Christmas

For me, one of the most staggering truths in the universe is the fact that at a point in history “God appeared in a body” (1 Timothy 3:16). The baby born in the stable in Bethlehem was God. Mary held God! Think about it! Amazing! No wonder Paul exclaimed, “Beyond all question, the mystery of godliness is great: God appeared in a body!” (1 Timothy 3:16).

In a body, Jesus did his Father’s will. Although “tempted in every way, just as we are . . . (he was) without sin” (Hebrews 5:15).

In a body, he showed us God. He said, “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father” (John 14:9). All the attributes of God not visible in creation were made visible in Christ.

In a body, he suffered. “During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. Although he was a son, he learned obedience from what he suffered and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him” (Hebrews 5:7-9).

In a body, he died. Our salvation depends on his having died in our place for our sins on the cross. “Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behaviour. But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation” (Colossians 1:21-22).

In a body, he intercedes for us now at God’s right hand in heaven. As a struggling disciple, I continually find great encouragement in this truth: “Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are-yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” (Hebrews 4:14-16).

As we head into this Christmas season, take time to think more deeply about the incarnation. Let the mystery of the incarnation lead you to greater wonder, deeper worship, fuller commitment, and stronger confidence as we head into 2018 with all its uncertainties politically, economically, and personally. Whatever happens, remember “Immanuel … God with us” (Matthew 1:23).

Irene joins me in wishing you a truly blessed Christmas and in thanking you for your love, support, and prayers through another year.

Thanks

In this month of Thanksgiving we celebrate the many volunteers who have supported the various Rays of Hope programmes over the years, and say THANK YOU for your faithfulness.

For 27 years, Rose-Act Saturday School has called on members of RUC to tutor on Saturdays during school term.

Rose-Act wants to thank its amazing group of volunteer tutors and assistants, who selflessly give hours toward preparation of lessons and then another 2 hours of their time every Saturday to teach our students English and Maths. Their passion to help every child do the best they can and the love they show their classes enables Rose-Act to have the huge impact that it has.”

In about 2002, a group from RUC responded to a call to go and assist the terminally ill in their homes in Alexandra and so was born the Rays of Hope Home-Based Care programme.  Today, we say thank you to Lynne Bowker, our original volunteer, and current volunteers Corrine Andrews and Zandra Murray, who continue this calling to provide support, encouragement and prayer for those who are sick.

Another programme that was initially run by volunteers is Ignition, a programme offering students financial and mentorship support for tertiary education.  We thank God for Sarah and Craig van Zyl and Craig and Helen Pournara for their faithfulness and we thank each volunteer mentor of the programme for your journey with each of these young students.

Knox, a work readiness programme for the unemployed, was also initiated by volunteers and to Gary Seath, Mzi Kaka, Garth Barnes, Jimmy Copeland and Makhotso Fako who spend Saturday afternoons working with the unemployed and providing a range of work readiness skills, thank you.

The Ithemba Labantwana (hope for orphaned and vulnerable children) programme is another that has been blessed with so many volunteers. We are so blessed to have Richard O’Callaghan, Heather Blackstock, Graham Pfuhl, Claire Morrison, Jennie Morley and Jenny Laithwaite helping the children with literacy and numeracy at the Homework Club. A group of medical personnel have over the year helped our children with referrals and check-ups.

We also give thanks to the RUC Counselling Centre for their ongoing support in the lives of our children, as well as to many others from Alex who have been traumatised.

Our newest programme is our Early Childhood Development programme and once again, this continues through the dedication of volunteers Christy Bennet (programme co-ordinator), Gillian Leathers (curriculum developer and trainer) and a host of support volunteers in the fields of nutrition, occupational therapy, speech therapy, play therapy and baby stimulation.  The care givers in the ECD centres are immensely grateful for your input.

Another area of support has come from our “Friday ladies” who faithfully sort out donations for our various programmes and when the need arises, will swap sorting for sandwich making to ensure that Rose-Act students each get a sandwich on Saturday.

We continue to give thanks for the amazing way the Lord has ensured that Rays of Hope has been financially sustained in 2017, with many people giving to Rays of Hope over and above their tithe to RUC. We have seen wonderful partnerships develop between RUC owned/managed businesses and ROH! Thank you so much for your financial support, without which our work in Alex would not be possible.

