“That they all may be One…” A cry for Peace and Unity in the TOC!

The above statement sums up the last recorded prayer of Jesus, just before His betrayal and death – That they all may be one! This is the dream Jesus has for His church. Are our actions and words geared towards realizing this prayer? If we answer No, then we have indicted ourselves as those who are fighting against God. Fighting against God’s dream is a genuine night-mare, where one never wakes up.

We are now approaching 600 days (66 days short of 666) of rising hostility between TOC Alberton and TOC Orange Groove. How many more days, months, or years do we need to come to our senses and bring an end to this destructive mission? “Go and preach the gospel” has now turned to “Go and poke your brethren”. That has become our “Gospel Commission”. Our churches, which used to be a sanctuary for those who needed comfort, are increasingly becoming war zones. We are getting to a point where we are more likely to get hurt inside the church than outside. Pulpits, which used to lift up the trumpet, have become launching pads for missiles directed at our brothers and sisters (enemies) who do not see things the way we do. We have declared a truce with the Devil and have turned against each other, with malice baptized in a deadly demonic venom.

The Bible records an instance of one person by the name of Uzzah who sincerely did all he could to prevent the ark from falling so that God would not be “hurt.” Uzzah died but the Ark he died for was miraculously steadied by the unseen hand. Today we see two Uzzah’s; one in Orange Groove and the other in Alberton. Both are doing all they can to protect God’s ark from falling. Who gets hurt in this religious fanaticism? My enemy, of course! This is nothing but mutual destruction and annihilation. What are we doing to our children? What kind of church will they inherit, obviously not the one we inherited.

We had hoped that the civil courts would bring us together and help us resolve these nagging issues. To date these have only entrenched our animosity against each other and have driven us further from one another. The pending cases will achieve the same with probably more disastrous results. No earthly court can redeem us from the unrepentant attitude we have against each other.

Allow me to dream (and please remind me to wake up at the end of the dream!) or at least come with me on this imaginary journey. Imagine what might happen if leaders from Orange Groove and Alberton were to:
• Commit themselves to peace;
• Use the God-given platform they often occupy to talk of unity and reconciliation;
• Try to reach out to each other prayerful in the Spirit of Christ to find lasting and Biblical solutions;
• Allow no one from their members to speak disparagingly about members of the other group.

Imagine what might happen if pastors from Alberton and Orange Groove were to:
• Pray for one another;
• Lift up Christ and preach grace filled and Holy Spirit driven sermons;
• Encourage their members to reach out to their brothers and sisters on the other side;
• Inspire their members with the zeal to be involved in the preaching of the everlasting gospel.

Imagine what might happen if members from Orange Groove and Alberton were to:
• Listen to the leaders they have chosen (in striving for peace and reconciliation);
• Refuse to be turned against each other by the political rhetoric that has become the order of the day.
• Pray for their own souls, and for their families;
• Allow God to use them in reaching out to those who do not know His love and prepare them for the soon coming of Christ.

Imagine with me how God, the Creator of the Universe, the Holy Father who sent His son to die for us and gave us the gift of the Holy Spirit to sustain us, would react? And imagine if you please with me how Satan, the enemy of our souls, the devil, that old serpent, who accuses us before God day and night, wrathful dragon, would react? I live that to your imagination.

Realizing that there can never be unity without the leadership creating a climate for it; I therefore as a member of the Adventist church submit my humble appeal to our dear Leaders, in Alberton, Orange Groove, SAU and the SID to:

• Make Christ’s dream of a united church, their dream.
• Put self aside, reach out to each other and find solutions to this rather very ‘simple’ matter.
• Realize that there is no one with clean hands in this saga – both have erred – Those who acted and those who reacted are both guilty of bringing God’s name and His church into disrepute.
• Realize that the majority of members both in Alberton and Orange Groove are crying for a united Adventist church.

I hope by God’s grace that this will happen sooner than later! I believe with all my heart that God’s church will triumph at last. That Christ’s dream of a united church will be realized. That Alberton and Orange Groove will one day unite and become one church. I am not sure where you and I will be when that happens. I pray that my words and my actions will not lead any soul purchased by Christ, astray. May this be your prayer too! And may God forgive all of us for the sins of omission as well as commission.

