A Million Colours

Very rarely does a film move you so deeply that weeks after viewing it, your heart is pierced with compassion and you find yourself replaying scenes from the movie over and over in your mind. When the editor and myself had the privilege of attending a pre-screening for ‘A Million Colours’ recently, we sat in the theatre after the film finished in total silence. Overwhelmed, impacted, in awe. We knew then that JOY! had to do a story on the film and mobilise as many people as possible to see the movie and spread the word. ‘A Million Colours’ is going to be hallmarked as a movie for this generation and is a film that every South African and foreigner needs to see.

So much more than a movie…
Essentially this movie charts the real-life journey of Muntu Ndebele and Norman Knox, child stars of e’Lollipop – one of the most successful movies in South African history that achieved international accolades and fostered racial reconciliation in the 80s, despite its release under the Apartheid regime. Right from the opening scene, ‘A Million Colours’ takes the viewer straight to the past and transports you back to a time of terrible turmoil. A time, that many older folk today would either choose to forget, or younger audiences would fail to remember. Centring around the life of Muntu, the movie includes a host of other characters – each authentically portrayed through excellent cinematography and convincing performances.

The movie doesn’t only cover the political events and the circumstances of Apartheid though, but also touches on relevant themes such as ancestral worship, the African tradition of lobola, true love, gang violence and drugs. Most significantly, it offers hope, reconciliation and redemption, through Christ, making it one of the most compelling movies I have ever seen.

Inspired by true events
The screenplay took seven years to make and had over 21 rewrites. ‘A Million Colours’ is of international quality and can proudly stand side by side next to any Oscar-winning movie. In fact, it has already garnered international recognition and several industry accolades. For André Pieterse, the writer and producer of both e’Lollipop and ‘A Million Colours’, this film was an incredibly healing experience for all the cast and crew involved. It was a labour of love with a deeply personal purpose:
“Having lost contact with Muntu for more than 22 years, I decided to get in touch with Muntu’s mother, who cried as she told me that he had gone missing and dropped off the radar completely.  In fact, his sister Lindi was worried he may be dead. Burdened by a realisation that Muntu needed help, I initiated a search for him and asked Norman to assist.

Several newspapers generously donated editorial space to finding the childhood star who had been missing for more than two decades. There were no firm leads until his sister Lindi called to say that Muntu did not want to be found. With Lindi as a go-between, we eventually made contact with Muntu. We were shocked by what we found…

Because of tragic circumstances (fuelled by Apartheid and the devastating consequences of racial discrimination) Muntu had descended into a life of crime and drugs. 39-years-old and weighing a scant 42kg, he was living in a derelict flat in Hillbrow. The future looked bleak for this once very popular child star. During the emotional reunion Muntu kept repeating: “I am so sorry uncle André. I am so sorry for you to find me like this.” Norman, Muntu’s family and I decided to help; acceptance and much love was needed if he was going to survive.

During the next three years, Muntu followed a healthy diet and exercise regime. He wrote hundreds of pages, reliving his life.   He read the book “A Fresh Start” by John Chapman, over and over, embraced a new lifestyle, whilst praising God for giving him a second chance.  Reading Muntu’s writings, I realised that here was a film that should be made. We also incorporated Norman’s experiences and together their stories inspired the writing of the screenplay by our film director Peter Bishai and myself. Muntu served as an associate producer on the film and has worked for our company, Ma-Afrika Films, for eleven years. He is also a motivational speaker who visits schools, prisons and churches.”

Spread the Word
Today, ‘A Million Colours’ stands as a testament to the resilience of man and the unending grace of God. The film will do so much more than entertain; it will move older audiences toward genuine healing and reconciliation and inspire younger generations to remember the past and fight for their future – to stand for all that is good and pure and right.

Every Christian should see this movie. It reminds you why you must never give up on people and always reach out to the lost. It convicts you to keep building bridges across racial, social and societal lines. And most importantly, it moves you to worship a God who is mighty to save!

‘A Million Colours’ releases countrywide on 26 April. For block bookings for your church or to have Muntu come and speak, please email lee@ma-afrika.co.za

Biblical Answers to BIG Questions

Should Christians use birth control?
Answer: Modern birth control methods were unknown in Bible times, and the Bible is, therefore, silent on the matter. The Bible does have quite a lot to say about children, however. The Bible presents children as a gift from God (Gen 4:1; Gen 33:5), a heritage from the Lord (Psalm 127:3-5), a blessing from God (Luke 1:42), and a crown to the aged (Prov 17:6). God sometimes blesses barren women with children (Psalm 113:9; Gen 21:1-3; 25:21-22; 30:1-2; 1 Sam 1:6-8; Luke 1:7, 24-25). God forms children in the womb (Psalm 139:13-16). God knows children before their   birth (Jer 1:5; Gal 1:15).

