God's Word for today

Saturday, 31 January 2009

More from Steve's Kitchen

In keeping with my pledge to try and cook properly while I am away from my family, last night I decided to make myself The Mother Of All Omelettes. It included cheese, garlic, cheese, ham, cheese, onions, and ... more cheese.


Learning about the "Organisations" of the MCSA

I've often said that putting a piece of Tupperware into my shirt does not automatically confer the right to respect - such respect has to be earned. These words came home to me rather forcibly today as I attended my first meeting with the Emmanuel branch of the Young Men's Guild (YMG).

For those not familiar with South African Methodist Church structures, the YMG is one of a number of separately-constituted organisations within the MCSA, and its members are characterised by their black jackets and ties, white shirts, grey trousers, and bright red waistcoats.

The "Young" part is however somewhat of a misnomer, since even the most generous among us would not regard some of the members as being "young". Still, with Wesley Guilds struggling to restrict membership to those under 35, I guess that one would have a hard time trying to place an age limit on membership of the YMG.

Sadly, such organisations still remind us of the racially-divisive history of our country, notwithstanding the MCSA's commitment to being a "one and undivided Church", with the uniformed organisations (of which the YMG is one) being seen largely as a "black thing". In fact, as a "whitey" I had no exposure to the culture of being part of such an organisation until I joined the Local Preachers' Association (LPA) at the beginning of 2007. I was the only white member in our Circuit at the time, and although I was warmly welcomed, I was seen very much as a novelty (although the advantage was that I was VERY easy to find at Conventions!). In fact, since I left my previous Circuit, white membership of the Circuit LPA has dropped from one to zero.

Naturally, although I am now a probationer minister, I wanted to retain my ties with the LPA in my new Circuit, and was very encouraged to see that this particular organisation was very active in what is largely a coloured community. Unfortunately white membership in this Circuit is also zero (well, one, now that I have arrived) - it seems that the whole uniform "thing" doesn't appeal to white folks here in Uitenhage either!

However, a source of great concern is the fact that there are two separate LPA conventions in the Grahamstown District - the "coloured" convention, held later this month, and the "black" convention which takes place in May. Of course, they are not officially designated as such, but it seems that this time language has become the divisive factor with Xhosa being a language that a large percentage of the coloured folk do not understand.

The other thing that I am trying to get to grips with is that meetings of certain organisations are closed to non-members - at least, that is the impression that I gained from my time in the LPA as well as at today's YMG meeting. In my old Circuit, the fact that I was a candidate for the ordained ministry meant little - my status in the LPA at the time was that of on-trial Local Preacher, and certain members of the LPA felt that while I was permitted to attend, my on-trial status meant that, strictly speaking, I was not entitled to speak in meetings.

Similarly, at today's meeting I got the distinct impression that if I was not a minister, I would definitely not have been permitted to address the meeting, and may have possibly even been asked to leave. However, towards the end of the meeting attitudes towards me had softened to the point where I was invited to become a YMG member!

Now here's the part that I am struggling with. As a minister for the two Northern Societies (as well as the John Street congregation of the Uitenhage Society), I am already going to be hard-stretched to manage my time between Leaders' Meetings, Circuit Quarterly Meetings, Circuit Local Preachers' Meetings, hospital visits, funerals, counselling, and all the other bits and pieces that form part of a minister's "day job" (and to think that many have the impression that we only work for an hour on Sundays!).\

On top of that, this is a community where all of the MCSA organisations are active - Women's Auxiliary, Women's Association, Women's Manyano, Young Women's Manyano, Young Men's Guild, Men's League, Wesley Guild, and Local Preachers' Association. To fully understand what makes this local church community "tick", I need to get around to as many of those meetings as possible.

Now throw into the mix the fact that as a Phase One probationer, I spend two days a week in Port Elizabeth at College, plus I also need to study, and you'll understand that my time is quite limited. So joining the YMG is a difficult decision, not because I am against organisations per se, but because my time will not permit me to do much more in the organisation than attend the occasional meeting.

They have assured me that this will be okay, but I'd imagine that it would be difficult for the YMG Executive to demand a level of commitment from their members that their only clergy member is unable to comply with.

