Can anything surprise God?

Football - Absa Premiership 2012/13 - Chippa United v Orlando Pirates - Athlone Stadium

Football - Absa Premiership 2012/13 - Chippa United v Orlando Pirates - Athlone Stadium

by Carl Brook
Originally published at are we dancer?

The senseless killing of Bafana Bafana goalkeeper and captain, Senzo Meyiwa, has shocked many soccer fans around the globe. In conversations and news reports one might hear of his ‘untimely death,’ or that his life was ‘cut short.’ The general feeling is that here was a life ended in the most unfair and iniquitous fashion.

But is death ever fair?

One of the great truths about God that most of us learned from a young age is that He is omniscient – He knows everything. This leads us to believe that there are, of course, no ‘accidents’ with God, that He knows about events (even tragedies and disasters) before they happen. In this sense death cannot be described as untimely, since our times are in His hands. As Job confessed, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.”

A danger with this way of thinking is the temptation to fatalism, the idea that we have little or no influence over what happens to us. It’s essentially a pagan worldview in which humans are mere pawns in a cosmos controlled by fickle supernatural powers. Not so different to what we see in the world today! The powers have different names, that’s all. Even our religion – that aspect of life in which we strive to escape fate – can be subject to those powers.

The story of Lazarus is important because it shows us that while Jesus was not surprised by death (he knew that his friend has died before anyone else did), he became angry at its cursed effect. Death was never part of God’s original plan for humanity; it was the result of sin. As the apostle Paul points out, it is Christ’s death and resurrection that redeems this sad situation and gives us hope here and now.

Death may not have surprised Jesus, but there are at least two occasions in the Gospels where we read that Christ was ‘amazed.’ One is at Nazareth (Mark 6:6) and the other at Capernaum (Luke 7:9). The common denominator in both these episodes is faith.

Nazareth – the absence of faith, where you might expect it

The people are impressed with Jesus’ wisdom, at first. They’re struck by the truth and authority of his message. In fact it moves them out their comfort zone so much they forget their manners, and we see familiarity breeding contempt. Because the people think they know him (‘isn’t this the carpenter?’), because they know his family, they won’t believe what he has to say.

Does familiarity breed contempt today? To say we KNOW Jesus often means to say that we OWN Jesus. He’s our boy, our carpenter. Familiarity breeds contempt by possession: we have our own ikon, or (dare I say) idol of Christ in our pocket, created in our image. When that happens, our faith is reduced to religion; the gospel  to something we do on Sundays. We tend to domesticate Jesus, but – as Lucy is told in Narnia – Aslan is not a tame lion!

The shame of Nazareth is that its synagogue was a place where one might expect to find faith. Instead, it’s noted by the absence – not presence – of faith. If Jesus ‘could not do any miracles there’ because of a lack of faith in the house of God, how can we expect him to work in our churches today? His rhetorical question in Luke 18:8 is thus really disturbing: ‘when the Son of Man returns, will he find faith on the earth?’

Capernaum – the presence of faith, where you might not expect it

What was it that so upset the congregation at Nazareth? In the parallel passage in Luke 4, we see how Jesus’ sermon rocked the boat, defying expectations. Notice who it is that receives God’s mercy: not the Israelites, but two foreigners: a widow in Zaraphath and Naaman the Syrian. In other words, God extending grace to those outside the ‘household of faith.’

Jesus’ ministry follows much the same pattern, extending grace to people whom the Pharisees felt did not deserve it. Looking at his lifestyle, we see this is what got Jesus into trouble all the time – hanging with the wrong people: Samaritans, lepers, prostitutes, tax-collectors.

Why? Why is it that a Roman centurion in Capernaum understands the nature of Christ’s authority better than so many pious Jews? “I tell you, I have not found such great faith – even in Israel.” A remarkable assessment for a man Jesus had not even met!

The presence of faith where we might not expect to find it.

Does this resonate with you? Jesus took grace into dark places – and was pleasantly surprised to see a reflection of light, an echoing response of faith.

***

Carl Brook and his wife Elma direct CFC, an evangelical mission on the KwaZulu-Natal coast. Carl also edits the e-zine of ANiSA, the Anabaptist Network in South Africa. Follow Carl on Twitter – @arewedancer.

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Educating for Eternity in the context of the secular state

Classroom of the Armitage Senior Secondary School/The Gambia

by Hugh Wetmore
Published at The Christian Blogger

This is the last of a three-part series where Wetmore has looked at the relationship between the church and a secular state.

Read part 1: The growth of the Christian faith in a secular state.

Read part 2: How the secular state contributes to the growth of the Christian faith


 

Has our previous education system been able to “educate for eternity?” From what I’ve seen of religious education (R.E.) in our schools, it makes Christianity very boring and puts kids off. Any old teacher gets assigned to teach it, regardless of whether he/she is a Christian or not.

And I would agree. My five years of compulsory “scripture” classes at high school were a joke. I don’t remember one serious scripture lesson. Mostly we just did our homework in that period. Later in the early 1970s our daughter Cherie was explicitly taught evolution in standard two (Grade 4). She came home and told us about this strange teaching and then said, “But I told the teacher she was wrong. God made everything like it says in the Bible!” So much for our highly-praised Christian-orientated Education System. Its weakness lay in trying to make it Christian without having Christians teaching it. When a teacher doesn’t believe what he/she is teaching, the sham is felt by the children, and this does worse damage than not teaching the subject at all. This is the essence of hypocrisy, and this always brings down the judgement of God.

So what is the key to handling “education for eternity” under the new a-religious education system? Get as many Christians as possible into education!

This is what happened in Singapore. In the mid-80s, Christians totalled only 12 percent of the national population. But 30 percent of all university students were Christians. How can one account for this in a school education system that is religiously neutral? 38 percent of all school teachers were Christians. Though not allowed to proselytise, their informal witness and influence, and extra-curricula Christian activities, sowed Gospel seeds.

Christians need not fear Secular State education

A secular or religiously impartial state will affect our State education system more radically than any other aspect of life in South Africa. Yet we need not fear that a non-Christian education will damage our children’s faith.

*An evangelical leader from Cuba told me that in his country, where all children are subjected to anti-Christian Marxist propaganda at school, very few of the children from Christian homes lose their faith. The reason is that Christian parents take their discipling responsibility seriously. At the Family Altar they instruct their children daily in the ways of God.

