The New Harvest Christian Fellowship

Pastors’ Blog

More of Jesus

I have really been enjoying spending time in the gospels and learning from what Jesus has to teach us. There is something very special about spending time focusing on the words of our Savior and looking at how He lived His life and His interactions with others. While reading two nights ago I came across these words in Mark chapter 4:

23 If anyone has ears to hear, let him listen.” 24 And he said to them, “Pay attention to what you hear. By the measure you use, it will be measured to you — and more will be added to you. 25 For whoever has, more will be given to him, and whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken away from him.”

I love how Jesus starts this section. He is pretty much saying, “Listen up! This is important!” These verses follow His parable of the sower and the different ways in which people will receive His message.

And here Jesus says that we must pay attention to what He has to say because our attitude in regard to how we receive His Word determines how much more we will then receive. Hans F. Bayer writes the following on the word “measure” in the ESV Study Bible:

“Measure refers to the attitude with which the word of Jesus is being received… If the hearer embraces Jesus’ message of the kingdom in a rich and powerful way, then still more will be added to you – that is, God will take up residence in that heart and give increased understanding and blessing, both in this age and in the age to come.”

What I get from this text and commentary is the more we take Jesus’ Words seriously the more we will get from our relationship with Him. There are some of us who have a little more time on our hands at the moment. So why don’t we spend some time searching what Jesus has to say to us, pay attention to it while applying it, and receive all the more from our incredible Savior? More of Jesus is definitely something we can all benefit from.

Much love,

Luke

A Prayer for You

One of the things that I have realised this year is how much I love to hear people praying for someone. I enjoy praying for people myself, but it really lifts my heart to hear someone pray over another person. Even if I don’t know the people praying or being prayed for. I experienced this while listening to a Christian radio station one afternoon while driving in my car. At that time they had a segment where a guest pastor would be in the studio and the radio host would read out a prayer request from a listener. The pastor would then pray for that person live on air. This was repeated a number of times as the pastor prayed for various people. At first I wondered why they would make a segment of this, the prayers were for a specific person, not everyone else listening in. What benefit was there to the rest of us?

And yet, as I continued listening I felt a sense of joy as I heard the prayer for that person. I prayed along in agreement with the pastor, experiencing the joy of intercession. This is something that I have missed about being gathered together with other believers. I have missed sharing in times of prayer for another, hearing someone’s heart as they lift someone up in prayer before the Lord.

And so now I’m going to sit back and picture the Apostle Paul dictating these words of prayer to the believers at Colossae, I’m going to imagine that he is praying these words over you and I that get to stand close by, praying silently in agreement with his every word, experiencing the joy of intercession. Here is a prayer for you:

…We are asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding, 10 so that you may walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to Him: bearing fruit in every good work and growing in the knowledge of God, 11 being strengthened with all power, according to His glorious might, so that you may have great endurance and patience, joyfully 12 giving thanks to the Father, who has enabled you to share in the saints’ inheritance in the light. 13 He has rescued us from the domain of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of the Son He loves. 14 In Him we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. (Colossians 1:9-14)

Amen!

God Bless

Graham

Acknowledging the Cost of the Pandemic

There have been many encouraging messages going around since the start of our country’s response to the current pandemic (sometimes too many to read!), and many of them have been just that – encouraging and much needed. Some people have had some interesting insights and recognised many positive impacts that the lockdown has had in their lives – such as more family time together, more rest and a whole list of others.

While there is nothing wrong with messages like these I have come across some that don’t seem to acknowledge the cost of the pandemic which we are facing. Some messages have even shown a sense of gratitude to Covid-19 itself which is insensitive to the millions of people this disease has affected around the world. While some of us may have experienced only minor inconveniences in this time and may even come out on the other side with some fond memories – there are others who will only remember the pandemic for what it has taken from them. 

Some people will only remember losing a loved one to the disease, others will remember the loss of a job or business, while others may only remember the horror of daily fighting for their lives while not having any source of income. In 1 Timothy 2:1-4 Paul writes:

1 First of all, then, I urge that petitions, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone, for kings and all those who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity. This is good, and it pleases God our Savior, who wants everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. 

