Looking into 2019

As we took a break for a few days and stepped out of the busyness of Jozi.  I didn’t listen to the radio, watch the news, scroll through Facebook every five minutes, check emails every ten minutes.  All I can say I did was read a 600-page novel, my bible and ate probably way too much food than I should have. And I found myself coming to a place where I asked myself a question, “What is this all about?” All the busyness and rushing around, all the ‘must haves’ of life.  We work so hard, have so much more and have access to much more information than any time in history.  Than why is it that we are the unhappiest, most stressed and depressed than any other time in history?iStock-912400306-300x199

I was praying into this and I felt the Lord speak a few things into my heart, to simplify and do life better. They all come out of the passage of scripture which recounts the events surrounding the feeding of the five thousand.

John 6:1-15 Sometime after this, Jesus crossed to the far shore of the Sea of Galilee (that is, the Sea of Tiberias), (2) and a great crowd of people followed him because they saw the miraculous signs he had performed on the sick.  (3)  Then Jesus went up on a mountainside and sat down with his disciples.  (4)  The Jewish Passover Feast was near.  (5)  When Jesus looked up and saw a great crowd coming toward him, he said to Philip, "Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?"  (6)  He asked this only to test him, for he already had in mind what he was going to do.  (7)  Philip answered him, "Eight months' wages would not buy enough bread for each one to have a bite!"  (8)  Another of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter's brother, spoke up, (9) “Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many?"  (10)  Jesus said, "Have the people sit down." There was plenty of grass in that place, and the men sat down, about five thousand of them.  (11)  Jesus then took the loaves, gave thanks, and distributed to those who were seated as much as they wanted. He did the same with the fish.  (12)  When they had all had enough to eat, he said to his disciples, "Gather the pieces that are left over. Let nothing be wasted."  (13)  So, they gathered them and filled twelve baskets with the pieces of the five barley loaves left over by those who had eaten.  (14)  After the people saw the miraculous sign that Jesus did, they began to say, "Surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world."  (15)  Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself.

If you put yourself into the story, imagine the feeling that the disciples had when they saw the crowds coming.  We have been working so hard with Jesus. Though Samaria and the women at the well, ministering to people through to Galilee, the healing at the pool of Bethesda.  Talking with Jewish leaders and travelling through the region, all on foot. We have walked so far, and we eventually get to sit down quietly and have a rest and some quality time with Jesus and now here come these crowds of people. And then Jesus asks Philip, “Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?"

Can you imagine the feeling?  “What!! We have been so busy and now we must feed all these people!!, I thought we could rest and spend some time with you”

You may be thinking, “But Andrew, it was ministry for the Lord” Let me tell you that ministry can be exhausting. After the conference in Zim where I spoke 6 or 7 times in 3 days, I was not fit for man nor beast for a day or two after. Do you ever feel like that?  I have so much to do and now I must… (Fill in the blank) I am busy and now the washing machine and oven pack up, now I must phone all over the place and get them fixed. I have got to get this done and now my car needs a new tire.  A fridge needs to be moved.  The kids are asking for…??  Schools starting, and I need to get text books, stationary and school uniforms, now I must…

We can easily get exasperated and frustrated. We need to get this done but there are interruptions and other things that begin to creep in and try and get our attention.  With the invention of smart phones this is becoming an increasing problem.  Remember when the telephone was attached to the wall and there was only one in the house?  Ok, may be that is a little too far back for some; Remember when cellphones could just make calls and SMS’s?

Now we have this thing called a smart device that is almost an extension of our arms and invades our lives at every moment.  Flashing little red lights, vibrations and ring tones demand our attention and break into the peace of our lives constantly.

There is this promise of convenience, but the reality is very different.  We have a ding for emails, a dong for SMS’s, a ping for calendar notifications and a pong for WhatsApp’s. And this constant barrage is supposed to make our lives more convenient and efficient??

You know the feeling I’m talking about?  Back to the account in John, the disciples feeling tired and frustrated, see the crowds coming, Jesus where can we buy food for them and can you hear the frustration in Philip when he says, BUT come on Jesus, "Eight months' wages would not buy enough bread for each one to have a bite!"

Have you ever felt like that?  Perhaps you are starting the New Year feeling like that?  I have all this stuff to do, get in order, New Year’s resolutions to make and achieve, goals to set.  And as you look at the year ahead you are already feeling frustrated and exhausted?  Asking the question, “BUT Jesus, how am I going to be a better husband, raise my kids, work, be a steward of your provision, get to church, grow as a person, update my Facebook, Twitter and Instagram status, do this, achieve that?”

Philips tone is BUT JESUS, is yours? Possibly facing 2019 you are feeling a little more like Andrew, optimistically positive.  Can you imagine the other disciple’s reactions when Andrew comes along and says, “Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many?"?

