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SA Racism & Violence on International Display: What is our Response?

Last week @SteveHofmeyr and @ZindziMandela tweets put our history of unresolved South African pain and prejudice, anger and hatred, rage and violence, on international display – to our national shame. 

Steve Hofmeyr, not all whites are racists who arrogantly threaten death to anyone who might “come to take our land”. 

Zindzi Mandela, not all whites are “rapists… shivering land thieves”, and the other stereotypes you used to describe “them”.

Both of you derail our national journey out of racism to reconciliation. Both work against the vision of Madiba (Nelson Mandela) and most South Africans, of a truly non-racial reconciled nation – which is also the will and purpose of King Jesus for SA (Romans 14:16-18).

How do we respond to this?

As South Africans we are survivors of a history of racism and violence – the generalized violence that touches every expression of our beautiful diverse people. 

As Christians, especially Christian leaders – and more so to my white compatriots – we ought to weep over the blood shed on our soil, that it may be washed with our tears. Each drop cries out to God for justice, for redress, for judgement – unless we intervene before God and the nation, with intercession and action, for mercy and reconciliation.

On average 50 people are murdered every day in SA – an unbelievable horror!

We ought to put on sackcloth and ashes and ‘Cry, The Beloved Country!’ 

We have sown seeds of personal and structural violence of every kind, and we are reaping a whirlwind of judgement.

We mourn the long history of bloodshed in Southern Africa, from the violence of Colonialism that began in the 17th cen., to the Zulu wars and Mfecane (Difaqane), to the Anglo-Boer war and the Native Land Act of 1913, to the racist violence of Apartheid in all its forms and the retaliatory violence it produced.

We mourn the culture of violence endemic in our nation, now accepted as normal.

We mourn all the criminal, political and gang violence.

We mourn all the farm attacks and killings in its senseless brutality.

We mourn the festering wounds, volcanic hatred, hardening racism, and the evil powers behind all the violence.

We mourn the reality of fear that most South Africans live in daily.

We mourn the failure of God’s Church – the followers of Jesus – for not being the catalyst of change and instrument of reconciliation that we are meant to be. We’ve accepted the status quo, succumbing to the demons of vengeance, bitterness and self-interest, and the popular belief that reconciliation is an irrelevant idea that died with Mandela. The Church is meant to hold up the vision and work of reconciliation, through repentance, restitution and mutual forgiveness, for a diverse people who are  victims of a history of conflict.

We cry out to God for mercy, for repentance, for forgiveness, for intervention, for reconciliation and healing. GOD has the power to save us, personally and nationally.

May we all – more so Christians and Christian leaders – speak up and live up as Christ’s Ambassadors entrusted with his message and ministry of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:18-21). Let us not be quiet. Rise up and intervene every day in our context and sphere of influence, for reconciliation and healing, even if it costs us our lives, as it did for Jesus. King Jesus modelled and taught, “go and be reconciled with your brother and sister… confess… forgive… make restitution… love your enemy… as God loves us.” (Matthew 5:21-26, 38-48).

May we be ‘atmosphere changers’ wherever we are, wherever we go, making a difference in how we greet and engage each person every day with great dignity and respect as the very image of God. May we be slow to anger, quick to forgive, and even quicker to show compassion and alleviate the pain of the other in love.  

Nkosi sikelel iafrika! God bless (South) Africa!

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Living the Life God Intended – Talk 11 – Retaliation & Resistance

This talk on Living the Life God intended is about Jesus’ teaching on retaliation and non-violent resistance, in Matt 5:38-42. To listen to the audio teaching of these notes, click on


Jesus says in Matt 5:38-42 that it’s not about payback, but about self-sacrifice in non-violent resistance of evil people. This 5th ‘antithesis’ of Jesus is closely tied to the 6th in Matt 5:44-48, as seen in Luke who reverses the order and joins them (Lk 6:27-36). Taken together, Jesus’ basic point is to value people and relationships above self-security and possessions. I.e. unselfishness, motivated by love – even as in self-sacrifice, even for one’s enemies – is mature human flourishing, The Life God intended. That effectively resists and defeats evil while saving others. How so? We are brought to completion in living our Father’s perfect nature of loving mercy (Matt 5:48 cf. Lk 6:38) – which God’s Son embodied and modelled for us.

However, as per Matthew’s order, Jesus’ 5th ethical issue is about the lex talionis: the law of retaliation, or principle of retribution, “an eye for eye, and tooth for tooth” (Jesus quotes Ex 21:24, Lev 24:19-20). This law was well-known in Palestine and ancient Near Eastern cultures. It was a ‘ready-made’ judicial formula for a just punishment, which was seen by all as equal justice in the courts of law.