*A South African missionary to Japan, on the recommendation of a local Christian, enrolled his children in a nearby State school. The education system was thoroughly Buddhist. Yet his children became far stronger Christians than the children of other missionaries who chose the Christian private school route. They experienced the Christian upbringing of their own home. At school, they took their stand for Christ at a young age, learning from experience the superiority of Christ over other gods.

* A YWAM college student told me how her parents had sent her to a Christian school in the USA to protect her from the evils of secular state-school education, where scripture and prayer were not permitted. On graduation, she was totally unprepared for life in a non-Christian environment. Humanistic philosophies made her version of Christianity seem stupid. She fell for every temptation going. Only years later did she recover her faith in Christ.

The essential role of the Christian home

These examples show that the key to ensuring the spiritual survival of our Christian children in a non-Christian state education system lies in the Christian Home. Home discipling will ensure that we have nothing to fear from their exposure to the real world outside. Churches should equip parents for this this responsibility. Do not leave Christian education to agencies outside the home and Church.

What could a religiously neutral education system look like?

Surprisingly, South Africa has long had “religiously neutral” state school education – among the Iindian population. Instead of Christian National Education taught elsewhere, our Indian schools had a subject called “Right Living”, teaching ethical conduct, good manners, and common civilised values.

In the “secular state” of Singapore, the curriculum has three core components which are compulsory from the first day of school to the last: English, Mathematics and Moral Education. Moral Education concentrates on “core Asian values”. What are these? President Wee Kim Wee believes that “The essence of being a Singaporean includes placing society above self, upholding the family as the basic building block of society, resolving major issues through consensus instead of contention, and stressing racial and religious tolerance and harmony”.

We can teach good moral values for society without basing them on Christian ethics. Because of the common grace of God, we share a wide range of moral values with the noblest ethical teachings of other faiths.

During the 1990 Rustenburg Church conference I was discouraged to see how wide and deep was the differences in ethical standards among Christian churches. They were split down on the middle on issues such as homosexual practice, abortion on demand, extra-marital sex. In 1992 I attended an Inter-Faith Conference in Pretoria where I conducted my own private survey of ethical values among Muslim, Hindu, Jewish and Baha’i theologians. I was surprised to see that evangelical Christians have more in common with the ethics of other faiths than with the ethics of more liberal Christians in our churches. Remember the primary purpose of the curriculum is to prepare good citizens. God will open up extra-curricula witnessing opportunities in His own time and way, as we are ready to recognise them.

Objective religious education

A religiously impartial education system studies religions descriptively. Teachers must teach about each world religion as objectively as possible. The purpose will be to develop religious understanding and tolerance. Christians should be careful not to use their official position as “teacher” to influence impressionable children in an unprofessional way. Yet in other ways, Christians will have to be more aggressive. We cannot sit back in the hope that the state will preserve our values for us. Christian parents must get involved in the community-control of the school their children attend, and speak up for Christian concerns. We should use the right of Christian agencies such as SCO, CSV, SU to have free access to school premises for voluntary activities outside of normal school hours – during long lunch breaks or after school. As we do so, we will have to justly concede that the youth movements of other religions will also have this right. Christians will have to stand up and be counted as never before. Be alert to expose subtle religious indoctrination of Secularism, Humanism, Materialism, The Occult, New Age. Wide-awake Christians must expose every other philosophy that seeks to establish itself as the controlling ideology in education.

A religiously impartial State and education system can only be to the advantage of the Gospel. I really believe that, given a level playing field, Christianity will win out in the end. After all, no other religion has a Gospel that is the power of God to save everyone who believes! (Romans 1:16). A religiously impartial national education system does not mean sacrificing values. As we have seen, many aspects of our Christian value system are shared by other religions. Rather than speak of “Christian values” we will have to speak of “Values compatible with Christianity” just as Muslims and Hindus will speak of values compatible with their religions. This does NOT mean that Truth is unimportant, or that we don’t care about Christian distinctives. We are simply affirming the state’s mandate to rule with justice over people of all religions, even over people who teach a lie. Furthermore, it is the responsibility of the Church, not the state, to conserve and propagate the true doctrine of God (1Timothy 3:15).

The role of the Christian private school

Is there a place for the private Christian school? Most certainly yes! But its role is NOT to replace the home environment for Christian upbringing. Its role is NOT to help lazy Christians cop out of their God-given responsibility (Deut. 6:4-6). They must not provide a cocoon that is so Christian-protective that young people emerge unable to handle the stresses of the real world outside. In 1991, EFSA convened a Symposium on “The Future of Religious Education in a New Education System” and one of the private schools represented stated its admissions policy as “only accepting Christian children”, to ensure it remained a Christian School. There was a healthy disagreement over this exclusive position.

In terms of the survival and growth of the Christian Faith, the role of the private school should include evangelism. It is well-placed to reach children from non-Christian families with the Gospel and to disciple them for Christ. Most Christian private schools offer superior education and sports facilities, and special-interest coaching that will attract pupils, even from non-Christian religions. If then private Christian Schools maintain a healthy enrolment of both Christian and non-Christian scholars, they will go a long way in avoiding the dangers of becoming a Christian ghetto. Christian pupils will rub shoulders with non-Christians, be exposed to temptations in a context that can help them handle them victoriously, and have the challenge of witnessing to others who do not yet know their Jesus. A balanced enrolment helps bring normality to what could be an abnormal environment.

IN CONCLUSION

In a religiously impartial state, the Christian faith will not only survive, it will grow – qualitatively and quantitatively. But this will not happen if we are careless and slack in our witness. The religiously impartial state education Policy calls for a new alertness to see incipient dangers, a new creative imagination to make the most of the opportunities we have, a new courage to witness to Christ and His truth in a sometimes hostile environment, and a new commitment to Jesus Christ and to prayer. Such a Church, and such Christian educators, will educate for both time and eternity!

***

Hugh Wetmore is the General Secretary of the Evangelical Fellowship of South Africa.


 

This was the last of a three-part series where Wetmore has looked at the relationship between the church and a secular state.

Read part 1: The growth of the Christian faith in a secular state.

