Rays of Hope

I recently found an inspiring quote from our nation’s great leader:

Overcoming poverty is not a task of charity; it is an act of justice. Like slavery and apartheid, poverty is not natural. It is man-made and it can be overcome and erradicated by the actions of human beings. Sometimes it falls on a generation to be great. You can be that great generation. Let your greatness blossom.” Nelson Mandela

I’m challenged by this – and encouraged.

I know that Jesus said that we will always have the poor with us, but he also commanded us to look after the widows, the orphaned and the foreigner and to help those in need. I love this passage where he illustrates how we are serving him by caring for others in need:

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, …” –  Matt. 25

And the wise man Solomon said in Proverbs 19, “Whoever is generous to the poor lends to the LORD, and he will repay him for his deed.”

What a privilege it is to be able to serve the LORD from our hearts through our words, deeds and the things we’ve been given stewardship of!

Please JOIN us in being part of creating lasting change in Alexandra township, by working with us in these 2 ways:

B-BBEE

This is greatly important for us to create sustainability in impacting people’s lives in Alex. We’re looking for people and companies to partner with for the long term and are in the position to offer:

  • Ownership
  • Enterprise (ED) & Supplier Development (SuD)
  • Skills Development
  • Socio-Economic Development (SED)
  • We’ve created a trust for our B-BBEE partnerships, of which Rays of Hope is the sole beneficiary.
  • The benefits of partnering with us in this way include:
  • the highest number of B-BBEE points available to you, due to 100% black South African beneficiaries with <50% women ownership;
  • your reputation is safe due to Rays of Hope’s 27 year clean track record and excellent standing;
  • a holistic offering for companies combining a one-stop shop for B-BBEE partnership and CSI initiatives that have real impact, working together with our existing programmes in Alex.

Our next B-BBEE Information session will be on Tuesday 29th May 4:30-6:30pm at RUC. Please RSVP to tracey@raysofhope.co.za if you’re interested in attending.

If this is not something that pertains to you, please join us in spreading the word about it – you never know how YOUR sharing this information could impact lives!

Another initiative we’re running is FEED-A-FAMILY.

We support our families in the community with non-perishable food items – this is a way that anyone from RUC can help us!

This food is sorted and provides basic supplies for the 26 vulnerable families (140 people) in our Ithemba Labantwana programme, monthly.  We aim to provide about 25% of a family’s basic needs, to relieve financial pressures and in line with our philosophy of giving people a hand up, rather than a hand out. The children in the programme are also fed twice a week during homework club.

HOW DO I DO THIS?

Please collect one of the Rays of Hope buckets at the Info Desk in the RUC Street. A list of the items of each family’s needs will be included on each bucket. The type of items are mealie meal, tinned pilchards, soya mince, sugar, long life milk, baked beans, rice, soup, tea and peanut butter. We also include every second month, cleaning products and on alternate months, cooking oil. Please take the bucket and fill it with all or some of the items on the list and return the bucket to the Rays of Hope offices (behind the RUC main building), during the week or at the Info Desk on Sunday.

If you’d like to “adopt” a family for a 6-12 month period, in providing them with a full food bucket, please mail trish@raysofhope.co.za. This would be a great help in assisting us with our budgeting for our families.

And last but not least …

RAYS OF HOPE TOUR OF ALEX

Join us on Saturday 19th May for an exclusive Rays of Hope Tour of Alex! These only take place 3 times a year and offer you an opportunity to see first hand the work that we’re doing and to meet some of the amazing people we’re working with.

DATE & TIME: Saturday 19th May 2018, 9am-2pm (meeting at Marlborough office)

RSVP: by Tuesday 15th May to Trish@RaysOfHope.co.za

COST: R100, which includes braai lunch in Alex

Thanks SO much in being part of creating lasting change for good in Alex, in these ways!

FOR THOSE WHO ARE NEW TO RAYS OF HOPE

Rays of Hope was started by members of Rosebank Union Church’s youth in 1991, wanting to play a role in making a positive impact in our country, starting with our nearest township, Alexandra. Our first programme, Rose-ACT Saturday school has been run consistently since then. Rays of Hope and RUC have continued to partner and although Rays of Hope is an independent body, we are the church’s ministry to the poor.

