Monday, November 22, 2021

The First Sunday in Advent - 28 November 2021

The First Sunday in Advent – 28 November 2021
Jeremiah 33:14-16    Psalm 25:1-10    1 Thessalonians 3:9-13     Luke 21:25-36

The True Master and Commander

When I was a lot younger, I believed I could be the master and commander of my own ship…that somehow through hard work, sweat equity, and dogged determination, I could shape my own destiny. But if there is one lesson our ever-gentle Lord has taught me through the passing years it is that there is really only one true master and commander in life and that is Him. 

Perhaps our desire for control…our desire to know all things, even what is hidden…is a holdover from the ridiculous notion of our first parents…that somehow through our own doing, and in their case, disobedient doing, we could make ourselves like God…knowing all things, both good and evil…when, in actual fact, He has already made us like Him. He made humanity, both male and female, in His image so that together we might reflect, not a prideful independence, but a loving, surrendered dependence on Him who knows what we do not need to know…a dependence on Him who alone does all things well.

I have always felt uncomfortable when it comes to prophetic predictions regarding the Second Coming of Jesus. It is a topic that has consumed the time of many good and bad scholars alike, but it is not necessarily a topic that has brought harmony or peace or, dare I say, growth in the church…it is a topic that divides, polarises, and, as a consequence, stifles or even smothers growth. I much prefer to follow the words of Jesus in Acts 1:7 – “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by His own authority.” 
You see, we have to learn that there is only one master and commander in life, and we would do well to trust Him to deal with the unknown in His time. 

Now, Jesus’ statement in the opening chapter of the book of Acts was, no doubt, as disappointing for His first century followers as it is for His modern want-to-know-the-signs-of-the-times followers, but He quickly added what ought to be our priority. “You will receive power,” He said, “when the Holy Spirit has come upon you…and you will be My witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” We are not called to be speculators…even expert ones…no, we are called to be witnesses. His timeless message is simple: we are not to speculate but to participate…to participate in His work to seek and to save the lost. 

Speculating on the signs of the times is nothing new. Even in the first century there were all sorts of rumours doing the rounds…rumours and challenges. Some of the non-believing Jews were openly mocking the believers…where is the sign of his coming, they taunted. Jesus had predicted that the vestiges of the old order would be destroyed, but 30 odd years later, Jerusalem and the Temple were both still standing, and the unbelieving Jews had power to persecute the Jewish and non-Jewish followers of Jesus. 

Now, 30 odd years is a long time to wait for the fulfilment of a prophetic promise, don’t you think? So, we can be generous in our judgment of the recipients of the letter to the Hebrews and, indeed, the recipients of other New Testament letters, when we read that some Jewish believers were wondering if somehow, they had made a mistake in following Jesus. Where was the sign of His coming? Little did they know that in a very short space of time, the words of Jesus would be fulfilled in horrific detail…by AD 70 Jerusalem would be surrounded by Roman armies, the Temple would be burned to the ground, every stone would be prised off the other to get the melted gold out from between the cracks, and by AD 135, the Romans would rebuild Jerusalem as a Roman City, by the name of Aelia Capitolonia. 

Our impatient first century brethren were to learn that there is only one true master and commander in life…and He has His own timetable.

You see, the first century believers had His promises…just like we have His promises. And they, like some of us, were tempted to think that they could figure out His schedule…speculate on His timing…or worse, try to manipulate Him through brilliant rhetoric or imaginative mathematical or astronomical calculations. 

When Jesus spoke out His judgement on Jerusalem, He was quoting liberally from Scriptures His followers knew all too well. Remember, every Jew knew the Torah and the Psalms by heart before the age of ten, and most of the other Scriptures too, especially the messianic prophecies, as they belonged to an oral society where everything was committed to memory. 

And because messiah fever was alive and well before, during, and after the time of Jesus, prophecies such as the one we read from Jeremiah, and the prophecy from Daniel quoted by Jesus in our Gospel reading, were the talk of the day. In fact, quite a few Jews tried to take matters into their own hands, claiming the title messiah for themselves, leading bands of misguided men in revolt against the monolith of Rome, only to be dispatched mercilessly as only the Romans could…wholesale slaughter and crucifixion for the survivors. 

So, we need to learn a lesson from our first century brethren. We would do well to remember that there is only one true master and commander in life and he holds all time in His hands. If He says the days are coming when he will fulfil a promise he has made, they are coming and they will come, but not necessarily when we want them to or how we want them to.

