God's Word for today

Monday, 30 March 2009

Oh, rhubarb! (But all's well that ends well...)

Well, my worst fears were confirmed yesterday - the CD that I painstakingly compiled on Saturday would not play on Despatch's sound system, so it was hymns a capella. Thankfully they were well-known hymns which the congregation joined in with enthusiasm - even Baden, who accused me of calling his congregation names, was singing lustily.

I did nothing of the sort, Herr Deacon - I was simply expressing fears of a repeat of what happened at Phase One college a few weeks back, when I selected hymns that NOBODY knew and ended up doing a solo! Your folks, on the other hand, did themselves proud!

Thank you for allowing me the opportunity of sharing with your congregation, and being brave enough to subject them to the "appie"...

Saturday, 28 March 2009


The CD is finally cut, and it works! (At least, it works on my PC).

Please pray that it works in Despatch Methodist Church's DVD player as well, or I'll end up leading worship a capella which, when I tried this at the Phase One college, ended up with me singing all the hymns as a solo.

Aaargh! Technology is driving me nuts!

Does anyone want to by a slightly dented (well, okay then - VERY dented) Dell laptop? No? Oh well, good thing I asked BEFORE I took my trusty "No. 1 Spanner" (aka a 15lb sledge hammer) to it.

Allow me to explain. These technological devices that we put ourselves at the mercy of are starting to take over our lives. In my case, every sermon that I have ever preached in the last three years is sitting on my laptop, together with many gigabytes of TEEC assignments, sermon resources, e-books - even MIDI files of most of the old Methodist hymns are lurking on my hard drive.

And it is the latter that is causing my frustration at the moment.

The church that I will be conducting the service at tomorrow morning is in Despatch, one of the three towns (together with Uitenhage and Port Elizabeth) that makes up the Nelson Mandela Metropole. This particular Society does not currently have an organist (any takers? Please contact me), but they do have a sound system on which CDs of mostly contemporary-style worship are played. Since I've been reliably informed that there are a number of older folk in the congregation who are yearning to sing some hymns last heard when LP records were replaced by compact disks, I thought that (seeing as I am a lover of hymns as well), I'd cut some of my MIDI files to a CD so that the congregation can sing along.

This is where the trouble started. For some weird and wonderful reason, the software that I'm using (Sonic RecordNow) cuts the files onto the CD, but takes an absolute AGE in "finalising the session" (that's computer-geek-speak for "getting the CD to a state where it can be played in a normal CD player"). Already one CD has gone spinning across my office, having been slung with a venom that would give the "powers that be" in the Church some doubt as to my salvation, and a second one is currently hissing away in the CD drive (in synchronicity with the steam hissing out of my ears).

But come hell or high water, I WILL get these files cut onto disk, because we WILL be worshipping God in Despatch tomorrow!

Friday, 27 March 2009

Help! I have a crisis!

I'm sitting with a problem of cataclysmic proportions! It's 2 days to the Australian Grand Prix, and I haven't found ANYONE in the congregation yet who meets the following criteria:
1. Subscribes to DStv
2. Enjoys Formula One
3. Does NOT support Ferrari!

I mean - what's a minister supposed to DO in this situation? I'm beginning to have serious doubts as to the state of salvation of these Philistine barbarians who follow (gasp!) the red cars. Especially when we KNOW that THIS is the man who will (once again) be champion in 2009!

While on the subject of Formula One, you've gotta admit that this video clip is seriously cool! Note the red "1" proudly displayed on the nose of the car.

Go, Lewis, go - give me reason to ring the bell at St George's on Sunday!

Phase Ones going through the wars...

There have been a few of us Phase Ones who have been suffering colds over the past few weeks, but this past Wednesday made the sniffles pale into insignificance as Shirley took a tumble in the shower.

It was rather a nasty fall, and at one stage we feared that her leg might be broken. We are thankful to God that this was not the case, but a trip to hospital and numerous X-rays confirmed that she had banged her back quite badly.

Her Superintendent wanted her to stay at the College overnight so that he could collect her the next day. (Alice, her home Circuit, is quite some distance from the College in Port Elizabeth - about 210 km, in fact, according to website globefeed.com). However, Shirley was in no frame of mind to negotiate - she just wanted to go home - now!

Our prayers are with you Shirley, and we pray that your back will mend soon - the Phase One choir needs its soprano back!

Prayers for South Africa

Last Friday our church at Janssensdal joined with countless others around the country in a National Day of Prayer for South Africa.

What was particularly incredible about this time of prayer is that with the exception of one or two, none of us really felt like being there. It's as though we were experiencing a spiritual drought in solidarity with the physical drought that was taking place in our area, notwithstanding God's bountiful answer to prayer for rain a mere month back. Yet somehow - as always - God came through, turning a battle of will and discipline into a blessed time of communion with God. We truly felt that God had not only heard our prayers for South Africa, but that the restoration of our country needed to start with the restoration of our own souls.

Here are the slides that we used to guide us through the time of prayer. The words and Scripture readings came from an e-mail sent to me by Africa Enterprise, with some minor adaptations.

Janssensdal Prayer for South Africa slides - 20 March 2009 (3.1 MB)

Surviving the Sacraments Exam

A few weeks ago all the Phase One probationers had to write an examination on the Sacraments (Baptism and Holy Communion). This was the culmination of about eight weeks of instruction, which is required by the Church before we are able to administer the Sacraments in our home churches.

