2018 and beyond, a pastoral reflection

Before 2019, we look to Christmas, it is so easy to be caught up in the turkey, tinsel and toys and miss Jesus completely. Christmas promises a lot, doesn’t it? I look forward to the season and find it is a wonderful time.  It’s a powerful time of year mixing nostalgia with adverts.  Adverts promising discounts and cheap prices on all sorts of goodies enticing us to spend money we don’t have on things we don’t need.  In our minds we have the scene, where loved ones gather, braais are lit, tables are laden with food, Christmas lights twinkle, and the only sounds are of laughter and happiness. It is an idyllic scene where the years difficulties, bank balances and family problems are forgotten and from which all worry has left.17757671_1060745194030013_2804267646731215531_n

We must, in the midst of the celebrations focus ourselves on Jesus and spend time reflecting on Him with thankful and grateful hearts.  Could I encourage us to do this right throughout advent before we get immersed in Christmas festivities? Otherwise, we will not meet Christ in our Christmas activities; rather, we will miss Him amid all our Christmas distractions. The most pressing question of the hour is not what I must do to prepare my house or what gifts I should buy for my kids. For me as a father, the most pressing questions are how I should prepare my heart for the coming of the Lord, and how I can turn my heart to my wife, my sons and my daughter. As we look forward to Christmas Day and all that it entails, could I encourage you to do the same and look to the Christ of Christmas.  Don’t miss Him Jesus in all the wrappings, activities and festivities of this time of year.

As I look back, 2018 was a year filled with the tensions of the Kingdom.  We had victories and losses, healings and illness, joy and sadness. A tough year for many.  As we stare down the barrel of 2019, there is much to look back on, what worked, what didn’t work and what lessons have we learnt through our experiences.  Are we expecting 2019 to be a better year?  Why will it be better?  What will make the first of January 2019 any different to any other Tuesday?

Are we a little like the frog that was put into a pan of cold water and slowly heated up?  Slowly boiling and are unaware of it because it is so gradual that we are unaware of the imminent danger.  Like the frog we just continue in life as if it was just business as usual.  But let us not get into 2019 with a business as usual attitude.  A “Shew, I made it through 2018, hopefully I can make it through 2019” We cannot continue with the status quo, as a wise person said, “A sign of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, expecting a different result.”

Could it be that as we look back over a year that seemed fraught with difficulties, as we look closer we see the blessings of the Lord scattered throughout the year?

What will make 2019 a better year?  It could be a better year if we looked with thankful gratitude to God for His provision, blessings, grace and mercy.  Instead of bemoaning all we don’t have, all the struggles we do face and compare ourselves with who has more and who is doing what; We look to all that God has given us who He has given is relationship with and develop thankful and grateful hearts.  Instead of facing 2019 with some vague wish that the year will be better, why not face the year with a thankful and grateful heart?

I get weary with all the negativity I see, hear and read about.  Yes, life is not perfect, church is not perfect, relationships are not perfect.  What I have found exhausting is the social media rhetoric about how bad the church is, but no one is offering any solutions.  Yes, the church is not perfect, and Christians are most certainly not perfect, and I am in the forefront of the imperfect human condition.  As I look to Pauls words of encouragement to us, “I admit that I haven’t yet acquired the absolute fullness that I’m pursuing, but I run with passion into his abundance so that I may reach the purpose that Jesus Christ has called me to fulfill and wants me to discover.” (Phil 3:12 TPT) And as I look at my life with a grateful heart, I am thankful that I am not where I was.  I am by no means where I should be but thank You Jesus I am not where I was and the same applies to Willow.  It has been a full and busy year filled with the ups and downs of life, both personally and as a community of faith at Willow Hill.  In gratefulness I look to Jesus and I pray that “I may reach the purpose that Jesus Christ has called me to fulfill and wants me to discover” and I pray the same for you.

