Thursday, 23 November 2017

South Africa 2017 - Day 6 – 23rd November

Chereen, our lovely host cooked us a wonderful breakfast of scrambled eggs, bacon, toast, avocado and a fine selection of fruit.  We have no meetings today but it’s a good day to visit a few folk.  Our first call was into a psychiatric hospital in east Pretoria to visit the daughter of a lady who’d been in the meeting at Church in the City in Brits the other night.  I’m not going to name any names or give many details to preserve her privacy but suffice to say she’s had a hard time in the last few years and has struggled with mental health issues to the point she needed admitting recently.  I presume the unfair stigma faced by those struggling with their mental health, as opposed to physical health, is as bad in South Africa as it is in the UK, if not worse.  Godfrey has a gift for sharing the unending, unchanging, unrelenting love of Father God for people who find themselves in such a situation and although he couldn’t get an acoustic guitar to go in with we went into the hospital anyway.  It was like “One flew over the cuckoo’s nest”, bare lino floors, painted concrete walls and high ceilings, steel bars on the windows and old fashioned jail-style steel bar doors.  The noise was appalling, not wails or screams just the amplified and undamped echo of every word spoken, every footstep and every rattle of every door or window.  You could hardly make yourself heard at the ward reception desk or in the dining area where we were to meet the young lady and her mum.  After a few minutes struggling with the sound we were moved to a more private TV room that was still noisy but at least we were the only ones in it.  There was no TV either, thankfully.  Godfrey sang two of his songs to the young lady, “Do you believe what I believe about you?” and “I am not disappointed in you” after explaining that they were Father God’s words to her for her and about her, specifically.  She seemed to understand and she chatted with him for a while and he encouraged her that her future was going to be different to her past.  Her mum was very touched that we’d taken the time to go in to see her and frankly it was a privilege to do so.  I can’t imagine how hard it must be as a parent to see one of your children suffering and struggling like that.  But she has hope for the future.  Godfrey gave the mum one of his CDs that has the songs on that he sang to her daughter which she'll keep safe until she gets out, which hopefully won’t be too long.

We then moved on to the other side of Pretoria to another hospital this time to see a lady called Tilana who was the person who invited Godfrey to Brits when she found out he was coming to South Africa.  She is Pastor Wally’s sister and has been fighting cancer for eleven years.  She managed to come to the meeting on Tuesday night despite not feeling well and needing treatment; she was determined she wasn’t going to miss it as she loves Godfrey’s music so much.

I have rarely seen anyone so fully alive and glowing with enthusiasm let alone someone who is so very ill.  She is a remarkable lady and we spent a wonderful hour with her chatting about Godfrey’s music, her journey of faith and her determination to be well.  She and her husband are planning on going on the Religious Detox cruise in the Mediterranean next September plus she’s hoping to be released from this round of hospital treatment on Sunday morning which means if she’s strong enough and well enough she may be able to come on Sunday night to our final meeting of this trip here in South Africa.

After we took our leave of her we headed to the mall opposite to meet a friend of Godfrey’s called Gerben who was the Worship Director at a huge church of 8,000 people in Pretoria when Godfrey came over about ten years ago.  He’s still in a leadership capacity there and shared with us some of the monumental changes going on at their church, all of which sounded exciting and very much in line with how I would love all churches to be; focused outwards, serving their community, deconstructing and closing things that are no longer relevant, trying to remove the consumerist culture from the meetings of the church.  It’s almost unheard of for a church of that size, with a large number of full-time staff to attempt such a shift.  Even small churches find that stuff difficult.  I hope they succeed.  He is also a drummer and an extremely accomplished musician in several fields.  He was someone you could immediately warm to and I liked him immensely.

By then it was about 3:30pm so it was time to head back to Chereen’s house before we got too caught in the rush hour traffic.