I want to keep the doors open so that I am able to minister to the YMG, but I know that time will not allow me to exhibit the same sort of commitment expected of the lay members. I know of at least one probationer who has recently been discontinued (MCSA-speak for "being fired") due to unsatisfactory academic progress, caused largely because of his over-involvement with the organisations. On the other hand, I will always be seen as an "outsider" if I do not join, and ministry to YMG members will be somewhat difficult from outside the organisations.

(At this point I thank God for making me male - imagine having to decide which one of the ladies' organisations to join?!)

However, other probationers have joined the YMG during their Phase One - Michael Bishop is one who comes to mind - and have managed to keep a balance. I'd be interested to hear from them to find out just what their level of involvement was, and if fairly low, whether this was acceptable to the other members. Only then will I be in a position to consider whether or not to join.

I really need to seek the Lord on this one.

Wednesday, 28 January 2009

Reflections on the Phase One college

It seems just like the other day that we started at the Phase One college, and already we are into our third week!

For those who are familiar with the set-up in Port Elizabeth, there have been a couple of changes this year, notably that the college itself has been moved from Newton Park to North End. The need for vigilance in security has been emphasised, as well as having been warned that many of the ladies wandering around the area are the kind of female company that gets paid by the hour...

As far as my fellow Phase One's are concerned, one is naturally wary when a number of people from different backgrounds are suddenly thrust together in close proximity. Thankfully the 11 of us get on like a house on fire, and we've already worked out who the "characters" are. The group dynamics are excellent and it looks like (so far) everyone is willing to pull their weight.

Our accommodation is rudimentary but reasonably comfortable. After all, what more does one really need than a clean bed to put your head down at night? However, the shower arrangements are, shall we say, "character-building" since at the moment there is only one, which is in the ladies. With 8 males and 3 females, the ablutions need to be carried out with miliary precision, times as though it were an air traffic control tower. We have however been told that construction of a second shower (hopefully in the gents!) will commence this week, which should ease a bit of pressure.

On the other hand, the food is excellent - TOO good in fact, as a bit of increased tightness around my waistline is reminding me. The two ladies given the mammoth task of keeping 11 hungry mouths fed are doing an admirable job and have become like surrogate mothers to us. We are so grateful, not only for the food we receive, but the loving care with which it is prepared.

Our lectures are a little slow in getting out of the blocks, largely because our material has taken some time to arrive. However, a rather large package was heaved onto the main table in the hall this morning, and we are now ready to rumble! In the meantime, the sessions that we have had have been both intellectually stimulating as well as providing tine for reflection.

I have been doing my daily devotions using a One Year Bible, and it was quite apt that today's reading from Psalms was Psalm 23: "The Lord is my shepherd; I have everything I need..." Indeed!

Monday, 26 January 2009

I miss them!

Chatted to my family this evening. That British stiff upper lip of mine was feeling a bit wobbly afterwards...

I can't WAIT until school holidays!

Saturday, 24 January 2009

Oh, happy day...

The Telkom line in Johannesburg has been fixed at last, after being down for a week. I can once again chat to my family without fearing bankruptcy.


Injury on duty!

These pictures are of some of our crazy, wonderful, radical, on-fire-for-Jesus youngsters at Uitenhage Methodist Church.

Today I joined them in a scary game called "chut" (I think I have the spelling right?), which is a form of Action Cricket played in a VERY confined space (such as a church hall). Anything goes, and no prisoners are taken. When it was my turn to bat, the first ball was a screamer that belted me right on my ear, while during fielding I caught a missile courtesy of the Youth Pastor's bat in a spot that raised my voice a few octaves.

Holiday Club - practicing "the moves"

"Back To The Future" the theme of Holiday Club 2009

Dont ask!

You've shown me yours, so I'll show you mine...

Jenny will understand. For the rest of you who are confused by the title of this post, click here.

This, by the way, is the pipe organ at the John Street church in Uitenhage. Lovely!

Weird science!

Those "80s Babies" reading this blog will probably remember the movie "Weird Science", in which a group of nerds feed a strange concoction into an even stranger machine, press a few buttons, and out pops an unbelievably stunning-looking Kelly le Brock!

