God's Word for today

Wednesday, 26 November 2008

Kids in church

Gotta love these ones...

3-year-old Reese: "Our Father, Who does art in heaven, Harold is His name. Amen."

A little boy was overheard praying: "Lord, if you can't make me a better boy, don't worry about it. I'm having a real good time like I am".

After the christening of his baby brother in church, Jason sobbed all the way home in the back seat of the car. His father asked him three times what was wrong. Finally, the boy replied, "That preacher said he wanted us brought up in a Christian home, and I wanted to stay with you guys".

One particular four-year-old prayed, "And forgive us our trash baskets, as we forgive those who put trash in our baskets".

A Sunday school teacher asked her children as they were on the way to church service, "And why is it necessary to be quiet in church?" One bright little girl replied, "Because people are sleeping."

A mother was preparing pancakes for her sons, Kevin 5, and Ryan 3. The boys began to argue over who would get the first pancake.
Their mother saw the opportunity for a moral lesson. "If Jesus were sitting here, He would say, 'Let my brother have the first pancake, I can wait'."
Kevin turned to his younger brother and said, "Ryan, you be Jesus!"

A father was at the beach with his children when the four-year-old son ran up to him, grabbed his hand, and led him to the shore where a seagull lay dead in the sand. "Daddy, what happened to him?" the son asked. "He died and went to Heaven", the dad replied. The boy thought a moment and then said, "Did God throw him back down?"

A wife invited some people to dinner. At the table, she turned to their six-year-old daughter and said, "Would you like to say the blessing?" "I wouldn't know what to say", the girl replied. "Just say what you hear Mommy say", the wife answered. The daughter bowed her head and said, "Lord, why on earth did I invite all these people to dinner?"

Thursday, 20 November 2008

Lord, grant me patience...now!

I don't know about some of you, but I've never been one to back down from speaking my mind. I tend to have strong views on certain things, particularly when it comes to what I perceive to be unethical behaviour, and I've been the cause of more than one rather heated debate at Circuit Quarterly Meetings.

So much so that one of the ministers in my current Circuit advised me, during probation, to "keep my head down, my nose clean, and my mouth shut". Yeah, right - like THAT's going to happen! While I believe that I do have a healthy respect for authority, I'm also no-body's "yes-man".

But I received this prayer from a fellow member of Toastmasters (which I'll speak about more in a future post), which puts a little perspective on things.

"Lord, keep me from becoming talkative and possessed with the idea that I must express myself on every subject.

Release me from the craving to straighten out everyone's affairs

Teach me the glorious lesson that occasionally I may be wrong.

Make me helpful but not bossy.

With my vast store of wisdom and experience it does seem a pity not to use it all -

But Thou knowest, Lord that I want a few friends in the end."

Wednesday, 19 November 2008

Ancient computing device?

My son James found this rather interesting-looking stone the other day, and the fertile imaginations in the Jones family have been speculating on what it may be.

This morning I think that I have found the answer - a stone-age mouse!

(I am of course open to other suggestions!)

Tuesday, 18 November 2008

On the move!

Well, it's time - two weeks left, and then I'm off to Uitenhage. I don't know how Paul felt when embarking on his first missionary journey, but I can imagine that what he felt and what I am feeling right now must be fairly similar.

This past Sunday we had Rev Brian Smith leading the service at St Andrews. Brian has been journeying with our leadership for some months, providing valuable training that will empower them to take the congregation forward, as Brian puts it, "from where you are now to where God wants you to be".

However, Brian's next words were in the form of a question to the congregation: "Do you think that this leadership is capable of taking you from where you are now to where God wants you to be?" Before the congregation could answer, Brian replied to his own question thus: "Probably not".

Before an impromptu lynch mob couuld be assembled, Brian went on to explain himself: "In our own strength, we do not have the capacity to lead anyone around the block. And the realisation thereof is scary. But just as Moses was confronted by that which gives shepherds the most fear of all - fire, so God speaks to us through our deepest fears. God does not need to call those who are equipped, because God equippes those who are called".

As I embark on the start of my personal "missionary journey" towards becoming a Methodist minister, I pray that as God has called me, so God will equip me as well. Lord, I REALLY need equipping, as I am so incapable of taking Your people from where they are now to where You want them to be...

