Tuesday, September 4, 2012

$ 400

Although a lost world looks at Christianity as a predominantly unappealing and impractical belief-system, adhered to by some members of society, Christians themselves sometimes, unfortunately,[1] hold vastly differing Scriptural viewpoints.

At times, as individual believers work out these viewpoints, there is a convergence of lives and an encounter with the living God.  This is what happened to four of us living in Jerusalem in the early 90s.

It concerned three women: a Finn, a Swede and a South African (the latter two of Jewish extraction, all of whom had accepted Yeshua as their Saviour) and lastly me, a South African male.  We were all at various levels of Scriptural insight and maturity, but wholeheartedly committed to the Lord.

To some believers Christianity is no more than a moral code, a value system, a philosophy, or, at best, a theology, explaining their beliefs and approach to life.  This was not the case with the first two women.  They were truly committed to the Lord, knowing Him as the source of all life, and were led by Him to reside, for a period, in Jerusalem.

I cannot speak regarding what they were working out in Him, but I had the utmost respect for especially the aforementioned Finn, who had an astonishingly intimate walk with Him, and whom, of the three, I got to know best.  Personally, I came to Israel because I have heard Him, on one chilly Friday afternoon speaking the following words, “Go to Israel.  That is where I walked and taught.”  At the time, although searching for answers anew as a backslidden businessman, I had no idea why He wanted me to go to Israel, but nonetheless packed up, lock stock and barrel, and left in obedience.

I first met the Finn, at a bible study conducted in the rented apartment of an American, Dr. Harold Kastner,[2] in Gi’vat Shapira (or French Hill).  She, in turn, brought the Swede, with whom she shared an apartment in Rahavia (a suburb of Jerusalem, situated opposite the Israeli Knesset or Parliament).  I initially got to know them both as we stood chatting opposite Harold’s apartment, waiting for a bus to our respective abodes.  The South African I met whilst living in a hostel in the Old City of Jerusalem.  She borrowed my laptop to type correspondence needing urgently to be dispatched to South Africa.[3]  I did not know her at all really, but it was clear she was struggling and unwilling, perhaps because of it, to open up to strangers.  At the time, I also lived in the Old City (amongst two nuns) at the Sisters of the Rosary (opposite the Latin Patriarch).

What I did not know was that the South African has previously shared the apartment with the Finn and Swede, and thus all four our paths, had at some point, intertwined.

When Harold and his wife went overseas temporarily to minister, an older America believer, from Boise, Idaho in the United States, who had also attended Harold’s meetings, suggested a few of us continue meeting at her place,  until they return.

The first time we did so the Swede wanted us to pray about something.  When I learnt it concerned money, I said a quick prayer, asking the Lord to address the need.  Having been in business in Johannesburg, first in the corporate world and later for my own account, having recently restored my situation with the Lord, I still felt uncomfortable praying about monetary issues.  To me it was easier to simply devise a plan to make as much as needed.  (I have since adopted a completely different stance; often praying about it—as I also began working out my own destiny in Him and became totally financially dependant on Him.[4])

Months later, as I visited the Finn at her Rahavia apartment one day, the Swede joined us, having returned from running errands.  She wanted us to urgently pray about something.  “Is it the same problem we prayed about previously?”  I wanted to know.  It was.

When I left South Africa for Israel, the maximum amount I could then take out the country, because of the severe foreign exchange restrictions brought about by the governments apartheid policies, was R 30,000.00 (and then via one of my businesses!).  I knew it was not going to last long.  As the amount began to dwindle, I not only got concerned, I instinctively began exploring Israeli business opportunities.

Then, during this process, I read the following text one day:  “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon [meaning riches in Aramaic, but personified here]25 “Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27 Which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature?  28 “So why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; 29 and yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 30 Now if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, [will] He not much more [clothe] you, O you of little faith?  31 “Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.  34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” [5] (Annotation and emphasis mine)

I had been raised to be diligent, to study and work hard, to do more than what was expected of me.  This, I was told, would bring me success in life.  Everything I was told; what I had learnt scholastically, in tertiary institutions, empirically, and in business (from the advice given by mentors, etc. and practically) and by observing and studying the actions of extremely successful people the world over—none of it—corresponds with Jesus’ words above.

Instead, He directs us to consider how God sustains life in His created order via the lives of birds and what appears to be ‘naturally’ growing in the field.  Although loving being out in nature, it invariable served as an escape from the pressures of live.  I have never truly observed it, for its own sake, but heeding Jesus’ words, I began noticing what He intended conveying.  One particularly beautiful tree, on my way to the King of Kings assembly (opposite the King David Hotel in Jerusalem), I soon concluded, was more perfectly in God’s will than I will ever be.  There it stood in all its glory, extremely pleasing to the eye.  It did not move an inch to sustain itself.  All the nourishment from the soil and rain He provided—and unless He did so, it would die.  It was a great lesson.