Us Phase Ones have been performing some "Weird Science" of our own in our respective kitchens, especially those of us who are currently living on our own. Jenny Hillebrand, for example, has been eating some rather strange combinations, such as fishcakes and Lemon Creams. I'd like to know how you serve those, Jen - do you prise the Lemon Creams apart and sandwich the fish cake in between, or do you just plonk the fish cake on top? If the former, does the "lemony bit" go above or below the fish cake? However, before I get too smug about this, I must confess though that I've also been feeling a bit guilty about similarly strange eating habits - ProNutro and Rice Krispies for supper, with jelly for afters, was one of my finer moments - so I decided to start cooking "proper" meals for myself.

Last weekend I tried one of those "boil in the bag" fish fillets. I think that I needed to do it a bit longer, since the fish was a bit cold in the middle and the cheese sauce was rather yucky. The veggies, on the other hand, were a roaring success except for the fact that I haven't quite got the hang of packing portions for one, which meant that I prepared enough broccoli and sweetcorn to make the entire Sunday School class hate me for the rest of the year!

So on Monday night I thought I'd be a little less adventurous, and did a creditable job with spaghetti Bolognaise. However, once again I overcatered, but this was not a train-smash since I could have the rest as "left-overs" on Wednesday night after College. However, the dear ladies who look after our nutritional needs at College decided to make spaghetti Bolognaise for lunch on Wednesday, in such generous portions that Part 2 of my own version had to stay over until Thursday.

Friday night I switched to chicken, but stuck with the "tried and tested" by once again having pasta - this time, lasagne. (I'm getting more like Garfield each day, in more ways than one!) However, it's not possible to make lasagne for one, so I decided to invite Hanno Prinsloo over for supper. Since he is working night shift this week, I figured that he'd be fairly hungry before he goes to work, but despite a valiant attempt by the two of us, I still have enough lasagne to see me through to Monday night!

I think that next week at College, I'm going to eat only yoghurt...

Wednesday, 21 January 2009

Future cricket star in the making!

My son's just 'phoned me - he's made the Under 11 A cricket team at school!

Well done James! You make me SO proud!

From the highest highs to the lowest lows

It may seem strage to some that having just seen Jesus face to face (as described in my previous post), one can plunge to the depths of despair within a matter of hours.

Entering the ministry is not easy. And yet I knew up front what sacrifices would be required. One of those is the fact that (for this year at least) I am 1000 kilometres away from my family, with them in Johannesburg and me in Uitenhage. However, thanks to modern communications, I am able to remain in touch with their lives.

That's when they work, of course.

I'm fast discovering that when it wants to rain in Uitenhage, the weather almost seems to ask you if it is convenient first before sending it's oh-so-gentle drizzle floating down to earth. When lightning DOES strike, half of the town comes outside to have a look in case it happens again. Not so in Joburg, where thunderstorms are so sudden and violent that if you are caught in one, you feel like it is literally raining in buckets! Rain so heavy that one is drenched right through to one's underwear within seconds, thunder louder than any jackhammer, and lightning that threatens to split the sky in two.

It was such a bolt of lightning that hit the telephone lines, thereby cutting my family off from the outside world. No telephones, no ADSL line - zip.

Granted, we all have cellphones, and we've been making full use of our free minutes. But those are starting to run out, and my Phase One stipend does not stretch to increasing Vodacom's already obscenely large turnover figure. While the Church has kindly and generously provided me with a manse 'phone together with a "Closer" package that entitles me to free calls after 8 pm and on weekends, this only applies to calls from one Telkom line to another.

My wife reported the line to Telkom on Monday, and they promised faithfully that a technician would be out yesterday. Needless to say, that was one promise that was not kept. They didn't arrive today, either...

95% of the time I can cope with being apart. I can keep the proverbial stiff upper lip that we British are supposed to be renowned for. Cooking for myself, keeping the manse tidy, and regularly feeding the washing machine with dirty clothes is not the hardship I thought it would be. I get on so well with my fellow Phase Ones at college. The ministry work in the Circuit is both challenging and stimulating. 95% of the time I feel energised and just so privileged to be in God's full-time service.

But then there are those "5%" moments - like now. I want to hug my wife for about an hour and tell her how much I love her. I want to lie on the floor while my son "beats me up". I want to sit down with my mother and engage in mindless chats about cricket and Formula One, and have strident debates about who the best "bad guy" in the movies is. And I want to get hold of those rotten, bloodsucking, lying swines at Telkom and wring their bloddy necks!

But I can't, because I'm here and they're all up there. Oh, God, I know You have called me to this, and You promised that You would never leave me nor forsake me. But sometimes it just seems so HARD...

