My walk to and with God
I grew up and lived in South Africa for most of my life. At age 40, life was comfortable and I was married to a wonderful wife and we have been blessed with two lovely daughters. On a spiritual level I was drifting along slowly. Things were about to change rather dramatically.
During early 2006 the group I was working for in South Africa shifted its focus exclusively to the private equity business. As a result, the investment banking operations which I headed at the time was to be wound down and I had to pursue a possible switch of career within the group or seek new employment elsewhere. A while later I received a phone call from a Swiss based group who was one of our investment banking clients. This was a surprise as we had little contact for some time. I was asked to consider joining their team in Geneva and to focus on the group’s private equity operations. Although I did not recognise this at the time, God’s hand was steadily at work.
The proposition from Switzerland was not what I had in mind as my plans and dreams were directed at opportunities in the Western Cape region of South Africa. Our family would then be based closer to our parents and to my wife’s sister, as well as many friends who have made the transition from Johannesburg to Cape Town. Things turned out very differently in the end and in July 2006 we arrived in Geneva, Switzerland. We were soon to experience many personal and professional challenges, major life changes and an immense spiritual growth curve. This journey is still in progress – at times I have wondered why things can be so difficult at times, but have since realised that it is these times in the wilderness which provide me with an opportunity to grow spiritually, where I can learn what it means to depend on God and that He can then mould me in His image.
Moving between countries stirs up many different emotions. There is the fear of the unknown, language barriers, cultural differences and a need to fit in. Every now and again I was challenged by deep rooted urges to return to the perceived comfortable environment of South Africa. Staying in Geneva, which is a transient stop for many families, made this thought particularly attractive. At times, my inner turmoil blinded and robbed me of joy or cloaked many joyful experiences and masked the blessings and privileges we have been enjoying in Geneva. Just imagine how the Israelites must have felt wondering around in the desert for 40 years!
After some time we were blessed to find the English speaking evangelical Baptist church of Geneva (“EBCG”) and within its congregation have met many great people and developed some deep friendships. It was here where I was reminded in wrestling with discouragement that God is in charge; that He has a clear purpose and plan with my life and that it is His will for us to be in Geneva for the time being. I have also realised when my mind wonders to different scenarios where we could end up one day in this world, that it is irrelevant as our true home is with Him, our Father, who has reserved a very special place for us. After all, we are on earth for such a brief moment of all eternity.
EBCG gave us a foothold in Geneva. Later, it became a sound foundation. It was a place where a church community provided comfort, familiarity and a sense of belonging, all wonderful gifts when adapting to a new environment. I now realise the important role of a church in comforting people in places where families move in and out on a regular basis. I have also come to appreciate how difficult it can be for the women in our lives who play such a pivotal role in dealing with daily challenges to integrate the family unit in a new environment. I thank God for providing Carine, my wife, with her perseverance to do so.
After some gentle but persistent prodding, Carine persuaded me to attend a regular get together of men in our church on Thursday nights. The group is called ‘BOB’s, short for band of brothers. This was a big leap for me. I was apprehensive and felt uncomfortable in the company of more mature Christians. I was especially nervous of having to open up and exposing myself in front of people that I barely knew.
I was slow out of the blocks and an infrequent attendant at first. To my surprise, it was not the intimidating environment I had imagined. I enjoyed the interactions and over time became more comfortable and eventually began to share some of my personal experiences and struggles in my walk to and with God. For a long time I was not able to pray openly in group sessions, but this has changed over the past few years. The process was triggered, in part, with my suggestion to host a BOB’s barbeque at the home we are renting (we have been blessed with a fantastic garden as you will see in the picture below). I then received more than I have bargained for as BOB’s meetings are now hosted at our home on Thursday evenings!
It is a relaxed environment where we enjoy food, wine, fellowship and prayer together. It is a time and place where men can interact with each other, talk about their daily challenges, support each other and ask and listen to how God would like to guide us. Over the years it has been a blessing to see how the group has grown in spiritual maturity and support of each other.
Over time I have been very surprised and sometimes astonished to hear of the incredible individual journeys to and with God. As Geneva is such an international city, we have been lucky to have a rich cultural and ethnic diversity amongst those who attend. Yet, one common factor, God, connects us. Personal journeys were characterised by some amazing twists and turns, challenges, joys and in some cases real heartaches. For some it has been far more difficult to accept God in their lives than others. In most cases paths are still being shaped. We all stumble along the way. We face difficulties and sometimes cannot understand why. We often talked about these challenges during our meetings and then try to seek understanding on why and how God is shaping us during these times.
I hope that the glimpses into my journey and later hopefully also in the lives of others I (should they feel comfortable that I tell their stories) know and the events which have shaped them, our discovery and walk with God, will provide you with inspiration. My prayer is that you will find encouragement and strength to deal with difficult circumstances you may face and that you will be able to draw towards God to seek him earnestly and with all of your heart. I hope that this journey is an exciting one, that you hear God’s call for you and that over time you develop a living relationship with Him .
Ultimately my story is based on real life experiences, the impact of people close to me and the surprising roads which can lead to God.
May God bless you!
Ben de Bruyn
Chapter One – Drifting away and then stumbling in through the backdoor
I grew up as a happy child sheltered comfortably in a middle class home with very caring and supportive parents. On Sundays my sister and I dressed up in our Sunday best and we were whisked off to the Dutch Reformed church and our Sunday school lessons. Church services were formalistic and at times felt a bit dreary. For reasons unknown to me I became cynical and over time drifted away from church. This started around the time I finished high school, carried on though my university years and was the case for much of my professional career.
During this time I did not recognise the many blessings God continued to shower on me. An exception was one brief but profound interaction with God in the midst of a key second year law exam. Halfway through the exam I realised that I was in deep trouble and despite not having prayed for years sent an urgent prayer for divine intervention. It came and I was suddenly drifting on clouds of incredible clarity and comprehension and somehow was guided to successfully complete the paper and pass. It must have been a testimony of how far off I was in my walk towards God as I quickly forgot how God had lifted me out of that hole.
The stark realities of South Africa became more obvious to me during my university years. Looking back, it was surreal how the old government propaganda machine coloured in and justified the apartheid policies. Thankfully South Africa has since experienced a miraculous transformation and political and social reformation. With the guiding hand of God and with efforts of many special people the canvas bearing the new society was and is still being shaped. I believe that by God’s grace the finished painting will eventually be full of harmony and there may no longer be a divided society.
I am no longer the cynic I once was and my road to redemption was one of gradual change, coupled with a dramatic intervention from God to get my attention. A series of events eventually led to my first public confession of my belief in Christ in 2005. Only recently, have I understood the importance of having a living relationship with God and have I now embarked with a journey along this path.
God works in remarkable ways. I now live in Geneva, Switzerland, a city known for its reformation in the distant past. Without realising it, God was guiding me on my own reformation in the journey to and perhaps later beyond Geneva. The road which I have been travelling has been full of interesting twists and turns.
I pick up the story during the early 1990’s when I was still a young investment banker in my late twenties and at the peak of my arrogance. At this time I was working in the corporate finance team of Absa Group Limited (“Absa”), a South African banking group now owned by Barclays Plc. At this time my focus was on deals, money and image. Although I was outwardly self assured, confident, even bordering on being arrogant, I inwardly struggled with demons of self doubt in my abilities and achievements and I was forever concerned about people’s perceptions. These feelings were compounded by the knowledge that our corporate finance team was not regarded as one of the top tier businesses in the market. I guess these struggles are inevitable if you do not walk securely with God, but this I did not understand at the time. My interactions with the church were limited to weddings and Christmas morning church services with my parents. God did not feature in the picture.
