Easter Story

Wild-eyed and dishevelled, he roamed the streets and alleys peering in the doorways, tearing at his hair, distraught and distracted.
“I’m looking for Love. I’ve lost it. Has it left? Is it hiding? Has it gone forever? ”

Hedon looked over his tankard and gave a snigger. “Still looking, old man? No luck yet? Try the whore house. There’s plenty will love you there, for a fee.”

“Oh, help me, help me please. I’m looking for Love. I’ve lost my love. Has the whole world grown cold?” His hands shook, causing his matted locks to tremble around his face as he staggered on.

“Come in here, wild man, and learn from me.” A fat man in a business suit sat at a table. A girl sat on his lap; men hovered, fawning around him. Money bags littered the table. “Make your fortune and the world will love you. Look at you, penniless old beggar. Who will love you like that?”

A haunting wail left the old man’s lips. “Oh-oh-oh-oh, the pain. Who will help me? Who can lead me to Love?”

A pretty young lady, barefoot, in a flowing gown and with flowers in her hair, sauntered up to him. She put a flower in his bedraggled mane and kissed him playfully on the nose. “You don’t need to look for love. You are love. Love is the god in you. He lives in each of us. Just let it out and you’ll find Love.

The old man threw himself on the floor, beating the ground. “Will no-one tell me where to find Love? Love has deserted us. The world is cold.”

“Come with me, old hermit.” A tall man with a kind face and a long pony tail pulled him to his feet. “I’ll show you where to find it.” He took him to the country and showed him flowing mountain streams, a pure white lily, snow covered peaks, a soaring eagle. “Look,” he said, “at the beauty that surrounds you. In that beauty you’ll find Love.”

“I see it,” the old man cried, his voice sobbing in despair, “but it’s remote; it’s distant. I don’t feel it. I can’t find it. I’ve lost it in the coldness of men’s hearts.” He hid his face in his hands and his body shook.

For a long time he sat there, shaking. Then a small voice said, “Why are you crying mister?” A little girl stood beside him. As she laid her hand on his shoulder, a glimmer of light touched his soul.

“I’ve lost Love. It’s left this dark world and no-one can find it.”

“I’ll take you to it.” The pure innocence of her voice made him rise. “Come,” she said, “we must climb a hill to find Love.”

“What is your name?”

She smiled sweetly. “My name is Grace. I’m the one who takes people to Love.” She was thoughtful beyond her years as they trudged upward. “I must warn you, love is costly.”

“I have no money.”

It won’t cost you, but it comes at great price.”

“Then who will pay?”

At that moment they crested the hill and he stopped in his tracks. At his feet was a man so disfigured he scarcely looked human. Blood oozed and congealed on lacerated flesh; rivulets of scarlet trickled from his brow down a swollen, bruised face.
The girl pointed, her voice trembling. “He will.”

The battered man lay on a cross. A bleeding hand was outstretched, a nail poised at its wrist.
“No!’ the old man cried, “Stop. Who did this?”

Grace looked at him steadily. “You did…… He’s paying the price for your love.”

“No. No. Don’t do it. I’m not worth this.” His eyes were wide, his mouth contorted.

“He thinks you are.” The hammer struck the nail. Sinews and nerves split as the man convulsed in pain.
Bewildered, the old man cried out, “This is love? This ugliness? This horror?”

Then realisation struck. He’s doing it for me. His face shone with light and a warm peace flooded his soul. “Yes,” he said, “this is true love. Love for me. True beauty in the midst of all this gore.”

Tenderly, he laid his shaggy head on the torn, bleeding breast, weeping with the love that filled his heart.

“This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down His life for us..” 1 John 3:16

Not That Way

Originally posted on Pam's Perambulation:

Not that way Lord,
surely not that way.

I thought following you
was going to make life easier,
simpler,
better,
more blessings
and goodness,
how my life will be better
and problems will disappear.

But now you tell me
I have to think of others,
of their needs,
that it’s not all about me,
what I can get from you,
all the amazing things you’ll give me.

It’s about giving,
loving,
going beyond,
doing what you would do,

and that is going to cost

and not everyone will like it,
or the consequences of going your way.