“I thank God whenever I remember you ….because of your partnership in the Gospel from the first day until now” (Philippians 1:3)

Sola Scriptura

The first of the five solas of the Protestant Reformation is Sola Scriptura (Scripture Alone). Although, when we study the history of the Reformation, we rightly pay tribute to the men who were particularly used by God in bringing about that monumental shift in the church that has cascaded down the last 500 years changing the world we must never lose sight of the fact that the actual cause of the Reformation was the Bible.

It was through the study of the Scriptures, particularly Romans 1:17, that Martin Luther came to understand the doctrine of justification by faith. He wrestled and wrestled with that text until at last the breakthrough came and, through the work of the Holy Spirit, he understood that righteousness was God’s gift received by faith. This became known as Luther’s ‘tower experience’ where he encountered God through the text of Scripture and was changed from the inside out. He later wrote, “Here I felt I was altogether born again and had entered paradise itself through open gates . . . That place in Paul (Romans 1:17) was for me the very gate to paradise.”

Later, while hidden away in the castle in Wartburg, Luther translated the New Testament into German in just eleven weeks. It took a further twelve years (with the help of others) to complete the Old Testament. Having the Scriptures in the language of the people transformed the church in Germany. People who lived in darkness and superstition were brought into the light of salvation as the Word of God was read and preached in their own language.

The same thing happened in England through the life and ministry of William Tyndale. The Catholic Church in England would not allow the production of the English Bible, so Tyndale worked in secret in Germany. In 1526, he completed translating the first English New Testament. Despite strenuous efforts by Catholic bishops and other church officials (including the burning of Bibles and people), thousands of copies of Tyndale’s New Testament were printed and smuggled into England.

In 1535, while working on translating the Old Testament from Hebrew into English, Tyndale was arrested and imprisoned. After over a year in jail, he was sentenced to death by strangulation and burning. As he died, his final cry encapsulated his unwavering mission to bring the Word of God to the people: “Lord, open the king of England’s eyes!” Several years after his death, God answered that prayer. The political tide turned in England and Tyndale’s Bible was published.

The work and sacrifice of both Martin Luther and William Tyndale to provide the Word of God in the language of the people was driven by their belief that the Bible is the means God uses to save people from sin and grow them in holiness.

Thank God for his precious Word! But how do we say ‘thank-you’? Firstly, we do so by regularly reading and studying the Bible. How tragic it is to neglect the Book the Reformers paid such a high price to give us. How are you doing in this area? Do you regularly read the Bible?

A second way to say ‘thank-you’ for God’s Word is to give sacrificially so that people who do not yet have the Bible in their own language can get it. Our November Thank-offering at RUC provides you with the opportunity to do this. Most of this offering will go to provide Bible’s for people in the least reached areas of the world. I urge you, as a sign of your thankfulness for the Bible, to give generously. You may do so electronically or by placing your money in an envelope marked ‘Thank-offering’ and placing it in the collection bag on Sunday.

Mandela Month

Every year Mandela Day means lots of attention is given to our projects from corporates for one day only, which can do more harm than good. This year it was decided that we would encourage companies to engage with the projects over a longer period, or contribute to a more sustainable difference… and it worked!

26 companies engaged with us this year, most of whom were new engagements . We engaged with companies like Eskom, Sanlam, Hatch and Old Mutual, Hollard Insurance, Michaelangelo Hotel, Deloitte and Altech Netstar.

Activities varied from a week-long engagement with a child care centre, to renovations and big blanket and clothing drives. We were about to connect companies with  other community organisations, which we partner with in Alex.

Below are some of the Mandela-inspired examples:

Medtronic Africa visited a day care centre for 5 days, taking soup and rolls and reading to the children.

YFM did an extensive blanket driver and live broadcast from Altrek during the Rose-Act holiday club.  The blankets were shared amongst our projects, as well as being given to the Old Age Home, Hospice, Phuthadichaba, Christ Church Christian Care Centre, Ratang-bana and Bathusheng.

American Tower Corporation spent a day cleaning, painting and doing maintenance at House 1.  They purchased a new hob top so that homework club cooking can happen in House 1.

