God's Word for today

Monday, 31 March 2008

Serving two masters...

"You cannot be the slave of two masters! You will like one more than the other or be more loyal to one than the other. You cannot serve both God and money."

- Matthew 6: 24, Contemporary English Version

I'm probably taking the above Scripture a little out of context, but at the moment I feel that it applies particularly to me - hence my reason for not updating the blog for some time.

Someone sent me the attached picture as a suggestion for squeezing more hours out of my day, but I'm not QUITE sure that this is the answer! I also have this annoying need to sleep, and unlike some of my fellow bloggers, I become absolutely comatose if I break my cardinal rule of "never going to bed on the same day you intend waking up", which basically means that I am worse than a drunk if I have had less than 6 1/2 hours of sleep.

As readers of this blog already know, I am well into the process of candidating for the Methodist ministry. But I also have an accounting and tax consultancy which I am in the process of winding down in preparation for going full-time into ministry next year. On top of that, I am working part-time as a pastoral assistant at the st Andrews Methodist Church in Eldorado Park, and in between all of that I am also in my second year of BTh at TEE College.

The past couple of weeks has been absolutely crazy! On the candidature side, I have submitted my "Essaqy on Methodism", and also made arrangements for my "out of Circuit" trial service, which takes place in the Zola (Soweto) Circuit on 6 April 2008.

Circuit work has also kept me quite busy, especially during Holy Week where I attended seven services and preached at three of them. (When time permits, I will write about my experiences during this special week in the lofe of our Church). On Easter Monday a few of us had the privilege of visiting the coronationville Women and Children's Hospital, where we distributed Easter eggs to children of all ages (including some rather "big" kids in nurses' uniforms!). Yesterday seemed to be THE weekend for ministers' weekends off, as I had three services to conduct at two different venues - a foretaste of what full-time ministers experience, perhaps?

Now this would be all good and dandy if the South African Revenue Service didn't interfere with my ministry work by imposing their silly deadline to have tax returns submitted. The result of this was clients clamouring for my attention as we scrambled to meet the cut-off. Not to mention the usual VAT return submissions, plus I had to do two sets of interim accounts for another client.

In between all of this, there was a function at my son's school, and being on the parent / staff committee, I needed to attend. Ditto for the school's "Welcoming Braai", where the other committee members derive much amusement value from having me run the pub. Perhaps the combination of being a candidate Methodist minister and an accountant means that the stock is in good hands? (Being an Anglican school, they do not have the same misgivings concerning alcohol consumption that we Methodists do, provided that those who indulge do so responsibly. I do not consume alcoholic beverages myself, but this is as a result of personal choice rather than any restrictions imposed on me by my church). Since I am likely to be spending a couple of years away from home during the first part of probation, it is important that I remain in touch with what's happening in my son's life as much as possible.

So you can appreciate that when I was unable to collect some of a probationer's missing material from TEE College on a particular day (which I was doing as a favour), and her response to me when I requested that she go to the College personally if she wanted it on that particular day was "Not today - it's my day off", I had a slight sense of humour failure - particularly since I have managed to spend exactly three days in total during the whole of 2008 thus far where I haven't been involved in ministry, accounting, or other duties.

At least by the end of this year I will have wound down the accounting practice, ready to devote my full energies to ministry as I enter Phase One of probation. Until then, I am in the unsatisfying position of "serving two masters", and getting through 2008 is going to be a question of survival.

Thank God that He is the one from Whom I can draw strength...

Friday, 14 March 2008

In honour of our "Proverbs 31" wives

Whenever I am asked whether my wife "works", I have to choose my words carefully. The reason? Although my wife is not employed outside the home in a conventional "job" where she clocks in for eight hours a day, for which she would receive money, she definitely works VERY hard in her role as housewife / homemaker / home executive / stay-at-home mom / psychologist / transport manager / CEO (what DO you call these precious souls nowadays?).

So when I received this e-mail this morning, it was a stark reminder of just how MUCH work our wives who "don't work" actually do. Therefore, if you are a guy and your good lady is not employed outside the home, and you are feeling a bit resentful about having to go out to the salt mines each day, just consider what could happen if the roles were to be reversed...