Following you is not the easy way,
but it is the good way,
the right way,
your way.
It can be the way of rejection and pain,
but it is the way of life
truly lived.

So may I take the cross,
your cross
and follow you

Mark 8:31-38 (CEV)

Jesus Speaks about His…

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Lessons from Apartheid. Will we learn?

At a recent class reunion here in South Africa, we were reminiscing about the bad apartheid days in Medical School. It is difficult to imagine, today, the evil conditions under which those not privileged to be clothed in a white skin had to suffer.

Labelled negatively as “non-white” automatically implied that in some ways they were incomplete persons. No “non-white’ medical student could teach a White person, or examine a White patient. They were not even permitted to attend a post mortem on a White corpse! When possible the hospitals were separate for the different races. At the very least the patients were segregated in different wards.
When, in a “breakthrough” created by a critical shortage of nurses, Black nurses were permitted to be trained, they were not allowed to attend to White patients or have a White nurse as a subordinate.

At our reunion, one of our graduates, (now a highly skilled Paediatric Intensivist), remarked that, while much of the apartheid was legislated, it was all too easy for us Whites to allow ourselves to be shaped by the culture of the day when we should have resisted. As an example of how one could insist on justice even within a society of legislated injustice, he honoured Chris Barnard. When the genius surgeon operated on babies with congenital heart defects, he nursed them all in one small postoperative Intensive Care ward irrespective of their race. The relatives of these little children mixed freely as they visited their beloved offspring in that little ward. When the authorities objected, he threatened to stop operating. Nothing further was said and the status quo remained.

I concurred. When the Pietermaritzburg Craniofacial Unit started performing complex operations on children with gross facial deformities, it proved impossible for us to move from hospital to hospital (depending on the race of the patient) with all my complex anaesthetic equipment and with all the surgical instruments required. We quickly obtained permission for them all to be done at St Anne’s — a so-called White hospital. There were ways of opposing the system and letting justice prevail.

As we reminisced, 20 years down the line, there were conflicting emotions among those present. I’m sure many of us had twinges of conscience about things left unsaid or undone. The pervading sentiment, however, was a satisfaction– almost bordering on self-righteousness — that that particular evil is no longer with us.

Yet there is an evil that plagues us right now — not only in South Africa — every bit as foul as apartheid, with the same diabolical modus operandi.

Apartheid made a certain population group non-persons. Labelling them “non-whites” gave licence to “Whites” to treat them inhumanly. Today, another population group is labelled “non-person”, giving carte blanche to “”persons” to slaughter its members in their hundreds of thousands, and tens of millions. Like the Blacks and other “non-whites” who had to succumb to the selfish whims of the privileged powerful and have their lives destroyed because of their skin colour, the members of this group are declared non-persons simply by virtue, not of their skin colour, but of their location.

Nurtured in what was created to be the sheltering dark warmth of their mother’s womb, they are betrayed by the rulers of the land and by the very ones from whom they gain succour, to be torn violently from their place of safety and “terminated”.

Can we, who said, over 20 years ago in the midst of apartheid, “I know it’s wrong, but it’s the law, so what can I do?” and who now have to live with a conscience seared by passivity in the face of evil, repeat history? What will be said of us 20 years from now? What will our conscience say to us then, when the world agrees with what every scientist will confirm today — that these little miracles are truly human?

Let’s prove that we have learned from the dark apartheid years and speak out against the same injustice in veiled form.

It’s Getting Close to Home

Who would have thought, less than ten years ago, that Christians in the West would be persecuted. Yet in England, nurses and doctors are facing dismissal if they so much as suggest that they say a prayer with a patient; in Britain and America people are fined and successfully sued for refusing to host gay weddings or to photograph them. In Sweden a couple can have their children taken from them permanently and put into foster homes if they spank them.

And now South Africa Christians are suffering just as much and the battle is poised to escalate. Many will have heard of the investigation of Joshua Generation Church by the Human Rights Commission because Andrew Selley, their pastor taught that part of disciplining a child could include spanking. Have you heard, though of the pastor who is currently under sentence and receiving “corrective” education because he offered a ministry in his church for gay people to be set free (run by an ex-gay person who is, himself, persecuted by the LBGT community)? Or of the owners of hosting facilities who were taken to court for refusing to host a gay wedding? Or owners of a guest house who were sued for turning down a gay couple who wanted to share a room in their guest house?