Torre Group invested in Takalani Day Care, doing a complete make-over with painting and repairs.

Public Investment Corporation invested in Ndivoyo with repairs, painting and resources, as well as treating the children to a party with a jumping castle, face-painter, Mandela Cake, party packs and balloons.

Gogo’s of Hope were treated to a movie by Mall of Africa and were given sandwiches, fruit and toiletry hampers prepared by Red Pepper Studios.

Goldfields spent the morning cleaning our offices in Marlboro at House 2.  Capital Group went to the foster family and cooked a dinner, whilst Thirst and Meridian Wine did collections and spent time playing with the kids at House 5.  Bureau Veritas Sandton team collected clothing for the children.

There were several other shorter initiatives too.

We are so grateful for the great interest and love shown to the community during this time . However we are keen to engage with more companies next year, particularly those with an eye to more sustainable longer-term solutions. In most cases, the once-off sugar high from a day of cup-cakes and fizzy drinks is not what Mandela would have hoped for.

‘ In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ –Acts 20:35

“There can be no greater gift than that of giving one’s time and energy to help others without expecting anything in return.’

– Nelson Mandela

To understand Martin Luther we need to understand something of the world into which he was born in November 1483. The period of history known as the Middle Ages (approximately 700-1300AD) was characterised by hardship, war and little scholarship. Gradually during the 14th century AD Europe started to experience more peace and stability and there was a renewed focus on learning, literature and art, later known as the Renaissance. People started to question and think for themselves.

The invention of the printing press in 1440 encouraged the spread of new ideas. Prior to this literacy was limited to the upper classes and the clergy, but now books and pamphlets became more readily available and more people learnt to read. Portions of the Latin Bible were printed and ordinary people were able, for the first time, to read God’s Word for themselves. It’s hard for us to imagine a time when only the clergy had direct access to the Bible, but this is how it was until late in the 15th century AD.

TIMELINE:

  • 11 November 1483 – Martin Luther was born in Eisleben, Saxony.
  • 1501 – He enrolled to study law at the University of Erfurt.
  • 1505 – The story goes that he was caught in a thunderstorm and in his fear he called out to God and promised to enter a monastery if he survived.
  • 1507 – He was ordained as a priest.
  • 1510 – He was sent to Rome as part of a delegation from the university and was shocked by what he saw there.
  • 1511 – He became professor of theology at the university in Wittenberg.
  • Luther tried for many years to earn salvation by good works – he fasted, prayed and chastised himself, but he continued to be oppressed by a sense of his utter sinfulness.
  • 1512 – He began to study the book of Romans and when he read Romans 1:17 God spoke to him and he realised that people are saved not by works but by faith – the righteous shall live by faith!
  • 31 October 1517 – Luther nailed 95 theses (propositions for debate concerned with the question of indulgences) to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenburg – in these theses Luther criticised some church practices, especially the sale of Indulgences. This is seen as the start of the Reformation.

An indulgence was a payment to the Catholic Church that purchased an exemption from punishment (penance) for some types of sins. Some of those selling indulgences even claimed that the souls of people who had passed away could be freed from purgatory by the purchase of an indulgence. A large portion of the Catholic Church’s revenue came from the sale of indulgences.

At this time the church believed that only a priest could administer the sacraments and without the sacraments there was no salvation so the church had a very strong hold on the people. Luther’s ideas would loosen the hold of the priests on the people.

  • July 1518 Luther was summoned to Rome to meet with the Pope – Elector Frederick of Saxony got the summons cancelled.
  • October 1518 – Luther had three interviews with Cardinal Cajetan in Augsburg. A papal bull declared some of Luther’s statements heretical without mentioning his name.

papal bull is a specific kind of public decree, or charter issued by a pope of the Roman Catholic Church. It is named after the leaden seal (bulla) that was traditionally appended to the end in order to authenticate it.

He met with Von Miltitz and they seemed to come to an agreement – the pope invited Luther to Rome to make his confession. (Emperor Maximilian died and the pope was involved in the selection of his successor and so left Luther’s fate alone for 18 months).

