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CALLING – Its Sevenfold Nature and Life-Cycle

I did these teaching notes for the video presentation to the South African Vineyard pastors and leaders retreat, March 2021.

“As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle…”  Paul to the Ephesians 4:1

What is a biblical overview of the nature of calling? Especially in regard to pastors and leaders? Do we live a life worthy of our calling? The one call we all receive to follow Jesus in his Kingdom (Ephesians 4:4)… but also the specific callings (“graces”, Ephesians 4:7,11-16) related to gifts and functions, roles and places of service in Christ’s Body and in God’s world. This paper is what I have come to understand, over the years, as the nature and life-cycle of biblical calling, drawn primarily from Jesus’ life, leadership and ministry. And also from my own experience, as per the invitation to teach on calling. 

The pattern and points below apply to all, though each person’s experience is unique and different. We can learn from the many inspiring examples of calling in scripture (and church history). But don’t be like David trying on Saul’s armour to pursue your calling. Each person must find and do what works for them. In my case, God has worked with specific dates, times and messages. Maybe not the case for you. Either way, we all need the clear conviction of calling.  

General Call:  Salvation and mission.

Jesus’ generic call to everyone: “Come, follow me and I will form you into fishers of people” (Mark 1:17). We follow Jesus in his Kingdom community for the sake of the world. Being born from above with eternal life, we are discipled (spiritually formed) in God’s family to do God’s mission in the earth. I heard Jesus’ call and gave my life to him on Friday evening, 7 June 1968, at First Baptist Church, East London. That is where and when I began to follow and be formed to fish people for Jesus! The rest (below) followed on from that.

Specific Call:  Vocation and service.

The general call informs our specific call in the sense that our worldly occupation (fishing, teaching, doctoring, trading, managing, etc) becomes our Kingdom vocation – where we live God’s reign, doing his will on that piece of earth as it is in heaven. By the age of twelve, Jesus’ consciousness had developed to a deep sense of specific calling: “I must be about my Abba’s business” (Luke 2:46-50). His prayerful study of the Hebrew scriptures and the voice of God’s Spirit in his heart, led him to believe that he was ‘the one’ to proclaim and teach, enact and inaugurate God’s Kingdom. My specific calling was in the early morning of Wednesday 11 November 1970, during my quiet time, while reading a chapter in Isaiah. It was overwhelming. I wept and wept. I knew God had spoken to me! Dare I believe what I heard?   

Confirming the Call:  Affirmation and empowering.

In various ways and at different times God confirms and empowers his specific call, his destiny for us in our role and place of service in the Kingdom. What Jesus dared to believe about his call and destiny in God was confirmed by power encounter at his water baptism: That God was Jesus’ Abba, affirming his identity as his beloved son, empowering his call to lead a new Exodus into God’s Kingdom (Mark 1:9-11). There were also confirmations of the call during his ministry (e.g. Luke 9:28-36). I’ve needed many confirmations, most of which I wrote down, to refer to when needed (as Paul instructed in 1 Timothy 1:18-19). However, the big confirmation (public recognition and release) came on 20 January 1975 when the elders at the Bellville Assembly of God in Cape Town, laid hands on me and sent me as a youth pastor to Salisbury, Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe). The call ‘unfolded’ a year later with an open door, a further call, to plant a church in the next town. And so began my journey of planting and pastoring.

Contesting the Call:  Testing and warfare.

The devil immediately contested Jesus’ specific call, including the confirmation of identity as ‘Beloved Son’ and empowering for ministry (Matthew 4:1-11). Jesus overcame the attack by God’s Word. His calling was contested again and again “at opportune times” throughout his ministry. Satan tried to dissuade and disqualify Jesus from pursuing his destiny – even trying to kill Jesus (Luke 4:28-30, 8:22-25) – culminating in the ultimate test in Gethsemane. Our biggest battles are often toward the end of our lives. The longer we lead and the more we fulfill our call in God, the more Satan attacks. I’ve been through deep dark valleys of the shadow of death – spiritually, psycho-emotionally and physically – that nearly defeated me in God’s call on my life. We can all testify to this. God brought me through as I learnt, like Jesus, to “offer up prayers and petitions with fervent cries and tears to the One who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. (Thus) he learned obedience from what he suffered” (Hebrews 5:8-9). It’s a real life and death battle, but each test/trial is overcome by deeper levels of surrender in trust of the Father: “Father, not my will, but yours be done”.

Unfolding the Call:  Discernment and obedience.

The nature of vocation is that it unfolds with further calls within the overall calling. If we follow by the obedience of faith in deeper surrender to God’s will, it brings us through to completion in God’s call on our lives. With each step of the unfolding call we contend for our destiny in God, to reach our full potential and maturity in the Kingdom. The gospels show Jesus’ discernment of his unfolding call in different events and places around Palestine, that eventually led to the cross – vindicated in resurrection. I could share many developments and turning points in the unfolding call of God in my life. Some changed me forever, e.g. 12 years working for Kingdom justice and reconciliation, by planting a multiracial church, in Soweto under Apartheid. To know how to discern, and obey, each next step in the unfolding call is really important.

Completing the Call:  Perseverance and finishing well.

Pastors and leaders, the journey of vocation is a long obedience in the same direction. My general call (1968) led to a specific call (1970), resulting in public confirmation and sending (1975). Now, 46 years later – what a journey! I’m currently ‘re-firing’ in the fullness of calling, to end well. I’ve taken Jesus and Paul’s words as companions, often in earnest prayer to persevere and finish well: “Father, the hour has come… I have brought you glory by finishing the work you gave me to do… I am coming to you now” (John 17:1,4,13). Oh that I may complete the work the Father has given me to do! In Paul’s words to Timothy, “Keep your head in all situations, endure hardship… discharge all the duties of your ministry. For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time for my departure is near. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day” (2 Timothy 4:5-8). 

The Legacy of the Call:  Reward and rule.

Do not allow evil, or uncrucified flesh, or unhealed brokenness, disqualify you. Run in such a way to get the prize (1 Corinthians 9:24-27). Throw away anything that entangles you, looking at Jesus and the cloud of faithful witnesses who have run the race before us (Hebrews 11 & 12:1-2). We live in their godly legacy. Our calling in this age is training for reigning in the age to come. Fellow leaders, will you run a good race and complete your call? Will you leave a good legacy for future generations, for God’s glory, by the grace Paul describes in 1 Corinthians 15:10?

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Watch my video presentation of these teaching notes.

Paul to Timothy, lead-pastor in the church at Ephesus, “You then, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others” (2 Timothy 2:1-2).

“One of those days Jesus went out to a mountainside to pray, and spent the night praying to God. When morning came, he called his disciples to him and chose twelve from among them (to be with him), whom he designated apostles” (Luke 6:12-13).

Jesus to Father, “I have revealed you to those whom you gave me. They were yours; you gave them to me and they have obeyed your word. Now they know that everything you have given me comes from you. For I gave them the words you gave me and they accepted them. I pray for them. I am not praying for the world, but for those you have given me, for they are yours” (John 17:6-9).

Defining Leaders who Raise up Leaders

In the words of the invitation to me:  “How do we raise up leaders to their full potential, which means laying down your own ego, ambition and personal success.”  That is character leadership.

My definition: Leadership is – and is measured by – not how many people and leaders follow you, but how many leaders of character you raise up to lead with/alongside you, who go even further than you in Kingdom leadership. Good leaders develop new leaders to lead in team with them, and to send them out to exercise leadership in the authority of character integrity.

The leader who lays down her/his own ego, ambition and personal success, in selfless service of other leaders to develop them to their full potential, will raise up leaders who lay down their own ego, ambition and success. This is leading by love, in the Spirit of Jesus. To love is to see and honour people as the very image of God, freeing and coaching them to be true followers of Jesusnot of yourself, of your personality and charisma.

If you don’t lay down your ego, ambition and pursuit of success, you will raise up leaders who serve your ego, ambition, success. Those leaders, in turn, will lead by their own ego, ambition and pursuit of success – you impart who you are, not who you say you are. This is leading by lust, in the spirit of the world. To lust is to see and relate to others as objects of use (even abuse) for your purposes and ego-needs, to achieve your vision and success.  

This is the spirituality of leadership as opposed to the technology of leadership.

Spirituality of Leadership versus Technology of Leadership

The spirituality of leadership is about the formation of love. It is about the “who?” and “why?” questions. Who do we follow? Who leads us? Who forms me as a leader? The truth is: we all lead as we are led in our thinking, believing and behaving, whether we know it or not. We are all formed, for better or worse, by following someone or something. Hopefully, it is godly mentoring of character leadership in our lives. Or who/what leads/mentors you in your life? Tell me to whom or what you consistently give yourself – your attention – and I will tell you the kind of person and leader you are.

Why do we do what we do? Lead the way we lead? Why do we watch this video, read that book, learn from this “leadership expert”, that particular theology? Yes, we make those choices, no one else. Spirituality is about the reasons and motivations of the heart. Who is it all for? Me? For my ego, my success? Or for God’s glory and the genuine empowering good of others? The human heart is deceitful above all things, who can know it? (Jeremiah 17:9). We avoid doing the hard heart work of examining our mission, core values, mixed motives and unthought-through reasons for doing what we routinely do. So we default to leading by other dynamics: do what works, what is popular, copy others, cut & paste… we resort to personality, pragmatism, programs, techniques, gimmicks.  

The last sentence is the technology of leadership. It’s about the “what?” and “how to?”. What is leadership? How must I do it? Just tell me what to do and how to do it. Give me the secret: “The 5 Easy Steps to Leadership Success”, “The 4 Keys to Raise up Leaders”. It is ‘push & pull’ to achieve an outcome. Make it happen! Multiply leaders and grow the church! Get the show on the road!

Technology is ‘pragmatic technique’, the functional use of means to an end in ever more efficient ways. It is ‘outcomes-based’ production to achieve and have the ‘things’ we love: personal/church success, respect/admiration, the best ‘product’, the ‘latest thing’, the good life. We end up loving things and using people to get those things. The way of Jesus is to love people and use things. To love others as God’s image and use things God has created (including technology), to serve and empower people for their own good, for God’s purpose for them, not for our purposes.

The (post)modern mind says we can and will resolve all problems through technological innovation and progress to achieve human utopia. Beware, technology is not neutral. It forms us in its own image to the extent we do not critically engage and use it wisely in loving service of others.

Philosophy of Leadership: Raising up Leaders  

The spirituality of leadership is our character formation in Christ’s love and his Kingdom vision and values – and the leadership that flows from that. It determines not only the who and why, but also the what and how. Who do we identify as leaders and potential leaders? Why do we want to mentor them to their full potential? What do we see God doing in them? What kind and style of leadership are we coaching them into? How do we raise them up into leadership with integrity of character? How do we develop their full potential in Christ’s love and his Kingdom vision and values?