Jesus said, “… seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.”  I had no idea what He truly meant by it, but instinctively knew I was somehow going to be taught by Him in this respect in the days ahead.

I considered myself fortunate, ‘successful’ in just about everything I have ever tackled in life.  Although not a natural businessman, every three months or so, I generated the kind of profits most people were hoping to make in a lifetime.  Nevertheless, despite all of this, I knew I did not have the answers to a lot of questions, and it deeply troubled me.  (That in itself, let me assure you, is a blessing.  Those who self assuredly plod along, believing they have all the answers to life, neatly packaged, are more often than not living in deception.)  Seeking answers, I began reading the Scriptures even more ferociously.

Whilst still living in South Africa, travelling home from bird watching one Sunday afternoon, I listened to the Scriptures on the tape player in my car.  Most of it, I concluded, was not relevant to my situation.  Then these words hit me like a sledgehammer, “and He died for all, that those who live should live no longer for themselves, but for Him who died for them and rose again.”[6] (Emphasis mine)  Astonishingly it addressed my problem in a nutshell—in a single verse of Scripture!  I was driven to determine my own fate in life, wanting to be in control of my own destiny.  This simple verse stated the exact opposite!

When I got home, I pondered its meaning.  “Surely, it cannot practically mean taking my hands off my own life,” I reasoned.  “It will fall apart.  Guaranteed,” I assured myself.  And yet, not long thereafter, this is precisely what I did.

I understood and became skilful at managing business risks.  In fact, I thrived on it, with the odds always overwhelmingly in my favour, before embarking on any new venture—but, at the time, in taking what I considered to be an extremely radical decision, it felt as if I was about to jump off a steep, never ending cliff.  There was no way in which I could possibly determine, control or influence the course or outcome of this decision.  It felt as if no one has ever taken such a drastic step.

I tried bargaining with God, “I will not live for myself anymore; I will take the leap, but please catch me before I come totally unstuck, falling myself to smithereens.”  Completely vulnerable, I nonetheless ignorantly acted as if I was the initiator of the terms of the “deal.”  (Needless to say, He did not respond, and at times in my walk with Him since, He has deliberately (and rightly so) removed the safety net and, as a result, taught me invaluable lessons as I came unstuck, which I otherwise never could or would have learnt.[7])

So here I was, living in Israel, at the point where I had run out of money myself, sitting opposite two women, being asked to pray about someone else’s money problems.  Apart from the same problem having been raised only a few weeks ago, I had never been in this situation before and was totally unaccustomed to and uncomfortable with it.

A few days prior to this request, I was going through my own monetary struggles.  I was wondering if God would take care of me financially since I was now pursuing Him, no longer serving mammon.  Although not Catholic, I have rented a room at the Sisters of the Rosary.  My rent was overdue and I was unable to meet my commitments.  I hung in with God as long as I could, trying to figure out how the aforementioned passage in Matthew 6, especially verse 33, applied to my situation/dilemma.  In the end, I buckled and contacted South Africa, requesting someone to send me $1000.00 of my own money.

Wanting to get to know the Finn better, I asked her to travel with me to a hotel in Tel Aviv where I had arranged to collect it from Cathy Futterman’s (an ex-girlfriend’s) sister, who was in Israel for medical treatment.  I had deliberately restricted the amount requested, as I felt I still needed to push the envelope with God, needing to come to grips with many textual references dealing with His assured provision.

The morning before I visited the Finn and Swede, I added up the remaining balance (after having incurred travelling expenditure and other costs) and clipped it into two sets of $400.00 notes, saying to myself, “After I having paid the amount owed the Sisters of the Rosary, this is all I have to live on.”  Thinking, “I have to be careful how I spend it.  It will have to take care of a roof over my head somewhere and all my other needs.”  (How dumb can one be and how false this sense of security?  This, clearly, also was not going to last long, merely delaying the inevitable.)

So here we were now praying for someone else’s financial needs.  She felt it needed to be resolved that same day.  The Finn advised her on something, I felt led to tell her not worry about it being resolved that day specifically, and said so.  She felt the same and so, agreeing, we set off for the kitchen for a cup of coffee.

As we stood in conversation, with my hands tucked into my Levi’s (my right hand clutching the two bundles of notes), I suddenly heard Him saying to me, saying, “Give her the money.”  I was dumbfounded.  I have lived without cash for a while and I had just received the amount I was ‘hanging’ onto.  Since collecting it, I had not even bought a cold drink and now I was being told to give it all away.

I immediately excused myself, made a u-turn and walked out of the tiny kitchen, turned left into the passage and then right into the Swede’s bedroom and, via it, walked out onto the balcony (it was the only way I could get there) and looked out over the houses lining the beautiful slopes of Rehavia.