Genesis 38
The closest that Scripture comes to condemning birth control is Genesis 38, in the account of Judah’s sons Er and Onan. Er married a woman named Tamar, but he was wicked and the Lord put him to death, leaving Tamar with no husband or children. Tamar was given in marriage to Er’s brother, Onan, in accordance with the law of levirate marriage in Deuteronomy 25:5-6. Onan did not want to split his inheritance with any child that he might produce on his brother’s behalf, so he practised the oldest form of birth control, withdrawal. Genesis 38:10 says, “What he did was wicked in the Lord’s sight; so He put him to death also.” Onan’s motivation was selfish; he used Tamar for his own pleasure, but refused to perform his legal duty of producing an heir for his deceased brother. This passage is often used as evidence that God does not approve of birth control. However, it was not the act of contraception that caused the Lord to put Onan to death; it was Onan’s selfish motives behind the action.

The opposite of conception
Contraception, by definition, is merely the opposite of conception. Married couples use contraception for a variety of reasons. Some feel called to put off childbearing until they are in a better position to care for children. Some, may feel their service to God overrides the desire for children at a particular point in time. Some may be convinced that God has a different plan for them. Ultimately, a couple’s motives for delaying childbearing, using contraception, or even having numerous children, are between them and God.

It’s between you and the Lord
The inability to have children when they are desired is always presented in Scripture as a bad thing, especially considering the cultural stigma attached to childlessness at that time. There is no one in the Bible who expressed a desire not to have any children. At the same time, it cannot be argued from the Bible that it is wrong for married couples to use birth control for a limited time.

All married couples should seek the Lord’s Will in regards to when they should try to have children and how many children they seek to have. No one has the right to determine whether someone else should or should not use birth control, how many children is the ‘right’ number for them, or whether they will have children at all.

What does the Bible say about miscarriage?
Answer: Probably the most common question people ask after a miscarriage is:  “Why did this happen?” or “Why did God do this to me?”  There are no easy answers to these questions. Why do bad things happen to people, especially innocent children? We must understand that God does not take away our loved ones from us as some sort of cruel punishment. The Bible tells us that there is “no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus.” Rom 8:1.

A natural protection
Miscarriages are usually caused by abnormal chromosome patterns in the foetus. When these abnormalities are detected, the growth is halted, and miscarriage is the result. In other instances, miscarriages are caused by uterine malformations, hormonal abnormalities, problems with the immune system, chronic infections, and illnesses. After thousands of years of sin, death and personal destruction, it should not surprise us that genetic disorders would eventually become commonplace.

God has compassion on those who suffer through them. He loves us and feels our pain. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, promised to send His Spirit to all believers so that we will never have to go through trials alone (John 14:16). Jesus said in Matthew 28:20: “And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

Jesus’ promise to mothers
Any believer who has suffered a miscarriage should have faith in the glorious hope of one day seeing her child again. An unborn child is not a ‘piece of tissue’ to God, but is one of His children. Jeremiah 1:5 says that God knows us while we are still in the womb. Jesus promised to leave us with a gift of peace unlike any that the world can give (John 14:27).

He is with us always: “I have told you all this so that you may have peace in Me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world” John 16:33.

What is the Biblical stance on artificial insemination?
Answer: Artificial insemination, also known as intrauterine insemination (IUI), is a medical procedure in which a man’s sperm is implanted in a woman’s uterus at precisely the right time and in precisely the right location in order to increase the chances of pregnancy.

While it is usually used in conjunction with the use of fertility medicine in women, this is not always the case. Artificial insemination is different from in-vitro fertilisation in that if there is fertilisation, it occurs inside the woman and in a more natural way, while in-vitro fertilisation occurs outside the womb, and then the fertilised egg(s) are implanted in the woman’s uterus. Artificial insemination does not result in unused or discarded embryos. Artificial insemination does not have as high a success rate as in-vitro fertilisation, but many Christians view it as a much more acceptable alternative.

Children are a blessing
Should a married couple consider artificial insemination? The Bible always presents pregnancy and having children positively (Psalm 127:3-5). The Bible nowhere discourages any married couple from seeking to have children. The fact that artificial insemination does not have the moral dilemmas of in-vitro fertilisation would seem to make it a valid alternative. So, if artificial insemination increases the chances of an otherwise infertile couple having children, it would seem to be something a Christian married couple can prayerfully consider.

