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Ministry Trip to Norway

Thanks to my family and friends for your prayers for Gill and I, and our children. I am flying to Norway tonight to do ministry in Kristiansand and Larvik.

The Kristiansand part will be a pastors gathering on this Thursday and Friday (25-26 Aug), and the public conference will start on Friday night, then two sessions on Saturday and two services on Sunday. The conference will be on “Intimacy with God and Others”. I am taking the verse from 1John 4:20 as the key text in an adapted version:

‘How can you say, “I am intimate with God” whom you do not see,

when you are not intimate with your brother or sister whom you do see’

And I will be looking at what intimacy is, how intimacy in relationship with God and others develops, and what blockages we need to deal with that prevent authentic spiritual and psycho-emotional intimacy from happening. Many people fear intimacy or think its sexual. But warm, whole, tender, compassionate people are a great means of healing in our broken and alienated world. We need to learn intimacy with God and one another to experience the “oneness” that Jesus prayed for in John 17.

Then I go to Larvik on Monday and do two sessions with the church there, plus I meet with the ministers fraternal that Svanhild (who is pastoring the Vineyard in Larvik) has invited me to.

So I would appreciate your prayers that God may keep me safe, that my health would be strong, and that his Spirit would give great authority to his preached Word, and that he would confirm God’s Word with signs and wonders following! AND that God will keep Gill and Zander and Misha safe while I am away. Thanks!! And God bless you!!

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New Book Release – Praying the Psalms

Praying the Psalms Volume One FlyerI’m so happy to say my new book has come from the publishers hot off the press!

Praying the Psalms is the first volume of a new series by Alexander Venter. Learning to Pray will enable you to not only practice daily prayer, but also to develop a life of prayer. It’s a personal prayer journal for spiritual growth. Designed for individuals and small groups, this twelve-week program imparts the tried and tested wisdom of the most ancient of prayer books: the Hebrew Psalter. The meditation exercises will uncover the rich treasures hidden in David’s prayers, making the psalms alive, relevant and personal. As you work the psalm-prayers they will work you, transforming you into a living prayer of relational intimacy with God.

“Learning to Pray is a thoughtful and practical aid to assist you to enter the rich and wonder-filled world of praying the Psalms. No practice contributes to the spiritual development of the disciple of Jesus more than praying the Psalms – a practice that was central in the life of our Lord and has strengthened God’s people throughout the centuries.”

Bert Waggoner, National Director of The Association of Vineyard Churches, USA.

“Attentive to the Holy Spirit, Venter invites us to learn, pray and live the Psalms in authentic, life-orienting ways. With care and kindness, we are guided into a life of listening, responsive prayer that shapes our liturgos, our embodied practices in conversation with God. Venter reminds us that praying and enacting the Psalms takes practice, and he provides practical help to do just this.”

Cherith Fee Nordling, Professor of Biblical Theology at Regent College, Canada.

“You will undoubtedly benefit enormously from these meditations on the Psalms. Use it on your own, or equally, use it in home groups – either way, I think you’ll find Alexander has given us a wonderful resource for spiritual growth that will enrich your daily interactions with Jesus.”

John Mumford, Leader of the Vineyard Churches in the United Kingdom

To get a copy you can visit the Kingdom Treasures shop at http://www.kingdomtreasures.co.za/index.php?page=shop.product_details&flypage=flypage.tpl&product_id=146&category_id=31&option=com_virtuemart&Itemid=1

Or you are welcome to contact me by email on contact_me@alexanderventer.com

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Maseru United Church leadership council retreat

I have had a growing and fruitful relationship with the Maseru United Church (MUC – an interdenominational church) for the past few years. This is the second leadership retreat they have invited me to facilitate. The first one last year was to teach on leadership, church government and structure. They implemented structural changes that led to a second retreat last weekend (29 April to 1 May) – to decide on the Mission and Vision and core Values of the church. It was an honor for Gill and I to attend, and for me to facilitate the process.

Pumula Guest Farm near Fouriesburg on the Lesotho border

We went to Pumula Guest Farm outside Fouriesburg, on the border of Lesotho. What a lovely place in the mountains, with invigorating fresh air and a real feast for the eyes! Fourteen elders and deacons participated. Again, back to back meetings, but of a positive stimulating kind!

The lead pastor, Vernon Vera, had prepared draft mission and vision statements, as well as a list of core values. I prepared meditation exercises for each session to guide each leader through a prayerful evaluation of the proposed mission, vision and values. Then we all met for feedback and discussion to finalize the mission statement, after that the vision statement, and then the core values. And what a wonderful process it was. God was at work speaking through the scriptures, the meditations, the discussions and the growing consensus.

I have not often seen such a healthy diversity of views and ideas blending into a gracious yielding to group consensus, resulting in a genuine unity at each step of the way. It was not without some disagreements and tensions, which speaks of health! By the Saturday evening we had finalized all three statements. Everyone said a heart-felt “amen” at each step with a growing sense of joy and conviction that God was at work putting it all together. The Sunday morning gave me time to present a planning template for each ministry team of the church, which the elders will implement. Then we worshipped and broke bread and ministered to each other, bringing the very successful retreat to a grateful conclusion.