Read part 2: How the secular state contributes to the growth of the Christian faith

How the secular state contributes to the growth of the Christian faith

church-vs-state_sign

by Hugh Wetmore
Published at The Christian Blogger

This is the second part of a three-part series. Read the first part: The growth of the Christian faith in a secular state.

By their teaching, the Lord Jesus and His apostles lead us to expect that the normal state of the Church is to live under persecution. (Matt.5:11, 12; John 15:18-20; 16:2). Paul wrote to timid Timothy: “In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” (Read 2 Tim. 3:10-13)

Persecution and Church Growth in the Early Church

The history of the early Church in Acts shows a direct link between persecution and Church growth. (Acts 4:1-4; 5:41 -6:1). Acts 8 describes how persecution led to the spread of the Church into its second growth phase, the phase Jesus had predicted in Acts 1:8 (Acts 11:19-26; 13 onwards). Paul found that persecutions and suffering preceded major people movements into the Kingdom (13:44-52) prompting Paul’s teaching that “we must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God” (14:22). The churches of Philippi, Thessalonica, Corinth and Ephesus were born through persecution. It was through long imprisonment that Paul reached Rome.

By contrast, evangelicals in South Africa have lived quite comfortably. We had freedom to evangelise (non-politically!), and taught Scripture in state schools, and with access to state radio/TV for presenting the Gospel. Conservative evangelicals who visited us from other countries have envied our freedom under a “Christian government”.

But by Biblical standards, we have been living untypically. Paul would have questioned our godliness! Under such a government, the Church apparently thrives. Many people adopt Christianity knowing it won’t cost them too much. Christianity easily becomes Nominal. Census statistics give an inflated picture of Christian strength. These nominal Christians dilute the image of true, virile Christianity. There is little difference between Christian and non-Christian lifestyles. Devout ministers find they must evangelise their own members inside the church. Second-blessing theologies develop in an attempt to explain the mediocre level of Christian experience, and help professing Christians become more like true Christians.

The detrimental effects of the first Christian Government

For the first three centuries of its existence, the Church experienced persecution. The cost of becoming a Christian sifted out any who might be tempted to come on board for an easy ride (cf Matt. 8:8-22). Consequently, the quality of Christian discipleship was high like “refined gold” (1 Peter 1:6-7).

And in those first three centuries the Church grew numerically too. “The blood of the martyrs was the seed of the Church”. The morethe martyr-seed was scattered, the more the Church spread.

The Church not only survived Rome’s three centuries of all-out blitzes which tried to exterminate Christianity, it grew. It grew not “in spite of” persecution. It grew “because of” persecution. It grew with a qualitative and quantitative growth.

The scene changed. In AD 313 Constantine became the first Christian emperor of Rome, and immediately stopped all persecution of Christians. He inaugurated the first “Christian” government. Whereas before it had been dangerous to BE a Christian, now it was dangerous NOT to be a Christian.

Suddenly, tens of thousands of heathen adopted Christianity. Numbers increased, but quality decreased, converts brought many of their heathen customs with them. As ‘the world’ entered the Church I grew wealthy and powerful, as the Church Empire emulated the Political Empire. Furthermore, idolatry entered the Church, as statues of the saints replaced the heathen idols. With idolatry came superstition. Insted of the Church being in the World, the World was now in the Church.

The persecution that had kept the Church humble and pure had ceased. The new government of Constantine favoured Christianity, and the Church became flabby and weak. Do you wonder that I do not want today’s government to favour Christianity above other religions? I do not want to repeat the mistakes of the past. I do not want a flabby, weak Church!

Survey of the health of the Church in the world

How does the Church fare in today’s world?

There is still plenty of persecution around. There are more Christian martyrs in our century than in any other century since Christ.

My study of Patrick Johnstone’s “Operation World” (1986 edition) found convincing proof that the Christian Faith grows best in a climate of religious neutrality or opposition. Look at the Church under repression: In Angola, Burkina Faso, Zaire, Romania and other East European countries then under Marxist repression, the Church has thrived. China’s record of Church Growth from 1 million to 50 million Christians under the severest Communist persecution well proves my point.

It is not only State repression of Christianity that enables it to flourish. Some nations have chosen the path I am advocating: Freedom of Religion without discrimination or favouritism. In these countries too, the Church prospers. Mexico is a “secular State with freedom of Religion”, and there is steady church growth. Singapore has the most complex mix of world religions of any nation in East Asia. Its official policy is “a secular state with Freedom of Religion”, and the government states the reason for this policy: “to achieve social peace and harmony by maintaining religious equilibrium” Yet between 1986 and 1989, the number of Christians in Singapore grew from 12% to 18%! Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew devoted his 1989 National Day speech to expressing concern that Christians were now upsetting the religious equilibrium of the nation! If the government tries to restore the equilibrium by repressing the church, it will aggravate their problem even further!

And what of our own country? South Africa’s church growth has levelled off and is dropping, under a Government that favoured Christianity, gave free air time to Christian churches and promoted Christian National Education in the schools.

There is enough evidence from Scriptures and from the contemporary experience of Christians worldwide to derive a Theorem that reads: The Christian Faith is most likely to prosper in a climate of political disadvantage. Wise politicians who wish to stifle the Church would then adopt policies favouring the Church, sure that this will eventually render it weak and useless in the nation. At the same time they would restrict other religions and ideologies, knowing that this would enhance their chances of success. For the Christian Faith is not the only “philosophy” that thrives under persecution: note how the PAC, ANC, SACP prospered under the South African government’s 30 – 40 year banning! (*3)

This is the second part of a three-part series. Read the first part: The growth of the Christian faith in a secular state.

***

Hugh Wetmore is the General Secretary of the Evangelical Fellowship of South Africa.

Neoliberalism and the Gospel

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Jesus The Market is Lord

by Steve Hayes
Originally published at khanya.wordpress.com

“And Elijah came unto all the people, and said, How long halt ye between two opinions? if the LORD be God, follow him: but if Baal, then follow him. And the people answered him not a word (I Kings 18:21).”

It seems to me that for many Christians the Gospel of Neoliberalism has replaced the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

I’ve known that for a long time, and have blogged about it before (here, and here, and here).

