Monthly Archives: April 2017

Grace breaks the chains (by Gert Botha)

I don’t know where to start cause there’s so much that’s happened during my journey and in reality, I don’t actually want to talk about myself, I’d rather talk about elephants and addicts, so I guess its sufficient to say: I was born some time ago, a cute blue eyed bouncing baby with rosy cheeks and curly blonde hair. Hard to believe it but, I’ve got a photo to prove it, of course its yellow from age

My parents called me GERT PIETER. Can u imagine that? This cute little baby. I once asked my mother, “HOW COULD YOU DO IT?” I learnt that it was a family name; my Oupa had it, and his dad had it. Tradition? Don’t rock the boat. That’s how it always has been, no need to change it. It’s safe to stick to what you’ve done in the past.

That’s enough about me, OK! Now about elephants and addicts …

When I wore the clothes of a younger man I worked in the Wankie National Game Park (Zimbabwe), and saw animals do amazing and strange things. One of those incidents reminds me of how ‘once free’ creatures can be held prisoner in captivity, even by imaginary chains. One day we heard a call on our walkie talkie (a two way radio – there were no mobile phones in those days – can you imagine that?) that a rogue elephant had to be culled because he had gone on a rampage and destroyed a number of huts in the area, but fortunately no one was injured. Of course this was something exciting to see so we packed up our tools and took off in the Land Rover to witness the event. We arrive at the camp where the damage had been done and saw, to our amazement, a huge tree that the elephant had partially uprooted and pulled across the railway line, so we proceeded to help the game ranger to pull the tree off with the Land Rover, but without success. We radioed to the station to send an engine to do the job and some hours later the tree was removed. We proceeded to track the elephant, at a respectable distance behind the game ranger, and saw the bull elephant that only had one tusk and was well known to the locals as a mean old guy. The game ranger went down on one knee, took aim at the charging elephant, let off a shot and dropped the animal a few metres in front of him. The hole where his tusk once was burst open expelling a pile of maggots and the game ranger explained that the elephant went rogue because of the excruciating pain. We were amazed at the incredible power of the “old” elephant that pulled down a tree which we couldn’t move with a Land Rover and gained a new respect for free animals in the wild.

In contrast: Elephant trainers in a circus attach a chain which is a few metres long to one leg of a young elephant and peg the other end into the ground, and in time the animal realises that it can’t wander too far from the peg in the ground. When the elephant is older, the chain is removed but the peg is still driven into the ground so it won’t go further from the peg than the length of the ‘imaginary chain’. Like the elephant, we are inclined to follow the same patterns: it’s safe in the comfort zone, even if it holds you back; it’s safe to stick to what you’ve done in the past. The unknown is scary and threatening. It’s dangerous to challenge authority, our culture and programming. At every town where the circus performs, the trainer drives a stake into the ground and the elephant is controlled and stays in that space. The elephant has to be rehabilitated before he can really break free from that bondage, and that can take a life time, patience and care (unless a miracle happens).

Even when the prison gates are opened and we are set free, the invisible chains of religion and legalism won’t let us go beyond a certain comfortable or even painful point. It’s safe to stick to what you’ve done in the past.

When I first met Jesus, it was a gentle deep encounter and my introduction was beautiful. I joined a congregation and did all the churchy things. It was good and I learnt commitment, obedience and servanthood. That was all part of my journey. For many years we were flowing in the river of life and it was wonderful, and we were contented, and safe. But then one day, and suddenly, a side stream flowed into the river from behind us and it became a powerful force to the extent that we felt threatened and had to decide to either allow the rising water to take us out of our comfort zone and engulf us, or get out up on to the river bank where it’s safe, to avoid the flood. This was the beginning of the end; the end of life as I knew it; the end of yesterday; the death of my past.

This was the grace message. Was I ready for it? Did it make sense? Could I understand it? Could I get my head around it? Was my heart able to receive it? No, no, no, no and no. Up until this time, the message of the cross had always been the ‘Show Stopper’; the core of my belief. Nothing has changed since the flood but I have had a paradigm shift in my spirit, and sometimes my head and heart have to catch up. Life is a journey, which is inevitable, and the only sure thing that is constant is change, and it’s the thing we often resist the most for whatever reason. We fear the unknown. We feel safe in our comfort zone, even if it’s not that comfortable. And the big one, the fear of man’s opinion, and rejection if we admit that we were wrong. Especially so if it’s been like that for a lifetime, and for most of us these fears are giants in our lives. Now, since the flood, many of these fears have become secondary considerations for me, although sometimes they still raise their ugly heads.

There’s always been head knowledge, and even a heart acknowledgement, of what Jesus did on the cross at Calvary to save the world. He died for me; that’s true. Suffered and took the punishment for me. Looking back now, I realise that deep down inside my spirit, I actually felt guilty and even responsible for His death 2000 years ago, and felt that I had to do stuff to make up for it. It was the same feeling that we got when our parents said things like, “Is that the thanks I get after all I’ve done for you”.

So what has changed?

Pre-flood I knew that Jesus suffered and died a horrific death to set me free, but the reason why he was prepared to do that has deeply impacted my spirit since the flood. It’s moved from head and heart to spirit. He died for me because He loves me, and I don’t even have to say the word unconditionally, because that’s what real love is. I know I’ve heard this 1000 times before, but since the flood, my spirit leaps up every time I say or think it as if it’s the first time I’ve heard it. I can’t explain it.

Grace has enabled me to be at peace with myself and others (most of the time). The chains have been broken and I am free, although some stakes in the ground still exist, and like the elephant, I’m on the journey of rehabilitation. The end of yesterday has begun.