Over the years Rays of Hope has blossomed into a network of nine community-based programmes focusing on caring for orphaned and vulnerable children, improving education and assisting with skills development and work readiness. We’re currently impacting over 2,600 people weekly, working together with many Alex-based partnering organizations, to make a deep, lasting impact on our neighbouring community.

By Kirstin Barwise (Marketing Manager)

So much of life feels ordinary. Paying bills. Going to school. Replying to emails. Buying toothpaste. But what if every single day we are missing many opportunities to glorify God in the ordinary?

I believe we are often guilty of a sacred/secular split in our lives. We say, “this stuff is spiritual, but this stuff is ordinary.” A more biblical view is to see all of life (even the ordinary) as gifts from God to be enjoyed, stewarded well and used to glorify God.

The Apostle Paul challenges us: So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. (1 Cor 10:31). All of life is packed into the word “whatever.” We are called to sleep, eat, drink, work, laugh, relax, play to the glory of God.

I read a short booklet this past week by Tim Chester. It may just be the single most profoundly challenging book I have read in a long time. It is entitled: The Everyday Gospel, A Theology of Washing the Dishes. I have never realised how much the Bible has to teach about something as ordinary as cleaning the kitchen sink – but it is a picture pointing to all of life! It is about making a link between Sunday and Monday! We can easily get caught up in the outward, upfront, visible, seemingly super-spiritual endeavours of the Christian faith and yet neglect the ordinary.

Martin Luther once asked whether it was possible to change nappies to the glory of God: “Alas, must I rock the baby, wash its diapers, make its bed, smell its stench, stay up nights with it, take care of it when it cries, heal its rashes and sores.” Before we turn up our nose at the ordinary, Luther breathes gospel air into our lives by saying: “What then does Christian faith say to this? It opens its eyes, looks upon all these insignificant, distasteful, and despised duties in the Spirit, and is aware that they are all adorned with divine approval as with the costliest gold and jewels.”

Perhaps that is why God’s Word calls church leaders to evaluate the ordinary in their lives: to be hospitable, not to abuse alcohol, to manage their families well, to have a good reputation with outsiders, etc. As someone once said to me: “Justin, you are only as spiritual as the rest of you!”

I believe the church of today is underestimating the power of the ordinary. The ordinary seems so boring compared to the great big projects of Christian endeavour. As Michael Horton writes, “‘Ordinary’ has to be one of the loneliest words in our vocabulary today … I am convinced that we have drifted from the true focus of God’s activity in this world. It is not to be found in the extraordinary, but in the ordinary, the everyday.”” (Ordinary, Sustainable Faith in a Radical, Restless World)

The ordinary is where you spend the majority of your time. Think how much time you spend eating, sleeping (a third of your life), working & relaxing and yet how many sermons have you heard on these subjects? So few books have been written! Surely if the majority of your life will be spent asleep, or at the table, or at work or at play then we should ensure we have a robust theology of the ordinary!

The chances are that it’s one of these areas that holds the greatest potential to either help or hinder your Christian walk and witness. The ordinary is where you sin the most. We sleep, eat, drink, work and relax either too little or too much. The truth is a straight line down the middle. Most Christians shipwreck their faith or blemish their witness because something went wrong in the ordinary.

Thomas Brooks the old Puritan preacher once said in the 1600s: “Little sins often slide into our soul, and breed, and work secretly and undiscernibly in the soul, that they come to be so strong, as to trample the soul… a little hole in the ship sinks it; a small breach in a sea-bank carries away all before it; a little stab at the heart kills a man; and a little sin, without a great deal of mercy, will damn a man.” (Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices)

May God enable us His people to redeem the ordinary as Jesus did. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. He slept among us. He cried among us. He got tired among us. He ate and drank among us. He enjoyed life among us. He expressed the full range of human emotions. He infused the common and ordinary with new meaning. He touched the unclean-leprosy-ridden “things” of this world and made them clean. And then He died and rose again among us to redeem us.

I have a renewed desire to be faithful in the little things. I am challenged by Jesus’ words: “Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much. (Luke 16:10). Perhaps it is being faithful in the ordinary things of life that will really be the next big thing – and radically change the world!