The Psalms teach us a few things about crying out to God for the fulfilment of His promises and then waiting for Him to answer in due course. Notice the words the Psalmist uses in our Psalm for today. In you I put my trust…do not let those who wait on you be put to shame…lead me…teach me…for on you I wait all day long. The Psalmist teaches us that we can wait because our God is merciful, forgiving, upright, good, loving, and faithful. 

I know, waiting is not easy…not even for the stoically patient…of which I am not one. We want to know…because we think that somehow knowing will make us feel better…more prepared…more in control…

Now, today is the first day in the short season of Advent, and for the first two Sundays in Advent we focus our attention on our Lord’s Second Coming. But Advent is not a time for speculation…it is a time for preparation for participation. Like the prophets in the Old Testament, we too are heralds of our God’s present and coming rule and reign. They looked forward to His first coming…we look forward to His second coming. But like them, we too do not know the day and the hour, because it is not for us to know…it is for us to trust and it is for us to obey. 

There is only one master and commander in life…we are only sailors and deckhands on His ship. We live to serve Him and to do what He asks us to do…to be witnesses to His love, His care, His power, His mercy, His grace, His kindness, His compassion, His forgiveness and His redemption. We live to stand firm in the Lord…we live by faith, even in the midst of distress and persecution…we live to love…to love God with all our being and to love our neighbour as ourselves. If we concentrate on obeying the great commandments, we simply will not have time for idle speculation or for debates or conspiracy theories. There is a good reason why fortune telling is forbidden in Scripture…it is contrary to faith.

God alone knows what lies ahead…He alone knows the future…and who better to lead us on into the future than the one who holds that future in his hands?

Now, this does not mean that we are to be fatalists. No, we of all people ought to look to the future…to actively participate on bringing the blessed reality of that future to bear on our present…to yearn for the time when our Lord will bring an end to all suffering and pain and struggle and hardship and hatred and sin. We ought to work toward that end because we are the ones who have His light so that we might shine out that light in the present darkness…we are the salt of the earth…to be fatalistically idle would be akin to losing our saltiness. 

So we pray, we petition the Lord of the harvest to send more labourers into His harvest field, we press onward and upward to attain the promise that is ours in Jesus, we strive to walk in His truth, we learn, we trust, we wait…but we do not direct, we do not dictate, we do not presume, we do not speculate…because there is only one master and commander in life, and we live to serve Him.

Of course, this does not make us puppets in the hands of a divine puppeteer. Not at all! The Apostle Paul did not hesitate to express desires for things that were outside of his control, and so we too have the freedom to express ourselves in petitions and prayers. And often we need to persist in prayer for days, weeks, months, or even years…but we persist in faith that He who knows what is best for us, He whose thoughts toward us are for good only, He whose plans for us are to prosper us and to give us a future, He who alone has the ability to work all things together for the good of those who love Him…we persist in faith that He knows the when and the where and the what and the how and the why in all matters. And we rest in that…


© Johannes W H van der Bijl November 2021


Friday, May 21, 2021

IMPORTANT UPDATE

Johann and Louise: Training Disciples to Make Disciples in Southern Africa

Our SAMS IT staff have been working on fixing the giving links for our missionary account.

Now all the links are fixed so browsers won’t send up security alerts. What they did was take out the hyphen in the giving link where sams-usa is.

So our new giving link is now: https://give.samsusa.org/missionary/johann-and-louise-vanderbijl

It is only one hyphen - the one between "SAMS" and "USA" - that has been removed.

Louise and I pray for you all daily.

We are so grateful to each one who prays for us and supports us financially and otherwise.

You are a blessing to us and very much appreciated.
 
All our love
Johann and Louise

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Johann and Louise spent two years helping to develop the St. Frumentius Seminary in Gambella, Ethiopia. At present, they are mostly working in Southern Africa where they are serving in seven southern African countries, although they continue to work with the Diocese of Egypt, North Africa, and the Horn of Africa as well as other southern and northern African countries, through engaging in a disciple making movement in order to grow the body of Christ. They are partnering with J-Life and other like-minded ministries. This ministry is massive and has the ability to reach thousands.
We are sent  through the Society of Anglican Missionaries and Senders, a missionary sending community, engaging in building relationships with the worldwide church to experience the broken restored, the wounded healed, the hungry fed, and the lost found through the love and power of Jesus Christ. 
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Friday, May 14, 2021

May News

Johann and Louise: Training Disciples to Make Disciples in Southern Africa

Psalm 23 is without a doubt one of the best-known Psalms. Even folks who do not follow Jesus know it or snippets of it. The Psalm of the Good Shepherd King.
 
