this. Her head was so heavy in the end that it was hard to pick her up and hold her – but nothing was too much for the housemothers. Our son, Gideon (who is a nurse), said that it is a plus point for the housemothers that Annabell died without any bedsores on her head. She had a special mattress, but still it was because of the care of the housemothers that she looked so beautiful when she died. The water became too much and shuts of her breathing. She was two years old on the 6th of April 2010. There was a huge party to celebrate this event. Her biological family and her family here at Agape were part of these celebrations. She looked so beautiful.

 From the start I prayed for her mother – as I do with all the children that come to us. I’ve prayed that she will come to know Jesus in a special way and receive His forgiveness that will give her peace. When I met the mother I told her that this is my prayer and she must let me know when it happens.

A week before Annabell died she had a dream (vision) that if she accepted Jesus as her Saviour, He will heal Annabell. She accepted Him as her Saviour and at the funeral was strong enough to thank all the people who loved Annabell. Then she said something so beautiful – “Annabell taught me so much and because of her I am a child of God now and I want to urge everyone here to make right with God and become His child. Annabell was not healed here on earth, but is perfectly healed now in Heaven.”

As Gerrit said in the service:

Annabell did not need this earth, she was in Heaven all the time – but we as people on this earth needed Annabell. She touched so many lives from all over the world. So many people came to know the miracle power of our God when they saw Annabell. She could not speak – but her life was her witness of a loving Heavenly Father that holds her life in His hands – no matter what anybody else said. She was always just content with her life. She did not raise her voice to get anything – she just gave love abundantly. We moan about little things – Annabell never complained about anything. She was an example to all of us. We want to thank everyone who prayed for Annabell and always asked how she was doing – you were part of her life.

19 July 2010: Fighting the unfightable - Key 6 – TAKE your position

 One of my heroes of Faith is a man by the name of Dixon Hoste.   Dixon Edward Hoste was born in 1861 and was a missionary to China.  He was the longest lived of the Cambridge Seven and succeeded Hudson Taylor as General Director of the China Inland Mission (from 1902 to 1935).  For 33 years Dixon Hoste laboured in a hostile environment, giving and sacrificing his all for the Kingdom of God.  Today very few Christians have heard his name.  And yet, the fact that many believers, including mission leaders and mission readers, have never heard the name of this mighty man of God is a compliment beyond words to a servant who had one goal only, to decrease in order that Christ might increase.  His sole desire (and his soul desire) in life was expressed in the mantra that he lived by:  “To live a life to be forgotten so that Christ can remembered.”  In a sense the mention of his name in this devotion will actually dishonour his desire but the lesson learnt from a man who was instrumental for the greatest rival in the history of the Church and then forgotten by all who followed is a living testimony of living a life of decrease

This is one of the key lessons in Judges 7 and serve as a guideline for anyone who dares to call themselves followers Christ.  Reading through Judges 7 we find 8 keys in preparing ourselves for this spiritual battle.  During the past 5 weeks we looked at the following 5 keys:

  • GIVE the glory,
  • KEEP the urgency
  • WATCH the enemy. 
  • COUNT the cost
  • SEIZE the opportunity

This week we look at key number 6:  TAKE your position

Jdg 7:4-7  But the LORD said to Gideon, "There are still too many men. Take them down to the water, and I will sift them for you there. If I say, 'This one shall go with you,' he shall go; but if I say, 'This one shall not go with you,' he shall not go."  So Gideon took the men down to the water. There the LORD told him, "Separate those who lap the water with their tongues like a dog from those who kneel down to drink."  Three hundred men lapped with their hands to their mouths. All the rest got down on their knees to drink.  The LORD said to Gideon, "With the three hundred men that lapped I will save you and give the Midianites into your hands. Let all the other men go, each to his own place."

It is hard to say what character this action of the three hundred is expressive of, whether of weakness or of courage.  Some think that those who drank upon their knees were faint and weary, and Some think those that lapped, such who drank hastily, with trembling, and afraid. Regardless of the answer, it seems that all the 10,000 men were men of courage; and this method was taken not to distinguish those that were the most courageous from those that were the least so, but only to reduce the number for the Lord to glorify himself. 

 The Lord says to Gideon “"With the three hundred men that lapped I will save you.  It does NOT say – With the 300 men that lapped will you have victory.  The Lord does not need people who can serve Him.  The Lord needs servants through whom He will get the glory.  The Lord needs the weak for Him to be Glorified.