By Justin Tamlin (Pastor of Worship & Arts)

Diversity

The conditions for revival as we see in scripture include confession and repentance from presumptuous and wilful sins and seeking and pursuing the heart of God. Sin is an obstacle to authentic Christian living. Therefore, it is critical that it be dealt with in our personal lives and within God’s community. Many a time the church has found herself comfortable with certain sins to the extent that these become pervasive in her way of life and manifestation of the gospel message. Our brokenness has often expressed itself in how we relate with one another. Yet this is a critical aspect of our Christian living. In Mark 12:30-31, we are reminded of the fact that our love for neighbour is the second highest biblical priority after the love of God. Overt or covert racism is a direct violation of this second greatest command. However, the Church of our Lord has often missed the mark on this one as it has on several other areas of Christian practice. For example, the church got it wrong on slavery, through flawed theological, historical and social reasoning. Rosebank Union Church (RUC) needs to stand firm on the biblical truth of racial diversity – she must not conform to the cultural and political message that is ever so loud in our places of work and various social and family settings. We must diligently make an effort to do what leads to sincere peace and mutual edification across race, age and gender within our local church.

It is in this context that RUC Eldership began discussions on the state of racial diversity within our local church early in the second quarter of 2017. Later in that year the church had the “What’s Your Story” series that sought to encourage us to learn and embrace our differentness within the context of the gospel and our personal life journeys. After the series the Church Council committed to set aside a weekend (Bridge Weekend), with the help of the Heartlines Organisation, to address racial diversity at RUC. However, because of the racial composition of Council, which is largely white and male, some members of the church were requested to help enrich the discussions. These members consisted persons from RUC “minority” groups. There were 33 participants at the Bridge Weekend, 18 council members and 15 church members. The final group was fairly representative in terms of race, gender, age and stage of life, which provided a healthy balance of views, experience and opinion in the discussions.

The discussions were not easy but were necessary. The sharing of our personal stories opened our minds to how different we are in the journeys we’ve taken and how God has been working on us in our brokenness. Wounds of the past were opened. We were angry. We were defensive. We engaged with one another nonetheless. We are grateful to God that we did. We are grateful for the facilitation of Simon Lerefolo and Quinton Pretorius from Heartlines.

However, this is only the beginning of the journey towards biblical racial transformation and diversity at RUC. The leadership must develop strategies and tactics that will help RUC to live and practice the gospel vision of racial transformation and diversity. Our DNA must be transformed to reflect the gospel message in this regard. The Bridge Weekend discussions have helped RUC leadership to get moving on this journey.

Heartlines has agreed to partner with RUC on this journey. The group felt that:

  • RUC must devise a biblical theology of racial diversity.
  • RUC must develop and implement a plan for change both in the leadership and executive management structure of the church.
  • RUC must welcome the potential fear, anger and resistance to such change and support everyone to overcome these challenges.
  • RUC must ensure that the church has sound biblical goals and objectives on racial diversity and multi-culturism, preaching, worship, discipleship, ministries, leadership development, training, etc.

We are grateful to God for making it possible to embark on this endeavour. A big thank you to the membership and congregation for your prayers, thoughts and support. Let’s pray to God for help to make the change He requires of us at a deep and meaningful level. Let’s rid ourselves of the sin of racism in all its forms. Let’s dream God’s dream about the future of RUC. Let’s obey God in truthfully reconciling with each other. Let’s become the people God is calling us to be. Let’s pray that this may be a reality in His local church, during our time. In heaven we shall worship God in all our diversity, and that is, in part, God’s dream for his church:

“After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb … And he said, “These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” Revelation 7:9, 14.

by Tito Magagula

Ed Thomas

In celebration of the life of Edward Thomas, by Ros Thomas

You can’t really export something that you don’t honestly believe in. It has nothing to do with your circumstances or your feelings but your unflinching  trust in an unchanging God. It is better not to say anything than to be a fake. On the other hand, when God is doing a deep work in your life, you can’t help yourself; He simply pours out of you.

That’s  how Ed and I were from the start. Benzene and matches wherever we went. Each being inspired further by the other. I was the networker and Ed added the depth. Although we both worked full time jobs in the beginning, evangelism was the undercurrent of our every move. It was deeply satisfying. We learnt to live simply so that other’s could simply live. Our own children, started  arriving early in our marriage and they were part of our happy band. I became a full time mother when they were born and got involved in all sorts of things with them and at the same time reaching out to all kinds of lost people. Many came to live with us!

