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Churches to Meet or Not to Meet?

The South African government’s allowance of church gatherings (of up to 50 people) to resume at level 3,  next week Monday 1 June 2020, is exposing a divided church and society… once again! As usual, socio-ethical issues and considerations become divisive, even acrimonious. It shouldn’t be! The church ought lead the way as servant in society, and particularly in this instance. 

SOME political parties, Christian organisations and SOME denominations have been lobbying the government for opening of church meetings at level 3. And SOME argue on the basis of ‘religious rights’. The government has yielded to their request. This is not advisable. It’s based on wrong thinking, as the push back from many other church leaders and people in our society has shown. 

If we were ‘shut down’ for reasons of persecution, of faith, of conscience, etc, it would be a different matter. But, in this case, it’s a matter of health for the good of the nation. Here is the issue: If the curve had peaked and was decisively going down, it is then a consideration – as is now the case in many European nations. We have yet to see the painful peak in South Africa. Winter is here – June and July could be the worst months. To gather together now, despite all the sanitisation and distancing precautions in place, would be foolish, in my view.

Gatherings of up to 50 people, no matter where, at this point, can become places of contamination. If restaurants and cinemas and other such places are not allowed to open at level 3, why churches? Restarting businesses is a different matter: It is so the economy does not collapse and people don’t starve, though work too comes with the health risks. In our disparate societal context, suburban churches have the resources to implement all the required safety measures (which are not in themselves a guarantee of ‘safety proof’). The majority of churches, however, do not have the same luxury (in townships, informal settlements, rural areas). God forbid that church meetings become an epicentre of spreading this virulent virus.  

We can continue to BE church in the home and in society without having to go TO church in a building. Gathering together in a facility for public worship is only A PART of being church, it’s not THE part. So, we can continue to find creative ways to be and do church without having to go to church at this time, for the health and good of our nation, as servant and example.

In conclusion: ‘to meet or not to meet?’. We must go slow. We could…

A) Continue the faithful social service engagement, relational pastoral care and online church, as has been the priority throughout lockdown;

B) Resume small home groups in a lounge – like visiting a few friends – with the necessary precautions in place (masks, washing hands, social distance). This is controversial as one source says house visiting is allowed at level 3 and another says not. If it is not, then we continue online small groups.

C) Relocate the recordings and live-streaming of Sunday and other services to the church facility (if there is one), but with up to 10 people present, such as helpers, worship team, preacher, etc. This is far more controllable than 50 people (in any case, how can we control who comes and who doesn’t come? And turn away people after 50 have arrived?)

D) And to encourage the vulnerable (elderly, sickly, etc) to stay home, and to continue to care for them in the current context.

Often socio-ethical decisions involves the choice of ‘the lesser of evils’. The ‘good’ or ‘best’ for us as church is not always for the good of society. Let us be patient, bide our time, and use it in service of the nation’s greater good, for health sake. This virus is vicious and highly contagious. May we, as Church, set the example and not be part of the pandemic problem! God have mercy on us! N’kosi Sikelela iAfrika!

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Extraordinary Jubilee Of Mercy declared by Pope Francis

As some Catholic Popes have done from time to time, Pope Francis has declared a special Jubilee, which begins Tuesday 8 December 2015.

What is a Jubilee?

God commanded the Jews to declare every 50th year a Jubilee, a Year of Freedom (Leviticus 25). All property was returned to original family ownership, slaves were set free, all debts cancelled and the land was free to rest. The decks were cleared to give everyone a fresh restart on a free and equal footing. The record does not show if and for how long Israel implemented (celebrated) the Jubilee. Some scholars say that when Jesus began his ministry, taking his mandate from Isaiah 61:1-2a, he actually declared the Jubilee, “The Year of the LORD’s favor and mercy” (see Luke 4:16-21). Jesus proved to be God’s promised Messiah and his ministry of the Kingdom was The Jubilee of all Jubilees – The Day of Salvation.

