Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author, and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:1&2, NKJV)
The Zionists of Southern Africa have a zeal, for God who most of them do not know. They praise God who seems far away, and fear ancestors that feel much closer. Easter will soon be upon us. This is the Zionists’ high holiday. Twenty-six years ago our ministry began with cold call beach encounters where we witnessed multiple immersion baptisms to cast out demons and known by the locals to occasionally result in drownings. Today we are privileged to participate in equipping Zionist Christians with Bible truths that equip them to reach into their communities with the Gospel. ZEMA has a growing radio ministry, annual conferences, and individuals who meet regularly to support and study God’s Word together. There are 87 ZEBS schools with 87 teachers, 61 of whom are African co-workers. Through these schools 2400 students hear, share, and grow as they study God’s Word together. As Zionists have begun to focus on Jesus, their zeal is directed toward God, their creator, who knows them intimately, loves them, and has revealed Himself through His Word.
Following our last TIDBITS, we received notes of encouragement from many. Thank you. What we can say is that our discouraging circumstances aren’t much different from yours: conflict in communities, families, marriages, health, and financial challenges. Each of us harbors longings for some type of change. Socially, politically, and spiritually something is missing. Before His death, Jesus said it quite simply, I thirst. Globally, unrest affects us. Deeply. We desire the ideals of Eden before hell broke loose.
Without confidence that God has a bigger plan and can identify with the intimate realities of ill health, family struggle, social unrest, injustice, and poverty, some have given up. Others cling to the hope they have in God, who at the moment feels very far away. Echoing Jesus’ words we wonder, My God, My God, why…? Greg and I sing out as the Psalmist: Lord, restore in [us] the joy of your salvation, and grant us a willing spirit to sustain [us]! (51:12 NIV)
Longing keeps joy at bay. We yearn for feelings of goodness, belonging and worth to well up from within and be contagiously evident. Recently we’ve found ourselves repeatedly contemplating Ezra’s words: The joy of the Lord is my strength (Nehemiah 8:10). Where is joy? I feel weak. When I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:10) Really?
Ezra spoke these words because Israel’s situation was dire; there was no joy welling up. Ezra focused on hope and urged his people to do the same. Similarly to how Jesus would one day respond to feelings of helpless devastation, Ezra encouraged his people to look beyond present circumstances to God’s promise of joy in their future.
Daily Greg and I remember that Jesus, “for the joy set before Him, endured…” Even for Jesus, joy did not well up from inside. Instead, joy lay before Him in the hope and certainty that God is powerful and able to carry out His plan. Compelled by this confidence, Jesus continued to identify with humankind to profound levels of human interaction. Identifying with the broken plight of humanity, He put one foot in front of the other, all the way to the cross.
However weak we feel, “The faithful love of the Lord never ends, and His mercies never cease. Great is His faithfulness!” Among the Zionists, churches are growing. Even while lives and communities are being exposed in intimate realities that are often broken, hope is what we have to hold onto. There is joy before us in the rightness of walking a difficult road with others. Knowing we aren’t alone, and there is something better in the journey ahead, we say “The Lord is [our] inheritance; therefore we will wait for Him!” (Lamentations 3:22-23)
Family, friends, ministry, and God’s power displayed in every beautiful detail of creation: each testifies to our Creator’s goodness and attention to the minute details that ultimately bring us joy. Hope remains because, in these, we get a glimpse of what has already been accomplished, the miraculous restoration of the Kingdom of God, at the cross.
Let the heavens rejoice and the earth be glad; let the sea resound, and all that is in it. Let the fields be jubilant, and everything in them; let all the trees of the forest sing for joy. Let all creation rejoice before the Lord, for He comes, He comes to judge the earth. He will judge the world in righteousness and the peoples in His faithfulness. Psalm 96:11-13
Photos in this series of posts are taken from a gratitude journal Carlene has collected over our years in South Africa.