When a person perpetrates an injustice, does some injurious or hurtful action against you, there are three ways to respond: 1) retaliate violently, or 2) take the person to court for a just reversal of the action (lex talionis), or 3) passively accept it with no response or retaliation – ‘just suck it up’! Jesus offers another creatively redemptive way that cuts through and transcends all three. And he uses deliberate exaggeration to illustrate it.

The lex talionis was originally given to restrain violence, not to foster retribution or vengeance. It was given to limit retaliation or payback to a sentence of fair punishment for the perpetrator. The problem was that, by quickly taking people to court, this law was used to justify vindictiveness in the name of justice! People readily took each other to court in that society, as it is today. That practice had no redemptive power. It didn’t expose and defeat the evil behind such attitudes and actions, both in the victim and the perpetrator. At worst, it could become a vicious cycle of injury and legalised retaliation, a downward spiral of violent reciprocation and more revenge, which can continue for generations in families and communities! Jesus’ answer to resistance and retaliation of evil people runs along far deeper heart channels.

Jesus did not say “resist evil” as in abstract evil. He says, “do not resist an evil person.” Firstly, he refers to unjust evil acts done by others against you, stated in Deut 19:19-21. He refers to those through whom evil operates. Evil works through people who allow it, as we see in Peter’s actions in Matt 16:21-23. The more one allows it, the more one becomes “an evil person”. I.e. over time evil (spirit) incarnates itself in persons, and in socio-political-economic structures that people develop. Evil seeks to make people and communities in its own image, just as God incarnates him/herself in us individually and corporately by Holy Spirit, as godly image bearers.

Secondly, the word “resist” (antistenai) was used for war, to ‘stand against’ enemies, for violent revolt as in Barabbas’ insurrection (Lk 23:19,25). Zealots, among other groups in Jesus’ day, taught a holy war theology, saying one can use violence in God’s name to “resist” Israel’s enemies. They saw the occupying Romans, including non-Torah-keeping Jews, as evil. Their enemies were God’s enemies, to be purged from the Holy Land. So, in saying “do not resist evil”, Jesus is not teaching passive docility, rather, do not repay kind with kind, don’t retaliate against personal or structural violence with violence. Jesus himself resisted evil, the question was about the means, the how. Paul used antistenai in Eph 6:13, of our spiritual warfare against all forms of evil. Paul “resisted” Peter to his face, because love demanded it, due to Peter’s unresolved racism that damaged the gospel and fellow believers (Gal 2:11-15).

However, “I tell you, do not resist an evil person” is in the context of the lex talionis, meaning “don’t resist in a court of law; don’t take them to court!” This interpretation is required in the second of the four examples below that Jesus gives, though it applies to all. This instruction by Jesus contradicts the old covenant, but makes sense in the context of Matt 5:17-20. I.e. even the lex talionis points to Jesus and it’s fulfilment of the (S)spirit of the law: though instituted to curb retaliatory evil due to the hardness of people’s hearts, the lex talionis failed; but a time will come when resistance and retaliation will be transcended in self-sacrifice, forgiveness and compassion. That is the life God intended. That defeats evil.

Jesus said, that time had come! He was fulfilling the prophesy of the new covenant, the way of living where obedience sprang from a new heart in-dwelt by God’s Spirit, a renewed mind formed by God’s Word (Jer 31:31-14, 32:38-40, Ezek 36:26-27). Jesus’ four examples show what this looks like, how radical this was in his day:

“If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.” To strike someone on the right cheek in a right-handed society meant a backhanded slap. It was the most grievous insult, humiliating injustice, in the ancient world – besides spitting in a person’s face (Is 50:6) – no matter the reason for such a “klap” (as South Africans say). One can retaliate by hitting back, or take the person to court, or passively accept it. Jesus’ new covenant way transcends these. His kingdom response is to turn and offer the other cheek. This causes the perpetrator to have to consciously change posture to take up your offer to slap you, this time with the open palm of their hand, the so-called ‘normal’ way of hitting a person. It forces the perpetrator to pause and think and decide if they will actually do it… or not… exposing the unjust heart of the perpetrator to him/herself and all who see the evil act. Plus, the victim or survivor maintains dignity due to a dignified nonviolent response that exposes and defeats the evil intent behind the insulting backhand.

“If anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well.” In the ancient world people sued one another to recover what was owed to them, as it is today. They could even legally sue the shirt off your back – the inner garment. The poor generally only had an inner garment and outer coat. BUT the law protected the poor victim by legislating that one’s outer coat could not be taken from them, no matter what, because it was what people slept in, keeping them warm at night (Ex 22:26-27). Jesus’ deliberately exaggerated kingdom response, in this case, goes against Torah teaching and the law courts. It exposes the evil behind a person who, having taken all your possessions, now takes you to court to get your shirt! So give them your outer coat as well. Just imagine, having given away your shirt and outer garment, walking home in your loin cloth (underpants)? This hyperbole exposes and embarrasses the humiliating injustice of the person taking your shirt as ‘legal retaliation’, as their ‘right’ to make you utterly destitute. With such a nonviolent response, your dignity will ironically be affirmed, and people will see the injustice, and the evil behind it will be unmasked and defeated.