Tonight Chereen and Gordon treated us to a fantastic meal of Snoek, an amazingly tasty meaty fish, grilled on a barbeque with roasted vegetables, and a salad.  It was wonderful meal.  Godfrey and Gordon sat out on the terrace sharing a tot of each of their favourite whiskies while Chereen and I talked inside.  She told me some of her amazing life story, which as it’s her’s not mine I won’t be sharing here, but it was FULL to the brim with the grace and goodness of God in what at times must have been incredibly hard situations.  She is a remarkable woman and my only regret is not getting to meet her husband as he was been working away all week and gets home tomorrow after we’ve left.

Tomorrow we’re heading for Johannesburg itself and this time we’re staying in a hotel near the airport instead of with members of the church.  We have a meeting on Saturday night and two meetings on Sunday.  Apparently I’ll be playing an electric drum kit which I’m not looking forward to.  I don’t like them even if they’re expensive and fancy ones.  Partly that’s because they lack the sensitivity an acoustic kit has and partly it’s just it pushes me out of my comfort zone!  I shall get over myself and do my best on it and I’m sure it’ll be dandy!  What’s the worst that could happen?  Tune in to Saturday nights blog to find out!

Wednesday, 22 November 2017

South Africa 2017 - Day 5 – 22nd November

This morning we were up at seven to get to the meeting for about half past eight.  I’d brought a bag of low-sugar cereal with me and opening it this morning to have for breakfast as Wally had said he’s sort a brunch out after the meeting.  We took a different route into Brits which seemed faster than the route via the dam but was still about half an hour.

There was only a very small crowd this morning fifteen or so at the most however we had a good time doing some different songs from the night before and then Godfrey spoke a bit, expanding on some of the things we’d spoken about the night before and then he threw it open for some Q&A.  Wally, the pastor, asked some good questions and I got an opportunity to share some of the things I’ve learned along the way in this exploration of the finished work, inclusion and our identity in Christ.  It really seemed to help some people having a time to conversation and questions.  Churches are often scared to death of questions but I love them.  How can we learn without examining what we believe and questioning it?  We finished off with ‘Do you believe’ and ‘I am not disappointed’  as those had particularly touched Wally.

I was asked by a lovely lady called Gladys about forgiveness and how she could forgive someone who had stolen money from her.  I explained as best as I could that forgiving them was not the same as saying what they did was OK but it was about your own peace of mind and ensuring you don’t end up reliving the hurt and pain of the theft again and again until you end up embittered and damaged.  That forgiving someone was often more about you than about the person who had wronged you.  I explained it was also a choice, not a feeling and even if she didn’t feel like it she could chose to say ‘I forgive’ and that it would get easier.  Leave the person who had done the theft to the authorities and to God to sort out.

I had a delicious brunch of scrambled eggs, bacon, chips and a south African sausage called Droe wors I think.  Godfrey had a fish and vegetables dish.  Wally questioned us quite intently about our beliefs but not in a critical way but in the way of a man wrestling with a fresh revelation and trying to square it with things he’s believed or been taught that seem not to line up.  He was especially concerned with hell and judgement but he knew that the focus was to be Jesus and let such things sort themselves out in the their own good time.  Sometimes the good news does look too good!

We then headed for the cable car to go up to the top of the nearby mountain.  Our host Chereen manages the gift shop there so she took us along with Wally and his wife Rosie.  The ride up was super smooth and quick and the weather was glorious.  We had an ice cream at the top then took the cable car back down to visit a beautiful supermarket full of the most amazing produce.  There were fruits and vegetables the like of which I’ve never seen plus a surprising number of things exactly the same as at home!

We bid our goodbyes to Wally and Elisabeth and Chereen took us back to her house where a thunderstorm started about half past two with very impressive flashes of fork lightning and heavy rain in the distance heading towards us.


Tomorrow there’s the possibility that we’ll go to Pretoria to visit the sister of a lady in the church who is in a secure psychiatric unit so Godfrey can sing some of his songs there and we’ll also visit the lady who invited us in to the church in Brits.  She’s Wally’s sister and she’s very sick with cancer.  She was at the meeting last night but had taken a turn for the worse.

In the evening we had a lovely meal of chicken and smoked trout that Chereen's dad Gordon had caught on one of his fishing trips.

