Introduction Albu van Eeden
We would like to welcome everyone. I recently listened to a message by Reverend Erlo Stegen where he said that we need to expose ourselves to God’s word so that His light can shine on our lives. We must walk in God’s light. That light will test my words of last week and it will give me light for the week ahead.
Fezile Saghile will give his testimony before this morning’s message. A testimony is God’s word as a person has experienced it working in his life. A testimony can be compared to the seed of a camel thorn tree. If it falls on the ground, it will not germinate. It needs to be eaten by a cow and travel through the stomach and the digestive juices of the cow which remove the hard shell around the seed. When it comes out with the dung of the cow and falls onto the ground, it will germinate and grow. So too, God’s word must go through our system. We need to wrestle with it, spend time with it and learn how to apply it in our particular situations. After a person has done this, there is life in God’s word. It is easy to understand. It speaks to us because we are faced with the same challenges and it has life in it.
Testimony of Fezile Saghile of CYPSA
Good morning. My name is Fezile Saghile. I am originally from Bizana in the Eastern Cape but I grew up in Durban. I do not deserve to stand in front of you because I am the worst sinner of all. I began my schooling in Bizana but continued at Pinetown Boys. I had no academic difficulties. I excelled. In matric I did very well. I began studying at Actuarial Science at UKZN where for the first time I was completely independent. We held regular parties at the end of each month where I drank. I thought it was nothing serious because after all, we are young people and we need to live it up sometimes. I experienced no academic problems and things were going fine. Towards the end of my 2nd year I was given the opportunity to study medicine in Cuba. Cuba is a Communist country and I had to deal with homesickness so I started drinking. This did not affect my studies and I continued to excel. I was given the responsibility for communication between the South African embassy and the Cuban authorities. With these added responsibilities, my character started to change. I became arrogant and unruly, and rude towards my parents. Although I was not living with them, my attitude towards them told them they were speaking to someone else because I thought I was the next thing happening on planet earth. There were South African students there from different provinces with cultural differences which resulted infighting. Leadership had to decide how to proceed. We invited the Minister of Health, Dr Motsaledi, to address us but that did not yield positive results. We felt there was a need for each province to send a delegate to explain to us how to live together in peace. CONTRALESA agreed to meet with us, talk and motivate us to continue studying.
Most of us were independent for the first time and although we were fairly young, we thought we knew it all. The partying and boozing continued. As leadership we decided that we could not have a talk on cultural issues only but we had to have an after-party after the main event. During that party because we were drunk, two of my best friends drowned. From that time I had no peace. I blamed myself and I still do so for making such a decision. Due to the depression I suffered, I began using alcohol excessively. The Cuban authorities recommended that I see a psychologist. This did not work because I was arrogant. I contested everything the psychologist said. I was then advised to see a psychiatrist. It failed too. I suggested that I join an AA group but that did not work. I only attended for 2 weeks. I continued drinking and began making mistakes while under the influence.
The Cuban authorities decided to send me back to South Africa to get help after which I could return. Back in South Africa my drinking worsened. The minister in the province allowed me to assist in one of the Durban hospitals while I was waiting to recover but I came to work drunk. I was charged with insubordination and things went from bad to worse. The Department of Health took a decision to suspend me, saying that if people saw me in this state the department’s name would be dragged through the mud.
A friend of mine advised me I must come to KwaSizabantu where I would get help. I agreed because the Cubans had said I should sort my life out and then I would be allowed to return. I was under the impression I would get a letter saying that I was in a rehab and that it was going well.
I am sure that those in the CYPSA office would say that I was one of the most rebellious and stubborn men in the programme. I did not see how counselling could help me. A certified counsellor could not help me, how much less someone who was not? One day I thought I would just try counselling. I went, not with the intention of confessing my sin, but just to know what this counsellor said that was different to the rest of them. I found out that it was indeed different. She gave me a chance to speak. She neither pressurised nor judged me. I was the one who voluntarily went to see her after that.