Pope Francis continues his courageous leadership as a follower of Jesus, by announcing a Jubilee of Mercy, thus radically stirring the Roman Catholic Church and challenging the world. And the rest of the Church of Jesus should take note.

Why choose the theme of mercy? Why an “Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy”?

In his Bull of Indiction, Misericordiae Vultus, he motivates why: “Mercy is the very foundation of the Church’s life. All of her pastoral activity should be caught up in the tenderness she makes present to believers; nothing in her preaching and in her witness to the world can be lacking in mercy” (n. 10).

I fully agree! I support this Year of Mercy. What follows is from my reading of the Vatican News on, with a mix of quotes from Francis and my interpretations and comments. I’m doing this to motivate YOU to ‘do’ this Jubilee – for God’s sake! Continue reading Extraordinary Jubilee Of Mercy declared by Pope Francis

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Reconciliation & Transformation Act 6: Holy Spirit & Church

This listen to the audio teaching of these teaching notes, click

This mini-series of Reconciliation & Transformation is part of ‘fishing the world’ to turn our church outward to engage in social transformation. We shared personal stories of racism and reconciliation. Then I taught God’s Greater Story in which our personal stories find meaning – God’s Seven Act Drama of Reconciliation & Transformation:

Act One: CREATION – God’s Garden of Delight
Act Two: HUMANITY – The Rebellious Fall
Act Three: RESTART – Noah, Babel and The Nations
Act Four: ISRAEL – God’s Instrument of Reconciliation
Act Seven: THE END – Shalom!
Act Five: JESUS – God’s Reconciler
Act Six: HOLY SPIRIT – Through The Church

The weird numbering is theologically important: from Israel (4), the failed instrument of reconciliation, to her prophetic hope of the The End as seen in Isaiah, and then in John’s Revelation when all things are made new (7). But THAT future END broke into our world 2000 years ago in Jesus, dissecting history (5). Act 5 is the gift of God’s Son (Jn 3:16) who accomplishes reconciliation in his own body on the cross, where all barriers and walls of division were destroyed, the principalities and powers defeated, and Jews and Gentiles reconciled into “one new humanity” (see Eph 2:14-18 & Col 2:15).

Act 6 is the gift of God’s Spirit who comes at Pentecost to effect (apply and make real) Jesus’ work of reconciliation & transformation. Act 6 goes all the way through to Christ’s Second Coming – The End of God’s drama, The Beginning of the Eternal Ages. Do you realise that we’re playing our particular part LIVE in Act 6, on the world’s stage right now as witness to world to bring the drama to The End (Act 7)? See the diagram Continue reading Reconciliation & Transformation Act 6: Holy Spirit & Church

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Forming (in) Community by Practicing Relationship – Part Two

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Recap on Church as Family – The Practice of Relationship

While I was away for the past two Sundays Waynne Pienaar and Lerato Moselane taught on Church as family, and Jo Robolakis taught on how to resolve conflict for relational health. We have said that the first practice of forming – and being formed in – community, is being family. That essentially is about relationships. We’re a relational church: God’s family, a home from home. What does this mean? How do we practice this?

Relationship with God (“Come, Follow Me”, following Jesus) is the basis of all relationships: “How can you say you love God whom you haven’t seen when you don’t love your brother and sister whom you do see?” (1Jn 4:20). The vertical relationship with God is the source and means and measurement of our relationships with one another. And the quality of our relationships with one another is the test of the authenticity of our relationship with God.

