Thursday, December 31, 2009


Mzubanzi Bayeni, better known as Mzo, is a powerful example of God’s ability to save a life. Three years ago Mzo was a lost young man, drinking and fighting his way down a dead-end road. Then his Uncle Philip showed up and asked Mzo’s parents if he could take his nephew to Cape Town, where he served as pastor for Masiphumelele Baptist Church.

After much resistance, Mzo relented. Less than two weeks after his arrival in Cape Town, he had realized his need for God and committed his life to Jesus Christ. But the very next day, tragedy struck – Pastor Philip was gunned down in the church by the boyfriend of a young woman he had been counseling. Mzo cried out to God, “Why have you brought me here to see my uncle die?”

He wanted to return to his home in the Eastern Cape (about a day’s drive away), but Philip’s widow convinced him to stay, reasoning that he was the new head of her household. Later that year Mzo began volunteering with Living Hope, which eventually turned into a full-time job as a Life Skill Educator (LSE) in Red Hill. Today Mzo is the LSE team leader in Red Hill, as well as an influential leader in a startup church in Masi.

Working alongside Mzo in Red Hill, I am constantly inspired by his commitment and compassion. He so loves the people of this rural mountainside community that he is preparing to move there. Not content with just spending a couple of hours teaching kids each afternoon, he wants to be there full-time to share God’s love with all the residents. I’m amazed by this sacrifice – he is moving from a proper house with running water to an aluminum shack miles from town – but he doesn’t see it that way. To him it’s simply a means for him to tell people about this Jesus who has completely transformed his life.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The Meaning of Christmas

With Christmas upon us, it’s a good time to consider who Jesus really is – particularly in America, where our materialistic culture has clearly lost sight of what Christmas is about.

Some people agree with certain teachings of Christ, like loving your enemies and caring for the poor. Some say, “Jesus was a great moral teacher,” or “Jesus was a prophet.” Some just say, “It doesn't matter what you believe, as long as you believe.” And some say it's all a big fairy tale.

But here’s the thing: Christianity, as defined by its founder, is narrow-minded. Jesus Himself said He is the only way to God. As recorded in John’s eyewitness account, Jesus’ own words were, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John14:6). Man’s relationship with God – broken by sin – needed to mended, and God made it possible, sending His sinless son to take the punishment by being crucified on a cross.

Many charge that holding to such a position doesn't show love to people of other belief systems. But it's possible to respect others while not agreeing with their beliefs (as opposed to, say, radical Islam, whose followers want to eliminate all opposition). For Christians to say a contrary system is equally valid would not only defy their leader (and thus be hypocritical), it is actually unloving if what Jesus said is really true. Because I believe that it is, I am compelled by the love of God to share his message of salvation, in both word and deed. Remaining silent and letting friends, neighbors and relatives die and spend an eternity separated from God because I don't want to "offend" them with the truth – that’s not love at all.

“Well how do you know it’s true?” people ask. I know because the history books say Jesus was crucified, laid in a grave and three days later walked out of that grave. No other religious leader can make that claim. There are many gods and many dead spiritual leaders, but there’s only one living God. Jesus is either who He said He is – the son of God and Lord of everything, which He proved by conquering death – or He was a liar or a crazy man.

If either of the latter is the case, then none of His words are worth heeding. Even Paul, one of Christ's most passionate followers, said of his Lord, “If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. … If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men” (1 Corinthians 15:13-14, 19).

But the resurrection is recorded history. John described himself as “the disciple who testifies to these things and who wrote them down. We know that his testimony is true” (John 21:24). Matthew was another follower and eyewitness of Christ. Mark and Luke both wrote t heir accounts within a few decades of Jesus’ time on earth. Paul, who wrote 12 of the New Testament books, personally saw and heard from the resurrected Jesus. We don’t question other recorded historical events through the years, even though we weren’t there to see them ourselves; why should we doubt the resurrection?

Ultimately the issue comes down to a matter of faith: Do you or do you not believe that Jesus is the Son of God, was crucified for your sins, and was resurrected from the dead? For those who personally receive that free gift of salvation – by asking Christ to forgive them and be Lord of their lives – He promised eternal life on the other side of this temporary earthly existence.

For a lot of people who are reading this, I’m probably preaching to the choir. But if you’re not part of the choir and you want to celebrate the true meaning of Christmas – a relationship with Jesus Emmanuel, “God with us" – I encourage you to investigate and act on the claims of Christianity. For more information, check out

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Cape Town Christmas

One of Cape Town’s popular traditions is Carols by Candlelight, held at the Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens. Thousands attend the four-night series, which is sponsored by a major retailer, Pick-n-Pay (sort of the Wal-Mart of South Africa).