I am sharing this story because I am very grateful for what the mission, Reverend Stegen and the co-workers are doing for us, the young men of this country. If two countries fail to assist you, what would you think of yourself? The mission helped me. I am very grateful for what they are doing for us. Parents, when your children go to tertiary institutions, it is the beginning of a war. You need to pray for them more than you have ever prayed for them before. Universities are perceived as incubators of knowledge but they can make or destroy. I am very grateful and thankful for the opportunity.
I would like to greet everyone this morning. Please bear with my weaknesses: Firstly, I speak very slowly, and secondly, I am rather monotone. I pray that by God’s grace you will neither hear nor be distracted by any of this but that through His Spirit He may speak to your heart about what is on His heart.
Please forgive me also for being an opportunist. When this brother spoke I recall that he had given his testimony a few weeks ago. Possibly you asked in your heart, why him again? We’ve heard his testimony already. Is it about you or is it about what God has on His heart for whoever is out there and whoever He wants to reach? Maybe there is one person who has an alcohol problem who needed to hear this testimony this morning for the sake of his eternity. It would have been more blessed had you said, “Lord, speak to me. What did I miss the last time? What do you want to say to me? May I hear it today.” It depends on your present state of heart and what you are seeking from the Lord?
I enjoyed Dr van Eeden’s illustration of the camel thorn tree seed which cannot germinate unless it has gone through a very intense and vigorous process. The Bible says that unless a seed falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone but if it dies, it grows and bears much fruit. Compare yourself to that seed. Some of us may be like sugar bean seeds. They can be placed between two layers of cotton wool, watered and they sprout. The Lord has patience with the camel thorn tree seeds that we are. Even if we drop to the ground, we just lie there because of the hardness of our hearts. The Lord needs to move us through the gut of a cow to get rid of that hardness in order to bear fruit to His glory.
My topic for this morning: the Lord, His child and His desert. The deserts that God creates where He places His child in that school, in that university, or in that cow’s stomach.
There are two aspects of God’s speaking that we need to remember as we hear what He has to say to us.
Firstly, in the early church, Ananias and Sapphira, lost their fear and reverence of God. They thought they could live a lie and lie to God. God judged that sin in the church in a way that the whole church was aware of it. Did the church develop an attitude of “We are better than them? We did not do what they did? We will never do what they did?” No, but a great fear seized the church and God’s work grew. What is the state of heart this morning as you have come to hear what God wants to say? Have you come in fear and trembling, saying Lord, “If this is how You work in your church, please speak to me. If this is how jealous You are over your church, if this is how you purify your church and deal with sin, Lord have mercy on me and speak to me.”
Secondly, throughout the Bible we find the Lord speaking through parables that were relevant to the problem He was addressing. When there was a group self-righteous and self-confident Pharisees, He told them the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector who prayed at the temple. His parables are relevant to a problem which needs to be addressed in the church. The Lord spoke in parables. He did not speak directly because the Lord wants us to be utterly dependent on His grace that He will reveal to us what He is trying to tell us.
When the disciples asked Him why He spoke to the people in parables, He said to them that the knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of Heaven had been given to the disciples but not to the people. In the Lord’s school, in His desert, when He speaks to us, He reserves the right whether you will understand what He is saying or whether you will discard it. He will not speak in a straightforward way to your mind as we like to think with our carnal minds but He will speak in a parable and it will depend on your state of heart whether you will hear what He is saying or not. If you do not hear and understand you cannot blame anybody.
For I do not want you to be unaware, brothers,[a] that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, 2 and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, 3 and all ate the same spiritual food, 4 and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ. 5 Nevertheless, with most of them God was not pleased, for they were overthrown[b] in the wilderness. 6 Now these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did. 7 Do not be idolaters as some of them were; as it is written, “The people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play.” 8 We must not indulge in sexual immorality as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in a single day. 9 We must not put Christ[c] to the test, as some of them did and were destroyed by serpents, 10 nor grumble, as some of them did and were destroyed by the Destroyer. 11 Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come. 12 Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.