God’s sovereignty
Some object to all fertility options due to the fact that they supposedly do not take into account God’s sovereignty. But, God is just as capable of preventing pregnancy after artificial insemination (and in-vitro fertilisation for that matter) as He is of preventing pregnancy after normal sexual intercourse. Artificial insemination does not ‘overrule’ God’s sovereignty. Nothing overrules God’s sovereignty.
As proven by the account of Abraham and Sarah, God is capable of enabling a reproductively dead woman to become pregnant and have a healthy baby. God is absolutely sovereign over the reproductive process. If it is God’s sovereign Will for a couple to get pregnant, they will get pregnant. If it is not God’s sovereign Will for a couple to get pregnant, they will not get pregnant, no matter what methods they attempt.

Pray for guidance
It would seem that a Christian married couple can prayerfully consider artificial insemination. As in all things, a couple considering artificial insemination should ask God for wisdom (James 1:5) and very clear leading from the Holy Spirit.

Is it wrong for parents to select the gender of their children?
Answer: PGD stands for ‘pre-implantation genetic diagnosis’. It is a procedure in which a woman’s eggs are collected, fertilised in a dish (through in-vitro fertilisation), and then tested for genetic defects. If abnormalities are found, the embryos are destroyed. Though this procedure can be used to select the gender of a child, it was never meant for this purpose, and many physicians will not use it for such.

A controversial procedure
The main approach to gender selection is done by sorting and separating sperm before fertilisation. Sperm are separated into a male group, a female group, and an abnormal group. The abnormal sperm are discarded, and the proper sperm for whichever gender is desired are then used to fertilise a woman’s eggs in-vitro.

In both cases, the normal procedure is for many eggs to be fertilised, then only a woman’s choice of embryos to be implanted. This means that the rest of the embryos, though viable, are destroyed or given to embryonic research. Passages such as Exodus 21:22-25, Psalm 139:13-16, and Jeremiah 1:5 make it clear that God views human life as beginning at conception, and that throughout the process of development within the womb, a baby has the same right to defence of its life as an adult.

A selfish choice
Embryo destruction and the controversial PGD aside, many believe that gender selection has little moral complication. Sperm sorting does not offer a 100% guarantee that a baby will be the gender selected. Because of this, people reason that if God wants that baby to be a boy instead of the chosen girl, or vice-versa, then He will intervene in the fertilisation process. While this may be true, when it comes down to it, gender selection is all about selfishness.

Model Christ in all you do
There is simply no good reason, medical or otherwise, for a person to determine a child’s gender. James 3:15-16 reads: “For jealousy and selfishness are not God’s kind of wisdom. Such things are earthly, unspiritual, and motivated by the devil. For wherever there is jealousy and selfish ambition, there you will find disorder and every kind of evil.” Throughout the Bible, we are exhorted to find contentment in our circumstances and not to pursue selfishness. Because our lives are to be modelled after Christ’s own selflessness, selfishness is a sin.

How should a Christian deal with infertility?
Answer: The problem of infertility can be a very difficult one, especially for couples who have looked forward to children all their lives. Christian couples can find themselves asking “Why us, Lord?” Surely God wants Christians to be blessed with children to love and nurture. For physically healthy couples, one of the most heart-wrenching aspects of infertility is not knowing whether it is a temporary or permanent situation. If it is temporary, how long must they wait? If it is permanent, how do they know that, and what should be their course of action?

Biblical examples
The Bible depicts the problem of temporary infertility in several stories:
• God promised Abraham and Sarah a child, but she did not bear a son, Isaac, until age 90 (Gen 11:30)
• Isaac, Rebekah’s husband, prayed fervently, and God answered, resulting in the births of Jacob and Esau (Gen 25:21)
• Rachel prayed, and at long last God “opened her womb.” She bore two sons, Joseph and Benjamin (Gen 30:1; 35:18)
• Manoah’s wife, who was infertile for a time, gave birth to Samson (Judges 13:2)
• Elizabeth in her old age gave birth to John the Baptist, the forerunner of Christ (Luke 1:7,36).

God is the giver of life
The barrenness of Sarah, Rebekah and Rachel (the mothers of the Israelite nation) is significant in that their ability to finally bear children was a sign of the grace and favour of God. However, infertile couples must not assume that God is withholding His grace and favour, nor should they assume they are being punished in some way. Christian couples must cling to the knowledge that their sins are forgiven in Christ and that the inability to have children is not a punishment from God.

Prayer and healthy living
So what is an infertile Christian couple to do? It is good to seek advice from gynaecologists and other fertility specialists. Both men and women should live a healthy lifestyle to prepare for pregnancy. The mothers of the Israelite nation prayed fervently for conception, so continuing to pray for a child is certainly not out of line. Primarily, though, we are to pray for God’s Will for our lives.

If His Will is for us to have a biological child, we will. If His Will is that we adopt, foster-parent, or go childless, then that is what we should accept and commit to gladly doing. We know that God has a divine plan for each of His loved ones. God is the author of life. He allows conception and withholds conception. God is sovereign and possesses all wisdom and knowledge (see Rom 11:33-36). “Every good and perfect gift is from above…” James 1:17. Knowing and accepting these truths will go a long way to filling the ache in the hearts of an infertile couple.

