Sunday, September 9, 2018

Giving Love a Face

Proverbs 22:1-2,8-9, 22-23    Psalm 125    James 2:1-10, 14-17    Mark 7:24-37
Giving Love a Face

When we train people in the art of making disciples, we always start with the Great Commandment. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength…and love your neighbour as yourself. Because if you don’t love God you won’t obey Him and if you don’t love people you won’t help them…it really is that simple.

But what is not simple is the actual love part…what does it mean when we say we love God or when we say we love our neighbours? What does love look like?

Jesus really pushed the envelope when He instructed His followers to love even their enemies! To do good to those who hate us. To bless those who curse us. To forgive 70 X 7. To pray for those who hurt us. And remember, He used the Jews’ most hated neighbours to drive the point home…the Samaritans! The Jews hated the Samaritans, but when Jesus was asked to define who the neighbour was to be loved, He used a Samaritan lovingly caring for a wounded Jew as an example.

The question is: who is your Samaritan? Or who is your wounded Jew, for that matter? Think about that for a while…and then ask yourself whether or not you love them the way God loves you…

Think of the person…or perhaps persons…who have hurt you deeply. Insulted you. Mocked you. Offended you. Stolen from you. Do you have that person in mind? Can you see them in your mind’s eye?

There: You have just given love a face…that is the person you are called to love in the same way that God loves us.

Which, of course, begs the question…how does God love us and how should we love others?

The Scriptures tell us that God demonstrated His love for the world by sending His only beloved Son to die for it…that while we were still His enemies, Christ Jesus gave up His life for us. God’s love is not some abstract philosophy or celestial vibe or divine fuzzy feeling. God’s love has a face…the face of Jesus….the marred, scarred, and battered face of Jesus.

So then…if this is how God loves us, how then should we love?

A Christian ethic based on the word “love” can often be both idealistic and lacking in tangible content. So we have to ask ourselves: Who, in concrete terms, in real terms, is our neighbour, and what will it look like for us to love them?

By placing the command to love where he does, James makes it abundantly clear that our neighbour includes everyone who enters our space…not just those we find attractive or even valuable to us…not just those who look like us, talk like us, act like us…in fact, he goes on to say that it is especially those who are alien to us…who are different…from a different ethnic group, a different socio-economic bracket, a different political party, a different denomination…those are the faces that ought to come to mind when we ask the question, what would it look like if I loved like God loves.

The command to love God and our neighbour ought not to be abstract or lack content. Love…biblical love…it concrete…it is a verb…it is an action…but it is an action that contrary to the love the world speaks about…it is a love that crosses boundaries and overcomes barriers…it is a love that is intentional and indeed it is a love that is costly.

To love in a biblical sense must be according to the Scriptural definition of love…this includes the many commandments to do good to others and to esteem others better than ourselves, but it also includes the big no-no commandments, like, as in the James reading, adultery and murder…but it also includes equally big no-no’s such as gossip, grudges, hatred, discrimination, exploitation, slander, condemning, grumbling against a neighbour…oops…oppressing the poor, orphans, and widows…or, indeed, neglecting to reach out to them and to provide for them emotionally, spiritually, physically, mentally, or financially.

You see, for James, faith and love work together and one without the other is simply not possible. Faith in God and love for God cannot be separated from the way we love our fellow human beings.

Love, for Jesus was always tangible…touchable…physical…concrete. Whether it was simply a touch, or a healing, or an exorcism, or a resurrection…or dying in our place. Jesus’ love had a face…or faces…it had hands and feet and eyes and ears…and it had no boundaries nor did it have barriers…Jews, Gentiles, men, women, children, clean, and unclean…He loved them all.

And the simple basis for loving all is the fact that God made them all. Isn’t that what Proverbs teaches us? The rich and the poor have this in common: God made them all.

And that’s another reason why I love the Eucharist…because here at the Lord’s Table, we are all equal. In fact, the ground at the foot of the cross is level…no one is higher than another…no one is better than another…we are all equally in need of forgiveness and salvation…and it is here that we learn the folly of withholding forgiveness…how can we who have been forgiven so much ever not forgive others?

Indeed, when we gaze on the face of love here at the Holy Table of the Lamb Who bore our sins on His sinless self, we see the face that ought to be ours too…we who claim to follow Him ought to imitate Him and walk just as He walked. Our love must reflect His love…and His love is self-sacrificial love.