A man was sick and tired of going to work every day while his wife stayed home. He wanted her to see what he went through, so he prayed: "Dear Lord: I go to work every day and put in 8 hours while my wife merely stays at home. I want her to know what I go through, so please allow her body to switch with mine for a day. Amen."

God, in his infinite wisdom, granted the man's wish.

The next morning, sure enough, the man awoke as a woman. He arose, cooked breakfast for his mate, awakened the kids, set out their school clothes, fed them breakfast, packed their lunches, drove them to school, came home and picked up the dry cleaning, took it to the cleaners and stopped at the bank to make a deposit, went grocery shopping, then drove home to put away the groceries, paid the bills and balanced the cheque book. He cleaned the cat's litter box and bathed the dog.

Then it was already 1 pm and he hurried to make the beds, do the laundry, vacuum, dust, and sweep and mop the kitchen floor. Ran to the school to pick up the kids and got into an argument with them on the way home. Set out milk and cookies and got the kids organized to do their homework, then set up the ironing board and watched TV while he did the ironing.

At 4:30 he began peeling potatoes and washing vegetables for salad, breaded the pork chops and snapped fresh beans for supper. After supper, he cleaned the kitchen, ran the dishwasher, folded laundry,bathed the kids, and put them to bed.

At 9 pm he was exhausted and, though his daily chores weren't finished, he went to bed where he was expected to make love, which he somehow managed to get through without complaint.

The next morning, he awoke and immediately knelt by the bed and said: "Lord, I don't know what I was thinking. I was so wrong to envy my wife's being able to stay home all day. Please, oh please, let us trade back."

The Lord, in his infinite wisdom, replied: "My son, I feel you have learned your lesson and I will be happy to change things back to the way they were."

"You'll just have to wait nine months, though - you got pregnant last night."

Thank you, Lord, for sparing me from this hell! And thank you, Belinda, for putting up with it without complaint, going about your daily chores "as unto the Lord". You are truly the greatest gift that God could have ever given to me.

Thursday, 6 March 2008

F1 - the greatest sport in the world!

At the time I was writing this post, it was 9 days, 7 hours, 14 minutes, and 39 seconds to the start of the first Formula One race of 2008, to be held in Melbourne, Australia.

Once again, the Philistines who put together the Circuit preaching plan have put me down for three services on that day! (Just kidding...thank you, Lord, for blessing me with a video recorder...)

May the best black driver win (a subtle hint as to who I support, perhaps?)

To all those wannabee Bishops

This one's going to get me into trouble...I KNOW it is - but I couldn't resist it!

It was during my daily trawling through some of my favourite blogs that I came across this video of the song, "Start Wearing Purple". The chorus of this ditty goes thus...

Start wearing purple wearing purple (da da da da da)
Start wearing purple for me now
All your sanity and wits they will all vanish
I promise, it's just a matter of time...

It was posted by Paul Martin, a British Methodist minister who has a blog entitled "Turbulent Cleric". This post was entitled "In expectancy of Methodist Bishops", and it got me thinking about the nomination process currently underway for candidates to stand as our next District Bishop.

Judging by the general gossip that one hears among the clergy, it seems that the prospect of holding office as a District Bishop ranges from "life's ambition to wear a purple shirt" to "a punishment surpassed only by hell itself".

Like many offices in the Church, becoming Bishop has to be in response to a call from God, otherwise you would have to be completely insane. A couple of weeks ago I posted a tribute to Paul Verryn, current Bishop of the Central District, and when I think of the workload that he carries, the nonsense that he often has to put up with (sometimes from me), and the fact that despite there being 21 Circuits in this District, he still manages to get round to each Circuit fairly frequently, all things considered, his ministry is nothing short of incredible.

Whether Paul Verryn continues as our Bishop, or someone else steps in to fill what are very large shoes indeed, will only be decided at our upcoming Synod. But if any readers of this blog have designs on wearing the "purple shirt", give this video a quick squizz...

Tuesday, 4 March 2008

Dear Mr Nice Officer

I reported yesterday on my "fine" Monday morning, courtesy of the licence disc falling off my Vuka. So this morning, once I had obtained a duplicate disc from the local Metro offices, I decided to go to the Traffic Department to see if there was anyone who would listen to my tale of woe.