Therefore, the NT teaches “church” as a “relational happening” at various levels of gathering – because of Christ’s relational presence – beginning with 1) the two’s & three’s who meet in Jesus’ name (Matt 18:20). This is like the nuclear family on which all human society is built, but sadly is now falling apart. Then 2) the home group is the next level of “Church Relational Happening” (Rom 16:1f). That’s why we’re a ‘Home Group Church’ (they’re the place of real belonging and growth), rather than a ‘Church with home groups’ (where home groups are an optional extra program in the church). Then 3) when the home groups gather in the town or suburb it’s the local congregation (see 1 Cor 14:26f). Then 4) there is the church in the city, the nation, and the universe – we’re all relationally connected in Christ! Biblically speaking, there is no such thing as belonging to the universal church of Jesus Christ without concretely belonging in committed relationship in the local (house) church. Continue reading Forming (in) Community by Practicing Relationship – Part Two

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Following Jesus by Practicing Worship Part 4: Isaiah’s Three Movements of Worship

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Intro: Isaiah’s worship in the midst of political crisis

I’ve been teaching on the practice of Kingdom worship to live our highest value of following Jesus (developing intimate relationship with God): In worship, God’s Kingship in heaven and the age to come, breaks into our midst… or as we worship we enter God’s throne room and worship with all the angels and redeemed from all tribes, languages, nations (Hebrews 12:22-24, Revelation 7:9-17). Worship is the means of regular power-encounter with God, especially since Jesus inaugurated the Kingdom of Heaven on earth. But even in the Old Covenant there were such breakthroughs of Kingdom worship – seen in Isaiah 6:1f.

Isaiah was a priest doing his duty of worship when the veil between heaven and earth momentarily lifted, and he saw The Lord. In the routine of regular worship God surprises us with his presence and power – often in the midst of deep instability (“In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord…”) – to restore our perspective on reality. We live in a context of international political turmoil, with war and death stalking the nations. Horrendous atrocities have recently taken place locally and internationally, leaving one very vulnerable, even fearful. Who will save us? Who’s in charge? Is there anyone we can trust? “When the foundations are being destroyed, what can the righteous do?” (read Psalm 11). Look up, see God, he’s on his throne, he’s still in charge! If so, why doesn’t he intervene? The answer… Continue reading Following Jesus by Practicing Worship Part 4: Isaiah’s Three Movements of Worship

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This is my 9th teaching in the series “Being the Beloved – A Year of Spiritual Formation”.

Being God’s Beloved: For three months I’ve taught on Being and Becoming God’s Beloved. To Be-Loved and to Love is our new nature and identity in Jesus Christ. We are “accepted in The Beloved” (God’s Son, Eph 1:6), thus “born again” by God’s Spirit/Life (John 3:3-5), with his nature in us as his beloved children – to imitate him and learn to live a life of love (Eph 5:1-2). I recap both the language and the overall Framework that I use, and then I introduce how God changes us into being Beloved.

The Language of VVPP: I use the language of vision, values, priorities and practices. But it starts with mission.

Mission is our sense of being, our identity and calling – answers WHO we are.
Vision is our sense of becoming, our future oriented goal – answers WHERE we’re going.
Values are our core beliefs, our non-negotiable guiding principles, measured in what we give our time, energy and money to – answers WHY we do what we do.
Priorities are the most important things we do first before (or prior to) doing other things – answers WHAT we do.
Practices are the HOW we do our priorities – also called disciplines, exercises, or skills.

See my diagram of the overall Framework, showing our vision and values. Continue reading TRANSFORMATION 1 – HOW GOD CHANGES US

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Using Social Set Theory (esp. Centered-Set) in Doing Church

I was honored to work with John Wimber in 1982, learning, among other things, the Social Set Theory – the three sociological models (Fuzzy, Bounded, Centered) – introduced by Jack Simms, a sociologically trained market researcher on staff with Wimber in Yorba Linda between 1978 and 82. Wimber’s understanding and usage of it, in terms of how we do church, is recorded in my book Doing Church (pp. 50-59).