Experiencing Jesus in a real and wonderful way

Something we Protestants can learn from our Roman Catholic brethren is the discipline of spending time meditating on Jesus. I don't mean praying, or reading one's Bible, or listening to worship music - good as though all these things are. I mean just spending time being quiet in the presence of God, and allowing God to wash over us and reveal Himself to us as He chooses.

Today at College we started a course in counselling skills, which is run by the Catholic Church in Newton Park. We did the usual "workshop" stuff - introductions, managing expectations, getting the basics down - but just before we closed, Siobhan (our facilitator) invited us to just become still while she played some quiet worship music in the background.

Siobhan then led us by describing a forest, with the sun filtering through the branches and leaves on the floor. As she was talking, it just seemed the most natural thing in the world for me to close my eyes. In my mind's eye I could picture a fallen log, with a silhouette of Jesus standing on the other side of the log with one foot on the log and His chin cupped in His hands, while I was seated next to the log in a relaxed pose, just speaking about life in general. Nothing too serious, mind - it was almost like two friends chilling out and having a casual chat.

But then I lost track of what she was saying, as all I could see was the face of Jesus - that beautiful, heavenly face. I cannot describe what He looks like. I couldn't tell you if he is black, white, has a moustache, has a thin or broad nose, or what colour His eyes are. But it was the most indescribably beautiful face I have ever seen, expressing such love.

Not even the expression on my wife's face on our wedding day some 17 years back could come remotely close to the love on His face, exuding from every pore, just washing over me. Never before have I experienced such love as this. And when we closed in prayer, I felt as though the tears were streaming down my face, yet strangely my cheeks were dry.

What an amazing Lord we serve! The God I thought I knew, I realise that I hardly know at all - so endless is the extent of His love.

Monday, 19 January 2009

Oh, silly me!

What is the dumbest thing you've ever done as a probationer minister? Last night, as we were removing the cloth covering the elements, I managed to knock over the Communion cup.

If ever I wanted to crawl up my own backside...


Last night I was formally inducted, or commissioned for my work in the Winterhoek (Uitenhage) Circuit. Having taken part in this service on the same day as the covenant service, the morning service was fresh in my mind.

And just as we shared in the covenant of Holy Communion, so it was brought to mind our covenant as ministers with the Church. Unlike many of the independent churches, ministers are not "employed" by the MCSA - our relationship is one of covenant. We believe that we are called by God to the ministry of Word and Sacrament, and the Church provides the space for us to discover, develop, and exercise that call.

To facilitate this call in my case, the Winterhoek Circuit has provided me with congregations to minister to, a Superintendent to train and oversee me, a flat to reside in, and a stipend to enable me to live. The wider MCSA has provided me with the means to continue my studies, and a Phase One programme to enable me to receive instruction.

All this ultimately is made possible by the generosity of God's people, who have responded to God's love by sowing of their finances into their local churches. God forbid that I should ever abuse this generosity.

No siree - the Church doesn't owe me a thing. In short, the Church has fulfilled its part of the covenant. Now it's up to me to fulfil my part.

Sunday, 18 January 2009

Covenant service

Today was our Covenant Service, which is my first one in the Winterhoek Circuit, and accordingly, the first one I have had the privilege of preaching at. Rev Bill Thompson, my Superintendent, officiated at Communion (lest any of my fellow Phase Ones think I am jumping the gun in serving communion before passing the Sacraments Exam!).

I don't normally upload my sermons, but I couldn't think of any better way to share my thoughts on our covenant with God than this.

Scripture readings
Old Testament: Jeremiah 31: 31 – 34
New Testament: Romans 12: 1 – 2
Gospel: John 15: 9 – 17

I am no longer my own but yours. Put me to what you will, rank me with whom you will; put me to doing, put me to suffering; let me be employed for you or laid aside for you, exalted for you or brought low for you; let me be full, let me be empty, let me have all things, let me have nothing. I freely and wholeheartedly yield all things to your pleasure and disposal. Glorious and blessed God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, you are mine and I am yours. So be it. Let this covenant now made on earth be fulfilled in heaven.

These are the words of the Covenant Prayer, which forms part of this and every other Methodist Covenant Service that has been held since 11 August 1755, which was the first Covenant Service preached by our founder, John Wesley. It has become such a deeply entrenched part of Methodist tradition that the year has not truly begun properly until the Covenant Service has taken place.

