God's Word for today

Friday, 26 June 2009

Captain Tupperware is off to Mozambique!

I have been afforded the amazing privilege of being invited to be part of a team to embark on a mission to Mozambique. Words cannot adequately express my gratitude to the folks at Uitenhage Methodist Church for not only inviting me to be part of the team, but also to make it financially possible through their many and generous donations.

Among many things they have given me is a new name: "Captain Tupperware". The name comes from a reference that I made to my dog-collar in a service one day, something along the lines of "I'm nothing special just because I wear a piece of Tupperware around my neck - if the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords could get down in the dirt and wash His disciples' stinking feet, I have no excuse not to be a servant". From there, the name stuck!

We leave today, so this blog will be quiet for the next two weeks. There will be some updates as we go along on http://mission.uitenhage-methodist.co.za, so check regularly for news. There's a somewhat, shall we say, "interesting" photo on that site of what I would look like with shoulder-length hair. Not particularly flattering, but better than what Dig Dug (aka Chris) would look like with a brush-cut!

Naturally there'll be LOTS of news when we get back, not only on the official site but on this blog as well!

Please pray for us, that God will use us mightily as His instruments.

College ... or Circuit ... or College ... or Circuit ...

One of the major difficulties I've had to deal with this year is the prospect of going to College next year. For those who haven't being following the various blog posts, the Methodist Church of Southern Africa has changed their training programme as from 2010. All those who candidate for the ministry from this year onwards will be spending three years full-time at the new Seth Mokitimi Methodist Seminary, followed by two years in Circuit, after which probationers will then prepare for ordination.

And until a month or so, it was a virtual certainty that this year's Phase Ones - the last group on the "old" system - would be going to SMMS next year as well. Not an absolute certainty, mind you - such decisions are subject to approval by Conference, which takes place in September. This has caused me major frustration, since I need to make certain decisions regarding my family, sale of my house, place James in a school, and so on.

I had written a letter to EMMU, the body that governs the training of ministers within the MCSA, but by the time Synod came around, I had not yet received a reply. To the consternation of many at Synod, who believe that "Phase Ones should be seen and not heard", I stood up on the floor of Synod and expressed my concerns to the Bishop and all present. To his credit, the Bishop gave me an undertaking to address our concerns as Phase Ones.

And address them he most certainly did, embarking on a "blitzkrieg" starting with a meeting with us two weeks ago, and followed by a series of meetings with certain individuals (myself included) thereafter. He has also engaged extensively with the "powers that be" at EMMU. These communications gave us hope that perhaps, for various reasons, we might remain stationed in Circuit rather than having to go to SMMS.

My own Circuit was extremely encouraged by this news - the demise of the Phase One programme would have left my Superintendent as the only minister in our Circuit next year. There were also concerned that with him retiring at the end of 2010, the new minister would be faced with a similar "man alone" situation until the first graduates from SMMS started filtering back into Circuits in 2012.

The dilemma is this: While our Bishop is doing his level best to motivate our particular cases to EMMU, the decision as to whether we are to go to SMMS or remain in Circuit rests with EMMU. Of course, the final decision is that of Conference, but unless something drastic happens, EMMU's decision is likely to be ratified.

There are of course many advantages to me remaining in Circuit, particularly if it happens to be in Uitenhage. Firstly, it will make my family situation easier, for I will have a manse instead of a flat. Secondly, I will continue to receive a stipend (which seminarians don't get) - a distinct advantage when one has bills to pay! Thirdly, I have always maintained that 40 is not an ideal age to go and be a full-time college student - at this stage of my life, I want to get as much "real" experience of being a minister as possible.

On the other hand, there are also advantages to going to SMMS, not least the opportunity for academic advancement. Being full-time means that I could conceivably emerge from seminary with a Masters degree in theology to add to the Masters I already have in financial management. This would be the ideal platform from which to enter PhD studies, and I have this dream to do something radical and groundbreaking around the theology and practice of stewardship within the Church. Having a Masters in both disciplines would put me in a unique position to tackle this type of research from both angles, and produce a thesis that would not only contribute to the body of knowledge, but actually be implementable in practice as well.

