Category: Pastor’s Pen

Old dogs and new tricks!

I’d like to claim for myself the English expression “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks”, meaning: the older we get the harder it is to learn new things. This is true in many areas of life. Just think about trying to teach your granny to use the latest smart phone! And, I must admit, the world of technology around us develops so fast that it is hard to keep up. For an old dog like me, I think I may have just decided to let the younger generation get on with it, although I surprised myself during this lock-down era by learning to do worship services online, Zooming around on Sundays, Bible studies and meetings. Maybe old dogs can still do it…?

It made me think of what Jesus experienced during his earthly ministry. His message was new, refreshing, and different. He reached out to the poor, sick and lowly people, telling his disciples that the kingdom of God belongs to “children” who are willing to receive God’s love in child-like faith. Ordinary people loved Jesus’ teaching, but the learned “old dogs” of Judaism hated Him.

The biggest challenge He faced was trying to convince these “old dogs” that He was the Messiah, God’s Son, who came to die and be raised up in order to offer salvation to anyone in the world who believes in Him. They just could not get beyond their old dog understanding of a Jewish king on a throne in Jerusalem that would bless only Israel. And what Jesus came to do is precisely what we are celebrating this month during Easter. God’s Son, Jesus Christ, is the Saviour of the world, and He brought about salvation in a way that no-one could have predicted.

Easter is a good reminder of the basis of our faith, summarized by the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:1-4 – “I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain. For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures,that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures…”

Let’s celebrate our Saviour and our salvation!

Hang in there!

For the title above I was actually tempted to use the well-known and commonly used Afrikaans expression “vasbyt”. Literally translated it means “bite tight”, meaning to hold on and not let go. This expression may have originated from seeing at how some dog breeds can lock their jaws on an item and, no matter how hard you kick, scream or beat, they simply will not let go. “Vasbyt” developed into a standard expression when we encourage one another to hang in there, don’t let go or to be patient. This is what I want to do here.

Many pictures come to mind when I think about not letting go, such as an athlete in a marathon race, a person enduring long-term illness, or the encouragement to remain hopeful during this COVID-19 time when life is no longer what it used to be and there just doesn’t seem to be an end in sight!

The Bible has much to say about “vasbyt”, both in examples and also in direct instructions. Just think about Moses’ life of 3 X 40 years (palace, desert and leading Israel during their wanderings), Joseph sold in slavery and ending up in prison in Egypt, David fleeing Saul for many years, and Paul enduring much persecution in simply wanting to share the message of the Gospel. But also, and very relevant for us during this month as we prepare for Easter, think about how Jesus endured much rejection, pain, suffering and ultimately death to redeem us for God.

The Bible is clear that the Christian life will include a lot of “vasbyt”. We are encouraged to hold on, be patient, wait and not lose faith. In this former believers (people of faith) and Jesus set the example, as we see in Hebrews 12:1-2 “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us,looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”

In other words: Hang in there! Don’t let the current lockdown, debates, loneliness, economic hardships and many other challenges take your focus away from the Lord.

May the Lord Jesus help us all

Conspiracies!

Dealing with fake news…

News spreads quickly these days. Just think about how quickly we know about the latest event via our phones, and sometimes watching live events on television, literally seeing how events unfold in real time. Every morning I can read the latest COVID statistics for the past 24 hours – it’s as quick as that!

Unfortunately, this is also true for false news, conspiracy theories, “solutions” to hard questions, guesses about why things happen in the world, and how the world will come to an end (end-time theories). These have been around for ages and there is no doubt in my mind that we will see more of it. The internet and cyber communication has made it so easy and quick to spread news … even false news, thoughts, ideas, interpretations, sermons and much more.

One of the big news items currently has to do with theories about where the Corona virus came from, how scientists or wealthy people (or companies) have designed and manipulated it, spread it, and now have the power to make money or rule the world, even suggesting a possible implant of some chip in all of us via the vaccines.

The question for us as Christians is: How do we deal with it?

Without trying to be too simplistic, let me highlight a few truths that will help us respond to all these theories and ideas.