By prayerfully answering these questions before God, with the help of other senior leaders, we develop a Kingdom ‘philosophy of leadership’ to build leaders from the bottom up.    

This brings me back to my opening texts. First Paul’s strategic instruction to Timothy with five levels of leadership development: Paul > Timothy > other witnesses > reliable leaders > qualified to teach others. And then Jesus’ leadership process: gathering disciples, prayerfully recruiting leaders from among them to be with him, training them in the word and ways of the Father, and then deploying them in leadership and ministry.  

To conclude. In drawing all this together I make the following observations, based on 46 years of experience in full-time leadership and ministry, planting and pastoring churches.

We need an ever clearer vision of Jesus and his Kingdoman ‘updated’ correct understanding of Kingdom theology. My pursuit of the historical Jesus and his Kingdom mission makes me fall in love with him ever more deeply, fuelling my passion to follow him ever more closely. This is our “first love” as Vineyard, to which we must return (Revelation 2:4-5). Our first love is The Love that was there at first: God’s Love in Jesus, by which we live, love and lead (1 John 4:19).

We need a clear (Kingdom) philosophy of leadership and ministry. What John Wimber called a five-year plan to build from the bottom up. Few pastors (I mean that) take the time to do the heart work of defining their mission and vision, values and priorities, practices, personnel and programs – then implement and keep to it for integrity with God, themselves and the people. Most pastors, therefore, live from hand to mouth, lead from month to month, even week to week without a visionary plan. They change things as “the Lord told me” and chase after the next best thing, “blown here and there by every wind of teaching” (Ephesians 4:14).

The focus, and the means, of the above two points must be discipleship (apprenticeship). Our Great Co-Mission from/with the Risen King is: “go make disciples” in “all his authority” (Matthew 28:18-19). We can only make apprentices of Jesus and his Kingdom – not of ourselves and our kingdom – to the degree we ourselves are disciples who passionately pursue Christlikeness. And, therefore, we can only raise up leaders of character who reach their full potential to the degree we ourselves are leaders of character, growing into our full potential.

How do we make leaders by making disciples of Jesus? By following Jesus’ model mentioned earlier. What Wimber called the ‘Vineyard mantra’ of IRTDM (below). Leaders commonly fail to do IRTDM. It explains the lack of new leaders, the lack of the next generation of credible leaders of character, and therefore, the lack of genuine church growth.

(I have discussed at length IRTDM and how to develop a Kingdom philosophy of ministry in my book Doing Church. Though it seems widely read, it is not widely implemented. A regular mistruth I find among leaders is, “I’ve read this [or that] book”. Well, if they have, then they haven’t understood it, or they haven’t implemented it. Rather read less, slower and repeatedly, and implement more. Read fewer books by truly godly authors and do what they teach).

Identify:  Prayerfully ask Jesus, Head of the Church, to show you who – which potential (younger) leaders – he is giving you to raise up and develop. Note, they are already disciples who hang around and learn, who function and minister with you.

Recruit:  Go and meet with them individually, present the vision of Jesus to them, inviting and calling them into a relational process of formation and development.

Train:  Teach and equip them into leadership by modelling and “on the job” coaching as they practice ministry and leadership in whatever you give them to do. And also, by more formal learning/training times in course work and other programmatic ways.

Deploy:  At the appropriate time, when “reliable and qualified” (as Paul says), they can be released with the laying on of hands into whatever level of responsibility, in leading whatever ministry for which their calling and gifts are suited.

Monitor:  We watch over them, ‘checking in’ regularly to see how they are doing, to keep coaching and further develop them to their full potential. And then we get them to repeat the process with other potential leaders. So, we ‘grow’ leaders who raise up other leaders.

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SOUL CARE – Especially for Leaders

Watch my video presentation based on these notes.

“They made me keeper of the vineyards, BUT my own vineyard I have not kept…
Catch for us the foxes, the little foxes, that ruin the vineyard which is trying to bloom”  
(Song of Songs 1:6, 2:15)

WHAT  is “Soul Care”?

A modern term with various meanings, mainly describing personal wellbeing and spiritual formation. We define it in Hebrew ‘wholism’, not Greek ‘compartmentalism’. In the Hebrew Bible, soul (nephesh) means YOU, not only your ‘inner self’ compared to your ‘outer body’ and relationships. Nephesh and ruach (spirit) and levav (heart) can be used interchangeably, meaning both the core AND the whole of who you are. ‘Heart’ is more commonly used (and sometimes ‘spirit’ and ‘soul’) for the seat of the mind, the emotions and the will, from which we live; in other words, one’s spiritual formation (moral character) from which all of life flows (Proverbs 4:23). 

Thus, the Shema Israel says God is One, so we must love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength; i.e. with our whole being (Mark 12:29-30). Paul teaches the same wholism – using Greek language and categories – in 1 Thessalonians 5:23: The God of Shalom (wholeness, order, harmony, abundance) sanctify you wholly, in your entire spirit, soul and body. Hence, “soul care” is biblical “self-care”, not in selfishness, in self-serving of our desires and appetites. But in prioritising our ‘shalom’ of healing and growth into wholeness, to love God and neighbour as you love yourself.

As I understand it, biblical godly self-care has three aspects/dimensions that interweave in one journey of life for the glory of God: personal healing, personal growth, spiritual formation.

Healing:  Take responsibility for your unresolved “issues”, wounds, brokenness – to work with them, get help and healing, for your own sake and all those around you.

Growth:  Take responsibility for your personal development in knowledge, in theological training, leadership equipping and life skills.

Spiritual Formation:  Take responsibility for your spirituality – your (trans)formation of moral character to become more Christlike.

The more we prioritize and take time for self-care (in the above sense), the more aware we become of what needs healing and growth and development within us… and therefore, how much we need to become more and more like Jesus. 

WHY  do self-care?

For God’s sake. For your own sake. For the sake of those around you. For the sake of your calling and ministry in God’s Kingdom, among God’s people, for God’s world. If you do well, those around you (tend to) do well. Paul’s instruction to Timothy: “Be diligent in these matters; give yourself wholly to them, so that everyone may see your progress. Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers” (1 Tim 4:15-16).

Therefore, “Above all else guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life(Proverbs 4:23).Your highest priority is to guard your heart. The Hebrew “guard” has two meanings. Negatively, to keep and protect your heart (soul/spirit) from what forms you the wrong way. And positively, to cultivate and nurture it in God and his Word, which forms you the right way – in God’s character. The reason is: your “heart” is the source of your life, physically and metaphorically. We all live from our heart, whether we know it or not. We are all formed one way or another, for better or worse. That is the root character that determines and is seen in the fruit of our attitudes, words and behaviour. This is clearly Jesus’ root–fruit and heart–mouth theology that describes, and helps us to discern and identify essentially good or bad persons (Matthew 7:15-20, 12:33-37, 15:17-20).

The wind one brilliant day called to my soul,
With an odour of jasmine – 
And the wind said, in return for the odour of my jasmine
I’d like all the odour of your roses.
But I said I have no roses –
All the flowers of my garden are dead.
And then the wind said,
Well, I’ll take the withered petals
And the yellow leaves.
And the wind left.
And I wept.
And I said to myself,
“What have you done with the garden
that was entrusted to you?”

(Poem by Antonio Machado)

What have YOU done with the garden of your heart that God entrusted to you? 

Rabbis say that the Garden of Eden (‘Delight’ in Hebrew) is an outward picture of the Garden Temple of the human heart, which God gives to each person. God will hold us accountable for what we have done with it. We are responsible to cultivate God’s garden of our heart. To plant and grow… and yes, to pull up the weeds… as a sacred place of God’s delight. Where God not only meets and walks with us, but actually dwells. And takes pleasure in all its brilliant colours, evocative fragrances, rich textures and soft sounds – the beauty of who we are in his image and likeness.

HOW  do we self-care?

The most important answer I have learnt from my life experience with Jesus, in leadership and ministry, is this: Arrange your life, your months, weeks and days, to live in the unforced rhythms of grace in the easy yoke of Jesus (Matthew 11:28-30). How do you do this? 

Jesus’s easy yoke is to take on and live in his life practices. Then you learn to live in/from rest, not from urgency, demand, deadline, ambition, pressure to perform, to succeed. Live the unhurried life by arranging your life – and keep rearranging it whenever intrusions overwhelm – to live in the rhythm of regular withdrawal and engagement. This is the easy yoke of Jesus, seen in his self-care with Father. This conditions us to live in and from God’s rest (Shalom) as Jesus did. He constantly engaged with people and ministry and then withdrew, then re-engaged, and withdrew. At times he even withdrew from doing ministry and healing: “crowds of people came to hear him and to be healed of their sicknesses. But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed” (Luke 5:15-16). 

Consider this poem (unknown author):

If you fill your calendar with important appointments
You will have no time for God.
If you fill your spare time with essential reading
You will starve your soul.
If you fill your mind with worry about budgets and offerings
The pains in your chest and ache in your shoulders will betray you.
If you try to conform to the expectations of those around you
You will forever be their slave.
Work a modest day
Then step back and rest.
This will keep you close to God
And well in your soul.

The daily planner reveals volumes about the leader’s character formation, about your spiritual condition, values, priorities, fears, ambitions. It tells you who your bosses are, who your lover is, and how much value and care you place on your soul. Take a long prayerful look at your (daily) calendar. Who are you trying to impress? God? The church? Other leaders? Yourself? As C.S. Lewis observed, if you are overly busy, you are actually lazy! Because you allow others to determine and demand your time, rather than doing your own planned appointments as per your values and priorities. 

Plan and take time for God and yourself, for family and friends, for rest and meditation, for walks to enjoy God’s creation. Then you will be more sensitive to God’s presence and ways, and you will be healthy in your soul. There is much to say about the “how to” of good self-care, but let me simply highlight these five, as part of the unforced rhythms of grace:

Daily devotions:  a planned intentional daily time to be alone with God, in prayer and scripture mediation, listening to God in the silence of your heart (Matthew 6:6, Psalm 1:2-3).

Making margins in your day:  plan gaps between appointments to check where you are at, to refocus on God, to pace yourself… to be present to each moment as a sacrament of grace.

Keeping Sabbath rest:  not in the legalistic Orthodox Jewish way, but taking a day off for yourself and God, for family and friends, for rest and recreation.

Periodic retreats:  planning a whole morning, or a day, once a month, to be out in nature or at a Retreat Centre, alone in solitude with God. And plan to go on a led retreat for a weekend or longer, once or twice a year. Formal led retreats are truly enriching.

Spiritual companionship and guidance:  I recommend two kinds of regular meetings, at least once a month, for accountability and healthy self-care. First, a spiritual companion for mutual disclosure, care and prayer. Second, an older spiritual guide/director, one who is wise in the ways of God and the human soul, for discernment and guidance in your self-care.