“If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles.” The occupying Roman soldiers had the legal right to force Jews – any local natives in the Empire – to do certain types of work (see Mk 15:21). They commonly made locals carry their ‘army pack’. But the law limited it to one mile so that they didn’t exploit people to the point of death from exhaustion by forcing them to carry their load for many miles under the hot sun. It was known that Zealots – ordinarily dressed Jews, but freedom fighters – would carry a Roman soldier’s load for a mile, then look for a bush along the road to lay it down. When the soldier bent down to pick up his load, the Zealot would take out his sicarri, a dagger hidden under his belt, and cut the soldier’s throat. He then went on his way praising God that he’d killed an infidel in the Name of the Lord for Israel’s liberation. Jesus instructs his followers, including his apostle Simon the Zealot, to go two miles as an act of nonviolent resistance – even as an act of loving smiling service to the oppressor. Imagine the effect on a Roman soldier? That would have raised many an eyebrow in Jesus’ day. He taught it in Galilee, the hotbed of Jewish revolutionary activity. Jesus’ way was to resist and defeat evil by creative redemptive acts that gave dignity to the victim of injustice and moved the heart of the perpetrator, exposing the evil behind the unjust action.

“Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.” This follows up on suing a person for the shirt off his back. Jesus endorses Torah teaching on giving and lending money. Kingdom people must lend money to the needy without charging interest (Ex 22:25, Lev 25:37), especially before the 7th Sabbath year of release when all debts were forgiven (Deut 15:9). But Jesus goes further, teaching unselfish giving in a spirit of generosity. Lend money without expecting to get it back, viewing it as your giving to God. The OT stressed giving to the poor (Deut 15:7-11; Ps 112:5,9; Prov 19:17, 22:9), but it does not mean that Jesus is teaching giving without discernment, giving out of guilt or manipulation, giving to everyone all the time, especially those who seek a ‘soft touch’ (Prov 11:15, 17:18).

Again, these four examples deal with the heart attitude, the “better righteousness” of the new covenant, the life God intends for us. They are examples of Jesus’ kingdom fulfilment of the spirit of the law; i.e. his Messianic Torah. And he goes even further in the 6th (last) antithesis regarding love of enemy.

Having interpreted these four examples of Jesus in the context of his day, how do we apply that meaning to our context today? What is Jesus saying to us in our particular world?

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Living The Life God Intended – Talk 7 – Anger & Relationships

This seventh in the series ‘Living The Life God Intended’ looks at the first way in which Jesus and his followers fulfill The Law & The Prophets. To listen to the audio teaching click…

Murder & Anger, Forgiveness & Reconciliation (Matt 5:21-26)

Jesus chooses to address the 6th commandment of The Law. Moses said, “do not murder” (Ex 20:13), but Jesus said it’s really about anger and what we do with it (v22).

Outward acts of violence and murder start in the heart, the anger that can govern our thoughts, words and deeds. The root of anger, hurt and offense – with a person, or group, even God, for whatever reason – must be dealt with quickly before it leads to the fruit of ‘acting out’ in unhealthy thoughts, bad attitude, abusive words and violent behavior.

To feel anger is one thing, but to entertain anger toward a person or group means we intend them harm (pay back): they must suffer the hurt they’ve caused us! That, in effect, Jesus says, is murder. Why? Because, given the right opportunity we would harm them in some way if we could. That intention is as good as the deed. Unresolved anger kills human dignity, destroying God’s image. As Jesus says, anger ‘leaks out’ in abusive emotions and words, as in name-calling and cursing.

The Aramaic “raca” meant “empty-head” (like “you fool”, Matt 5:23), pronounced with a “gggg” in the throat as if getting ready to spit. It could lead to judgement in the Sanhedrin (Jewish court), and danger of punishment in God’s court (heavenly Sanhedrin, the supreme court). Jesus says it could even lead to the fires of hell – “Gehenna of fire” – the standard Jewish concept of Gehinnom that came from the ever-burning rubbish dump outside Jerusalem’s southern wall in the Valley of Hinnom. Jews believed the wicked will be tortured or eternally burned in Gehinnom; the opposite of paradise. I.e. Jesus strongly warns of the dangers of harboring anger: it leads to contempt, and then resentment and bitterness, burning hatred and rage, eventual violence and murder.

