Religious and Indifferent in Sardis

In this talk we look at the Letter to the Church in Sardis, Revelation 3:1-6. There doesn’t seem to be much good said about the church in this once thriving city. We examine what it means to be truly alive and truly a follower of Jesus. Even thought this message is hard, it contains some fantastic encouragement. We can walk with God into eternity proud of what we have achieved here. For those of us who struggling, maybe even dying spiritually, we can be turned around so that we can live. No-one is ever beyond hope.

Click below to listen to the talk audio

Download the Powerpoint Notes for the talk below

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This podcast was recorded at South Church, Mkushi, Zambia 4th September 2016.

© Copyright, Jon Paul Witt, 2016

© Image Copyright “Hallgrímskirkja, Reykjavik, Iceland.” Jon Paul Witt 2016.

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Dignity in Pictures

Next week there’s a photography exhibition in Mkushi, Zambia hosted by Dignity. As part of this I’m also exhibiting some photographs that I have taken over the years. There not necessarily my best photographs but they are ones that I think convey something of my work. 

Those that are down and out, desperate, just poor or have fallen on hard times. They are the ones in this world that are valuable and precious. It may raise money to show people suffering, but there is no Dignity in that. These are normal everyday people living normal but amazing everyday lives.  These are the people that God uses to bring love, meaning and comfort to many communities and people across the world. They are His hands and feet, and so very important.

My hope is that you will learn to see “the poor in Africa”, “asylum seekers”, “refugees” with the God given Dignity that they deserve. Only then will we treat people correctly and be open to the fact they they are more capable, more gifted and more precious than this world deserves. 

With Jesus they can do anything. My aim is to help people like this in every community realise who they were created to be and what they were created to do. The potential is amazing!

“But God chose the foolish things of this world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.” (1 Corinthians 1:27)

A lone rural zambian pastor studying his bible with one of the resources we use to help people to know God and their responsibility to each other.

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Some of the people I have connected with over the years who work with me and Dignity in many communities in Zambia and beyond. Competition, fun and laughter are all essential ingredients in helping these guys become everything they should.

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This is Augustine, one of our Impact Team members. He exudes dignity.

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Having fun around the fire. Sharing stories of how God is using each other in many communities.

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These are two village volunteers cooking for a training session being held in their village. They don’t get paid for this and they give their time freely. They give as part of the wider work in their community.

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This is Gervas explaining how to meet together in a Life! Group and how to work in a community. This is done most months of the year in multiple locations across Southern Africa.

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An unknown guitarist. And yes, it did sound great! I love the ingenuity!

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These are market traders in Livingstone Victoria falls curio market. These are the guys that harass you to buy their wares. What interested me was the camaraderie and friendship. Africans are fun and you can clearly see that in this picture.

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This is Hunter, someone we worked with many years ago. You won’t find a more honest, compassionate and lovely man anywhere in the world.

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These are some people worshipping at a training course we run to teach people how to meet the needs of their community. They learn how to help people to know Jesus and to practically serve those in need in the community.

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Some exuberant bush worship!

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This is the only non-African picture in my selection for the exhibition. It’s taken in Assam, India, I think in 2008. These are a group of Christian evangelists who worked in a very dangerous situation. Hindu extremists had beaten them, chased them and even killed some of their friends. Yet you would never guess this. You can see a joy and a quiet determination in them.

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Normal life in Angola. The flats are run down, it really did smell and yet people are just hanging about, chatting, doing the types of things that any of us would.

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This is my son Joshua being carried around a village by this lovely woman. There are some of us that believe different races are completely different, even better than one another. I don’t believe that we are that different at all.

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This is a lady called Mabel sitting opposite Jude outside our tent, which is our home in villages. I liked the way that their poses almost reflect one another like a mirror. Maybe we are not so different as we believe.

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Just a great shot of “poor” kids smiling and having fun.

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A scene that could be repeated around the world. A classroom with children learning. Do we think that those who are poor, somehow do not share experiences with us?

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I like the adult pose that this boy is taking. The reality is that many of those we would class as uneducated or poor, have faced situations that would cause many of us to disintegrate.

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A lovely view of an Angolan girl in a dark doorway.

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These Angolan women in Luena are praying that God would move outside the walls of their church and would reach the areas beyond. It’s through people like these, everyday people that God works and moves in power. God thinks small! Millions of people all playing their little part.

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Don’t be a fool

No FoolsIt can be quite jarring how life’s priorities can be turned upside down in an instant. There I was just thinking I was coming out of a malaise of activity with no time to think. I felt that I was beginning to be able to breathe again. New plans were forming in my mind, new directions were taking shape and BANG! they all didn’t seem to matter.