Whether or not you think they were right in their actions, one cannot deny that their freedom to act according to their faith was eroded.

There is a mighty shaking happening worldwide. God is about to purify His church in preparation for His return.  As we move closer to that great event, we are experiencing what His Word foretold: that persecution of His people will intensify. Some respond by throwing up their hands resignedly (and apathetically) and submitting to the worldly bullying as God’s will for the End Times. Others respond with venom, becoming aggressively indignant at the treatment. Others, sadly, compromise to avoid the trauma.

Yet there is another way — the way of faithful engagement, like Jesus. As Jesus strode through Satan’s territory with majestic humility, He used the weapons of truth and grace to demolish strongholds, actively engaging, yet trusting His Father to complete His mission on earth. While the erosions on the freedom of the Church in South Africa and the West is minor in comparison to the horrific treatment of the Christians at the hands of the Islamic State and Boko Haram, it is our test for these times. Will we stand firm on the principles of God’s Word or compromise? Will we take action or sit back and wait till we are surprised by our lack of freedom?

As the Body of Christ this involves us all. We can stand firm on the truth. We can support those who are on the frontline of these attacks by writing to them and encouraging them. We can support them financially and let our views be known through the media and among our friends. An attack on the principles of God as laid out in His Word is an attack on all His people, not just those in the trenches. At the risk of facing persecution ourselves, we should refuse to compromise the truth while maintaining an attitude of graciousness to those opposing us and, of course praying for them.

Anger management

Yesterday I spent the morning with an angry man as we waited in a lengthy queue for him to apply for a new Identity Document. His previous one had been stolen when he was sleeping under a bridge.

He spoke with a quiet rage that emanated from a heart so deeply wounded that it cut me to the core.

Desmond’s earliest memories are of trying to defend his mother, brothers and sisters from the kicks and blows of a drunken father. When his father came roaring and reeling into the house, his brothers and sisters ran to hide. But Desmond tried to defend his mother, fighting with all his six- year old, then seven year old, eight, nine and ten year old strength to ward off the blows directed at his mother and himself.

When he was twelve, his mother became ill and required an operation. After the surgery she developed a clot in her leg. She was sent home with a warning to the family that she should be kept very quiet and not moved too much, for fear that the clot could move to her heart and lungs.

Desmond was with her when his father came home drunk, ready to let fly with fists and boots.

“Come, Mamma. We have to get you to a room where we can lock the door. Get up Mamma, quickly, before Pa comes in.”
He coaxed his mother out of bed and into another room. It seems the clot dislodged and tangled in her heart, for she died that night. Desmond’s father disowned him.

“You killed your mother. You worthless little scum.” His brothers and sisters agreed.

I was not surprised to learn that Desmond followed his father’s footsteps into the bars and brawls of a life in the murky gutters of society. His brother did better and had a good job, a house in an upmarket suburb, and the financial freedom to indulge his passion for parties and motorbikes. As he grew up, he came to a better understanding of Desmond and they became close.

“If something ever happens to me, I want you to have my bikes, my boet (brother). I know you’d enjoy them.”

Perhaps it was premonition that made his brother say that, or maybe it was because he knew that riding big bikes fast carried a risk. Whatever caused the remark, it was hugely significant to Desmond — a rare sign of affection from his family.

Not long after that, his brother was roaring over a bridge when a truck lost control and forced his bike against the guard rails. It threw him off the bridge onto the highway below and killed him, while the bike went hurtling, riderless, along the road.
Desmond grieved with the family, but they would not acknowledge him. Though they knew he was living on the streets, they divided all his brother’s possessions between them, excluding him.

His father took the bikes.

He never hears from his family, though he quit drinking 5 years ago and is trusting Jesus to put his life together again.

As I listened to the liturgy of rejection, belittling, desperation and despair, part of me was crying out to God, “Lord, how does he come out of the tangle of pain and rage?” It felt far too trite to say “You need to forgive.” Yet I knew in my heart that unless he manages that he will never be free.