However, this privilege is a limited one, whereby we are authorised only to administer the Sacraments within our home Circuits, and then only for this year. Such dispensation needs to be renewed annually until such time one is ordained.

Getting back to the examination itself, one would think that as a holder of a Masters degree I've written more than my fair share of examinations, and would therefore be used to them. Well, let me tell you, I found this to be one of the toughest that I have ever written, largely because I've forgotten the art of speed-writing. Three hours was simply not sufficient for me to do the paper justice, and it was probably by some miracle that I was able to completely leave out 20% of the paper and still pass!

Unfortunately for many of my colleagues, they did not get through - in fact, only four out of the eleven of us got through. My heart bleeds for them, especially one student who did very well in the questions that he managed to answer but did not allow sufficient time to garner sufficient marks to get through.

My prayers will be with them as they prepare to write a supplementary paper in October.

I went home, and then came home again

After I posted about my father-in-law being called home to higher service on Monday, I had a bit of internal turmoil. Do I go to Johannesburg for the funeral or not? If I do, for how long? Will I be able to get a flight? (This was more of an arduous task than it may seem on the face of it, since I was relying on being able to cash in frequent flyer miles. I didn't have the bucks to pay full fare - not that I really had the nearly R900 in taxes that one has to pay when taking a "free" flight, but it was better than the 2 1/2 grand it would have cost.) Will my Superintendent allow me to go? Will the Phase One college allow me to go? And after all that, would it do any good for me to go?

Anyway, after this whole long story, I decided to make the trip, and in the end I'm glad that I went, for my wife needed a shoulder to lean on during this time. Those of you who don't know Belinda well need to understand that whenever a crisis hits, everyone around her can collapse while she goes into "cope mode". When she gets into this groove, she has a mind like a steel trap, where life becomes a series of checklists. It's a wonderful thing to have around when things go horribly wrong, because she simply battens down the hatches and do what needs to be done.

However, in this case her "cope mode" went into overdrive to the point where she was trying to "overfix" things, and was in serious danger of "checklisting" her way to a nervous breakdown. She therefore needed my assurance that she didn't HAVE to fix EVERYTHING, and that there were others around who could carry some of the burden.

The visit was all too short - I flew out on Wednesday afternoon, and was back in Uitenhage this morning. It was however such a joy to see my family again, even though it was for only a few brief hours and not under the best of circumstances.

The question of where "home" is came up in a rather strange way. Members of my congregation here in Uitenhage have asked me whether or not I miss Johannesburg, and have been horrified when I've replied with an emphastic "no". "But don't you miss your family?" they ask, to which I always reply, "My family, I miss terribly. Joburg, I don't miss at all". In fact, to quote Peanut, one of ventriloquist Jeff Dunham's characters, "it SUUUUCKS!!!" The traffic ... is hell! The air ... is dirty as hell! The aggression of the drivers ... is hell! The sooner I got out of there - and the sooner I can get my family out of there as well - the better!

So where, then, IS home? I ask this question because when I was in Johannesburg, in my own home (well, the one that is registered in my name, that is), I kept referring to my Joburg home as "here" and my Uitenhage home as "home". It's just incredible how the church community has, in three short months, loved me and accepted me to the degree that I can already consider Uitenhage as "home".

However, the place that I call "home" will most likely change at the end of the year. It's beginning to look more and more likely that I'll be relocating to Pietermaritzburg next year (to take up residence at the Seth Mokitimi Methodist Seminary), and I broached the subject of us moving there as a family next year. Of course, the final decision is in the hands of the Church, and at the moment that decision seems a thousand miles away from being made at this point in time.

The only thing that keeps me sane at the moment is knowing that whatever the final outcome is, God is in control. "Here I am, Lord ... send me". I never understood the reality of this statement until now.

Monday, 23 March 2009

Andrew Johannes Genau (28 May 1930 - 23 March 2009)

"Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him" (James 1: 12)

I was saddened by the news from my wife this morning that my father-in-law had passed away sometime during the early hours of this morning.

When Belinda and I started going out nearly 22 years ago and I met "Uncle Andy" for the first time, I found that we shared the same birthday - 28 May. Over the years, "Pops" (as I called him after Belinda and I were married) and I would share many more things - especially the fact that I could even meet and later marry my Proverbs 31 wife at all. For when Belinda had leukaemia at the age of 6, he was the one who provided the life-saving bone marrow necessary for transplant. He worked himself to the bone, at great cost to his own health, to provide for his family amidst the mounting medical bills - all because he loved his daughter more than life itself.

While he didn't have a great education, he instilled the values into his three girls that made them what they are today. He was not a rich man, but what he had was worth more than gold.

In later years Belinda and I tried our best to make their "golden years" a little easier, and my son has had the privilege of having his grandparents living right next door to him for the past six or seven years. James and Oupa would spend many an hour, just talking about "stuff" - secrets between grandfather and grandson that parents are not meant to be privy to.

Pops, however I may remember you in years to come, I'll forever be grateful to you for giving me your daughter. The love in her eyes will always remind me of the love you had for your family. You may have been seen as a chatterbox at times, but it was this quality that made you a friend to many, and an an enemy to none.

You will be sorely missed.

Thursday, 19 March 2009

Going crackers...

I've been in a total flat spin, what with minister's retreat and a whole truckload of admin to catch up on when I returned to the office today. Not to mention preparation for a prayer service we hare holding tomorrow evening, in which we will be praying for South Africa and particularly for the upcoming elections.