On a personal level my family were on the brink of giving up hope that I will find a suitable wife. Their scepticism was well founded as I have not had a serious relationship for some time and along the way have made some bad mistakes. To make things worse, I was suffering from a pretty deep scar of a love lost in a situation where nothing should ever have been in the first place. Finding God taught me to forgive and to let go of that chapter of my life. This was deeply rewarding.
Recently I have thought of an encounter with someone who was briefly part of my life more than twenty years ago. Today I finally understand what she was trying to say so many years ago. A holiday romance after my last school year led to irregular contact between us for number of years, mostly when I was still at university at Stellenbosch in the Western Cape of South Africa. Later on, when I tried to re-establish contact, she had found and embraced God. It gave her great joy and comfort. She attended regular church services and was deeply involved in church activities. After dinner one evening, she asked …“Ben, why are you trying to re-establish contact? My answer was that I was willing to see if we could see each other more often and see where things eventually end up. After explaining her relationship with God she replied … “Ben, I have accepted God in my life, and I am deeply involved in my relationship with Him…” I was on a rocky path and my stumbled reply showed ignorance and my worldly view. She simply said …“Please do not ask me to choose between God and you as I cannot do that”. We did not have much contact after that evening. If by some chance she ever reads this or if I should I get the opportunity to say it in person, it has taken me many years but now I understand what you meant that night.
Carine was instrumental in guiding and leading me along the path to God. God, off course, designed the circumstances leading up to our unexpected meeting in the first place and scripted our journey to eventually marry. This story is by far my favourite one to tell and shows how true love can unexpectedly embrace us (for me this was certainly the case, but it did take some time to convince Carine). Our chance encounter took place on a Friday afternoon during late summer in the Drakensburg mountain range in the lush green KwaZulu Natal region of South Africa. We were attending a first session of a development programme designed by Absa to broaden our world view, leadership development and to provide us with a better appreciation of cultural diversity. Although this was a fantastic opportunity and a wonderfully rich program, the arrogant investment banker I was initially thought it is an unwanted distraction and will be a waste of time. I advised the head of our investment banking business of my thoughts and that I think it is best if I do not attend. Thank God for wiser men like Glenn Povey (bless you and the kids) simply put his foot down and told me it is not a debate – I have to go.
Carine is tall and attractive. I noticed her instantly and when we spoke for the first time during dinner that night, something strange triggered deep inside me. One look into her green blue eyes was enough to rattle carefully constructed defensive walls, a remnant of the love lost and designed to keep uncontrolled feelings at bay. For someone who likes to control the situation and meticulously plan things, these unexpected and almost alien feelings shook up my world. I fell asleep bewildered that night, confused and feeling somewhat love struck. What was happening to me? I was not able to deny these feelings and rather irrationally decided to immediately brush ego aside and tell her how I feel. This may sound more than a little mad, but it is exactly what I did. On the last day of our three day get together I had my chance. Carine was enjoying a quite moment outside and I interrupted her silence and blurted out how I felt. Possibly the words did not came out as I had intended, but the poor girl could not believe what she was hearing and began to shake from shock. At that moment I realised that what may seem to like a superb idea will not always have the story book outcome, well at least not immediately. Unfortunately her reaction was far from what I had in mind. Before I could make an awkward situation worse, others joined us and the moment was lost. Driving back the next day I tried to console myself by thinking that at least I had managed to brush ego aside long enough to say exactly how I feel, despite the very strange things she must be thinking about me on her journey back to Cape Town, some 1’500 kilometres away. After all, the optimist I am, perhaps not an opportunity lost.
Many a movie has depicted the excitement of long telephone conversations during the courtship phase. There is an evolutionary path where you slowly start to get to know each other and one day realise that the last conversation lasted an hour or two, with no idea where the time went. Carine and I were enjoying this experience. Persistence usually pays off and I was slowly making inroads in my quest to win her heart over. After a few months I managed to convince Carine to join me for lunch in the Western Cape (my best friend and his wife went along as part of the deal) and topped off the weekend with an early dinner at Spier, a Stellenbosch wine farm two days later. Driving back under starry skies I tried yet another desperate move with borrowed music and played two songs to Carine. The first was ‘Take a chance on me` from Abba’ (always hard to admit one is a fan, but look at the result!) and a Van Morrison song, ‘Someone exactly like you`. These were also the first two songs which opened up the dance floor at our wedding celebrations some 18 months later.
Carine eventually moved to Johannesburg and attended Rosebank Union, an English speaking multi-denomination Baptist driven church in a leafy Sandton suburb, north of Johannesburg. I was still stuck in a spiritual wasteland, but slowly became more aware of the emptiness inside me and a longing for that to be filled. Also, I could see how committed Carine had become to God and what a great example she was for others. This has been valuable lesson for me – the day to day behaviour of Christians must be a living testimony of our belief. Others will eventually take notice and that may be the seeds they need to start questioning and embarking on their own personal journeys.
After the birth of Lisa, our first daughter, things gradually changed as I felt some responsibility to be part of Lisa’s introduction to church. God, off course, had a clear roadmap which I was still unaware of. At Rosebank Union church I enjoyed the rich sermons of a wonderfully gifted pastor, Ellis Andre, exactly what I needed at that time. At first I attended infrequently, but over time gradually improved my attendance.
Yet, I could not bring myself to take communion as I was not able to openly or in my deepest being profess my faith in remembrance of the price Jesus had paid for our sins. I was petrified by the warning in 1 Corinthians 11:27-29 (New International Version) “… Therefore, whoever eats the bread or drinks of the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup. For anyone who eats or drinks without recognising the body of the Lord, eats and drinks judgement on himself …”. It was interesting to read in C. S Lewis’s book, ’Surprised by Joy’ some thoughts he expressed about his first experiences of communion, where he mentioned that “… I allowed myself to be prepared for confirmation … and to make my first communion in total disbelief, acting a part, eating and drinking my own condemnation …”. It is true that I did not and could not then know the real nature of the thing I was doing: but I knew very well that I was acting a lie with the greatest possible solemnity…”.
At this stage, I was seeking some insurance policy and thought that I will find Christianity by osmoses. I realise now that one cannot secure an admission ticket to Heaven. Accepting Christ as our saviour is only the first step. A living relationship with Jesus will then develop, that changes who we are and how we do things. Still, my walk to God first required a rather dramatic intervention which I will describe in the next chapter.
Chapter Two: A bang on the head
Carine thought that I may benefit from the Alpha course of Nicky Gumbel which was held at weekly sessions at our church. I was seeking answers on matters of faith and agreed to do so. I am not proud of my behaviour in the first few sessions as I was overcome by rationale thoughts which made me argumentative and defensive. At times I was a real pain in the neck in the small group sessions and for some unexplained reason, I was seeking with my head and not my heart. Thinking back, it reminds me of a Casting Crowns (http://castingcrowns.com) song which I have listened to recently (www.youtube.com/watch?v=bW5unzXXC0k):
“… Leave it all behind, I have what you need, but you keep on searching; I have done all the work, but you keep on searching; when you are running on empty and cannot find a remedy, just come to the well … You can spend your whole life chasing what is missing, but the empty inside, you just ain’t going to lessen; when nothing can satisfy and the world leaves you high and dry, just come to the well…; and all who thirst will thirst no more, and all who search will find what their souls are looking for…“
The day started as another typical working day. Fighting morning traffic and arriving at the offices of Brait Limited (“Brait”) where I was co-heading the investment banking business at the time. We finished our regular morning meeting and I was about to get up from my chair when I was suddenly struck by a very sharp and severe pain at the top of my head. When I regained my consciousness, I vaguely recollected some crashing noise and a scream in the room. I was lying under the board room table, face down and my head was throbbing badly. I felt a strange warm and wet sensation and realised there was blood on my face. An old style television (those large solid box sets) had somehow separated itself from the brackets holding it to the wall and fell on my head.