Dearest beloved brethren, as you come to feed on the symbols of the supreme sacrificial act of love today, ask the God Who is love to reveal His face to you…His face of love…and ask Him to grant that as you gaze on that perfect love that casts out all fear…that has no boundaries, that knows no impenetrable barriers…ask Him to grant you the ability to love as He loves…

So come…gaze on His wonderful face…gaze on His love demonstrated on the cross for you…bask in the warmth of His love…and leave here determined to let that love flow from the fountain of His love for you to all those who enter your space this day and always.

Johannes W H van der Bijl © 2018-09-05

Thursday, September 6, 2018

August Newsletter 2018

It has been a while since we sent out a newsletter! Bet you would never see the day when you didn't receive multiple emails from us!

The truth is we have really been busy moving into our new home in Villiersdorp and getting involved in the life of our new church, St Augustine's. Johann now leads and preaches at the service every other week when we are here. We have also started a disciple making study group in our home that meets once a week, again when we are in town. This is an exciting group as it is one of the few that is integrated, not only with regard to ethnicity, but also language and denomination. Our dear brothers and sisters are hungry to learn more about Jesus and how He made disciples. The Queen tells us that people are talking about this study group...let's hope the talk is all positive!

We have also been meeting with the leadership of J-Life with a view to revising the material we use in our training of disciple makers. As we studied and worked with oral learners in Gambela and elsewhere, they felt we might be of assistance to them in this revision. We have also looked at the use of words and concepts that might have different meanings in different denomination or cultural contexts. It has been quite an adventure! We love the J-Life staff as they love Jesus so much...Jesus simply shines in and through them all the time.

Louise and I attended a Conference called Divine Renovation. The Holy Spirit is leading many in the Roman Catholic Church to follow the same biblical principle in disciple making as we are...sometimes using similar language and methods. Just another confirmation that what we are doing is what He wants us to do at this time.

We also met with the Principal of the South African Theological Seminary. Their program is exclusively online and could be used by Anglicans who are, for various reasons, unable to leave their current situation to attend a regular full-time on campus seminary. We shall see how the Lord leads us in the future.

By now I am sure many of you have heard about South Africa in the news or on social media. There are many complicated reasons for the current situation. All I know is that the only way out of the various crisis is prayer and trust in a good God Who is well able to turn things the right side up. Please join us in prayer as we continue to pray for an end to the drought crisis, the land crisis, the economic crisis, the crime and violence crisis, and the spiritual crisis.

Thank you all once again for your love, your support, and your prayers. We are nothing without the Lord and can do nothing without Him, but He is using you as His hands and His feet and His heart...thank you.

Sending you cyber hugs and blessings.
Johann and Louise

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Trusting God

1 Kings 8:1-6, 10-11, 22-30, 41-43    Psalm 84    Ephesians 6:10-20    John 6:56-69
Trusting God

A story has been told about a man who went hiking up Table Mountain. As he was walking, the famous tablecloth descended upon him in thick, impenetrable folds – so thick he could not see where he was walking. He knew he needed to get off the mountain as quickly as possible, so he gingerly picked his way forward towards the path leading down to the parking lot below. At one point, he misjudged his step, slipped on a wet rock, and went plummeting down the cliff side. As he fell he instinctively grabbed for something that would break his fall…and to his relief, a rather large bush just happened to be growing out of the side of the mountain, and he clung on for dear life.

But he knew this relief was only temporary…he had to find a way to get his feet on firm ground so that he could scramble to safety…but he could not see anything and, try as he might, swinging back and forth with his legs, he could not feel anything. Then he felt the bush give a little…some soil and a few pebbles fell on his head. It was only a matter of time before his weight would prove to be too much for the bush’s shallow root system and his perilous descent would recommence.

So he summoned every ounce of strength left in him and cried out with the loudest voice he could muster.
“Help! Is there anyone out there? Please, help me.”
To his immense surprise, he heard a voice remarkably close by…in fact it almost sounded as if the voice was close to his ear.
“I am here. Do not be afraid.”
“Oh, please,” the man cried. “Are you able to help me?”
“I am,” the voice replied, “Are you willing to trust me?”
“Yes!” shouted the man, “Yes, I am. Please help me. Quickly.”
“Let go of the bush,” the voice said calmly.
“Say what now?” cried the man.
“Let go of the bush,” said the voice.
“Let go of the bush? You’re kidding me, right? That’s not funny. Please, I am very scared…and I’m slipping…the bush is giving way…help me. I can’t hold on much longer, please. I don’t want to die!”
“I am here to help you. You will not die if you just trust me. Let go of the bush…there is a wide ledge a few feet below you. Trust me. I give you my word. Just trust me. Let go of the bush.”
For a brief moment the man hesitated. Then he screamed: “Is there anyone else out there?”