Unfortunately these words, in which we commit ourselves to God and place ourselves completely at God’s disposal, have become about as meaningful to us as your average New Year’s Resolution. I made one at the beginning of this year to start riding my bicycle again. So far I have given it a good clean, pumped up the tyres, and fixed the trip computer. But as for actually riding it … well, let’s rather not go there!

And it seems that we take our relationship with God about as seriously as I have taken my cycling this year. We promise ourselves that this year things are going to be different. The “skinnerstories” are going to stop. We’re going to give more to the church this year. We might even decide to join a Bible study – or start one. Yet we end up, similar to me and the bicycle, spiritually fat and unfit. When we are put to the test, we can’t even run around the block!

Just like the Israelites when they left Egypt, in fact. We like to be so spiritual when we read Scripture! God shows the Israelites His mighty power as He brings all manners of calamity upon the Egyptians. Then He makes a covenant with Israel, where they are to sacrifice a lamb and paint their doorposts with the blood. This is to ensure that the angel of death would “pass over” the houses where the blood was painted. Any household where the blood was not seen would suffer the death of their first-born son. Then, after God has brought about this miracle, His power is witnessed again through the parting of the Red Sea. Now you would think that after all that, the people of Israel would follow God wholeheartedly. But nooo … no sooner have they crossed the Red Sea, they start moaning and grumbling. “It’s hot in this desert! There’s no food! We wanna go back to Egypt!”

Now you and I would never do that … would we? Well let me tell you the number of times I have seen people walk straight out of church, and before they’ve even left the parking-lot, they are saying or doing just what the preacher has said they shouldn’t do in his sermon!

So what is a covenant? Of course, none of us were around when God made those Old Testament covenants with the Israelites. Well, put it this way, most of us were not around … but the one covenant that many of us can relate to is the marriage covenant.

And it’s interesting that Jeremiah uses this analogy when he speaks of God loving those with whom He makes a covenant “as a husband loves his wife”. Yesterday at Sister Mabel Swarts’ funeral I shared from Ephesians 5 – that famous “wives, submit to your husbands” passage – and we read in Verse 25 that husbands are commanded to “love your wives, just as Christ loved the Church and laid down His life for it”. When you love someone and are in covenant with them, you give your all for them – food, shelter, companionship – you name it. I always tell people that there is no such thing as sharing in marriage. This “50 / 50” stuff is nonsense. There is no sharing – everything is hers! And I’m not joking! For it’s only when I give all that I am and all that I have to my wife, and she gives all that she is and all that she has to me, can we truly say that we are in covenant with each other.

When we share at the Lord’s Table, which we will this morning, part of the Communion liturgy speaks of the wine as representing the blood of the new covenant, shed for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins. And Jesus truly gave His all to this covenant. He’s kept His end of the bargain – what about us?

Now you might ask this morning, “How can we keep our end of the covenant?” Paul speaks in his letter to the Romans about us allowing our bodies to be a “living sacrifice” to God and to be transformed by the renewing of our minds. We are to change the way we act, and we are to change the way we think. For if we don’t do this, we are no different to anyone else who doesn’t make any claim to be Christian. If our lives are not going to be changed as a result of us entering into this covenant with Christ, then we are wasting our time. Then we should just stop playing games and turn this place into a movie-house.

“Renewing our minds? Living sacrifices? How?” Traditionally one normally reads from the first seven verses of John chapter 15 during a Covenant Service, but I believe that the key to being truly a part of the covenant with Christ lies in verses 8 – 17, which we read this morning. The one thing that I love most about Jesus, and what attracted me to make a decision to follow Him, is the fact that nowhere in the Bible do we see Jesus expecting us to do anything that He hasn’t Himself done first, and this is no different. In verse 9 Jesus says that “I have loved you even as the Father has loved me. Remain in my love. When you obey Me, you remain in My love, just as I obey My Father and remain in His love”.