“How much do you want me to leave Lord,” I asked.  “You made two plies of notes this morning, didn’t you?”  He said.  (Somehow, it surprised me that He had noticed, as if He was not omnipresent.)  “Yes Lord,” I answered.  “Leave the one pile here and pay your rent with the other,” He said.  “I would be penniless, yet again,” I thought and made another u-turn, heading back through the bedroom towards the kitchen, wondering where I should “leave” the money.

I noticed a phone on Ingrid’s bedside table and tucked the one pile of notes under it.  It barely stuck out but was sufficiently visible to be noticed and walked into the kitchen.

“I’ve got to leave,” I said.  “I owe the Sisters of the Rosary rent and I am going to pay them right away.”  The Finn decided to accompany me and so we set off together.

That, as far as I was concerned, settled the issue.

Months later, however, I again visited my sisters-in-the-Lord in Rehavia.  The Swede wanted to know if I had left the $ 400.00 under the phone.  I tried skirting the issue.  “No, it is important,” she countered, “I want to tell the person who left the money what had happened.”  Curious, I acknowledged giving them the cash.

She told me they provided accommodation to our Jewish sister-in-the-Lord (whom I had met staying in the Old City of Jerusalem).  Attempting arranging a money transfer from South Africa, she ran up an enormous unpaid phone bill of $ 400.00 (and a few cents), which my sisters-in-the-Lord were unable to settle.  They themselves trusted God completely for their financial needs.  In fact, their entire apartment, everything in it (furniture, cutlery, crockery and linen, and everything else in it, in addition to their daily sustenance) He had divinely provided and continued doing so.  In receipt of the much-needed cash, they searched through their clothing (of all things) for the small change needed to settle the full account with the telephone company and found the exact amount needed.

This is so like our God.  He settles issues to the “T” (probably a South African saying, meaning precisely).  I have experienced His exacting provision on countless occasions since.  I suspect He does so leaving no doubt in the mind of the recipient whatsoever that it is His provision, in the manner He deemed best.

For a variety of reasons (apart from having to resolve my own issues), I desperately wanted to hear His wonderful voice.  The feedback from my sister-in-the-Lord was very encouraging.  It was very pleasing to learn I had heard Him correctly—even if it seemed to be to my own detriment, which of course it was not.[8]  If I had it, and was asked by Him to do so, I would have left them a million dollars.

Learning to hear His voice and obeying Him is extremely important.  If one is raised up to function as a prophet in His kingdom, to the body of Christ (or to whomever He wishes to speak), this is, for example, exactly the sort of thing situation one will be exposed to in Him.

Unbeknown to me at the time, all of it served as a wonderful learning curve, not only of Scriptural realities, but also in the ways of our God.  All of it eventually leading to me becoming more proficient in my function and role in the temple of our God—where He reigns supremely—embarking on the road to the fulfilment of my own preordained role in the body of Christ.

The ways of our God are truly beyond searching out.

If one is to encounter the living God, one has to die to self.  One has to find life in His Being and on His terms.  Unless one does so, one will never come to grips with the reality of Scripture and who He truly is—the Source of all the issues of life flowing from His Person.

You also will encounter the living God as you seek His face at the exclusion of all else—and may He richly bless you as you do so!

[1] On occasion, I have Christians who disagree with me theologically, brush it off with comments, such as, “It is all right.  I do not hold it against you,” but in reality they do.  This approach is not only a cop-out but contradicts what Scripture clearly teaches. We are called to be of the same mind according to according to 1 Corinthians 1.10; 2 Corinthians 13.11; Philippians  1.27, 3.16, 4.2; 1 Pe 4.1, etc..
[2] A remarkable servant of God, who had earned a doctorate in Cost and Management Accounting, who, at one point, was responsible for the tertiary educational funding needs of the State of Florida.  Apparently, this involved liaising with Washington Senators, etc.  The Lord has appeared to him, handing him seven scrolls, unsealing the first, on which were written what had been assigned to his life.  At the time I met him, he was systematically working out what had been written on this scroll in God’s time and way.
[3] This was in the early 90s before the internet was the primary means of international correspondence.
[4]For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them,” with “If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. 2 Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth. 3 For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.”[4]

[5]The New King James Version . 1996, c1982 (electronic ed.) (Mt 6:24). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.
[6]The New King James Version . 1996, c1982 (electronic ed.) (2 Co 5:15). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.
[7]And we know that in all things God works for the good [even if it does not seem so] of those who [1] love him, who [2] have been called according to his purpose.”[7] (Annotation and emphasis mine.)   To many Jesus’ death, for example, solved their self-serving agenda’s.  To other’s it seemed a total disaster.  Personally, privately, He was publicly working out His own destiny in God, reconciling the world to Himself through His obedient and glorious Servant.

[8] Romans 8.28 says, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.[8]