This was to be a day of many miracles. Thankfully the television did not fall screen first, which could have caused bad cuts. I was also in the process of getting out of my chair and had a slightly bent neck at the time the television made contact, which I was told helped my spine to better absorb the impact and not suffering a broken neck. One of our team members recently attended a compulsory first aid course (a rather rare thing in an investment bank) and managed to partially stop the bleeding. All I could think of is whether I will see Carine and Lisa again and if I will be around for Emma’s birth. After what seemed an eternity, an ambulance arrived and I was stretchered off to hospital. It was a weird sensation and I was staring at the office ceiling which I have noticed for the first time and realised I have always taken it for granted to walk into the office in the mornings. I also realised that I will not make my appointment with Carine later that morning as I was supposed to meet her at the gynaecologist for her last scheduled scan before Emma’s birth.
Spare a thought for Carine – she must have had the fright of her life in receiving a call from the human resources department asking her to come to the emergency ward at Sandton clinic. Fortunately a very capable medical team stitched me up and I then underwent all the necessary scans and tests. Afterwards Carine told me that the incident was treated with some humour in hospital as the chart on the mobile bed in which I was being pushed around in hospital had a big note stating “A television fell on his head ! ”. The extent of my injuries was a miracle – except for a large gash on my head nothing was broken.
Imagine the scene which followed at our home. I am lying in bed with a severe concussion and was not able to stay awake for more than a few hours at a time. Carine is ready to give birth at any moment and we were still dealing with last vestiges of a messy building site as the alterations took longer than we have expected. Needless to say, a stressful environment which required God’s grace! Incidentally, for those who may have wondered, I had fully recovered by the time to share in Emma’s birth.
Amid all of this something very special happened when I was recovering in bed. I was sleeping for most of the first few days and one afternoon I had a vivid dream. I still remember it well. It was a pitch dark night and there were many thousands of small brightly lit stars suspended high above me (recently, in church I was reminded of the stars which were the first sign from God for us to remember Him by … And God said, Let there be lights in the expanse of the sky to separate the day from the night, and let them serve as signs to mark seasons and days and years – Genesis 1.14, New International Version. There is a song of The David Crowder Band (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Crowder_Band) on their album Illuminate called Stars (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YhayBSnG7Xk) where one of the lines say ‘’… and how could such a thing shine its light on me and make everything beautiful again…’’. How true!
In my dream some magnetic force was pulling me towards a cliff face. I could not stop and was walking, almost trance like, towards the foreboding edge. It was an inhospitable environment with ugly, desolate and sharp boulders draped with depressingly thick grey skies. I continued to walk over the cliff’s edge. I was spiralling down into a strange and endless nothingness. I think I was scared. Suddenly, with no warning, a hand scooped me up and lifted me up gently and put me back on top of the cliff. I also noticed a very bright large white cross blazing in the sky and I was staring at it. Instantly the scene in my dream was transformed and I was in the Karoo, a barren, but beautiful part of South Africa. This scene seemed strangely familiar to me – part of a stretch of a 1’200 kilometre journey which I had regularly made in my student days between Stellenbosch and Johannesburg during term breaks. Ahead the tar road twisted between two rock faces and then continued into the distance. There was no one around and the sky was the bluest of blue and in sharp contrast with the dry landscape. It was surreally beautiful and I was thinking that this light was just perfect for photography. Ironically this was a neglected hobby at the time, which I have subsequently taken up again with much vigour and to my immense enjoyment. This part of the dream was no coincidence. I have recently registered a domain name and signed up with a photography web hosting platform and now have a photography website (www.bendebruynphotography.com). Here I wish some glimpses of how I observe the world around me and I hope that God will guide me how to best use this platform to also portray some of His glory and grace.
In this dream God gave me a glimpse of my spiritual life at that time. He showed me it was a spiritual wasteland, but still He cared and rescued me and has now guided me towards one of my passions. What an amazing experience! Yet, it was strange that I could still not immediately give my life completely to Him and I still had to continue on my walk first. At least I was now going in the right direction.
I eventually missed some three weeks of the Alpha course and had a very different attitude when I returned. I was now open to really hear not only with my head, but also with my heart. Most of the people at the course must have thought that I had simply lost interest and was amazed to hear what had happened to me. I then found the course to be very beneficial and can certainly recommend it to anyone who is still seeking.
During late 2005 our church invited an ex-mercenary soldier and then Christian convert from Zimbabwe to speak at a Sunday church service. In his past he was part of a gang who by his own account did some unspeakable things in that country. He then told us an amazing story where on one day they planned to attack a Christian gathering and to massacre people. You could hear a pin drop in church. He then told us the amazing story on how God intervened that day so that no attack took place and how he was saved at the church service. He has been preaching the Gospel since. When he had finished his talk he made an alter call.
I have always been petrified of these calls which were made from time to time in church and felt the usual myriad of emotions whelming up, fluctuating wildly between guilt and excitement, but mostly discomfort. Until that day I could never bring myself to get up and submit in open confession my belief in Christ. My emotions were no different that day, but I was very moved by what I have heard. Still, I was terrified, but somehow gained the courage to fight through these feelings and to my own surprise (and to Carine’s), stood up and walked down the auditorium isle, bent down and received blessings and prayer. This was the first public confession of my faith and as with many things, the most difficult. Soon thereafter I could admit with all my heart that I believed in Christ and then started to take communion.
Chapter Three: Moving Continents
In early 2006 a decision was made for Brait to focus exclusively on its core private equity business and to close down the investment banking business. At times this felt surreal – on the one hand I was part of overseeing the organised winding-down of the business, trying to accommodate team members within the organization or to seek other viable alternatives. On the other hand I was directly impacted as I was soon to be unemployed.
Since my student days I have developed a great fondness for the Western Cape region in South Africa, in particular the town of Stellenbosch and the surrounding wine growing regions. My dream was always to one day settle our family there. We could then enjoy the majestic mountain and vineyards views and perhaps, as I have always dreamed, make my own wine. Many of our friends had migrated from the Johannesburg region to the Western Cape and this was an opportunity to follow them.
A move to the Western Cape would also have brought us much closer to where our parents now live. My parents had retired close to the coastal town of Knysna in the Southern Cape region, sometimes referred to as ‘little Switzerland’ of South Africa. Carine’s parents live within an hour and a half’s drive from Cape Town, near the coastal town of Hermanus. As you will see from the pictures below (first two of the Hermanus region and last two of Knysna Heads and Sedgefield beach), both these regions are some of the most beautiful parts of South Africa.
I started to make a few exploratory calls to friends and business contacts in that part of the country to get a feel for potential employment opportunities. It was amazing that during this period of uncertainty both Carine and I experienced a tremendous sense of calm and excitement and somehow just knew that things will turn out well. It certainly did, but very differently from the plans I was busy formulating in my mind!