While we are called to offer prayers for everyone in this passage I believe that the global church has a large role to play in this time when it comes to praying for those who have been most negatively affected by the current pandemic. We can intercede for people’s circumstances while also giving thanks for those who are staying strong in their faith and not allowing trying times to lead to doubting God’s goodness. We have the amazing opportunity to pray that our leaders make the best possible decisions and something which I think we can also be praying for are people’s salvation in this trying time since God, 4wants everyone to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth.”

Let’s pray that God intervenes as well as saves those who do not yet know Jesus so that some may remember this as the time they met their true Saviour. So the next time we receive an encouraging message why don’t we offer a prayer for those who are currently not in a place to be encouraged and are in need of God’s intervention?

 

Much Love,

Luke

Remembering

This morning as I was doing some work around the house I decided to put some music on. Feeling a bit nostalgic I decided to rock it like it was 2006/7 and put on one of my favourite albums: United We Stand by Hillsong United. I have fond memories of listening to this album countless times as I drove to varsity in the mornings, and back in the afternoons.

The CD actually belonged to my sister, she had all the Hillsong United albums at that stage, and me, being a bit of a contrarian, had been later to the party. Since the Christian teens and young adults were all listening to Hillsong United, I wasn’t. For some reason or other I borrowed Steph’s copy of United We Stand and fell in love with some of the songs. Other songs on the album, that I initially wasn’t so keen on actually became some of my favourites the more I listened to them. To this day, it remains one of my favourite albums, but it’s not merely because I enjoyed the songs, more than that, they had become a soundtrack to a significant part of my Christian journey. When I hear these songs, they remind me of a time in my life where my faith was deeply challenged and evaluated, and as a result became stronger, more mature and established. I’m reminded of quiet times journalling in my car before the lectures started. Having my faith questioned, and even mocked by peers and even lecturers (not personally but indirectly through their critiques of Christianity or religion itself). I remember how God was leading me down the path to ministry without me even realising. And then, when I had been offered the job of assistant pastor, I remember these songs inspiring me as I started to plan out my very first sermons.

All of these memories, and more, were brought to mind this morning as I had the album playing in the background and I thanked the Lord for all He had done in my life. I thanked Him for those special years where my spiritual life grew in leaps and bounds, despite the struggles and the doubts. It is good to remember and give thanks.

1 I will give thanks to the LORD with my whole heart;
    I will recount all of Your wonderful deeds.
I will be glad and exult in You;
    I will sing praise to Your name, O Most High.    (Psalm 9:1-2)

I would like to encourage you to take some time to remember all the wonderful things that God has done in your life. Remember His faithfulness in times of trial, remember His loving care as He led you to Himself and healed your wounded and sinful heart, remember Him in the dark of night and the bright of day. I’m sure there are some songs that hold a special place in your heart as they remind you of significant moments in your journey with the Lord, why not give them a listen again?

God Bless

Graham

Life’s Rivers will not Overwhelm Us

Two nights ago my beautiful wife asked if I wanted to watch a movie with her. I agreed, and we began the process of finding something to watch. I don’t know about you but this can sometimes be a time consuming process as you try and figure out what to choose! Fortunately this time was pretty easy and we decided on a recently released movie on Netflix. In one of the more tender moments in this action packed film, one of the main characters is being questioned by another about his life. After being transparent and sharing a difficult memory the one asking the questions responds by saying, “You drown, not by falling into the river, but by staying submerged in it”, quoting a line from a book he had read.

I thought this was quite a profound statement probably because I have been struggling a bit lately. I think a lot of what I am going through at the moment is due to our current life of lockdown and I am still adjusting to this new way of life. There have been days when I have just felt down and not motivated to do much and actually just wanted to climb back into bed. This feeling is almost as if I have fallen into a river and am sinking. There’s nothing wrong with how I am feeling as it is a natural response to our situation but I must be careful not to wallow in this feeling (which I have been guilty of doing in the past).