Thursday, 13 November 2008

You in your small corner, and I in mine...

I love the Church that has just accepted me as a probationer minister, despite the quirks and issues that one has to deal with from time to time within its ranks. And I also made certain promises from the floor of Synod, including the one where I promised to go to whichever Circuit I would be sent.

But a recent read through some of the documents on the MCSA 2008 Conference website have left me a little confused. In the report entitled "Human Resources, Management, and Development", Rev Brian Smith notes that the results of a recent survey questionnaire completed by clergy has indicated that "far too many Ministers are being placed in Stations which result in separation from their spouses".

As I enter Phase One in 2009, I will be adding to the ranks of "separated ministers", as I will be leaving my family behind in Johannesburg when I relocate to Uitenhage next year. And while I'm in the fortunate position of my wife not having to seek employment outside the home (NEVER say that a housewife "doesn't work", gents!), my problem stems from the fact that my son is currently at school in Grade 4.

"So what's the problem?" you may ask. "Surely there are schools in Uitenhage?" Undoubtedly there are, as is the case in any town or city within South Africa. I've no doubt that there are many good schools where I am going, as there will be in Pietermaritzburg or virtually any place where the MCSA chooses to send me.

That's not the problem. The problem is with the disruptive nature of the placement process during probation.

Let me explain for the benefit of those who are not familiar with the process around placement of ministers within the MCSA. Normally an ordained minister would be sent to a particular station for an initial period of two years (known generally as a "Conference Appointment"). If all goes well and there is mutual agreement between the minister and their Circuit, the minister can be re-invited for a further period of up to three years (making a total of five). The minister can then be re-invited for further periods of up to five years thereafter. In this manner, despite the itinerant nature of the Methodist ministry, the individual minister can remain in one place for a reasonable period of time if need be. (For purposes of this post, I'm not discussing the "ideal" period that a minister should remain in one place - that's a different topic for another day!)

Not so when it comes to probationers. I currently live in the south of Johannesburg, approximately 15 kilometres from a Phase One training centre. However, the "powers that be" have determined that I should be sent 1 000 kilometres away to start my training at the Port Elizabeth Phase One centre. No problem so far - after all, I DID say that I would "go to whichever Circuit I am sent", and there are worse places in the world to live than near the coast!

However, the MCSA has decided that as many probationers as possible are to spend time at a residential seminary, which means that it is likely that I will be spending some time at the new Seth Mokitimi Methodist Seminary from my second year. This seminary is in Pietermaritzburg, which will mean another move of some 1 100 kilometres.

Once again I have no problem with Pietermaritzburg. I have spent some time there during my auditing days, and it looks like a pleasant enough place to live. I've also been told that there are some excellent schools there. However, after a year (or two) at college, no doubt I'll be off again to wherever the MCSA chooses to place me to complete my probation. If the experience of my colleagues is anything to go by, that is unlikely to be a "Checkers" (i.e. "just up your street") move, either.

Now herein lies the rub. My son has been in the same school for 6 years, and although he has done reasonably well since he started school, this has been the year in which he has really started to come into his own academically. At this stage of the year he is well in the running to make the Top 10 in his grade. In addition, he is an avid participant in sporting and cultural activities, and is well liked by both his teachers and his peers.

Naturally, as a parent, I would like not to disrupt this setting if at all possible. Changing schools three times in the next four years (Uitenhage in 2009, possibly Pietermaitzburg in 2010-11, and anywhere in the Connexion thereafter) is virtually guaranteed to do so.

For this reason my family and I have taken the painful (not to mention expensive) decision for them to remain behind in Johannesburg until I come towards the end of probation.

Now I KNOW that the MCSA cannot create a tailor-made situation for each and every one of its candidates. And I KNOW that I can only be sent where there is an available station. And I accept this. But given the Church's concern regarding the separation of families, this is perhaps one area that warrants further consideration?

In my case, if I could have known with reasonable certainty that I would be able to spend even three years in one area, I would not be leaving my family behind next year. As it is, we just simply cannot plan, and therefore need to make the best of a less-than-ideal situation.

However, with God's help, we'll get through this phase of the ministry journey.


Last night before going to bed, my wife and I prayed (as we generally do) that God would give us a good night's rest, ready and refreshed to tackle the next day. Well, I rested really well last night - so much so that I slept right through the mother of all storms.