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Deeper Reflection: Why Leaders Develop a Double Life as in Ravi Zacharias


Let me clear some things right up front.

This paper is because of the responses to my FaceBook post about the painful revelations of Ravi Zacharias’ double life. And requests for a fuller treatment. Some said, “I’m so devastated and disillusioned by all of this, how do I even begin to think about it?”

This is not to throw stones, condemn, or judge as ‘holier than thou’. Rather to grapple as honestly as we can with what happened. To confess and lament. Listen and learn. Discern and weigh matters. To help us to think through this kind of failure in leadership.   

This is not to explain all that happened. Read the 12 page official investigative report by Miller & Martin PLLC and the open letter response from the International Board of Directors of RZIM (Ravi Zacharias International Ministry). They begin: “It is with shattered hearts that we issue this statement…”, and continue in a contrite spirit, “We are shocked and grieved by Ravi’s actions.. we feel a deep need for corporate repentance.” However, this is only after RZIM’s denial from 2017 to 2020, and even alleged concealment and enabling of Ravi’s abuse as David French has laid out.

This is not to go into the details of sexual and spiritual abuse. We have to choose who and what we believe. The corroborating testimony of the victims, with evidence as stated in the report – now accepted, believed and published by RZIM? Or that Ravi was the victim of malicious false accusations and did nothing wrong, as RZIM argued till his death? There is no reasonable doubt why we shouldn’t believe the report and RZIM letter.

Either way, we must ask: how do we respond to (high profile) Christian leaders who are found out – either in their life-time, or after death – to have lived a double life of secret sin? Of predatory abuse that damages people, Christian witness, leadership integrity and public trust. And God’s credibility: we represent God. We live, teach and lead in God’s name. “Let your name be sanctified in the earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:9).

Let’s be clear, we’re not talking about ‘a fall’, a ‘one night stand’, ‘David’s adultery’, or ‘we all sin, no one’s perfect’. We’re talking about years of sexual and spiritual abuse of women, including a credible accusation of rape. Therefore, what do we say? How do we account for it? Why did it go so wrong? What can we learn from it? What can be done?


I’m shattered, to say the least, along with many, many others. It’s time for sackcloth and ashes. I held Ravi in such high regard. When he died on 19 May 2020, I wrote a tribute on my Facebook page. Steve Baughman, an atheist blogger-lawyer, responded by saying he had researched claims against Ravi of lies and sexual impropriety, which he published in a book in December 2018. Then, on 29 September 2020 Christianity Today reported that the RZIM directors initiated an official investigation into the claims. The findings were released on 10 February 2021. The realisation that it is true is very devastating.

So, my first response is a mix of disbelief and grief. I fall on my face before God in lament and mourning, to confess Ravi’s sins, my sins, leader’s sins, our sins as Christians – as Daniel did in Daniel 9. I cry out for all those who were abused. I cry out for the Zacharias family. Because we are shamed – all of us – by what happened.

My second response is: be clear on the nature of the sin and call it for what it is. The report shows a hidden double life of sexual and spiritual abusive behaviour from 2014 to 2020. And it possibly started years earlier. This is no small thing – it’s huge – with widespread fallout.

Ravi’s international profile, great respect, believed integrity, brilliant mind… then this. I was equally devastated – if not more so due to his life of selfless service – by what we learnt after Jean Vanier’s death. The 11 page summary report by L’Arche International, of Vanier’s predatory sexual and spiritual abuse of six women over decades, is really sickening. There is, equally, no reason to doubt the investigation and findings.

There are other Christian leaders, local and international, that one can name. Again and again high profile leaders are shamefully exposed. That’s on the back of decades of widespread sexual abuse come to light in the Catholic priesthood. Evangelical, Pentecostal and Charismatic churches and their leaders are no better.

We dare not deny, excuse, rationalise or justify it. Nor can we disassociate ourselves from it. What happened is a shame on all who bear the name of Jesus.  We must humbly face and account for it. Learn from it. But first the underlying question…


Is there any significant moral behavioural difference between atheists and religious people – especially Christians?  Research by psychologist, Will Gervais and team, say the answer is no. They find “the religious congruence fallacy”: there is regular evidential discrepancy between beliefs, attitudes and behaviour. “Studies conducted among American Christians… have found that participants donated more money to charity and even watched less porn on Sundays. However, they compensated on both accounts during the rest of the week.”

It’s like the little girl who replied to her Sunday School teacher’s question, “What is a lie?”, with, “An abomination to God and an ever-present help in times of trouble.” We may laugh, but it is tragically true. Our post-truth world of lying pastors and prophets, politicians and presidents, business and civic leaders, is witness to this reality. Truth and trust are twins. In the global pandemic of misinformation and lies, we do not know (the) truth, so we turn to people, especially leaders, we trust. If public trust in leaders is broken, then we are at the mercy of all sorts of (evil) forces, as Edleman Trust Barometer shows in a recent study.

The Church of Jesus Christ supposed to be a transforming model of God’s Kingdom of Heaven on earth, yet we are a conforming copy, if not a mirror image, of broken sinful society. Is there no real difference between Christians and people in general – in life, in marriage, in attitudes, morality and behaviour?

I don’t buy all that the research says – the reality is more nuanced. My experience tells me it’s “yes” and “no”. However, it does call us to face the moral bankruptcy of Christianity. Ruthless honesty is required to find and live the reversal of Gervais’ phrase and findings, “the Christian congruence truth”: that there is, and can be, consistent integrity between true Christian beliefs, attitudes and behaviour. That the biblical gospel of Jesus and his Kingdom, rightly taught, believed and lived, really does have the power to transform people in their moral character, with growing integrity in Christlikeness.

It raises the question, what is the gospel we preach and believe? Is it “a different gospel” about “another Jesus” that imparts “a different spirit” that does not have the power to transform (2 Corinthians 11:4)? The kind of gospel we preach is the kind of Jesus we really believe, which is the kind of (S)spirit we receive and impart. Does it transform us?

Also, it’s not what we say we believe, it’s what we live that reveals what we actually believe. Otherwise, we are what Jesus called “hypocrites”: play-actors with masks, who believe and say one thing and do the opposite. The “religious congruence fallacy”. Jesus publicly rebuked such hypocrites, especially leaders, saying they were blind leaders of the blind, white-washed on the outside but rotten on the inside (Matthew 23:27-28).

This raises another question beyond the gospel: do we make converts-believers or disciples-apprentices of Jesus? It’s what I call the salvation/sanctification gap: we get people ‘saved’ by faith and baptism in Christ, but we do not “teach (train) them to obey everything I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20). Little or no spiritual formation in the character of Christ. Also called the authority/power gap: by believing in Jesus we claim God’s authority as his children (John 1:12), but evidence of its transforming power is lacking, or absent.

The result is the integrity/credibility gap: who we really are before God (who God knows us to be) and how others see and believe we are, grows further and further apart. Till the chasm of guilt and shame swallows us, eventually exposing us publicly. Both the ‘ordinary Christian’ and the ‘greatest leader’ can have these gaps, and suffer the consequences.


The scandal of flawed moral character in spiritual leaders and believers. Biblically, leaders represent – are representative of – their people. They are meant to be an embodied example of who their people are to be and become – as Jesus was/is for his followers.

For example, the rabbis teach that God created the priesthood to be a living representation of what God intended all Israel to be and become. God’s purpose for Israel was to be “a holy nation of royal priests” (Exodus 19:5-6), ministering to God on behalf of the nations, and ministering to the nations on behalf of God. The idolatrous nations exiled/scattered at Babel (Genesis 11), in contrast to God’s holy nation, called and chosen to bless, redeem and reconcile the nations (Genesis 12:1-3).

Therefore, the way of the priests = the way of Israel = the way of the nations. Hopefully for the better! But the way of the nations, became the way of Israel (“we want a king like the other nations”), became the way of the priesthood (corrupt and immoral). So, God brought the nations to Israel in judgement: they destroyed the Temple and priesthood, and exiled Israel into the nations, to be ruled by their gods. God’s ultimate discipline is to hand us over to our lusts, our sinful desires, to our demons, the gods we secretly worship.

Similarly in the new covenant:  the way of Christian leaders = the way of Christians/church = the way of society. We’re God’s salt of the earth and light to the nations (Matthew 5:13-16). We lead in the Name of Jesus. Spiritual leaders are to be living examples of Christ’s character, which our people follow and become. As Paul says, “Follow my example as I follow the example of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1).

To the degree that moral character is qualitatively different, people who don’t know Jesus see and believe, and want to follow Jesus. Then there’s no integrity/credibility gap. There is, rather, “the Christian congruence truth” of authentic consistency in belief, attitude and behaviour – the fruit of ongoing formation in Christ’s character.

Then “even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity” (Ephesians 5:3) will be distasteful because of the kind of person we will have become. The titillation of lust and sexual fantasy, let alone pornography, will have lost its appeal. And the idea of acting it out in secret ways, even if we can get away with it, will be naturally repulsive to our sexual character. Not to even mention acts of sexual and spiritual abuse.

Then we will have and exercise, in real terms, the same spiritual authority that Jesus had, evidenced by God backing us up in power: the Holy Spirit in and through us making the difference in our world that Jesus made in his world.

What do the repeated shameful revelations of our leaders tell us about ourselves? At times I think it’s so bad that, if Christianity is really going to enter and live the Kingdom of God, it needs to be born again, again. Is God giving us over to our lusts? To the secret gods we worship? “It is time for judgment to begin with God’s household; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God?” (1 Peter 4:17).

Because of all the above, leaders and teachers are always held to a higher standard of judgement and character accountability (James 3:1). More so for international leaders.


Having laid the foundation, let me try to account for what happened. There are always multiple factors, never only one or two.

The first factor, personal responsibility, is primary, especially in this case. Let me explain the root of what happened and why it went so wrong, as I understand it.

We must start with ourselves and not blame others for our actions and behaviour. We are never victims if we do no wrong. If others unjustly victimize us for doing wrong when we have not, we answer in the gentle Spirit of Jesus and trust God to vindicate us – as in 1 Peter 3:9-17; 4:12-19. Peter prefaces it by saying, “abstain from sinful desires which wage war against you” (2:11-12), “get rid of” them (2:1). In other words, do not live in unresolved wrongdoing, living out sinful desires and corrupted appetites.Then we are vulnerable to accusation – evil gains leverage and has “a hold over” us (John 14:30).

When we do wrong, the Holy Spirit graciously comes in various ways to convict us of sin. We confess, repent and receive forgiveness (1 John 1:8-10). If we don’t respond to the Spirit’s conviction and harden our hearts, continuing in the same way, it becomes a “besetting sin” (KJV) that “entangles us” (NIV) in our Christian journey (Hebrews 12:1). If not decisively dealt with, “put to death with Christ” (Colossians 3:5-10), it will eventually “disqualify us for the prize”. After having preached and led others in what we believe but do not live, we ourselves will be “cast-away” (1 Corinthians 9:27).   