My wife, Jude, fell down a 6ft car pit and seriously injured herself. Both of us, a long long way from the specialist care she required. Thank God she is OK and definitely on the mend. However there were a few, seemingly long moments where I thought she may not make it. She shared the same thoughts. They are humbling moments.

Our kids left at our place in Zambia not really knowing what had happened. I’m left in a maelstrom of thoughts, emotions and activity, desperately trying to get those first few hours sorted out. Every love and passion you hold falls into insignificance. It’s true place in your life cruelly exposed for the unimportant sham and it really is.

Mortality has a way of grabbing our attention like nothing else.

Many people have re-assured me that God was there. To be honest, I feel that some of those people are simply re-assuring themselves. An agreement from me, re-enforces what they hope to be true. Such a jarring, shocking event doesn’t simply shock those directly involved, it shocks all around. Maybe that is why I have written this.

Let me tell you something. I know God was there. I’ve been there before. I’ve been in deep trouble that I am powerless to defend myself against, usually in the continent of Africa. You learn to see the signs of His presence. He mobilises people, help, intervenes in the situation. In the middle of the night, people came to give blood, the insurance company didn’t play up, thousands (literally) of people prayed and Jude lived. I know that the story could have been very different.

We don’t fully understand why bad things happen in this world. Maybe we never will. We are however given a choice. Do we have no hope that we are on our own, abandoned in this wide universe? Do we believe there is someone who gives everything sense, direction and security? It’s very easy when life is well to say we don’t believe in God, to say that religion it’s a crutch. It is another thing entirely when the chips are down, maybe you will die…. it’s quite another thing to not believe in God then. You need a crutch then, you will do anything for one. We see and understand just how weak we really are.

Both Jude and I are indebted to the thousands of people who prayed for us, and especially prayed for Jude. We are indebted to the many people that have helped us with practical details in the last two weeks. Sometimes we feel out on a limb when we are in Africa, maybe the last two weeks have taught me just how much the family of God means to us. There are people out there, who if we are in trouble will go to the end of the earth to find us (you may have to one day!). I also never lose my sense of wonder at how God mobilises events and people when it really needs to happen.

Jude is still healing up and will be for a while. It still hurts her to even breathe. Both of our emotions are occasionally a little raw, but we know God is around us, helping us and we will definitely live to fight another day. We are not that easily put off. 🙂

In such times, there are precious viewpoints to be reflected upon. Such events do not come along often, we thank God for that. However, when they do, they give you a viewpoint of your life, your love and your relationships like nothing else. They help you appreciate your place in the order of all things, and the place of the God you say you have a relationship with.

The Bible says such troubles are light and for this moment. How can the Bible say that? In the light of all things, from the beginning till the end of time, they probably are. Yet they are up close and personal and the pain can be searing. Yet that same pain teaches, gives wisdom and helps us to live better. The viewpoints suffered achieve wisdom and correct perspective in life. Evil is somehow turned for our own and this world’s good.

It is the fool that becomes bitter at God at such a time for they ignore the source of life and healing. I don’t intend to be a fool and whatever your pain, maybe you shouldn’t too….

We have all the time in the world

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The date of October 16th 2012, would maybe not strike you as an auspicious occasion. It was my 37th birthday. My life is rapidly (well no more than it used to) engaging with what is known as the “late thirties”. Myself, I would still say mid thirties…..

Where does the time go? Older people tell me that time goes faster as you get older. Is this true? Is it like some kind of theory of relativity? The older you get the faster time goes? Opinions please…

What was significant about this year for me, is that I have been a Christian for 25 years. An entire quarter of a century, following and trying to know Jesus. For those reading this who are not Christians, I realise even that phrase will seem a little odd.

However perhaps it shouldn’t? Every person I know, all of us, are trying by various means to answer life’s great questions. Where are we going? Who are we, really? What will happen when we die, if anything? Whether we bury our heads in the sand, work ourselves into a lather, or embrace them, the questions remain, they never go away.

Over the last 25 years, I have blown hot and cold. Sometimes I have felt really close to God, other times, a very long way away. I’ve got many things wrong, there are many actions I have made that quite frankly I regret. I wish I was stronger. However, I’ve never known God to leave me, to forget about me and even when I am in the darkest hole, He has never ceased to inspire me. He has been constant. There have also been great triumphs in that quarter if a century, and I have changed from a rather shy and frightened 12 year old into what I am now, a missionary in Africa via college, university, software engineering and church leadership.

I must admit there is a growing hunger in myself to make the next 25 years (if indeed I have them) count for more than the last 25. The fact is none of us know do we? We don’t actually know how long we have. We have a need to make the most of everyday that is presented to us.