Out of the blue I received a phone call from Switzerland. I can still remember taking this call in the underground parking garage at Brait as I was about to leave the office for the day. One of the principals of a Swiss banking and asset management group, and past investment banking client with who I had periodic contact, was on the line. He was considering a sabbatical and was wondering if I would be interesting to step into his place whilst he was away and look after his responsibilities for the group’s private equity business. The investment focus was primarily focussed on companies who operate in the Russian Federation (“Russia”). As you might imagine, I was rather taken aback by the proposal which was for our family to move to Geneva, Switzerland and for me to spend time in Russia pursuing transactions. This was also a far cry from my Western Cape dream and the plans I have been starting to formulate!
I then remembered Carine’s plea to me before we got married, which was to never ask her to leave South Africa to live in Europe. This was understandable considering that Carine loves to build deep relationships with people over a long time and likes to be close to her family. Therefore, a move to the Western Cape region seemed to make a lot of sense to us. I mentioned Carine’s view during our telephone conversation, but committed to tell her about the proposal and, depending on her views we will decide to think it over. It was a horrible timing to discuss this with Carine as she was supporting a dear mutual friend who’s husband had unexpectedly passed away a few days earlier.
Carine’s advise was sound. We have to pray and then listen to what God has in mind for us. This may sound strange, but I have learned by now that it works, as long as one is prepared to make dedicated time to hear His voice. I was much more immature in my walk with Jesus at that time, so was rather nervous. It eventually sunk in that we should consider the opportunity seriously. It did not take long to realise that the road map God had in mind was very different from what I was trying to design. We sought further confirmation from God and especially Carine prayed a lot during that time. The answer was not one we expected as all the guidance we received from God was strongly pointing us towards Geneva! He clearly had plans for us in Switzerland, although we did not know what they were (after nearly seven years in Geneva I have also learned that patience and perseverance, which I will talk about in later chapters, are important in the unfolding of God’s plans for us). Carine also received prophetic confirmation that we should embrace this challenge and opportunity. It took a bit of time for the news to sink in. I then pursued the opportunity, we quickly settled terms and some four months later our family arrived in Geneva on a very hot July summer’s day in 2006. A new chapter was about to begin.
It has been some time since that day and many changes have taken place in our lives. I initially wrote this paragraph late at night in early December 2010, comfortably holed up in a hotel room and surrounded in a snow covered and bitter cold Moscow, listening to a French version of a well known Afrikaans folk song. A world away from our African dream and its warm December summer nights.
God has a greater plan for us
Over time I have been able to reflect with more clarity on the road which has brought us to Geneva. I have come to realise that Jesus’s plan with our family was so much greater than what I could ever have imagined. I have mentioned that I have always longed for the Western Cape, its mountains and vineyards. In turn, what God gave us is the wonderland of lake Geneva, the majestic Alps, the Jura and the Saleve mountains all around us. And yes, the surrounding countryside is littered with vineyards and wine producers! It took me a good three years to make this connection and have now realised that His plans for us are infinitely better than those we are able to conceive.
For those of you who have moved from one country to another or are in the process of doing so will know that there are many challenges to face along the way. There have been times where I have felt that all the odds were stacked up against me. That caused frustration and I have experienced seeds of doubt along the way and have asked why we undertook the journey in the first place. Everything was also difficult at first. Take language for example. The spoken language in Geneva is predominantly French. Mundane matters such as working out how parking meters work, what products to buy, to make appointments and many more small things make you feel like a first grader again. It was very difficult to secure accommodation due to demand supply imbalances, everything is horrifically expensive and it is virtually impossible to understand many of the forms to complete, arrange for telephone and utility connections and to find suitable schools for the kids. Small things can become mountains to cross in your mind and discouragement is tempting you around every corner.
When Lisa turned four in August 2006 just after we arrived at her birthday party she asked “… Mommy, why is there no friends at my party? … ” This breaks your heart. We had to tell her that it was because we knew nobody. There we were, strangers in a new country. This reminds me of words of an Afrikaans song of Liza Beekman (www.lizebeekman.co.za) where she sing about the immenseness of the dry Karoo region in South Africa – “… Ek het ver gery op n nuwe pad vir die eerste keer … Dit was die langste tyd van byna niks, maar die kortste pad na waar ek wou wees. … Dit was a groot verdwaal op n reguit pad – The Song is titled – “Ek het n boer sien dans” (I saw a farmer dancing) – video at www.youtube.com/watch?v=2ekZGs6sFa8 from her 2008 album – “Sit ‘n Bietjie Langs My” (I have travelled a long way on a new road and I did so for the first time. It felt like an endless time of virtually nothing, but was the quickest way to where I would have liked to be. I was so lost on a road which had no turns). I have felt many of these emotions in the journey to Geneva and at some challenging times we have encountered thereafter.
We travelled back to South Africa from time to time during December to enjoy Southern hemisphere summer holidays in the Western and Southern Cape and spend time with our parents, family and friends. We do so when finances allow as it is important for us as our parents are growing older and frailer as the years roll by and we want to spend as much time as we can with them. We also wish that our children get to know their grandparents as well as the distance between us allow. Returning to Switzerland from these holidays was rather difficult, especially at first. When we enjoyed beach adventures, excellent food and good wine and time spent with loved ones there is the inevitably silent comparison between this apparent place of milk and honey and Geneva where we have to face some strenuous challenges from time to time (the `what if` scenario had we stayed in South Africa comes by sometimes). We have also been tempted over the past few years to return on more than one occasion, but that it is not God’s will for us to do so yet – we know that He still has great plans for us abroad. That has not always been easy to understand, especially during those times when I saw how unhappy Carine initially was during our first few years in Geneva. At times, and especially of late, it has also not been easy for me (more about this later). However, in the back of our minds was a vision Carine received before I gave my heart to Jesus and before she knew what a vision was – that I will one day be responsible to control meaningful funds to further God’s Kingdom and glory.
Chapter Four: Baptism
I like to be in control of a situation. This has been the case for most of my life. Perhaps it should then not come as a big surprise that when it came to baptism, at first I did my very best to avoid the topic. The next stage was to try and gather as many possible arguments on why it was not necessary to submit to God in this way. For a long time I clung to the knowledge that I was christened as a baby. Subconsciously baptism must have represented a final step in completely letting go and I was struggling to overcome the hurdle in my mind on this front. Control was holding me back for a long time.
In Acts 2:38 (New International Version, ©2010) Peter said “… Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit …”. Contemplating on this verse and understanding that baptism was not a means of forgiveness and salvation but rather an act of obedience, strangely as it may seem, also made my decision very difficult. With my rational mind I continued to argue that having accepted Jesus died for my sins has already saved me. So why then take the further step to be baptised and in the process profess my faith in this manner? The interesting thing about having accepted Jesus as Saviour is that things started to change inside my very being. The way how I think about things has changed. This is an evolving process where thought patterns redevelop and where changes take place at a multitude of levels inside me. This I could never have imagined! As part of this process and, I have to admit with some agonising at times, I have realised that I was shaking off shackles around my mind and heart which prevented me from taking the step to be baptised. I cannot explain how this change process worked. The more time I spent in silent contemplation with God, the more I understood the need for baptism and gradually developed a wish to do so. This also took a lot of courage, especially at the age of 44 to do so.