Hopefully I'll be able to catch up with blogging over the weekend. I'll also post the prayer service slides once the service has taken place.

Sunday, 15 March 2009

Support staff hard at work

This picture is of Jean, one of our Church secretaries, slaving away at her work ...

(We love you, Jean, and appreciate the hard work that you do. Trust me to catch you during a rare moment of rest!)

Let's get upset!

John 2: 13 - 22

At this morning's services, my message depicted Jesus as a "whistle-blower" - the one who raises their voice against injustice and corrupt practices. Now whistle-blowers are not the most popular people around. They are not popular with those whom they expose, for obvious reasons.

Less obvious is the fact that they are not popular with those around them, either. This probably stems from our history, where those who would betray those who participated in the struggle against apartheid to the security forces were branded as "impimpis" - tattletales, or stooges. Judas Iscariot would have been regarded as an "impimpi" of his day when he agreed to betray Jesus.

There is however this feeling of "impimpi" in most of us. Witness the situation when someone goes to a restaurant and their meal is served cold, or the order is wrong. No matter how gently and tactfully the person complains, there are always some who regard the complainant as an idiot, "making a scene" for nothing.

This is probably one of the main reasons why service levels in South Africa are so diabolical - because for the most part, we simply put up with it!

But there is a huge difference between an "impimpi" and a "whistle-blower". The whistle-blower is in fact a person of tremendous courage. For it is the whistle-blower who spots corrupt practices, and speaks out against them. It will be the whistle-blower who ends up reporting to the Competition Commission those involved in price collusion. If you are boasting around the braai about how clever you are in screwing SARS out of tax on your car allowance, it is often the whistle-blower who will be the cause of a nasty "please explain" letter from SARS landing in your postbox with a resounding thud.

So when Jesus cleared out the Temple, it wasn't with a quiet approach to the high priest: "Ahem ... please could you keep the noise down here; we're trying to worship", it was kicking over tables, whip in hand, yelling and sending money, livestock, and people scattering in all directions. I likened it to someone walking into church on Easter Sunday, kicking over pews, slapping the preacher, and barricading the parking lot. You'd better have VERY good reasons for doing something this drastic - as Jesus undoubtedly did.

This is not the "gentle Jesus, meek and mild" - that countenance is reserved, as the prayer continues, for the Jesus Who "looks upon this little child". These were not innocent little children in this case - they were mean, corrupt, manipulating so-called "leaders" who were using a practical need - the requirement to exchange currency - into an oppressive system designed to unjustly enrich those who are charged with its administration. They deserved the whip!

Now this is not a Scriptural licence to indiscriminately throw our toys out the cot at every turn. Jonah had the type of anger that festered and burned, resulting in God asking Jonah, "Do you have good reason to be angry?" (Jonah 4:4, New American Standard Bible). Sometimes it's not for us to be angry - such anger is reserved for God alone. But sometimes we need to be filled with a righteous anger - an anger that wells up when we see injustice, and motivates us to bring about a change.

What about us as ministers? Do we expose corrupt practices, both within as well as outside the Church? Or do we keep quiet, not wanting to be seen as ecclesiastical "impimpis"? Or even worse - are we active participants in such practices? If we are following Option 1, our reward will be to hear Jesus saying, "well done, good and faithful servant". If Option 2, we need to repent quickly. And if Option 3, we should not be surprised if we feel the lashes of Jesus' whip, just as those in the Temple did on that fateful day.

Being a whistle-blower does not come without a cost. But if our Lord was prepared to pay that price, shouldn't we be as well?

I closed my message with this quote from Daniel Schowalter, professor of religion and classics at Carthage College in Wisconsin, USA, who writes that “Jesus in John’s Gospel is meant to be a controversial figure – certainly uncomfortable to be around! During Lent, comfort is not a priority. It may be that an encounter with the whip-bearing Jesus of John 2 is just the thing to prompt believers into asking anew the age-old questions; re-acquainting themselves with the dynamic, challenging, controversial Jesus. And deciding again what it means to follow Him”.

Lord Jesus, help us to recognise when it is appropriate for us to be angry. Help us to pick our fights carefully. Allow us to be motivated by the Holy Spirit, and used as Your hands and feet to bring about change where there is injustice in the world.

Saturday, 14 March 2009

Trying to remain true to one's calling

I mentioned in a previous post about the Learning Partnership (LP) workshop that I attended this morning. For those who are unfamiliar with Methodist jargon, an LP is a group of primarily lay persons drawn from the probationer's local context, whose aim is to assist the probationer in training towards achieving certain goals. These can be spiritual, physical, or a combination thereof. An LP can also serve as a sounding-board for the probationer, and is a forum where constructive feedback may be given.

It all sounds so wonderful, and I am most grateful that in my own Circuit the people who are members of my LP are committed people who sincerely want to help me and support me in this first phase of ministry. However, this is unfortunately not the experience that all probationers feel, and my heart bled for one fellow probationer who had to attend the workshop on her own. Now I don't want to be unfair to her Circuit - after all, it IS a long way to travel in this particular case, and many people may have had prior commitments or have to work on a Saturday morning.

But as I was sitting in the workshop this morning, I had an overwhelming sense of isolation. A large part of this is that my family is not around to share these experiences with me. Perhaps Barry Marshall's comment to the lay folk that "you are all at home, but your probationer is in many cases not at home" really hit hard as he illustrated the reality of being separated from family. But part of it is a sense of isolation from the wider Church.