Recommended Resource: ‘Empty Womb, Aching Heart: Hope and Help for Those Struggling with Infertility’ by Marlo Schalesky.

What does the Bible say about adoption?
Answer: Giving children up for adoption can be a loving alternative for parents who may, for various reasons, be unable to care for their own children. It can also be an answer to prayer for many couples who have not been able to have children of their own. Adoption is, for some, a calling to multiply their impact as parents by expanding their family with children who are not their own, biologically. Adoption is spoken of positively throughout Scripture.

A favourable view
The book of Exodus tells the story of a Hebrew woman named Jochebed who bore a son during a time when Pharaoh had ordered all Hebrew male infants to be put to death (Exodus 1:15-22). Jochebed took a basket, waterproofed it, and sent the baby down the river in the basket.

One of Pharaoh’s daughters spotted the basket and retrieved the child. She eventually adopted him into the royal family and gave him the name Moses. He went on to become a faithful and blessed servant of God (Exodus 2:1-10).

God adopts us into His family
In the book of Esther, a beautiful girl named Esther, who was adopted by her cousin after her parents’ death, became a queen, and God used her to bring deliverance to the Jewish people. In the New Testament, Jesus Christ was conceived through the Holy Spirit instead of through the seed of a man (Matt 1:18). He was ‘adopted’ and raised by His mother’s husband, Joseph, who cared for Jesus as his own child.

Once we give our hearts to Christ, believing and trusting in Him alone for salvation, God says we become part of His family – not through the natural process of human conception, but through adoption. “For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship [adoption]. And by Him we cry, ‘Abba, Father’.” Rom 8:15.

Similarly, bringing a person into a family by means of adoption is done by choice and out of love. “His unchanging plan has always been to adopt us into His own family by bringing us to Himself through Jesus Christ. And this gave Him great pleasure” Eph 1:5. As God adopts those who receive Christ as Saviour into His spiritual family, so should we all prayerfully consider adopting children into our own physical families.

Adoption is a privilege
Clearly adoption, both in the physical sense and in the spiritual sense, is shown in a favourable light in Scripture. Both those who adopt and those who are adopted are receiving a tremendous blessing, a privilege exemplified by our adoption into God’s family.

Recommended Resource: ‘The Adoption Decision: 15 Things You Want to Know Before Adopting’ by Laura Christianson. 

Counterfeit Christianity: A New Religion

The fastest growing religion in the world today is not Islam, Buddhism, or any of the New Age religions. In the 21st Century it is Counterfeit Christianity, with over two billion people on earth today claiming to be Christians. Many of them do not have the slightest notion of what it means to be a Christian. They may look like Christians, talk like Christians, but are not Christian at all.

But how do we distinguish between the fake and genuine follower of Christ? In order to detect a counterfeit Dollar bill, Special Agents from the US Treasury Department study the genuine Dollar note until they are intimately familiar with every facet and detail of the currency.

Once the genuine article is imprinted in their minds – it is easy to detect the counterfeit. Similarly, in order to detect genuine followers of Christ, we must examine ourselves through the prism of God’s Word.

We need to know the Scripture
We must be so familiar with the Scriptures that whenever we stray from the Truth.  Conviction and the knowledge of God’s Word brings us right back! James 1:23–25, declares: “For if anyone is a hearer of the Word and not a doer, he is like a man observing his natural face in a mirror for he observes himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was. But he who looks into the Perfect Law of Liberty and continues in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work…”

A follower of Christ is one who has repented of his sins, turned from his wicked ways and commits the rest of his natural life to walking in total submission to God’s Will and in obedience to His Word.
By that definition alone – a significant percent of people claiming to be Christian are disqualified.

It’s not just about one’s words
Jesus warns in Matthew 7:21: “Not everyone who says to Me, Lord, Lord, shall enter the Kingdom of Heaven, but he who does the Will of My Father in Heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your Name, cast out demons in Your Name and done many wonders in Your Name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practise lawlessness’.” What is God’s Will for your life? His Word! And God’s Word is God’s Law. So when we live in wilful disobedience to God’s Word – we transgress God’s Law.

Appearances are deceiving
Because outward appearances are deceiving, the difference between a genuine follower of Christ and the counterfeit Christian is not easily detected. However, the Bible provides instruction to help us easily discern between the two. Paul, warning about those who have strayed from the truth writes in 2 Timothy 2:19: “Nevertheless, the solid foundation of God stands, having this seal; The Lord knows those who are His and let everyone who names the Name of Christ depart from iniquity.”