God’s dream for us

Do we believe that there is a divine purpose for our lives?  The Bibles affirms that we are “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14).  Notice the text does not say we are wonderfully developed but wonderfully made.  We were made, created, formed, fashioned for a purpose.  Science may speculate and argue about how humanity came to exist but are dead silent when it comes to the purpose of our existence.  God created us for His glory (Ps. 43:).   Survival of the fittest the mantra for evolution, is not the motivation for progress and development. It is when the fittest take care of the weakest when those who have, share with those who do not that we can move forward as a nation.

The New Testament is full of stories of how Jesus healed the sick and raised the dead and fed the hungry.  It is true that Jesus came that we might have life and have it abundantly.  We were created to have the best of life, and enjoy it to the full.  In this world of sin, that can be achieved when we learn to serve one another – there is indeed joy in serving.  Joseph became the second most powerful person in Egypt, and it began with a dream, that turned out to be God’s dream, a dream to save many people alive (Genesis 50:20).  This for Joseph, was a dream worth dying for.  It has been said that no one is ready to live unless he or she can find something or a cause worth dying for. There is more to life than just getting, giving gives meaning to life.

JESUS THE BREAD OF LIFE

I grew up believing that one was not to throw bread away, the reason being that this was the body of Jesus.   Bread was meant to be eaten with thanksgiving remembering all those who had nothing to eat.   Sharing what we eat with others was implicit in this belief.  I am still not sure where this belief originated from but upon reflection, it does offer some great insights indeed.

 

Today, we seem to have managed to demystify the “bread” and left it as one of the common items of life and  far removed from sacredness.   We have become a society that  steals bread, hoards bread, throws bread away or eats it to its own detriment.   How we view bread will to a great extent determine what we will do with it.  One of the good elements in some African traditional religions is its belief in sharing food with strangers or those who have nothing to eat.  It is or was a strange thing to be eating while others in one’s proximity were not eating.  Of course things are changing or have changed due to economic hardships and other selfish reasons, that this may no longer be the norm.  Probably one could attribute this to African’s view of common things such as bread as being sacred.

 

It is interesting to note that the Bible seems to view bread as sacred.  In John 6:48 , Christ presents Himself as the Bread of Life.  Traditionally, Christendom has been tempted without resisting to view this statement as being exclusively spiritual. On at least two occasions Christ makes a distinction between bread and His Word and Bread and His Body.  In Matthew Christ reminds the devil that man does not live by bread alone but by every Word that comes from the mouth of God.   It is also interesting to note that man needs both the physical bread and the spiritual Word for sustenance.   The problem with the devil was in excluding the Word as the basis for sustenance and forcing Christ to focus on the physical bread only.

 

The second occasion is the one recorded in John 6 – here again the problem seems to be that of excluding the spiritual and settling for the physical.  Christ rebukes the crowd after feeding them from making this the only thing that matters.   He challenges the crowd to reach out and take of the spiritual bread, His body in this case.   It would appear that the crowd failed to make the connection.   This was not a self-rebuke by Christ for having fed the multitude with bread and fish but a rebuke on them for not connecting the physical feeding to the spiritual feeding.

 

How about us have we succeeded in making the necessary connection?   Our mistake could be that of making the bread exclusively spiritual, to a point where the physical bread loses its significance.  That we are physical being is God’s creative act and the fact that we are spiritual is also His act, and Christ holds Himself responsible for sustaining both. It is a fact that is rarely accepted that when our physical bodies die life in its totality comes to an end, there is no spiritual existence without the body.   This false dichotomy has led to many social ills perpetuated by Christians.   Feeding the poor is relegated to insignificant gesture; while preaching of the Word is elevated to unprecedented levels of importance.  In some cases the very ones who preach the Word have been implicated in the exploitation of the poor.