It is interesting to me that at the very heart of Solomon’s Temple – in the holiest place – the Holy of Holies – was a box containing just three rather ordinary things. One was a simple earthenware jug filled with a flaky substance…a small sample of Manna …the other was a simple wooden staff that had once budded…and the other was a block of stone with some words carved into it. If you didn’t know what these things were, they would look very plain and ordinary…

But in the right context, these things were very precious, not necessarily because all three were miraculous, but because they each had a remarkable story to tell…the strange, unknown bread graciously provided from heaven to feed God’s people in the desert… the dried out walking stick that had miraculously sprouted buds and flowers to confirm the God-given leadership of the High Priest, Aaron, Moses’ brother…and the Ten Words of God, or the Ten Commandments as we call them, carved out of rock by the very hand of the Almighty Himself.

You see, what made these items worthy of their placement in such a hallowed space was that each one represented the trustworthiness of God’s Word in the past…and, in the belief system of the Ancient Israelites, if God had done it before, He could be trusted to do it again in the present and in the future.

Or to use the words of the great King Solomon: “Praise the Lord who has given rest to His people Israel, just as He promised. Not one word has failed of all the wonderful promises He gave through His servant Moses. May the Lord our God be with us as He was with our ancestors; may He never leave us or abandon us.”

God’s Word is trustworthy…what He says He will do. But how can we be so sure? Well, basically because He has a proven track record. The stories in the Bible are there to show us that in spite of what humans think…in spite of what humans fear…in spite of what humans do…in spite of doubt, scepticism, cynicism, weakness, despondency, indifference, and sheer unbelief…God has always proved to be faithful to those who trust Him…and, graciously, sometimes even to those who do not trust Him.

Trust. I want you to see that this one word is key…it is central to our faith…trust. But not just a disembodied trust…it is a trust that is founded on His proven and tested Word.

When King Solomon dedicated the Temple, his focus was on the Word of the God Who had proved Himself faithful to His people and to His king. “You have kept Your promise,” he said, “You made that promise with Your own mouth, and with Your own hands You have fulfilled it today.”

And based on the fact that God is a promise keeping God, Solomon could confidently pray: “May You always hear the prayers I make…May You hear the humble and earnest requests from me and Your people Israel…(may You hear the prayers made by) foreigners who do not belong to Your people Israel…when they pray (to You)…May Your eyes be open to my requests and to the requests of Your people…May You hear and answer them whenever they cry out to You.”

The message seems clear: just as God heard the prayers of His people down through the ages, so surely He will hear the prayers of His people today and tomorrow and for all time, because He is a promise keeping God…He is a faithful God…and His Word is trustworthy.
This truth is crucial to our lives as followers of Jesus especially when it seems as if all hope is fading…when we just don’t understand…when we cannot understand…when we are hanging on by our fingertips…perhaps hanging on to things that are in themselves not trustworthy…things that are fragile and feeble and weak and failing.

Now, for a moment, I want you to put on the sandals of the disciples in Capernaum as they heard those baffling words spoken by their Rabbi, Jesus. Ready?

There you are listening – all anticipation – what is He going to say and do this time? And then you hear Him say: “Anyone who eats my flesh and drinks My blood remains in Me and I in him.” You do a double take? What was that? Eat human flesh and drink human blood? Cannibalism? Seriously? Surely that can’t be what He means, right? It has to be a metaphor…bread of life…bread of heaven…flesh and blood…this is really so hard to comprehend.

And then as you are still scratching your head, you see many other followers leaving…and they are leaving in droves!

Now, don’t judge these deserters too harshly…theologians are still arguing about the meaning of this text…during the Reformation, people lost their heads and were burned at the stake because someone did not understand what Jesus meant by “Eat my flesh and drink My blood”.

But then Jesus turns to you and says: “Are you also going to leave?”

Can you hear it? What is behind this question? “Do you trust Me?”