Major deceptions in the world
The Scriptures are clear, not only is Jesus aware of the impostors, He also knows His true followers. In 2 Timothy 3:12–14: Paul warns and encourages Timothy: “All who desire to live Godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.  But evil men and impostors will grow worse…deceiving and being deceived. But you must continue in the things which you have learned and been assured of…”

Tragically, many Christians are not heeding the warning of Scripture today and are straying from the Truth. Let me share some of the major deceptions in the Christian world that are causing millions to depart from God’s Word and follow man-made doctrines, fables and opinions:

The deception of celebrity worship
Millions of Christians are unwittingly following the standards of this world system through celebrity worship. The media is the primary conduit through which men and women are exalted to godlike status causing Christians to ignore the Word of God and slavishly follow the word of man. I investigate every friend request I receive on Facebook to ensure they are a Christian.
I am often shocked to read their profiles: ‘I love Jesus’ and ‘I love Lady Gaga’. How a Christian can claim to love the holy and sinless Son of God and a depraved individual like Lady Gaga is a mystery to me. Many Christians believe Barack Obama is a Christian because of his media-created star power. In fact, 1 in 4 pastors in the US believe Obama is a follower of Christ even though he works diligently to promote the murder of the unborn and advance the homosexual agenda around the world.

Another global celebrity leading many Christians astray is Archbishop Desmond Tutu who states “the Dalai Lama will go to Heaven because he is a good man.” Apparently, the Cross of Christ is inconsequential. Tutu also claims “homosexuality is a gift of God.” Many Christians adore Tutu and follow his false gospel. It is a known fact that the people you idolise have the most influence in your life. Millions of Christians today see no contradiction in claiming Christ while standing in agreement with evil.

Being unequally yoked
The intoxicating allure of the celebrity completely blinds them to the warnings of Scripture. “Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers, for what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness? And what accord has Christ with Belial? Or what part has a believer with an unbeliever?” 2 Cor 6:14-15

Deception of man-made doctrines
Rob Bell, a mega-pastor and tech-savvy marketer espouses a doctrine of salvation without damnation. Bell argues that everybody who ever existed will go to Heaven because God’s love cannot send anybody to hell. Universalism preaches that there is truth in every religion. And because all truth emanates from God, all religions must have some part of God’s Truth. Consequently, everybody goes to Heaven. This false doctrine is already laying the foundations for the One World Religion.

Millions in the ‘Emerging Church’ movement have bought into this deception and are being led astray by leaders who have clearly rejected God’s Word and replaced it with their own false doctrines. Jesus explains the parable of the Tares in Matthew 13:41: “The Son of Man will send out His angels, and they will gather out of His Kingdom all things that offend, and those who practise lawlessness and will cast them into the furnace of fire, there will be wailing and gnashing of teeth.”

The deception of man’s opinion
A new and dangerous movement called Chrislam is growing overseas.
Chrislam is an attempt to synchronise Christianity with Islam. While it began in Nigeria in the 1980s, Chrislamic ideas have spread throughout much of the world. The fundamental concept of Chrislam is that Christianity and Islam are compatible, that one can be a Christian and a Muslim at the same time. Chrislam is not formally a religion of its own, but rather a blurring of the differences and distinctions between Christianity and Islam.

Some Protestant churches, are promoting this merging together of Islam and Christianity. The problem with this man –  driven initiative is that Islam rejects Jesus as the Son of God who died for the sins of the world. And Jesus’ Crucifixion, Resurrection and Supremacy are central to the Christian Faith. Although Christians agree with Muslims on many moral issues, there is no compatibility with Islam on the central tenets of the Christian Faith. Altering the Bible to win converts to Christ is heresy. Peter preaching about Jesus to the Sanhedrin declares in Acts 4:12: “Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under Heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”

The deception of love
An increasing number of Christian leaders are being led astray by the deception of love. This deception argues that “as long as you have love, you are pleasing God.” Love (or rather the world’s definition of love) contends that ‘loving and committed’ homosexual relationships must be acceptable to God because He is love. Also, where love exists, God exists. This deception is gaining much ground in the world today because it allows people to advance all manner of evil under the guise of love. Fornication is mostly justified by using this argument.

The deception of good works
Many of the mainline denominations refuse to preach the Gospel of repentance from sin and faith in Jesus Christ preferring rather the social gospel of good works and serving others. God is love, He is also perfectly just and holy. The God-kind of love therefore cannot be equated with sexual depravity or any other sinful behaviour.

In fact, God’s love causes us to repent from sin – not justify it! If the gospel you are preaching does not begin with repentance from sin and turning to God – it is not the Gospel of Jesus Christ at all. “Or do you despise the riches of His goodness, forbearance, and longsuffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leads you to repentance.” Rom 2:4

The deception of stupidity
Churches are springing up all over Europe headed by priests who do not believe there is a God! Many churches do not believe in the Virgin Birth or the Resurrection of Jesus. As the BBC reports, “some church leaders in the Netherlands want to transform their small nation into a laboratory for rethinking Christianity – experimenting with radical new ways of understanding the faith.”