 Listen to the words of Paul:

  • 1Co 1:27  But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.
  • 2Co 12:10  That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

 There is a difference between serving and being a servant . Serving is a choice.  Being a servant means you have no choice.  And make no mistake, there’s a big difference.  In Scripture we learn from the early Saints that they considered themselves slaves to the Gospel

Mat 20:25-27  Jesus called them together and said, "You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them.  Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant,   and whoever wants to be first must be your slave—

 The word used as servant in Greek is doo'-los and is described as follows: a slave,  (literally or figuratively, involuntarily or voluntarily; frequently therefore in a qualified sense of subjection or subserviency): - bond (-man), servant.

 It seems like our disgust with slavery has motivated us to change the word into servant.  Which in turn turned into servant leader.  And ultimately refer to leadership and not servanthood.

 The word used here is the same word used in

  • Rom 1:1  Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus…
  • 1Co 9:19  Though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible.
  • 2 Corinthians 11: 23: are they servants, I am more
  • 2Ti 2:24  And the Lord's servant must not quarrel.
  • Tit 1:1  Paul, a servant of God …
  • Jas 1:1  James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ…
  • 2Pe 1:1  Simon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ…
  • Jud 1:1  Jude, a servant of Jesus Christ …
  • Rev 1:1  The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants what must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John,

 It is strangely  enough also the same word used in

John 8:34  Jesus replied, "Very truly I tell you, everyone who sins is a slave to sin.

And also in

Mat 6:24  "No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.

 It was noted once that the only way to know for sure if you are a servant of Christ is by the way that you react when you are treated like one.

 The point is this.  God will use only those who will ultimately take a position of servanthood, giving the glory back to the master

Next week we look at Key number 7:  Choose your weapons.

12 July 2010: Fighting the unfightable - Key 5 - SEIZE the opportunity

The Christian in Egypt looked at me with a deep conviction.  "My brother" he said "Unless you have found something worth dying for, you have not yet found something worth living for." 

This reality is well described in Judges 7 and continues to serve as a guideline for anyone who dares to call themselves followers Christ.  Reading through Judges 7 we find 8 keys in preparing ourselves for this spiritual battle.  During the past 4 weeks we looked at the following 4 keys:

  • GIVE the glory,
  • KEEP the urgency
  • WATCH the enemy. 
  • COUNT the cost.

This week we look at key # 5: SEIZE the opportunity

Judges 7:3 announce now to the people, 'Anyone who trembles with fear may turn back and leave Mount Gilead.'" So twenty-two thousand men left, while ten thousand remained.

Twenty-two thousand chose to leave.  Twenty-two thousand that must have been haunted by shame till the day they died.  When the small group of victorious soldiers returned to the city every single one of the 22,000 disgraced soldiers who returned home must have wished they stayed on to share in the victory of a living God.  How they must have wished they seized an opportunity that will probably never come again.  Opportunities don’t come often but they come for those who are willing to look at the challenges in the same way they look at God.

There is a Biblical truth that we read in Matthew 25.  In verse 13 it says “WATCH”.  And then we read the parable of the talents.  In verse 28 we read of the servant who did not seize his opportunity and the response is quick and definite.  Take it away from him

But so easily we mistake this parable, and even the event in Judges 7, as opportunities to expand our territories or live purpose driven lives.  I believe this parable should be called the parable of the Kingdom and not the parable of talents.  To seize our opportunities is not about us, it is about the Kingdom.  Let met just elaborate a little bit and let me emphasise that this is the foundation for our existence as disciples of Christ

This parable is not about our talents but about His Kingdom.

The owner of the talents is God.  Even when He gives it to the servants he remains the sole owner.  Even when he goes away, he remains the owner.  Opportunities presented are about His Kingdom.  We need to seize every moment of every day as an opportunity to glorify our God.

This parable is not about serving but about being servants.

Serving is a choice.  Being a servant means you have no choice, no agenda, and no rights. There’s a big difference.  Opportunities are presented not because we are worthy but because he is Master.

This parable Is not about actions but about motives

We judge ourselves by our motives but we are judged by others by our actions.  We need to understand this truth.  What we do with our opportunities will ultimately reveal our heart and not our bravery.