You may be hitting the year with positivity and energy with real hope in your heart, you may be feeling that Jesus has got this.  While you are not sure how the year is going to work out there is a youthful optimism and hope in your heart. Like Andrew, you are saying, “Jesus I don’t have much but what I do have I am happy for you to take and I’m sure it will all work out” And you are standing on Luke 1:37 which says, “For nothing is impossible with God.

There are these two outlooks into the year ahead, one already feeling weary and discouraged at what lies ahead.  The other, is a cautiously optimistic outlook which makes you feel hopeful.

As I look to the account of the feeding of the 5000, I believe our answer on how to face the year can be found right here in this passage.  Whether we are feeling weary and face the year with dread.  Or whether we are optimistic and hoping for a great year.

While some were tired and frustrated and others were optimistic they faced the same issue.  What did they have to solve their problem of feeding all those people?  And the reality they were facing was insurmountable, it was a lot of people, 5000 men plus women and children, so at least 10 000 people? And all they had was 5 rolls and 2 sardines.

The answer lies in these words:

Jesus said, "Have the people sit down." There was plenty of grass in that place, and the men sat down, about five thousand of them.  (11)  Jesus then took the loaves, gave thanks, and distributed to those who were seated as much as they wanted. He did the same with the fish.

Do you see it?  No matter how they were feeling, what they were experiencing and what they saw ahead of them; they put their trust in Jesus, they took the little they had which seemed absurd to Jesus and He looked to and gave thanks to the Father.

To get through this year well, take your all to Jesus in obedience.  Give thanks to Him with a grateful heart and allow the power of the Holy Spirit to permeate your life. Gratefulness reminds and reorients us of Jesus’ saving love for us. Thankfulness changes how we see our circumstances and moves us from being victims to being children of God.  This helps to entrench God centrally in our lives.

When Jesus is asked what the greatest commandment is, He responds and says, “Love the Lord your God with every passion of your heart, with all the energy of your being and with every thought that is within you” (Matthew 22:36 TPT)

It must be a God first thing!  And St. Virginia Bracelli said it this way, “When God is one’s only goal, all disagreements are smoothed out, all difficulties are overcome” When we put God first, this thought of God bringing order to chaos in our lives if to be found throughout the original manuscript.

If we go right to the beginning, all the way back to Genesis 1.  Scripture tells us that where the Spirit of the Lord is there is order and there is filling.

It is the Spirit Who gets rid of chaos and emptiness in our lives.

Gen 1:2 Earth was a soup of nothingness, a bottomless emptiness, an inky blackness. God's Spirit brooded like a bird above the watery abyss. (MSG)

God said, "LET THERE BE…” Light… be an expanse between the waters to separate water from water… Let the water under the sky be gathered to one place, and let dry ground appear. The land produce vegetation… be lights in the expanse of the sky… the water teem with living creatures, and let birds fly…  the land produce living creatures according to their kinds… Let us make man in our image…  Do you need God to speak a LET THERE BE into your life this year?  Well, then you will need to put Him first!

As we look to the year ahead how about putting God first and asking to be filled and ruled by the Holy Spirit? It is in this place that we are empowered and equipped to do life well. The Holy Spirit empowers us to do life well, just listen to Paul’s words to the Christians in Rome:

Romans 1:17 “And it moves us from receiving life through faith, to the power of living by faith.” (TPT)

We put God first and we move from an impotent faith to the explosive faith of the Gospel of Jesus Christ!  When we put God first, we experience the “the power of living by faith” As you read this and look at the year, whether you are feeling weary and discouraged at what lies ahead or are cautiously optimistic and feeling hopeful, put God first.  Possibly you are feeling a little of both?  In some areas of your life there is optimism and in others there is weariness, frustration and discouragement.  I know I don’t fall completely into either feeling, it is more of a ‘Both-And’ kind of feeling.  What I do know is that God must come first.  He is in first place in my life, everything else flows from that place.

Let me ask this question again: “Do you need God to speak a LET THERE BE into your life this year?”  In any area?  Well if you do, you need to put Him first.  As with the disciples and the feeding of the 5000, they faced insurmountable odds, were weary and when faced with the possibility of 1000’s of people, I believe a little discouraged.  In other accounts in the gospels of the 5000, we read the disciples said to Jesus that He should send them away to get food.  No matter the odds, they looked to Him, He was first in their lives and they witnessed an amazing miracle. As you look into 2019, what is your impossible feeding of the 5000?  Look to Jesus and let Him show you that He is the God of the impossible as He speaks a “LET THERE BE…” into your life.

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

Agape

Andrew

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