Weekends in our early marriage  looked like this:  We had a house church; Saturday evenings we had a youth group which included supper; Sunday mornings, at the crack of dawn, Ed preparing spiritually, me cleaning up, preparing lunch and then  both of us leaving for Cliffview Primary school at around 8am where Ed and I were Sunday school teachers. The highlight of that time was seeing the whole Sieberhagen family receiving Christ as their Saviour one by one- last of all was Bill their father who was a successful bank manager. The whole family years later became missionaries (mainly in Muslim countries). Our son Michael’s second name is Dean after the eldest Sieberhagen son.

We would rush home to prepare for the morning service and the Sunday school teachers who were teaching in Riverlea township in the afternoon would have a quick cup of tea. Then the morning service and then Riverlea in the afternoon, and sometimes an evening meeting.

Then it was students from all over Africa who lived with us to learn English. That went on for 7 years cooking for them 7 days a week. Many came to RUC and many had their lives totally transformed by God.

All the while, over the weekends, Ed was in the prisons mentoring people and teaching them. How they loved him! Later at Gold Fields he and his dear friend Gerald Gossman had Monday lunch time Bible studies for about 12 years for the people working there. A rewarding time for them both.

Then I became a part of a youth church just being around young people and loving them. Our first week brought in a 20 year old lad found on the corner  area of C.R. Swart and Beyers Naude on every drug under the sun. He received Christ that night and moved in and He has been clean of drugs for 13 years now and has a wife, 3 children and a successful Nursery School where he teaches, mentoring young children, many of whom don’t have daddies of their own. He spoke at Eds memorial.

About the same time, Celeste our third child arrived home from Wits University with Musa Manzi.  Broken and homeless after his mother and sister died leaving two daughters. He was kicked out of Wits that November because he had to return to KwaZulu Natal twice to do their funerals. Celeste found him crying. She brought him home, the two nieces followed- 6 and 8 they were at the time. We named them Joy and Hope. And they all lived with us for years. Back to Wits he went and years later he was the first black PHD in Geo Physics, winning top place in the world for his thesis. Ground breaking work! He has become a great influencer in multitudes of people’s lives all over the world. He sang a beautiful solo at Eds memorial service.

Then there was Alick Banda an unknown Black pastor from Malawi who arrived at this youth church with Curtis Love. God had called Alick to study at Bible college in Jhb. No money, no books , no nothing. But God had called him. We developed an instant love and respect for each other. I took him home to Ed and Ed did the mentoring for years. The three of us became members at RUC on the same day Leigh and Irene arrived to pastor at RUC in 2005, and they have mentored us ! The rest is history.

During this time, Ed had this old Citi Golf and he could fit in about 12 children, mainly, for church. He had to get extra suspension! After church every Sunday for years, he would take them to the garage on William Nicol near RUC and treat them all to hamburgers  and cold drinks.

Then it was Thailand, the richest experience of our lives. We found ourselves in the South for two years, me networking everywhere and Ed adding the depth. Ed spent hours and hours in Raj ‘s tailor shop in Aonang, Krabi , showing the Hindu leader in the area from his own Bagawadghita the flaws of his religion. I was poisoned later by Muslims and we came home. I was with my mom for the last eight months of her life. A rich experience.

After that a Singaporean man unknown to us, Michael Lim, invited us to serve God in the North East of Thailand, mainly among prisoners.  Immediately we both said yes. We were walking around Emmarentia dam at the time. We both knew instinctively that this was it: teaching English and the gospel!

I simply can’t explain to you adequately,  the thrill on our second visit to that particular men’s prison. We were studying light and darkness. They each had a page of pictures depicting light and darkness and I asked if anybody wanted to say anything. 52 year old Manop jumped to his feet instantly and literally fell over the tables and chairs to get to us first.  There in the middle of his page was a Buddha. Mama, he said, “me don’t  want Buddha, me want Jesus .” We led him and 6 or 7 others to Christ that day, then more and more. Celeste and Shaun had brought 14 NLT  Bibles from South Africa and, equipped with dictionaries for each one, we got stuck into the Word.

Not long afterwards the prison was closed to us, but God’s work had begun to take root.

It is GOD’S  work beginning and end, and He does the rest. Ed got very sick shortly afterwards and never recovered, dying two and a half years later. His work on earth was done. God had called him home; His work in me goes on.