I’ve seen this often with leaders. God takes the wraps off us sooner or later. In our life-time, a merciful discipline for our repentance. Or after death, a revealed judgement of our legacy. Either way, be sure your (unresolved) sin will find you out. That’s what Paul means in 1 Timothy 5:24-25. “The sins of some” leaders “are obvious” and can be judged – the leader can repent. But “the sins of others trail behind”, are hidden, only revealed later – even after death. But definitely at Christ’s judgement seat (2 Corinthians 5:10). Paul’s point is: do not lay hands on leaders (publicly recognising them) prematurely, thereby sharing in their sins (1 Timothy 5:22). Carefully test their character first. Else we later have to lay hands off leaders – remove them from leadership – always a painful process!

Existing long-term credible leaders can develop a double life of secret sin if they are not vigilant to “catch the little foxes that spoil the vine”. We must guard our heart and watch and pray till our last breath. Demons don’t give up. The longer we lead, the higher our profile, the greater our effectiveness in God’s Kingdom, the more they oppose us and work our case. That’s why, among other reasons, Paul instructs us to pray for our leaders (1 Timothy 2:1-3). C.S. Lewis’ Screw Tape Letters shows how demons study us to find our weak spot, our uncrucified flesh, to gain a hold and ready us to sin, given the opportunity.  

What happened to Ravi Zacharias was not overnight. It’s a slow character malformation over years by one or more of the vices (‘seven deadly sins’), that we don’t decisively put to death in Christ – by getting help, prayer and counsel. We begin accommodating it. And separate it from the whole of us. We rationalise and justify our guilt and shame, eventually searing our conscience. Then that separated ‘part’ increasingly drives us to act out its sinful desire(s), which has to be covered up, ever more cleverly hidden. So, other evil spirits enter: more lies, more deceit, more secrets, more manipulation and control, and so on.

The devil binds us to silence with the threat of utter shame, personal disqualification, if we are found out. Let alone if we’re willing to break its power by bringing it to the light of confession – getting help. We use the same demonic tactic over those we damage and abuse: “if you tell anyone, then…” Spiritual abuse. The truth is: we are as sick as the darkest secret we keep, both the perpetrator and, tragically, the victim.

In short, this progressive spiritual malformation prepares and conditions us to sin, to do evil when the opportunity presents. We are willing to do good but ready to do evil. Eventually, we are not only sin-filled opportunists, but scheming evil-doers. Until we are caught, found out and unmasked, which is a judgement from God called severe mercy.

God gave Ravi opportunity to repent when Lori Anne Thompson began accusing him from 2016 onwards (see here). He denied all accusations, saying the victim was the perpetrator. The common tactic of abusers. Then he settled out of court, but insisted on a non-disclosure agreement. Why do that if he genuinely did nothing wrong? Where there is smoke there is fire. The report, sadly, confirms that there was a serious fire.

I reference this to say that, in my view, what I have described above was the lonely, dark, tormented, secret journey of Ravi Zacharias. Similarly, with all such leaders of broken character who live a double life, to a lessor or greater degree, whether pastors or politicians, Christian apologists or self-identifying atheists.  


In a helpful article, Mike Bird says, “This happened – this keeps happening – because of
(1) Evangelical celebrity culture; (2) Big platforms with big donors and a fear of it all disappearing; (3) A lack of oversight and accountability; and (4) A refusal to take women’s accusations seriously.” I will pick up on these and others, with brief comments.

1. Lonely leaders with no real personal friends:

Men are the perpetrators of almost all sexual and spiritual abuse in leadership. Men, generally, do not have real male friends, safe places to be ourself and off-load. “Faithful is a friend who wounds you” in love with truth and trust (Proverbs 27:6). That’s limited by our so-called ‘male inability’ to be emotionally vulnerable and disclose. Our tendency to perform and compete means we find identity in what we do. Thus, we commonly relate via a ‘ministry persona’, not the real me; a role-play with little or no transparency. Consequently, we can be drawn, unchecked, into wrong ways.

Who is responsible for this? You! The leader. We can’t blame anyone else for not having genuine mutual male friends. We either make those safe places or avoid them.

2. The deeper issue of broken, even toxic, masculinity in leadership:

Do we have enough godly sexual character and healthy masculine formation to lead from a critical mass of wholeness? Have we faced our deep conditioning as men? The toxic stereotypes and models of broken masculinity that have formed us from birth – unconsciously and consciously – by our fathers, brothers and men in society. That is part of the way we lead. Ingrained sexist attitudes towards women… to sex, money, power, success. The spirit and structures of systemic sexism continue to advantage men at the expense of women. How aware are we of this? How free are we from it? This is a core contributory cause to developing a double life of abusive leadership.

Who is responsible to address this? You. The leader. We need to get help.

3. Underlying evangelical theology of male sexuality and headship:

This goes to the heart of male sexuality and masculine spirituality. Where they meet and unite in the core of who we are, that’s who we become: healthy masculine men. Are our sexuality and spirituality friends or foes? Separated by guilt? Even shame-full enemies at war with each other? If so, lust-driven sexuality becomes and abusively uses broken toxic masculinity. AND vice versa. Popular evangelical theology on sexuality and leadership (male headship in the home and church) does not address this. Instead, many marriage books further male cultural stereotypes of leadership and sexuality, as in “men are simply sexually driven”, “God made them that way”, “they can’t help it”, “wives, give it to them or they’ll look elsewhere”. This feeds male entitlement and contributes to sexual AND spiritual abuse of women. We need women voices and theologians who are free from sexist stereotypes and cultural male-conditioned theology and praxis.  

4. Refusal to take women’s accusations seriously:

A natural follow-on from the above three. Why? Because the vast majority of Christian leaders are (still) men. Let’s be honest, men, we just don’t take women’s accusations seriously, because most of them are personal. This includes organisational boards. They close ranks. What happened at RZIM happened at Willow Creek: the accusations against Bill Hybels by women victims were dismissed. They were cast as trouble-makers and ‘gaslighted’. Further abuse. The minority of false accusations is no reason to not listen empathetically; instead, to listen with prejudice: “emotional”, “broken”, “manipulative”, “needy”, “temptress”, “Jezebel spirit”. As a man I know what men think even if they don’t say it. History has been so lopsided in favour of male ego and dominance, that if we err we should do so on the side of women dignity, and take them seriously.

Who’s responsible for this? We are. Leaders. We must own this and change it.   

5. Organisational culture and celebrity status:

For decades we’ve imported business models of organisational leadership into church, at great cost. Pastors are CEOs and elders are a board of directors. However, both church and corporates have a culture that we develop for better or worse. Either a healthy or dysfunctional ethos, to the degree 1) our values, policies and practices determine, or do not, how 2) we lead and 3) relate to our staff and people. Too many cultures prioritise charismatic over character leadership, allowing, and even enabling celebrity status. And more so as we excuse violations of core godly values.

Unresolved ego-needs also contribute. Vulnerable to admiration, we believe our own publicity. From good to great! The narcissistic ego on display of many (charismatic) leaders is nauseating! We feel invincible, then think we can get away with things. This leads to abuse. So, we overcoming our conscience to groom our victims.

Who is responsible? The leader. We cannot blame people, or our team, for putting us on a pedestal. That is “subtle victim-blaming of both the secondary victims and direct victims” of abuse, as Tanya Marlow says in her insightful article on five things we must stop saying about sexual and spiritual abusers.

Leadership teams/boards are equally culpable – often as enablers. Some teach a ‘culture of honour’ that gives, among other things, loud standing ovations to speakers, with long intros of Apostle this and Prophet that. I’ve been in two such conferences. I cringed. It’s far from Spirit of Jesus in his humble servanthood. I had the privilege of introducing Dallas Willard at some conferences in South Africa. Each time he would gently bind me to a short intro like, “This is my friend Dallas Willard”! It was his spiritual discipline for God’s glory. We should always and only receive any praise as a pane of glass receives light: the brighter the lighter the more invisible the glass.

6. Lack of oversight and accountability

Follows on from point 5. Leaders are never ‘lone ranger’ heroes of God! Biblically, leadership is in, with, and through team. We lead by being led. The leader who doesn’t submit to being led should not be followed. God requires proper spiritual formation and radical life accountability to other leaders who hold us to The Light without fear or favour. If we walk in the light as God is Light, any shadow that appears in us, or between any leaders, no matter how spiritual, senior or powerful they may be, we confront the shadow. Then we save ourselves and our people. Leaders hold themselves accountable, we don’t wait to be held accountable. We live a disclosed life. When a leader is called to account and they react defensively/emotionally, something is up. Diligent oversight saves us from our ‘unsanctified parts’, our deceitful hearts. The need for consistent ethical oversight of leaders and corporate governance is greater than ever because of character-less leadership in a post-truth world.

7. Big platforms with big donor money and fear of it all disappearing:

With growing celebrity status, the platforms get bigger and the donor money flows more freely. We build churches and ministry organisations dependent on donor money, based on the founder-leader’s charisma and reputation. There’s a point where, no matter what happens, we need to keep the show on the road. If the money doesn’t come in, we go down. So, keep things under wraps to keep the donors happy and giving. The bigger the platforms, the more the money, the greater pressure to perform. The stress and loneliness can lead to erosion of integrity. And we ‘escape’ into a double life.


‘It’s terrible, but… there but for the grace of God go I’. No! We all sin, we all do wrong. But, we’re not all sexually tempted to abuse women, to rape, to damage people for life. This response, Tanya says, “minimises and normalises crimes that should fill us with horror”.

‘God uses broken people, even sexual abusers. It’s not all bad, he did lots of good’. King David is cited. But what Ravi did is of a different order of abuse to what David did. And David repented, Ravi did not. This also minimises the crimes and retraumatises the victims, making God, by implication, the abuser. For the victim, it’s a further spiritual abuse.

‘Jesus forgave the adulterous woman: “I don’t condemn you. Let him who is without sin throw the first stone.” Don’t condemn Ravi’. This is complete ignorance of the story. She was a victim, not a perpetrator. This is not comparable with what Ravi did. Jesus said, “go and sin no more”. Ravi refused every opportunity to repent, continuing in abusive sin.     

Should we no longer read Ravi’s books or listen to him on YouTube? In one sense, truth is truth and it stands, no matter who said it. So, if I read Ravi’s works, or refer to him, I will do so with discernment and disclaimers because of what I now know. However, we can learn all that Ravi taught from other authors and apologists who have not been sexual and spiritual abusers, who have not brought God’s name and Christian faith into such disrepute.

This story is a sober warning and wake-up call for us. Especially for leaders. It should put the fear of God into us, in a healthy way! Let me close with some personal words. 