But today I was reminded of it again when several people brought various articles on it to my attention:

As one of these articles points out, Neoliberalism has brought out the worst in us | Paul Verhaeghe | Comment is free | theguardian.com:

“Bullying used to be confined to schools; now it is a common feature of the workplace. This is a typical symptom of the impotent venting their frustration on the weak – in psychology it’s known as displaced aggression. There is a buried sense of fear, ranging from performance anxiety to a broader social fear of the threatening other.

Constant evaluations at work cause a decline in autonomy and a growing dependence on external, often shifting, norms. This results in what the sociologist Richard Sennett has aptly described as the “infantilisation of the workers”.”

And this Sick of this market-driven world? You should be | George Monbiot | Comment is free | The Guardian:

“Today the dominant narrative is that of market fundamentalism, widely known in Europe as neoliberalism. The story it tells is that the market can resolve almost all social, economic and political problems. The less the state regulates and taxes us, the better off we will be. Public services should be privatised, public spending should be cut, and business should be freed from social control. In countries such as the UK and the US, this story has shaped our norms and values for around 35 years: since Thatcher and Reagan came to power. It is rapidly colonising the rest of the world.”

But in some ways this point is the most telling, and raises the question that Elijah put to the Israel of old: Sick of this market-driven world? You should be | George Monbiot | Comment is free | The Guardian:

“Neoliberalism draws on the ancient Greek idea that our ethics are innate (and governed by a state of nature it calls the market) and on the Christian idea that humankind is inherently selfish and acquisitive. Rather than seeking to suppress these characteristics, neoliberalism celebrates them: it claims that unrestricted competition, driven by self-interest, leads to innovation and economic growth, enhancing the welfare of all.”

When a Christian script was running in many people’s minds (see Counterscript to know what that refers to) Greed was regarded as one of the Seven Deadly Sins, but in the Gospel according to Neoliberalism, it is the supreme virtue.

And for many Christians, the Neoliberal script has started to drown out the Christian one, and so raises the question of Elijah: How long halt ye between two opinions? if the LORD be God, follow him: but if Baal, then follow him.

“Baal” is a word that means lord or master, and the deity referred to was Melqart, the god of the Phoenician city of Tyre. Melqart was a god of rain and fertility, and hence of material prosperity, and was invoked by Phoenician traders for protection of their commercial enterprises. In other words, the cult of Baal was a prosperity cult, which had lured the people of Israel, and was actively promoted by their Phoenician queen Jezebel, the wife of King Ahab. The people of Israel had the prosperity script playing in their minds.

In our day too, many Christians have the prosperity script playing in their minds.

The post immediately preceding this one, on Neopentecostal churches and their celebrity pastors, points to a phenomenon that Christian missiologists like to refer to as inculturation or contextualisation, which, in a good sense, means making the Christian gospel understandable to people living in a particular culture or context. But in the prosperity gospel preached by some Neopentecostals, the Christian gospel has been swamped by the values of Neoliberalism. One could say that “prosperity theology” is the contextualisation of the Christian gospel in a society dominated by Neoliberal values, but to such an extent that the result is syncretism.

But while the Neopentecostals sometimes do this explicitly, many other Christian groups do it implicitly, and we need to ask ourselves where our values really come from — from the gospel of Jesus Christ, or from the gospel of the Market. Jesus Christ is the love of God incarnate, but the Market, or Melqart, or Mammon, is the love of money incarnate.

When the world urges us to celebrate the virtues of Greed, whether subtly or blatantly, do we resist it? Are we even aware of what is happening? Or do we simply allow that script to play in our heads, telling us “You deserve it”?

Last week a couple of journalists were asking me why Neopentecostal churches that preach a properity gospel, like T.B. Joshua’s Synagogue Church of all Nations, are growing in popularity, and one answer is that given by George Monbiot in the article quoted above — that the values of Neoliberalism, promoted by Reagan and Thatcher, are now colonising the whole world.

***

Steve Hayes is a freelance writer, editor, teacher, missiologist, Orthodox deacon, Inklings fan, church historian, and AIC researcher. Follow him on Twitter –@hayesstw.

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Oscar Pistorius, Mark Driscoll, and I walk into a bar

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by Brett “Fish” Anderson
Originally published at brettfish.wordpress.com


 

There have been two stories dominating my Facebook feed the last day or so [I’m not even going to touch on the Renee Zellwegger face thing – we created that circus!] and they are both ones I have tried to keep largely clear of. Until now.

OSCAR GOES TO…

The Oscar Pistorius sentencing saga [because if the Twitterer is to be believed, it WAS that] which has been lurking on news headlines stuck to lampposts, Tweet Hashtags and Facebook status updates, meant that the whole trial soap opera [because it really became that – I imagine that so many of the people glued to their screens might have forgotten at some stage that they were watching a murder trial] from a year or so ago, was brought back ‘for a new season’ complete with media attention and a cliff hanger.

Soon there was commentary happening all over the place on how just or unjust the sentencing was and comparisons of this case to other ‘less serious’ cases with bigger sentences, with focusing on how soon he will be able to get off and so on.

In the midst of it all there was a much forgotten woman and murder [or culpable homicide] victim named Reeva Steenkamp. Who, in many stories had simply become ‘the girlfriend’.

This article by Kat Lister on the Huffington Post provided helpful commentary in terms of reminding us that as much as the media [and many of us] made the whole thing about Oscar, the famous guy, the celeb, the international athlete, at the heart of the story was a woman who was killed – people lost a daughter and a sister and a friend. How this has “ruined Oscar’s career” should not even be up for discussion.

Within minutes of the sentencing there were jokes happening all over the Internet, with the delightful Twitterer tag #ThingsLongerThanOscarsSentence leading the way, because ‘humour helps us deal with tragedy’ or some other crap like that.

The reason I avoided [as much as was possible] the trial from the beginning was because of the vile fact that because Oscar Pistorius was a celebrity meant that his case was going to be treated differently. Because, having lived through O.J.Simpson and other celeb murder trials, it was obvious that it was going to become entertainment from early on. Entertainment. A murder trial. Can we just take that in for a second?

THE MARK OF GRACE

Meanwhile, across in Americaland, Mark Driscoll had finally been relieved of his position heading up one of the larger church congregations over there. Another celebrity, with less serious but still completely significant crimes and misdemeanors. There had been a number of incidents over the past couple of years and more so in recent months, and eventually someone saw fit to pull the plug on his ministry.