Rays of Hope

And the King will answer them, “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did to me.”  (Matthew 25:40)

What a privilege it is to share in this mandate to love and serve our brothers as our King has told us to! And what a privilege it is to share in this mandate with YOU – the local body of Christ at Rosebank Union. Thank you for putting your resources, whether your time, talents, connections, finances and prayers, into action in helping us serve our brothers and sisters less fortunate than us.

May you and yours be blessed exceedingly and abundantly, as our Lord promises! When we sow generously, He promises that we will reap generously! Our God is not a man that He should lie, particularly in this area.

This month, we’re looking at missional living and I’d like to highlight a few people that you may or may not know of that serve in different ways, whatever they’re able to with the capacity they have, but together we serve a greater purpose – to spread the love of our Christ in a very tangible way, by (adapted from Matt. 25:35-36) “giving me food when I was hungry, giving me something to drink when I was thirsty, welcoming me when I was a stranger to you, clothing me when I was naked, visiting me when I was sick, coming to me when I was in prison”.

Some of the beautiful people I’d like to honour who have served with Rays of Hope over the years, include:

Our oldest volunteer, Dorothy, who collects food from Fournos Benmore weekly, and brings it to our Sandton office, which we then distribute to the Alex Old Age home, iThemba Labantwana (looking after orphaned and vulnerable children) and to the 23 creche’s, in Alex, which we support through our Early Childhood Development programme.

Our longest serving couple Richard & Denise O’Callaghan (both in their 70’s), who’ve served at Rose-ACT for over 10 years and who have been on the committee for longer, are absolute gems in serving the kids who come hungry to learn!

Our longest continually-involved-in-giving-back ex-Rose-ACT student, Banele Mtebele, who has been part of Rays of Hope, since starting at Rose-ACT Saturday school as a student in 2002, then became a part of our IGNITION Tertiary education support programme (whilst tutoring at Rose-ACT). Banele, now 30 years old, is an accomplished TV editor at Rhythm City, while still tutoring at Rose-ACT and has started his own Grade 9 life skills club (“Club 9-9”), to continue the work that was begun through Rays of Hope.

The amazing women, who serve in Home Based Care, who weekly go into situations, which would be difficult to face in a normal home situation, but are often next level challenging in a shack or single room – to serve those that are unable to look after themselves. Ladies, your tireless commitment is hugely admirable – thank you!

And last but not at all least, I’d like to acknowledge our longest standing staff member, Louise Cameron, a Dutch Ozzie, who has chosen to serve for the past 15 years running Rose-Act. Louise steadfastness in serving for so many years is a great example to me of commitment – thank you Louise for everything you’ve given, and continue to give, in serving in Rose-Act.

And in closing, in reference to Jesus’ words recorded at the end of Matthew chapter 25:

“Then the King will say to those on his right (the sheep he has separated), “Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world”.

So thank you to ALL who are already a part of this work in Alex – please keep sowing with and sharing about Rays of Hope! To those who aren’t yet a part of our work at Rays of Hope – we’d love to have you join us in this integral work in the kingdom and being a part of creating lasting change in Alex for good!

American evangelist Billy Graham died on Wednesday 21 February at the age of 99.

Ever since I came to know Christ at the age of nine, Billy Graham has held a special place in my heart, as he has in the hearts of millions of others all over the globe who believe the Bible and love his clear, powerful preaching of the good news of the gospel. My special ‘link’ with him is the fact that I was born on his 30th birthday, 7 November. Ever since I discovered this, I would remember him with joy and thanksgiving on my birthday. What a remarkable servant of God he has been.

Over the years of his ministry, he preached the gospel to an estimated 215 million people, in 400 evangelistic crusades in 185 countries on 6 continents! Wow!

At the beginning of his ministry, Billy Graham experienced what he called “a crisis of faith”. At a student conference in August 1949, in the San Bernardino mountains of California, his faith in the Bible was put to the test. Charles Templeton had asked questions about the Bible’s truthfulness that Billy could not answer. He went out in the forest and wandered up the mountain, praying as he walked: “Lord, what shall I do? What shall be the direction of my life?”

He saw that intellect alone could not resolve the question of the authority of Scripture. You must go beyond intellect. He thought of the faith used constantly in daily life: he did not know how a train or plane or car worked, but he rode them . . . Was it only in things of the spirit that such faith was wrong?