On 26 September 2010 I was baptised by John Woodrow at our Geneva home in the garden in the blow-up swimming pool of our kids. I was joined by Carine, our daughters Lisa and Emma and many friends of the mens group who meet on Thursday evenings at our home, together with wives and girlfriends. Why at home you may ask? It was a very personal experience and I wished to share this experience with those people who were close to me in during this part of my journey. I have to confess that I was petrified that something strange might happen during the baptism experience. God, off course, knew what I was capable of dealing with and apart from a strange floating sensation there was no real physical impact. In 1 Peter 3:21 (New International Version, ©2010), Peter tells us that “… and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also – not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a clear conscience toward God …”.
On an emotional level it was different as I received the gift of the Spirit and have subsequently realised that I had a new responsibility to intensify my walk with God. Peter describes the fruit of the Spirit as follows‘’… For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love…” – 2 Peter 5:7(New International Version, ©2010)). I am becoming more aware of the wrong doings in my life and where I need to change. Off course thoughts were rather uncomfortable at first. It has also been my experience that the closer I move to God, the more aware I become of the sins in my life. However, on the other hand I have become so much more aware and thankful for His many blessings which I am receiving every day. Even before I accepted Jesus as saviour, I loved the hymn “… Amazing Grace …” which was written by John Newton. Somehow I have always found comfort in the words and the tune and still do. The meaning is so much deeper now.
“… Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound, That saved a wretch like me. I once was lost but now am found, Was blind, but now I see.
T’was Grace that taught my heart to fear. And Grace, my fears relieved. How precious did that Grace appear The hour I first believe d… ”
John Newton (1725-1807) Stanza 6 anon
Many artists have sung of this beautiful hymn. If you wish, here are two you might want to listen to:
(Hayley Westenra – singing a cappella at a memorial service in Christchurch New Zeeland – www.hayleywestenra.com)
(video by Celtic Woman – www.celticwoman.com)
Chapter Five: A surprising interaction in Moscow
Some two years ago I was in Moscow during a business trip. It was mid January and very cold. We have been engaged in transaction negotiations all day and progress was rather slow. Early evening we decided to call it a day and resume discussions the following day. I was tired and when I stepped outside it was a great relief to feel the fresh and crisp January air caress my face, glad to be out of a smoke filled room (more stringent non smoking laws only come into effect in Russia in 2015!).
Soon, I was joined by a Russian colleague who assisted with the discussions. Only then I recalled that he had received a number of calls during the meeting and periodically stepped outside to take the calls. As we were waiting for transport back to the hotel, we shared some reflection on how the day went. Something prompted me to ask him if anything was wrong. I was taken aback when he told me that his daughter, who was 14 months at the time, was suffering from severe epilepsy attacks and spent the whole day in hospital where tests were conducted to try and track down the cause of her condition. It only dawned on me then how testing it must have been for him not to be at the hospital during the day to support his wife and daughter. The calls he received earlier in the day was from his wife who give him feedback on her discussions with the medical team. I received a second prompting and found myself saying that I will pray for her. He thanked me and asked if I was a Christian, which I confirmed. To my surprised he mentioned that he also believed in God. He then told me what a difficult time it was for their family, but that they have been fortunate to receive good support from a Moscow based medical team. However, he was very frustrated as for some time they have tried to secure a second medical opinion from medical experts outside Russia, to no avail.
At that point our transport arrived and we bid our farewells and went our separate ways. Amongst the serenity of a light snow storm and holed up in the comfort of the warm car I was deeply moved by our conversation and by his daughter’s condition. Somehow my thoughts could not turn away from our conversation and as I walked into my hotel room I was struck by a ray of clarity – I remembered that a school friend was practising as a neurosurgeon in South Africa at the time, and that he had specialised in epilepsy cases when practising in the United States. I thought that he would be a perfect person for my Russian colleague to speak to. Due to the time difference between Russia and South Africa, it was still early enough in the evening South Africa time to phone him. I managed to get hold of my friend, told him what happened and graciously agreed to speak to my Russian colleague.
The next day they made contact and subsequently all of the required test results and scans were bundled electronically and sent to my friend for his consideration. My Russian colleague then received the second opinion he was trying to secure.
The lesson I learned from this experience was that the Holy Spirit (out helper and councillor) gave me the courage to speak up that night to someone I knew professionally but not personally and this lead to a chain of events taking place which I could never have anticipated. I also realised that even though it may seem intimidating to share one’s belief in God today, these times when we step out in faith can be deeply rewarding and also have some surprising consequences. It gives our Heavenly Father an opportunity to share his love for people through us.
This surprising interaction has encouraged me to step out in faith more than I have done in the past.
Chapter Six – Difficult operating environment – some pretty tough lessons
In 2008 we all faced one of the most challenging equity, credit and economic environments over in recent times. Businesses had to adjust to a much tougher operating environment; market sentiment was very negative and institutional appetite for fund managed products changed dramatically. Fund raising projects ground to a halt. I do not wish to focus on organisational and business model changes which have taken place in the organisation I work for, but rather give a bit of insight on the personal impact of these changes on me. Other people may relate to similar circumstances or feelings. I hope things worked out for you. It did for me, but not in the way I have anticipated when we came to Switzerland in 2006.
At that time we remembered God’s promises and part of our own dreams pictured a Swiss capital base where stock options I received would be worth a small Swiss fortune! Along with negative market sentiment the share price of the group I worked for came under pressure and declined meaningfully. In the end my stock options lapsed with no value.
Let me pause here for a moment. To our parents and family back in South Africa, please do not feel any anxiety when you read about this experience – it is part of our journey and forming process. We are doing well in Geneva and there have been many blessings for us, we live in a wonderful home, the kids are in a great school, we have made good friends (the list is long) and through these blessings our lives have been transformed. We have come to understand that God’s love and faithfulness is our security, not the state of an earthly balance sheet! We look towards and place our trust in God as He does not disappoint and this comforts us, bringing peace and joy. Carine reminded me of a dream I told her about long ago but did not write down at the time, so the details are a bit sketchy. What I can remember is that Carine and I were sitting on the handlebars of a bicycle which was driving in Geneva where God did the cycling!
At the time I was originally writing down some thoughts some two years ago I received an e-mail with wonderful thoughts from Marsha Burns: “ … I have set you on a journey. I have a plan for your destiny. But, if you narrow your focus so that all you can see are the challenges along the way and the things that are going wrong, it will keep you from making spiritual progress. You cannot maintain a healthy life in the Spirit if you continue to get into self-focus or self-pity. Look up. Seek My face, says the Lord, and put your trust in Me … ” – Bill and Marsha Burns, Spirit of Prophecy Bulletin, 25 January 2011, Small Straws in a soft wind. Not only are these prophetic words wonderful, but it helped me to focus.
Present day – an e-mail from Marsha Burns: “… You are about to have significant breakthrough in a number of areas in your life and circumstances. But, you must believe that I am telling you the truth, says the Lord, and position yourself spiritually for success. You have had to face many challenges that have been not only difficult but daunting. Now, you will begin to move out of that wilderness experience…”” Bill and Marsha Burns, Spirit of Prophecy Bulletin, from the Faith Tabernacle April 12, 2013 Small Straws in a soft wind. I felt good to receive these prophetic words today, because it confirmed what I believe the Lord is already saying to me.