Now I'm not saying that this is not possible doing it part-time - after all, I have managed to complete three degrees and put a serious dent into a fourth studying in this fashion. Doiung it part-time just takes a little longer, and juggling one's responsibilities is that much more difficult.

So right now I'm feeling like a teenager with a flower in his hand, picking out the petals one by one. But in this case, instead of seeking the love of a lady, I'm going "College ... or Circuit ... or College ... or Circuit ...". Most of all, I want to be in God's will, whatever that may be.

Thanks for your prayers - please continue to hold me up.

Thursday, 18 June 2009

Dipping my toe into the Open Source water

I've decided to start exploring (excuse the WinDoze pun) the scary world of Open Source software, starting with Mozilla Firefox as an alternative to Internet Explorer.

So far, it's beeyootiful! It seems to open pages a lot faster, the way it handles downloads is stunning, and you actually get OPTIONS when it comes to installing add-ons.

I like it!

Wednesday, 17 June 2009

BBC's Chris Moyles talks up the Church

I found this over on a UK local preacher's blog, Methodist Preacher, and while it is the UK, and they were commenting on a Pentecostal / Charismatic service, there are lessons in it for the rest of us in terms of being relevant in the 21st century, as well as how the world sees the Church.

Monday, 15 June 2009

I became an uncle today!

Something I've always found difficult - maybe it's a cultural thing - is the practice by certain people (mainly Afrikaans-speakers) who address anyone who is a few years older them as "Oom" (or "Uncle" in English). I understand that it is a sign of respect, but being English, I was brought up to address only those who are ACTUALLY my uncle as "Uncle". If you want to show respect to other people, call them Mr, Mrs, Ma'am, Sir.

Me - I prefer being addressed by my first name. I HATE "Oom" or "Uncle" - it makes me feel ancient. "Reverend" is one I'm still getting used to, but since this technically is my title, I can live with that. But for the most part, "Steven" works best.

But this morning I heard the news that my sister-in-law gave birth to a baby girl. The old cellphone signal was not too good when my wife 'phoned me with the news, so I didn't quite catch the name, but I would be ecstatic to be called "Uncle" by this young lady who has just entered the world.

May the Lord bless Shaun and Vanessa richly - children are indeed a gift from God.

Friday, 12 June 2009

Does size count?

Something I'm beginning to find out is that "bigger" is not always better. A particular institution, practice, or belief system doesn't automatically become good just because it is practiced by a large number of people. And as a result of this, there are admittedly times where I feel like the cynic who once said that democracy is like three wolves and one sheep voting on what's for lunch!

Part of this thought process comes from some recent experiences in which I have challenged something that is just, well, wrong - to be told that many others are in the same boat, "we've all had to go through this", etc, etc. If something is wrong, it's wrong! If it's wrong when done by (or to) one person, having the same thing done by (or to) 100 people doesn't suddenly make it right.

In some way this feeling is being aggravated by my uncertainty about next year - something that I have already prepared a blog post for, but at this stage I don't feel at liberty to publish it. Maybe at a later stage. But for the most part, it's a spiritual struggle.

For instance, how is it that I live in a country where the overwhelming majority of the population claims to be Christian, yet there is so much rampant crime, corruption, and a general breakdown in moral values? Closer to home, I see this in the community I currently serve, where every Sunday there are overwhelming numbers of people, all decked out in their Sunday best, Bible in hand, (presumably) off to church. Yet in this same community there is untold misery caused by all manners of social ills.

Jenny is struggling with many similar questions over on her blog, as evidenced by the posts Incurably Religious and They need to be converted! And like me, she is questioning how a large grouping can be apparently so devoid of spirituality.

In my own congregations, where I am in the process of implementing a stewardship campaign, the main emphasis of what I am trying to teach is not money as such but our relationship with Jesus. For if its about the minister / society stewards / ward leaders demanding that people give, we're wasting our time. If it's about how we respond to the love of Jesus by giving of our time, our talents, our service, our prayers - the very essence of who we are - then our giving will become one of spontaneous generosity. I used the analogy of a person who supports their family, not out of duty or because "the law says so", but out of a deep love for their family.