  • Leipzig debate July 1519. Eck managed to get Luther to say that he did not think Huss was altogether wrong – this meant he was siding with a condemned heretic. From this time reconciliation between Luther and the Roman Catholic church became impossible.
  • 15 June 1520 Pope Leo excommunicated Luther. All his writings were to be burned and he was to be imprisoned.
  • 10 Dec 1520 Luther publicly burnt a copy of the papal bull in Wittenburg.
  • Charles V had been elected emperor – he was a devout Catholic, King of Spain – he summoned Luther to the Diet at Worms in April 1521.

The Diet of Worms in 1521 was an imperial diet of the Holy Roman Empire held at the Heylshof Garden in Worms, then an Imperial Free City of the Empire. An imperial diet was a formal deliberative assembly of the whole Empire.

Luther was allowed to address the Diet and when the emperor demanded whether he would recant or not he is reported to have said: “If the emperor desires a plain answer I will give it to him. It is impossible for me to recant unless I am proved to be wrong by the testimony of Scripture. My conscience is bound to the Word of God. It is neither safe nor honest to act against one’s conscience. Here I stand. God help me. I cannot do otherwise.”

Frederick the Wise organised for Luther to be taken secretly to his castle at Wartburg where he remained in safety for about 10 months. During this time he translated the New Testament into German.

Luther was informed that some of his ‘followers’ were turning to violence and destroying statues, art works, etc in churches in Wittenburg so he returned there to teach them that such behaviour was not in line with Scripture.

  • In 1525 he married former nun, Catherine von Bora.

He wrote the official statement of faith of the Lutheran church in what has become known as the Augsburg Confession.

  • He wrote many books and encouraged the establishment of schools everywhere. He completed the translation of the whole Bible into German in 1542. He also wrote songs and hymns – ‘Away in a Manger’ and ‘A Mighty fortress is Our God’ are two of them.
  • He died on 18 February 1546 at the age of 63.

Luther did not set out to establish a new church or to break away from the Roman Catholic Church. He would have preferred to reform it from within, but when that was not possible he broke away. Many built on his work and went in diverse directions – Zwingli, Calvin, Anabaptists, Mennonites, Amish, etc.

We have the privilege of benefitting from these men of faith and their dedication to serving God according to the Bible.

– by Shelley Seiler

Reformation

On 31 October 1517 a 33-year old university professor by the name of Martin Luther nailed a series of theological propositions and arguments (that came to be called The Ninety-Five Theses) to the doors of the church in the small city of Wittenberg in Saxony, eastern Germany where he lived. “In doing so, he was imagining he would spark a debate in academic and ecclesiastical circles. In actual fact he changed Europe and ultimately the world. Today there are over 800 million people across the globe who could be described as ‘Protestant’ in one way or another. The stranglehold on Christian faith excercised by the Roman Catholic Church through the ministry of the priesthood was broken forever and the Bible became a book that was open to all to read and explore” (Andy Johnston in Convinced by Scripture).

“As the Reformers (Luther and others) looked at the European church, they saw an institution that had wandered from the heart of the gospel. And when the heart of the gospel is lost, the Christian faith is lost. Therefore these men and women were moved to put their livelihoods, homes, fortunes, and lives on the line to restore to the church the essential teachings of the gospel. These have come down to us by five Latin phrases: Sola Scriptura, Solus Christus, Sola Gratia, Sola Fide, and Soli Deo Gloria. Translated into English, they assert that salvation is according to Scripture alone, in Christ alone, by grace alone, through faith alone, for the glory of God alone. Each of these Solas proves to be essential to the gospel. We neglect them to our harm. When the church loses its understanding of these rallying cries of the Reformation, it loses the gospel” (Jason Helopoulos in These Truths Alone).

Rosebank Union Church is an evangelical Protestant church . . . the fruit of the Reformation. We thank God for our heritage and, together with Protestants around the world, celebrate the 500th Anniversary of the Protestant Reformation by remembering the Reformers and, above all, returning to the Scriptures to refresh our understanding of the Five Solas.

It is my deep prayer that the Holy Spirit will use this sermon series to strengthen our faith, sanctify our lives, and spur us on to be faithful witness of this amazing, life-changing gospel.