Please also dwell on the words of Pastor Derek Frank in a sermon he gave at our church, The Evangelical Baptist Church of Geneva on 21 November 2010, Sermon “Take your son, your only son“ (Genesis 22 v1-18). The sermon was about the dramatic manner of Abraham’s testing when God called him to sacrifice his son. ” He observed that ‘’…how we honour God when we’re not under any great pressure to do so is in some ways a greater read out of where we’re at with God than when we’re under real pressure to do so. Clearly Abraham had stayed faithful to God through this time which apparently seemed neither here nor there (for example when he stayed in the land of the Philistines for a long time). Evidently he continued to develop a heart of obedience even without knowing how or why it would be needed in the future. This proved to be crucial in enabling what then followed, because when this most devastating call to obedience hit him, there was a deep well-spring of obedience ready to be drawn from.
It speaks of the challenge there actually is for us in those times in life when things may not themselves seem so challenging. Because it’s too late to start to step into obedience when the hundred year wave suddenly hits you. Either there already is a deep well-spring of obedience established in your heart or there isn’t. It’s as blunt as that. Clearly Abraham had used his time in the land of the Philistines to great spiritual purpose even though there may not have appeared much human purpose in it. Such that when this totally unexpected, but so absolute demand suddenly came from God, even though it exceeded anything his mind could handle, his heart was ready prepared to make the best of responses…’’.
In this sermon he further observed that …’’Yet as God permits us to explore for ourselves what obedience means out there on our own limits, we are enabled to step a tiny bit more into the mystery of what it means from God’s perspective…’’Testing, however, is about the giving of opportunity to bringing forth something tangible out of a good position we already have with God. James 1 verses 2 and 3 say “Consider it pure joy whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance”.
I find these words very helpful in develop an understanding to live in obedience, especially when I may be prone to anxiety or discouragement or when I am caught up in those in- between times. Deuteronomy 8:2-3 is also encouraging ‘’… remember how the Lord your God led you all the way in the wilderness these forty years, to humble and test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands. He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your ancestors had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord…’’ Deuteronomy 8:2-3, (New International Version, ©2010)
By nature I am not an outwardly emotional person and over years I have developed a habit of internalizing my stress and concerns. Both outwardly and inwardly, I may seem calm and restrained, but there was a price to pay – headaches, a sore and stiff neck and backaches. Subconsciously, with the passing of time, I became so used to this that it almost became the norm. As I have learned to let go and pass on my problems to Jesus my headaches have all but disappeared. I still suffer from the occasional neck and back problem, but this is mostly as a result of long bicycle training rides in the beautiful Geneva and surrounding French countryside, trying very hard to keep up with guys almost half my age!
Remember the words of Philippians 4:6-7 “… Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus…” (New International Version, ©2010).
Chapter 7: Revelations during summer holiday
During late December 2010 we were blessed with a Southern hemisphere summer holiday and the days were filled with sunshine, families, friends, great food and wine. The scenery was idyllic – South Africa’s Eastern Cape beaches are simply spectacular (picture below of the Wilderness beach).
I even attempted to recreate swimming adventures of student days long gone by at Victoria Bay, a haven for some spectacular body surfing experiences, especially if you dare to swim out close to where home grown surfers enjoy the waves. Be warned, for I have learned that there is a strict unwritten code who may venture to the self claimed territory of local surfers in the vast ocean – be sure not to get in the way! In the days of our late teens and early twenties a bunch of school friends frequently swam out some 200 to 300 meters, assisted by an outgoing current in search for really big waves to body surf. I still remember floating on my back desperately trying to catch my breath, lungs weaving looking up into the blue sky, being lifted up and down by the large swells offshore. It was a surreal feeling, especially when realising that people on the beach appeared no larger than little dots on the horizon. It was a time when I felt invincible and thinking back did some rather reckless things, with great zest I might add. Thankfully, at age 46 God gave me enough wisdom to realise that it was not a good idea to again attempt deep ocean swimming adventures and that it is sometimes better to rather cling to good memories of bygone days! I still had some great fun testing the outer perimeter where most people swam and the waves and rides were pretty good. What made it really special was that I was out there in the water with my best mate – amazing to think that we met on my first day of primary school some forty years ago!
A few realties also hit home. I had changed. Perhaps this was caused over time by our life experiences abroad or perhaps it was the spiritual journey I was on, possibly a combination of both. In any event, I realised that my journey with Christ took shape in a foreign land which I was slowly beginning to call home. It was there I learned to really depend on God, albeit reluctantly at first. In the process I had to untangle some shackles of self control and self reliance. To be free in Christ, although daunting at times, is an amazing feeling. I now try to rely on God and understand how He would like me to shape my life and to grow with Him. I have failed miserably from time to time, especially during times where I have shouldered on in my own strength. Somehow, at that time this experience was still difficult to share with friends and family in South Africa. I guess I was not ready at the time. I am now.
During this time in South Africa, I had a profound realisation when visiting one of my friends on his wine farm in the Hemel and Aarde (Heaven and Earth) valley near Hermanus in the Western Cape. We enjoyed a bottle of wine in his cellar and reminisced of old adventures, life in Geneva, work experiences and life in general. My friend is working for a Western Cape based investment and banking group and after years of hard work reached a key position within that group, with the fruits to show for his labour. Driving back I could not help myself to think that he is living the very dream I had once longed for so many years. I still remember the wry smile on my face when I caught myself looking into the rear view mirror. If a picture could have told a thousand words, that smile captured so many emotions. The big ‘what if’’ question was inevitable. I have to confess that I do have an imagination which runs a little wild at times (this I hide rather well). When I was still working at Brait SA, I had some discussions with my friend on the possibility of joining their team (driving I then re-imagined what would have happened had I done so). I also felt some frustration when I thought of some complex circumstances back in Switzerland. I felt the irony when I grasped at shards of past dreams. In the end I was surprised by my reaction. It was one of real joy for his success – I was content to be where I was, even with all the uncertainty of what was ahead. I also realised that with the knowledge I now have that I would not be able to exchange old dreams for road God was leading me in a country far from my birthplace. I realised that my life would not have been shaped in the way it had been by Jesus had I stayed on in South Africa. I guess that if this was the case I could all too easily have been overcome by self driven success, without much pause to make way for a redemptive walk with God.
Two days after initially writing down these reflections (it has been edited a few time since then), a tragedy unfolded in Moscow at the Domodedova airport where I had just departed from a day earlier. Many innocent people lost their lives in a senseless bomb attack. When I realised that I could have been there the day before it brought back some perspective of the irrelevance of the many things I fret about unnecessarily.
Luke 9:23 – 25 ‘’… Then He said to them all, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it. For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and is himself destroyed or lost? …’’ (New King James Version).
Chapter 8: Unfortunate transaction experience, wisdom and a dream
Private equity firms try to identify and invest in relevant businesses at reasonable valuations, work with management teams to better position and grow the business and then sell their interest at a price at multiples more than originally invested. Although there are several phases to the investment cycle, it is not often that things turn pear-shaped after a sale transaction was completed. I guess you can anticipate what is coming – a glimpse into what happen with a transaction, how it impacted on me and how God was leading me in the process.
During 2008, before the brunt of the financial crisis hit home across Europe, a business (in which an investment company managed by the group I work for was invested) was sold. Unfortunately, not all the proceeds could be distributed immediately to shareholders and a while later the process turned sour. I cannot share specific details as they are governed by confidentiality undertakings. All that I can share is that we had to take some pretty tough actions involving courts in the United Kingdom, acrimonious negotiations and eventually a settlement deal, leading to a work-out situation and a number of recovery processes over the past few years.