Thanks for your prayers for this ministry trip – it was a great investment in a good group of leaders. I believe MUC will go and grow into God’s purposes as these leaders continue to seek God; as they lead from their knees and keep a robust and honest, a gracious and yielding, attitude toward one another. Pray for them – God has big plans for them and the church!

Gill and Alexander
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Report on Ethiopian trip

Laying on hands in ministry to people

Forgive me for repeating myself, but my reports are a means of feedback because of your prayers for me on these trips and ministry events. The older I grow and the longer I go in ministry, the more I am convinced that the intercessory prayers of God’s people makes many, if not most things possible. I am slowly losing my self-awareness and ‘fear of pride’ in asking people to pray for me. It is a desperate and intense spiritual battle out there – I know it firsthand – and I know your prayers make a difference. So you need know how things went!

I was in Ethiopia for the Easter weekend, leading an international “mission partnership” team of three of us: Noah Giteau, leader of the Kenyan Vineyards, and Svanhild Kjondal, pastor of Larvik Vineyard in Norway. The reason for our trip was to do leadership training for the local Vineyard pastors – how we see and do biblical leadership in the local church in relation to “translocal” ministry and leadership. This arose because of unresolved conflict between two senior leaders in Ethiopia; so our ultimate motivation was to mediate reconciliation.

It was an intense and exhausting trip with long meetings from morning till late evening – plus some really stressful emotional stuff. I understand what Paul means when he refers to the care of the churches weighing upon him. The training went well. It never ceases to amaze me, and challenge me, to see the hunger in Africa for God’s Word. There is definitely something envious about the humble and poor (of spirit) – people who live very simply and are close to the oral means of learning. They are so sincere and intent, listening for hours, asking questions, still wanting more! No “sound bites” or 10-minute sermons here! It is an awesome and humbling privilege to teach such people. There were about 20 leaders representing about 15 churches and plants in different parts of Ethiopia. On Easter Sunday I preached in a church plant in Addis Ababa and then enjoyed spicy Ethiopian food and amazing coffee from freshly roasted beans!

Training meeting
Some of the training participants

We had to prevail upon one of the leaders in the dispute to meet with the other for a reconciliation meeting as per Jesus’ instruction to not even worship if there is unresolved offense (Matthew 5:23-26). Eventually he agreed. It began well with apologies and forgiveness. Then things went horribly wrong! After 3 hours of intense discussion and appeals, because of the intractability of one of the leaders, there was no reconciliation and we had to withdraw our working relationship from him. His elders will meet and decide what they want to do regarding their pastor and ongoing relationship with us as his/their leaders – to push him back to reconcile with us or to withdraw from our leadership. So it ended in a sad mess. I felt like tearing my clothes and sorrowing with repentance for God’s intervention. Pray for the written report we have sent to those elders and the pastor concerned, and to the international leaders to whom we are accountable. God can turn this situation for good.

After lunch roasting coffee beans

I conclude with a few observations. To reconcile, no matter what the issue or who is at fault, requires humility – putting aside pride, power and position. If one party hardens their heart there is nothing one can do to mediate reconciliation until that person – and/or the Lord – softens their heart. Unresolved issues, conflict and division in relationships, is NOT caused by differences in beliefs or doctrine, or “personality clash”, or the many other reasons we tend to give. My experience and scripture tells me it is because of “carnality” – power, prejudice, “selfish ambition”, “vain conceit” (1Corinthians 3:1-4, Philippians 2:1-5f, 4:2-3). Jesus said people divorce because of  “hardness of the heart”  (Matthew 19:8).

Africans say that when leaders fight it is like dueling elephants that trample on the ants – it is the people that suffer. We see it in children when parents quarrel and quarrel, then get divorced. Psycho-emotional violence is far more damaging than the injuries inflicted by physical violence. The pain caused by unresolved stuff in human relationships looms larger than Mount Everest; it is more destructive than the tsunamis that devastated Indonesia and Japan. The need for reconciliation, for relational healing and health, for harmony and wholeness in community, is greater than ever before in my estimation. And what bliss (heaven on earth) when we experience Shalom – God’s peace, harmony and wellbeing – based on loving, right relationships, in families and in churches and society!

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Ethopian Trip – Easter Weekend

Over the past few weeks I have been part of a flurry of emails regarding the Vineyard churches in Ethiopia. A situation of unresolved conflict has arisen. The short story is that they – with the international Vineyard partners – have asked me to come and help mediate resolution, and to gather all the leaders and teach on biblical leadership and teamwork. Another African leader from Kenya is coming with me, and maybe an international partner as well. I leave on Thurs 21 April and we’ll do a leadership conference on Friday and Saturday – with meetings to resolve the conflict – and we will do the Sunday services in the local Vineyard church, then fly home Monday 25 April.

The weekend after that (29 April to 1 May) the full leadership team of Maseru United Church (Lesotho) are travelling to the Retreat House at The Field for me to lead them on issues of a spirituality of leadership and ministry.

So it’s a really busy time again for me! Again, I so value your partnership in prayer for my health and strength, for God’s wisdom and anointing in ministry, leadership and teaching, as I engage in these travels and conferences.