It was then that the reality of the wisdom of God’s salvation plan came fully into focus. God’s plan involves not only a commitment to Him — entrusting Him with our lives; it involves immersion in His body. It includes a loving, caring, community showing His nature to those in the family who have not seen it in their own blood families, empowering them to think differently (repent). Six weeks ago, Desmond would not have shared his story with anyone. Today he feels confident enough of our love for him that he can confide. Tomorrow he might be ready to release his family to a God of justice and forgive them for his own sake.

There is an alarming number of Christians who are deciding to “go it alone”, with the popular phrase, “I love Jesus, but hate the church.”

The tendency, when one is hurt, is to retreat into isolation, but nothing could be further from God’s way. Jesus warns us that in the last days the hearts of many will grow cold (Matt 24:12). The quickest way to grow cold is to leave the warmth of the body. The old example of a coal that is removed from the fire slowly dying is still valid.

While the church has often failed to show the love and grace that is part of God’s plan, to think that one can go it alone is to bow to the lies of the Deceiver. The church is part of God’s plan and He will present it to Himself purified in His time. In the meantime, let’s use it to learn how to give and receive grace; giving it by extending forgiveness to those who have hurt us, as an example to those like Desmond who so desperately need to see how it’s done, and receiving the grace of others when we ourselves fall.

A Perfect Place for Jesus

There’s tangible despair – if despair is the opposite of hope – as one enters the premises.

As we drive up the narrow road past the women’s dormitories, Mary and Hazel are sunning themselves in white plastic chairs placed in the narrow space between the road and the building. Their faces brighten as I stop and Margie, my wife, alights. Further along, on the steps of a steel shed, Fiona sits motionless, her head bowed.

I drive on alone, up the road to the men’s quarters. I pass Nicholas on the way, but he ignores me. Marcus, further on, gives a curt nod.

I park my car and, armed with some packets of biscuits and a Bible, walk up to greet the men sitting on a broken sofa, a sun-bleached kitchen chair and dilapidated plastic ones. Andrew ducks inside as I approach, but others greet me with enthusiasm.

This is Happy Valley, named by an anonymous humorist with a taste for irony. Situated on the side of a mountain, it is not a valley; neither, to many of its inhabitants, is it particularly happy. Yet this shelter for the homeless is my delight. God has given me the privilege of working with these people, many of whom would describe their lives as an omnishambles.

It’s a place of deep pain and destructive shame; of outbursts of anger and sullen retreat. A place of desperate cries for help, yet, often, refusal to accept it when offered. Many have made bad choices in life, which have left them alienated from their families, robbed of their livelihood and filled with crippling guilt. It is a place of beautiful people whose treasure is buried deep.

What better place for Jesus? What better place to share His love and allow one’s heart to be broken along with His?

Behind each face, eloquent in its suffering, or impassive behind an unyielding wall, is a story of how Satan comes to steal, kill and destroy.

Bruce found his best friend in bed with his wife. In a rage, he beat him up, not knowing that he had a medical condition that flared under the beating and killed him. Eighteen months later, acquitted of murder, Bruce emerged from prison with no wife, no business and a silent, raging heart.

Neil’s paintings hang in Europe’s galleries, but with the 2009 depression, financial difficulties wrecked his marriage. He found solace in the wrong places and lost everything.

Sharon left great work prospects in Johannesburg to follow the man of her dreams — he’d invited her to leave her work and join him in Cape Town. Two weeks later, he tried to murder her. She escaped with her life and the clothes on her back.

The stories vary, but the need is the same. It’s the overarching need of all mankind ripped open and laid bare through unbearable circumstances. It’s the need to forgive and be forgiven. It’s the need to be valued — to count in the greater scheme of things. It’s the need for Jesus.

It’s easy to be discouraged, when entering an open war zone in which the Enemy’s inflicted casualties abound. Hurting people hurt people. Yet God is at work always. Even at Happy Valley, there are people who love Jesus when they arrive, or who learn to love Him while they’re there.

Derek was chased from place to place as he slept on the streets. He started reading a Bible when a priest allowed him to sleep against the churchyard wall and brought him sandwiches and tea in the morning.