As part of my responsibilities, I managed this process together with one of the other shareholders of this business. Although the process frustrated and aggravated me from time to time, I have now recognised that despite what has taken place God has paved a way for some new relationships and allowed me to get to know a few very special people along the way.
I have also discovered Ephesians 6:10-18 where we are reminded of our protection if we put on the Armour of God “… Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armour of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God …” (New International Version, ©2010).
Cathedral in Geneva, Switzerland with Christmas lights
It took time for me to recognise some of the manipulative webs which were spun during this process. In 1 Kings 4:29 it is written that “…God gave Solomon wisdom and very great insight, and a breadth of understanding as measureless as the sand on the seashore…” (New International Version, ©2010). Off course I cannot profess to have received the wisdom of Salomon, but I did receive from Jesus discernment and patience and enough wisdom to be able to deal with the situation.
Proverbs 2:1-13 has some wonderful words on wisdom and has real meaty food to reflect on – “… My son, if you accept my words and store up my commands within you, turning your ear to wisdom and applying your heart to understanding – indeed, if you call out for insight and cry aloud for understanding, and if you look for it as for silver and search for it as for hidden treasure, then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God. For the Lord gives wisdom; from His mouth come knowledge and understanding. He holds success in store for the upright, He is a shield to those whose walk is blameless, for He guards the course of the just and protects the way of his faithful ones. Then you will understand what is right and just and fair – every good path. For wisdom will enter your heart, and knowledge will be pleasant to your soul. Discretion will protect you, and understanding will guard you. Wisdom will save you from the ways of wicked men, from men whose words are perverse, who have left the straight paths to walk in dark ways… ” (New International Version, ©2010)
Proverbs 3:14-18 talks about some of the wonderful characteristics of wisdom “… for she is more profitable than silver and yields better returns than gold. She is more precious than rubies; nothing you desire can compare with her. Long life is in her right hand; in her left hand are riches and honor. Her ways are pleasant ways, and all her paths are peace. She is a tree of life to those who take hold of her; those who hold her fast will be blessed…”(New International Version, ©2010). Wonderful!
In the midst of what was happening during this transaction, I had a divine dream. I found myself at a small regional airport. The building was drab and unspectacular. There were large glass windows providing a clear view of the runway and a tall tree lined avenue in the distance. What on earth was I doing there? To my surprise it dawned on me that I was there to meet some ex-executives of the business where we held the investment I mentioned elsewhere. I hear a droning noise overhead. Suddenly, it turned to a shrieking noise and without warning panic filled people began to scatter and run. The control tower warned loudly that the approaching plane was in trouble. In the distance I could see that a small jet approaching but way too fast. Smoke was billowing out of the engines, and it was bouncing uncontrollably in the air. The plane overshot the runway and crashed into the terminal buildings, shattering on impact. It was awful and the destruction was horrific. Parts of the plane were launched into the air and all surrounding buildings, windows shattered, flames everywhere and the noise was incredible. Yet, I found myself behind an indestructible solid wall whilst debris shot past me and bodies of innocent bystanders were flying through the air. As suddenly as it all happened, a deathly silence descended. I was not hurt, not even scratch. I walked away, leaving the scene of total destruction behind me. God showed me how destructive this process was, but it is clear that with the full armour of God I am safe and protected by Him. Psalm 33:20 says “…We wait in hope for the Lord; he is our help and our shield …”New International Version, ©2010).
Try to seek Him out and use the armour He has provided for our protection (Mike Donehey, Lead Singer of Tenth Avenue North http://tenthavenuenorth.com/ talks in a refreshing and candid about the joy of prayer at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lcRDTK4i4qw – have a look if you are interested).
Chapter 9: Distractions removed by the great love of God
On a spiritual level I was distracted over the past few weeks. Perhaps it was the wonderful summer weather we are enjoying in central Europe. Perhaps it was the fantastic holiday break in the South of Italy with Carine and the kids. Throughout this time I found it difficult to focus on my relationship with Jesus. Not even a brief medical scare managed to refocus me. I was not able to write!
Thankfully, over the past week or so the invisible veil which had entrapped me when I lost focus had lifted. It almost felt as if I was exposed to some stealth attack on a spiritual level, probably carefully orchestrated when my defenses were down when I could not properly focus on Jesus.
“… Test yourselves to make sure you are solid in the faith. Don’t drift along taking everything for granted. Give yourselves regular checkups. You need first hand evidence, not mere hearsay that Jesus Christ is in you. Test it out. If you fail the test, do something about it …” 2 Corinthians 13:5-7 (Message)
“… We must pay the most careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away. For since the message spoken through angels was binding, and every violation and disobedience received its just punishment, how shall we escape if we ignore so great a salvation? This salvation, which was first announced by the Lord, was confirmed to us by those who heard him. God also testified to it by signs, wonders and various miracles, and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will…” Hebrews 2:1-4 (New International Version)
“… Because you kept my Word in passionate patience, I’ll keep you safe in the time of testing that will be here soon, and all over the earth, every man, woman, and child put to the test. I’m on my way; I’ll be there soon. Keep a tight grip on what you have so no one distracts you and steals your crown. I’ll make each conqueror a pillar in the sanctuary of my God, a permanent position of honor. Then I’ll write names on you, the pillars: the Name of my God, the Name of God’s City-the new Jerusalem coming down out of Heaven- and my new Name…” Revelation 3:10-12 (Message)
These verses warn us to be careful an dto pay attention along the way and this reminded me of the importance to remain on my guard as it is so easy in today’s world to become distracted. I was encouraged that I can do something about it. Although I was slow to recognize my state of being at first, I have a loving and encouraging wife who pushed me along. Perhaps we should look-out for each other in this manner more often, especially within our church community. I also felt much better having watched a documentary with Carine on the love of God.
In 1 Corinthians 13 the well-known passage on love now has more in-depth meaning for me:
“… If I speak in the tongues[a] of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love…” (New International Version).
I was challenged by the documentary, especially where it showed how Heidi Baker was pouring out the love of Jesus on people in Mozambique and doing so in a practical and totally unconditional manner. I realized that I can think or talk about showering people with the love of Jesus but to walk the walk in practice takes enormous belief, courage and strength. This will come from a close relationship with Jesus. I look forward to develop a deeper relationship with Him and to see how this will equip me to share His love with others around me over the coming years.
Chapter 10: Getting ahead of myself
My mind races ahead. It all too often does. I get ahead of myself. At times, I don’t notice this as I am preoccupied with thoughts of work, personal matters and things I would like to get done. Subconsciously, multiple scenarios play themselves out (as if watching multiple televisions screens at the same time), diverting my full attention from loved ones, stealing precious time and sapping energy.
I tend to fall into this trap when I drift along in my personal relationship with Jesus and then tend to operate mostly on my own strength. This can be a subtle process where the shift in our relationship takes place over a matter of weeks or months – less of Him and more of me! I smile, not because of sudden joyful feelings (reminder to self – laugh more!) but because I see the irony as I write this. I have fallen into this trap over the past few months where I have spent many a late night pushing hard to further develop my photography interests (a hobby which I really enjoy) and spending time attending to family business matters. Add a fantastic South African summer holiday break over Christmas and New Year to the mix, considerable time spent with a recent corporate restructuring at work, together with ongoing investigations into potential Russia based private equity transactions, the audit process relating to a listed investment company and the result has been much less of Him.