This morning the devastation was plainly evident. Although the house got away with little more than a seriously good wash (which finally got all the bird poop off the roof), my office did not fare so well. Being at the bottom of a sloped stand, all the stormwater that would ordinarily have been taken by the storm drains in the street (which are currently all in various states of disrepair) rushed down the driveway and ended up 6 inches deep in my office.

Thankfully we had the foresight to put all of the files up on shelves, although the contents of one file needs some serious drying-out. But as I was baling out the office, thoughts of "The Wise Man Built His House Upon The Rock" came to mind - especially the part where we sing "The Rains Came Down And The Floods Went Up".

Isn't it strange what one remembers from Sunday School? Needless to say, while singing silly songs does not keep the water at bay, nor does shouting or crying, either.

And this got me thinking about our attitude to life - especially when things aren't going so well. In Mark 4: 35-41 we read how the storm came up when Jesus and His disciples were crossing the lake. In the midst of the storm, Jesus was asleep. Storms will come into our lives, and unlike Jesus, we may not be able to rebuke the waves. But we CAN choose how we will respond to such storms. Jesus rebuked the wind and the waves, but I'm not convinced that when He asked the disciples why they were afraid, questioning their lack of faith, it was because the disciples were unable to deal with the storm. Rather, I believe that Jesus' questions to His disciples had more to do with how they reacted to the storm.

Storms will pass, as this one surely would have as well (our Lord simply accelerated the process!). However, just as Jesus was resting in the midst of the storm, so I believe that we need to rest in Him when storms enter our lives. And if a bit of water in my office this morning served as a reminder of the One Whom I need to put my trust in, then the clean-up operation was not the waste of time it may have seemed at first.

I give thanks that God has brought me through many storms in my life - including this one - and that whatever storms I may face in future, God will be there for me and with me.

Friday, 7 November 2008

Congratulations, President-elect Obama!

... and thank you for one of the most inspiring speeches I've heard for many a year.

To hear the speech, click here.

"Yes, we can!"

Wednesday, 5 November 2008

Catching up

I've had a "blog drought" for a few weeks, followed by tonights "blog flood". So please scroll down a fair bit to see all the latest posts - there are about four or five, I think. Who knows - there's three types of accountants - those who can count, and those who can't...

As an aside, I noticed that the "Verse of the Day" for today reads: “This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God's servants, who give their full time to governing.” (Romans 13:6). Nice one, BibleGateway.com - I know that these are generated randomly, but given my background in accounting and tax (not to mention that these two have just about buried me in work for the past two months as I wind down towards entering ministry full-time), it was most appropriate for me.

Being collared

This past Sunday I attended worship at St Andrews in "civvies", not expecting to be called upon to actually take any part in leading the service, so I was resplendent in my old Welsh Choir T-shirt and short pants. So imagine my embarrassment when I realised that it was the Confirmation service, with virtually the entire congregation decked out in their Sunday best.

Naturally, Itumeleng wasn't about to let me get off scot-free as he called me up firstly to pray over the offering, then (together with himself and the stewards) to lay hands upon the confirmands.

As a result, I promised the congregation faithfully that they would never again see me in church dressed in such deplorable attire, as I am to be "collared" this coming Sunday. There is quite a bit of excitement around this service, as it symbolises our Circuit "sending me out to preach the Good News" as a Phase One probationer.

I have indicated previously that I deliberately bought oversize clerical shirts to ensure that I have ample room in the neck (for some reason known only to our Lord, I have a particularly large head and neck for my particular body frame). Of course, whether I will be able to get the collar over the lump that will surely be in my throat on Sunday, remains to be seen.

The St Andrews people have been absolutely fantastic to me since I joined them this year, and have welcomed me into their midst with open and loving arms. They also have a fine sense of humour, which has resulted in quite a bit of leg-pulling (excuse the pun) about my "Kortbroek" image on Sunday, and like one or two of my reprobate friends, consider the use of "Reverend" and "Steven Jones" in the same sentence as an oxymoron of note.

So I thought that in this particular post I'd be serious for once. Now with my posts I usually like to include pictures, but seeing as I only have one image of a clerical collar (which I have already used twice), I thought I'd try to find a better picture of what I would possibly look like decked out in clerical garb...

