Satan cannot cast out Satan

If we need to learn anything 10 years on from 9/11 it is that Jesus spoke the truth when he said that “Satan cannot cast out Satan” [Mark3:23]. Translating those words into the 9/11 context we can now clearly see that violence cannot cast out violence. Terror cannot cast out terror. War cannot end war. All George W. Bush achieved with his “we will destroy the axis of evil” was enlarge the axis and turn the USA into the largest perpetrator of terror on the planet without enhancing the safety and security of the USA one bit — in fact just the opposite. The world is more polarised and divided than before and on a daily basis people are still being killed in Iran and Afghanistan yet barely making the headlines. With each killing the ground is made fertile for future revenge. On this 10th anniversary it would be wonder-full if the USA asked the world for forgiveness for its terrorising response.

Tit for tat is an endless, pointless and deathly spiral. Jesus taught that forgiveness alone would break the spiral and turn death into life.  Jesus not only taught this but he lived it. He chose rather to forgive than to retaliate, rather to be killed than to kill. Here in lies the salvation of the world as we are given a new way to live life — a way of living life that starts a spiral of life rather than death. This really is the crux (from crucifixion) of what it means to follow Jesus. Above all else a follower of Jesus is a person who loves those who do not love her or him. “For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have…” [Matt 5:46]. A follower of Jesus is a forgiver not a fighter.

Now like the USA we ourselves have not been very good at this — our response to hurt and wrong-doing is often to hurt in return and in doing so we multiply the wrong — and become the very image of the one who has hurt us.

To become a forgiving people begins with knowing that we are a forgiven people. “For we love because God first loved us…” [1 Jn 4:19].

We are forgiven to forgive.

Peace, Alan

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Disciplined daily devotions

I saw a yacht in the stormy seas the other day. The wind sent spray everywhere as the yacht punched through the huge swells. The sailors must have been drenched! It was fun and impressive to watch from my warm, dry car. I started wondering about how amazing it was that the yacht did not capsize. Obviously there was an experienced skipper at the helm, but there was also a huge keel beneath the boat.

A keel is the first part of the construction process around which everything else is built. The keel runs in the middle of the ship, from the bow to the stern, (front to back) and serves as the foundation or spine of the structure. It is literally the backbone of the boat and provides not only strength and stability, but it also helps the boat to move forward by preventing it from slipping sideways. Further, if the yacht actually does capsize it is the weight of the keel that will right it again.

The keel is not only the most important part of the boat it is also the only part of the boat that is totally submerged in the water and out of sight.

My understanding of the way of life that Jesus calls us to live is that we will be kept stable in the storms, and be kept from slipping sideways by our hidden work of disciplined daily devotion. The work of prayer, silence and solitude as well as the work of reading and reflecting on the life and teachings of Jesus is the foundation around which everything else will be built, or not. And even if we do end up capsizing, this keel-work is designed to self-right us again.

Disciplined daily devotions is hidden work — but the results of doing it or not, is open for all to see — especially in a storm! If we keep capsizing all the time we really should have a look at the strength of our disciplined daily devotions.

This September — as new life springs forth all around us — we are invited to pay special attention to this most hidden, yet most important area of our living.

Alan

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Get real or get out!

“Get real or get out!”  This is a slogan that is displayed in a drug rehab centre. It is direct and to the point as one would expect in a place that exists for the sole purpose of  facilitating life-saving change within a person. And if you think the slogan is a bit harsh, it may be because we fail to realise that life is going to get a whole lot harsher for them if they don’t get real.

I thought it would be a good slogan for a church, after all we too are in the business of life-saving change, namely the radical business of resurrection. Yes, that is exactly the job description Jesus gave to us: “cure the sick and raise the dead” (Matt 10:8). As has been said, “Jesus did not come to make bad people good.  Jesus came to make dead people alive.” [Ravi Zacharias].

Life-saving change will escape us if we do not get real, get open, get honest.  Resurrection will elude us if we do not get truth-full.  To be truth-full is to risk.  Resurrection is therefore risky business, for in opening the tomb others may smell the stench of our decaying lives.  I have a sense that we will only be truth-full to the extent that we trust that we are held in the hands of a grace-full God. This is the Good News that Jesus lived and died proclaiming — God is Grace-full. As Church we are given the joy-full responsibility to make God’s grace-full-ness known, with the hope that we will all risk realness more readily. And in doing so we get to rejoice in each other’s resurrection.

Sadly, we must admit that the Church is often more closely associated with judgment than with grace. When this is a reality we can be sure that the Church is filled with more pretence than truth, and with more death than life. So if we’re feeling stuck or even dead, it is time to get real. We have nothing to fear for we are held in the grip of God’s grace.

Alan

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Live the Word

This past week I read an article by one of SA’s preeminent social commentators — Justice Malala — entitled “What does SA believe in?” The powerful point he was making is that on paper (the constitution) we declare our belief and trust in the most compelling values of compassion and justice yet we have failed to internalise these values.  This failure is heard in the divisive public dialogues that fill the newspapers and it is seen in the moral ambivalence of our foreign policy, as well as the blatant lack of accountability within public office. He held up our relationship with Swaziland as a sad example of our silence concerning one of the King’s wives under house arrest.

All this is very disturbing as our hypocrisy is exposed. It reminds us that a new constitution does not make a new country. The real problem does not lie outside us but within us. We have new laws but we need new hearts and minds to incline ourselves towards these laws.