We live in a beautiful country! My Christian orientation tells me that God, in his sovereign will, orchestrated the birth of our democratic dispensation. Out of a divisive past and disjointed history, we emerged in 1994 as a people bound by the common vision of building a non-racial, non-sexist, democratic country that is prosperous in character, benevolent in spirit, and united in diversity. The hopes of many, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds, were raised high as a promise for ‘a better life for all’ became the mantra of the day.

So, I woke up in a new South Africa that had the potential to be great among the nations; led by imperfect, and yet determined leaders, seemingly willing to put the people first (Batho-Pele), and above their personal interests. As Church communities, we pray for righteousness that exalts the nation, for shared moral values that shape a people, and integrity that defines servant-leadership. We believe hard work and honesty, along with faith in God and commitment to serving the people, are essential traits in those who represent us in public service.

Today, however, our country is at the crossroads. Never did I dream that I would, so soon in our democratic order (23 years to be exact), find myself among concerned citizens and leaders of civil society, gathered in a conference to reflect on the future of South Africa. Weeks later I joined a #no-confidence-march to parliament in Cape Town. Somewhere along the journey, erosion crept in and we lost the plot. Values we purported to uphold no longer seem to apply.

Ubuntu, the sheer principle of recognising the worth and the dignity of fellow human beings, is sacrificed at the altar of “me first.” The pervasiveness of corruption both in the private and public spheres, is not only shocking, but evil and an affront in God’s eyes. Lack of a high code of ethics and morality required for public servants is a serious indictment.
The Church is again required to stand up for what is right. We cannot afford to be silent and complacent in the face of the scourge that ravages our nation and steals our future. Yes, we must fast and pray! And at the same time – be ready to speak truth to power!

Nkos’ sikelel’ izwe lethu (God bless our nation).

After nearly six years of “weeping”, there was “joy in the morning” at Rosebank Union Church on Sunday 20 August when Stephen McGown and his wife Catherine stepped to the front of the church.

Stephen was kidnapped by Al Queda in Mali on 25 November 2011 and was held by them in the remote Sahara North until his miraculous release and return to his family a few weeks ago.

Immediately following Stephen’s capture, hundreds of members of RUC began praying for him. Inspired by the American wartime song about tying a yellow ribbon around the old oak tree, one of our members, Frances Cowen, made hundreds of yellow ribbons available at the church. We tied them around trees and shrubs in our gardens and on our gates and doorposts to remind us to pray for Stephen and his family. These faithful yellow ribbons were blown by the wind, bleached by the sun, chilled by the cold, and soaked by the rain. As trees grew over nearly six years, the ribbons bit into their trunks and branches leaving permanent scars as reminders. As we saw our ribbons day by day, we would shoot up arrow prayers for Stephen and his family as well as pray on our knees, in our homes and in our church services. Sometimes there would be more than a year between a proof-of-life video or any news of Stephen and our faith would flag. We wondered whether he would ever be free again. I have to confess that there were times when I began to prepare his funeral sermon in my mind as I despaired of him ever been released.

Then came that glorious day when the news broke: STEPHEN IS HOME! Our private rejoicing found corporate expression at the 10 am service last Sunday when I invited Stephen and Catherine and their family to the front of the church. As one person the congregation stood, and applauded and cheered for a solid three minutes. Weeping had stayed for the long night of nearly six years, but joy came that morning. It was a great Sunday!

When the applause died down I handed the microphone to Stephen who shared is joy at being home and humbly thanked the Rosebank family for our prayers.

Stephen removed the yellow ribbon from the “old oak tree” at the McGown home (see picture) as have many of us, but their need for our prayers remains as they move into the future facing many adjustments.
Stephen’s story is an encouragement to all of us to persevere in prayer for people and situations where we need a miracle. Remember . . .

“Weeping may stay overnight, but there is joy in the morning” Psalm30:5 CSB

The 30th July was our annual “Rays of Hope” Sunday where we have a specific focus on the work of our non-profit organisation working to bring lasting change to the people of Alexandra Township.  Thanks to all the staff and volunteers of Rays of Hope for all the effort they put in to give us a glimpse into the Alex Stories.

The video above is a brief overview of a few of the projects of Rays of Hope.

Thanks to AG2G Entertainment for putting the video together.