1 Corinthians 10:1 – 12
The Lord speaking to us through His word. It may sound straightforward to you but it could be a parable where you will only really hear what the Lord is saying if He reveals it to you.
As I mentioned, when the disciples asked the Lord, He explained and then continued to say, “These people will be ever hearing but never understanding. They will be ever seeing but never perceiving, for these people’s hearts have become calloused.” Matthew 13:14 The Lord can speak to me through a parable but because of a hard, calloused heart, I do not hear what He is saying. That is why you have to ask yourself, “Lord, what is the state of my heart this morning? Am I before You in fear and trembling? Where I do not see or hear man but it is just between You and me.” If He has spoken through parables 2000 years ago and throughout the Old Testament, will He not still speak in parables today? In this text, you may think it is speaking to so-and-so, there is nothing in my life that this pertains to, end of story or can you say, “Lord, unless You reveal what You are trying to say to me personally today, I am lost.” Ask yourself whether the Lord spoken to you through a parable lately? Have you heard the message? Throughout His life it was a trademark of His teaching. Possibly the Lord has spoken a lot to you but it has all be straightforward, made perfect sense and no revelation was needed. Then it is questionable whether it really was the Lord who spoke to you, if it is in His character to speak through parables. Was it possibly your own human, carnal mind and your own calloused heart that spoke to you?
After relating other people’s sins and the judgement that came upon them, the text ends with 12 Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall. If circumstances speak to you, if you look around you and see things that have happened to other people, it is a warning. 6 Now these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did. 11 Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come. You cannot stand like the Pharisee and say, “Lord, thank you that I am not like so-and-so.” But as the early church was filled with fear and reverence after Ananias and Sapphira were judged, we should have that same fear and trembling before the Lord.
When I was a schoolchild, I remember a phrase Reverend Stegen repeatedly used: we are walking on white bones, referring to people who have gone ahead of us on this road but perished along the way. In the same way in this text, the people walked in the desert and perished. They ate the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual drink but with most of them God was not well-pleased for their bodies were scattered in the wilderness. They people who were led by Moses but they failed and fell into sin in the desert when the Lord tested them. You can take more recent examples of people you know – it is up to you how the Lord can speak and warn you. Referring to other people’s failures in the past and God’s judgement on them, is not with the attitude of being better than them but with fear and trembling before the Lord.
At a funeral one often hears the preacher relate about the life of the deceased but at some point the message is directed to the listeners. The deceased has run the race and now it is you and me. What are you are going to do and how you are going to live your life? Regardless of whether the deceased lived a good or bad life, it is in the past. What is important now, is the life you are living?
Today’s challenge is for myself and for you. Ask yourself whether you have understood the Lord’s parable. If the parable depicts a desert, have you understood the parable? If the parable depicts a stormy sea where you feel you are about to perish, have you seen the Lord Jesus walking on that stormy sea? Have you understood the parable that He told? Maybe you never realised that God was speaking through a parable. You only saw man. You only heard man. It is a frightening thing to realise how easily you can miss God’s working and speaking and just see man.
The Lord Jesus walked on this earth. He did miracles. He told parables. Many people were blessed and accepted Him. Then He reached His home town where He preached and did miracles but despite His working, despite His supernatural power, His family said, “But isn’t this the carpenter’s son?” And they were offended by Him. They took offense at Him. They did not understand the parable because their hearts were hardened. Brethren, there is nothing that hardens our hearts like sin.