A very kind officer, having heard my outpourings, immediately reduced my R200 fine by half. However, he told me that he could not reduce it any further as this required the authority of a magistrate or traffic prosecutor - which meant presenting myself in court.

Since it would probably cost me more in terms of time spent to go and plead my case before the appropriate authority, I decided to cut my losses and pay the 100 bucks. (PS: The above image is the bracket on the back of my Vuka, clearly showing the "missing in action" licence disc. The replacement disk will be firmly taped to the INSIDE of my carrier box!)

Advice for conducting services in African languages (other than English or Afrikaans)

I recently read a post on fellow ministry candidate Jenny Hillebrand's blog, in which she related her experiences of preaching to a congregation in a cross-cultural context. I got the impression that she felt a little out of her depth - much as I did when I first had the privilege of leading worship in a language other than in English.

That's not to say that I speak one of the 9 official languages that exists alongside English and Afrikaans, much to my own loss. However, learning to speak one of these languages is on my list of "things to do" by the end of 2009, and with my Phase One year likely to be in a cross-cultural context, I hope to finish next year at least being able to hold a rudimentary conversation in either Xhosa, Zulu, Sesotho, or Setswana (the language will depend on where the Church chooses to send me, since particular languages predominate in particular areas).

But getting back to Jenny. She was looking for some advice (and probably some encouragement as well) on how to conduct such services, and like Herman G who commented on her post, I can only speak from my own experiences.

Before I realised it, I had listed six points in my reply, so I felt that I just HAD to share these here as well (modified slightly to take us guys into account as well):

  1. Your dress is critical if you want to gain their respect up front - this means preaching in a "Model T" suit (i.e. any colour you like, as long as it is black). For our lady preachers, this means black skirt (knee-length or slightly longer), black jacket, white long-sleeved blouse, and plain black tie, while for us guys, a black suit and tie, white shirt, and black shoes with a shine that makes one think of Jesus' Second Coming are in order. Don't worry about perspiration when preaching in 40-degree heat - one of the Manyano ladies is bound to "bail you out" with a glass of water and some tissues (although you may want to take your own tissues or handkerchief if preaching in an informal settlement, since these are expensive commodities).

  2. Get a Xhosa-speaking friend to help you with the pronunciation of the liturgy (if you are not Xhosa-speaking), and try to follow it as far as possible. The "Sakudumisa" is an absolute must, as is the Xhosa Lord's Prayer. No matter how badly you butcher the words, the congregation WILL appreciate the effort - trust me on this one!

  3. Try to slot in anecdotes that will resonate with the congregation. This may mean that you need to be up to date with the score in the latest Chiefs / Pirates game (as long as you don't show TOO strong a bias to either team). However, be careful with politics - avoid if possible unless it has a direct bearing on your message.

  4. For Scripture readings, I always do them in English, and then invite one of the members of the congregation to do the same reading in Xhosa (as well as Sesotho / Setswana, if applicable). I usually do OT first, then allow interpretation, then NT, and so on. Most of the time, it is their custom to stand during the reading of the Gospel, so respect this.

  5. Interpretation is useful if there is someone available (and also shows respect), and given that the liturgy, etc. is fairly lengthy, this means that the 10-12 minute "sermonette" works best as it soon becomes 25-30 with interpretation. Short, simple sentences work best when being interpreted, but find the right balance. These are intelligent people who speak about 5 languages - English may just happen to be number 3 or 4 - so while simple makes for easier interpretation, don't fall into the trap of "speaking down" to them (us "whiteys" have been guilty of this for generations, so if we fall into this trap, it WILL be picked up and offence will be taken).

  6. Finally, be lavish in your thanks, praise of the choir, etc. Remember, it is an absolute privilege to share in worship with this community, and a little appreciation goes a LONG way!
Please remember that I too am a novice in this area, and am of course speaking from a "pale male" perspective, so if any of the above are wide of the mark or there are other suggestions for Jenny and I to take into account, PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE drop us a line!

Monday, 3 March 2008

A "fine" way to start a Monday morning!

This morning I was riding my Vuka to the church office at St Andrews when, just past the prison on the Golden Highway, I was stopped at a Metro Police roadblock.