In regard to victims, as Tanya says, we must learn “to listen carefully to their story and echo the horror of it truthfully, without seeking to paper over any cracks… to honour them and apologise to them and lament with them and ask for their forgiveness… to earn back the trust in order to be a place of healing… to ask what they need and learn from them.”

In regard to leaders, as Solomon says, above all things, guard your heart, because all of your life flows from it (Proverbs 4:23). Live and lead from the easy yoke of Jesus, from rest, by keeping to your daily, weekly and monthly rhythms of spiritual disciplines, for the protection and health of your heart. Those who think they stand, take heed lest you fall.

And if you have any hidden history of unresolved sin, if you’re living a double life in any way, GET HELP RIGHT NOW… for God’s sake, for your people’s sake, for your own sake… in that order. Save your people from yourself, and go get help!

God have mercy on us leaders.
God have mercy on the people we lead.

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Church Fathers and their African-ness by Ramon Mayo

Alexander’s comment: my quest today, Ramon Mayo, wrote this article to highlight the African-ness of the church fathers and mother. Ramon is an author, speaker, and Vineyard youth pastor in Chicago, IL. He has recently published Reclaiming Diversity: Destroying the Myth of the White Man’s Religion, available on Amazon as an ebook or print book.

One of the things people find surprising is that Christianity can be called an African Traditional religion. And why not? It’s been on the continent for at least 2,000 years. If you don’t believe me all you have to do is look at the African-ness of many of the early church fathers. They were African men raised on African soil with African ways of preaching teaching and living out the gospel.

A majority of the early church fathers are from Egypt and North Africa. Much of what we consider to be historic orthodox doctrine originated and was hammered out in Africa. In fact, most of the Western conception of faith finds its origins on the continent. If we want to learn what living out the kingdom of God looks like it behooves us to look at the lives of these men and women.

Genetic vs cultural inheritance

When we think of African-ness we usually think of skin color and facial features. There is no way to definitively say whether the church fathers shared the typical genetic type of what we normally would think of as African today. The truth is then, as well as now, Africa was home to a variety of people with diverse physical characteristics.

At the same time one of the leftover legacies of white supremacy is to always cast heroes of the faith as European or with European characteristics. This should give us pause to think. Why not imagine them as African with darker skin and typical African features?

Even still, African-ness is more than just genetics. It is also culture. It is also a sense of belonging and identity. And it can be a used by God as a source of definitive theology for the whole church of Jesus Christ as seen in the church fathers. I will comment on three of them.

What lessons can we learn from them?

Augustine (354-430)

Augustine was the son of a Roman soldier and a woman from an African Berber tribe. At some point after his conversion, he became the Bishop of Hippo in North Africa. The question remains that if Augustine was born and raised on African soil and had African parentage, why is he depicted as a white man in every visual portrayal?

You might say, wait. Augustine was in North Africa, and those people don’t look anything like the people in sub- Saharan Africa. But here’s the problem: “North Africa” is a recent invention. Africa is Africa. What we know of today as North Africa was in Roman times considered just…Africa.

The tribes in the interior were known as barbarians (etymologically related to Berber) and they were not considered Europeans or Romans. This makes Augustine an “other.” And for him to have such a significant influence on the course of Christianity upends our idea of Christianity’s Western dominance. Although Augustine was a part of the Roman Empire, he was also an “other” within the same empire.

Augustine died in AD 430, but his legacy would live on through the Catholic Church. He left an indelible stamp on Western theology and philosophy and his ideas still hold sway today in both religious and secular arenas. In his lifetime, he would see his beloved Hippo ransacked by barbarians, but he knew this wasn’t the end.

Hippo and the empire were not his home. In his book The City of God he outlined how there were two kingdoms: the Earthly City or the City of Man and the City of God or the New Jerusalem. Even though he was a native African and a Bishop in a major city within the Roman Empire, he longed for the New Jerusalem.

Athanasius (293-373)

Athanasius came from a not so prominent family line. In fact, he says he was found as an orphan on the beach. There is also the reference to him being called “the black dwarf”.

From these descriptions of his background and appearance we can make a safe guess to his biological appearance and cultural background. Athanasius was not from the urban upper class of Egypt but from the rural areas populated by darker skinned peoples even as it is now today.

Athanasius never sought the spotlight. He was a deacon, and then in the midst of the controversy about the deity of Christ, he became a bishop. He was exiled for his convictions numerous times by different Roman emperors.

He wasn’t out for fame or political power. He owned his beliefs even though he was exiled a total of five times. And if he didn’t stick to his guns, we wouldn’t have the Christian faith as we know it.

He stood against a group of bishops who sided with the idea of there being a time when the Son of God was not; i.e. had no pre-existence. Athanasius wouldn’t hear it. This was heresy. During the time of this controversy, he wrote a book on Christology. On the Incarnation is a magnificent treatise outlining why and how the Son of God had to be the mediator between God and Creation. His greatest contribution was his creedal proposal which became known as the Athanasian creed.

Athanasius’ final time of exile found him living with the monks in Upper Egypt (that’s actually south of Egypt. We tend to think north is up because that’s where we live, but the Egyptians had it the other way around). This retreat and welcome also serves to underscore he was more at home with the darker skinned peoples of the area and truly belonged to the indigenous people of the continent.

Cyprian (200-258)

Cyprian was bishop of Carthage. You may know Carthage from stories about Hannibal and the Punic wars. Carthage was a city in the region of modern-day Tunisia.

Now it’s nothing more than ruins, but back in its day it was the main city of the larger Roman colony of Africa. So Cyprian was an African, and it would be a disservice not to refer to him as such. He was more than likely related to modern-day Berbers.

He was born and raised on African soil, and he lived and worked among Africans. Africa has every right to claim him. Cyprian was a Church man; he lived and breathed and died for the Church. One of the most famous quotes about our relationship to the Church comes from him: “No one can have God for his Father who has not the Church for his mother.”[1]

When you consider the fact that Cyprian was an African, you can start to wrap your mind around his theology and his ecclesiology. Cyprian was about community. He embodied the Ubuntu philosophy.

What is Ubuntu philosophy? It is a Bantu or southern African way of thinking which can be summed up in the phrase, “I am because we are.” This is in clear opposition to the Western mindset of “I think therefore I am,” or the more recent Western consumer mindset, “I shop therefore I am.” Whatever his genetic or ethnic makeup, Cyprian definitely had this African take on things.


Regardless of their genetic or physical characteristics the church fathers listed above are gifts from Africa to the world through their significant theological contributions. The lessons they teach with their lives on steadfast conviction, spiritual longing, and the value of community are kingdom values for such a time as this. In these days and times an exploration of the origins of our faith are necessary and much of the richness of those origins are found on the continent of Africa.

[1] “On the Unity of the Church”. Accessed February 5, 2020,

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A Response to Prophets Apologising for their Trump Prophecy

How do we respond to Jeremiah Johnson, Loren Sanford and Kris Vallatton, who have publicly apologised for getting it wrong in prophesying a second presidential term for Trump? And perhaps others I’m not aware of?

We forgive them! Anyone who humbles themselves to apologise ought to be forgiven, just as God forgives us. We pray that, in the aftermath and unravelling of all that happened this past week, indeed this past year, others will come forward.

To respond to these apologies by putting the false prophesy into context and to ask some questions, is not to be unloving. To discern why and how prophesies of such magnitude can go wrong is not “throwing them under the bus.” To evaluate what they, and we, can learn from what happened is not recriminatory in any way.

In our world of hyper sensitivity, insecurity and broken identity, to evaluate, and even disagree, is mostly taken personally. Tragic! What Robert Bly called The Sibling Society. There is no recrimination or rejection in reflecting on the apologies. It is, in fact, to hold the prophets, and each other, accountable. That is truly loving them. To “speak the truth in love” is to grow to maturity, saving us from permanent infancy (Ephesians 4:14-15).

Context of The Prophecies

6 January 2021 will infamously go down in US history as a failed insurrection by Trump supporters. No, it was not perpetrated by Antifa. The more we see the video clips and research of what really happened, with the unfolding fallout, the more we will see how huge it is in significance, symbolism and shame. The culmination and unmasking of the real character of Trump and his presidency of American Christian Nationalism (explained here).

The false prophesies and the apologies must be seen in that light. Johnson and Sanford apologised the day after (not before) the violent attempt to stop confirmation of Biden as President-Elect, targeting VP Mike Pence to hang him, because he said he wouldn’t overturn the election results as Trump wanted. Kris Vallotton apologised on 7 November 2020, then removed his post by advise of fellow prophets, then reuploaded it on 9 January 2021.

All this while other prophets are hardening their hearts, continuing to believe the devil (meaning Democrats) stole the election. Even telling the other prophets not to apologise!

Reality is what we run into when we are wrong. To be hard-headed is to not face reality and be adjusted by it. Johnson, Sanford and Vallotton have yeilded. Will the others face what really happened or remain in denial? Will they see how their prophesies were in service of the spirit that inspired Trump and his supporters to keep him in power “no matter what”?

This is the seriousness of the context of these wrong prophecies. They were not spoken in a vacuum. Neither were they simply personal or local church prophecies. They were national prophecies of national determination and destiny – with international ramifications.

The rest of the world looks on in shock. And wonders how and why Christians (actually, fundamentalist charismatic evangelicals) can get into such political prophesying and nationalistic deception. The rioting protestors invaded the Capitol under the waving flags of “Jesus” and “Trump” and the national flag, which were prominent in all of Trump’s rallies throughout his presidency. God’s credibility is at stake. The Church’s witness is weakened.

This is no small thing. Therefore, though we forgive, the apologies raise questions.

Questions to Consider

What is really being apologised for?

How well do they understand what has gone wrong? Why and how they went wrong? What is behind it? What are the root(s) that allowed them to falsely prophesy at national level?

What was/is the effect/damage of their wrongdoing on others, on the nation? To what extent did their wrong prophecies inspire what happened on Capitol Hill? What is the damage to Christian credibility and witness, both nationally and internationally?

Do they understand and own that? I.e. is there “godly sorrow that leads to true repentance” or “worldly sorrow that brings death”? (2 Corinthians 7:9-10)? Therefore, with the apology, is there repentance, metanoia, a turning away from by a change of mind and direction? If so, what do “the fruits of that repentance” look like?

Have they held themselves accountable with their internal team? Or have they subjected themselves to external respected credible leaders (untainted by any wrong prophesying regarding Trump) to hold them accountable? To correct and discipline where needed?

Most importantly, what can they, and all of us, learn from this?

What actually is prophecy… biblical prophetic ministry? It’s nature, function, practice?

What is the difference between true and false prophets? Or true prophets who “get it wrong” once in a while?

Is there a difference between Old and New Testament prophecy and prophesying? If so, what continues in the New Testament, and what is discontinued, or changes?