The year ahead looks bright as we enter 2019 with thankful and grateful hearts! How will we start the year? With a fast.  We are calling the church family at Willow too fast for the month of January.  In the book of Ezra, we read, “There, by the Ahava Canal, I proclaimed a fast, so that we might humble ourselves before our God and ask him for a safe journey for us and our children, with all our possessions.” Ezra 8:21 All our concerns about ourselves, our families, and our assets, it is our wisdom and duty, by prayer to commit to God, and to leave the care of them with him.  Let’s fast together so that we may give the 1st portion of the year to the Lord, to redeem the rest of the year. We all know how our tithe works, we bring God 10% of our income and it redeems, multiplies and blessed the 90%, this is the same principle. Let’s give the 1st portion of the year to the Lord, trusting Him to redeem, multiply and bless the rest of the year. What will you give up for the month of January, a meal a day, red meat, coffee, sugar and sweets, social media, television?  Will you give something up and fast with us to develop a grateful heart, humble yourself before God, ask him for a safe journey for yourself and your children, as well as your possessions, that our lives in 2019 may be redeemed, multiplied and blessed?

Let our 2019 be a different year than any that have gone before.  Let’s look with thankfulness and gratefulness to the King of kings trusting that the best from our past will be the worst of our future.  Friends the call is for us to be transformed by the renewing of our minds, beginning with developing thankful and grateful hearts!

Allow thankfulness and gratefulness to be the catalyst and spring board into 2019.  If we are thankful and grateful for our families, our church, our vocations, Gods provision and more, I know that our outlook to life will shift.  As we are thankful and grateful we will begin to change our attitudes, perhaps stop complaining so much and begin to get a happier outlook to life. As we thank God and are grateful for all He has done we will begin to steward all He has blessed us with in better ways.  As we begin to steward all aspects of our lives in a better way we will begin to take more ownership and responsibility of who we are and all the we are called to.  This is the place that I believe we will begin to see God moving more and more.

The community at Willow has become a family, a family with a purpose.  The purpose is to have the very best Children’s Church, Worship and Preaching that we can possibly manage.  And from that place may all renewal, ministry and church planting flow.  We are still trusting God for the resources to do all He has called us to in terms of wisdom, people and leaders and as well as finance. And the reality is that we as the leadership are asking you to pray and trust alongside us for the R500k to accelerate and bring to fruition what we have a vision for.

To close on a personal note.  Pray for Mandy as the surgery on her knee was not as successful as we would have hoped and there is damage in the joint which may require a knee replacement in the future.  Our boys passed their final exams at varsity and are awaiting the results of their dissertations which will lead to their graduations.  Annah has gotten through well into grade nine.  Personally, it has been a long hard year, but I have seen the hand of the Lord at work.  Through the ups and downs of life and ministry I have sensed Him close by every step of the way.  I am cautiously optimistic about 2019 and sense as we are thankful and grateful it will a great year.  We have prayed and put plans in place and now submit all our best unto Jesus.

I pray that your Christmas and New year will be a safe, peaceful and blessed one.  I trust it will be filled with love, joy, family, food, rest and fun.  Remember to be thankful and grateful for every moment, take the time to pray and be with the Lord in the busyness of this season.

My friend, instead of being like the frog in the slow boiling water, allow thankfulness and gratefulness to be the catalyst and spring board into your 2019, “run with passion into his abundance so that you may reach the purpose that Jesus Christ has called you to fulfill and wants you to discover” (My paraphrase) And perhaps your 2019 will be your best year ever.

Warm love in Christ Jesus to you and yours



Living for Gods Pleasure

We come together with different people for church services, meetings, life-groups, counselling and many other interactions in the day to day activities of church.  All these are good things.  But when we leave those ‘spiritual’ interactions, what is the reality of our lifestyles?  Are we authentically living Christian lives or are their subtle differences from our public, private and personal lives?  What do we do when no one is watching?  What do we watch when we know no one will find out and we are alone?  Does our language change?  Do our actions reflect biblical values lived out with integrity and love to those who are closest to us? true_north_egg_2

I read this phrase and have had it rattling around in my mind, “living for God’s pleasure” But what does it mean to live my life for Gods pleasure?  Could it be that we live biblical authentic lifestyles with ourselves, our Father, and our neighbor? That our inward journey with ourselves, our relationship with our Father and our engagement with the people around us reflects Jesus.  The fact that Jesus is central to our identity. If Jesus is central to our identity, He is Who we would value, which would lead to certain priorities in our lives.  Those priorities would lead actions and a lived life which reflects Jesus to the world around us.