Thank you! From Alexander and Gill.

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Durban Retreat Report

This is my very first blog post!! Can you believe it! Thanks to some friends who have tried really hard (over many years) helping this e-challenged pastor to start doing a blog! I have been in an e-fog, or so it seems, for a long, long time. Things are getting a little clearer now!

This first posting is a report on a trip last week to Durban (30 March to 3 April). I have sent this report to two email groups – to my ministry colleagues in the Vineyard, and to my community, family and friends (“prayer-partners” in the ministry that I do – often with my wife, Gill – on our trips to various places).

Gill and I were invited to lead a two-day silent retreat for Sam Kisten’s church (Chatsworth Vineyard). There were 23 people – 4 or 5 being from one or two other churches. It was held at the Marian Hill Retreat Center outside Pinetown, near Durban – a lovely place.

Marian Hill was started in the mid to late 1800s by an Austrian Catholic missionary-priest, as a mission to the Zulus. It evolved into a Trappist monastery – a silent order. It is now a sprawling development with many building, facilities and aspects of ministry, one of them being a large retreat center to serve the broader church. It is very well priced and well worth a visit for a personal or group retreat (I must learn to take some pics of these places so that I can include them here in my reports!!!)

It was a great honour and privilege for Gill and I to lead a silent retreat for a Vineyard church!! It was a first for all of the participants. We have different pictures/ideas that arise in our heads when we hear “silent retreat”.  Anyway, it was not as you may think. We took the theme of “Introduction to Christian Retreat” and built meditation exercises around the key aspects of any classic Christian retreat: Solitude and Silence, Rest and Renewal, Meditation and Prayer. The purpose was to introduce the participants to the experience (first and foremost) and the understanding of authentic Christian retreat, so that they can then continue a journey – now with a clear frame of reference – of taking periodic personal retreats. And some of the leaders who are given to the “inner work” of the soul, can also use this experience and these materials to begin introducing others to retreat.

Each session had a brief verbal input with some practical exercises (entering into silence) and a meditation handout-sheet, which the participants worked with for 1 to 3 hours. Then we had times of feedback and sharing what God was saying and doing with those who wanted to share. We ended on the Friday with worship and breaking of bread – it was pregnant with God’s presence – tears and “God-stuff” flowing freely!! In fact, almost every sharing time ended in tears for some! It was evident that God did a deep work of bringing people to stillness, of some healing, peace, rest, instruction, calling, guidance, etc – they all in their own way testified to this.  The beauty of this kind of experience is that people experience God for themselves as they work with the Word, with God in prayer, with their hearts and lives in the stillness of his presence.

On the Sunday I preached in the Chatsworth Vineyard. The worship was heavenly! It’s a healthy strong church. I felt God led me to preach on “A Call to Prayer – which is a call to the Desert, to Warfare, to Spiritual Growth”. I took a quote from Evagrios the Solitary (345-399 AD, a hermit in the Egyptian desert), who wrote 200 tacks on prayer. He began with, “First of all, pray for the gift of tears so that through sorrowing you may tame what is savage in your soul”. I find that profound, unnerving, terrorizingly true! I don’t know about you, but I know me, and there is a savage in me that needs to be tamed by God’s Spirit of Love. The word “sorrowing” is a favorite Greek word used by the Desert Fathers, penthos, which means a deep mourning for one’s true condition before God as a sinner, captured in “The Jesus Prayer” which they used incessantly: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” Anyway, I spoke on Jesus’ baptism and his conferred identity from Father, “you are my Son, my Beloved”, which was immediately tested by the devil in the 40 days of fasting and prayer in the desert…. “if you are the Son of God, then….” When we truly begin to pray we enter a desert where demons manifest and test our identity as God’s beloved. This is how we learn to defeat evil by God’s Word and grow into our true identity as beloved children of the Father. I called people who wanted to respond by saying, “God, I want to get intentional about prayer in my life, and truly begin to seek your face”. Most of the church came up and knelt down, and many wept.

Pray for us, because Samuel kinda prophesied at the end of the retreat, and at his church on the Sunday, that God will use us to raise an army of people who know the spirituality of retreat & silence, of growth & character transformation. The whole area of Christian spirituality and spiritual growth has to be built into God’s people (especially the Vineyard!!) Here am I Lord, send me! So pray for us as we do more of this, and as I continue to write the book “Doing Spirituality”

And once again, this report is to say thanks for praying, because it makes all the difference – we cannot do this alone – we are an extension of you!

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Introduction

This blog – Alexander Venter – is the product of Alexander’s teaching ministry since January 1975 when he was ordained to ‘the ministry’ as a church planter and pastor. His years of experience, empowered by numerous significant relationships, has produced relevant resources in the form of teaching notes, audios, DVDs and books – to help all who want to follow Jesus, with a view to equipping them for life and ministry in God’s Kingdom. As a “teacher of God’s Word instructed in the Kingdom of Heaven, he brings out treasures from his storeroom, both old and new” (Matthew 13:52). This website makes some of these Kingdom treasures available to all who may be interested.