While thinking about this scene and my current feelings I was reminded of these life giving words from Isaiah 43:1-3

1 Now this is what the Lord says—
the one who created you, Jacob,
and the one who formed you, Israel—
“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by your name; you are mine.
When you pass through the waters,
I will be with you,
and the rivers will not overwhelm you.
When you walk through the fire,
you will not be scorched,
and the flame will not burn you.
For I am the Lord your God,
the Holy One of Israel, and your Savior.

Now while these words were written for Israel I find a lot of comfort in them because these are words from the same God who looks after us in difficult times. I can stand firm in these truths even though I am struggling at the moment because God has not and will never let me down. I have no reason to fear as I been redeemed by the blood of Jesus, I am one of the children of God who has been called by name, and I belong to the Holy and set apart God in whom I find my salvation! Reading these verses has helped make me feel a bit better and I will definitely keep coming back to them in the weeks to come.

Much love,

Luke

Freedom

Yesterday we observed Freedom Day in South Africa. It was, ironically, one of the least free Freedom Days that we have experienced in recent years, due to the restrictions on our movement during the lockdown. I got to thinking about what freedom means and the words of Jesus were brought to mind:

34 Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. 35 Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. 36 So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.   (John 8:34-36)

There is so much to be said about the freedom that we have in Christ but there is one aspect that I want to focus on in this blog post. Jesus set us free from enslavement to sin, and not only that, he also set us free from trying to earn God’s approval and acceptance. As Jesus said, a slave has no permanent place in the family, they have to work hard to prove their worth, to earn their place. A son is a member of the family by virtue of his birth, he does not need to earn his place in the family.

Through Jesus, the Son who set us free, we are brought into God’s family by grace. We don’t earn our way in, nor do we have to relentlessly strive to keep our place. So many Christians don’t realise the full impact of the Gospel truth. Jesus is our righteousness, it is through Him that we are made right with God and receive God’s approval. We are so used to having to go to the ends of the earth trying to please people that we struggle to fathom the amazing truth of God’s grace. Instead we try to be the “perfect” Christians, doing more and more for God and then harshly judging ourselves for not meeting the standard. Or, disheartened, we stop trying at all, defeated by the impossibility of the task. Yet when we begin to fully appreciate and understand the incredible gift of grace that God has given us, we finally experience the true freedom we have in Christ.

I came across a wonderful testimony that illustrates this point:

“The harder I tried to be perfect, the more miserable I became. It took me almost having a nervous breakdown before I internalized the gospel truth that Jesus saves me by his grace — period. How emancipating to realize that I couldn’t be good enough for him to love me more, or bad enough for him to love me less! Gradually, I learned to love Jesus freely and accept his ludicrously lavish love. Instead of being bound to a list of do’s and don’ts, I began to serve God out of gratitude for all he accomplished on the cross.”

There’s the amazing thing. Realising that we don’t need to strive to earn God’s approval doesn’t mean we stop serving the Lord. In fact it has the opposite effect. It frees us to serve the Lord from a place of gratitude, and not obligation. As a result we will be far more effective at shining our light and glorifying God. Free indeed!

God Bless

Graham

Gradual Progress

One of my favorite parts of working in the garden is the sense of accomplishment you feel at the end of the day. Before we started yesterday afternoon the grass was looking a little long, some of the flower beds needed to be raked, and a few little things needed a bit of a handyman’s touch – and we got most of it done. When looking around at what we had accomplished we felt good! I wish we could experience the same instant sense of accomplishment when it comes to our spiritual growth. I have been reading a really challenging book about authentic Christianity and have been identifying areas of my life that eventually need to look different. It has been difficult to come to terms with since these changes are going to happen over a period of time and are not going to be easy.

When it comes to growing spiritually this is not something that be achieved like gardening. You can’t wake up one day and declare, “Today I will be spiritually mature!” Maturity takes time, it takes consistency and often, the changes which will take place will not always be able to be observed from the outside. Spiritual growth is an internal change which impacts our actions. Spiritual growth occurs in our hearts first and that heart change often takes time. One of my favorite scriptures that I come back to over and over again is found in 1 Samuel 16:7:

But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look at his appearance or his stature because I have rejected him. Humans do not see what the Lord sees, for humans see what is visible, but the Lord sees the heart.”