“So I went back and I got my Bible, and I went out in the moonlight. I got to a stump and put the Bible on the stump, and I knelt down, and I said, ‘Oh, God; I cannot prove certain things. I cannot answer some of the questions Chuck and some of the other people are raising, but I accept this book by faith as the Word of God.’”

That was a defining moment in the life and ministry of Billy Graham, and from then on, he confidently held out the word of life to millions through his preaching.

I am persuaded that unless we believe that the whole Bible is indeed the word of God we will not “hold out the word of life” (Philippians 2:16) to people where we live, work, and play.

Our Mission at RUC to CALL, EQUIP, and SEND disciples for the glory of God is rooted in our conviction that the Bible is the Word of God, and that Jesus’ words are true: “I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned but has crossed over from death to life” (John 5:24).

It is my prayer that our new sermon series, MADE FOR THIS (Finding your place in God’s mission), will strengthen our grip on the gospel and sharpen our skills in holding it out to others.

Rays of Hope

Rays of Hope’s partnership with Sparrow School in Melville that began in 2016 has continued to flourish this year. Thanks to generous donors linked to Rosebank Union Church, we were able to send 10 children from Alexandra (Ithemba Labantwana program) to Sparrow in 2017, and this year six new learners have joined the school.

Sparrow provides remedial and special needs education, with a strong Christian ethos. Not only do the children get a fantastic education, they learn that Jesus loves them no matter what their background or abilities.  The teachers know that if there is a concern about our children they can contact our field workers at Ithemba Labantwana and we can work together with the families to address it.

The first day was filled with excitement and some nerves (that were quickly settled when the children met their teachers and classmates). On the second day we received a call from the grandmother of one of the children, who was so grateful as her grandson had come back full of enthusiasm, describing every moment of his first day!

We know that these six new children will be greatly impacted by the support they receive at Sparrow, and give glory to God as we think about the progress the children made there in 2017. Their attitude towards school and learning has completely shifted. From being fearful of school and avoiding it where possible, they now love their education and are excited about learning. The confidence that this new environment has brought our children is incredible. One little girl in Grade 1 was so shy that she would never speak to or look an adult in the eye, but she has now blossomed into a playful, enthusiastic, joyful little girl who loves to joke and have fun. Not only this but she and others have gone from not understanding a word of English to communicating with ease. Several of our children have won awards for effort, achievement or for being helpful, kind and considerate classmates.

Many orphaned and vulnerable children from Alexandra struggle at school. The trauma they have suffered affects their learning and daily experience while classes often have 70 students with one teacher, so individualised attention for those who are falling behind is impossible. While our homework club helps to fill some of the gaps, sometimes more intensive intervention is needed.

We thank God for this provision and for our partnership with Sparrow and look forward to seeing what God has in store for these new little ones.

 

By Jennie Morley (Social Work Consultant)

At the start of January our Pastor of Worship & Arts, Justin Tamlin, returned from a 3 month sabbatical. For every 5 years of work, our pastors qualify for a well-deserved 3 month sabbatical period focused on self-development, rest and spiritual renewal.

We took the opportunity to ask Justin how God met with him devotionally.


How was your heart stirred towards personal devotion while on sabbatical?

My sabbatical has been one of the best gifts I have ever been given in 22 years of full-time pastoral ministry. What a privilege to have a few months off to reflect, read, write, travel, receive input and to spend extended time alone with God and with my family. In ministry it can be a real danger to read God’s Word and to immediately think of ways it could apply to other people in a sermon! I found it a joy to meet with God for extended times without the pressures of ministry in the background.

Any stories of how God spoke to you?

I realised that a busy heart is a closed heart. This unhurried season allowed God to speak deeply into my life. God exposed things in my life that I don’t always see amidst the noise of life.

God spoke to me through his Word about areas of self-sufficiency; fear; irritability, etc. He spoke to me about the difference between compliance and obedience. Compliance is mere dutiful performance, but true obedience is from the heart and motivated by love for Him. God reminded me of the gospel, His love, His purposes and plans.

God used His Word, prayer, long walks on the beach, significant conversations, and divine God-incidences to shape me, encourage me and remind me of gospel truths.

Paul Tripp’s book, “Dangerous Calling” was like heart surgery from a fellow pastor armed with a scalpel. In one place he writes: “You must die to your desire to be in control … You must die to your own kingship. You must die to the pursuit of your own glory … you must die to the maintenance of your own reputation. You must die to having the final answer and getting your own way. You must die to your unfaltering confidence in you. You must die.” Ouch!