Note the serious gleam in my eyes?

My name is Jones ... James Jones

Since Revs Bishop / Rev & Rev Bishop / oh, rhubarb - Michael and Kym have already published 124,687 photos of their son James on their blog, and I have not got ONE up yet, here are a couple of my son and heir, buddy extroadinaire, and the apple of my eye.

This is James (on the left), with his best friend Cameron. (Photographs can be SO deceiving, as Cameron is actually nearly six inches TALLER than James!)

This is James on his "father's yacht", otherwise known as the bath. Normally you can't see his face, because it is usually buried behind a book - one of his dad's bad habits he's picked up (train the child in the way he should go...). However, I could probably get locked up for many years for being in possession of THIS picture! Sies, man! And they let YOU into the ministry?!

Moreri / Umshumayeli / Local Preacher

On the 19th of October I was privileged to be part of a Service of Recognition for Local Preachers coming onto Full Plan.

To those not familiar with the Methodist procedures, a Local Preacher's journey starts (of course) with an expression of a "call to preach", followed by the granting by the Circuit Superintendent of a "Note to Preach", which is valid for a quarter. During this time, the candidate takes part in one or more services together with a minister or experienced Local Preacher, who will report on the candidate and recommend whether they should proceed to the next stage, which is "On Trial". The "On Trial" phase lasts for a minimum of two years, during which time a number of trial services are to be conducted. At the same time, the candidate must comply with the Church's academic requirements.

In my particular case I took a bit of a "short-cut" route in that my call to full-time ministry came (in a sense) before any awareness on my part of any call to preach. However, the route for potential ministry candidates is via the Local Preacher route, except that once the candidate has completed one year "On Trial", complied with the academic requirements for candidature as a minister, and is recommended as a candidate minister by the District Synod, remission from the second year "On Trial" may be granted at the discretion of the Circuit Local Preacher's Quarterly Meeting.

So this is how I have come to being received "on Full Plan" (i.e. as a fully-accredited Local Preacher), despite having already received the EMMU letter accepting me as a Phase One probationer.

The service itself was a marathon affair, lasting just on four hours. Us whiteys still need to develop the stamina for such services! (Our style is more like: in - hymn sandwich with prayers and the "other bits" - sermon - closing hymn - out. 50 minutes, done!) That's not to say that the service was not a moving experience - on the contrary, it was extremely moving, with much singing and praising (in true African style), prayer, and various addresses.

When it came to the commissioning itself, it was quite incredible.

Those with long memories (or the patience to trawl back through the archives of this blog) will recall that during my trial service at Zola, I was asked what my status as a Local Preacher was. Since I was still on trial, I was asked to use the lectern, as it is the custom only for Local Preachers on full plan and ministers to preach from the pulpit. If you are a non-traditionalist, then pulpit, lectern, microphone stand, no mike at all - makes no difference at the end of the day, but hey, when in rome, do as the Romans do. But on the day of the commissioning service, each preacher is led by the hand into the pulpit, prayed for - and then asked to give a brief address to the congregation.

Now talk about the need to be ready "in season and out", for I had absolutely no idea that I would be asked to do this! Thankfully I was the last of the preachers to be led up, so I had time to ask God to give me the appropriate words for the occasion. The last thing that I wanted was to sound like I was giving an Oscar acceptance speech!

But all I could think about was the time I was about to leave primary school to go up to high school. Forest High in the south of Johannesburg does not have the best of reputations of late, particularly since that tragic stabbing a while back, but even back in 1981 it was a rough place. And since that's where I was going, my primary school principal felt there was no future for me, and told me so in no uncertain terms: "Jones - I don't expect you to amount to much!"

Lord! What relevance does THAT have to addressing a congregation at a Local Preachers' Commissioning service? As these thoughts were tumbling through my head, I was nervously flipping through my Xhosa hymnbook - and then it hit me right between the eyes: Indumiso C - Psalm 100. For it was the same primary school principal who asked me to stand up in fromt of the whole school assembly, at the tender age of 9, and read out Psalm 100. It was the first time I had ever read Scripture aloud in public.