South Africa 2017 - Day 4 – 21st November

The three hour drive was actually only just two and half hours.  A lovely guy called Dion drove us in Annalise’s SpirtWord minivan.  She was unable to come after all due to some speaking commitments.  He was a really good driver and I felt very safe in his hands.  The scenery in Stilfontain is very flat with scrub and only a few trees and a lot of dust but as we got closer to Brits we passed through rich green farm farmland and the hills in the distance got closer and closer.  Dion said we were heading up into the hills as Brits is surrounded by hills.  At one point as we passed a farm a whirling funnel air containing grass and plant debris came out of the field and intersected with the car clattering against the windows.  It was a dust devil I guess. It wasn’t big enough or powerful enough to be a tornado by any means but it was probably a similar phenomenon, but don’t quote me I’m no meteorologist!

We arrived in Hartbeesport Dam, at the most secure looking gated community I’ve ever seen, around lunch time.  The walls are high and are topped with outward leaning electric fence wires.  The entrance has car-park style barriers for the day time with a guard hut between the exit and entrance lanes manned by armed guards in pseudo-military uniforms.  At night there’s a solid metal gate that rolls out of the wall to block the way.  We followed the path round to a house owned by a lady called Chereen who was out at work but her father, Gordon, was there to greet us.  There was a spare room in the house and a separate basement room with its own entrance at the side.  Godfrey took the one inside and went down below.  The room was quite cool being partially underground and had a large firm double bed in the centre and a small shower stall, toilet and sink area at the entrance behind a sliding door.

Gordon took us to the clubhouse on the estate, which is home to a nine-hole golf course, with a terrific view looking over the reservoir and parts of the golf course.  The greens were all dry and dead as someone had made a mistake fertilizing it earlier in the year and killed the grass on the greens so they all had to be dug up and re-turfed at the cost of many thousands of Rand.  I had chicken schnitzel with chips and Godfrey ordered a chicken and prawn curry without the chicken accompanied by rice.  Unfortunately the chef messed up Godfrey’s meal and put chicken in it too, so when the waiter pointed this out it had to be re-cooked so Godfrey got his meal a good few minutes after us.

A lady called Stella picked us up around four pm and we headed to the Church in the City via the dam and a tunnel under one of the hills.  It was about a half hour drive into Brits itself.  The church meets in a shopping mall.  It’s mostly empty of shops as a smart new mall opened up a little further away and the shops moved there.  The church has a café and coffee shop out front and a meeting room at the back which I guess could seat two hundred or so.

There was a really nice acoustic six-piece drum kit to use and it wasn’t behind the usually ubiquitous Perspex screen!  The PA guys were really helpful getting monitors for us and sorting out the cabling.  The room was almost full by the time the meeting started at seven o’clock.

The local worship team wanted to do three songs at the beginning, so Godfrey decided to speak first before doing any of his songs as their style was completely different and the two sounds wouldn’t really complement each other at all.  He did a great job of bringing his usual message and the people including the pastor, Wally Scholtz, loved it.  People were very moved by his testimony and story of playing in secure mental health units back home in the UK.  We then did our songs and the crowd seemed to love them.

Afterwards we had a meal in the café of roasted veg, creamed spinach and a most delicious fish called Snoek.  The flesh was firm and meaty and was almost the texture of chicken but tasted like fish. It had clearly had spices cooked into it and it was the best fish dish I’ve ever had, by miles.  I had a very interesting conversation with the guy opposite me and was able to encourage him with the good news of his inclusion and perfect standing with God.  He asked loads of questions, most of which I hope I answered reasonably well.  I also had a good conversation with a young lad who plays keyboards and had been given a prophetic word about writing and releasing an album of worship songs and he said he didn’t know how to start.  I explained that it was good to hold such words lightly and not to struggle to fulfil it himself, but to just work on his skills as a musician and song-writer and shared with him the excellent advice I’ve heard Godfrey give about owning the songs you write.  To never say ‘the Lord gave me this song’ as then you put yourself in an unteachable place, how can you receive constructive criticism if the song is God’s, but to say you wrote this and acknowledge that God inspired you, prompted you etc but you wrote it.  That way you can develop as a songwriter.  He seemed happy with this.