This parable Is not about being workers IN His Kingdom but being instruments FOR His Kingdom

The servants were not serving the King by using His money.  They were instruments in expanding His Kingdom.  Even though we are called to serve God (Psalm 100:2) it is vital that we keep ourselves from serving God in the wrong way.  Jesus came to serve, not to be served.  (Mark 10:45)  It is vital therefore that we do not “serve” God in a way that actually belittles and dishonours him but that we simply allow Him to serve others through us.

Gods’ purpose is that we get the joy of service but that He gets the glory.  The only right way to serve God is in a way that reserves for him all the glory. (1Peter 4:11)

In all our serving may God be the giver and may God get the glory.  Until we understand this, I want to encourage you, as John Piper writes in His book “Brothers, we are not professional”, NOT to serve God.

This parable is not about quick results but about patient waiting.

The Greek word used is “when it came to pass”.  After a long time.  I personally think of all the virtues mentioned in scripture, patience is the most difficult.  Simply because it is often out of our control

When it came to pass.  When the time was right. The scripture teach that the servants had to wait.  To seize an opportunity will require patience

This parable is not about gifts but about opportunities

God is not handing out freebies for us to enjoy.  He gives us opportunities for Him to serve through us.  And if it’s not about gifts then it is not about giving.  And if it is about opportunity then it is about entrusting.  How dreadful it would be to stand before the master as described in Matthew 25 and we are told “I was hungry and you didn’t feed me, I was naked and you didn’t clothe me, I was....  Oh Lord have mercy on us to see our abundance as responsibilities and not as blessings. 

This parable is not about being successful IT’S about being faithful

This is quite obvious and quite clear throughout scripture and yet we still strive and stress for the wrong reasons.  Opportunities will not build character but reveal character.

This parable is not about expanding your territory IT’S about expanding you responsibility

The reality is that we exist for His glory!  We have no territory to expand only responsibilities to be found faithful as we labour in the territory of our King.  Independent thinking will destroy our service.

The point is this.  If you don’t seize the opportunity given to you it will be taken away.  Seize the opportunity.  USE it or LOSE it

Next week we look at Key number 6:  Take your position.

5 July 2010: Fighting the unfightable - Key 4 - COUNT the cost

How do we equip ourselves to be enlisted as soldiers of Christ?  What character qualities are needed for those who dare to call themselves followers of the Suffering Servant?  Reading through Judges 7 we find 8 keys in preparing ourselves for this spiritual battle.  During the past three weeks we looked at the first three keys: GIVE the glory, KEEP the urgency and WATCH the enemy.  This week we look at key # 4:   COUNT the cost.

 Judges 7:3 announce now to the people, 'Anyone who trembles with fear may turn back and leave Mount Gilead.'" So twenty-two thousand men left, while ten thousand remained.

 They were now encamped on a mountain close to the enemy, called Mount Gilead.  From Gilead, they might see perhaps the vast numbers of the enemy.  In verse 12  we read that “The Midianites, the Amalekites and all the other eastern peoples had settled in the valley, thick as locusts. Their camels could no more be counted than the sand on the seashore.”  The sight of 135,000 soldiers, armed to the teeth, must have been fear-provoking.  Those therefore who were disheartened at the sight of the enemy were left to their liberty, to go back if they pleased.  Less than a third remained as they counted the cost.

 According to scripture, one of the first duties of every believer is to count the cost.  Not to count the blessings or promises as we so often emphasise during our altar calls but to count the cost.  In Luke 14:28  we are clearly instructed to count the cost.  Christianity is not for the faint-hearted.  “If one of you is planning to build a tower” Jesus said “you sit down first and figure out what it will cost, to see if you have enough money to finish the job...” and then come these words in verse 33  “In the same way," concluded Jesus, "none of you can be my disciple unless you give up everything you have.

 For the persecuted Church this is not an option.  Faith and persecution goes hand in hand.  If you don’t count the cost you don’t survive.  You become an object of mocking as Jesus predicted.  It truly is as simple as that.  This is part of the teaching and preparation of every believer in closed countries.

 The point is this:  get radical or get out.  Fearful faint-hearted people are not fit to be employed for God; and, among those that are enlisted under the banner of Christ, there are more such than we think there are.

 One of the unsung heroes of the Christian faith that illustrates this quality so well is Father Damien, a simple disciple that counted the cost in the midst of overwhelming challenges.  His passion, and compassion, for the lost and marginalised forced him on to a leprous island called MOLOKAI (do yourself a favour and get a copy of the movie from www.amazon.co.uk )   Here is a short excerpt from his life

 Molokai.  The island’s name was pronounced bitterly, with loathing and fear.  Between 1866 and 1873, nearly 800 lepers were quarantined there on an isolated peninsula.  Towering volcanic cliffs hemmed them in on three sides, and crashing surf on the fourth.  It was a prison, a netherworld made all the more surreal by its pacific beauty.