I can’t tell you how many times I have read, recited, chanted, and sung this Psalm in my life. But it was only recently that it struck me that the same Good Shepherd who tenderly leads the flock in his care to places of rest and restoration…still, cool pools of refreshing water and lush, verdant, nutritious pastures where the very core of each lamb is fully restored…this same Shepherd also leads his flock through the deepest, darkest, life-threatening valleys of life. However, the fact remains that while the topography and environment may change, the Shepherd is still leading, guiding, protecting, and providing the very best for the flock in His care.
 
There is a banquet table prepared there, set within the context of dire peril…in the very presence of the things and the people who seek to do us harm…like the thieves and robbers in the parable of the Good Shepherd. But on this lavishly laid table, indeed in the very midst of this table, stands a Cup or a Chalice, if you will, that is not only full of God’s very best blessings, but it is overflowing.
 
The Psalm ends by revealing to us the certain hope that is unshakeable and irremovable for those who trust the leading of the Shepherd wherever regardless of the setting or the situation. There is no doubt in the mind of the Psalmist. He dwells in the home of the Almighty Creator, Sustainer, Ruler, and King of all that exists.
 
The end of 2019, the whole of 2020, and the beginning of 2021 has been the deepest, darkest, most life-threatening valley through which we as a couple have been led by our Good Shepherd King. But while the storms raged and the flood waters threatened to engulf us and drag us under, He was right there by our side…invisible, often imperceptible…at times the sense of isolation and loneliness was almost crushing…but He was present, nonetheless.
 
It seems, this Good Shepherd King has seen fit to bring us through this period of dangerous vulnerability into a place of tranquillity once again. Because of the timely intervention of our wise and discerning leadership in SAMS-USA and other dear, caring friends, we are now in a place where we can rest and be restored. We will be here for a while. While we do long to see you all and spend memorable moments with you, it is best that for the moment we stay reposing on the lawn of His compassion. Pray with us that His Cup of blessing and kindness may sustain us and heal us on every level.
 
The good news is that Breakfast on the Beach will be published in June, God willing. We will let you know when it is available.
 
Louise did an outstanding job on writing a grant proposal for the Tools4Life centre in Villiersdorp and we trust that their leadership and their board members will continue to explore the possibilities in her absence. I am very proud of my wife.
 
Thank you for being part of our support system. May our gracious Lord bless you even more than you bless us.
 
With all our love and prayers
Johann and Louise

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Johann and Louise spent two years helping to develop the St. Frumentius Seminary in Gambella, Ethiopia. At present, they are mostly working in Southern Africa where they are serving in seven southern African countries, although they continue to work with the Diocese of Egypt, North Africa, and the Horn of Africa as well as other southern and northern African countries, through engaging in a disciple making movement in order to grow the body of Christ. They are partnering with J-Life and other like-minded ministries. This ministry is massive and has the ability to reach thousands.
We are sent  through the Society of Anglican Missionaries and Senders, a missionary sending community, engaging in building relationships with the worldwide church to experience the broken restored, the wounded healed, the hungry fed, and the lost found through the love and power of Jesus Christ. 
Support SAMS
Copyright © 2016 Society of Anglican Missionaries and Senders, All rights reserved.
www.sams-usa.org
    

Our mailing address is:
PO Box 399 Ambridge PA 15003
Attention to: Johann and Louise van der Bijl

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Thursday, March 18, 2021

AN UNOBTRUSIVE AND USEFUL LIFE The Life and Labour of Arthur and Mary-Ellen Lomax (Preamble)

I am currently researching the life and labour of SPG Missionary Arthur (Holliday) Lomax, together with his wife, Mary-Ellen (Conroy) and their children. The ultimate objective is to write an historical novel entitled, AN UNOBTRUSIVE AND USEFUL LIFE: The Life and Labour of Arthur and Mary-Ellen Lomax.

This is the Preamble.