We were back at the house around eleven o’clock and I crashed out straight to sleep.


Tuesday, 21 November 2017

South Africa 2017 - Day 3 – 20th November

A day off today before a three hour drive to the town of Brit tomorrow and some meetings there.  It was quite strange waking up alone in someone else’s house as Terence, Vicky and their two kids Lucien and Caitlin had all got up early and left the house before about 7:30 to get to work or school.  Vicky had shown me where all the breakfast things were so I enjoyed a leisurely start to the day which was beautiful and sunny, again, but quite windy.  You could clearly hear things rattling and trees moving outside and the odd strange creak or door opening and shutting as the air pressure in the house fluctuated.

I spent the morning finishing ‘Jesus and the undoing of Adam’ and I would heartily recommend it to anyone who wanted to know more about the incredible work of the trinity to achieve the eternal purpose of uniting man and God in loving relationship.  The majority of the western church has been so wrong-headed about this topic! The common ideas that Jesus was turning away or absorbing the punishment of God that was intended for us and that God turned his face away from Jesus at the cross and did forsake him are exposed as the product of a thorough misunderstanding about the nature of the trinity and God’s plan for humanity.  It’s beautifully written, scholarly, Biblical and easily understandable.

Godfrey wasn’t feeling too well today.  He wasn’t sure if it was something he’d eaten or bug he’d picked up, but he felt quite sick.

In the afternoon after a hamburger lunch provided by Johan and Tarryn Godrey and I went off with Terence and Vicky’s two kids to to visit a lion breeder nearby with Johan’s mum Annalise.  They raise lions there to sell to animal parks and other places.  They have a huge property with massive fenced in areas, bigger than a zoo’s, for the adult lions and some smaller enclosures for the new born cubs and the older ones.  We were able to pick up and hold some four week old lion cubs that were already the dimensions of a large family cat but much bulkier and heavier.  They seemed quite content to be held and snuggled up to get comfy and opened their mouths to chew on your fingers toothlessly.  Their mother was outside the enclosure the whole time behind a steel door watching and she seemed content that we meant her cubs no harm but the owner did advise us to keep well away from her even though she was behind a door.  We then went to see some other types of wild cat the names of which escape me and then went into an enclosure with a much larger young lion that was a few months old and was the size of a medium sized dog.  He was very strong and quite mischievous. He constantly tried to bite my hand and claw at me, but definitely in a playful rather than aggressive way.  He didn’t put up with the handling for long and soon got bored and jumped down.  His mother had come over to the fence of her enclosure to watch what we were doing to her baby and clearly was less than happy and vocalised her feelings quite plainly.  While I was filming her on my phone she moved and snapped suddenly, yards away behind a strong wire fence, and it was scary enough for me to nearly drop my phone.  Looking at the size of her paws, claws, teeth and jaws it’s easy to believe just how quickly she could catch and kill you should you be stupid enough to not have a fence between you!

Godfrey was really feeling quite poorly by this point so we headed back to the house so he could lie down and rest.  The folks from the church were very kind and extremely concerned and offered multiple medicines that may help and were happy to head out to get anything else he might need.

I spent the rest of the afternoon reading, chatting and napping then we all went to Annalise’s house for a meal prepared by her two daughters-in-law and Vicky.  It was delicious, a beautiful salad, a lentil vegan curry and a chicken dish with rice amongst other things.  By then Godfrey was, fortunately, feeling a lot better but he didn’t eat anything other than a small amount of watermelon so hopefully whatever it was will be out of his system completely by tomorrow after a good night’s sleep.

We returned to our hosts and I spent a happy couple of hours chatting with Terence and Vicky about life, kids, parenthood and any other topic that bubbled up.  While we certainly don’t agree on everything that isn’t a requirement to like, respect and love someone.  They are a quality couple in every way that matters and it’s been a privilege and a delight to stay with them and be a part of their family for a few days.