We can go on. I can’t answer all of these questions here – I list them to challenge you to think, pray and search the scriptures like the Berean Christians (Acts 17:11). I plan on writing a more comprehensive piece on A Re-examination of Biblical Prophetic Ministry in Contemporary Context.

I will give an orientation on prophecy, then brief comments on some of the questions in response to the apologies given.

Orientation re Prophetic Ministry

Prophecy is inspired speech. Biblically, to prophesy is to speak by the inspiration of God’s Holy Spirit. The source of inspiration, however, can also be one’s own spirit (ideas, imagination, emotions, interests). Or another (evil) spirit. This raises the nature of inspiration and the steps involved in prophesying, which I cannot elaborate on here.

Essentially, biblical prophecy is to speak God’s mind/truth/will on a matter, to a person, church, or nation. It takes the form primarily of “forth-telling” and on occasion “fore-telling”. Its common mode is to tell forth (reveal and proclaim) God’s mind/truth. What God is saying and doing at this time in/to this person, situation, church, or nation.

God sometimes reveals future events/happenings which prophets predict. But if they do not take place there are consequences for that prophet, as in this case under discussion. “How can we know when a message has not been spoken by the LORD? If what a prophet proclaims in the name of the LORD does not take place or come true, that is a message the LORD has not spoken. That prophet has spoken presumptuously” (Deuteronomy 18:21-22).

The primary purpose of prophecy is to comfort, encourage and build up (God’s) people (1Corinthians 14:3). But it also has other purposes: to confront wrongdoing, expose hidden sin, correct error by speaking God’s truth, give direction, and to predict. Normally the latter functions are for more mature and reliable practitioners of prophetic ministry.

Biblically speaking, “the prophetic” is the flow of the Holy Spirit in all the enabling grace-gifts that the Spirit manifests through us by inspiration. Thus 1 Corinthians 12:7-11, words of knowledge, wisdom, faith, discerning of spirits, healings, prophesy, tongues, etc, are all prophetic ministry. And all God’s people in the new covenant of the outpoured Gift of the Holy Spirit can prophesy (Numbers 11:29, Ezekiel 36:26-27, Acts 2:17).

Thus prophetic ministry is not for the specially anointed or gifted. We all manifest The Gift of the Spirit via various manifestations of enabling graces. We are humble servants and instruments of grace, not owners of the gift(s) that we share, as in “I am a Prophet”.

Jesus fulfilled the “Offices” of Prophet, Priest and King (capital P, P, K), which God worked through under the Old Covenant. The ascended Christ now gives “grace” (Ephesians 4:7-11) to followers to express his offices, as in his ministry (not ours) of apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor-teacher (small a, p, e, p-t). They are functional descriptions, not positions, titles, offices. Jesus expressly taught his followers against the use of titles (Matthew 23:5-12), because it’s the way the world does leadership. It feeds ego. We find identity in titles and ministry, and become demigods that lord it over others (Mark 10:42-45).

If we take a person as a “Prophet”, the implication is they’re infallible, they have “plenary inspiration” like the Old Testament prophets. If the Old Testament prophets got it wrong their failure was fatal, they were stoned (not with marijuana!). In exercising Christ’s prophetic ministry, however, we humbly and openly acknowledge that we only “know in part, prophesy in part” (1 Corinthians 13:9).

Therefore, we do not say, “God says…”, “Thus says the Lord”. Because, if we get it wrong, it’s God’s fault – he said it through me! And God cannot be wrong! No, we prophesy, not God. We take responsibility for what we say and how we say it, because “the spirit of the prophet is subject to the control of the prophet” (1 Corinthians 14:32). Using disclaimer language like “I sense the Lord is saying…”, “I feel the Spirit is doing…”, leaves the door open to be wrong. In that way we invite testing and evaluation as Paul teaches (1 Corinthians 14:29). We hold ourselves accountable to be corrected by leaders.

There are “levels” of prophecy and accountability. Giving someone “a word” is personal prophesy. Or prophesy in/to a home church. Or to/for a local congregation, a city, a nation, including international prophetic words and ministry. The move from personal through local church to national means higher levels of accountability and judgement, because more people and constituencies are affected, for better or worse. And if we get it wrong at any level, we apologise to that level at that level. National voices are subject to public national evaluation and accountability, whether they like it or not.

Therefore, discernment and accountability of prophetic words and ministry is not only needed, but required in both Old and New Testament. Here are two references.

In Deuteronomy 13 Moses teaches: do not be dazzled by the manifestations and power of dreams, signs and wonders through which the word of the prophet is spoken. Rather discern the content and intent of the word of prophesy, whether it is consistent with the faith of Yahweh revealed in Torah – fulfilled by The Prophet greater than Moses, who will give the Messianic Torah (Deuteronomy 18:18-19). Or, does it subvert, undermine and draw you away from God’s revealed word to other ideas and beliefs, into idolatry? It is scary and challenging to realise that God actually allows false prophets/prophecies, in order to test us, to see if we really love God, or other gods (Deuteronomy 13:4).

Besides Paul’s instruction to “carefully weigh” prophecies (1 Corinthians 14:29), John says,  “do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out” (1 John 4:1).

Discernment, arguably, is our greatest need in this post-truth ideological world of lies and conspiracies. We stand or fall by our training in discernment of truth and error, or lack thereof (Hebrews 5:14). The disappearance of the moral knowledge to distinguish good and evil, right and wrong, is plunging our world into profound darkness, preparing people for “the lie” (2 Thessalonians 2:10-11); i.e. the numerous lies and untruths that many will and do believe, “because they refuse to love the truth and so be saved.” The spirit of prophecy is the testimony (truth, teachings) of Jesus. If we are truly his disciples (disciplined learners), we will love, study and obey his teachings, then will know the truth that liberates.

Reflecting on the Apologies

Anyway, back to responding to the apologies! A few comments.

First, there is – as indicated above – a difference between false prophets who routinely prophesy falsely, and true prophets who might “get it wrong” on occasion.

Second, I find the apologies a mixed bag of confession with reasons, explanations and interpretations that reveal underlying theological AND ideological paradigms governing their thinking and praxis of prophecy.

Thus the self-reflection on why and how Johnson, Sanford and Vallotton “missed it” is key. Because, to remind us, this was national prophecy of a determinative event that did not happen. To his credit, Sanford says he got it wrong  because he was emotionally caught up with the other prophets prophesying Trump’s second term. He didn’t hear God properly for himself. Citing Jeremiah 23:30 (God says, “the prophets steal from one another words supposedly from me”), Sanford says his insecurities and need to belong was the cause.

He says “another element of how I got it wrong: The tendency we have to hear what we want to hear. Strong desire and strong opinions play a huge role in distorting the words we believe we hear, if we allow that to happen.” Referring to his “strong negative opinion of the Democratic Party played a role”. This is closer to the deeper causes that not only make us vulnerable, but actually pre-condition us to “get it wrong”… our underlying worldview.

The extent of our ideological conditioning (e.g. as Democrat or Republican), from mild to extreme, determines how we see and respond to life. It interacts with our theological paradigms (biblical interpretation). Both are determinative in making us vulnerable, or not, to getting it wrong, or to even be used by another (evil) spirit. Rightly understood, theology is not ideology. But theology can be – is often – used ideologically, i.e. in service of socio-political group interests over against “the other” group. Christian nationalism is a classic example. Ideologies reflect the spiritual principalities and powers behind them.   

For example, in Matthew 16, Peter had pure revelation from the Holy Spirit of who Jesus was/is, God’s Messiah/King. Then the King explained he would suffer and die in Jerusalem. Peter responded, “No ways! That will never happen! We need to defeat our enemies and set up the Kingdom in Jerusalem and reign.” Jesus rebuked him: “Satan, get behind me! You speak from your own vested interests, not from God’s plan and purposes that I’ve just explained to you”. One breath God’s Spirit, the next breath evil spirit. How so? Could it be that Peter’s ideological interests, and mixed theological paradigms, had so conditioned his view of the President and his MAGA kingdom, that he got it wrong?

Sanford cited Jeremiah 23:30, being stirred up by what the other prophets were wrongly prophesying. The context says more: how much of “getting it wrong” was motivated by their own mindset, like Peter (“delusions of their own minds”, v.26. “prophesying from their own imagination… following their own spirit”, Ezekiel 13:3)? Or worse: was it “reckless lies” (v.32) that “filled (the people) with false hopes” (v.16)? That even “strengthened the hands of evildoers” (v.14) leading to the shame of Capitol Hill, where five people were killed.

So, the ideological context of Jeremiah 23 is important. In Jeremiah 6:14 the prophets don’t address the root corruption, but “dress the wound lightly” by prophesying “peace, peace” to the king, princes and people, “no harm will come to you” (23:17). Typical prophecy in ideological service of those in power, saying what they want to hear in order to stay in power. I.e. they are “court prophets”.

What the “wilderness prophets” like Jeremiah (Isaiah, Ezekiel, Micah, etc) refer to – regarding the false prophecies, and indeed, court prophets – is their proximity to power. Their ideological conditioning through loyalty to and support of power. Their uncritical laying on hands and blessing the kings and princes. Little or no healthy distance to “unblind” them for relative objectivity, for critical engagement with the powers.

And, biblically, behind every earthly ruler/government is a spiritual principality and power. The interaction between these “gods of the nations” and the earthly rulers and their people, is little understood. As they become corrupt, seeking to incarnate themselves in the nation through idolatry, ideology, injustice, corruption, God judges them (Psalm 82).      

Sanford also referred to 1 Kings 22, how God allowed a “lying spirit” to be put in the mouth of 400 prophets to say what the King wanted to hear: “You will win”. God allowed it to carry out judgement on King Ahab. Only Michaiah – 1 in 400 – “heard” right and courageously prophesied truth. How can a prophet be vulnerable to a “lying spirit” in his/her mouth?

Is it because of an ideological environment built on lying? Read the context of Ahab’s kingship. Bad character in leadership, as in President Trump’s pathological lying, releases and gives permission to a spirit of lying at all levels of leadership, society and the nation. Is this partly why and how the prophets were vulnerable to prophecy the lie of Trump’s second term? Is the fruit of this lying spirit seen in the deception of lies believed to be truth and truth seen as lies? And in the election debacle where half the voters believe it was fraudulently stolen? And that Antifa invaded Capitol Hill? 

Lastly, a word on theological paradigms. In brief, the following underlying theologies need to be examined as possibly at work in why and how the prophets got it wrong.

Dispensationalism, with its Israel theology – Christian Zionism and support for Israel.
Restorationism, with its “Apostles & Prophets” theology and practice of prophetic ministry.
Spiritual Warfare teaching of bind and loosing, proclaiming, declaring, commanding, fighting in the heavenlies, pulling down powers, and so on.
Reconstructionism, with its Seven Mountains teaching to Christianise nations, contributing to the rise of Trumpism. It’s a skewed understanding and practice of Church-State relationship.