Abandoned without law or hope, the lepers gave themselves alternately to despair and to what pleasures they could grasp..  Robbery and drunkenness, sexual orgies and anarchy marked their lives.  When finally, after a tortuous descent, the lepers finally succumbed to their disease, their already decayed bodies often became food for pigs and wild dogs.

Father Damien first came to Hawaii in 1864. For a decade, Damien served at the mission. During that time many of his parishioners were forced away to Molokai. Their memory remained wedged in his mind, slowly building into a fearsome emotion. He yearned to go to the lepers and to convey love to them where they lived. In April 1873 Father Damien wrote to his superiors, asking for permission. A month later, he stood on the beaches of the dreaded isle.

Damien steeled himself for the worst, but the sights and smells of Molokai left him gasping. One of his first encounters was with a young girl, her body already half eaten by worms. One by one, Damien set out to meet them all. Carefully avoiding to make physical contact he confronted their rotting bodies., putrid breath, and the ever present rasping coughing.

Damiens’ first desire was to remind the lepers of their inherent dignity as children of God. To demonstrate the value of their lives, he honoured their deaths - constructing coffins, digging graves, protecting the cemetery from scavenging animals, and ensuring a ceremony for every passing.

As the days went by however, Damien began to feel that he could not fully convey all that he wished to share without drawing ever nearer. He began timidly to touch the lepers. He ate with them and hugged them. Over time, he even began to clean and wrap their oozing sores.  Everything Damien did, he did with the lepers. Together they built coffins and chapels, cottages and roads. He taught them how to farm, raise animals, and even sing despite their mangled vocal chords. One report described him teaching two lepers to play the organ with the ten fingers they still had between them.

Damien sought to draw near the lepers in his words as well, even speaking of “we lepers”. riting to his brother in Europe, he explained, “I make myself a leper with these lepers to gain all to Jesus Christ. That is why, in preaching, I say ‘we lepers’: not my brethren…..”

It was eleven years after Damiens arrival on Molokai that he spilled boiling water on his leg. He watched with horror as his feet blistered- yet felt no pain. His effort to draw ever nearer to the lepers was complete. Now he would meet them in their disease as well.

The final five years of his life, Damien served the lepers of Molokai as a leper priest. The days passed with both joy and suffering. Outpourings of international support arrived at the island, and also several helpers. Alongside the blessings came, physical pain, and times of loneliness and even depression. Finally on April 15 1889, Damien breathed his last. He was laid to rest amongst the thousand of lepers that he had helped to bury in what he had called his “garden of the dead”

In 1936 at the request of the Belgian government, Father Damiens body was returned to his birthplace. Years later, the people of Molokai pleaded that at least part of their beloved Father be returned to them. What they finally received, with joy, was Damiens right hand-the hand that had touched and soothed and embraced them, even when everyone else had done all they could to keep the lepers far away.

 This testimony reminded me of our responsibility to count the cost.  To be one of the 10,000 who do not tremble with fear as we evaluate the task set before us. 

May God have mercy on us.

28 June 2010: Fighting the unfightable - Key 3 - WATCH the enemy

 How do we equip ourselves to be of service in a “world at war”.  How do we present ourselves spiritually to in enlist in a spiritual army that is part of a spiritual battle?  Reading through Judges 7 we find 8 keys in preparing ourselves for this spiritual battle.  During the past two weeks we looked at the first two keys: GIVE the glory and KEEP the urgency.  This week we look at key number 3 WATCH the enemy.

I recently met with two colleagues from Iran and immediately seized the opportunity to find out about the spiritual climate in the region.  “What are the biggest challenges in the Gulf” was my first question “.. and how do you see the future of your region?”