Andrew cannot stop talking about Jesus since finding him in a Christian rehab centre.

Pete met Jesus on an Alpha Course we ran at Happy Valley. Jesus set him free from the bondage of an unhealthy relationship with a deranged girl who had dragged him, after his wife divorced him, from an executive post into the gutter.

Shelton is a Zimbabwean, promised a job in Cape Town that did not materialize. He also met Jesus on the Alpha Course. He’s now employed and has left Happy Valley, but comes to support those still there and tell them about Jesus.

*names have been changed

It’s my joy to visit there, with Margie, who goes to the ladies. Together we dig for buried treasure. Lives may be in omnishambles, but Jesus is the omnifixer. There’s no life He cannot mend.

There’s no greater joy than looking for the gold buried in the dirt and seeing Jesus wash it clean and make it shine.

What Was I Thinking!

I’m impressed by the ordinariness of it all.

He was a man, like any other, coming from a rural village. He wasn’t much to look at — not strikingly handsome or tall or muscular. Just… well… ordinary.

If he hadn’t stood out by what he said and did, the chances are no-one would have noticed him. That’s what took so many by surprise. He was so ordinary-looking, and came from such an insignificant place, that it was easy to look askance at his words and deeds.

The Bible puts it this way: “He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.” (Isaiah 53:2)

I can’t say I can really blame people for the way they reacted. You see, you’ve got to be prepared to pierce the veil of unspoken expectations of how it should be; to go beyond the hidden prejudices of class that judge a man by his accent (“Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”). You’ve got to be open enough — lateral thinking enough — to trust a man who says things that go against all you’ve been taught (“Unless you eat my flesh and drink my blood you have no life in you”).

Later, many who saw Him die, smacked their hands against their foreheads and uttered, “What have we done?” They looked upon the One they had pierced and mourned for Him as one mourns for an only child, grieving bitterly as one would for a firstborn.(Zech. 12:10)

I’m privy to the Truth, not because I worked it all out, but because I saw I needed a Saviour and, when I called, He broke through my prideful prejudice and revealed Himself to me.

Yet there are times when I’m like Peter, who walked and talked with Him for three years and then estranged Him in His time of greatest need. I too, have my “facepalm moments” — moments I think, How could I have done that? What was I thinking?!”

Like the time I told Penny, my darling wife, that she must realise she came second to my work. Or the time, in my arrogance as Head of Department, I spoke out so vehemently against inadequate treatment that landed a patient in intensive care, that the person responsible was dismissed in 24 hours. (Couldn’t I have just gone to him quietly and pointed out his error in treatment?”)

Or the time, in the apartheid era, when I gladly went to dinner with a Black family, but didn’t invite them back because of what the neighbours might think.

In hindsight, I see my life punctuated by these “facepalm moments” — many of which I only realised much later as I walked more deeply with my Lord and began to understand his heart — and mine — a little better.

There’s a temptation, like Adam and Eve, to hide these times — to cover my nakedness and pretend they never happened. There’s some wisdom in doing this with all and sundry, but not with God. He sees all anyway and I’ve discovered that He has a plan to work it for good.

As I recall those times and inwardly shudder, I’m touched by God’s amazing grace, not only to save a wretch like me, but to keep on saving me, and loving me when I don’t even like myself, let alone love myself. Then I’m like Peter, who came to a fresh understanding of God’s grace as he stood on the shore, the smell of wood smoke and flame-grilled fish in his nostrils. I’m better equipped to show that same grace to others.

I have no doubt Mary Magdalene not only wiped the feet of Jesus with her tears of love. I imagine, walking beside other women of the night, she shed tears of grace and compassion, wiping away their shame. One who has been forgiven much not only loves much, but forgives much. Such a person learns to live, not from episode to episode, forgiving, but with an attitude of forgiveness. Then, as Jesus was at pains to explain, counting how many times one should forgive becomes irrelevant. (Matt 18:21,22)

I’m not proud of my “facepalm moments” — hopefully they’re getting less frequent. Yet, knowing me, I dread to think how arrogant I would be without them. There’s nothing like those times to keep us gratefully kneeling at the foot of the Cross.