Preamble:

You come to me in dreams, dearest Arthur. I see you, standing there at the foot of the bed. You are patiently waiting for me…just as you patiently waited for me to come of age so that we might be wed. Do you recall? The vows we took on that day when we pledged ourselves one to the other stated that only death could part us…but how could death part us when you are still very much alive in my heart? 

The others do not see you. How can they? It is my dream. Sweet Alice sits at my side, gently caressing my hand as she weeps silently. At times she recites the Psalms, at other times she sings hymns, or prays. The sisters at the Community of the Resurrection taught her well. She will make a fine nun. 

Ambrose and John sit a little further to my right. They seem to be less comfortable in the presence of one dying. Strange how one who is acquainted with the anatomy of the physical body, as Ambrose is, can be so afraid of it in the face of its frailty. John…well he is a good attorney, but a poor companion for the bedridden. He is too impatient. 

Ellen of Ambrose busies herself with our grandchildren in the kitchen. Wee Francis sleeps in a cradle as Talbot, Margaret, and Clara Mary do what they can to help. They are baking for the Christmas festivities. Their hushed giggles are so precious to me. 

I do not know where the others are. I know that they are not close by and that travel is arduous and difficult. But their absence does not bother me. I understand. Besides, I am not alone.

And the van Zyl girl is here with us too. You remember her, Arthur? The daughter of the farmer, Louis – Louis van Zyl – the man you defended before the magistrate for shooting the British soldiers who were slaughtering his pregnant ewes. Perhaps you do not remember her. She was as she is now…a silent presence who prefers to do the chores about the house – the emptying of pails and bedpans, and the washing of floors and dishes – than making small talk.

Death is such a strange thing, is it not? I feel it creeping up from my feet. At one point my feet were cold. Alice rubbed them with liniment Ambrose brought with him. But now I can’t feel them at all. It is as if the numbness is slowly making its way up my swollen, pale grey legs. 

But death for you was sudden, as I recall. There was no long sickbed for you. One moment standing by my side…the next, you were standing in the presence of the Lord. But a relief for you, nonetheless. All those years of suffering and pain snuffed out in an instant. 

Perhaps that was what it was like with our son Francis when he drowned. At first, the struggle against the swirling river to preserve earthly life, then the surrender and the embracing of heavenly immortality. Francis. Is Francis with you? Have you seen him at all? And our wee grandson John Peter? I’ll not forget laying his tiny body in that casket. Our beautiful grandson. But now you are there with him and with Francis. 

What is it like, Arthur? This heaven about which we have spoken for so many years. Is it like a joyous family reunion? You too are now absent from your body and present with our Lord of love. For you, the promises are fulfilled…no more death, no more mourning, no more crying or pain…it must defy description. For you who suffered so much for so long, the absence of agony must be utterly delightful. Ah, yes…to behold the beatific vision must be glorious in and of itself.

These past few months since you left me, I have revisited our lives from the first day I met you to the present. Ambrose said I ought to write down what I remember so that I might leave behind a permanent memory of our lives and our labor…almost like one of his photographs. And so, I have tried to write as much as I could – starting in Manchester with our respective families. What humble origins, Arthur! And yet, by God’s providential intervention, we were given the opportunity to better ourselves and to rise from that awful life of poverty and squalor. Perhaps that is the reason we headed out to places where others needed to be uplifted. I have often wondered about that. What made us take such bold and fearless steps into what was so far and so foreign? We could have been dashed against the sharp rocks of life so easily and come away damaged or dead.

But even in the midst of great upheaval, struggle, fear, poverty, sickness, loss, war, and uncertainty, our love for our Lord kept our love for each other alive. We had such great adventures together, did we not? Plunging headlong into the great unknown, not once or twice, but many times. How often did we not spend sleepless nights wondering where the next crust of bread would come from to feed our wee babes? But He never left us…He never forsook us…just as He promised. He remained faithful and consistently provided all we needed…rewarding our watchful waiting time after time. Were we reckless? Perhaps. Like Abraham, leaving all he knew for what he could not have known. But he had Sara and a great company along the way. All we had was each other…and Him…and that was sufficient. A threefold cord is not easily broken. 

I open my eyes. Alice says something, but I do not hear her voice…it all seems so far away. I see you clearly now…not in my dreams, but with my eyes. Am I delirious? No, there is a light behind you…around you. I hear beautiful voices singing the praises of God. Are those angels at your side? I hear a gasp and I feel myself rising. Am I dead? Yes, I am. But I am alive! Really vibrantly alive! What an exhilarating sensation! I am free! I am soaring as if on eagle wings. I see light…I feel love. Oh, Eternal bliss! Arthur, I am coming to you, my beloved. I am coming to our Lord and to you and to each precious soul we brought to Him…and to all those who have gone before us. Arthur. We will be together forever.