  • Prayerfully and carefully study the Word of God. Get to know more about God and give less attention to theories about the future and interpretations about events in the world.
  • Make sure you believe and trust in God, and in God alone!
  • Stay within the age-old, basic truths that the Church and solid Christian leaders have taught us – the faith we inherited.
  • Seek wise counsel. Discuss any theory and your feelings with a trusted and wise person who can give you Biblical perspective.
  • Test theories, “news” items, and any idea that starts spreading by seeing if there is truth in it. Use fact-check type websites to see where these viral stories came from and if there is any truth in it.
  • Read 1 John 4:1-6 – focus on how to “test every spirit”!

If you need prayer, advice or just need to chat, please contact me.

Resolutions vs. Commitments

We’re grateful to Kelly for preaching during the Advent Season. He is thus bringing a reflection at the start of the New Year.

Light-hearted “Resolutions” or True Commitments for the New Year?

In last month’s “Pastor’s Pen” Gerhard encouraged us during the “giving season” of Christmas to consider the many gifts we’ve received in 2020 – despite the obvious challenges – and to reflect on the lessons we’ve learned this past year. I would echo that encouragement as we finish this year and begin the new one!

In the U.S., we have a tradition of making New Year’s “resolutions” that are normally goals for self-improvement in the coming year: ending bad habits, eating better, being wiser with our money, etc. In fact, January is the top month for new memberships at gyms/fitness centers! For many people, writing up a list of resolutions is merely a fun or expected “exercise,” but others approach their resolutions in all seriousness.

Unfortunately, good intentions alone don’t lead to changes in behavior! As believers, there are some things we can do to increase the likelihood that we will follow through on our goals for the new year:

  • Approach them seriously and prayerfully – what are the areas I think God wants me to work on this coming year?
  • Prioritize the most important ones – no more than 5 and focus on those. (If you accomplish all 5 by mid-year, choose 5 more 🙂
  • Commit them to prayer – access the power available to us through prayer and the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit in our lives
  • Share your goals with at least 1 other person for accountability – and give that person freedom to ask you how you’re doing
  • Review your progress at least monthly – and make any changes necessary to help you reach your goals.

So intentionally set aside some time before we’re too far into January and review the lessons learned from 2020 (and honestly assess the failures) and establish some clear goals for 2021: personally, professionally, in your marriage and family/parenting, and spiritually (evangelism, Scripture reading and devotional time, prayer, and/or Scripture memorization).

May we all experience growth in our lives in 2021 – individually and as a church family!

Blessed to be a part of BFC with you  ~Kelly Fath

COVID & Christmas

The year 2020 has been unusual – you’ve heard that before!! COVID has left its mark on society, politics, health and the economy. As we approach Christmas, it may give us an opportunity to reflect on what we’ve learnt.

There are many negatives, of course, such as the lockdowns, economic downturn, unemployment, travel restrictions, loneliness, depression, and much more. But, in light of Christmas and the “giving” season, I am also wondering what positives “gifts” we can take with us into the future? I do believe this COVID period has given us some gifts – gifts we probably wouldn’t have noticed or appreciated if they were not taken from us!

Take time to reflect on the some of these gifts or lessons.

  • Learn to appreciate the gift of friendships, visits, worshipping together in the same venue without fear of infection, the hugs, smiles … and much more. Don’t take anything for granted!
  • Be mindful of those who are single and lonely. Many do not have a house, garden or companion to share their locked-in environment.
  • Appreciate freedom of movement, even going to your workplace and rubbing shoulders with others. In the past people would often yearn to have “home office”, but being forced to stay at home during this time has given it a different perspective, I think!
  • Enjoy faces, facial expressions, smiles … without a mask covering it up. Look people in the face.
  • Enjoy the gift of clean hands, soap and practicing good hygiene to avoid catching viruses and other illnesses.

During this time we’ve learned to live with change – things can change overnight! But the one constant and unchangeable truth is that God is our Rock and Salvation (Psalm 62:1). Learn to trust in Him for comfort, care and protection, especially since He dealt with the deadliest virus of all, namely sin which Jesus removed when He gave us the greatest gift of all, His own life. The “vaccine” to deal with sin has been given and approved  a long time ago!