How did Simon Peter respond? Listen carefully to what he said. “Lord, to whom would we go? You have the WORDS that give eternal life. We believe and we know you are the Holy One of God.”

How on earth did they know?

Well, during the time they had spent with Jesus these disciples had come to believe and know first-hand that the words of Jesus were trustworthy. He had not failed them before. He had done all things well. Why then would they abandon Him when the going got tough…when things were hard to comprehend…when it seemed as if they were on the losing side?

Now, don’t get me wrong. I am not talking about fatalism. I’m not espousing a “Let go and let God – a que sera, sera attitude to life. I’m not even talking about blind faith.

No, what I am referring to is the Word of a God Who has made promises with His own mouth and has fulfilled those promises time and again. The Scriptures and history itself testifies on His behalf. What He promised He did…His Word is trustworthy…

And it is this Word that helps us through trials and tribulations and troubles…it is this Word that defeats unbelief…it is this Word that quenches the fiery arrows of the evil one…it is this Word that keeps us afloat in the storms of life…it is this Word that is our only offensive weapon in the armoury of God.

What God has promised, He has done…what God has promised, He will do…what God has promised, He does. He is trustworthy…the Scriptures testify to the fact…the saints throughout history testify to the fact…and I am sure your own lives testify to the fact.

This is one of the reasons why I love the Eucharist so much. This is a picture…a portrait of our Lord’s trustworthiness. Way back when sin first entered our world, God promised that He would send someone…the Seed of a woman, as the older translations have it…to set things right. And He did. The second Person of the Trinity…the Son of God Himself…left His glory…He set aside His majesty…so that He might take on human form to annul a penalty that was mine…to die a death that was mine…to pay a ransom that was mine…

Here at His Table, we see His Word re-enacted…performed…demonstrated…with simple and ordinary elements…bread and wine…as simple and as ordinary as an earthenware jug, a dry walking stick, and a piece of stone. But in the context of this gathering of His people, these ordinary, simple elements take on a whole new meaning…a profound meaning…a life changing meaning…here these elements tell us a story of promise and fulfilment…a story of faithfulness…a story of love…a story of trust.

So when the clouds descend upon your life as a blanket…when you simply cannot see one step ahead of yourself…when you are hanging on for dear life…when others are losing hope…when so called common sense and logic fail you…trust Him…trust His Word.

Dearest beloved brethren, place God’s Word in the most sacred space in your life…at the very centre of your existence…and allow it to be the governing force behind everything you think and do and say. Only then will you be able to trust Him…

Johannes W H van der Bijl © 2018-08-20

Thursday, July 26, 2018

An invitation for South African Church Leaders

Here's an invitation for South African pastors and priests and your community leaders to the Divine Renovation Conference that will be held in Johannesburg from the 13- 14th of August 2018 at the Church of the Resurrection Bryanston OR 16 August St Joseph’s Morningside Durban OR 18 August Holy Redeemer Bergvliet Cape Town.
We are honoured to have Father James Mallon, Catholic priest and the author of the bestselling book “Divine Renovation: From A Maintenance to A Missional Parish”, an engaging guide for parishes seeking to cultivate dynamic faith communities centred on missionary discipleship, as our keynote speaker. Father James Mackay of the Docklands in the East of London will also be speaking on his experience with the Divine Renovation model. (See video clip links below…)
The message of Divine Renovation has resonated in the hearts of hundreds of pastors and the laity throughout the world. It has inspired and motivated them to act and seek help in transforming their own faith community.
Registration can be done online on and the cost is R350 for Johannesburg which is a two day event and
R150 for Durban and Cape Town which are one day events.
We are very excited and look forward to having you and your community leaders with us.
Thank you so much and God Bless.
Check out these interviews:

Monday, July 23, 2018


Two excellent articles and a book.

In the first article, Ryan writes: "I had a psychotherapist a few years ago who I often brought personal issues of meaning and vocation to.   I remember him saying, “The need does not necessitate the call.” In essence, he was saying that the existence of an issue in the world—be it social, political, humanitarian—does not mean a certain individual is called to engage it or help solve it. The unique ways in which we are each made informs how we are designed to be in the world, how we are meant to live and serve.

And just as the need does not necessitate the call, the call does not necessitate the readiness. Or put differently, even when we are we called, it doesn’t mean that we are prepared to go.

The call is not enough."