Then today a mate posted this video where Mark was attending a conference and was called on to stage by Robert Morris, who is one of the pastors helping him through this difficult time, with Morris saying, “We’ve always got two reactions to someone in the spotlight falling…. crucify them, or forgive them, like we’ve been forgiven.”

Having followed a little bit of the Driscoll story, mostly through different articles people post or tag me in, that statement really concerned me to some extent. I finally got to watch the video clip this evening and they basically call him on stage, to a standing ovation, and give him the mic, so he can talk about how badly his family has it at the moment [which is a really tragic thing on the one hand, but after announcing that Mark was humbly attending the conference just like a normal person, they then allowed the spotlight to once again be put firmly on him].

My friend Micah J. Murray summed up my thoughts really excellently in his statement that reads, “When Jesus said: ‘Let he who is without sin cast the first stone,’ he was talking about protecting vulnerable people from abusive religious leaders. He was NOT talking about protecting abusive religious leaders from accountability.’”

Yes, there absolutely must be grace and forgiveness for anyone who messes up [and especially one of our own, regardless of how ‘our own’ some of us might want to see him] but that does not mean giving someone licence to unrepentantly do the same things again.

AND ME

Because really, the only person I have any control over in this situation is myself.

With scenarios like the Oscar Pistorius trial, do I allow myself to be caught up in it until it becomes an entertainment thing? And is that okay? I don’t think so.

Am I sharing, liking or retweeting the jokes that are being made at his [or maybe more accurately nameless Reeva’s expense]?

Do I get caught up in the mistaken belief that this case should be more important than any of the other hundreds [thousands?] of murder cases that are being brought to court in South Africa [some that were presumably delayed so that Oscar’s could assume center stage]?

With a situation like Mark Driscoll, am I baying for his blood [not okay] or am I screaming that he should be forgiven and shown grace to the exclusion of any form of accountability, repentance, consequence to his actions [also probably not okay]?

Am I getting caught up in judging Mark Driscoll for his actions as if he was any worse than me? Or perhaps judging those who are judging Mark Driscoll and refusing to just let him be?

Both Oscar and Mark will stand before God one day and account for their actions. And I will do the same.

[For Micah J Murray’s post, ‘When we throw stones’ which i believe is very helpful and clear, click here]

[For a post i wrote a while back after a Joel Osteen hoax on Throwing Stones, with some helpful question checks, click here]

***

Brett blogs to provoke laughter and challenge and inspire and encourage and share ideas and wrestle and celebrate and mourn – as his tagline says, to really ‘suck the marrow out of life’. Follow him on Twitter – @BrettFishA

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What does “freedom of religion” mean?

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SONY DSC

by Cheryllyn Dudley | 734 words

The following is a transcript of Cheryllyn Dudley’s speech in a Joint Sitting in the National Assembly on 18 September to mark Heritage Day. Dudley is the MP and Whip of the African Christian Democratic Party (ACDP). The Christian Blogger does not endorse any political party. We’ve posted this simply out of interest. 

“I will not have time today to talk to the story of our youth – I would however like to quote one young man in the North West Province Kagiso Monyadiwa who says ‘National Heritage Day is a day to celebrate the contribution of all South Africans to the building of this country. What we have done well, was to realise that we are all South African – the challenge now is the economic imbalance amongst us which still divides us and must be dealt with!’

Instead I will speak to the story of faith-based South Africans and Christians in particular who would like us to re-look at government’s policy on Religion in Schools. They say this with the conviction that we are tearing at the fabric of our society when we impose unrealistic guidelines that prevent learners, parents and communities from influencing the religious ethos of their local schools. Freedom of Religion is not about creating ‘one religion for all’ but allowing people the freedom to believe as they please and to share their belief respectfully and peacefully. Religion and culture are closely related and should not be stifled.

Clearly this freedom like all others must not negatively impact on others but all learners and students should be able to proudly acknowledge their religious and cultural beliefs and express themselves in line with these in a manner that does not impose on others.

Without outside interference, where the majority of learners at a school are of one faith – eg Christian, Muslim, Catholic etc, it follows that the ethos of that school will appear to be that of the religion of the majority and where the community is more evenly spread across religions the diversity will be more apparent in the ethos.

There is general agreement that factual learning about all religions can be useful but many parents specifically want their children in a school that embraces and teaches their values and I know Christians feel very strongly about this. Madiba is reported to have said in 1999 that religion was one of the motivating factors in everything he did, ‘without the church,’ he said ‘without religious institutions, I would never have been here today’.

For a significant majority of people in South Africa who believe in Jesus and have chosen a Christian way of life it is important to obey Jesus command of ‘Let the children come to me’ and they passionately agree with the words of Eben Le Roux (‘A Silence that Kills) that, ‘as long as we deny the call of Jesus to bring the children to Him we will deny ourselves the most important platform for peace’.

In essence he says: When our children grow up being taught they are their own god and are in need of no other help they suffer from arrogance – arrogant people are selfish, selfish people are disruptive and disruptive people behave like fools.

Faith based parents instil their religious values in their children from the cradle. Christians for example, teach their children to love God, love others, forgive and care for others and to follow the ‘ten commandments’, so that as they grow up these become firmly held moral standards.

Most of all a relationship with Jesus, is something that does not get switched on and off and no matter how many guidelines there are that say otherwise, Christians will not be free to be themselves if they cannot acknowledge their creator and saviour whether at school, work or home. We know religious extremism leads to shutting down freedom of religion but we have come a long way and we should be able to explore ways of ensuring freedom of religion without denying our children the freedom to live theirs in their daily lives. This will move South Africa forward.

‘The rock on which our future will be built, our greatest asset as a nation, said Madiba, is our children. They will be the leaders of our country, the creators of our national wealth, those who care for and protect our people. Our children, he said, are our greatest treasure. They are our future. Those who abuse them tear at the fabric of our society and weaken our nation’.”