May we have a healthy, joyful and Christ-filled holiday season.

Dealing with disappointment

I guess we are all familiar with disappointments and can tell story after story about disappointments we experienced as a children and even as adults. It’s also no secret that different personalities handle these disappointments very differently. On the one extreme people will simply go quiet and withdraw, while on the other end of the spectrum people will react verbally, with anger, and much emotion.

Most of us had hoped that, by now, this Coronavirus would be “under control”, whatever “under control” means. Maybe that life as we used to know it (how long ago was it?) will return, or that medical science would have come up with a treatment that works, or that the thing will simply go away! But here we are … facing yet another lockdown as cases in Europe (and other countries) seem to spiral out of control. What a disappointment! Most of us are tired of this way of life, forced to stay indoors, wear masks, meet via cyberspace, keep social distancing, and much more. Psychologists actually refer to it as COVID fatigue and even Zoom fatigue! Tired, disappointed.

There is an incident in the life of Samuel that may help us shift or focus during this current disappointment. The first king of Israel, Saul, selected by God and anointed by Samuel, became a major disappointment to both God and Samuel because of disobedience. This caused much mourning on the part of Samuel (1 Sam 15:35) … until God said to him, “How long will you grieve over Saul, since I have rejected him from being king over Israel? Fill your horn with oil, and go. I will send you to Jesse the Bethlehemite, for I have provided for myself a king among his sons” (1 Sam 16:1).

In the midst of grief, disappointment and mourning over Saul, God found King David, from whom would come the King and Messiah, Jesus Christ our Saviour.

Maybe the message for us is: Look up, look ahead, look around to see what God can bring about in the midst of this pandemic!

Patience…

For a while now we’ve looked at the Book of Judges, digging for gold, which I see mainly as the characteristics of God. Each Sunday we’ve discovered some aspect of how God is revealed to us in the lives and experiences of the “judges”. It’s certainly not the only way to look at the Book of Judges, but it has been helpful to me to work through some very tough (and most often disappointing!) stories and incidents in the life of Israel and her leaders.

One of the main characteristics in the book is the patience of God. There are many definitions of patience, but one puts it this way: it’s “the capacity to accept or tolerate delay, problems, or suffering without becoming annoyed or anxious”. Looking at the sinfulness of God’s people in Judges, there is no doubt that God had to exercise constraint in not simply killing them off or destroying them in order to start over again. But, such is the patience of God. God is God, God is full of grace, and God had a plan. Even now God is patient, not only with those outside the Kingdom, but also in offering ongoing forgiveness to us when we sin and repent.

Many years after Judges God’s patience resulted in the coming of Jesus to this world to die for our sins. Jesus himself showed patience in bearing with rejection, misunderstanding of his ministry and his final goal, but He “endured the cross” (Hebrews 12:2) in order to finish the task of bringing salvation to the world. The author of Hebrews therefore encourages us to “run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith” (12:1-2). New Testament authors also encourage us to follow in the footsteps of Jesus by pursuing the same attitudes He had – among others, patience, as a fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:22).

I can think of no better time to be reminded to be patient than right now during this pandemic. It seems as if this “thing” is going to be with us for a while. As followers of Christ, let us display the attitude of Jesus and thereby be true witnesses to the world in how to endure in times of trial and difficulties.

Waiting

I recently followed a devotional on the Bible app Youversion, about waiting on the Lord, written by Charles Stanley, well-known pastor of a large church in Atlanta, Georgia. I don’t know if it was written specifically for this COVID-19 time, but I certainly found it very appropriate for this time of waiting for the virus to “go away”! Most of us have experienced some form of waiting, quarantine, isolation and even loneliness – all because of a virus that has stopped the world in its tracks. And it’s not all over yet, with recurrences, a “second wave” and a variety of different kinds of experiences. It seems it will take a while before things settle and we have some form of (new) normal again.

The theme of waiting runs throughout Scripture. It looks like the Bible sees it as a normal part of life. Whether it’s waiting for healing, waiting for peace, waiting for the Lord to answer a prayer, waiting for persecution to end – it is accepted as life-as-we-know-it.