Samuel, when tasked with going to anoint the new king, fell prey to being impressed by the outward appearance of one of David’s brothers. But God is clear – God sees our hearts and this is what ultimately counts. Heart change takes time and cannot be tackled in a day – but the effort that we expend to allow the Holy Spirit to bring about this change is completely worth it. At the end of the day spiritual growth is gradual – sometimes unnoticeable – but the more it occurs, the more we look like Jesus. And I really want to look and live like the one who saved me and who has the power to save the world around me.

Much love,

Luke

Redeeming the Time

Ah, doing the washing. I’m willing to bet that during this lockdown many people have discovered just how much clothing their household goes through in a week. Who knew we owned this many clothes?!? Does it never end?!?

I’ve been doing the washing in our house for years (not the ironing though!) and so none of this has come as a surprise. I’m an old hand at these things, as some of you are too. I know all too well that loading the washing machine is the quick and easy part, it’s the hanging of the washing that takes a long time. Well, at least for me it does. Apparently no one in the house can take off an item of clothing without it getting turned inside out, so before I hang the clothes I turn them the right way round, I also match up the socks, and carefully arrange the spacing so that I can fit the maximum amount of clothes on the line. Yep, I’ve been domesticated! I also tend do a few loads of washing, fill up the baskets and then go hang it all up in one go. This way I don’t break up my work flow on sermons and other admin tasks too much. It does mean, however, that those hanging sessions can take a fair while and to keep me sane I’ve found a way to redeem the time.

Let me explain what I mean by redeeming the time. In Ephesians 5:15-16 Paul has these words to say:

15 See then that you walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise, 16 redeeming the time, because the days are evil. (NKJV)

Other translations put it this way: “making the best use of time” or “making the most of every opportunity”. In a broader sense Paul is urging us, as believers who have seen the light of Christ, not to carry on living in the darkness engaged in sinful or frivolous pursuits. Within this point he is urging us to be prudent with the limited amount of time we have on this earth. This not to say that we have to try and do more and more for God to the point of burnout. Rather let us be wise with our time. One way that we can do that is to take the time spent on mundane tasks, like hanging the washing, or sitting in traffic (as we used to do), and find a way to enhance or “redeem” that time to further and grow our relationship with the Lord.

There are many different ways we can do this and I encourage you to think about how you can redeem the time in your own daily routine. Whether it involves prayer, worship or study, you’ll need to find what will work best for you. For me, when it comes to hanging the washing I’ve often found it helpful to play some music on a bluetooth speaker via my phone. Then I am able to worship as I peg up the clothes. But what has really been great is to use the time to listen to sermons or Biblical study series so that I am learning something, furthering my knowledge of God’s word, all while I get the washing hung. One of the resources that I’ve especially enjoyed is the Renewing Your Mind podcasts from Ligonier Ministries which provide good solid theology in an accessible way, plus they take about as long as a hanging session so by the time the podcasts ends I’ve both learnt more about God’s Word and got the washing done!

God Bless

Graham

Remembering Jesus’ Pain

 

I often jokingly refer to myself as “that guy.” What I mean by this is that when something goes wrong it often happens to me. Last year, while packing away dishes, I managed to stab myself in the hand and needed to get stitches. Later that same year, while in Botswana on our mission trip, I was the only one to get bitten by a dog and needed to go to the hospital and complete a course of rabies injections (just in case I was the guy who got rabies!). This brings me to the latest example: this morning while walking inside to get something, I managed to slip on the step, bang up many of my toes and smack my arm really hard on the door frame. I responded to the sudden influx of pain by throwing one of Seth’s toys, and then punching the door (which then cut up my hand a bit!)