The uncertainty of what will happen in 2010 concerning College / Circuit, and for how many years I'll be in either one of these two situations really eats away at me at times. For instance, if I am going to College next year, well so be it. My preference would undoubtedly be to continue in Circuit, not because I have a problem with seminary education, but because of my own stage in life. However, we made a promise to go where we are sent, and so I will honour whatever the Church decides. My problem is the whole uncertainty around the decision (or, at this stage, lack of decision).

For instance, if I am sent to College, but only for one year, then it would be virtually impossible for my family to relocate with me. My son would be in Grade 6 next year, and if he were to change schools for one year, he would then have to settle in a new primary school for another year and then have to change a third time as he starts high school. The downside of this would be that I'm not sure that I could handle being apart from my family for a second year - this year is rough enough, and we're only in mid-March.

On the other hand, if it is for two or three years, then we could reunite as a family. Granted, my son will still have to change school after two years, but he would have had to do this to start high school, regardless of what my ministry situation is. So that we can deal with. However, one needs to make a decision about this fairly soon, since a relocation of this nature would entail the sale of my house in Johannesburg - not something that one can initiate and complete in a couple of weeks, especially in the current economic climate. Renting it out is not an option, as I could not see myself stressing about what tenants may be doing to my property; whether they will pay the rent; etc. - especially if I am located some distance away.

The other concern is that if I am sent to College, there is apparently accommodation provided. Whether such accommodation can house my wife, son, mother, and her parents as well is another story - a burden I would regard as completely unfair to place at the Church's door. At least in a Circuit manse, one could make a plan as such manses tend to be quite large in most cases.

My frustration is however two-fold.

Firstly, I cannot believe that there is absolutely NO-ONE in the ENTIRE MCSA that has an idea of the expected outcomes of sending probationers to College, or what the criteria would be for one, two, or three years. We're spending nearly R100 million on a new seminary, for crying out loud - I can't believe that this would be done in a vacuum. Good stewardship principles dictate that there MUST be a body or bodies of persons who have been entrusted with such planning, and I have no doubt that this would be the case with the new seminary. Surely there must be SOME information that can be shared with probationers, if only to put our minds at rest as to what the Church plans to do with us for the next few years?

Secondly, I get extremely frustrated with statements made in reports to Conference expressing concern about separation of ministers from their families, yet almost without exception our stationing reflects the opposite of such stated concerns. Too many ministers are relocated without apparent concern for their family situations. My previous Superintendent, for instance, is stationed in Johannesburg while his wife has had to remain in Klerksdorp. She is a school principal there, and anyone who knows the government school system will be aware that getting a teacher's post in a new centre is problematic enough, but getting a principal's post is virtually impossible. So Itumeleng and his wife take it in turns to commute about 400km each weekend, just so they can spend SOME time together! He's never complained, but I know he's taken major strain over the past three years because of this. And it's just not right! It's not healthy for a married couple to live this way, and a minister called to preach the Gospel should especially not have to live this way!

Now I don't want the folks at Uitenhage to read this and feel that I am being ungrateful - on the contrary, I am extremely grateful for the love and hospitality that they have shown to me. My local Circuit has given me everything I could possibly need in order to exercise my call, and I'll never take that for granted. On the other hand, I was living 15km away from a Phase One centre - it's not like there was no other option but to send me 1000km away. I understand that there may be an element of spiritual formation that comes from a relocation of this nature, and I'd feel a whole lot better if someone could explain to me just what that is.

I'm also aware that many reading this blog will say I'm being unfair, and probably with some justification. After all, I knew what I was in for when I candidated; many others before me have gone through this and survived; I can't expect the Church to rearrange its entire programme to accommodate me; etc, etc. All these things are true. But I need to rant SOMEWHERE, or I'll go insane.

And right now - probably another unfair statement, I know, but allow me this indulgence - I feel that the Church is not listening to our cries. I say "our" cries, because while I may be the most vocal about this, I'm not the only one who is feeling this way. Some of my fellow Phase Ones are really, really hurting right now. Many of us cry ourselves to sleep most nights. Watching couples in Church on Sunday, holding hands, rips our hearts in two.

I really love God. I love His church, and I am still in awe that God would call a stubborn, opinionated, hotheaded "hardegat" like me to serve Him in full-time ministry. But why, oh why, Lord, does it hurt SO badly sometimes? And why can't our Church, to whom we are dedicating our lives, give us some answers?

(PS: The logo above is not intended to depict a broken Church, but right now it reflects my broken heart as one trying to fulfil one's calling within this Church that God has called me to)

To pray, or not to pray (2)

Further to a previous post under this title, I'm happy to report that all is well with my Superintendent. At this stage I haven't found an appropriate moment to discuss the burden I had to pray for him last week, but hopefully such an opportunity will arise in the next few days.

Off to hospital

No, family, please don't panic! It's not me who needs to go to hospital (my cold's not THAT bad!) - I'm "off to hospital" to visit members of our congregation who are currently being cared for there. However, although I've done a number of such visits before, they've all been at private institutions. Today is the first day I'm going to a State facility (the provincial hospital in Uitenhage).

Please pray for me. More importantly, please pray for those who are in hospital at this time.

Learning Partnership training

This morning I attended the Learning Partnership training in PE, together with three of my team members (the other two had prior engagements). It was quite a stimulating session, and one of the things that stood out most for me was the understanding that as probationer ministers, our primary purpose at this stage of our journey is to LEARN. Sometimes we put so much pressure on ourselves, trying to emulate our colleagues who have already been in the ministry for 30 years or more, and then chastising ourselves when we fall short.