These seriously “mixed seed” theologies are part of the problem. Jesus’ worldview of the Kingdom of God, in terms of what he taught and practiced, and how his first followers interpreted and lived it, is so different to the above. The theology of the Kingdom, correctly understood, addresses answers these theological paradigms.    

God help us all.
God have mercy on us all.

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A (Real) Prophetic View of what happened on Capitol Hill

What we witnessed in the storming of Capitol Hill in the USA yesterday – the Day of Epiphany of Christ’s ‘revelation’ to the world – was the epiphany or unmasking of the full fruit of Trumpism.

Captured in THESE IMAGES of the confederacy flag in Capitol Hill chambers and the fascist fist raised in the chairperson’s seat of government. That is the equivalent of displaying the old Apartheid flag and raising the Hitler salute of Eugene Terblanche in our current South African parliament. Absolutely unthinkable!

The image of the hang-man’s scaffolding and a Trump flag enfolding the “stop the steal” protestor, gazing up at the noose, says it all. Imagine the premeditated thought in taking the time to prepare and transport and assemble this on site? Pure racism. The original sin of the USA. To say Trump and his supporters are not racist is to deny the reality of these racist symbols that are present again and again in his rallies and protests.

Symbols are profoundly emotive. Just burn the American flag in America and see what happens to you! These symbols, especially of lynching, reinforce the profound pain deep within African Americans, first nation Indians and all people of colour. The pain of the historical and ongoing systemic racist injustice perpetrated against them. It is nothing but naked white supremacy on display for all to see. Yet, most Trump supporters will not see that reality.

This is not to even mention the banners of “Jesus Saves” at the “wild protest” (Trump’s phrase). With what happened, it’s blasphemous. Classic civil religion. Christian nationalism. Co-opting and using God for the agenda of the Evangelicals and GOP in bed with Trump.

A biblical prophetic view would say that this is the full fruit of Trumpism. It’s the ripe fruit of the root of bad character, with the ideology of white ‘Christian’ nationalism. Trump himself called for this “stop the steal” “wild protest” on Capitol Hill, publicly egging on his followers with fraudulent lies of massive election rigging to do what they did.

The result: four people were killed and others injured, windows smashed, and so on. If they were black protestors, the law enforcement put-down would have been far more violent. Their blood is on Trump’s hands, he is directly responsible… including the GOP and the evangelical leaders who have ideologically supported Trump. They must be held to account.    

Jesus taught that we know a good or bad person by their fruit, what routinely and predictably comes out of their mouth (and seen in their words, attitudes and behaviour, Matthew 5:15-20, 12:33-37, 15:17-20). Fruit does not lie. It reveals the truth of who we are, what we are rooted in, what has formed our character, whether good or bad.

Trump did not have the character for the office of president. Lying from the beginning, right after his inauguration in 2017, claiming the largest audience ever to witness an inauguration. We’ve seen the fruit of his bad character become ever clearer over the four years, in his tweeting, press conferences, treatment of people, etc, including his ideology of ‘greatness’, both personal and national. That is Trumpism, with its fruit now on full display for all to see. Ripe for judgement. “In your judgements, O Lord, remember mercy” (Habakkuk 3:2).

Prophetically speaking, Trump didn’t change America, least of all made/make America great again. The truth is that Trump REVEALED America… this IS America… at least the divided half that supported him, those who have been deceived and captured by the spiritual powers working through his bad character and ideology.

Biblically speaking, we get the leaders we deserve. God raises up and/or allows leaders in power, often to unmask and mirror the face of the nation, revealing the character of their supporters. In this case, the majority of white US evangelical Christians.

Trump has not so much damaged the witness and credibility of the Church – through the wholesale support of fundamentalist evangelicals, with their leaders and court prophets continually uncritically blessing Trump – rather God has used him to reveal their theological and moral bankruptcy in their idolatry of American Christian nationalism. Judgement begins at the house of God (1 Peter 4:17).

Their deafening silence right now, in light of these events yesterday, makes them all the more culpable. All the Christian prophets who prophesied Trump’s second term, and all the Christian/church leaders who continually blessed him without challenging and correcting him on his bad character (as in serial lying, manipulation, control, racism, sexism, ego-centric narcissism, dangerous nationalism, “deep state” conspiracy mongering, and demonization of the Democrats and main stream media as “the enemy of the people”)… they all must now publicly confess and repent to break the unreality of the parallel universe that Trumpism created.

In biblical prophetic terms it is a spiritual principality and power operating behind, in and through Trump and his administration. That is the demi-god idolatrous world of Trumpism, a parallel universe from which they have all drunk, in which they have all worshipped and lived, and continue to live, under whose protection and power they have operated. But it has blinded them to reality.

VP Mike Pence, as a leading evangelical politician and the lap-poodle of Trump, has particular accountability under God for his co-dependent enabling of Trump. Pray for Pence. If he has BIBLICAL Christian integrity left within him, after four years of erosion by abetting Tump at every turn, he ought to humble himself and repent with godly sorrow.

At least Pence remained faithful to the constitution, saying he cannot overturn the election result as Trump demanded. Today he announced confirmation of the results of the election in favour of President-Elect Biden. Trump, in effect, heard his own words, “You’re fired! It’s the end of your (un)reality show!” But just after Pence’s announcement, Trump brazenly continued to publicly say, “the elections were stolen. I won by a landslide”. After over 50 court cases and Supreme Court rulings saying that in all that was presented, there was no evidence of widespread fraud.

Will Trump be held accountable for his words? For his continued divisive lies that have systematically undermined public trust, democratic institutions and process?

I will let the reader judge whether this is true BIBLICAL prophesying versus the multiple, now self-evidently false, prophecies of Trump’s second term. May they all repent!

Christ have mercy!

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What does the ‘Advent’ of Christmas mean?

Isaiah 9:2, 6-7:
“The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned…  For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this.”

This is the reading for the first Sunday of Advent, which fell (this year) on 29 November. I was asked to share a message on the meaning of Advent with Following Jesus, the church I previously pastored (see the video presentation). First an explanation and background, then brief reflections on what Advent means for us, focusing on the four names in Isaiah’s text.

The English word advent comes from Latin adventus, meaning arrival or coming. Essentially, the expectation and arrival of an important person or event. Advent is associated with Christmas: the celebration (‘mass’) of the birth of Christ (‘Messiah’). Whether Jesus was actually born on 25 December is not the point. The point is that a day of great joy was chosen to celebrate the coming of God’s King into our world.

Latin adventus is the translation of the Greek parousia (coming, appearance) in the New Testament, used primarily for King Jesus’ return or Second Coming (1 Thessalonians 4:15). When Caesar or an important dignitary in the Roman world came to a village, town, or city, they would prepare and watch and wait in great expectation. As the watchmen saw signs of ‘The Parousia’, they would loudly announce it. Then the rulers and elders would go out to meet the person(s) on the road and welcome them, and escort them back into the village, town, or city. A celebratory party would follow. That’s the meaning of Jesus’ Parousia.

Therefore, advent meant, for the early centuries of Church history, the expectation of the Second Coming of Christ to judge the world. Only from the 6th century did it shift to Jesus’ first coming, his birth and then baptism (his ‘Epiphany’ or appearance to start his ministry). As that tradition developed, four ‘Advent Sundays’ were set to prepare for Christ’s birth on the date of 25 December. Four candles were used to represent four aspects of our waiting expectation of Christ’s mass – that Christ be born anew in our lives and our world.

In short, Advent is a tradition of the Church that developed with varying interpretations and practices, marking the beginning of the annual Christian liturgical calendar.

The lighting of each candle over the four Sundays and the themes they represent point to both the Second Coming and the first coming of Jesus:

Hope – the promise of God’s coming
Waiting – the (prophetic) preparation for God’s coming
Joy – the peace of God
Love – the adoration of God

The four candles and their enlightening themes relate to the four names given to “the child born to us”, the babe of Bethlehem. It’s remarkable how clearly Isaiah saw and spoke, by the Holy Spirit, of the coming Messiah 700 years before Jesus’ birth. “The great light… dawned for all living in deep darkness”, giving certain hope based on promise, activating preparation and joy in anticipation of the coming of God’s Prince of Peace (Shalom).

Though a weak and vulnerable baby, The Great Light shone bright. And continues to shine ever brighter to the ends of the earth. The end is loving adoration of God’s humble King, just as the kings of the east bowed down after their long and arduous journey following the Star of Bethlehem. This torrid year of corona trauma, with its extraordinary challenges, has been a rough road for all of us. So… stop… to reflect on and receive anew the true nature of Christmas, of Christ’s coming into our lives, into our world lost in deep darkness.

What this means is represented in the four names Isaiah gives to the “son given to us”. Names in Semitic usage describe the person’s character and purpose. Earlier Isaiah said that a virgin would conceive and give birth to a son and will call him Immanuel, meaning “God with us” (Isaiah 7:14). God does not abandon us. God becomes one of us. God in human skin. Takes on our weakness. Feels our feelings. Undergoes our temptations. Bears our pain and brokenness. Suffers our sin and death in redemptive love. God with us means…

Wonderful Counsellor:
Jesus, Wisdom of God. God comes as one of us in “the son that is given”, guiding us in how to live life as God purposed. “A little child will lead them” (Isaiah 11:6). God is – especially in these trying times – “wonderful in counsel and magnificent in wisdom” (Isaiah 28:29). Receive Jesus in this way. Ask him for the wisdom you need to respond correctly to what you’re going through, to the trials you face (James 1:2-5). We all need this kind of spiritual direction at this time. And for the year ahead.

Mighty God:
Jesus, Power of God. Jesus came/appeared to Israel in God’s power doing miracles of deliverance and healing. The paradox of the powerless baby who is the Mighty God, the Warrior King defeating evil in all its oppressive forms. Receive Jesus as your Mighty God. Ask him for the miracle you need right now. Furthermore, Mary symbolizes Jesus coming to life in us by God’s power. We take the shape of his life growing in us, which expresses itself through us in signs and wonders to the world around us. How can you express the Mighty God in this way to those in need – giving real Christmas gifts?

Everlasting Father:
Jesus, Love of God. Jesus was the advent (coming/appearing) of the embodied love of God. Jews knew Yahweh as their loving Father who tenderly nurtured them like a mother nurses her baby (Isaiah 49:14-15). Jesus was the human expression of this divine reality. “Everlasting Father” describes divinity – a remarkable name for the baby nursing at Mary’s breast. Everlasting means without beginning or end. God… as Father (and Mother). Eternal Love made flesh. As the child Jesus grew in consciousness, he experienced God as profoundly personal and intimate love in each moment of every day. He called God Abba, Daddy. Because Jesus was perfectly loved, he loved perfectly. He laid down his life in love of us. Close your eyes, open your hands and receive Jesus as the Everlasting Father, Perfect Love. And be an expression and embodiment of that love to others in need.   