Religious Affairs Correspondent Robert Pigott tells of Rev. Klaas Hendrikse, a minister of the PKN, the mainstream Protestant denomination in the Netherlands: “Pastor Hendrikse doesn’t believe in life after death, or even in God as a supernatural being. He told the BBC that he has “no talent” for believing historic and orthodox doctrines. “God is not a being at all,” he says, but just an experience. Furthermore, as Pigott reports, “Mr. Hendrikse describes the Bible’s account of Jesus’ life as a mythological story about a man who may never have existed, even if it is a valuable source of wisdom about how to lead a good life.”

By any normative definition of Christian belief, Klaas Hendrikse is an unbeliever, but in the largest Dutch denomination, he is considered a minister in good standing. As a matter of fact, he is not even unusual. A study undertaken by the Free University of Amsterdam determined that about one in every six Protestant ministers is either agnostic or atheist!
All of the above deceptions are leading people away from the one true Faith of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. Most of the people advocating these ideas are well intentioned – but as many of you are aware – the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Many pastors of large and successful churches are preaching a feel-good gospel designed to make congregants comfortable. Christians who constantly hear the message of grace and how to live your best life, etc, tend to believe the Christian walk is all about them and their comforts. God is not so much interested in our comforts as He is in our nature being transformed to that of Christ’s.

Know what you believe and why
“Preach the Word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and teaching. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers;  and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables.” 2 Tim 4:2.

The most important task of following Christ today is to know what you believe and why you believe it. Without a solid grounding in God’s Word you can easily stray from the truth. The responsibility to fill your mind with the knowledge of God rests squarely on your shoulders. 

Ellie Lofaro Woman of Wit and Wisdom

As a native New Yorker growing up in a big Italian family, Ellie quickly learnt how to make herself heard above the hustle and bustle of five children. Little did this energetic and vivacious girl know that one day her vocal chords would come in handy when addressing hundreds of women at conferences around the world.

An Italian heritage
Like most Italians, Ellie grew up a devout Catholic and it was this grounding that fostered a hunger to know God on a deeper level. “I honour my Catholic tradition and am grateful to have been taught at a tender age all that was good, right and true about the birth, death and Resurrection of Jesus. I studied with the Jesuits at Boston College and there is much that is rich and meaningful there. That said, I had such a deep hunger to study the Word and that was not readily available at most parishes in the early 1970s. I gave my heart and life to God and ended up in a non-denominational church. Later I felt the call to full-time ministry. On Judgement Day, I do not believe we will be asked which church we attended, but rather if we loved God and did His Will.”

A woman of wit
Known for her humour, quick wit and compassion for seekers, Ellie regularly shares the Gospel and reaches out to people through Heart, Mind and Soul Ministries which she founded over 20 years ago.

Ellie’s advice to Christians with family members stuck in religious tradition is to “spend time with them. Love them without an agenda. Pray for them. Do not make them feel like ‘projects’. Genuine, unconditional love is irresistible. And if they do resist, it is Jesus that they are rejecting, a sad reality that is written about many times in the Scriptures.”
An empty nest, but a full heart
Married to the love of her life, Frank, for 30 years, the couple have three grown children: Paris (25), Jordan (23) and Capri (20) and live near Washington DC. “We moved here to enter prison ministry with Prison Fellowship International, founded by Charles Colson. I also travel extensively as the nest is now empty and I am able to fly the coup. Many moms are upset when their kids leave home, but I think it’s fabulous. The fridge is full, the floor is clean and my things are right where I put them! For many years, I thought I was losing my stuff (and my mind) but I now realise my kids were robbing me blind!”

Reaching out to the world
A respected speaker, Ellie has been called by God to a global ministry. “I am highly impacted by the extreme circumstances I have witnessed in countries such as China, Haiti and Cuba. I could speak for six days about this, but suffice it to say that wealth is not about material surplus and poverty is not about material lack. There are financially wealthy people I have known who are spiritually and morally bankrupt. Conversely, I have encountered some precious pilgrims with little means and whose generosity has brought me to tears. “

An excitement for South Africa
Ellie is no stranger to our country: “Three years ago, my daughter Paris spent several months in the Joburg area volunteering at Baby Haven, a wonderful ministry run by David and Caroline Webb. I flew here for a week to accompany Paris and fell in love with the people, the beauty, and the powerful story of resilience and reconciliation that drives South Africa toward such a promising future. I am very excited to be back again this year in May with Aldyth’s team. The Beauty for Ashes conference will be such a glorious celebration. Please come!”