I am most grateful to Bill, Simon, and Joey, who gave up their precious Saturday morning to be with me at the training. A HUGE thank you to the three of you for taking an interest in my growth.

(BTW - please spare a thought for my fellow Phase One, Jenny - I'm not sure what the circumstances are in her Circuit, but it must have been soul-destroying for her to make the 130km journey each way from Grahamstown to PE on her own, with no-one from her Circuit to support her. Hang in there, Jen - we're praying for you. Please feel free to give me a shout if you feel the need to talk).

Friday, 13 March 2009

I'm sick!

This week I came down with a cold - apparently I'm the 3rd or 4th one at college to come down with one, but I can't quite remember. Anyway, I'm being a typical male baby about it, and I really wish that my dear wife was with me to plump my pillows, administer muti, dab my sweaty brow, and generally make the right "ag shame" noises to sustain me until I've shaken off this nasty thing!

I ... JUST ... DON'T ... LIKE ... BEING ... SICK!

Gotta love blogs. They provide a platform to rant as much as you like - something I can't necessary do with my congregation. Cowboys don't cry (especially from their pulpits), and that sort of thing...

Fortunately, I'm taking heed of advice that a GP gave me many years ago. He said that if he loads me up with all manners of medication, I'll shake the thing off in 7 days. If he does nothing, it'll take a week. So I'm dosing myself up with "Wood's Great Peppermint Cure" (now R21.95 a bottle - eish! It used to be eight bucks when I first got married), throwing an extra blanket on the bed, and sweating it out. I'll be back to full tilt next week. Promise!

Thursday, 12 March 2009

The need to be totally honest

Dear Dr. Ruth,

I am a crack dealer in Kempton Park, Gauteng. I was recently diagnosed as a carrier of the HIV virus. My parents live in Hillbrow and one of my sisters, who lives in Benoni, is married to a transvestite.

My father and mother were recently arrested for growing and selling marijuana. They are financially dependent on my other two sisters, who are prostitutes in Brakpan. I have two brothers; one is currently serving a non-parole life sentence at Leeukop Central Prison for the murder of a teenage boy in 1994. My other brother is currently in jail awaiting charges of sexual misconduct with his three children.

I recently got engaged to marry a former prostitute who lives in Yeoville. She is now a part time "working girl". All things considered, my problem is this. I love my fiancé and look forward to bringing her into the family. I certainly want to be totally open and honest with her .

Should I tell her about my cousin who is a Blue Bull supporter?

Worried About My Reputation

Sunday, 8 March 2009

Money, money, money...

"For the love of money is the root of all evil" (1 Timothy 6: 10, KJV)

Something I'm finding very hard to get to grips with is the attitude of certain church communities towards finances. To me, the whole matter should be fairly straight-forward:

1. We bring our offerings to God, through the local church, in response to God's ultimate gift of love - our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ.

2. Two people receive the money collected, count it, record it in a collection journal, and bank it.

3. All money must be banked on time, in full. Collection journal = bank deposit slip = bank statement. Funds should be banked within two working days of receipt.

4. Any money spent must be duly authorised, in accordance with a properly-drafted budget. Unbudgeted expenses must be approved by the Leaders' Meeting, subject to funds being available and all bills being up to date.

5. TELL THE CONGREGATION WHAT IS HAPPENING WITH THE MONEY! It was offered for the work of the ministry through the local church. Is this what it is used for?

6. 90% of the congregants will NEVER look at a financial statement - they just want the assurance that one is available. Of the remaining 10%, 99% will look at the financials and file them. The remaining 1% will ask a question. Answer it truthfully and completely.

Six simple steps - yet churches are torn in two when we don't stick to these. Funds are not managed properly. They are not banked on time. The congregation is kept in the dark. Rumours start concerning financial mismanagement. Often where there's smoke, there's fire. Result: People stop giving.

Having only been involved with urban churches, I cannot say whether the following statement holds true for rural communities as well. But my own experience is this: Show me a financial problem, and I'll show you a spiritual one. I've yet to be proved wrong on this one.

Granted, things are tough out there at the moment, and giving will be impacted. Certain projects may have to be scaled back or postponed. But if the church is spiritually strong, processes are in place, the people involved have integrity, and there's transparency, the likelihood of such a church collapsing completely is probably quite low.

I could write reams on this subject, but this is probably a good "first log" to throw on the fire. Any takers? Comments, anyone?

My Learning Partnership team is now in place!

Today was a great achievement, in that I have managed to get the last member onto the Learning Partnership. For those who don't speak Phase One lingo, a LP is (no, not a 12" piece of vinyl containing music, Neville) a team of people who journey with the Phase One, supervising him/her in a number of tasks that need to be completed - all within the framework of the four Mission Imperatives.

The LP will be given an orientation in PE this coming Saturday; thereafter they will be required to meet about once a month to monitor the Phase One's progress.

My particular team is quite formiddable, with my Superintendent (32 years in the ministry), a Circuit Steward (who is also a psychiatrist), a Local Preacher (on full plan since 1985, when I was still sweet 16), our Youth Pastor, and a Society Steward who has been involved with hospital visitation since the Rinderpest plague! Compare this to my 27 month's experience in preaching (not to mention a mere 9 weeks' experience in full-time ministry), and you'll appreciate this wealth of experience that I so desperately need.