***

Cheryllyn Dudley is the MP and Whip of the African Christian Democratic Party (ACDP). Follow Cheryllyn on Twitter – @cheryllyndudley

The growth of the Christian faith in a secular state

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CourtGavelby Hugh Wetmore | 877 words
Published at The Christian Blogger

This is the first of three parts where Wetmore will explore this subject. In our next issue of The Christian Blogger he will expound on these points – Ed

Many sincere Christians have contended that a Christian State and Government are necessary to ensure the survival and growth of the Christian Faith. I take the opposite view. I believe that a Government that favours Christianity actually hinders the growth of a vital Christian faith in the nation. The Gospel prospers best in the climate of a neutral, or even an unsympathetic government. And this is the kind of Government we now have. In light of certain State schools that have recently come under fire for calling themselves “Christian”, it is in this paradigm that State Schools must operate, according to the Policy Paper published in 2003. Our challenge: How to adapt and creatively capitalise on the new religious context in which we must serve God.

I am happy to argue that the secular state will foster a strong and growing Christian Faith. But I also recognise that this will come through persecution, and so be uncomfortable – even dangerous – for the Christian.

Understanding what we mean by a “Secular State”

I use the term “secular state” with reluctance. “Secularism” is itself a world-view, akin to a religious philosophy. It is atheist, materialist, humanist and temporal in its assumptions. I prefer the term “Religiously Impartial State”. By “religiously neutral or impartial” I mean that the State will not favour one religion above another, neither will it discriminate against any religion, on an ideological basis. Though I will use the term “secular State” in this post, I actually mean a “religiously Impartial State”.

It is right that the State be religiously impartial, because one of its primary duties is to maintain impartial justice for all its citizens. This is why the “Freedom of Religion” is a justiciable Fundamental Right in the new Constitution. My position affirms this. One cannot have true Freedom of Religion if one religion is legally favoured over another.

At the same time, I must emphasise with all the vigour at my disposal that I am not compromising on the uniqueness of Christ as the only Saviour of the world (Acts 4:12). I believe this, and, God helping me, I am prepared to die for this conviction. This is in no way compromised by the legal requirement that all people, no matter what their religious faith may be, are equal before the law in our nation. Many sincere Christians are confused here, because they do not distinguish between God’s demand that the Government rule with impartial justice for the temporal well-being of society, and God’s demand that everyone trust Jesus Christ alone for their eternal salvation.

THE DEBATE CONCERNING “THE SECULAR/IMPARTIAL STATE”

God believes in full Freedom of Religion. In Joshua 24:16,24 He invites His chosen people to freely choose between three religions: 1. The gods of their forefathers: 2. The gods of the Amorites in whose land they now lived: or 3. Yahweh who had redeemed them from slavery in Egypt. Their individual choice of Yahweh was freely made.

Yes, God did uniquely judge Israel for idolatry, because it was His holy covenantal nation. No other earthly nation inherited this covenantal relationship. The Afrikaner volk-parties tried, an error which led to extreme injustices in our own land. (See Exodus 19:5,6 with 1 Peter 2:9 where the Church is the new covenantal “Israel of God” Gal 6:16.)

Why it is not good to work for a “Christian State”

1. If the State identified itself with Christianity, it would very soon damage the glory of God. The only State ever linked to God, Israel, often caused God’s Name to be “blasphemed among the Gentiles” because it did not live up to its godly status (Rom.2:17-24). If Israel, with its Constitution designed by God, failed, can our nation succeed?

2. If the State claims to be Christian, but fails to do God’s will, it compounds its sin before Almighty God. It incurs great guilt and judgement than if it had never professed Christianity in the first place (Isaiah 1:11-20; Jeremiah 2:9-13; Amos 3:2; Matt.11:20-24).

3. If the State professes Christianity, but oppresses some of its people, it causes those people to hate the Name of Jesus. They are hardened against the Gospel. This has happened in South Africa. The Gospel has enough in-built offence (1 Cor.1:18-25) without adding the extra offence of human political-party alliances!

4. If it was decided to make the State officially “Christian” because Christianity was the majority religion, would we be happy to live in a State that was majority Muslim? We’d soon want a religiously neutral State. How hypocritical we are! When will we learn that religious freedom is an issue of justice? Even as Jesus taught “in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets”. (Matt. 7:12)

5. If we had another “Christian Government”, the Church would become even weaker than it is at present. But this is to move into our next section. Let me conclude this one by appealing to the example of God Himself, the sovereign Lord of all. He is all-powerful, all-loving. Yet He does not use His lov ing-power to force humankind to choose wisely. From Adam in the garden (Genesis 2:3) to the final Gospel invitation of Revelation 22. God demonstrated His respect for Religious Freedom.

In our next issue of The Christian Blogger, Wetmore will expound on these points – Ed.

***

Hugh Wetmore is the General Secretary of the Evangelical Fellowship of South Africa.

Nigeria church guesthouse collapse: the blame game

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by Steve Hayes
Originally published at khanya.wordpress.com
1061 words


The news of the collapse of a church guest house in Lagos, Nigeria, has gradually filtered through to South Africa. The first reports suggested that the church itself had collapsed, and later reports said that 67 South Africans had been killed. And then the blame game started, with the media and the Twitterati and even the pastor of the church, T.B. Joshua, looking for a scapegoat.

Well, not everyone was looking for a scapegoat, as this article shows: Shock, condolences after Nigeria building collapse | News24:

Citizens, religious leaders, and organisations expressed their condolences on Wednesday after dozens of people, including 67 South Africans, were killed in a building collapse in Nigeria.

But condolences were rather muted, and many people seemed to feel the need to attack someone, anyone, perhaps because it makes them feel better. I suppose that must count as a “normal” human reaction. After all, after the collapse of the World Trade Centre in 2001 the US Government killed several thousand people in Iraq, who had nothing, nothing at all, to do with the collapse, simply because it made some Americans feel better.

Maybe it is the same thing that made so many people angry with Judge Thokozile Masipa because she found Oscar Pistorius guilty of culpable homicide rather than murder. And so we see the angry birds tweeting things like:


No kingdom has shed more blood than the kingdom of God. #NigeriaCollapse

The collapse of TB Joshua’s church has given him so much PR, he must be a very happy man #NigeriaCollapse

Some have blamed the South African government for not “doing something”, some blame the Nigerian government. And some have blamed the victims for going to a church in Nigeria instead of one in South Africa.