 

The Lord’s Supper in many ways lifts the curtain that continues to enshroud the meaning of Jesus as our bread.  One of my favorite authors by the name of E G White puts this succinctly when she asserts that to the death of Christ we owe even this earthly life.  She goes on to say that the bread we eat is the purchase of his broken body and the water we drink is bought by His spilled blood.   These are the same sentiments echoed by Joseph Grassi in his book when he reminds us never to separate the global suffering and hunger from the Eucharist.  This means that the provisions of our daily life are sacred and that every meal is as important as the sacrament.   If this is true, if indeed Jesus is the bread of life, we need to share not only the gospel of Jesus but also the means at our disposal to alleviate suffering and poverty that surrounds us.

Adopting a Biblical Worldview

We all have different ways of viewing the world and everything around us. Without this framework life would loose its meaning, actually it would be difficult to attach meaning to anything we experience or encounter. When I lose a loved one, what carries me through the painful experience is my world view, how I perceive what has happened to me. It is usually not so much what happens to us but how we interpret it, the importance we attach to it that breaks or makes us. There is no one event that has a guaranteed way of response inherent in it. Loosing a job might inspire some towards entrepreneurship while it may lead the other to suicide. The difference is on how we view the event.

 

It has been argued that there are thirteen worldviews that fall under three major divisions.  The first division is naturalism (atheism, physicalism, humanism, existentialism, hedonism); transcendentalism (pantheism, animism, panpsychism, panentheism, polytheism); theism (deism, finitism, traditional theism).

 

Naturalism as the term suggests sees no place for supernatural intervention. God is kept out of the observable cycle of cause and effect. He does not play any role in human history or human affairs simply because He does not exist, even if He did, He would not be needed. There is no room for miracles; all that takes place can be explained naturally.  All that matters is matter and here we find Darwinism as the centerpiece of naturalism.

 

Transcendentalism emphasizes spiritual over matter, it is the extreme opposite of naturalism. It accepts the existence of God, albeit a different God from that of the Bible.  He is viewed as an impersonal God, a spirit, energy, principle or force behind the created world. Mysticism and New Age movement would naturally fall under this category.

The African Traditional religion is more inclined toward transcendentalism as opposed to naturalism. It also tends to eliminate any belief in cause and effect. Sickness and disease are often the result of not performing the required rituals and thereby a failure to appease the “spirits” or the living-dead. Accidents are attributed to malevolent spirits and seem to have little to do with mechanical or human failure. Death is regarded as an intrusion, the result of foul play especially that of a young person.

 

A Biblical worldview or traditional theism seems to be a combination of the good elements in both naturalism and transcendentalism. Biblical religion and science are not enemies. God is not limited by physical laws. He created the laws and is not necessarily subject to them. The works of God as seen in nature do not contradict the World of God. God’s involvement in human history does not render the efforts of human being invalid.   The Bible is full of stories that show God’s ideal which humanly speaking is often frustrated by the arrogance of human beings. God is said to have regretted creating man and this led Him to destroy the previous antediluvians (those living before the flood) by the flood. God sent His son to die for us but only those who take advantage of this provision will be saved. Paul says in Philippians 4:8, “I can do all things through Christ which strengthens me.” Human effort combined with divine power leads to success.   God does not do what we can do through His power, He often does that which we cannot do, when we trust in Him.To those writing their final exams, the advice is to study hard as if everything depends on you and pray earnestly as if everything depended on prayer.

BEYOND MORALITY (Part I)

When Joseph in Genesis 39 was ambushed by the wife of Potiphar demanding that he sleeps with her, his response was more than morality demanded.   What interests us in the story is not just the fact that he refused the sexual advances but the reasons he gave for his objection.   “How can I do this wicked thing and sin against God…” was his response.   A person is deemed moral or immoral based on his behavior and not so much the reasons or motivation for the behavior.   Joseph would have been regarded as moral in most cultures and societies but the reasons for his behavior take him to a level far beyond that of morality.

 

The moral values of any group of people are as good and strong as the reasons that support them.  Ethical education has always been the ultimate aim of most cultures and societies.  What sometimes appears as immoral and unethical to an outsider may actually be the opposite when judged within the society or culture itself.  Even the most barbaric culture has its own moral standards.  These standards have kept communities cemented together and guaranteed their survival and security.