Exciting times ahead!

To pray, or not to pray...

This morning I woke up with a heavy heart. My Superintendent is out of town this weekend, and I was wrestling with thoughts that something might have happened to him. I don't know what would have made me think this, but I just couldn't clear my mind - even as we started worship this morning.

By the time we came to the end of worship and prepared to receive the offering, the burden became so heavy that I actually thought I was about to have a heart attack. Thankfully we have a prayer team, whose task it is each week is to spend the entire duration of the service praying for the service itself, the congregation, and whatever God may lay on their hearts.

I must admit that they looked somewhat bewildered when I burst into the vestry where they normally pray, but as I shared this burden on my heart with them, they immediately agreed that we should pray. As we were praying, I felt the burden easing, and by the time we had finished praying, I knew that we had done what we had to do.

I'm still not sure why my heart was so heavy this morning. Since I haven't seen Bill yet, I haven't been able to chat to him about it. But I would rather pray when I'm not supposed to pray, than not pray when I AM supposed to pray!

Saturday, 7 March 2009

What happens when you try to please everybody

I found this cool post over on Chuck's Musings. Very apt when ministering in a cross-cultural context.

A Man and his son were once going with their Donkey to market. As they were walking along by its side a countryman passed them and said: "You fools, what is a Donkey for but to ride upon?"

So the Man put the Boy on the Donkey and they went on their way. But soon they passed a group of men, one of whom said: "See that lazy youngster, he lets his father walk while he rides."

So the Man ordered his Boy to get off, and got on himself. But they hadn't gone far when they passed two women, one of whom said to the other: "Shame on that lazy lout to let his poor little son trudge along."

Well, the Man didn't know what to do, but at last he took his Boy up before him on the Donkey. By this time they had come to the town, and the passers-by began to jeer and point at them. The Man stopped and asked what they were scoffing at. The men said: "Aren't you ashamed of yourself for overloading that poor donkey of yours? Making it carry both you, and your hulking son, is cruel!"

The Man and Boy got off and tried to think what to do. They thought and they thought, till at last they cut down a pole, tied the donkey's feet to it, and raised the pole and the donkey to their shoulders. They went along amid the laughter of all who met them till they came to Market Bridge, when the Donkey, getting one of his feet loose, kicked out and caused the Boy to drop his end of the pole. In the struggle, all three fell from the bridge into the river, and drowned.

You can please some of the people all of the time, and you can please all of the people some of the time, but you just can't please all of the people all of the time.

Cultural differences (1)

I'm surprised that this is my first post about some of the cultural differences that I have discovered during my (admittedly short) ministry journey this far. However, I've numbered this one as I have no doubt that this will not be my last word on this subject.

Last week I started baptism orientation classes with a number of my congregants, and one of the ladies had her baby with her. No problem with this - I am after all a father myself, and this tot was a really cute and lively young chap. Anyway, the child was quite happy to amuse himself quietly, and as I was continuing with the class, I barely noticed that he had become a little niggly and Mom had slipped back about three rows.

But I soon discovered, to some alarm, just WHY this little chap was becoming a bit discontented. No, Neville, it WASN'T because of my droning voice - it was because Junior was hungry. And it was just the most natural thing for Mom to undo her blouse and pop out the breast so the little one could have a drink from Milky Lane.

I have to confess that it took a stoic effort on my part not to stare and to appear nonchalant as I continued with the class. It's just not the kind of thing I'm accustomed to. I'm not for one minute saying that it was wrong, and the lady did after all move to the back of the class and try to be discreet. It's just, well, different - by my own experience, that is.

As I was leaving the class (by this time Mom had "packed up", thank God), I also noticed that a number of the young men walking around the area did not have shirts on. (the girls were, thankfully, covered). Once again, nothing inherently wrong with this, and Uitenhage IS after all an unbelievably hot place in February, but in my own culture we only bare our upper bodies at the beach (and even then, I tend to keep my T-shirt on, although that has more to do with me being out of shape than any cultural propriety on my part).

Neither of these two episodes were in any way indecent - at least, I don't believe that they were intended to be - it's just me as a square peg trying desperately hard to fit myself into a round hole.

Friday, 6 March 2009

My stubborn streak...

I must confess, there are some days that I feel this way about Scripture - especially when it comes to the Law as contained in the Old Testament. On the one hand I know that Christ came to liberate us from the sin exposed by the Law; then again, He came not to overturn the Law but to fulfil it. Besides, since "all Scripture is inspired by God and is good for instruction...", if it's in the Bible, it must be there for good reason.

I'm sure that there's something that God wants to teach me through these readings. Please pray for understanding on my part.

"Excuse me ... are you Jesus?

This is another gorgeous yet thought-provoking e-mail that a friend sent to me. Very appropriate during this season of Lent...

A few years ago a group of salesmen went to a regional sales convention in Chicago. They had assured their wives that they would be home in plenty of time for Friday night's dinner. In their rush, with tickets and briefcases, one of these salesmen inadvertently kicked over a table which held a display of apples. Apples flew everywhere. Without stopping or looking back, they all managed to reach the plane in time for their nearly missed boarding.

ALL BUT ONE!!! He paused, took a deep breath, got in touch with his feelings, and experienced a twinge of compassion for the girl whose apple stand had been overturned.

He told his buddies to go on without him, waved good-bye, told one of them to call his wife when they arrived at their home destination and explain his taking a later flight. Then he returned to the terminal where the apples were all over the terminal floor.