Then there’s the addict …

In the churchy world of rules and religion, it’s OK if an alcoholic belongs to another church, or if he or she is the unconverted spouse of a member of the congregation. We will pray for deliverance; doesn’t he know that his body is a temple? It’s a sin, and somewhere it is written that thou shalt not, etc. But if it’s a church member who has an addiction of any sort, the guilt and shame associated with not being perfect and having feet of clay is overwhelming and so it’s kept under wraps, behind closed doors. The fear of exposure and condemnation from fellow Christians is sometimes too much to bear, so the sinner leaves the church and no one knows why and he is labelled a back slider. He goes to AA for help, knowing full well that only 14% of addicts who try to quit actually make it, and he introduces himself to the group nervous and embarrassed. He stands up and says, “Hello, my name is Joe, and I’m an alcoholic”, and then slinks back to his seat and sits down.

Then there’s the addict that has had a paradigm shift in his spirit and no longer fears man’s opinions, because the grace of God and the amazing unconditional love of the king has set him free. He doesn’t feel unclean and condemned anymore. He has received in his spirit the fact that his worth is not determined by the value that others place on him or his past, but by the king’s value of him. He goes to AA and stands up to introduce himself, and says, “Hello, my name is Joe, I am an amazing artist and I can’t keep up with the demand for my work. I have two beautiful children and a wonderful wife who I care for and who love me intensely. I am always busy with DIY around the house, I love gardening, and I’m an alcoholic”, and then he crosses the room and shakes hands with everyone in the group. So what’s the difference. He still has an addiction but the chains of condemnation and the fear of man have been broken, and he knows that he is loved and forgiven, because Jesus says so.

In a word, it’s Grace, Grace, Amazing Grace! The idea that grace allows you to do anything is an attempt by the enemy to deceive us again. Don’t fall for it. Pre-grace, what happened in public was important, and what took place behind closed doors stayed behind closed doors. Since Grace, what happens when no one is watching does count, and that’s freedom.

So what have I been set free from? Here are a few things. For me, this is freedom. People who used to bug me appear different and I find myself wanting to hug them (crazy), so if I hug you then you know. Car guards used to bug me. No, I don’t hug them, but now I give silver, not brass . That’s freedom. Waiters tip? They need it more than me now. That’s freedom. ESKOM? Remembering that others have no electricity; that’s freedom. Apologise when wrong; keep quiet when right. That’s freedom. Surrender the TV remote. Now that’s freedom!

Some time after the flood, I wrote this note: “Free at Last, thank God, I’m free at last”. Way back in the day, I recall that one of the songs we sang in was, “My soul escaped, like a bird, out of the snare of the fowler”. At the time, to me it meant that I had escaped from the power and influence of sin and temptation in my life, and indeed this was true to a point. However, it wasn’t complete freedom because unbeknownst to me, although the snare had been broken, I was unable to escape and run free. There were still chains that prevented me from moving too far from that which had kept me bound, not unlike house arrest. My journey as a Christian had begun, I was told, and I was now able to “earn” my crown in heaven, and everything would be fine. I just had to follow the rules that God had made, and if I failed I could repent and go on. If I tithed 10%, He would multiply it, and if I attended church and looked holy, this was all to my benefit. My status in heaven would be enhanced. Terms like “bless you brother”, “hallelujah” and “praise the Lord” were special holy code words to gain acceptance from fellow Christians. The leaders of the church were my heroes, and I followed them faithfully, and defended them when non-members challenged their teachings.

I recall those 3 and 4 hour sessions on Sundays where we sat glued to our chairs learning under our guru. Then there were the 4.30 am prayer meetings for the men and the 30 day fasts, and I genuinely believed that these rituals were requirements to really be accepted by God. If one couldn’t reach those heights, you needed to work harder, and the guilt would creep in if you didn’t. My conscience was driven by performance and reward for achievement. In hindsight, this was all good character building and I learnt commitment, servanthood, obedience and faithfulness. These leaders were pivotal in my growth and they set the foundations on which to build, and I am forever grateful for them and their input. But something has happened. Because of grace my spirit has had a revelation, which, quite honestly, my head doesn’t always grasp. The most effective enemy is the one you can’t see, or the one you think doesn’t exist. That’s why we use camouflage in war. The enemy has deceived the church through religion and legalism for centuries, and at last the snare is indeed broken and I am truly escaped. Now, because of grace, I can recognise these in my life.

There is absolutely nothing I can do to earn my way in to heaven. I would love to be able to obey all the Ten Commandments all the time if that’s what’s required to get me there, but temptation will always be around. I know, you know, and He knows, that its impossible for me, and that’s why the only way is by His grace. Because of grace, my conscience has been reborn, so to speak, and I have become so sensitive to the truth of His unconditional love. This has me in a place where I don’t want to offend Him, and even ‘small sins’ like road rage raise a check in me immediately. I end up apologizing in the middle of the rage.

In the same vein, those dedicated men and woman who gave their all in establishing and laying down solid foundations in my life, I love and honour you. Thank God that you were obedient and willing to impart that which He had given you, which was right for that season. Now, please don’t take offence, but since the flood, He has reminded me that He is a jealous God, and that He is the only hero in my life. I’m sorry guys, you have been relieved of the title of hero, because I only have one hero to worship: King Jesus. and no other.

As for the 10% tithe, there was always the inner debate as to whether it’s before tax or not. Oh, what religious garbage that was. You can’t out give God so let’s stop the non-sense. Of course there always had to be the multiplication sermon on tithe day, just to rub in the law a little bit more. Well, now I find that giving has become a joy, and I find myself just increasing the ‘legal’ amount, just because.

HE BREAKS EVERY CHAIN! Fear, anger, unforgiveness, prejudices, negativity, addictions, religion, legalism.

Grace.

Free!

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