Sunday, 19 November 2017

South Africa 2017 - Day 2 – 19th November

So church meetings start rather earlier here than I’m used to in the UK!  We were up and breakfasting around 7am as we needed to be in the church for 8am.  I think there were a few more people in than last night but it’s difficult to be sure as the house lights are down and there are spotlights focused on the stage so seeing anything beyond the front row is tricky.  The music went well again and we did ‘Bless the Lord’ originally from Godfrey’s fourth album ‘A Call To Pray’ in 2001 which I’ve not played with Godfrey in ten years, at least.  He’s tweaked the words to sharpen up the message in it and it’s a good song.

Johan’s brother Petrus preached this morning who appears to be a gentle thoughtful man.  After his word we did a few more songs and then they announced a surprise that in the evening there would be a ‘Gospel Party’ at 7pm for those who wanted to attend.  There was nothing planned for tonight originally but I think Godfrey offered the option to Petrus during the meeting and he went with it.

Johan and Tarryn took us out for lunch at a restaurant a short drive away and I had a steak with biltong shavings on it and avocado dip with a side-salad.  It was very good.  How did I not like avocado until recently?  It’s amazing.

When we go back I managed to get quite a bit more of Baxter’s book read sitting out in the glorious sunshine and I started the latest Jack Reacher novel too.

There’s a young puppy that’s taken a shine to me and every time he sees me he runs up and want to lick my hands and for me to stroke him and play with him.  I hope Spike won’t be cross with me for cheating on him with another dog!

The afternoon had a nice long nap in it which was also very welcome as the worship sessions are reasonably long compared to what we’d do in the UK so the drumming takes it out of me.

The evening meeting was due to start at 7pm so the house band did a few minutes at the beginning as people were arriving.  They are a completely different style to Godfrey but they make a great sound together and Johan's brother Petrus is a very good drummer.  The crowd for the evening was enthusiastic and we had a brilliant time.  

I met a couple called Eric and Bea after the meeting and we talked about the gospel and how realising our inclusion, our sonship, our complete acceptance and how loved we really are changes everything about how we live and think about our relationship with God.  They were obviously impacted by the message in Godfrey's songs and by his speaking.  You could see the joy shining out of them.

My hosts Vicky and Terence and I went back with Godfrey to his hosts Johan and Tarryn's house for a supper of sandwiches, fruit and wine.  They are easy and good company and we spent the evening laughing and telling tales about some of the crazy and funny things we've all got up to.

As they live next door to each other it was no problem to get off to my bed at the end of the evening!

Tomorrow we have a day of before heading to a town called Brit for some more meetings.

South Africa 2017 - Day 1 – 18th November

I met up with Godfrey yesterday near the M1 to travel down to Heathrow.  We got there really easily with very little in the way of delays or holdups and arrived almost 5 hours before the flight was due to depart.  A much easier journey than my poor wife Mags had home.  The two hours it took to drop drop me off turned into almost four hour for her return trip.

I met a dog handler while having coffee in T5 who was training explosives sniffer dogs.  Every time they successfully found his bag with plastic explosives in the dog got a play with a tennis ball and some praise.  I hope he had fake plastic explosives in the bag, not the real deal!  We had a good chat about dogs and his job and I was surprised how much he was allowed to tell me about it.

The lift in T5 had the poshest announcer’s voice I’ve ever heard, so posh I muttered in my best RP accent “Four years at RADA and I’m doing the voice of an airport lift” which got a chuckle from some of the packed passengers.

A pint of Guinness was an excellent accompaniment to a full English breakfast for tea then we boarded the plane.  Here we come to a fine candidate for one of Godfrey’s ‘top tips’.  When Mags and I travel, with or without the kids, we always just wait until the plane is nearly full before boarding so we don’t have to stand in the lengthy queue to board.  Godfrey doesn’t.  As soon as they called the first class he was up and in that much shorter queue.  I followed rather reluctantly and he said he almost always just gets straight on and low and behold we didn’t get bounced or told to come back later but were waved straight on!  Sadly we didn’t get to sit in first or even business class, we had to put up with the very back row, chosen in the hope that people don’t like the back row so if the flight wasn’t too full we might be able to lie down across multiple seats and get some kip.  The flight was rammed.  Ever seat was taken and we ended up with a guy sitting between us in our little block of three.  Godfrey wanted the aisle so he could get out easier and I like the window so I can see, plus who wants to be in the middle?  The guy seemed a bit put out but that’s life.