Today’s text is a piece of the history of the Israelites in the desert. But this was not an accident. It was not a mistake. It was not a misjudgement by Moses. The Lord saw their hearts and He realised that He could not take this nation into Canaan, with their hearts in the state they were in. The Lord gave them an easy solution, a quick road to Canaan. But when they got to the border of Canaan and they had to enter and take possession of the land, they failed the test completely. Moses had had his 40 years in the desert, he knew God’s ways but this nation had just recently left Egypt. They had not been through God’s school in the desert. When Joshua and Caleb stood by Moses and said, “Let us enter, the Lord is with us, we will conquer.” The people grumbled. They grumbled against Moses. They wanted to stone them. The Lord said, “Moses, I am going to destroy these people.” Moses pleaded for them and the Lord heard his plea. He said, “Turn around and go into the desert.” The Lord led them there for 40 years for various reasons. The one, to humble them and the other, to test them and to know what was in their hearts. In the desert the Lord humbles us. He tests us to see whether we have a hard, unbelieving heart, or a soft, God-fearing heart. In the desert we have a choice. We may either humble ourselves under God’s mighty hand, fear God and show reverence for Him and for those, like Moses, whom He sends to lead us through that desert or we may be like many of them – the condition of their hearts were revealed because the Lord wanted to know what was in their hearts.
Friends, you can be the best hypocrite that ever lived but when God takes you by the scruff of the neck and puts you into His desert, the true state of your heart will be revealed. There the idolaters will be revealed. There the sexually immoral will be revealed. There those who tempt Christ will be revealed. There those who complain and grumble and against His anointed will be revealed.
I wonder what the Lord has revealed to you about yourself in the desert that He has placed you in. The Lord can easily create a desert around you. It can be a long-term or a short term desert but it will reveal what is in your heart. Will you humble myself? Will you repent? Will you rebel and grumble against the Lord? It can become extremely uncomfortable in the desert. There were times the Israelites thought they would die of hunger and thirst. It can be extremely humiliating. It may be that the Lord arranges circumstances around you so that you sorely lack material things. The Lord often uses the people to create a desert school for us. When the Lord realises there is pride, self-assurance and self-righteousness in your life, He sends somebody along who misunderstands you and falsely accuses you. He can lead other people to make decisions and set things in motion that affect you. How do you react? Can you hear God’s voice? Can you understand the parable that the Lord is telling you? Can you understand and accept it when He chastises and rebukes you? Remember, He may be speaking through a parable that is not straightforward and easy to understand unless He reveals it to you. I do not know what desert you have experienced of late. Has it left you confused, down in the dumps, disillusioned or have you heard the Shepherd’s voice calling you? Have you heard Him say, “It is I, follow Me! I know the road that we need to take, I am with you, I will lead you, all you need to do is follow Me.”
Finally, in reference to the people like Moses and Elijah that the Lord uses as His instruments. When the Israelites sinned against the Lord and worshipped Baal under King Ahab, the Lord sent Elijah, His prophet and told him to pray that God would close the heavens and that there would be no rain. For three and a half years there was no rain in Israel. It was Elijah’s fault, humanly speaking, but he did it in obedience to God. It was all part of God’s plan. God needed to take His nation, His people into a desert in order to preserve them. There He would prune all the faithless and untrue branches. He would soften the people to a point where He could speak to them and they would understand and hear Him because their hearts had become calloused. Elijah shared in that drought and famine. He also had to sit at the brook and be fed by ravens. He also felt the thirst and the hunger. But the Lord could not break the drought until that desert experience had reached that point on Mount Carmel where the Lord could deal with that sin. When the Lord had dealt with the sin, Elijah could pray again for rain. Elijah was not lying on a couch in some palace, drinking wine and eating fine food while the nation was suffering.
Moses had been through 40 years in the desert all alone. He went through that hardship, that school, all alone. He humbled himself and became obedient. Then the Lord said, “Moses, I have taught you, now I need you to go to that obstinate nation in Egypt and lead them out to the Promised Land.” Moses did not sit in a fine house in Canaan and send e-mails and directions, “Go there. I am waiting for you.” He did not say, “I have been there. I have done that. Don’t worry you will also survive. I survived. Just persevere, I am waiting for you.” The Lord said to Moses, “You walk with them. That same 40 years that you have already walked, you will walk with them again.” Was it because Elijah had sinned that he had to experience the drought? Was it because Moses had sinned against the Lord that he needed to spend another 40 years in the desert? No, it was because the Lord had sent him. The Lord had shaped him into a shepherd who was willing to lay down his life for the sheep. When the people grumbled, who did they grumble against? When they were thirsty all of a sudden, whose fault was it? When they were hungry, when it was hot and tough, all of a sudden it was all Moses’s fault. The Lord said, “I have brought you into this desert because I want to reveal what is in your heart.”