When Rev Kgomotso Mtimkulu, our Circuit Local Preachers Association President, led me into the pulpit, I felt a shaft of light bore straight through my soul. I related how my primary school principal told me how I would amount to nothing, and he was right. For without Jesus in my life, I AM nothing. But that reading of Psalm 100 sowed a seed into my heart: "Make a joyful noise unto the Lord, all ye lands. Serve the Lord with gladness. Come before His presence with singing. Know ye that the Lord is God. It is He that hast made us, not we ourselves. We are His people and the sheep of His pasture. Enter into His gates with thanksgiving, and into His courts with praise. Be thankful unto Him, and bless His Name, for the Lord is good!" (I've probably left out some verses and jumbled others, but I've deliberately written it down as I remembered it from 30 years ago, rather than to copy it from one of my Bibles.)

Once I had shared this story, I asked the congregation to indulge me while I read the Psalm to them. But this time, it was not Psalm 100, but Indumiso C, to honour the predominantly Xhosa-speaking congregation that had come to support us new Local Preachers.

Here are a few pics from this truly amazing and moving service...

Local Preachers from all around the South Rand Circuit. This is not a fist fight about to break out, but rather the preamble to a "group hug" of note!

Freedom Park congregants enters the sanctuary. Freedom Park is a preaching place in an informal settlement next to Eldorado Park, and falls under the pastoral oversight of St Andrews. I've conducted a number of services there, and have become very fond of these dear souls.

The "line-up". (Does my head REALLY shine THAT much?)

Three of the "Freedom Park 5" in action. The way they put everything into their worship is truly inspiring. (As an aside, can you imagine inviting a group of whiteys to a service: "We're going to worship God today. Bring towels." Erm...)

Me in the pulpit, reading "Indumiso C". I have absolutely no idea what was going through Pumla's mind (back, in white), but Cloupas (right) seemed to be impressed with my Xhosa...

It's official!

The long-awaited letter has finally arrived, and I'm about to be unleashed on an unsuspecting Methodist Church of Southern Africa as a Phase One Probationer!

But once the family tears, shouts of joy, and numerous telephone calls had passed, my mind drifted back to this year's Synod, when Bishop Paul Verryn was outlining the covenental relationship between the MCSA and its clergy.

His words are as clear in my mind as though he was sitting there, speaking there as I type: "As those who wish to enter ministry, we believe that we are called by God to this great task. The role of the Church is to create a space for us to explore this call, develop it, and ultimately fulfil it."

I am so thankful to God for placing this call on my life to minister to God's people. I still question at times - why me, Lord? I'm just a dumb accountant. I have a short fuse. I'm not the world's best when it comes to pastoral work. But then again, look what You were able to do with the disciples! All I ask is that You keep me hungry for Your Word, eager to do Your will, and to have a heart for Your people.

I am also thankful to the Methodist Church which, as Bishop Verryn has put it, "created the space" in response to God's call. No doubt I will make mistakes, and believe me I'll speak my mind if I feel it is warranted, but I'll try my level best not to let the Church down.

I'm thankful to the congregations in Uitenhage that are currently preparing to receive me. God calls, the MCSA "creates the space", but it is the generosity of a local congregation that provides ministers with the physical means with which to fulfil God's call. And while I journey along this road, I'll be sheltered, fed, and clothed thanks to this generosity. Heaven help me if I should ever abuse this privilege!

I'm thankful to my family, who have supported me through the journey thus far. There will be some difficult years ahead, particularly as they won't be joining me initially. While the probation journey is exciting, it's also disruptive with the MCSA taking "here I am, send me" quite seriously. With my son being in Grade 4 at the moment, frequent changes of school at this stage would wreak havoc with his education, and for this reason I'll only consider relocating my family once my "happy wanderings" become less frequent.

There are many other people who have influenced my life and supported me along the way, but this post is already beginning to look like an Oscar acceptance speech. I've thanked most of you in person, and be assured that I thank God for you.

Typical accountant...

I've finally got the opportunity to catch up on weeks of blogging, and as I logged in, I noticed that I have reached the milestone of 100 posts.

Now I would have liked to have something special to mark this occasion with, and as my upcoming posts will show, there is much to give God thanks for. But what does this lame-brained, unobservant beancounter end up posting as No. 100? A picture of a rainbow shining on the offices of the South African Revenue Service!

What a dork...