Any tips to help others get in tune with God?

In our busy culture we have to carve out time for God – not just daily time, but special seasons and days where we can have extended time with the Lord. Longer times are like special meals where we get to savour and enjoy the nourishment! We live in a city where we are surrounded by tributes to our man-made endeavours. We need to spend time in nature so that we can look beyond the skyscrapers. Last year I took out an annual membership with the Botanical Society which allows me free entrance into any Botanical Garden in SA – an early morning before work at 6am; an early evening; an hour or two on a weekend – this was life transforming in my devotional life in the past year. Try a new (and trustworthy!) Bible translation – I recently purchased the new Christian Standard Bible (CSB) and have loved the freshness of discovering well known passages translated differently. Along with the new Bible I bought a set of Dry Highlighters and have been highlighting. It helps me to concentrate and to focus. Journal some points of application; read a good Christian book that can focus you on the Scriptures and expound them. Pray Scripture back to the Lord after your time in the Word. Use music to prepare your heart and finish your devotional time by singing truth! All these things and more have been a great blessing in reinvigorating my devotional life in the past year. Allow Christ, the living water to satisfy your soul! He invites you to come!

Devotions

Most well taught Christians recognize that having a regular time of Bible reading and prayer is absolutely vital for their spiritual growth. The challenge is making it happen. Most of us are by nature undisciplined and since we live busy lives filled with multiple obligations and distractions God is the One who most often gets bumped off our schedule. We make time for the things that are most important to us but, sadly, he often doesn’t make it onto that list. How are we to remedy this? Part of the solution lies in one unpopular word . . . discipline! We will not get into a regular rhythm and routine of meeting with God in his Word and in prayer without rugged discipline. We have to learn to handle ourselves, especially our feelings and our natural desire for comfort and ease if we’re going to win this battle.

In 1 Corinthians 9:24-27, the apostle employs an illustration from athletics to drive this point home. He writes,

“Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.”

Discipline means making my body my slave by doing what I may not feel like doing, and doing so over and over until it becomes a habit of life. As time goes by we begin the reap the rewards. We begin to enjoy the sweetness of God’s Word and the joy of his presence and drudgery turns into delight.

One of the keys in this process is to just keep starting over. If you miss a few days, start over. If you go on holiday or travel overseas on business and your daily routine is broken, start over. If you sin and don’t feel close to God, start over. Don’t give up! Start over!

Writing to Timothy, Paul again employs an image from the world of physical training to motivate us to discipline in our spiritual walk. “For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come” (1 Timothy 4:8). With this truth in mind, JUST KEEP STARTING OVER!

Christmas

As we prepare to celebrate the miracle of Christ’s birth at Christmas, we reflect on the lengths that God went to in order to be reconciled to an estranged humanity.

Scripture tells us, ‘God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. And he gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation.’ (2 Cor 5:19)

As those who have been reconciled to God through Christ, we have in turn been given a ministry of reconciliation, to be bridge-builders not only between God and man, but also between estranged peoples.

The ministry of Rays of Hope is like the Grayston Drive bridge connecting Sandton and Alex, a bridge between ‘the pot of gold’, Sandton, and ‘the pot of tin’, Alex. These two communities are the perfect symbols of the disparities and divisions in our country: divisions between suburbs and townships, rich and poor, black and white. Divisions which experts tell us are simply unsustainable; a ticking time bomb.

Rays of Hope, as that bridge, has been partnering with the community of Alex to create lasting change for 26 years. We run nine programmes in three focus areas: orphaned and vulnerable children, education and work readiness. Our work directly impacts 2 660 members of the Alex community.

We would love you, the community of Rosebank Union Church, to join us in this ministry of reconciliation and building bridges, throughout the year.

As Christmas approaches, we are excited to be participating in the Santa Shoe Box project. This is an initiative where members of the public place gifts of toiletries, stationery, clothing, sweets and a toy in shoe boxes, which are dropped off at Rays of Hope and distributed to all the children in our children’s programmes, as well as our partners in Alex: Alex Kidz Clinic, Takalani Day Care, Dinoko Day Care, Mercy House and Ikusasa Lisakhanya Reading Club.

This Christmas, let’s build bridges and be reconciled to one another, reaching out in love!