Over the years I have seen – and had questions from – leaders and people applying the Centered Set model in ways never intended, resulting in confusion. We can use models to make them mean what we want – as some do with the Bible! These points are meant to clarify aspects of how Wimber used and applied Set Theory as I understood it. Continue reading Using Social Set Theory (esp. Centered-Set) in Doing Church

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The Dance of The Beloved

Recap: How to become God’s Beloved

I shared a quote from Henri Nouwen’s book, Life of the Beloved – then how to apply it to our lives daily. It’s the ABC D & E of claiming and appropriating our Belovedness in Christ in a practical way: Accept, Believe, Confess, and Daily Explore your identity as God’s Beloved child. How are you doing with practicing the ABC D&E ? Now we explore the beautiful Trinitarian Dance of Love. My purpose is to give you THE BIG PICTURE that will ravish your heart and draw you into God’s love and explode you outwards in love.

The Trinity as the Dance of Love 

God is The Eternal Community of Love: the Lover (Father), the Be-Loved (Son) and the Love (Spirit). God’s internal or intra-Trinitarian love between the Father and Son by the Spirit eternally explodes outwards in ecstasy, creating the other (creation) in love, for love. Human beings are the climax and pinnacle of creation, made in the Trinitarian image and likeness, to rule and reign over God’s creation in love, by love, for love. Who God is in the heavens (as Trinitarian Love) is imaged on earth in male and female being one with God, each other and creation – an ever-expanding inclusive Dance of Love.

The Eastern Greek Church Fathers used perichoresis from the 4th century to describe the Trinity in his/her internal and external relationships of love. Greek choreo means inter-penetrate, mutually indwell, co-inhere – becoming one without absorption as in loss of identity or personality. God’s love enfolds and unites, simultaneously differentiating and maturing each person in their uniqueness, as they become one. This idea/reality was grounded in John’s Gospel – see references below. From the 9th century choreo became associated with choreia, to dance (English: “chorus”) – the image of the ‘dancing around’ of the Trinity came into use to explain the beautiful mystery of the Perichoresis. Continue reading The Dance of The Beloved

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Prayer & Planning for the New Year – Part Two

Recap from last week:  Why prepare for 2014?

Because God is the God of second chances and new beginnings: “Don’t hold onto the former things… I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, don’t you perceive it?” (Isaiah 43:18-19). Thus we must PRAY to “attune” to God, to work with him in dependence on his power in what he’s doing in our lives. But we must also PLAN – it’s your responsibility, or else others/life will set your agenda and make you overly busy! Live life, live 2014, intentionally from conviction. To do that we need a deeper planning framework

A Seven Step LIFE Planning Framework Continue reading Prayer & Planning for the New Year – Part Two

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Post Resurrection Encounters – Peter’s Call Renewed (Part 2)

The text: John 21:15-23 (continue from previous sermon). The audio is available to listen online or download with notes.

This is Peter’s story: the emotional drama of how Jesus tenderly restores him, renewing his calling to follow… to minister… and to lead. How does Jesus do this?

Firstly, by the miracle of the large catch of fish (John 21:1-14), re-enacting Peter’s first encounter with Jesus, thus renewing his call to follow, form and fish (Luke 5:1-11).

Secondly, by making a fire of burning coals, re-enacting and reversing Peter’s threefold denial, which took place around a fire (read John 13:36-38 cf. John 18:15-18, 25-27).

Reflection: Jesus takes us back to unresolved pain and failure, to relive and resolve it in light of his intervening and healing presence. When & where has this happened for you?

Meditation on John 21:15-23: become silent before God; live into the scene by imagining you’re Peter around the fire, now warm and fed. Jesus probes your depths… the key issue is: Jesus wants to know if you truly love him – love for him to be THE motivation for your life, your following of him, your ministry, and leadership (if you’re a leader)

John 21:15 Why did Jesus use his full formal name, Simon son of John (after he had changed his name to Peter – ‘rock’, strong & stable, John 1:40-42)? Does God ever do this to you? Continue reading Post Resurrection Encounters – Peter’s Call Renewed (Part 2)