Prince of Peace:
Jesus, Ruling Shalom of God. God, in Christ, came as one of us to put the world right, to save humanity and planet earth. To make peace through his government of justice and righteousness, grace and truth – in contrast to and in judgement of all other governments. Shalom is peace, God’s wholistic wellbeing, order, harmony and abundance, which is God’s design for all creation. It is, however, based on right relationship with God, self, each other, and creation. “Justice and righteousness” mean ‘right-way-of-relating’ – as God relates. Wrong relationship with God, self, others, and/or creation, is sin and death. It shatters Shalom. Plunges the world into the darkness of death and chaos, disease and disintegration. Ultimately hell on earth! BUT, Jesus came to bring heaven on earth, to restore the rule and reign of Shalom, to make all things new. Receive Jesus as the Prince of Peace. Receive rest. Let him calm your mind, emotions, body. Let him order your heart and relationship rightly. And yes, be an instrument of his peace to those around you.      

All of this is Christmas, Christ’s mass. The celebration of Christ, The Great Light, who comes into our world that walks in deep darkness. Therefore, Happy Christmas!

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The Crown: Visible Leadership & Invisible Government

Meditation on 1 Samuel 8 and 9.

A major turning point in Israel’s history was when they asked for a visible king like all the other nations: “Give us a king to lead us”. God took it personally. It was, in effect, a rejection of God’s invisible kingship over them (1 Samuel 8). Painful. Especially after God, as Israel’s Warrior-King, saved her out of 400 years of slavery by supernaturally defeating the gods of Egypt. After God continued to manifest his invisible kingship in many powerful visible ways.

This is fallen human nature. We want the crown. We want the gift we see more than the Giver we do not see. The security of materiality, the physical form of leadership more than God’s spiritual Ruling Reality – to which all earthly forms point. It’s easier to live by sight than by faith. Easier to have visible leaders like other nations than to live by trusting God and his Kingship over us. The former tends to idolatry of humanity, the latter is true worship of the true God. Idolatry costs us dearly.

Though rejected, God obliged Israel, warning her of the consequences of physical kingship – see the list in 1 Samuel 8:10-18. In short, kings want to be served (using people and resources), not to serve. Be careful of what you ask. God may give it to you!

So, Saul, the first king, is introduced as an “impressive young man without equal, a head taller than any others” (the ideal champion people wanted) and a wandering donkey wrangler searching for stray donkeys (1 Samuel 9). That symbolised Saul’s stubborn and disparate kingship over the rebellious people who asked for a king. Their lust for a king was such that “all the desire of Israel turned” to Saul (9:20). Whereas all their desire ought to be turned to God (Psalm 73:25).

In contrast, the second king, David, is introduced as “a man after God’s own heart” (desired God above all else) and a shepherd caring for his father’s flock (1 Samuel 16). David knew Yahweh as his shepherd who met his every need (Psalm 23:1f). That symbolised God’s shepherding of God’s own flock via human agency, pointing to God’s ideal, the future son of David, Son of God. David’s own kingship, however, fell far short of the reality it represented. And likewise, all the kings that followed. Until Messiah Jesus, the promised son of David, who was/is God’s ultimate answer to, “Give us a (physical) king like the other the nations.”

Jesus of Nazareth was not only the material model, but actual embodiment, of God’s invisible Person and Ruling Presence. Jesus inaugurated, taught and lived God’s Kingship on earth as it is in heaven, teaching his followers to be and do the same.

However, even Jesus had to wean his followers from dependence on his physical presence and leadership. Even that could become idolatrous! After Peter rightly identified Jesus as God’s King, he opposed Jesus’ talk of suffering and death. Messiah must live and conquer! Jesus rebuked Peter: “Get behind me, Satan, your human ideas and interests oppose God’s ideas and interests” (Matthew 16:16-23).

Therefore, first Jesus’ followers had to go through the deep disillusionment of their leader suffering and dying in weakness, unable (apparently) to save anyone, let alone Israel. Would this traumatic test, this inversion of “leadership”, throw them back onto God’s kingship in purified faith? Or would they turn to another physical king to meet their expectations? A golden calf to save them, to take them back to “the good old days”?

Secondly, before Jesus suffered and died, he carefully taught and prepared them to live under God’s direct invisible government by his indwelling Holy Spirit (e.g. John 14 to 16). The Spirit will be “another Parakletos”, not physically with them as Jesus had been, but spiritually in them, just as the invisible Spirit of his Father had indwelt Jesus, governing and guiding his every thought, word and deed… even to death… and resurrection.

Thirdly, after his bodily resurrection, Jesus weaned his followers from dependence on his physical presence by repeatedly appearing and disappearing over a period of 40 days. Then he ascended “out of sight” to be coronated as The King over the heavens and the earth, and to pour his Holy Spirit into them. They had to live by faith and not by sight.

Christ’s followers throughout the ages are called to live in this way under God’s invisible leadership by the indwelling Holy Spirit. To live out his heavenly Kingship as a model and witness to all nations of what it will be like when Messiah returns to set up his visible Kingdom: a wholistic spiritual-socio-political-economic-ecological reality of God’s Shalom. An ‘in-Spirited’ tactile reality transformed into the fullness of God’s glory, of which every created material form has always and only been but a shadow representation.

Sadly, however, Christians (let alone people in general) continue to lust for physical kings and leaders to champion their cause. We do not really trust Jesus’ Kingship over us and over secular powers. The result – the price we pay – is that Christians and large parts of the Church continue to be captured by the idolatry of leaders, blinded by the ideological powers working through them. We knowingly or unknowingly live out their corrupt rule.

We are thus more a copy of contemporary society than a model of God’s coming Kingdom. We are unable to think biblically – with Jesus’ worldview, beliefs, mindset, values and ethos – about socio-political-economic-ecological issues and cultural challenges. The issues and challenges that come and go in each generation evangelise and divide Christians and Churches way more than we evangelise and reconcile them. We are as polarised along party lines and divided by ideological powers as society in general.

To conclude, the above is not to discount or reject physical leadership. No, it’s to strip our need and desire for, and our exercise of human government from all idolatrous elements, by recovering a biblical theology and praxis of leadership. It’s the call to see Jesus’ Kingship. To renew our thinking. To recommit to genuine faith in God’s invisible leadership, as we follow Jesus’ way (ethics) of the Kingdom, yielding to the government of the Spirit guiding our every thought, word and deed. In short, to form the moral character fit for such leadership.

To the extent human agency models and imparts THAT biblical quality of leadership and governance, whether political, civil or spiritual, we receive it. To the extent it does not, followers of Jesus prophetically speak truth to power. Why? Because “Jesus is Lord”, not Caesar! That common proclamation in the Early Church meant Jesus is King and Judge over all – by virtue of his suffering servant leadership, vindicated in resurrection power, given all authority over the heavens and earth. Jesus will hold every leader (emperor, king, president, government, priest and pastor) accountable for their leadership and treatment of people. Shakespeare was right, “Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown.”

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When we Presume on God – Ichabod

Reflecting on 1 Samuel 4 and following, I was struck by Israel’s presuming on God and what resulted. This story relates to what is going on in our world, and the response and role of God’s people, Jesus’ church.

When Israel lost the battle against the Philistines, they asked the right question, “Why did the Lord bring defeat upon us?” (1 Sam 4:3)

BUT they did not wait to hear God’s answer. No self-reflection. No humility. 

Instead, the prideful presumption of declaration. “Let us bring the ark of the Lord’s covenant” into battle “so that it may save us.” 

They took the visible symbol of God’s invisible Ruling Presence into battle, believing it would defeat their enemies. God was now definitely with them, on their side. Victory was assured!

BUT, the Invisible Reality, of which the material symbol spoke, was not there: “Ichabod” – “the glory has departed!” (1 Sam 4:21). God withdrew his presence, thus his power.

And they did not know it! God would NOT be presumed upon. God would NOT be used for their purpose. God would NOT be coerced into doing their will simply because they possessed the ark. So, the Philistines defeated them, again, and captured the ark. 

Therein lay Israel’s presumption: The ideology of the ark, which blinded them.

They trusted in the earthly symbol of rule, not in the heavenly Person and Presence that it represented. It’s the idolatry of what is seen, not the true worship of the true God. Human nature lusts for a visible king, a tall Saul as heroic leader to champion our cause. In so doing, in effect, we reject God’s invisible Kingship, which refuses to be used ‘on tap’ to fight our battles.

The ark was captured because it had ALREADY been captured by Israel’s ideological presumption. THAT offended God. THAT blinded them. THAT, unbeknown to them, is what emptied the outward form of its inner glory and power. THAT is Ichabod reality.

Reality is something we run into when we are wrong.

Only when Israel was defeated and the ark captured by the Philistines were their eyes opened to reality. BUT, they denied it. Refused to acknowledge it, to repent, to ask what they asked the first time round: “Why did the Lord bring defeat upon us?” In contrast, the old priest, Eli, understood what it meant and fell backwards off his chair in utter shock of Ichabod. He broke his neck and died.

How blind are those who refuse to see! It took twenty years (1 Sam 7:2) for “all the people of Israel” to mourn and seek God for the return of his Presence. Yes, sadly, twenty years of desperation to come to humility and repentance! To face Ichabod reality.

Paradoxically, God’s presence ‘returned’ to the ark when the Philistines placed it in their temple. They only saw THAT reality by its effects: The next morning they found Dagon, their national god, face down on the floor before (in homage of) the ark.

They then located the ark in other places. But wherever it went The Presence manifested in defeat of the Philistine gods. Eventually, in desperation, they shipped the ark across the border! God’s victory, ironically, was not through his people, but apart from them, despite them, in rebuke of them! 

Therefore… what can we learn from this?

How do our declarations presume on God?

How does the Church (try to) use God for its own purposes? How do we ‘capture’ God in symbols of earthly power (’state-capture’) to fight our battles?

How does ideology/idolatry of power blind us? “Just bow down to me and I will give you all the kingdoms of the earth” (Luke 4:5-7). “What will it profit a person if you gain the whole world and lose your own soul?” (Matt 16:26).

How can we identify and be delivered from ideological blindness?

How do we honour, receive and live by God’s invisible Kingship more than reliance on heroic leadership in visible government?

How do we let GOD be God, and not play God?

How do we know when we’re operating in ‘ichabod’, a form of godliness emptied of its power? Will it take twenty years of suffering desperation before we face up to it?

How can we keep humility and integrity with God – true worship of the true God – so that our outward forms of godliness have the power of God’s indwelling presence, for which they were made and meant? 

Those who have ears to hear, hear what God’s Spirit is saying to Jesus’ church and world.