It’s also important to note in Scripture that the “waiting” experience is described in light of our relationship with God. Instead of simply complaining or getting angry, believers in the Bible take their plea to God. A good example is found in Psalm 27, where David expresses his faith in God while acknowledging the difficulties he is going through. He mentions severe challenges, such as experiencing the wicked against him, being besieged by the enemy, having to fight a war and living through days of trouble. But in all of this he takes his refuge to God, saying: “The Lord is my light and my salvation – whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life – of whom shall I be afraid?

While we are waiting and when are in the midst of the most severe trials, we can have hope, as long as we focus on God, our Rock and Salvation. Isaiah reminds us that “they that wait upon the Lord, shall renew their strength” (Is 40:31). May the Lord strengthen us and increase our patience as we trust Him during this time of waiting.

Broken dreams

It was (and still is) both scary and comforting to go through the lockdown experience during COVID-19. Scary to think what a small virus can do to the world as we know it, but also refreshing to experience the calm and quiet of a whole global world forced to take a break from the mad rush. It was good not to have the usual rush and were forced to reconsider the lie that we keep telling ourselves that we have to be busy all the time in order to find meaning in life. I also liked the fact that, at least in part, there was more appreciation for God’s creation as wild animals visited places they are not normally seen and cities were cleared of much of the smog caused by our demand for comfort.

It was like living in a dream world … well, almost!

But my dream world was quickly shattered by the usual (evil) realities, such as the wars in Syria and Yemen that were still happening (just pushed off the front pages by a tiny virus), while other diseases, bad politics (politicians!), corruption and global evils like poverty and hunger have not gone away. But perhaps the biggest bubble-burst reality was the rude awakening that racial harmony was very far from being experienced around the world, as highlighted by the senseless killing of an African American man and the consequent unrests, spreading around the USA and many parts of the world.

We live in a restless world. There is no lack of finding evidence of a world yearning for peace and harmony, but seem to always struggle to find it. Human organizations, talks, committees and all other efforts have failed to provide permanent peace.

And yet, we should not lose the dream of peace, rest and harmony. This is precisely why Jesus came, to mend a broken world, to revive our broken dreams. These dreams can only become reality if we truly believe in and follow Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour, stepping into his footsteps by living as He did, striving not only to personally experience his peace, but also to become his “blessed are the peacemakers” in this world (Matthew 5:9).

May the Lord increase our peace as we seek to be instruments of peace for Him in His kingdom.

Lest we forget…

We’ve been in lockdown now since early March, with a slow opening up the economy and relaxing of the restrictions. While we were in the middle of it all, first quarantined for fourteen days and then severely restricted in terms of travel and shopping, it felt like an eternity of “sitting at home, doing nothing”. Not that I was doing nothing, but it felt weird to not being able to simply go somewhere, visit people, have church and so on.

At the end of May there is a kind-of lifting of the restrictions, as long as we still stay within the Slovak borders, of course. Joan and I have been going shopping a little bit more than a month ago, and I am struck at how life seems to get back to some form of normality, seen in how traffic patterns get back to jams, people shopping like crazy, visits to friends and family becoming more relaxed, and many other signs that we’re on the way to life as we used to know it.

And yet, something inside me is objecting! Humans easily forget, even despite the pictures we take, monuments we erects and entrances into our history books. I want to hold on to some of the lessons we learned during this time (and continue to learn). These include at least a more reflective life, taking time to enjoy quietness, learning to enjoy silence, getting away from the mad rush around us, appreciating regular contact with others by asking how they are coping (despite happening via Zoom, Whatsapp or social media) and many other things we should not forget as we get back into the routine of “normal” life. Maybe there should be a new normal for us as we “get out” of this time.

God knew that we easily forget and therefore instituted days and rituals or remembrance, such as Passover for the Jews and The Lord’s Supper for followers of Jesus Christ … all of this “lest we forget”. Make a note (physical or mental) of what you’ve learned to appreciate during this time, and make a point of remembering the lessons.