Started reading C. Baxter Kruger’s slim little book “Jesus and the undoing of Adam” as I’ve been meaning to read it for months.  I’ve managed to get half way through and it is excellent.  It not a book to just speed read through.  I like the cut of his jib as they say.

I managed to watch about three quarters of Wonder Woman early in the morning when I’d finally given up on sleeping before we landed.  It truly is a superb film. It’s certainly the most emotionally moving of the super-hero films of late.

Immigration and baggage claim in Johannesburg was a breeze if a little slow, but nowhere near as slow as Newark or Atlanta in the USA can be. Then we were met by Johan and Terence from the church in Stilfontaine.  It was a two hour or so drive to their place from the airport but when we arrived it was beautiful.  The wooden houses are in a little fenced-off compound near the church grounds, surrounded by stunning countryside and we were made very welcome.  Godfrey is with Johan and Tarryn’s family and I’m with Terence and Vicky’s.

We had a sound-check and quick rehearsal about 4pm then the meeting started about 6pm.  Godfrey’s got the whole evening other than a short Bible-school graduation ceremony at the beginning and as they’re all really excited about him being here it really kicked off into a really fun party.  The band was great with a bass player, Terence on electric guitar and Johan on keyboards and harmonica.  Godfrey’s preach went down a storm too.  The message of ‘you’re a wonderful son’ - which if you’ve heard him speak anytime in the last few years you’ll have heard it.  It’s a good message.

The meeting was live streamed at Spirit Word Ministries Facebook page.

The dancing during some of the songs was superb, clearly some of the younger folks have some dances they’ve developed and all do in unison, it was wonderful to see them doing it.  Such exuberance and joy being expressed is great to see.


After the meeting we had a bite to eat and then crashed into blissful and deep sleep until the morning.

Monday, 2 May 2016

Hell, Satan and Jesus



I don’t believe in Hell1 and I don’t believe in Satan2 but I do believe in Jesus5.

I do believe in Hell3, I do believe in Satan4 and I do believe in Jesus5.



-----------------------------------

Footnotes
  1. If by Hell you mean a post-mortem place of eternal separation from God, possibly involving torture.
  2. If by Satan you mean a malign supernatural entity implacably opposed to God and humans; possibly a fallen angel who commands lesser supernatural entities known as demons.
  3. If by Hell you mean the ghastly miserable lives some people endure in the here-and-now life; possibly because of their own poor decision making but more often because of terrible life circumstances or the wicked behaviour of others around them.
  4. If by Satan you mean the ‘accusing voice’ that runs people down, belittles them, undermines them and tricks them; possibly an internal voice but sometimes also the voices of parents, teachers, bosses, family members, friends and strangers (that may later be remembered and internalised) but when believed in sabotages efforts to escape their own Hell3.
  5. If by Jesus you mean the incarnation of the triune God as a human being who entered this world in humility and obscurity not in splendour and privilege whose mission it was to reveal God the Father’s unending, undying, unstoppable, unquenchable love for his creation.  To reveal that God was never our enemy and that we had almost completely misunderstood who He is and who we are to Him.  To prove that life lived to the full, in union with the Father, was possible through Him and to ensure that once-and-for-all everything that stood in opposition to that union was put to death when he voluntarily laid down his own life as, and for, the whole of humanity. He also gave us His perfect life when he was raised from the dead and poured out his Spirit on all.  He enters people’s Hell3 and walks through it with them until together they find the way out.  He defeats Satan4 by exposing the ‘accusing voice’ as a liar and replaces it with the words of truth that affirm, encourage, strengthen and uplift.