And what commandment does Jesus want us to obey? We all know it – we’ve been singing it since we were in Sunday School:

A new commandment, I give unto you
That you love one another, as I have loved you
That you love one another, as I have loved you
By this, shall all men know, that you are My disciples
If you have love, one for another
By this, shall all men know, that you are My disciples
If you have love, one for another

There’s a second verse to this song, which is easy to sing but more difficult to live out. It goes like this:

If a man says he loves God, then he is a liar
If he hateth his brother, whom he has seen
For then how can he love God, Who he has not seen?
By this, shall all men know…

In closing, I have a confession to make. I am a HUGE fan of the Rocky movies. I have all six of them on DVD, and every so often I like to watch them. Now for those of you who have never seen Rocky, it’s the story about a no-hope club boxer in Philadelphia, who gets a one-in-a-million shot to fight for the Heavyweight Championship of the World. In the first movie Rocky doesn’t win, but manages to go the full distance with the champion. In the second movie, he goes one better and wins the fight in the dying seconds to become champion.

In the third and fourth movie Rocky fights bigger and meaner challengers, yet somehow comes out on top, but by the time we get to the fifth instalment, Rocky’s accountant has swindled him out of all of his money while he was over in Russia, and he is now broke. They move back to their old neighbourhood in Philadelphia, and his son, who is now a teenager, has to go to the old rough school that Rocky attended when he was a child, and ends up getting bullied. I guess that being the son of a former World Heavyweight Champion brings out the worst in some people.

Every day Rocky’s son gets picked on, beaten up, and teased, until one day, after many weeks in the gym, Rocky Junior gets his revenge and beats the snot out of his tormenters. But then an interesting thing happens. Instead of continuing the feud, Rocky’s son extends a hand of friendship, and says to them, “If you want to end this, let’s do it now”. The result is that they shake hands and become friends.

Perhaps this morning you are feeling like that. You’ve been hurt and abused – even by people in this very church. There are wounds and scars that run deep, and you wonder if you would ever be able to forgive. But this morning Jesus isn’t asking us to love one another – He’s commanding us to. Our Lord wouldn’t make us to do anything that we are unable to do, nor would He tell us to do anything that He hasn’t shown us how to do first. No greater love is shown than when people lay down their lives for their friends.

As we come to the Lord’s Table this morning and renew our covenant, are we prepared to lay our lives down for Him? Will we be prepared to forgive past wrongs done to us? Are we ready to obey His commandment to love one another, just as He has loved us?

Some of us have been fighting for far too long. If you want to end it, end it now. End it here.

Saturday, 17 January 2009

Is questioning the church leadership sinful?

This week has been rather hectic, leaving me with no time to blog. However, I have managed to catch up with reading a few of my favourites, and found this post on the "Women in Ministry" blog. I recommend it as an insight into what can happen when we forget that God's standard for leadership is servanthood. The comments are quite insightful as well.

Let us be constantly reminded that it was the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords that got down in the dirt to wash His disciples' stinking feet...

Monday, 12 January 2009

Home alone!

My family left Port Elizabeth to return home to Johannesburg yesterday, and when I returned to my flat in Uitenhage, I felt SO alone.

Last night's youth service with 150 teenagers, wild, excited, on fire for God at the beginning of "Holiday Club" at Janssensdal (one of the preaching places forming part of the Uitenhage (UMC) society) was just the tonic I needed! Still, being a "bachelor boy" for a couple of years is going to be quite an adjustment after being under the same roof as the woman I love for the last 17 years. Roll on April school holidays...

Saturday, 10 January 2009

Bishop Paul Verryn on Zimbabwe

"Zimbabwe - a slow genocide..." - Bishop Verryn

From The Times website:

Bishop Paul Verryn of the Central Methodist Church in Johannesburg says the world is witnessing a genocide unfolding in Zimbabwe. Listen to his impassioned plea on what needs to happen to stop it.

The hardest night of my ministry thus far

Shortly before New Year I visited some members of my new congregation in hospital.

One particular lady stood out: Feisty, full of beans, and with a delightfully wicked sense of humour. She spoke about how she hates hospitals (a sentiment I share wholeheartedly) and wanted to go home. Of the three I visited that day, she was the one I expected to see in church the next time I preached at St George's (which is tomorrow).

To my surprise I received a call on Thursday evening from one of the stewards, who informed me that this lady had undergone emergency surgery and had been moved to intensive care. However, nothing in his voice conveyed any indication that things were critical, so I told him that I would visit him the next morning (which was yesterday).