This serves as a remember to first seek the Kingdom of God, as Matthew writes in Matthew 6: 31-34 “… So do not consume yourselves with questions: What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear? Outsiders make themselves frantic over such questions; they don’t realize that your heavenly Father knows exactly what you need. Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and then all these things will be given to you too. So do not worry about tomorrow. Let tomorrow worry about itself. Living faithfully is a large enough task for today…”
John also makes it clear that we have to abide in Christ and then may ask for whatever we wish and it will be given to us “… I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples. John 15: 5-8 (New International Version).
This made me think of God’s promises and dreams He has for us. Bill Johnston in a sermon Treasure and Ponder talked about God’s promises. He emphasized the importance of how we should not only treasure, but then ponder on these promises. I realize that I have done little treasuring and almost no pondering on His promises for me of late as my mind was filled and preoccupied with the things I have mentioned above. I realise that there is a danger if we ponder on promises without first staying in close relationship with Him, as we may then be tempted to manufacture the fulfillment of a promise in our own strenght – it is about the relationship in the first instance and then about the promise.
As we know, some promises come about quickly and others can take much longer, even decades to be fulfilled. For Bill Johnston it is difficult to imagine a life without being possessed by these promises in your heart so that they become part of his prayer life, his thought life and his song and that God’s promises run all though him and are immensely treasured (to hold close) – they are guarded in his heart because he knows they keep him sane and connected to his future (now there is some food for thought). He does not want to wonder off the course God has laid out for him and said “… Something happens when you mull over something that God has said. I don’t understand it, I just know it does something to me, it makes me different. It makes me different when I chew on what God has said. Even though I cannot see how it is going to come about, even if I cannot see a time line when it is going to come about …”
He emphasized that we have to hold God’s promises close until they impact us from the inside out. When I consider what he is saying this a profound statement as it implies that we have to be aware of the promises first (i.e. make the time to listen and hear what God has in mind for you – I guess God passes on his promises to each of us in a different way) and to really take time to ponder about it. In the sermon he mentioned that one of the bigger difficulties in life for us is when we have a promise from God we have found and where we then try to hold God hostage to the promise at a time when the promise has not yet become us – it has just become knowledge. What I took from this sermon is to take the things God has said about my life and ponder about and then expect that something will happen and that in this process it will also change who I am on the inside.
When I think about God’s promises, I am reminded that they could be received through dreams. If you have time, try to listen to a new song of Counting Crowns, Dream for You. It is about God’s dreams for you.
“… Hey, David, I hear you’ve been dreaming
About being a big time shepherd someday
You’re gonna prove your brothers wrong
You’re gonna sing your shepherd song
To the cattle on a thousand hills
But I’ve been thinking
I’m having trouble with a giant down the road
You’re the one who’s going to face him toe to toe
Wipe that grin right off his face
And whip this army into shape
I’m going to turn the nation back to Me
And David, you’re right about one thing
Your little shepherd songs are going to make the whole world sing
And I’m gonna make you king
Then next verse excites me as it shows where the emphasis should be –on His dreams for me, not those thoughts or matters I concern myself with from time to time.
So come on, let Me dream, let Me dream for you
I am strong when you’re weak and I’ll carry you
So let go of your plan, be caught by My hand
I’ll show you what I can do
When I dream for you
I have a dream for you …
I’m stronger than you think I am
I’ll take you farther than you think you can
You sing and call me Great I Am
So take your stand
My child, if you only knew
All the plans that I have for you
Just trust me, I will follow through
You can follow Me…”
Casting Crowns – Verse from song “Dream for you”; Album “Thrive”, 2014
Is it not exciting to know that He has dreams for all of us – we need to trust and God will follow through!
Chapter 11: Seasons of our lives
Every year we are blessed with spring, summer, autumn and winter. I suspect we all have our favorite season and are filled with expectation when we notice the early signs of seasonal changes. I do! Initially when I started to write this, I found myself on a rather comfortable garden bench during spring time, amazed at how quickly the new leaves had formed on trees surrounding our home. Summer was a few steps ahead and I was looking forward the inviting smell of a barbeque, or as we say in South Africa the ‘braai’ and long warm summer days.
In our house you can feel the expectancy when summer is approaching. Our girls cannot wait for sun filled days and glorious blue skies. Lisa and Emma’s idea of a perfect day is to spend as much time possible in a swimming pool. A good friend of ours who lives just across the border in a small rural town surrounded by the French Alps and can testify to this as we make use of our southern hemisphere openness to invite ourselves often to his home in Peillonnex to test out their pool!
Autumn sometimes creeps up like a thief in the night, but then serves up a glorious painted canvas with bright rich colors of red, orange and yellow. Great for photography – I still need some work on my nature photography skills which do not come naturally as I am drawn to photography genres involving people, emotions or abstracts creations. Autumn prepares us for the challenging cold and foggy winter months which are ahead. Just as for spring, in a house filed with girls, autumn seems to create its fair share of confusion judged by the apparent difficulty in making choices for them in what to wear. Like many men before me, I have given up in trying to fully understand this dilemma and sometimes faint sympathy when I hear a rather familiar “… but I have nothing to wear …” phrase during these seasons. Glad to be a guy! With winter the choices seem somewhat easier, as long as it is warm and in shades of black or grey. In these cold months I give a special thanks to God for blue sky days in snow covered mountains and fun or sometimes in my case survival on the ski slopes when trying to keep up with the kids).
As the years pass, I realize that the seasons in our lives are not always that easy to discern. Changes are not as certain or predictable as those of the seasons we encounter in nature. As we all have experienced in some form, sometimes change is forced upon us, at times we try really hard to manufacture it ourselves (many times without success). Change also seem to materialize slowly over time and we only realise what has place when we are able to look back over a period of many years. As the years roll on (my 30 year high school reunion is coming up in September this year and sometimes it feels like yesterday when I was still in school, especially when I think back of all the things we did way back then). I have noticed some distinct seasons in my life. Certainly they did not follow the predictable order of what God serves up though nature so graciously year after year, but were part of a process where I was able to grow with Him and be equipped in ways I did not think possible to better deal with the next season He has in store for my life.
In Ecclesiastes 3 1-8 , A Time for Everything, Salomon writes that:
There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens:
2 a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot, 3 a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build, 4 a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance, 5 a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them, a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing, 6 a time to search and a time to give up, a time to keep and a time to throw away, 7 a time to tear and a time to mend, a time to be silent and a time to speak, 8 a time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace – (New International Version (NIV)).
I love this passage. Every time I read this passage, there is something different which grabs me as I think about own experiences or what is happening with loved ones and friends around me. It may surprise you, but I have never read the book of Ecclesiastes until I did so for the first time recently. What a pleasant surprise! From my recollections of years ago and from what I learned from recent sermons I have listened to on Solomon’s live, I was familiar with many of the great things he had achieved during his life. I was rather less familiar with how he dealt with worldly matters and temptations. So it was interesting to hear his words on and the conclusion he draws.
In Ecclesiastes 9: 11-12 – A Common destiny for us all, Salomon writes that: I have seen something else under the sun: The race is not to the swift or the battle to the strong, nor does food come to the wise or wealth to the brilliant or favor to the learned; but time and chance happen to them all. Moreover, no one knows when their hour will come As fish are caught in a cruel net, or birds are taken in a snare, so people are trapped by evil times that fall unexpectedly upon them – (New International Version (NIV)).
In the end Salomon comes concludes that faith in God is the only way to find personal meaning. He decides to accept the fact that life is brief and ultimately worthless without God. I agree.