Friday, March 5, 2021

March Newsletter

Johann and Louise: Training Disciples to Make Disciples in Southern Africa

Lace-up shoes. You know them. You've worn them at least at one time in your life. 

I am sure I am not the only one who has at some or other time had an unfortunate experience that comes from untied laces. One moment you are plodding along happily and the next you are either lying prostrate on the earth or flying forward crazily trying to regain your balance. 

I think 2020 and the first few months of 2021 have made some of us feel as if we have stepped on an untied shoelace. It has certainly been that way for Louise and myself. 

I do not do well with untied things...I am one of those people who like to complete a task, tie it up neatly, and move ahead with the next item on my five-year-plan agenda. But these past few months, we have had to deal with many untied things...ranging from rather serious events like our health and the deaths of family members and friends to, what one would think ought to be a rather simple task of licensing the trailer we were given two years ago. This global pandemic has thrown a wrench in every single plan we had for ministry here and beyond our borders.

So, we tried to be as flexible as possible, getting involved in local ministries as best we could. I have been preaching at St Augustine's more regularly than before. We have managed to train one group of local folks in disciple making. Louise has been very involved in Tools4Life, feeding the hungry and working with the disabled and disenfranchised. It has shocked us to realise that there is nowhere for these folks to go in our village. No safe house. No shelter. If their family or friends do not step in, they have to fend for themselves, as best they can.

The group is trying to secure anything that might serve as a place where the disabled can safely live and function as per the skills they are taught by Tools4Life. They are looking into recycling (there is a LOT of trash here!) and eco-bricks to help these folks generate their own funding. Please pray that someone will make a positive decision so that the group may move forward. At the moment we keep tripping over the untied lace of bureaucratic indifference.

My book, Breakfast on the Beach: The Development of Simon Peter, is now in the final editing phase. Please pray that all will go smoothly and that it might be published sooner rather than later. Also pray for the marketing of the book. That billions around the world will be drawn closer to Jesus by reading it. That is my main concern. That our Lord and God be glorified and that His Kingdom be advanced globally. Pray also that it will be translated into other languages. The South American Bishops have indicated that they would like to see it translated into Spanish. 

Pray also for the sequel to this book entitled, For Us, For Our Children, For The World. Langham has said they would like to see how Breakfast performs before committing to the next volume. These two books explain what we teach in story form. It is discipling according to Scripture. 

My research into the lives and labor of two SPG Missionaries has been placed on hold as we cannot physically go to Oxford to access the archives in the libraries in the UK, particularly the Bodleian Library. This research is valuable to all missionaries seeking to go into the field as it explores the many factors that have an impact on the lives of both the sent and the senders. Every economic slump, caused by war, political instability, or fluctuating markets had a direct effect on the Church and the Sending Societies, as giving went down during these periods. The same is still true today.

Thankfully, our SAMS account has not taken too much of a hit during this pandemic. We are grateful to every one of our supporters. We are so grateful to each one who prays for us. True, our SAMS support account could be better, but then again it could also be worse.

But our Lord knows our needs and we leave that in His hands.

Bless you and thank you.
 
All our love
Johann and Louise

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Johann and Louise spent two years helping to develop the St. Frumentius Seminary in Gambella, Ethiopia. At present, they are mostly working in Southern Africa where they are serving in seven southern African countries, although they continue to work with the Diocese of Egypt, North Africa, and the Horn of Africa as well as other southern and northern African countries, through engaging in a disciple making movement in order to grow the body of Christ. They are partnering with J-Life and other like-minded ministries. This ministry is massive and has the ability to reach thousands.
We are sent  through the Society of Anglican Missionaries and Senders, a missionary sending community, engaging in building relationships with the worldwide church to experience the broken restored, the wounded healed, the hungry fed, and the lost found through the love and power of Jesus Christ. 
Support SAMS
Copyright © 2016 Society of Anglican Missionaries and Senders, All rights reserved.
www.sams-usa.org
    

Our mailing address is:
PO Box 399 Ambridge PA 15003
Attention to: Johann and Louise van der Bijl

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