 

Today our society is at the brink of collapse.   This is summed up succinctly by Kinoti when he writes, “Contemporary African society is lamenting a moral world fallen apart…(it) Seems to be in a state of near chaos in the realm of morality.” (as cited by Van der Walt).  What are the reasons for this moral vacuum?   One reason could be that our moral values have been bombarded by waves of relativity and pluralism that the whole moral structure is finally giving in.

 

In the traditional African society fear and respect of the community was one of the reasons for moral behavior.  It is common to hear statements like, “bazakuthini abantu…iintloni ziyamakha umntu”. This loosely translated would mean –  what will people say about this?   This fear seems to have been  the building block of true humanity.    This would fit well within the African philosophy of “ubuntu”, “umntu ngumntu ngabantu”, meaning “I am because I belong” not because I think.  This philosophy has held African communities for ages but is now becoming irrelevant since the very community where we are supposed to get our identity is fast disintegrating.    People are living as isolated atoms in a sea of strangers.

 

Communalistic morality is difficult to sustain for at least two reasons: One is that the community itself is changing which jettisons the whole idea of moral absolutism. Secondly, the motivation for moral purity becomes totally extrinsic and thereby threatens its consistency and authenticity.   Joseph feared  a God who does not change.  He judges the heart, to him he who lusts is just as guilty as the one who commits adultery.   Admittedly, this is more than morality demands, this is the essence of Christian and Biblical spirituality.   It is the recognition of the presence of God and the willingness to live according to His will.  Indeed the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom…. (To be continued).

Power of Addiction

We often pride ourselves as people who are intelligent, rational and always able to link cause and effect. We are better than animals; we think before we do and have reasons why we do what we do. I am afraid to say that this is often a wish than a reality. The fact of the matter is most of what we do is out of our control. We often find ourselves doing things because that is what we have been doing all along. Maybe I should have entitled this, the Power of Habits, for the purpose of this article, we will use the terms interchangeably. If one cannot say “no” to a self sabotaging habit, then he or she is addicted. I must admit, though, that addiction carries more of a negative connotation than habit. There are good habits which are to be cultivated but one hardly hears of good addiction. Nevertheless we will use addiction to drive the point home.

 

A person who is addicted to drugs needs intervention and systematic rehabilitation.  Powerful arguments and facts on the danger of drugs are good but powerless in helping such a person. It should be remembered that it is not the force of such arguments that often leads one to such behavior. One starts off by experimenting and ends up hooked.   In reality this is exactly what happens in life. We learn through experiment and observation. We may choose what clothes to wear when going to the mall but the choice is not whether we should wear clothes or not. No amount of arguments will convince us to do otherwise. One could argue that religion is like clothes, one may choose how to be religious but not whether he or she should be religious.

 

Today of course this assertion can be challenged. We choose religions or choose to be religious. We go to church or choose not to go. We pray or choose not to pray. In traditional African cultures people are born into their cultures. They do not go to church to practice religion, everything they do is linked to religion and the gods are everywhere.   One of the grave mistakes that Christian missionaries did was to think that arguments and few Biblical texts would destroy the African worldview. We have come to realize that in spite of what many Africans may profess, their religious and African soul remains in tact.   Such people need more than just powerful arguments, they need to witness and experience something more powerful than what they are used to.

 

This is where most Christians fail, we know the reasons why we are Christians but we have not experienced what it means to be a Christian. We know of the power but it has not yet delivered us. When Africans looked for a god that would deliver them from the severe drought, a god who would give them rain, missionaries introduced a god who will one day come and take them to heaven. Yes they may have taken interest to such a “god” but they still needed one that relieves them from the drought. Missionaries like Van der Kemp were challenged to ask their gods for rain and when it rained, one could see the willingness from the Africans to give respect not only to Van der Kemp but to his god as well. That is how many Africans were led to Christ. People are not interested in what God can do but in what He does to see what He can do.

 

I am convinced that one of the breakthroughs we can make when it comes to young people is to lead them to an experience with Christ. Let them taste for themselves what it means to be freed from sin. The secular mind is looking for an experience, and most are turning to the Eastern Religions for this. The Bible presents Christianity as a walk with God, something unique and more intimate than what is generally understood in African Religions. God is a friend, one who loves us and is willing to lay down His life for us.   He is involved in our personal lives and is interested in the challenges we face today. He says, ask and it shall be given, not when I come with the clouds of heaven but now, today.