10 …nor grumble, as some of them did and were destroyed by the Destroyer. 11 Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction… When they grumbled and complained and the Lord became angry with them, He said, “Moses, My intention is to destroy them.” Moses pleaded for these people and said, “Lord, please don’t.” I don’t know whether you have understood the Lord’s parable that He has spoken. I am not going to expound on that because it is between you and the Lord whether you will understand or not. You have men like Moses who groan in spirit day and night, who wrestle with God and man, to pull us through, to present us to the Lord as a faithful people, to pull us through this desert school. They feel the same pressure, they feel the same pain, they feel the same discomfort, and in fact they feel it many times over because we grumble against them.
May the Lord grant each one of us grace. It is not about the one on my left or on my right or behind me. It is not about the ones whom we read about that died in the desert. It is not about anybody else. It is about myself and that the Lord will keep me faithful till the end, that He may remove any hardness, any callousness of heart and that I will hear His voice every day, even if He should speak through a parable. It is not about the next one anymore, it is about you.
Where are you today? Where are you going to be tomorrow? The one who stands, let him be careful lest he fall. If you stand today and somebody next to you falls, how is his fall going to keep you standing three years from now? It will help you nothing. The only help you can get from it is if you take it as a warning, take it to heart and hear the Lord speaking to you through that parable. Hold on to what the Lord has taught you till the very end.
Conclusion Albu van Eeden
Friends, brothers and sisters, I hope you did not miss the point. Did you grasp the gravity of what was said? When our brother began, he said that he hoped we would understand him even if he spoke slowly and in a monotone. It reminded me of the words of the Lord Jesus when he said, “What will make you happy? John the Baptist came and did not eat and drink and you said he had a demon. I came and I ate and drank and you say I am a glutton and a drunkard.” One moment the preacher shouts too much, the next moment he preaches in a monotone. The problem is that you a have a hard, critical heart.
Friends, this service may have been the final warning to someone in our midst. What are you going to do? The goal of all the events in the desert was that God could point out and deal with the sin in their hearts. Has God dealt with the sin in your heart? Forget about everything else. Forget about the presentation. Forget about the fact that you are here at KwaSizabantu. Has God been able to deal with the sin in your life?
It is a difficult thing God asks of you because your heart is already hard, which means you do not listen. You are already self-righteous, you already feel justified and God says that is exactly the sin that is going to take you to hell. It is that criticism. Did you grasp what was said? You come to the service every Sunday but you do not feel the finger of God in your life. Moses is there, he is with you in the desert, he feels the pain of the desert experience but you walk in and out and your life does not change. Has God dealt with the sin in your life – the lustful thoughts you had while you were sitting here? Your pride. The way you tag every person. If he walks in like this or that, I give him a tag. Today, so-and-so is the preacher, I give him a tag because he preaches in a particular manner. God cannot touch the sin in your life and bring you to repentance. You do not stay for counselling, you walk out. Nothing has happened. You walk all the way through the desert and when you come to the Promised Land, God will say you have failed, I am sending you back so that you can die in the desert. God sent them back, not to be punished, but until all of them had died in the desert. They were finally able to enter the Promised Land with a new generation because the old generation had become too stubborn and difficult to speak to. God wrote them off. (I say this with fear and trembling.) God said, “I will work with a new generation because the old generation is too stubborn and full of criticism for Me to work with.”
May God give us an ear to hear. These are critical times. They may be as critical as when Israel reached the Promised Land they were supposed to invade. They said it was a beautiful, wonderful country. They even brought back a cluster of grapes. But they saw the giants. God said, “Go back to the desert.” Be careful how you react, friends. Be careful how you react to God’s word. Make sure that God is able to deal with the sin in your life that He can work.