Now you may be wondering, “Did you really have to punch the door?” And my response is, “Yes!” It was simply a distraction from the amount of pain I was feeling in my feet in that moment and it genuinely seemed to help. After all the various sources of pain began to dissipate, I caught myself asking the very same question I did when reflecting on stabbing myself and getting bitten by a dog – “why!?” I see all three of these examples of getting hurt as unnecessary and completely avoidable so why did they happen? I hadn’t been able to answer this question until I really thought about it this morning.

While looking at my fresh wounds I was reminded of the amount of physical pain Jesus went through for me. I was reminded of the crucifixion accounts and all the previous research I had done on the process Jesus went through, as well as the excruciating pain He experienced and endured so that we could receive forgiveness for our sins when we believe in Him. These words from Isaiah 22:13-14 impact me nearly every time I read them:

13 See, my servant will be successful;
he will be raised and lifted up and greatly exalted.
14 Just as many were appalled at you—
his appearance was so disfigured
that he did not look like a man,
and his form did not resemble a human being

One interpretation of this text is that it is speaking about the result of the physical punishment Jesus received on the day He was crucified. In light of this I cannot even fathom what Jesus looked like after His multiple beatings, scourging and crucifixion. Yet He willingly went through all of it for us so that we might be saved. This is sorely needed reminder of just how much God truly loves us. And instead of complaining or having a “woe is me” attitude in response to pain, I thought what would be more helpful is to use that pain to be a reminder of what Jesus went through for me. At the end of the day, as disciples of Jesus, the pain we experience in this life is only temporary and will one day not exist where we will live forever – in heaven with our God. What I will try to ensure is that if the pain of my wounds begin to flare up in the hours to come, I will remember what Jesus endured for me instead of simply complaining because of having to experience the inconvenience of the pain itself.

Much love,

Luke

Jehovah Jireh – My Provider

For today’s blog post I’ll need to give a big of background information, so please bear with me.

One of the hobbies that I have got into lately is that of Sim Racing. “What on earth is that?” you may ask. Well essentially it is like a car racing game played on the computer (or Xbox, or PlayStation) but with a focus on realism, where things like tyre wear and temperature, fuel consumption, damage and suspension settings are all taken into account. Essentially the goal is to simulate actual racing as close as possible.

Towards the end of last year I got involved in a casual league, participating in one or two online races a month. It was a great deal of fun, despite the fact that I had to use an Xbox controller to race with. The ideal is to have a wheel and pedal setup which gives you much greater control and helps to it feel more like you’re really driving. I would have loved to get my own wheel but the problem is that these wheel setups are not cheap, and so getting one would have to remain a pipe dream. Oh I really did want one, but there were far more important things, it was certainly not a need.

And yet, God knew my heart. I hadn’t directly prayed for a wheel, there were other far more significant things to bring before Him in prayer. Despite this He answered that unsaid prayer through the generosity of one of the guys in our league who, out of the blue, sent me a message saying that he was upgrading to a new wheel setup and that I was welcome to have his old one. I was blown away and knew immediately that this was from the Lord.

I remember sitting there just praising Him, not so much for the wheel itself (although it is pretty awesome!) but more for the fact that He cares for me so much that He even cares for the things that I care for.  Surely the God of the universe has more important things to attend to, more pressing prayer needs to address, that a trivial thing like this would not even feature on His agenda? And yet it did.

I was reminded of the following passages of Scripture:

“Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? 11 If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask Him!”   (Matthew 7:9-11)

3 Trust in the Lord and do good;
    dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture.
Take delight in the Lord,
    and He will give you the desires of your heart.   (Psalm 37:3-4)

Now the focus of these verses is not on mere material things. The greatest gifts of God are the spiritual blessings He pours into our lives, with eternal life in Christ being the number one gift of them all. Neither does it mean that we should draw near to God just for what He can give us. But the gifts that God gives can include material things, for He is our Provider, in both the physical and spiritual sense. Even the “trivial” things come from His generous hand. Also, if our delight is in Him, we honestly need no other thing, He is enough, in fact He is more than enough. However, just as a loving parent enjoys giving their child gifts that will bring them joy, so too does God lavish His love upon us in the small, little things as well as the big.

Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; His love endures forever.   (Psalm 107:1)

God Bless

Graham