It’s the last day of 2012 and we are all still here. The world has not ended. Despite all its publicity and hype, the Mayan prophecy was a hoax, a false doomsday deception. We have the privilege of yet another year of living and sharing in God’s truth, telling the world that Messiah Jesus is God’s answer to the human crisis: the One who came to save the planet, who daily changes and transforms people – in anticipation of his soon coming Kingdom on earth. We participate in its coming to the extent we daily follow Jesus, and live and pray and act as he did, “as it is in heaven”.
God’s Kingdom comes into play and breaks into our reality as we do his will here and now, “as it is in heaven”. The darker the clouds of human depravity and planetary despair – as 2012 has once again shown – the brighter the opportunity for Christ’s Kingdom to break through with hope and transformation. May 2013 be a year in which you experience this Kingdom reality in far, far greater measure. So… Happy NEW Year!
The latter half of this year has seen the most dramatic changes that Gill and I have been through for decades. Things go along fairly okay for a long time. But when things change, it’s often quick and radical – even revolutionary. December two years ago I had my near-fatal heart attack, with my heart stopping and being revived three times. Three months into my recovery it became clear to me – for various reasons – that I must lay down my leadership in The Field farm community. This I did, with great sadness. The ensuing discussion led to a process of the community unbundling it’s life-sharing commitments, legal structures and financial arrangements. Thank God that we honoured one another in this process and kept good relationship through it all, despite the pain that it entailed. 2011 was a very dark year for me – the lowest I’ve been for decades.
Then end of December 2011 God began to speak to me through Isaiah 40 onwards. He restored me from my psycho-emotional exile, renewed my life-calling, and promised to “make all things new.” So with the blessing of the community I made myself available for a call to pastor and lead a church again. In May the leadership of Valley Vineyard asked me to come and help them – the church had been in a serious protracted struggle. My re-engagement at Valley Vineyard from June onwards led to a call to become the team leader (in September). Gill and I then looked for a home nearer to the congregation. God gave us a lovely town-house which, thanks to The Field community arrangements, we were able to buy.
So we have spent October, November and December, doing three things: 1) fulfilling my commitments to certain translocal ministry trips, including an extended overseas trip with the most intensive teaching schedule; 2) moving house after 23 years on the farm; and 3) beginning to work in Valley Vineyard as the newly appointed team leader.
We did not realise the stress of all this change and hard work. We have come to the end of this year totally exhausted, really needing God’s strength for 2013. The psycho-emotional trauma of the community unbundling and our relocation from the farm, has been enormous – besides the stress of moving home and downsizing (quite radically) after 23 years. But we are now settled – except for still having to unpack my library of books from boxes in the garage! We love our new home.
In terms of the church, I knew from the beginning of my engagement with Valley Vineyard that I would be called to lead. I also knew we had to “bury” the name with its journey of pain and broken self-image from years of struggle, and that we had to have a “total make-over” with a new name representing a new journey with a new identity and church-psyche. I knew all along that the new name must be Following Jesus. My life-passion and calling is to follow Jesus and make followers of him (as in Matthew 4:19 and 28:18-20). And for me that means – in the words of Paul in Ephesians 5:2 – learning to live a life of love just as Jesus loved us and gave himself up as a sacrificial offering to God. This is precisely what we want to do and become as a local community of God’s people.
So on 3 November we had a day church retreat. We buried Valley Vineyard, with tears and gratitude, remembering the joys and victories, as well as the pain and hurts. I have seldom presided over a church funeral – but this was special. We all told our stories, and then laid it all down at the cross, broke break with each other and shared the cup, and hugged and forgave and blessed and affirmed each other. Then we raised up Following Jesus, declaring the new name for a new identity and (re)new(ed) journey. We’re simply an intentional community of followers of Jesus, learning how – and helping each other – to follow him, and to make followers of him from people of all types. Anyone who wants to follow Jesus, to learn how to follow him, is most welcome to join us in this journey.
I remain a Vineyard pastor and Following Jesus is a Vineyard church, formally in the Association of Vineyard Churches, South Africa. We’ve been working on all the implications of the name change and preparing for the public launch of Following Jesus. This will take place at 0900 on Sunday 20 January 2013, at Vineyard Community Center, 379 Spionkop road, Northriding, Johannesburg. It will also be my induction service as the senior pastor, when the elders and other Vineyard colleagues will lay hands on me for this work to which God has called me. I’m excited about this important day!
Thank you to all my family and friends who have walked the journey with Gill and I in one way or another over the past years. Thank you for your faithful prayers, love and support. I believe with all my heart that God saved me, brought me back from death, and gave me a gift of life to… 1) live in ever increasing relational intimacy with him, being evermore conformed to the likeness of his Son, as I follow Jesus daily… and 2) to lead this church into a living incarnation and model of what it means to follow Jesus, living a life of love just as Jesus loved us. God bless you!
Follow us on twitter @ifollowjesusvcc, and on our Face Book page by the same name. The new website (www.followingjesus.org.za) is under construction – check it out shortly!