With one voice they both echoed.  “Mahmoud Ahmedinejad!” and then they explained.  “The president of Iran, who is about to go nuclear, is a confirmed believer in the coming apocalypse. Like Judaism and Christianity, Shiite Islam has its own version of the messianic return - the reappearance of the Twelfth Imam.  When Ahmadinejad  won the presidential elections, he immediately gave $17 million of government funds to the shrine from where the 12th Imam will appear. Ahmadinejad publicly proclaimed that the main mission of the Islamic Revolution is to pave the way for the reappearance of the Twelfth Imam, and he sees himself as the one who will prepare the way. “

It suddenly struck me that I have never heard anybody speak about this at any missionweek I ever attended in my nearly 30 years of ministry.  I realised that we are out of step with what God is already doing  and ignorant to a Spiritual battle that is raging and intensifying by the day. 

David Bryant said the following: "God cannot lead you on the basis of facts that you do not know.“

In Judges 7:1  we read that Gideon and all his men camped at the spring of Harod. The camp of Midian was north of them in the valley near the hill of Moreh.”  They were now encamped on a mountain close to the enemy, called Mount Gilead, from Gilead, they might see perhaps the vast numbers of the enemy.  Verse 8 says that the camp of Midian lay below him in the valley.  And in verse 12  we read that “the Midianites, the Amalekites and all the other eastern peoples had settled in the valley, thick as locusts. Their camels could no more be counted than the sand on the seashore.”

There was a reason for camping here.  It was not a coincidence.  Gideon wanted to keep a close watch on the enemy. 

Wars are won and lost by the element of surprise.  Peter said to the Church:  (1Pe 4:12)  Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you.  John echoed these words: (1Jn 3:13)  Do not be surprised, my brothers, if the world hates you.  More than once Jesus told his disciple to be alert (Matt.25:13)  "Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour. 

WATCH THERFORE.  This is a command that will secure the future of the Church.  To be ignorant or uninformed could eventually be the downfall of the Church.  The biggest danger we face is not that which penetrates from the outside in, but the walls that prevent us from knowing and understanding the time we live and the battles we are involved in.

Here are some key questions we try to answer during the seminars at INcontext.

  • What is the fastest growing religion in the world?
  • What country has the highest mortality rate?
  • In what country has Islam grown the fastest during the past century?
  • How will extremist activities and nuclear weapons in the Gulf affect missions?
  • How does an apocalyptic priest in Iran reflect the Spiritual battles of the region?
  • What does the new face of Islam look like?
  • How will a global shift of Christianity influence missions?
  • How will freedom in Asia influence missions in the Middle East?

….. Are these Seasonal changes or divine events in God’s timetable?  We need to STOP, evaluate, alternate and rejuvenate.   Nothing that happens in this world is a coincidence and our mission activities and strategies should reflect an ever changing world.   Are we alert?  Do we know and understand the strategies of the enemy in a time such as this?

To fight the unfightable, to be victorious and more than conquerors, we need to watch and we need to be informed!  Next week we will look at key number 4:  COUNT the cost

 

21 June 2010: Fighting the unfightable - Key 2 - KEEP the urgency

Everybody wants to be 1 in a million but in reading Judges 7 we find key issues in equipping ourselves to be 1 in 300.  But to be one of the elect, chosen by God for special service, would require different characters qualities and spiritual skills than one would find in the secular world.  Bravery is not one of them.  Neither is skill, strengths, talents or even knowledge.  The question remains:  How do we equip ourselves to be of service in a “world at war”.  How do we present ourselves spiritually to in enlist in a spiritual army that is part of a spiritual battle?

Reading through Judges 7 we find 8 keys in preparing ourselves for this spiritual battle.  Last week we looked at Key number 1: GIVE the glory.  This week we look at Key number 2: Keep the urgency

We have just finished the seminars on the island of Timor when a young pastor suddenly jumped up and proclaimed before all his colleagues "now I am ready to die for Jesus!"  I knew these were no idle words.  Every single pastor attending these seminars were directly or indirectly involved in the massacres on the Island of Ambon.  Many of their churches were burnt down and several has lost loved ones in the attacks on Christians.

 As the meeting concluded I saw the young pastor making his way towards me.  "You being here has inspired me to go out and share the gospel in other areas" he announced.  "I am happy to hear that brother, where has the Lord called you to?" I curiously enquired.  His answer astounded me: To Ambon!"

"My brother, are you sure.  This is like signing your own death certificate.  You know that all Christians are fleeing the massacre and you want to return?" His response was simple and without pretense. "My brother, if I don't go back to tell the people of Jesus, who will do it.  I am willing to give my life to Jesus!"

 Judges 7:1  Early in the morning, Jerub-Baal (that is, Gideon) and all his men camped at the spring of Harod. The camp of Midian was north of them in the valley near the hill of Moreh.