He was glad he did.

The 16 year old girl was totally blind! She was softly crying, tears running down her cheeks in frustration, and at the same time helplessly groping for her spilled produce as the crowd swirled about her, no one stopping and no one to care for her plight. The salesman knelt on the floor with her, gathered up the apples, put them back on the table and helped organize her display. As he did this, he noticed that many of them had become battered and bruised; these he set aside in another basket.

When he had finished, he pulled out his wallet and said to the girl, "Here, please take this $40 for the damage we did. Are you okay?" She nodded through her tears. He continued on with, "I hope we didn't spoil your day too badly."

As the salesman started to walk away, the bewildered blind girl called out to him, "Mister...." He paused and turned to look back into those blind eyes. She continued, "Are you Jesus?"

He stopped in mid-stride, and he wondered. Then slowly he made his way to catch the later flight with that question burning and bouncing about in his soul: "Are you Jesus?" Do people mistake you for Jesus? That's our destiny, is it not? To be so much like Jesus that people cannot tell the difference as we live and interact with a world that is blind to His love, life and grace.

If we claim to know Him, we should live, walk and act as He would. Knowing Him is more than simply quoting Scripture and going to church. It's actually living the Word as life unfolds day to day.

You are the apple of His eye even though we, too, have been bruised by a fall. He stopped what He was doing and picked you and me up on a hill called Calvary and paid in full for our damaged fruit.

Thursday, 5 March 2009

Excitement is building ...

... for as of today, I only have 41 sleeps until my family joins me in Uitenhage for a couple of weeks.


Please pray for my cycling partners

Uitenhage Methodists Church's "real" cyclists (as against so-called wannabees who do 160km on a Saturday, followed by a 12km run then a 3 km swim just to cool down - sorry, 'Iron Man' Ian) are taking a bit of strain at the moment, both physically and spiritually.

Neville pulled up short this morning, complaining of stomach cramps and feeling a bit pukey. Hanno (who is driving back from Bloemfontein today) is in a really difficult place, and needs a few good friends around him right now. As for me, I'm actually doing okay, apart from a slightly sore bum and the occasional bout of "snot en trane" as I think of my family, so far away.

Please pray that the "full Gospel" cyclists of UMC will get back to full steam very soon.

Languishing in Leviticus, and numbed by Numbers

Part of my spiritual discipline is a daily time of devotion and Bible reading, which has been helped tremendously since my previous congregation at St Andrews gave me a "One Year Bible" as a farewell gift. In a previous post, I indicated that this particular version keeps the standard order of the books of the Bible, split into each day of the year, except that the Old Testament, New Testament, Psalms, and Proverbs are running parallel to each other (with the result that one gets to read a passage of each every day).

The New Testament readings are great, coinciding at the moment with the season of Lent (I don't think this was intentional; it's just the way that Easter has fallen this year). Psalms are such a blessing, particularly when one sees how David can praise God with such rich, lyrical prose and poetry. And Proverbs is such a treasure-trove of wisdom, so relevant to today's age despite being many thousands of years old.

But Lord, Leviticus has been such a DRAG! I've had about as much fun reading the Income Tax Act in my previous career, and believe me, that's NOT a particularly stimulating piece of legislation. For that's what Leviticus is - legislation for the Israelites, governing everything from sacrifices and sexual relations to forms of worship - even going down to providing detailed measurements for the Tabernacle.

And Numbers - wow! There were x number of soldiers from the clan of Reuben, y number of soldiers from the clan of Simeon, etc. etc... it's like reading a report from Statistics South Africa.

So why are these seemingly meaningless and oh, so BORING books included in the Bible? At the moment I guess that just as I would use the Income Tax Act as a point of reference to advise my clients when I still had my tax practice, so Jesus constantly refers to the Law when teaching during His earthly ministry. And if it was good enough for Jesus to understand, it's surely good enough for me to try and wade through as well.

I really wish I could get something more "spiritual" from reading these particular books. Then again, perhaps God is teaching patience and long-suffering? Some insights from others who have perhaps made a study of these books would be greatly welcomed!

Lessons from a New York cab driver

"... but those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint." (Isaiah 40:31, NIV)

I got this great e-mail from one of the members of our cell group today. It holds many lessons for us ministers!

No one can make you serve customers well. That's because great service is a choice.

My friend Harvey Mackay, tells a wonderful story about a cab driver that proved this point.

He was waiting in line for a ride at the airport. When a cab pulled up, the first thing Harvey noticed was that the taxi was polished to a bright shine. Smartly dressed in a white shirt, black tie, and freshly pressed black slacks, the cab driver jumped out and rounded the car to open the back passenger door for Harvey.

He handed my friend a laminated card and said: "I'm Wally, your driver. While I'm loading your bags in the trunk I'd like you to read my mission statement."

Taken aback, Harvey read the card. It said: "Wally's Mission Statement: To get my customers to their destination in the quickest, safest and cheapest way possible in a friendly environment."

This blew Harvey away. Especially when he noticed that the inside of the cab matched the outside. Spotlessly clean!

As he slid behind the wheel, Wally said, "Would you like a cup of coffee? I have a thermos of regular and one of decaf." My friend said jokingly, "No, I'd prefer a soft drink." Wally smiled and said, "No problem. I have a cooler up front with regular and Diet Coke, water and orange juice."