So I guess that what I'm trying to say is this: Going to church every Sunday is not what makes us Christians. You can spend a lifetime in the garage, but you will never become a car! Jesus tells His disciples that people will know them as followers of Him not by their uniforms, eloquent preaching, or the number of meetings they attend, but by their love for one another.

The challenge for us as ministers - indeed, our very calling - is to help our congregations understand and embrace this reality. For it's only when Jesus becomes part not only of Sunday, but of Monday to Saturday as well, will our lives truly be transformed.

Living with an imperfect Church

In many ways my relationship with my Church has been very different to that of an average congregant, largely because of my involvement in financial matters at all levels, leadership positions held over the years, and now my current role as one training to become a full-time minister. And I have to confess that this relationship has sometimes resembled something out of the Danny de Vito film "The War Of The Roses", as related on this blog from time to time.

Yet somehow I want to stick around - partly because of the many good people, both lay and clergy, who serve the Church with integrity out of a deep desire to know and serve Jesus, and partly because of an innate stubbornness to take whatever punches it can throw at me, and remain standing.

Someone once said to me that if I were ever to leave the MCSA in search of a "perfect Church", I would taint it the moment I walked through the door. I have to admit that this is true, for while an institution consists of ordinary fallible human beings, it's always going to have a few warts. And in the same way that there are people within our Church who irritate the living daylights out of me, there are undoubtedly those who feel the same way about me!

However, this piece entitled "Ode To The Church", originally written by the Italian spiritual writer Carlo Caretto, which I have "borrowed" from John van de Laar's blog, really speaks to me about how a perfect Christ can be encountered in His imperfect Church.

How much I must criticize you, my church, and yet how much I love you! You have made me suffer more than anyone and yet I owe more to you than to anyone. I should like to see you destroyed and yet I need your presence. You have given me much scandal and yet you alone have made me understand holiness. Never in this world have I seen anything more compromised, more false, yet never have I touched anything more pure, more generous or more beautiful. Countless times I have felt like slamming the door of my soul in your face - and yet, every night, I have prayed that I might die in your sure arms! No, I cannot be free of you, for I am one with you, even if not completely you. Then too - where would I go? To build another church? But I could not build one without the same defects, for they are my defects. And again, if I were to build another church, it would be my church, not Christ's church. No, I am old enough, I know better.

Prayer of confession for ministers

This prayer reminds me of what I have been called by God to do, and how I often fall short in fulfilling that call...

You asked for my hands
that you might use them for your purpose.
I gave them for a moment, then withdrew them
for the work was hard.

You asked for my mouth
to speak out against injustice.
I gave you a whisper that I might not be accused.

You asked for my eyes
to see the pain of poverty.
I closed them for I did not want to see.

You asked for my life
that you might work through me.
I gave a small part that I might not get too involved.

Lord forgive my calculated efforts to serve you
only when it is convenient for me to do so,
only in those places where it is safe to do so,
and only with those who make it easy to do so.

Lord, forgive me,
renew me,
send me out
as a usable instrument
that I might take seriously
the meaning of your cross.

- Jo Seremane, South Africa. From A Forgiving Heart, Lyn Klug, ed. p. 142

Monday, 8 June 2009


This is a slightly late update, but this proud dad received the news last week that James scored his first goal since he started playing football at his school. Given that his side won 1-0, it was the winning goal as well!

Well done, James - you make me SO proud!

Friday, 5 June 2009


How many of you reading this post have come across what I like to term "Christian Ranters"? You know - the "turn or burn" brigade. I've been reflecting on this because of a piece that someone in our homecell gave me, concerning the "evils" around Christmas.

Now the purpose of this post is not to discuss the merits (or otherwise) of the particular article, save to say that there are many Christian festivals and practices (including baptism) have non-Christian (pre-Christian?) origins. One needs to be careful not to read too much into things, and to understand the context in which things are said, written, or developed, as well as the language and figures of speech used. For instance, if one is not careful, one could even conclude that Jesus' referral to Himself as the "Bread of Life" in John 6: 48 is advocating cannibalism!