A message to women
Still passionately in love with Jesus, Ellie is convinced of the Father’s unconditional love for us and desires to share that truth with others. “The Lord sees us as princesses, not paupers. Satan has confused things. Women need to hear that they matter. That nothing done for the Lord is in vain. That God hears them, sees them, loves them. That He is not mad at them, but mad about them. That He calls each one beautiful.
We are daughters of the King and have a promised inheritance (Genesis 12:1-2 and Ephesians 1). The Name of the Lord is a strong tower!”

Practical tips for staying joyful
Though she is very blessed, Ellie is familiar with the challenges life throws our way. Yet somehow she always manages to juggle the various commitments and obstacles with infectious positivity. “Happy living is way overrated. Skip “happy” and go for the genuine joy promised in Philippians. Paul wrote that “epistle of joy” from a non-ventilated dark damp dismal hole. If he sang in his deepest hours of despair – then so can I. Take naps. Read for pleasure. Laugh out loud on purpose. Cut mean and difficult people out of your life (unless they are related to you!). Eat chocolate whenever possible. Don’t exercise too much! ”

Advice for life
“A wise white-haired saint once told me, “Honey, you can have it all, but you can’t have it all at once!” It has become popular to ‘seize the day’, but we would do well to also seize the season.

Singleness, loneliness, sickness, motherhood, marriage woes, problems at work, health issues. None of these last forever and we need to hear what the Lord is teaching us in and through each one. We must be comfortable in the valley as well as the mountaintop. The Holy Spirit is right alongside to guide and deliver us to the place where there are no sins, sorrows or sicknesses.”

See Ellie live in Johannesburg
Register for the Beauty for Ashes ladies conference from 25-26 May and see Ellie live in person, together with sought-after speaker from Cape Town, Barbie Erasmus. To book please see: www.beautyforashes.co.za or call them on 012 998 6616. For more info on Ellie see www.ellielofaro.com

The Slient Shame of Addiction

When news broke mid-February that Whitney Houston had died from a drug overdose, most people weren’t surprised. After all (sadly) it seems most of Hollywood is addicted to drugs – prescription or other. What did shock many though was Whitney’s recent profession of saving faith in Christ and her Evangelical funeral. Some Christians probably questioned if Whitney was truly saved, seeing that she struggled constantly with addiction to alcohol and cocaine for most of her adult life. Perhaps you too wrote off her Christian testimony, dismissing her Christian confession as superficial Hollywood drivel.

Addicted Christians?
For me, Whitney’s tragic end was  a chilling concerto – a solo performance of her flawed life played to the world’s stage, accompanied by an orchestra of critics, family and fans who stood by watching her wither away.

The observable dichotomy of a Christian drug addict jolted me back to a reality that is sometimes forgotten in our pews: Christians struggle with life, and with addiction. Often people who love God don’t walk in His promises or perfect plan for their lives – and they need our help, both practically and spiritually.

A silent sin in the Church
It is very sad to see how often believers hide their sin and failings from one another – often with horrific long-term consequences (like church splits, divorces etc). Why is there such shame in the Body of Christ? Because we all fear judgement and condemnation from our brothers and sisters in Christ. Often what starts out as a small dependence on sleeping tablets, or a need for that daily glass of wine, leads to full blown addiction that could have been curbed if the person just reached out for help. Yet how many times have we all been guilty of judging a fellow believer when they have bared their struggles – especially when it concerns pornography and sexual sin – only to have them slink away and eventually disappear from fellowship.

Addiction is everywhere
Our culture drives people toward addiction, and the Church needs to wake up if we are to save people from the snares of silent sin. Addiction at its root is not about needing a substance to make you feel better, but rather about needing Jesus to heal your soul. All around us people are addicted,  not just to “hard-core” drugs, but to sophisticated pacifiers like pleasure, vanity, man’s approval, money, technology etc. Today people joke that they can’t exist without their ‘Crack-berry’ (a Black-berry phone) and just “die” without internet signal. Look around you and see how many people sit on their phones at dinner, barely even exchanging words. We are regressing!

Society is crumbling
Society at its core is crumbling. The pressure to perform and amass the praises of men has overtaken the pursuit of peace with God in His presence. It feels as though life is speeding up, and the support structures once in place, are falling down. People have become so cocooned and alienated from each other (even in Christian circles), that most people would rather escape from their burdens through  TV, drugs and drink, than bridge the gap and talk to a friend/family member/boss/pastor or neighbour.

God’s house should be a haven
But are we (as Christians) partly to blame? I have heard various pastors from their pulpits say things like: “If you don’t attend our prayer meetings and marriage seminars, then don’t come crying to the elders for advice when your life falls apart.”