How do we do that? Is it by accomplishing great exploits; making lots of money or something other equally impressive? For many of us, working everyday, struggling with getting the bills paid, wandering if we are a good parent, these impressive showy, life affirming exploits are simply not within reach. How do follow an inspiring path when you are bleary eyed in the bus to work or all day in your office?

God has planted eternity in the hearts of all people. We have a yearning for something more, that this world cannot fill. The answer is something to do with our orientation to this truth? If we embrace something or someone eternal and seek to live our lives by these values,then our life becomes ‘full of meaning’ and direction wherever we are.

25 years ago I was introduced to this man Jesus, whom I was told at great cost to himself had shown and demonstrated Gods love for me. Embracing that love, giving your life to study, follow, understand and more importantly know it, is the most freeing, dynamic and courageous thing I have ever done.

25 years is a long time. However, in the context of living forever, I am only just beginning, not even a millisecond has passed. I literally have all the time in the world, to know God, His Love, His meaning and His power, forever!

The only pressing concern is that I have a short finite time to share this with people
like you reading this post, wandering where your life is headed. Maybe you too should give Jesus some time, he literally has all the time in the world to give you.

Building

Today I spent the morning staining concrete so it looks like sandstone. The other day I plumbed in a solar hot water geyser, above a slightly rickety wooden platform. I’ve got to admit when I turned it on this morning, rather like a fountain, it leaked. In the last few weeks I have had to do so many things that I have never done before.

I remember last year having to fix some wiring that was smoking in a house I was renting. I simply ripped it all out and started again. A few weeks before in Wales I had asked an electrician how to wire in a fuse box…..???

The thing is, even with some of my inexperience, I am probably still better placed to do it than many of the tradesman around Mkushi. Plumbers normally remove the rubber seals meant to stop leaks and apparently in Zambian electrical work, earth and neutral are often the same thing.

The difference is confidence and education. If I’m not sure how to do something I simply get online and have a look how. I can understand the instructions and I’m handy enough to do the practical things I read. Guys here cannot get online and even if they do, they don’t have the background and framework within which to understand the information.

Lasford last year asked me who had taught me electrics, he was amazed when I answered I had just read something the day before. And yes! the house hasn’t burnt down…….yet……..

Even in our work here, even simple tasks can often become very complicated, simply because of this ‘background’ knowledge issue. You would not believe how complicated, convoluted and difficult communication can be.

Now many people will read this and just assume that villagers and builders in Zambia are stupid. They are not! Some of the best times in the last few weeks have been spending some time with the builders and working out with them how to do things. They are not stupid, many of them simply haven’t had the opportunity to learn.

Perhaps one of the saddest situations I have come across is perhaps that two of my builders I am having to let go, as they are alcoholics. They get paid and disappear in a drunken stupor for half a week. They could go far, but alas, their situation keeps them captive.

In some ways the problems these guys face are a microcosm of the situations that many people face in the villages. Imagine thousands of people, held captive by issues, not educated very well and not having confidence. You really then begin to get an idea of the challenges faced by Rural Africa.

A Strong Cup of Tea

I’ve been writing a series of teaching recently about our lives being infused with God’s values and life. I thought I’d put the introduction here.

“An Englishman abroad is one thing. An englishman trying to purchase a decent cup of tea in Italy is another. I remember being sat in Verona, the “city of lovers”, where Shakespeare’s tragic “Romeo and Juliet” is set. I was sat in a small Italian Cafe, everyone partaking in the morning ritual of sipping small cups of thick strong espresso coffee. I called the waiter over, “Camanieri!”, I then explained the steps that I wanted to make the perfect cup of tea. He assured me that he understood. 10 minutes later, the tea arrived. Hot frothy milk with a tea bag unceremoniously dumped into it. This wasn’t what I had in mind….

What I wanted was a proper infusion of flavour. Traditionally, you take boiling water, and pour it upon the fresh tea leaves or tea bag waiting in the cup. There is some debate as to whether this should be bone china or not. Some people swear that tea tastes better in china crockery. Myself, I have always been a mug man. The bigger the better. It’s probably to do with me being from Northern England. As I was growing up, tea was practically on mains supply in my house.

The bottom line, what I was being served in our Italian Cafe in Verona was definitely not the real thing. Frothy milk is nice, but it definitely doesn’t make a cup of tea. I never have had a decent cup of tea in continental Europe. The problem seems to be that of infusing the flavour of the tea leaves into the water. After all you often throw the tea leaves away, leaving what has been left behind and become part of the water you poured into the cup. For this to happen well, the water has to be just off the boil. That’s why frothy milk, tepid water and adding milk to the cup beforehand never produce a strong, full coloured, full flavoured cup of tea.

It’s an interesting question isn’t it? What makes a good cup of tea?

Here is another question. “What makes life and the world full of flavour?”