I did not have any concern when I was pulled over, since the bike is roadworthy, I know I wasn't speeding (the bike can't do more than 80, which is the speed limit on that stretch of road), and I'm not aware of any outstanding fines against my name.

The officer asked me for my licence, which I produced - and I was expected to be sent on my way. He then asked me to show him the licence for the bike, and I said "Sure - it's over here..." - and was cut short for words as I pointed to the blank space where my license disc was when I left the house.

It had obviously fallen off on my way to the church this morning, but the law is the law - it's illegal to ride a motorcycle without displaying a valid licence disc, even if it fell off 10 metres before the roadblock. I suppose that it was my word against that of the officer, who has probably heard every excuse in the book.

So here I sit, tail between my legs, R200 poorer...

Sunday, 2 March 2008

Worthy for Communion?

This morning was our monthly Communion service, and as members of the congregation came forward to receive the elements symbolising the sacrifice that our Lord Jesus Christ made when His body was broken and His blood was shed as He hung on that cross so that we can be delivered from the penalty for sin, I began to think (as I often do) about those words in 1 Corintians 11: 27-29 (NLT) -

So if anyone eats this bread or drinks this cup of the Lord unworthily, that person is guilty of sinning against the body and the blood of the Lord. That is why you should examine yourself before eating the bread and drinking from the cup. For if you eat the bread or drink the cup unworthily, not honouring the body of Christ, you are eating and drinking God's judgement upon yourself.

What does it mean to "[eat] this bread or [drink] this cup of the Lord unworthily"? Does one have to be a member of the Church? Do you have to be "confirmed"? And in asking these questions, are we not putting ourselves in a position whereby we, rather than God, judges people to be "unworthy"?

Let me share a few of my own thoughts on what it does or does not mean to eat or drink "unworthily". Firstly, I don't believe that one needs to be a member of the Church in order to receive Communion. James Baker, my previous minister, always used to announce at Communion: "This table is not the exclusive preserve of the Methodist Church - it is open to all who love the Lord".

This statement is one of inclusivity, leaving the door open for any visitor or "adherent" (a fancy Methodist term for those who have some affiliation to the Methodist Church, e.g. by being parents of Sunday School children, but have not made formal application for membership) to come forward and receive Communion. Whether or not such person "loves the Lord" is for them - not the minister or stewards - to judge.

Is it "unworthy" for children to receive Communion? While there are many who will disagree with me on this one, I believe that children should be allowed - in fact, encouraged - to receive the Lord's Supper. By excluding children, I believe that the message that we are sending out to them is "you don't belong to God yet. You will only belong once you are confirmed".

My own son James, who turns 10 in April, related to me - with a great deal of concern, I might add - a Communion service that he attended some months back. The minister officiating at this particular service was of the "old school" who didn't believe that children should receive Communion. My tearful son said afterwards, "But 'Big James' (his form of address for our own minister) always said that those who love the Lord can receive. I've loved the Lord for as long as I can remember. Why was I turned away?"

God help us - what could my son's attitude towards church have become if I wasn't able to explain that some ministers follow a different tradition to others, and that it was nothing personal. A difficult task, considering that I disagree with the exclusion of children, coupled with the fact that my son's understanding of why we receive Communion is probably more theologically sound than that of many so-called "grown-up's".

Young Matt Bentley's bedtime prayer (as related on Wessel Bentley's blog a couple of months ago), in which he thanked God "for the bread and juice at church" that evening, is to me a shining example of the child-like faith that our Lord expects from us. Even if young Matt perhaps doesn't know the finer theological points of the Lord's Supper, his thankful heart could not be more "worthy" of celebration at the Lord's table than this!

I also don't believe that it is "unworthy" for a genuine seeker of God to receive Communion. When I was about 16, I had become a "member" of the Methodist Church (by virtue of having been confirmed), but unlike the words written on my confirmation certificate, I had not "made a public confession of faith in the Lord Jesus Christ". Sure, I had uttered the words during a service, but the reality of knowing Jesus (as distinct from knowing about Him) only happened nearly two years later.