They rose early.  Their hearts were fixed on the task ahead of them and there was no time to lose This is key in our service to the Lord.  To maintain a sense of urgency and to understand the times and the seasons we live in.   Too often we find Christians living a Spiritual life as we are on a playing field while few really understand that we are on a battle field.  We tend to look at the World through a keyhole. We have a limited view, limited knowledge and often our own comfort limits our understanding.  Gideon and his men rose early with fixed hearts and a fixed purpose. 

We live in critical times.  On the spiritual time clock we are minutes before midnight.  The ‘Iron Curtain’ has lifted and the "Veil of Islam" was drawn. The fact that Communism came to a fall at the same time as the moral decay in the West, gave birth to a growth of Islamic fundamentalism. The World changed from Communism that declared: ‘there is NO God’ to a new force that declares: ‘There is NO God but Allah.’ 

Surely the words of Jesus (Mark 13:37)  What I say to you, then, I say to all: Watch!" is applicable to us as well.  WATCH!  The warning is clear.  The clouds are gathering.  In Luke 12:54-56 Jesus gave a clear warning to all who fail to be alert.   He said to the crowd: "When you see a cloud rising in the west, immediately you say, 'It's going to rain,' and it does.   And when the south wind blows, you say, 'It's going to be hot,' and it is.   Hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of the earth and the sky. How is it that you don't know how to interpret this present time?

Our God is a God on a mission and He is calling us into that mission, presenting us with awe inspiring opportunities to partner with Him in what He is doing and where He is moving.  Will we sense the urgency or simply continue a spiritual life of peace, prosperity and passivity?

 Are we doing missions for the sake of missions or do our activities reflect a world in change?  Do we fully comprehend how current events are pointing towards the Kingdom of God?  Do we understand the impact of global events on missions?  Are we part of God’s mission or simply running our own?  Do we strategise for a time such as this? (Esther 4:14 .... And who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this?" )

Heb 12:1  Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.

One of the biggest challenges in ministry today is what I like to call Spiritual Attention Deficit Syndrome.  Being spoilt with choices often result in many Christians suffering from ADS; Attention Deficit Syndrome.  Our attention is in demand.  More than ever before. Peter wrote this warning to followers of Christ

2Peter 3:1  My dear friends, this is now the second time I've written to you, both letters reminders to hold your minds in a state of undistracted attention.

The challenge in being confronted with multiple choices is to hold our minds in a state of undistracted attention.  Someone once referred to it as the Incessant Internal Chatter of the self and the Excessive External Clutter of the world.

So many thing are demanding our attention that we don’t get to the essentials

The point is this: Be informed and be inspired:  Faith in God's promises must not slacken, but rather quicken, our endeavours. When we are sure God goes before us, then we must bestir ourselves. (Matthew Henry)

Next week we look at key number 3:  WATCH the enemy

14 June 2010: Fighting the unfightable - Key 1 - GIVE the glory

We are currently looking at a “world at war”.  Not so much a physical war but a spiritual battle for the hearts and minds of the people of this planet.  We need to “wake up”, “get up” and “face up” to these challenges as men and women of God who understand the times, the seasons and the battle.

 Reading through Judges 7 we find 8 keys in preparing ourselves for this spiritual battle.  This week we look at Key number 1

 Judges 7:2  The LORD said to Gideon, "You have too many men for me to deliver Midian into their hands. In order that Israel may not boast against me that her own strength has saved her,

 The KEY UNDERSTANDING in this event is that it not about numbers or soldiers.  It’s not about being fit or unfit for service.  It is not about winning or losing.  It is about God’s glory and His resolute to share it with no one. 

 Remember this as a Christian;  everything we talk about, everything we plan, every success and every failure is ultimately about His Glory. 

 Only one message is conveyed in this Scripture:  (verse 2) In order that Israel may not boast against me that her own strength has saved her

 John Stott made the following statement about missions:

The highest of missionary motives is neither obedience (important as that is) nor love for sinners who are alienated and perishing (strong as the insensitive is) .. but rather zeal – burning and passionate zeal, for the glory of Jesus Christ. 

Profoundly, and like never before in my 31 years of ministry God is convicting me  about  His glory.  Psalm 70:4  sets the scene for every believers who testifies of the saving grace of God:  But may all who seek you rejoice and be glad in you; may those who love your salvation always say, "Let God be exalted!"