 

“If the Son shall make you free… that is what we should focus on, not mere arguments and intellectualizing but leading people to experience this freedom. If they experience this, they will be hooked, addicted and no argument will be able to convince them otherwise. From here we will tell the world of the joy that we have found and not just mere theories about joy that we ourselves have not experienced.

Dealing with Death (Part 1)

Main Text:  I Corinthians 15:26, 34

 

(1Co 15:26)  The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death.

 

(1Co 15:34)  Awake to righteousness, and sin not; for some have not the knowledge of God: I speak this to your shame.

 

Three things to note from this text:

 

  • That death is an enemy
  • That death will finally be destroyed
  • In light of the above we should stop sinning and come to the knowledge of God.

 

If death which is regarded as an enemy of humanity with the promise and hope that it  will be destroyed, the imperative for all of us is to come to the knowledge of God, to awake to righteousness and stop sinning.  The book as a whole was written to a community of believers, as one sees from the opening chapter.  These were saints in Corinth.  Seemingly a serious dispute concerning resurrection, amongst other things, had arisen in this church with some members contending that there is no resurrection.   Paul begins his forceful arguments from verse 12 of chapter 15, showing the theological significance of resurrection.

 

The African concept of death and resurrection has led us to adopt certain statements that we use to comfort those who are bereaved.   These statements of comfort reveal in a profound way our religious and theological understanding of death.  I have listed at least three of these with a brief comment:

 

Ukugxwala emswaneni:

 

The English equivalent though not very precise would be to “crying over spilt milk.”  This Xhosa  expression has to do with crying that is done by cows when one of them has been killed. Cows are known to gather together at a point where the contents of the dead cow’s intestine have been emptied.  They make this funny and mellow sound as if they are crying.  The obvious meaning is that, it is not only pointless but needful for these cows to do this either as an expression of solidarity or hopelessness.

 

The problem with this expression when used to comfort the bereaved is that it does not point to any reflective exercise.   Cows do not leave to reflect as to the meaning of the life that was or what to do next to avoid this kind of death.  But according to our text, death is an enemy that will be destroyed and because of that, we are called to do something and this inspires us with hope.   We know that a time is coming when we will not be engaging in “ukugxwala emswaneni” for death will have been destroyed.

 

 

 

 

Isitya esihle asidleli

 

This is also a very interesting expression.  This refers to a situation where your most expensive and beautiful crockery is seldom used for eating.  The meaning is that those amongst us who exhibit good behavior usually do not last long.  The implication being that God takes them to heaven and are therefore not allowed to remain with us and be a blessing.

 

This, as can be readily seen, poses a serious problem in the way we view not only death but God Himself.  Here God is represented as one who seeks those who are good and by employing death takes them to heaven for His benefit and advantage.  He is viewed as this divine being that will not rest until He has killed and taken all the good people on earth to populate heaven.  God the giver of life cannot be at the same the one who takes it.  A misrepresentation of the character of God is one of the strategies the devil uses to destroy us.

 

Secondly, death then is viewed as a vehicle that takes all the good people to heaven.  Well of course this does not address those who may not be good.  In fact the opposite is true, no one would be motivated and inspired to be good for this would tantamount to committing suicide.  And yet the Bible encourages us to continue to do good so that people may see these and glorify God who is in heaven (Matthew 5:16).  It would appear that God is not necessarily glorified by people who go to heaven but by those who remain on earth doing good by His grace.

 

Akuhlanga lungehlanga

 

This represents the last statement we want to look at in this series.  The literal meaning of this statement has to do with the fact that death comes to all people.  The attempt here is to view death as a normal phenomenon, something that is part and parcel of humanity.  While this is true, the tendency is to carry it too far.  Indeed the Bible does look at death as an enemy meaning that it is a reality and is not just the figment of our imagination.  One cannot miss the idea of hopelessness that seems to pervade this statement.  In other words there is no hope of this cycle coming to an end.  This would be going on indefinitely, in this regard it is not different from the first statement.