What Malala is saying about our nation could easily be said about us as Church. We have the most radically liberating words and testimony of Jesus — that some of us may even be able to quote off by heart, but whether these same words are at home in our hearts is another story.

For example, what if the words of Jesus “What you do to the least of these you do to me” actually took over our heart — how would our living change — knowing that each time we encounter the poor and vulnerable it was a sacred privilege to be in the presence of the Holy One?

We are called not only to read the Word but to live it. This is not easy but it is what we are designed by God to do. We start living the word by naming those words which we are not living.

Towards a deeper integrity, Alan

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Confession as gift

Confession simply understood is truth-full talk to God in the presence of a witness. We confess not to get ourselves into heaven or to secure forgiveness. This is grace-fully given to us by God already. We confess in order to be healed. Confession is a healing act insofar as we place our brokenness beyond denial (secured by the presence of a witness) and by doing so, experience our messed-up-ness being heard and held in love. Confession (as truthful talk to God in the presence of a witness) is a gift for us to use especially if the following quote from Richard Forster connects with us in any way:

We have prayed, even begged, for forgiveness, and though we hope we have been forgiven we have sensed no release. We have doubted our forgiveness and despaired at our confession. We have feared that perhaps we had made confession only to ourselves and not to God.

The haunting sorrows and hurts of the past have not been healed. We had tried to convince ourselves that God only forgives the sin, God does not heal the memory, but deep within we know there must be something more. People have told us to take our forgiveness by faith and not call God a liar. Not wanting to call God a liar, we do our best to take it by faith. But because misery and bitterness remain in our life we again despair. Eventually we begin to believe either that forgiveness is only a ticket to heaven and not meant to affect our lives now; or that we are not worthy of the forgiving grace of God.

If these words ring true I would invite you to seek out someone you trust and respect to witness your truth-full talk to God.

Courage, Alan
Sunday 7 August 2011

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Bulletin 31st August 2011

Last week we were reeling in shock as we heard the news of the killings in Norway.  A tragic testimony of what one person filled with fear and prejudice can achieve.

The reporting of the events as they were unfolding in Norway were also disturbingly filled with their own fear and prejudice.  At first it was reported that it must be Al-Qaeda or some “Muslim fundamentalist”.  And when it was finally revealed that it was a Christian fundamentalist—then all mention of his religion became irrelevant, and he was thereafter referred to as a “far-rightwinger”.  Such is the continued prejudice of so much media coverage about Muslims.   This is shameful.

Shortly after the horror of the shootings I was moved by the amazing words from Eskil Pedersen, the youth camp leader where the killings took place, “We will meet terror and violence with more democracy…we will continue to fight against intolerance.”  How different these words are to what we heard after 9/11 and other such attacks!

It reminded me of 1 Peter 3:9 “Never return evil for evil…but on the contrary repay with a blessing.”  We thank God for people who live these words out—may their example inspire all of us to be more   Christ-like.  Alan

 

 

 

 

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Sunday 14th August 2011

Confession simply understood is truth-full talk to God in the presence of a witness.  We confess not to get ourselves into heaven or to secure              forgiveness.  This is grace-fully given to us by God already.  We confess in  order to be healed.  Confession is a healing act in so far as we place our brokenness beyond denial (secured by the presence of a witness) and by doing so, experience our messed-up-ness being heard and held in love.  Confession (as truthful talk to God in the presence of a witness) is a gift for us to use especially if the following quote from Richard Forster connects with us in any way:

“We have prayed, even begged, for forgiveness, and though we hope we have been forgiven we have sensed no release. We have doubted our forgiveness and despaired at our confession. We have feared that perhaps we had made confession only to ourselves and not to God.

The haunting sorrows and hurts of the past have not been healed. We had tried to convince ourselves that God only forgives the sin, God does not heal the memory, but deep within we know there must be something more. People have told us to take our forgiveness by faith and not call God a liar. Not   wanting to call God a liar, we do our best to take it by faith. But because    misery and bitterness remain in our life we again despair. Eventually we begin to believe either that forgiveness is only a ticket to heaven and not meant to affect our lives now; or that we are not worthy of the forgiving grace of God.”

If these words ring true I would invite you to seek out someone you trust and respect to witness your truth-full talk to God.  Courage, Alan

 

 

 

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Sunday 7th August 2011

Last week we were reeling in shock as we heard the news of the killings in Norway.  A tragic testimony of what one person filled with fear and prejudice can achieve.

The reporting of the events as they were unfolding in Norway were also disturbingly filled with their own fear and prejudice.  At first it was reported that it must be Al-Qaida or some “Muslim fundamentalist”.  And when it was finally revealed that it was a Christian fundamentalist—then all mention of his religion became irrelevant, and he was thereafter referred to as a “far-rightwinger”.  Such is the continued prejudice of so much media coverage about Muslims.   This is shameful.

Shortly after the horror of the shootings I was moved by the amazing words from Eskil Pedersen, the youth camp leader where the killings took place, “We will meet terror and violence with more democracy…we will continue to fight against intolerance.”  How different these words are to what we heard after 9/11 and other such attacks!

It reminded me of 1 Peter 3:9 “Never return evil for evil…but on the contrary repay with a blessing.”  We thank God for people who live these words out—may their example inspire all of us to be more   Christ-like.  Alan

 

 

 

 

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