 Jealous is his name

In my life as a Christian I have heard countless sermons on the different names of God.  But one name and one sermon I have never heard is on the character and name as explained in Exodus 34:14 “for God, whose name is jealous, is a jealous God.”    

  • God is jealous about His glory (Exo 20:5
  • He is a consuming fire and the preservation of His glory is His priority (Deute 4:24, 5:9, 6:15)
  • God is jealous about His holiness (Joshua 24:19)
  • He is jealous about his name (Eze 39:25). 
  • He is jealous about His people (Joe 2:18). 
  • And He is jealous about His Church. 

 Brothers and sisters – God loves His glory

  • The essence of discipleship is Gods Glory
  • The essence of missions is Gods Glory

 God’s first commitment is to His own glory and this becomes the basis of ours as well.  God’s passion for God becomes the foundation for ours

 Probably no other text reveals the passion of God for His own glory more clearly and bluntly than Isaiah 49:9-11

 Isa 48:9  For My name's sake I will put off My anger, and for My praise I will hold back for you, that I do not cut you off.  Behold, I have refined you, but not with silver; I have chosen you in the furnace of affliction.  For my sake, for My sake I will do it; for why should My name be defiled? And I will not give My glory to another.

 These are like 6 hammer blows:

  • For My name's sake
  • for My praise
  • For my sake,
  • for My sake I will do it;
  • Why should My name
  •  I will give my glory.

 All that is ever spoken of in the scripture as an ultimate of end of God’s works is included in one phrase.  The glory of God.   If missions concerns the salvation of souls then we need to ultimately understand that God performs salvation for His own sake.  He justifies people called by His name so that He may be glorified

 Our concern should be as followrs of Christ.  Not the expansion of our territory.  Not that we may be purpose driven.  Not  the lost or the unreached (as important as that is) BUT that (Mat 6:9)  His name will Hallowed, His kingdom come and His will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven. For His is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen.

 John Piper says the following:

Why is it important to be stunned by the God-centeredness of God.  Because many people are willing to be God-centred as long as they feel that God is man centred.  It is a subtle danger.  We may think we are centring our lives on God, when we are really making Him a means to self-esteem

 God’s fundamental allegiance is to his own glory.  He is committed to being God before being anything else

 Let us therefore declare boldly and powerfully what God loves most – the glory of God

 The lesson is this:  In Spiritual warfare a disciple will declare boldly and powerfully what God loves most – the glory of God.  Guard your heart against the man centredness self suyficiency.

 Next week we look at key number 2:  KEEP the Urgency

7 June 2010: Fighting the unfightable - 8 lessons in Spiritual Warfare

We only need to open a newspaper or watch the 7 o’clock news to realise that the spiritual battle for the hearts and minds of the people is intensifying.  If ever there was a time for the Church to “wake up” and “get up” and equip herself for the spiritual battle we are called to, it is now.  It is absolutely crucial that we arm ourselves with this thought: we are on a battle field and not a playing field.   

 The warning of Paul to the Church in Ephesus sounds louder and clearer than ever before (Ephesians 6:12-13)  For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.  Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.

 In March 2007 I had the joy of training a group of Arab Christians who were on their way on an outreach to various Muslim countries in North Africa.  Having a clear understanding of the cost of discipleship in a region where Christ is not welcome my training focused much on the purpose of the outreach, to ultimately bring Glory to God and also a Biblical understanding of opposition, persecution, hardship and possible martyrdom.  The students ended the week with a declaration as they stood up one by one and committed themselves to live to the Glory of God.  They declared to live a life to be forgotten so that Christ can be remembered

 A month later two outreach teams from the school travelled to Sudan.  One team was sent to the Juba Mountains in partnership with a local church.   The team was staying in a village and went out to a rural area to show the Jesus Film on Thursday, April 26th.  While they were travelling in a truck back to the village at around 10:30 pm they were led into an ambush by armed gunmen.  The driver drove away as quickly as possible, but a number of Sudanese and Egyptians on the truck were wounded in the shooting.  Three Sudanese and one Egyptian were killed

In 2009 I had the wonderful joy and privilege to train another group who were again on their way to Sudan.  The group committed themselves to go back to the region of the traumatic event, not despite the tragedy but because of the tragedy.  Two of the current leaders were present in 2007 and shared how the traumatic events unfolded and how every single student referred back to the moment when they committed their lives to the glory of God.