But in the meantime, I was going up for Communion each month. And every time I knelt at the rail, my prayer was along the lines of "Lord, I don't actually understand what this is all about, but I ask that You reveal Yourself to me through this act of worship". This is perhaps not the type of theological understanding that would have got me through any examinations, but I believe that it is an example of God's "prevenient grace" that prepared my heart to eventually come into a relationship with Jesus as Lord and Saviour of my life.

Receiving Communion in an "unworthy manner" would be when we take it lightly. When we are holding a grudge against another. When we have committed some known sin of which we have not repented. Or, as Paul was pointing out to the Corinthian church, when we seek to share in the Lord's Supper when we are not prepared to share of our own material belongings with others who are in need.

Verse 26 tells us that "every time [we] eat this bread and drink this cup, [we] are announcing the Lord's death until He comes again". We are therefore to examine ourselves to ensure we are right with God and our fellow human beings, so that through the act of Communion, we can "honour the body of Christ".

But that examination, I believe, must come from within. Unless someone's Church membership has been suspended - a drastic action requiring the sanction of the District Bishop - none of us have the right to judge whether or not someone is "worthy" to partake in Communion.

Who knows what might have been if I was "barred" by someone else from receiving Communion? Is it possible that I may not have been serving God today? Heaven help me if I should ever seek to exclude someone else from receiving of God's grace - their blood may well be on my hands when I stand before God's judgment seat one day!

Banks - one pensioner's revenge

How many of us have been aggravated by the "service" fees that our banks love to charge us at every turn? Nowadays one is scared to ask to use a toilet in the bank, lest there be a charge to make use of this convenience.

So it was quite refreshing to read this letter written by a 98-year-old bank customer to their bank, which was published recently in UK newspaper "The Times":

Dear Sir,

I am writing to thank you for bouncing my cheque with which I endeavoured to pay my plumber last month. By my calculations, three 'nanoseconds' must have elapsed between his presenting the cheque and the arrival in my account of the funds needed to honour it. I refer, of course, to the automatic monthly deposit of my Pension, an arrangement, which, I admit, has been in place for only thirty eight years.

You are to be commended for seizing that brief window of opportunity, and also for debiting my account £30 by way of penalty for the inconvenience caused to your bank.

My thankfulness springs from the manner in which this incident has caused me to rethink my errant financial ways. I noticed that whereas I personally attend to your telephone calls and letters, when I try to contact you, I am confronted by the impersonal, overcharging, pre-recorded, faceless entity which your bank has become.

From now on, I, like you, choose only to deal with a flesh-and-blood person. My mortgage and loan payments will therefore and hereafter no longer be automatic, but will arrive at your bank by cheque, addressed personally and confidentially to an employee at your bank whom you must nominate. Be aware that it is an offence under the Postal Act for any other person to open such an envelope.

Please find attached an Application Contact Status which I require your chosen employee to complete. I am sorry it runs to eight pages, but in order that I know as much about him or her as your bank knows about me, there is no alternative. Please note that all copies of his or her medical history must be countersigned by a Solicitor, and the mandatory details of his/her financial situation (income, debts, assets and liabilities) must be accompanied by documented proof.

In due course, I will issue your employee with a PIN number which he/she must quote in dealings with me. I regret that it cannot be shorter than 28 digits but, again, I have modelled it on the number of button presses required of me to access my account balance on your phone bank service. As they say, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

Let me level the playing field even further. When you call me, press buttons as follows:

1 - To make an appointment to see me.
2 - To query a missing payment.
3 - To transfer the call to my living room in case I am there.
4 - To transfer the call to my bedroom in case I am sleeping.
5 - To transfer the call to my toilet in case I am attending to nature.
6 - To transfer the call to my mobile phone if I am not at home.
7 - To leave a message on my computer (a password to access my computer is required. A password will be communicated to you at a later date to the Authorised Contact.)
8 - To return to the main menu and to listen to options 1 through to 8.
9 - To make a general complaint or inquiry, the contact will then be put on hold, pending the attention of my automated answering service. While this may, on occasion, involve a lengthy wait, uplifting music will play for the duration of the call.

Regrettably, but again following your example, I must also levy an establishment fee to cover the setting up of this new arrangement.

May I wish you a happy, if ever so slightly less prosperous, New Year.

Your Humble Client