When I got to the hospital, I don't know which one of us was more shocked to see the other - her, because of the sight of me in short pants (I spent yesterday moving cupboards around and putting up notice boards in our church's new offices, which would have made long trousers and Tupperware rather uncomfortable), or me, as I saw her with an oxygen mask and more tubes than I normally see under the bonnet of my bakkie! Still, even though the mask hindered her speech markedly, she still sounded upbeat as she told me the nature of her operation.

I prayed with her, and promised to visit again next week.

However, just as I was about to crawl into bed at about 10 last night, I received a frantic call from the steward: "The family's here at the hospital - we need you". Still hot and sticky, I got dressed and got down there as quickly as possible.

When I arrived, we shared a short time of prayer with the family while we waited for the nursing staff to finish what they were doing, and then we were called in. I sensed immediately that something was not good because normally the hospital only allows two visitors into the ICU at a time, but this time the nursing staff insisted that the whole family be present - nearly 20 of us in total. The nursing sister then told her husband those dreaded words: "We've done all we can - there's nothing more that we can do", and a number of family members broke down in sobs. It took every fibre in my being not to break down with them in their grief, since after all, as their minister they were looking to me for strength and comfort.

But it was when the machine's pulse indicator went suddenly from 81 to zero that we knew that it was all over. And that's when I really experienced the power of God in people's eyes as her husband said goodbye to her in one of the most moving prayers I have ever heard anyone pray. The other pastor who was present (representing a number of the children who were members of his congregation) and I then joined together in a prayer, committing her to the open, welcoming arms of Jesus.

We then left the hospital and went home with the family, where I shared a few words based on Jesus' last moments on the cross, followed by a time of prayer.

I'm still not sure how I managed to ride home shortly after midnight, as my thoughts were in turmoil. Once again I felt completely useless as a minister, for nothing that I said would bring back their beloved wife, mother, and friend. I only pray that my prayers, words from Scripture, and my presence were a source of comfort to a hurting family who, although they firmly believe that she is in heaven with Jesus, will understandably grieve at her passing.

I'm finding out fast that much of ministry is (a) extremely difficult, and (b) involves just "being there" for one's congregation.

Sunday, 4 January 2009


Here is a pic of my son James and I sharing a "father / son" moment in my little flat in Uitenhage. Doesn't he have great taste in clothes? Man, I'm going to miss him SO much...

"We have come to worship Him..."

My first "official" service at Emmanuel Methodist Church, one of the two congregations forming what we refer to as the "Northern Societies". This morning's message was about the Magi who were led by the star to see the baby Jesus.

I had fun blowing one or two misconceptions out of the water, such as the fact that the Bible doesn't actually say that there were THREE wise men. Sure, we may sing the Christmas carol "We Three Kings", and there were three different gifts mentioned, so we tend to assume that the number of visitors was also three.

But the whole point of my message, which was based on Matthew 2:1-12, had nothing to do with whether they were three, or men, or wise - the point was their purpose: "Where is the One Who has been born King of the Jews? We saw His star in the east, and we have come to worship Him".

I challenged the congregation with these six words: "We have come to worship Him". Why do we go to church? Unless "we have come to worship Him", we have wasted our time.

Anyway, I thought I would also share some pics of the Emmanuel church building with my fellow bloggers...

This is the inside of the church. I would guess that it holds about 200 - 250 people. This morning it was about 80% full. Not bad for this time of the year!

Here is Emmanuel from the outside. Straightforward and functional - just like a good Methodist Church should be!

Check out this pulpit! By the time I had ascended it, I was so high up it felt like being back in Joburg!

Saturday, 3 January 2009

2009 Lectionary


As promised towards the end of last year, I am once again making the Lectionary available in a 2-page format. If you have one of those fancy photocopiers that can do back-to-back, you can have the full year's lectionary on one page - far more convenient than lugging a ?Yearbook around with you.

Speaking of which, I haven't received my 2009 Yearbook as yet (I'm not sure whether they are available or not - they could well have already been posted out, bit I'll only know next week when our Church office re-opens). I have based this one on the Revised Common Lectionary, which the MCSA follows. However, there may be one or two minor changes, which I will check once the new Yearbook is out. In the meantime this one may be of use to ministers and Local Preachers in preparing their sermons for the next few weeks.

I can however guarantee that January is correct, since it was taken from the 2008 Yearbook! (hee hee)

Thursday, 1 January 2009

Happy New Year!

May 2009 be a blessed year for all of you!

(Click here for a special New Year greeting)