The one young leader, mature beyond his years, shared his testimony with tears.  Joshua* shared that when he committed his life to the glory of God on that day it was more a theory than a reality but he desired it more than anything else.  Then the tragedy happened.  Sitting in the back of the truck the events that unfolded were unthinkable.  Everything happened so quickly.  They first drove franticly to the nearest town looking for a clinic to tend to the wounded and the dead.  With no facilities or medicine they then had to drive a further five hours to the nearest hospital for help.  The darkness and hopelessness turned the journey into an eternity.  The questions, the fear and yet the serenity of it all made it all felt surreal.  When they finally reached the hospital it was too late for Daniel, one of the wounded Egyptians.  Daniel died in the arms of Joshua.  His last words to his faithful friend reflected the words of his commitment to his beloved saviour:  “Tell my father that I died for the glory of Jesus”

“At that moment” Joshua testifies, “At that moment, the theory of the glory of God became a reality in my life.  I felt it in it’s fullness.  Now I am satisfied with glory of God.

 Upon listening to Joshua my perceptions changed.  I realised anew that the battle is real but also that victory only belongs to those who participate.  So often I hear Christians say “we are more than conquerors!”   You can only say that if you are part of the battle.

 I remember speaking to a believer in the Middle East who has gone through many trials and yet proclaimed the Glory of God in word and deed.  Before I left he prayed a very simple prayer for me.  “May God deny you peace and grant you victory”  That was not really the prayer I wanted nor expected.  “My brother”, he responded.  “How will you ever experience victory if you only experience peace?“  This made sense and made me understand his victory in a greater degree

 But how do we equip ourselves for a spiritual battle that seems so overwhelming and so threatening.  Can someone like me actually respond to forces far greater than my understanding?  How do we equip ourselves to be more than conquerors?

 A scripture that really lives in my heart is Judges 7 and the incredible story of Gideon and a band of 300 men who took on an army 135,000 and walked away victorious.  The difference was not the numbers (or lack of it) nor the weapons (or lack of it) but the passionate zeal of a God who defends His glory above all else.

 Judges 7:1-7  Early in the morning, Jerub-Baal (that is, Gideon) and all his men camped at the spring of Harod. The camp of Midian was north of them in the valley near the hill of Moreh.  The LORD said to Gideon, "You have too many men for me to deliver Midian into their hands. In order that Israel may not boast against me that her own strength has saved her,  announce now to the people, 'Anyone who trembles with fear may turn back and leave Mount Gilead.'" So twenty-two thousand men left, while ten thousand remained.  But the LORD said to Gideon, "There are still too many men. Take them down to the water, and I will sift them for you there. If I say, 'This one shall go with you,' he shall go; but if I say, 'This one shall not go with you,' he shall not go."  So Gideon took the men down to the water. There the LORD told him, "Separate those who lap the water with their tongues like a dog from those who kneel down to drink."  Three hundred men lapped with their hands to their mouths. All the rest got down on their knees to drink.  The LORD said to Gideon, "With the three hundred men that lapped I will save you and give the Midianites into your hands. Let all the other men go, each to his own place."

 In verse 18 the strategy is given to the 300:  Judges 7:18  When I and all who are with me blow our trumpets, then from all around the camp blow yours and shout, 'For the LORD and for Gideon.'"

  And the result:  Judges 7:22  When the three hundred trumpets sounded, the LORD caused the men throughout the camp to turn on each other with their swords. And the army fled.

 In a very very real sense this story is about missions.  Impacting nations where Christians are a minority.   300 men armed with jars and trumpets fighting 135,000 soldiers armed for war.  A small group of believers armed only with the trumpet of God’s Word and being an empty vessel ready to be broken.  That’s all it takes.  Impossible?  Apparently not.

 BUT This event is not about armies or soldiers.  It’s not about being fit or unfit for service.  This incident is about God’s glory and His resolute to share it with no one. 

 During the next 8 weeks I would like to explore 8 keys found in this Scripture as we prepare to be a Gideon in a Spiritual warfare.  The keys are found throughout scripture and are keys to a victorious life:

  • GIVE the glory
  • KEEP the Urgency
  • WATCH the enemy
  • COUNT the cost
  • SEIZE the opportunity
  • TAKE your position
  • CHOOSE your weapons
  • FIGHT the battle

 Be prepared to arm yourself with these strategies because wether you want to or not, wether you choose to or not, by default as a Christian, you are part of this battle