Why is the first ethical issue Jesus addresses about anger? Anger is probably THE most pervasive issue in human relationships! Can you identify any unresolved anger in you? Where does it come from? How does it ‘leak out’? Do you hurt others in attitude, words and deeds? What racist, sexist and other name-calling is common in South Africa? Why is it so VERY destructive? What can we (YOU) do about it?

Anger is a God-given emotion that tells us something has gone wrong. What we do with it is the issue: it ‘becomes moral’ depending on our response.

If we a) suppress anger, we implode, damaging ourselves and others around us. It ‘leaks’ via passive-aggressive behavior.
If we b) vent anger, we explode, damaging ourselves and those around us.
But if we c) express our anger in an adult manner we reconcile and grow ourselves and those around us.

Anger can motivate us to address what causes it, with words and deeds of reconciliation (Matt 5:22-26). Followers of Jesus, who receive the renewed heart of the new covenant, are convicted and enabled by God’s Spirit to quickly resolve anger before it takes hold. How do we resolve anger? By reconciling any and every negative tension and offense in relationships, to honor human dignity.

Jesus uses ‘hyperbole’ (deliberate exaggeration) to show how important and urgent it is to reconcile any unresolved issue of anger, hurt or offense (22-24), before it becomes a source of contention, judgement and suffering (25-26). Jews went to the Temple in Jerusalem to offer their gift at the altar of sacrifice. Jesus says, if, while you’re offering your gift, you remember that someone has something against you (i.e. you hurt or angered them), then leave immediately and make the 2 or 3 day journey back to Galilee (where Jesus was teaching)! Be reconciled to the person – make peace by asking for forgiveness, put right what went wrong, resolve anger – then travel back to Jerusalem to offer your worship.

Imagine that? I.e. do everything to reconcile and settle matters quickly, before it becomes a contentious or legal issue in the courts (earthly, spiritual, heavenly), where judgement may go against you. Then you will suffer psycho-emotional and other forms of payment in the prison of unresolved anger, unforgiveness, burning bitterness, and a tortured conscience.

In Matt 18:15-35 Jesus reverses it: if someone hurts or angers you, then YOU must go immediately to them, without telling anyone, and be reconciled. Here you must be quick and generous to forgive as God has forgiven you – from the heart – or you too will suffer in the prison of suppressed or unresolved anger… and unforgiveness!

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Pastoral Letter regarding the Xenophobic Violence in SA

To listen to the audio of this Service of Confession, Reconciliation and Healing, regarding the xenophobic violence in SA, click on this link

Dear family and friends – fellow travellers in Following Jesus!

It is with a heavy heart that I (we… I speak on behalf of the Oversight Team) write to you. We are experiencing attacks, with rumours of more attacks, on foreign African nationals in SA. Tens of thousands are living in fear, with their extended families in their home nations worried and perplexed as to what’s going on. It can explode into terrible ethnic violence in SA and retaliatory violence in our neighboring nations… God forbid! What a shameful day to be a South African! We humble ourselves, confess and turn from our sin, asking God for mercy to heal our land of all the blood that’s been shed – not only in this wave of violence, but in our long history of shameless murder and racist violence.

Because of the seriousness of the situation I decided to set aside my planned teaching and hold a service of confession, reconciliation and healing. We humbly ask ALL the foreign nationals, particularly Africans, in our church, to forgive us for what we South Africans are doing to them. God’s house – his Holy Temple, the Church of Jesus Christ – is a “House of Prayer for All Nations” (Isaiah 56:7, Mark 11:17). We are blessed by God to have a growing number of (inter)nationals worshipping with us. What a great opportunity to model here and now God’s future reconciled family worshipping at his heavenly throne: “I saw a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands” (Rev 7:9). May we truly become God’s House of Prayer for All Nations, God’s instrument of reconciliation and healing in society, the hope of Africa!

Read the statement from the Vineyard  (below) in response to the xenophobic violence. I won’t comment further – simply to call on us to actually do points 1 to 4.

Prayer is still our primary ‘weapon of warfare’ in the spiritual battle behind the racism of xenophobic violence. We had a powerful time of prayer on Friday night, pouring out our hearts before God in confession, repentance and intercession. Why not commit to come every third Friday night of every month to do ‘prayer-warfare’ with us? Continue reading Pastoral Letter regarding the Xenophobic Violence in SA

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South African Crisis of Violent Rape and Murder

What is the cause of the unbelievable levels of violence in South Africa – specially in terms of rape and murder – what men do to women and children in our country? Our society and the public media, including the government, is debating what’s behind this, trying to isolate the cause of this pandemic of violence. What are your comments?

Continue reading South African Crisis of Violent Rape and Murder