I've deliberately entered the title of this post in capital letters, complete with three exclamation marks, because it seems that people who write pieces in which they are absolutely determined to convince you that their point of view is right, tend to use lots of capital letters, bold print, italics, and let's not forget the exclamation marks designed to hammer the point home. It's the written equivalent of someone standing six inches from you, pointing their finger virtually up your nose, and quoting the entire Bible without even taking a breath.

Heaven forbid that you should actually get a word in edgeways!

I'm often astounded at the so-called "logic" that many people use in their arguments. At school we learned about "chaotic logic", an example of which is that if a table has four legs, everything that has four legs must therefore be a table. A form of this chaotic logic was when I was in youth some years back, where someone cottoned onto the idea that, since Leviticus 26: 1 says that we should not make idols or images of anything for ourselves, and soft toys represent an image of something (a rabbit, Teddy bear, dog, or some other cute animal), we should get rid of these as they are idols. Well, quite frankly, ANYTHING that is worshipped ahead of God can be regarded as an idol, but to equate the giving of a soft toy as an expression of endearment to someone you love, with idolatory, is surely stretching matters a bit?

I also remember an otherwise sincere Christian teling me that charm bracelets are evil because the word "charm" has connotations of casting spells ("magic charm"), which is associated with witchcraft and is therefore evil. I responded by trying to turn on my charm ...

One that I heard recently in a home cell meeting was when we were about to start worship and someone said "let us be upstanding" (meaning, in this particular context, "stand up"), only to have one of the others jump up and say, "Don't use that saying, because it is associated with Freemasonry!" Not knowing whether or not this is the case, I can't verify if this statement is true, but I had to bite my tongue to keep me from responding that, based on this line of argument, I should stop wearing clothes because Satanists also wear clothes!

And I can't see how the fact that just because some baker who lived a gazillion years ago made a particular type of confectionary to celebrate the pagan festival of Ishtar, I will end up causing God to fall off His throne and condemn myself to eternal damnation just because I eat a hot cross bun.

I also remember some poor girl at varsity, who had the sweetest nature and was probably one of the most sincere Christians I've ever met, being violently poked in the chest by some zealot shouting "Do you believe in a dead Christ" because she happened to be wearing a gold cross with the image of Jesus thereon. In tears, she told me afterwards that she wears this particular piece of jewellery as a reminder of the sacrifice that Jesus made for her on the cross. Now what can possibly be wrong with that?

I guess my concern is that, as Christians, we often blurt out statements that are (a) very agressive and "in your face", (b) come across as extremely "holier than thou", (c) attach meanings and connotations to something that the other person never imagined or intended in their wildest dreams, and (d) in many cases have been gleaned from some website somewhere, the factual content thereof being quite dubious at times. And we end up causing deep hurt to others in the process.

(PS: I've decided to stop using tags on my posts - they don't really help me to find stuff, and they make uploading posts SO slow!)

Feedback on "Milk"

In a previous post I spoke about the feeling of unease about a third session at College dealing with same-sex relationships, this time in the form of being taken to see the film "Milk".

However, despite my misgivings, although still with lingering questions as to what kind of "agenda" the facilitator may be trying to advance, the film itself was actually worthwhile seeing. It covers the story of Harvey Milk, a gay man who unwittingly became an activist for gay rights in the United States as a result of discrimination and harassment that he and other gay people had experienced. Sean Penn gave a masterful performance in the title role.

What struck me was the naked bigotry that many people showed, including those from the Church, and regardless of what one's feelings may be concerning the whole same-sex issue, surely any Christian can see that such bigotry and hatred cannot be in harmony with Christian principles.

There were one or two scenes that made me uncomfortable - the sight of two men locked in passionate embrace, for instance, tends to make me feel a little queasy. Thankfully the film didn't go overboard in portraying actual sex scenes. Then again, there are expressions of intimacy that that heterosexual couples share - my wife and I included - that I wouldn't particularly want to watch as a third party, either!

At the risk of sounding like a stuck record - the journey continues...

Wednesday, 3 June 2009

Funny how things "close to home" change one's focus

I must ashamedly confess that I had never really given much though to the "persecuted Church" in certain other countries. One can so easily take religious freedom for granted! But this news article concerning the banning of the Methodist Church Conference in Fiji caught my attention, because we tend (at times) to regard Methodist Conferences and Synods as a "necessary evil" rather than as an opportunity to meet as the wider Church.