The media have reported T.B. Joshua as saying that it was a plot to kill him, referring to an aircraft seen in CCTV footage apparently flying over the building. Some have therefore blamed him for being callous and insensitive, and being more concerned with himself than with those of his followers who had lost their lives. But we don’t know that. The media choose to give prominence to some statements and not to others, and may calculate conspiracy theories are more likely to sell newspapers than condolences, and so give prominence to the former and play down the latter.

So who, or what is to blame, and for what?

CCTV footage of the guest house collapse.

I’ve seen the collapse of the building replayed many times on TV. It happened so fast that you could see that passers-by in the street were unaware of what had happened until the sound reached them a little while later, when the building had already disappeared.

It happened so fast, and was so complete that it would take several days to know how many people were in the building at the time, never mind who they were and which countries they were from. As a guest house it probably had records of who the guests were, but those records would also have been buried under the rubble, so neither the Nigerian Government nor the South African government could fairly be blamed for not having such information immediately at their fingertips.

And the South African government is pretty good at looking after their citizens in that way. A couple of months ago my daughter had a bike crash in Athens. A guy who was stoned on alcohol or something else suddenly stepped out from behind a parked vehicle as she was going down a hill. Her bike was a mess and she and the bloke she hit were bruised and grazed, but no broken bones. A few days later the South African Embassy phoned to check if she was OK. She hadn’t reported it to them. The police must have reported to the embassy that a South African citizen was involved in an accident, and they took the trouble to check. If they can do that in a relatively minor incident like a bike accident, I’m sure they are doing everything they can for those involved in the building collapse.

Some have sought to blame the victims, and have questioned why they were going to a church in Nigeria, rather than one at home, or saying that all religious people are gullible. But in South Africa we have freedom of religion, and we are free to travel to Mecca or Mount Athos or Rome or Las Vegas for religious reasons if we want to. I’ve stayed at church guest houses in Moscow and Hong Kong, and possibly a few other places I can’t now remember. Perhaps the most apt tweet for this kind of attitude was:

 
“… those 18 who died when the tower in siloam fell on them, were they more guilty than anyone else?” #NigeriaCollapse #victimblaming

Some, no doubt inspired by the Oscar Pistorius case, have pointed dolus eventualis in T.B. Joshua’s direction. That would mean that he expected the building to collapse and didn’t care who was inside when it did, perhaps to claim on the insurance.

As far as I can see, the most likely causes of the collapse are one or more of:

  1. Bad building materials
  2. Bad workmanship
  3. Sabotage

It is up to the Lagos municipal authorities who are responsible for building plans and codes to investigate what went wrong, and, if anyone is to blame, it is up to the judicial and law enforcement authorities to deal with them.

But, I suspect that, even if that happens, many people will not be happy. Because justice is not enough. We don’t want justice, we want vengeance, and it doesn’t matter who we take vengeance on, as long as it makes us feel better. And that makes us no better than Boko Haram, and a good deal worse than Oscar Pistorius.

What more can we say but, Lord have mercy? And Memory Eternal for those who died. Whatever their faults and imperfections, they were seeking God.

He that answereth a matter before he heareth it, it is folly and shame unto him (Proverbs 18:13).

***

Steve Hayes is a freelance writer, editor, teacher, missiologist, Orthodox deacon, Inklings fan, church historian, and AIC researcher. Follow him on Twitter – @hayesstw.

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A Thoughtful Christian Response to ISIS

Isis fighters, pictured on a militant website verified by AP.

by Carl Medearis
Originally published at CarlMedearis.com
1364 words


Obama admits to not having a strategy. Duck Dynasty Godfather, Phil Robertson, wants to “Convert ‘em or kill ‘em.”

So what is a thoughtful honest strategy for confronting a terrorist group like ISIS?

ISIS doesn’t need any more explanation. We know what it is – evil personified. They have morphed out of Al Qaeda who were ironically too liberal for their most radical Islamic interpretations, namely that there should be a new national Muslim identity – a Caliphate. They have chosen Iraq and al-Sham (the Levant) as the territory from which this new “state” will emerge.

Isis fighters, pictured on a militant website. Verified by AP. Photograph: AP

ISIS has brutally killed 1000’s, mostly non-Sunnis, in this quest for power. Ethnic Christians and a small people-group called Yazidis have found themselves in evil’s path, but so have the armies of Syria (both the national army and the various rebel groups), Iraq and even Lebanon. It seems anyone who isn’t willing to lay down their “flag” and join the newly self-appointed ISIS Caliphate is deemed a traitor and deserves to die. The execution of two American hostages by beheading has horrified the West and captured our daily imaginations – mostly how we can “demoralize and destroy” to use our President’s words, this new evil encroaching on our freedoms and international interests.

But I’m not a politician, I’m a private citizen and a follower of Jesus. But I’ve spent 32 years in the Middle East. I speak Arabic. I’ve been many times to Iraq, Syria, Saudi Arabia and around the Middle East. I’ve met personally with the leaders of Hezbollah, Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas and the Bin Laden family. And the politics of this are complicated to be sure. To bomb or not to bomb? Boots on the ground? It would seem that any attempt at a real diplomatic solution would be ridiculous with such a group.

Then what should the attitude be of folowers of Jesus in the West? How should we talk about ISIS amongst ourselves and if we had the chance to speak to one of our Congressional representatives, what might we encourage them to do? As “people of the book” (the name Muslims give to Christ-followers), what is our posture?

Unlike President Obama or the Duck guy, Jesus had a strategy. Believe it or not, he was smart. He lived under an occupying force and dealt with zealots (men who would have been considered “terrorists”) and lest we forget – he was killed. So Jesus knew pain, suffering, persecution and terrorism first hand.

And he had a strategy for dealing with such enemies. Here are five:

1. “Take the log out of our eyes, before we help get the speck out of someone else’s eye.”

Are there logs in the eyes of the West, America specifically, that we need to first recognize? Where did ISIS get its weapons, for instance? And are there logs in the eyes of those of us who claim the way of Jesus as the way for the whole world? If the church had done its job of sharing Jesus in the Arab world in years past, would we have this issue? If the boys who are now men in ISIS, ten years ago, had heard and received the good news of Jesus – would they be doing what they are now?

2. “Blessed are the eyes that see and the ears that hear.”