The second article deals with wounds...and, indeed, the need to deal with our wounds.

And...Ryan has also written a book:

LEAD Report: December 2017 to July 2018

Since our last report, Louise and I have trained in the following areas.

December 1-3, 2017: George – 20 participants
February 13-18, 2018: St Mark the Evangelist – 27 participants, including the 7 leaders trained in September 19-20 2017 who assisted in this training
February 22-25, 2018: Johannesburg – we trained 23 previously Strategy trained participants in the second of the four modules called Foundations
March 9-11, 2018: Cape Town Youth Leaders – 26 participants
March 16-18, 2018: Klerksdorp (cancelled just prior to planned training)
March 20-May 4, 2018: deputation in USA
May 16-20, 2018: Natal – Strategy 14 participants
                                                  Rooted in Jesus
June 12-14, 2018: Namibia – 4/5 participants (one participant had to leave after one day’s training)

By invitation of, and fully funded by, Bishop Mouneer Anis, Egypt, North Africa, and the Horn of Africa:
June 25-29, 2918: Gambela, Ethiopia – 26 participants
July 3-6, 2018: Cairo, Egypt – 12 participants

Louise has created a contact email database on the My Anglican website to help us keep in touch with those we have trained. A lot of follow-up work is done in between trainings in which participants receive various resources to help them implement the training, namely videos, Bible Studies, different disciple-making manuals, various articles on disciple making, and so on. If we find something that may be helpful, we pass it on, like the recent Thy Kingdom Come Prayer Initiative. We also coach and encourage participants from time to time asking for feedback and questions and stories. When we do receive emails in return, we answer them promptly according to what is addressed.

We have also been trying to settle into our new home and community and have been actively engaged in our own local parish, St Augustine’s in Villiersdorp.

Disciple making requires a huge paradigm shift for many of our trainees that involves modelling, life transformation, multiplication (making disciples who can make disciples), community or people-centred focused ministry rather than church-based programs, changing priorities, and every member ministry. The training is based on what we believe is Jesus’ model for disciple making using the Gospels as a basic platform. It includes a 60-Day Study on the Life and Ministry of Jesus that encourages the trainee to read through all four Gospels.

Investing in the lives of a few, with a view to creating active disciple makers, takes time and a lot of personal effort. It took Jesus three to four years. In an age of instant everything and quick fixes, this initially appears to be a problem. Quality is often overlooked when the focus is on quantity.
Some of the responses to our coaching questions have revealed that many participants are extremely busy. One participant told us that he did not have time for regular prayer and Bible reading, much less personal retreat time, as he served on various committees and guilds, was responsible for several churches, and was engaged in further theological studies by extension, among other things. We counselled him to prayerfully consider his priorities.

We have been encouraged by some forward movements, such as the case with St Mark’s second training where previously trained participants trained others with our assistance. Johannesburg was also the first to host the second module Foundations. Participants in Natal were so thrilled with the Strategy material that they are in the process of translating it into Zulu. Namibia has asked us to come back to train again, using the 4 trained participants, but in the more rural areas in the north and, perhaps, southern Angola.

We have noticed that when the Bishop of the Diocese is involved in the training the participants tend to be more motivated to implement the training. We saw this yet again in Cairo with Bishop Mouneer. Participants in Gambela implemented what we were training even during the training! Participants seem to be more motivated when their leaders show personal interest.

A lack of funds needed to pay for the training manuals, our travel, and our board and lodging costs seem to be a problem for some Dioceses.

Since our deputation trip to the US, we have managed to raise enough funds for a 4X4 vehicle and for fuel for the trips. (Many thanks to our US ministry partners!) When possible, we camp in inexpensive parks or camping grounds close to the training, or stay with friends, family, or parishioners to try to cut down on living expenses. We are also working on the manuals to see how we can cut down on printing costs as well. Louise and I will be part of a two-day revision of both Strategy and Foundations with the J-Life leaders early August.

We still have 13 Dioceses left in which to train participants in Strategy. Those already trained are being encouraged to a) implement the material personally, b) begin planning a second training in which they train other trainers in their Diocese with our help, and c) begin planning to be trained in the second module, Foundations. It is important to be trained in all four modules if one is aiming at a permanent shift in the manner in which disciple making ministry is done.

We also hope to be offering training in Rooted in Jesus in the near future, as it is a very useful resource in the process of making disciples.