Let us remember those who do not enjoy religios freedoms, and those who are persecuted for their faith, in our prayers.

How far is too far?

One of the courses that we are doing for our BTh is called “Journeying in Faith”, which explores different disciplines and expressions of spirituality. As Phase Ones our studies are supported by various lecturers providing tutorial assistance, and many of the lectures are quite enlightening.

About five or six weeks ago we started discussing the connection between our sexuality and our spirituality, and in the first session our tutor invited Johan Strydom to address us. For those who are not familiar with this name, Johan is the man who took the Moreleta Park Dutch Reformed Church to court in a much-publicised unfair dismissal case arising from the disclosure of his sexual orientation. His talk basically dealt with creating a climate of non-discrimination towards those who are of same-sex orientation, and he emphasised that, based on his own experience, being homosexual is not a “choice” that one makes but rather part of one’s makeup.

As is the case with any group, when it comes to the issue of same-sex relationships, our group of Phase Ones comprises people who have different views on this matter. In my own case, and that of one or two others, the “official” position of the MCSA is more or less being followed, i.e. that those of same-sex orientation need to be provided with pastoral care, a climate of acceptance as people created in God’s own image, and access to the means of grace (such as Communion), but that marriage remains a union between a man and a woman.

In our case, we would embrace an opportunity to engage this issue in a balanced manner, particularly with someone on the “other side” of the debate. Don’t get me wrong – I have no time for the “turn or burn” brigade, and simply hammering off a series of proof texts is not what I consider to be debate. As someone who is really wrestling with this issue, I really need a balanced approach to enable me to settle this matter in my own mind and conviction.

However, when the second session took place, such debate was not to be. Instead, we watched a DVD dealing with the experiences of homosexuals within the Church, which reiterated the call for full affirmation and acceptance (although the question of marriage was not specifically discussed). The session ended with me thinking, “okay, you’ve made your point – now allow us time for this to sink in, process our thoughts, and give us an opportunity to wrestle with this issue for ourselves”.

It was not to be. As I am writing this, our group is going to see the movie “Milk” this morning. I don’t know anything about it other than that it is a film about gay rights. And I must confess that I’m feeling extremely uncomfortable about the direction which these sessions are taking – almost as though there’s a specific agenda to ram a strong “pro” message down our throats.

I’ll go and see the movie, for no other reason that I have a strong conviction that you cannot criticise something that you have not encountered. An example would be the brigade that seeks to have certain “undesirable” books banned without having actually read such books. I remember being asked my opinion when “The Da Vinci Code” came out, and responding that since I have neither read the book nor seen the film, I do not have an opinion and will not comment based on hearsay.

I accept that the situation whereby those of same-sex orientation have suffered unbelievable discrimination and even persecution, even (and often particularly) at the hands of the Church, is deplorable. I’m also fully in support of the idea that one should view a person as Jesus views them – the whole person, not just their sexual orientation. I also count a number of beautiful, sincere, God-fearing Christians who are of same-sex orientation – one of whom is a minister – among my friends. And I also accept that much of my own thinking is influenced by an inbuilt prejudice that arises from me simply being heterosexual.

On the other hand, my primary duty as a minister is to be true to the Word of God. Now I’ll be the first to admit a number of uncertainties. Issues that I’m wrestling with at the moment include:
• How one objectively and honestly determines which Biblical texts are contextual and which are of universal application.
• Whether the prohibitions on homosexual activity contained in certain Biblical texts are dealing with homosexual activity by those who are naturally of heterosexual orientation; a particular form of pagan activity (such as temple prostitution); or a blanket prohibition.
• Which forms of sexual expression, whether homosexual or heterosexual, are considered to be Biblically legitimate. (Right now my position on this is that the only legitimate outlet for physical sexual expression is within a life-long marriage between a man and a woman.)

Clearly the lectures are biased towards a fully affirming and embracing position, and I’ll grant that we need to hear and understand the issues that those of homosexual orientation have (and are still) facing. But there’s a fine line between providing tutorial support and attempting to indoctrinate, and I’m beginning to feel that we are crossing that line.