Almost stuttering, Harvey said, "I'll take a Diet Coke." Handing him his drink, Wally said, "If you'd like something to read, I have the Wall Street Journal, Time, Sports Illustrated and USA Today."

As they were pulling away, Wally handed my friend another laminated card: "These are the stations I get and the music they play, if you'd like to listen to the radio." And as if that weren't enough, Wally told Harvey that he had the air conditioning on and asked if the temperature was comfortable for him.

Then he advised Harvey of the best route to his destination for that time of day. He also let him know that he'd be happy to chat and tell him about some of the sights or, if Harvey preferred, to leave him with his own thoughts.

"Tell me, Wally," my amazed friend asked the driver, "have you always served customers like this?" Wally smiled into the rear view mirror. "No, not always. In fact, it's only been in the last two years. My first five years driving, I spent most of my time complaining like all the rest of the cabbies do. Then I heard the personal growth guru, Wayne Dyer, on the radio one day. He had just written a book called “You'll See It When You Believe It”. Dyer said that if you get up in the morning expecting to have a bad day, you'll rarely disappoint yourself. He said, 'Stop complaining! Differentiate yourself from your competition. Don't be a duck. Be an eagle. Ducks quack and complain. Eagles soar above the crowd.'"

"That hit me right between the eyes," said Wally. "Dyer was really talking about me. I was always quacking and complaining, so I decided to change my attitude and become an eagle. I looked around at the other cabs and their drivers. The cabs were dirty, the drivers were unfriendly, and the customers were unhappy. So I decided to make some changes. I put in a few at a time. When my customers responded well, I did more."

"I take it that has paid off for you," Harvey said. "It sure has", Wally replied. "My first year as an eagle, I doubled my income from the previous year. This year I'll probably quadruple it. You were lucky to get me today. I don't sit at cabstands anymore. My customers call me for appointments on my cell phone or leave a message on my answering machine. If I can't pick them up myself, I get a reliable cabbie friend to do it and I take a piece of the action."

Wally was phenomenal. He was running a limo service out of a Yellow Cab. I've probably told that story to more than fifty cab drivers over the years, and only two took the idea and ran with it. Whenever I go to their cities, I give them a call. The rest of the drivers quacked like ducks and told me all the reasons they couldn't do any of what I was suggesting.

Wally the Cab Driver made a different choice. He decided to stop quacking like ducks and start soaring like eagles. How about us?

A man reaps what he sows. Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.

Ducks Quack, Eagles Soar

When we meet Jesus Christ, our lives MUST change! If they don't, one must seriously doubt one's salvation!

Let's talk about sex!

Well, I'm back from my state of internetless as I plug into the lifeline that is our Church's ADSL connection. iBurst collected their modem today - good riddance. Hopefully I'll have got my new data package sorted out pretty soon.

The title of this post will probably quadruple this blog's hit rate, but please, no offers for cut-rate Viagra - with my wife being 1000km away, all it's going to do is make it VERY uncomfortable to ride my bicycle!

So why a post about sex? Especially from someone who has felt like a eunuch since mid-January? It was sparked by a post on Pete Grassouw's site, where he talks about a rather, shall we say, "unique" method of sermon preparation. I applaud his bravery, not only in being bold enough to want to address the issue of pornography, but in the manner in which he has researched it. No doubt we fellow bloggers will hear what final form his sermon will take this coming Sunday, but maybe there's someone in Pete's congregation who is waging a battle of note against pornography addiction, and God will use Pete's message to set that person free.

Having walked that road - even for a short period - Pete will really be able to identify with that person or persons, and minister to them in a way that those of us who have not been as brave probably could not do.

Now I don't for one minute believe that Pete is advocating that we all indulge in vice in order to make our sermons more real. But this particular experiment of his reminds me so much about the ministry of our Lord Jesus Christ. I've probably mentioned this before, but one of the things that attracts me to Christianity (and keeps me serving Christ) is the fact that there is not a single thing that Jesus expects us to do where He hasn't shown us the way Himself. I always say that if the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords can get down in the dirt and wash His disciples' stinking feet, what's our excuse for not wanting to be servants to God and to our congregations?

But what also strikes me is that Jesus faced a number of temptations - just like us - and yet did not sin. The amazing part is not so much that Jesus did not sin (although that's pretty amazing in itself), but the fact that, as a human being, He faced all sorts of trials that we as human beings face. In our own strength we cannot overcome a single one, but in Christ's strength we can overcome them all!

So I am praying earnestly that Pete will be used by God in a mighty and powerful way in hiongregation this Sunday. And I'm praying just as fervently that once the sermon has been delivered, he'll be able to "switch off" from his research.

(There's no picture accompanying this post - I'm too scared to Google "picture sex" or "picture porn" because of what I might find!)

Monday, 2 March 2009

All quiet on the western front (for a while...)

About two weeks ago I had the mother of all fights with wireless "service" provider iBurst due to the fact that, for the second month in a row, they did not collect their debit order (despite there being sufficient funds in my bank account). The long and the short of it is that after having taken the matter up to director level, I have decided to cancel my iBurst contract.

I am now busy negotiating with Nashua Mobile (who has my cellphone contract) to bolt a data package onto my cellphone contract. In the meantime I am having to access the Internet via my cellphone, which is VERY expensive, so I am using it only for essentials such as online banking until my new package is finalised.

This means that you won't see any new posts from me for about a week or so. However, I'm writing down my reflections off-line, so as soon as I'm back in the land of the connected, watch this space...