How can we begin to put this into action in our lives? Paul writes to us saying, “… Since you are now joined with him, you must continually view yourselves as dead and unresponsive to sin’s appeal while living daily for God’s pleasure in union with Jesus, the Anointed One.” And further, continues, “So then, refuse to answer its call to surrender your body as a tool for wickedness. Instead, passionately answer God’s call to keep yielding your body to him as one who has now experienced resurrection life! You live now for his pleasure, ready to be used for his noble purpose” (Romans 6:11, 13)

Once we begin to understand that we can view ourselves differently, we are aliens and ambassadors of Jesus on this planet, our home is not here but with Him.  And we begin to make correct choices, our habit will begin to change, and sins appeal will begin to wane.  Slowly as we say no to sin and surrender more and more to Jesus things will begin to shift in our lives.  We will not live for ourselves and the things of this earth which enslave us but rather for His pleasure which empowers, equips and brings purpose.

The choice to live this life does not mean that ‘everything is coming up roses’ and our 4 D’s being, Dollars, Double Cab, Double Story and Data are perfect. Rather that in this life we will go through trials and struggles but we have a purpose beyond all that.  And if you read the original manuscript you will find that in the end you are on the winning side.  Peter encourages us this way, “Since Christ, though innocent, suffered in his flesh for you, now you also must be a prepared soldier, having the same mind-set, for whoever has died in his body is done with sin. So, live the rest of your earthly life no longer concerned with human desires but consumed with what brings pleasure to God.” (1 Peter 4:1-2) Read that again be ‘consumed with what brings pleasure to God’  I wonder how different our lives would be if our hearts desire was to be consumed with what brings pleasure to Jesus?

Can you see it, repeatedly we are encouraged to live our lives for God’s pleasure?  John, put it this way, ‘And whatever we ask of him we receive, because we keep his commands. And by our beautiful intentions we continue to do what brings pleasure to him.’ 1 John 3:22

When we think over our lives and imagine what they would be like without Him, living for our own selfish desires, where does that leave us?    Do we look to social media, Hollywood and sitcoms for what we believe the standard of life should be?  What is normal life?  The reality is the ‘Normal’ is a setting on a washing machine.  We go through up and downs in our lives on this earth, and we always will. I wonder how many people’s lives are as fulfilled as they are portrayed on Facebook and social media? I suspect if we just scratch below the surface, we will be surprised but what we will find.  I love the truth in the title of John Ortberg’s great book, “Everybody is normal until you get to know them” Yes, we will have struggles in this life, nowhere in scripture do we see that we will have perfect life, perfect marriages, perfect health, perfect relationships.  I will often tell couples who are entering marriage that there are no prefect marriages.  Not in Hollywood, sitcoms, reality and not even in the bible.  But we are called to persevere, and that marriage is the refining process that God would use to help us become the men and women he has called us to be.  But I digress.

Think about living your life for God’s pleasure, making that decision in this moment and persevering in it until it becomes a habit and your default response to the world around you.  If that is the lens you see through, the standard you hold yourself to, and the desire of your heart, I believe that you will find that ever elusive joy and contentment in all circumstances.  We may not get this right all the time but it’s most definitely worth a try and ‘by our beautiful intentions we continue to do what brings pleasure to him!’ And then we find purpose, contentment and joy, and our actions and lives will echo through all eternity.

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imageAndrew Christie (Senior Pastor)
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image Rob McDonald (Pastor)
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image Steph McDonald (PA)
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