In the same way that tea leaves, water and the infusion of flavour make a great cup of tea, what is the equivalent for life, and especially living as a Christian in this life. There are plenty of people who ask all kinds of awkward questions about Christianity. They wonder what God is like? They struggle to connect the conduct of the church with the picture that sermons and Christian talks present to them. The two simply do not match. In short they are asking, “Is Christianity real?”, “Is it practical?”, “Does it work in this life of mine?”

If we are honest, these are some of the very same questions that we carry ourselves as Christians. There are two possible answers to that question. The first is that somehow God himself has changed or indeed never was there. Maybe He never was practical, or relevant to life or never truly cared. Maybe the whole thing is a scam, a cruel confidence trick on billions of unsuspecting people. In short, we have to make the best of it ourselves. God either isn’t interested, doesn’t care or simply does not exist. There is no hope apart from that we manage to conjure ourselves.

The second answer is perhaps more apt to our situation. We carry these questions because the flavour of faith that either we have or have seen displayed is simply not the real thing. Just like a cup of tea made with frothy milk, we can sometimes accept a meagre taste of who Christ is and what life can really be about. The result of this is that other people by proxy also observe a life or a church that is weak and insipid, tasting of nothing.

Frothy milk has a lot to answer for.

The Apostle Paul quoting the Book of Isaiah, said some strong words about this to the church in Rome. “God’s name is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you”.(Romans 2:24) Strong words. They were written for one reason. God’s people had missed the point.

In their devotional life they started to focus on rituals, controversy and being seen to do the right thing. They neglected the heart of the matter, which of course is the heart, the true seat of decision making in human affairs. Jesus said himself when talking about what we say and do, “Don’t you see that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and then out of the body? But the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these defile you. For out of the heart come evil thoughts. murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander” (Matthew 15:17-19)

It is the heart that Christ and Christianity is centered upon. It is from the heart that all human behavior finds its’ origin. If you manage to make a change in the heart of an individual, a community or a nation then conditions and life itself can change radically.

Paul talking about the people of God said this: “A person is not a Jew who is only one outwardly, nor is circumcision merely outward and physical. No, a person is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code. Such a person’s praise is not from other people, but from God.” (Romans 2:28-29)

They used frothy milk: their own effort combined with religion and the whole result was something that was undergirded by failed spiritual achievement and hypocrisy. They probably thought they were doing the right thing, but the result was the same.

In short, they and we have forgotten how to make a decent cup of tea and the world is worse for it.

Glencoe

Scotland really is the most beautiful country. Mountains, lochs, idyllic villages and sea, it really has it all. There is a road in Glencoe, it runs parallel to the main A82, from Glencoe village to the Clachaig Inn, the unofficial home of Scottish mountaineering. The road runs mainly through dense woodland and is set deep in the glen, surrounded by some of the finest mountains in Scotland.

I found myself driving down this road today. 3 children in the car, one of whom is 10 yrs old. Whilst driving I reminisced a little, as my life has some relationship with this narrow, single track ribbon of tarmac.

The first time I ever saw Glencoe was when I was 20, 16 years ago. It was tipping it down with rain. The kind of day you were very glad to be inside a National Express coach. It was on this trip that I proposed to Jude. Quite a significant event in my life. Stood by the shores of Loch Leven, Jude decided to walk with me and things have never quite been he same again.

I remember walking down our Glencoe road the night after I proposed. The weather had been terrible. Our tent had been blown down, the pub was 3 miles away. In the search of hot food we walked there and back with a random man from Jordan named Zed. When we returned from the pub, the “fixed” tent was in half and we slept in the campsite laundrette.

I remember visiting this road with Emma and Phil, after climbing the mountain Bidean Nam Bian. It was a misty wet day, and we spent 8 hours in the unearthly cloud then meeting the girls later. We probably didn’t smell to well……

A few years later, with Ethan our baby in tow, we travelled this road once again. This time hunting for a lost walking boot that had fallen out of our car a week before. A friend had seen a boot on a wall that they thought at the time was mine, but thought it couldn’t possibly be. It was and it was still there.

We’ve used the road a few times. Once we visited Glencoe lochan with Ethan, Joshua and Jacob. They loved running about and playing in the trees and mud. By this time my life was very different.

Today when driving down, my thoughts were drawn to 16 years of my own history. 16 years ago I was no way near as confident as I am now, I’ve always struggled a bit with that. My life was in some ways completely different when I first travelled the road. I wasn’t married, didn’t have any kids, lived mainly in the UK and carried the optimism and light thought that accompany youth.

These touch points, physical places in my life have always given me a sense of perspective and also a sense of Gods involvement. He has bought me this far. I know he will take me on.

Who knows what will happen before the next time I am travelling that road again.