This is a shocking statement – and has no place in the Kingdom. The house of God should be a haven for the hurting, and Christians should always go the extra mile to help those who are battling. We can’t just point fingers at the leaders though, every Christian has an onus to help. Don’t let your niece, neighbour or friend become another Whitney.

Recognise addiction
The following are some signs  of, and solutions for, addiction, but please consult a Christian rehab if you need further clarity and advice, as space prevents us from providing more detail:
• Aggression, depression. A change in behaviour, dress or sleeping patterns
• A secrecy and reluctance to share details as to their whereabouts/friends etc
• Some addictions are very subtle. If you notice that a friend has an unhealthy dependence on a certain product (slimming products, nicotine, shopping, gambling,  technology, etc) or person, perhaps you need to broach the subject with them
• Suggest a fast from that particular thing (such as TV) and pray with them to break the temptation it has for them
• Depending on the severity of the addiction, suggest the person see a trusted counsellor, pastor or addiction expert for advice and help
• Consider starting an outreach or support group in your church for people struggling with addiction. We cannot expect people to deal with their problems alone. The Church has to get involved. Work with other local ministries doing the same thing. Also contact a Christian rehab centre.
“Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed.” John 8:36 

For helpful contact numbers call JOY! or email info@joymag.co.za

Are you a Hypochondriac

Do stomach aches, headaches and other bodily symptoms make you worry that you are seriously ill? Can doctors convince you otherwise or do you believe you have a sickness that is currently undetectable and life-threatening? Have you been labelled a hypochondriac?
What is hypochondriasis?
Hypochondriasis is characterised by symptoms suggesting a physical disorder but for which there are no demonstrable organic findings or known physiological mechanisms. Hypochondriasis is defined as a person’s
preoccupation with the fear of contracting, or the belief of having, a serious
disease. This fear or belief arises when a person misinterprets bodily symptoms or functions. Although it might start out as a small sign/symptom, such patient’s preoccupations and concerns with being ill often culminate in significant distress and impairment in one’s ability to function socially and occupationally.
A persistent fear
According to the psychiatric diagnostic manual, diagnosis of hypochondriasis requires that patients be preoccupied with the false belief that they have a serious physical disease, based on misinterpretation of physical signs or sensations. The belief must last 6 months, despite the absence of pathological findings on medical and neurological examinations. The diagnostic criteria also stipulate that the belief cannot have the intensity of a delusion (a fixed false belief based on incorrect inference about external reality) and cannot be restricted to distress about appearance.
Anyone can be affected. The symptoms must also be severe enough to cause emotional distress or impair the patient’s ability to function in important areas of life. When such patients do not recognise that their concerns/preoccupations about contracting a disease are excessive, clinicians may specify the presence of poor insight. This condition affects men and women equally, but are most commonly seen in those between 20-30 years of age.
Real or imagined?
A sticky topic…While many people might worry when
they start to feel ill, most of them are content with proper rest, high doses of vitamin C and if necessary, a check up along with treatment from their local GP. People struggling with hypochondriasis however may become increasingly concerned about their health and well-being, despite appropriate reassurances from their doctor/s. While the symptoms cannot be corraborated medically, the pain and anxiety feels very real. Such patients are thus sensitive to and susceptible to being perceived as ‘crying wolf’ and hence, not taken seriously. On the other end, family members may take on more intensive caring roles, which may inadvertently reinforce their concerns and preoccupations. This may result in an unhelpful cycle of costly arduous doctors’ appointments and tests without the appropriate help.
Receiving appropriate treatment
Such patients are generally known to present at general practioners rooms and hospitals, making them resistant to psychiatric and psychological support. As most hypochondriacal symptoms are closely associated with psychological stressors, such individuals should be encouraged to seek support. Because we live in a relatively stigmatised society, emotional vulnerability is hardly encouraged. Such ‘pain’ can thus manifest physically, in forms that are more socially acceptable and ‘supported’. The arguement is not so much about whether it is a physcial or psychological disorder, but more about treating it apporpriately and relevantly. This means involving a multi disciplinary team (of doctors, psychiatrists and psychologists) as well as mobilising one’s social support. 
When to seek professional help
It is best to have your symptoms assessed and distinguished from other medical conditions that are not necessarily easily diagnosed. Different types of therapy are available for such symptoms or conditions, each aiming to reduce anxiety and promote a healthy lifestyle. Over and above seeking treatment, remember to pray and ask the Lord for His strength and power to help you overcome anxiety and fear. he is the Master Physician and promises in Isaish 19:22 that if “they will turn to the Lord…He will respond to their pleas and heal them.”
Nicole Sun is a Clinical Psychologist and part time lecturer at the ICP. For counselling or studies in Christian Psychology call 011 827 7611 or see www.icp.org.za To contact Nicole directly please send an email to nixsun@mweb.co.za