Each carol is preceded by a Scriptural reading, so that the entire Christmas story is presented, from the prophecies of Isaiah to the birth of Jesus. It’s an unashamedly Christian celebration – quite a contrast to the zeitgeist in America, where it’s becoming “offensive” even to wish someone a merry Christmas.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

A Tiger in Turmoil

The crumbling of Tiger Woods’ public image over the past few weeks has been a shock. But in hindsight, maybe all the lurid revelations shouldn’t have been such a surprise. As far back as 1997, Tiger revealed a mind in the gutter when GQ published obscene, sexist and racist jokes and comments that he claimed were meant to be off the record.

Of course, a few dirty jokes don’t automatically make someone an adulterer – but it does offer a peak into their heart. Jesus said “a tree is recognized by its fruit. … For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks. The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him” (Matthew 12:33-35).

Even as Tiger has displayed mastery of golf, his mouth has continued to indicate he is hardly a saint. Television microphones have repeatedly picked up Woods’ on-course F-bombs and use of God’s name in vain. I remember debating this issue a few years ago with a fellow golf writer when I worked in that business. I argued that, despite his dominance on the course and polished image off of it, I didn’t consider Tiger the best role model for kids, simply because he couldn’t control his tongue. As it turns out, a foul mouth is not the worst of his failings.

It’s interesting that Tiger is considered not only one of the most physically talented golfers of all time, but also one of the most intelligent. His decision making and mental control have always given him a huge advantage over other players. But clearly his wisdom has not extended to his private life. As King Solomon wrote, “A man who commits adultery lacks judgment; whoever does so destroys himself” (Proverbs 6:32).

What this whole scandal proves, for the umpteenth time, is that no matter how rich and powerful someone is, and no matter how invincible they think they are, they will always – always – be found out when they violate God’s moral law. And there will always be destructive consequences. Again, the words of Solomon prove true: “For the lips of an adulteress drip honey, and her speech is smoother than oil; but in the end she is bitter as gall, sharp as a double-edged sword” (Proverbs 5:3-4).

Think Tiger would agree with that?

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Tasty Treats

South Africans love to cook out. They call it a braai (rhymes with fry), and it’s an integral part of the culture. Living Hope’s staff Christmas party was held Friday and featured the lambs pictured here. A feast like this always reminds me: I’m so glad I’m not a vegetarian. My only complaint is that the braai tradition doesn’t include smoked pig. But, like most Southern-Americans, I know that proper pork barbecue can only be found in the South, anyway. So I’ll look forward to that on my next trip home. And in the meantime, I certainly won’t turn down any spit-roasted lamb or other seared flesh that’s offered to me.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Fun Times

Living Hope Christmas Party for Red Hill children, 7 December 2009

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Roaring View

Lion’s Head lies adjacent to Table Mountain and is a popular attraction for hikers during early evening in Cape Town. The reward for walking up the 2,195-foot peak is a sunset over the Atlantic Ocean while the city lights up for the night.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

School Daze

Prior to my time in South Africa, my only teaching experience was in the children’s ministry at my home church. Now as I teach in Cape Town, I don’t have much to fall back on while trying to make my way in the day-to-day work. It’s pretty much just go-with-the-flow and relish every day as a new experience.

Still, I’m pretty sure some of the things I encounter are not normal to professional educators. For example, there’s a 4-year-old girl at Red Hill named Hope (pronounced “Opie,” just like Sheriff Andy Taylor’s son). Hope is one of the cutest kids you could imagine – and one of the sassiest. On Monday I had to send her home from our after-school club because she was defiantly flashing her middle finger to another kid who had ticked her off. I’ve lost count now, but I know I’m up to double-digits in the number of times I’ve had to eject Hope for the day.

Something that I know is not normal, at least not in America, is the practice of teaching the Bible and praying in public schools. But that’s exactly what I’m allowed to do here each Tuesday in a series of 30-minute life skills classes for K through 3rd-graders. This week I read a book called The Little Tree, which told the Christmas story from the perspective of a tree whose wood was used to build the manger that held the baby Jesus. As I read the story, and as we sang Away in a Manger and other carols afterward, I marveled at a culture that still recognizes God’s standards for raising children. If a teacher tried to do such a thing in the U.S., he or she would be out on the street faster than you could say “ACLU.”