We need to see, hear and understand – it’s the parable of the Sower. There are reasons ISIS exists. We may not like them, and we might not want to understand them, but a mature and wise person will seek to know. Ask the question “Why?” Why is there an ISIS? If you were in their shoes would you be tempted to do something similar? If you grew up in a country with no power at your disposal, no outlet for travel, economic opportunity or education – and someone handed you a gun and said “We can take what should have been ours anyway” would you be tempted? It’s easy to say “No.” But….Are you sure?

3. “The harvest is ripe.”

Who has attempted to bring them good news? Saul was a terrorist before he became Paul – killing Christians just like ISIS is doing. There’s always hope. The good news is the Power of God for salvation. Do we believe that? Who’s willing to go? Now.

4. “Turn the other cheek, carry the pack an extra mile and give them the coat off your back.”

Jesus was rooted in Middle Eastern culture. He understood the power of shame and employs it brilliantly in these three simple strategies in these words from Matthew chapter 5 – the Sermon on the Mount. Each are used by Jesus to show that the one who is being abused can take power back from the abuser by taking charge of the situation. “Turning the cheek” wasn’t being passive – but a way to force the man who struck first to think about what he was doing before striking again. Forcing a civilian to carry a pack an “extra mile” was actually illegal – so the Roman soldier would be in big trouble for his superiors if someone saw what was happening. Taking of your “outer cloak” and showing your nakedness would have been a huge shame on the one who saw – not the one who took it off – but the one who saw. Shaming is Jesus’ clever way of granting power to the powerless.

What if we spent a billion dollars on creative ways of shaming ISIS – what might we come up with?

5. “Love your enemy, bless them and loan without expecting return.”

Develop a long-term strategy for confronting evil. These injunctions of Christ – to love, bless and give to our enemies – are long- term strategies. They may not work right now within the current situation, but we have to be asking about the next generation. Who are the kids playing soccer in the dirty streets of Afghanistan, Somalia, Pakistan who could become successful businessmen and women, OR the next ISIS? We never heard of ISIS just one year ago. We didn’t know about Al Qaeda before 9/11. Who is the next ___________? And how do we move beyond our short-sighted 4-year-at-a-time policies to a more enlightened policy of generations?
To love, bless and give to your enemy speaks of development and opportunity. Are we taking economic and educational reform seriously enough in countries like Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan? If not, why not?

Of course, there is a legitimate argument to be made, that when people such as those within ISIS submit themselves fully to evil, war is our last option. Christians and those committed to the ways of Jesus have argued that position through the lens of “Just War Theory” since the days of St. Augustine. However, I believe we are too quick to employ that as a strategy when Jesus gave us some clear methods for confronting our enemies. His way is not passive. The way of the cross is perhaps the most aggressive stance towards evil ever taken. The love that God offers the world, in Christ, is not wimpy – it is a robust affront to the systems of our day that cry out for blood and revenge. The way of Jesus is the hard way. Forgiveness, love, choosing to lay down our lives is the most difficult path in the face of real enemies. Evil is real. But love is far more powerful.

Ironically the Phil Robertson’s of the world use the exact same language as ISIS – “convert or die.” There is another Way!

Paul summarized this way of Jesus well when he said, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” ISIS is evil, but they can ultimately be overcome by good.

***

Carl Medearis is an international expert in Muslim/Christian and Arab/American relations. He has over 30 years of experience living and working in the Middle East. He is the author of “Muslims, Christians, and Jesus”, “Speaking of Jesus”, and co-author of “Tea With Hezbollah”. Follow him on Twitter – @carlmedearis.

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Why I don’t get a free pass on white privilege

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by John Scheepers
Originally published at johnscheepers.wordpress.com
646 words


Ok, so no one really, actually gets a free pass on white privilege but many of us lighter skinned individuals have the privilege of having a tremendous social media fuelled debate on the reality and validity of white privilege or the lack thereof. Pick a side. Get all heated up over which ever side you pick and then go back to engaging in our actual life either more or less socially aware than before.

But Ferguson changed all that for me. I don’t know why that event in particular was different from all the other similar events in the US. Or why it was different to every other racist event or attitude so prevalent in my home city of Cape Town. But something about a young black man gunned down while walking home with his friends hit home for me.

That could be my son…

I would never want to have a free pass on fighting white privilege but until recently it has always been a choice for me. Yes one fuelled by core beliefs, by my faith and my friendships. A choice that I have willingly and intentionally made, but one, I could recant and stick my head in the sand of denialism again if I chose to do so.

But I no longer have a choice. Mike Brown could be my son.

I have two sons… and as most of us know two black men are just one short of a gang.

Two black men are going to mug you

Two black men are likely thugs or rapists

Two black men are casing the joint

No one cares what colour your parents are

No one cares if you are adopted or not

No one cares what your home language is

No one cares if you are educated or not

No one cares what your father does

Two black men plus one are a gang

White privilege means ladies will hold their handbags tighter when my sons walk down the street. They will probably smile and greet me.

White privilege means law enforcement vehicles will do the slow drive past them on their way to visit their grandparents. They may quite possibly be questioned as what they are doing in the area.

White privilege means my sons could be imprisoned because like every other 18-year-old they have a smart mouth and a big attitude.

My son could be shot because he is eighteen and arrogant

No matter how smart, talented or hard-working he is, he will always be thought to be a token or a quota just because he has more melanin than me.

For those who would wrongly claim the cultural high ground with ill-informed statements like “but black men are more likely to commit crimes” or “black men are more likely to carry guns.”

Lets be straight, no one will ask my sons about their upbringing or their cultural environment. No one will look the other way because my sons have white parents or speak good English. They will judged and convicted by the colour of their skin!

I don’t get a free pass on white privilege. I no longer get a choice whether to engage or not with the intellectual discussions of power and privilege.

My son could be Mike Brown!

Disclaimer: This is not all that can or should be said on white privilege, Ferguson or racial reconciliation, it is just one personal reflection among many. You may also want to read “What I would love my white friends to hear”

John Scheepers is a Capetonian who drinks his coffee too strong and talks too loudly. Books are his drug of choice. He believes the Gospel of Jesus is the good news our beautiful country craves. Follow him on Twitter – @John_Scheepers

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Photo Credit: Mike Licht via Photo Pin