 

The beauty of I Corinthians is that as much as it is accepted that death is an enemy, there is no attempt to make it permanently a part of our lives.  To begin with death is an intruder, something evil that has invaded our human sphere.  Secondly, it will be dealt with, plans are underway to destroy it and do so permanently.  Of course our cooperation is needed, sin is at the center of this phenomenon and hence the appeal by the apostle to do away with it.

 

The three parts of the main text that we have highlighted need a further explanation.
We hope to do this in the next series.  But we need to reemphasize these points once again for more clarity.  Death is a reality, we do not need to be convinced of that, it is something we experience everyday.  But we may have to argue about is how to view it, as a foe or friend.   Must we embrace death or must we reject it? Is it a necessary part of our ecosystem or is something that must be dreaded?  The apostle Paul, seems to be very clear on this point, death is an enemy. The Bible is clear that Christ came to give us life in all its abundance (John 10:10).   The good news is that death will be destroyed, that if for anything gives us hope.  There will be an end to this fiasco; there are plans afoot to force death to face its demise.

 

Lastly, we have a role to play in the destruction of death, we need to find a way of doing away with sin.  We need to come to terms with God.  We need to come back to our senses as Paul puts it.

 

How will death be destroyed?  If death is an enemy; are we then expected to be fearful or must we hate death?  What are the implications of not believing that there is resurrection?  And lastly, what if there is resurrection, does that make any difference?  These are some of the questions we need to look at in the next series.

 

Stay with God.

What has God done for you lately?

This is a simple question that at times fails to yield a simple answer.   Religion amongst many Christians is something to be defended and argued about; something to write about and earn academic qualifications, end of the story.   We know what God did for Daniel, what He did for Joseph; we know all these stories except our own story.   What have we to say a about God, what has He done for us lately?

 

African Traditional religions are not religions that need scholars to expound them, to defend and to argue about.   Adherents to these religions have experiences and their own stories to tell.   Even the books that are now being written in trying to delve into the philosophy of Africa Traditional religions are at best an endeavor to put into writing the experiences of those who take these religions seriously.   The early missionaries regarded these religions as inferior since they were not codified and systematically written down.  But these people knew what to do when there was no rain, they knew what to when there was sickness at home.  They had seen and experienced relief and deliverance through the performance of certain traditional rites.

 

Christianity came and spoke about heaven a place prepared by God for His children.   Christianity offered a way out of this troubled planet and this somehow destroyed the desire for divine intervention in earthly matters and exigencies of life.   Christianity became more and more a religion of the hereafter caring little if anything for the present.   The introduction of heaven to the African mind brought excitement since this phenomenon was conspicuous by its absence in their religions.

 

Conversion meant leaving your old life of seeking God’s intervention in this present and starting a journey to heaven.   To the surprise and shock of the early missionaries many Africans accepted Christianity but retained their African religions as articulated in their culture.  A blending of the old with the new took place yielding to what is known as syncretism.   African accessed their religions for daily intervention and relied on Christianity for the anticipated joys of the hereafter.   Today  African Initiated Churches exist as a home for the troubled African mind, faced with the problems of today and yet desiring the joys of tomorrow.   In these churches people find healing and deliverance while looking forward to glorious future.

 

This is where most Christians have missed the point thereby making Christianity a laughing stock.  The Bible is full of stories of people who experienced God’s divine intervention.  The Bible in essence is a book of such miraculous interventions.   Psalm 23 known and recited by many Christians is an experience of a shepherd, what God meant to him, his own story.   “Come taste as see that the Lord is Good” is an invitation that many Christians have yet to experience.   The stories in the Bible serve as an illustration of what God desires to do for us today.   It is when these stories are replicated in our own lives that the Bible becomes the living Word.

 

If the Lord who delivered Daniel fails to deliver poor me, then maybe He never delivered Daniel.   Yes Christianity believes in the hereafter but the belief in the existence of heaven should be evidenced by the heavenly atmosphere God brings to those who believe in Him.  When our homes become heaven, those living in such homes are ready to believe in heaven as a place that does exist.    What has God done for you lately? That is your own story, tell it.  It is just as sacred as that of Daniel.