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Senior Pastor of Shofar Christian Church
Here we are, with February 2019 already upon us.
If the first few weeks of your year have been anything like mine, then you too might have to dig quite deep into your memory bank to remember what your holiday was like! But I do sincerely hope that you had a refreshing time with family and friends and that your short journey into 2019 has been a blessed one thus far.
As a family, we had the privilege of spending a few days in Beaufort West for my cousin’s wedding. A couple of months before we went, our little 7-year old Kate-Rose decided that she wanted to get baptised and that she wanted to get baptised in Beaufort West (I was born there, got engaged there, and almost got married there as well). Of course, we were elated at her decision, and yet could not help to think, “We live near the beach, can’t you get baptised here?!” No, it had to be in Beaufort West.
And so a couple of desperate prayers went up to heaven. God needed some reminding that the area was in the throes of one of the worst droughts in a long time, that there was absolutely no water in the dams in Beaufort West, and that the taps were turned off every evening at 22:00 to conserve water. Also, that there was a little girl who had her heart set on getting baptised there.
Well, needless to say, the Lord came through for Kate and someone blessed us with guesthouse accommodation, complete with borehole water, a swimming pool, and everything else you need for a baptism!
So, at the height of the December summer heat and in the midst of a drought-stricken Karoo town, a mighty God answered the prayer of a heart filled with child-like faith. With her grandfather there to help me baptise her and the rest of the Titus clan looking on, that pool became a holy place, where heaven parted and I could hear Him whisper from His throne, “This is my beloved daughter in whom I am well pleased.”
What you don’t see in the picture, is that before we could get around to baptising her, Kate dove head first into the water, just after she had shared her testimony on why she wanted to take the step of obedience! I must confess that a fleeting thought of panic crossed my mind, for surely a person has to walk into the pool and then wait to be baptised? But we were way too slow for her! She was going to be obedient and she was going to have fun doing it as well!
And so the Holy Spirit challenged me in my predisposition towards religiosity. I saw in Kate’s response to Jesus’ command joyful, willing-from-the-heart obedience, an innocence in faith, and an expectation that the Father will provide whatever is needed to fulfil the steps of obedience laid out for her.
Joyful, willing obedience
The prophet Isaiah gives the nation of Israel this beautiful invitation, and I believe it is an invitation the Holy Spirit is extending to each one of us as we prayerfully venture further into this year.
Isaiah 1:18-20 (NKJV): “Come now, and let us reason together,” says the Lord, “though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall be as wool. If you are willing and obedient, you shall eat the good of the land; but if you refuse and rebel, you shall be devoured by the sword”; for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.
This beautiful passage invites us to once again consider the magnitude of the truth that it doesn’t matter how deep or how dark our sin and brokenness have scarred our identity, how painfully the shackles of shame have been cutting into our consciousness, or how overwhelmed we might feel by the expectations, challenges, and mountains of 2019: His blood-infused mercy is more than sufficient for anything we bring to Him. And as the power of baptism reminds us, that mercy is sufficient not just to cover our sin and brokenness with a layer of superficial spirituality, but to wash it away, to cleanse the deepest chambers of our hearts, and to awaken us to the promise of new life in Him.
In the midst of the drought of empty human promises, of teetering political foundations, and of uncertain economic climates, I believe that the Holy Spirit is wanting to remind us of the promise attached to this invitation:
“If you are willing and obedient, you shall eat the good of the land; but if you refuse and rebel, you shall be devoured by the sword”; for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.
We have a choice in every situation: the choice of obedience (trust and surrender) or rebellion (fear that is often just another manifestation of pride) against God.
As I am writing this, I believe with all my heart that God is incredibly proud of us as a church family. We are a faithful people. Each one of us can remember the day God called us, and everywhere I go I meet Shofar family who is holding onto the promises of God and to what the Lord has called them to do. Right across our church movement, from nation to nation, the Lord has blessed us with incredibly faithful men and women. Hear my heart, simply echoing His: you are His beloved son and daughter and your Father is well pleased with you! 1
Having said that, I am convinced that the Lord is wanting to add a further dimension to that legacy of obedience, namely joyful willingness as the foundation of our obedience.
I am encouraged by the conversations I am having with pastors and staff members who are chatting to me about dreams that they have. Some of them are leaving the formal Shofar employment to pursue other avenues, and my heart responds, “Go for it!” If that is what God is saying to you, if that is what the Lord is laying on your heart and if that is your calling, go for it! Pursue it! Don’t walk in fear. Don’t be afraid that you are going to disappoint us – please God, not man. Do it responsibly and wisely with due consideration to the practicalities and responsibilities involved. Make sure you are responding to a word from God and not out of fear or any other carnal motivation. And if God has spoken, then we want to bless and release you to follow that call on your life.
God does not relate to outside conformity, to an obedience that is stripped of the passionate engagement of our hearts.2 His promise is for those who are willing and obedient!
Religious obedience brings bondage and strips us of our joy. Willing, heart-engaged obedience flows from the joyful, surrendered heart of a child trusting his or her Abba. I believe God is standing poised to release a powerful dimension of joy over us as a church family. We regularly sense and experience this as we gather for corporate praise and worship and I have an expectation that we are going to see that joy multiplying and extending into every aspect of our life together. There is a strength that the Lord has made available to us, and that strength lies in our joy.3 Tap into it and drink deeply from this well.4
At a time when we are bombarded with so much negativity and when there seems to be more than enough reason to panic in the natural, I want to urge us not to neglect to come together as households of faith. Cherish the moments of corporate praise, go towards it expecting to meet with Jesus, the One who builds His church. Go there, ready to pour out your praise to the One who alone is worthy and join the band – not the band on the stage necessarily, but the band of unseen angels that are waiting to lift up their voices with us to exalt the Ancient of Days and the Lamb upon the throne.
As we sensed again last year with the release of the latest ShofarBand album, God has graced our church family with a spirit of purity in worship that is indeed a special gift from His hand. Ask the Holy Spirit this year for the grace to never settle for simply going through the motions of outward obedience, but to engage with your heart, to draw near and to give your all to Him, and expect to see Him fill you with joy for the journey that lies ahead. The nations of the world are desperately needing to hear the sound of authentic, sustaining rejoicing, even in the midst of seemingly hopeless situations.5 For our joy is not based on things or circumstances, but rooted in a Person.
The time has come for us to take the transforming joy we experience in His presence during corporate gatherings with us into our cubicles, our trains, our boardrooms and dining rooms, the operating theatre, classroom and sports fields of our everyday lives.
I want you to have an expectation that God wants to come through for us, He wants to provide for us. I’m challenging my own unbelief, my small thinking that expects just a little bit of water in drought-stricken Beaufort West and yet, all along, God had a well of abundance prepared for that little heart who had willingly and obediently responded to His Word.
Yours in His Service,
1 Then a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” Mark 1:11; “To the praise of the glory of His Grace, by which He made us accepted in the Beloved.” Ephesians 1:6
2 “These people draw near to Me with their mouth, and honour me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me.” Matthew 15:8 & Isaiah 29:13
3 “…Do not sorrow, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” Nehemiah 8:10
4 “…in Your presence is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” Psalms 16:11
5 “…the voice of joy and the voice of gladness, the voice of the bridegroom and the voice of the bride, the voice of those who will say: ‘Praise the Lord of hosts, for the Lord is good, for His mercy endures forever’ – and of those who will bring the sacrifice of praise into the house of the Lord. For I will cause the captives of the land to return as at the first,” says the Lord. Jeremiah 33:11