God's Word for today

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Blood, sweat, and tears

My son came home from basketball practice this afternoon with a huge roastie on his knee and a big smile on his face, and proudly proclaimed: "I am officially the first senior at Pelham to bleed for the school in 2011".


Sunday, 23 January 2011

God provides in mysterious ways

Even though I've been a Christian for 24 years, I never cease to be amazed how God continues to provide for my needs - especially the unexpected ways that God chooses to do so.

Although we don't earn particularly much while we are at the seminary, one of the recent upsides was that we were paid early in December, which was welcome seeing as it was Christmas.  Trouble is, I spent my entire stipend on petrol for my "Tour de SA" these holidays, compunded by the fact that there is now a six-week gap between December and January pay-days.

The upshot is that right now I am so broke, I cannot even pay attention.  And while we are not starving (thanks to the ol' credit card), we have had to make some drastic cutbacks to get through the month.  Like, for instance, only filling up Belinda's Camry and leaving my bakkie in the garage.

Imagine, then, my consternation when I received a midnight phone call a couple of days ago, to be told that one of my colleagues had broken down about 60km away from the seminary.  While there was never a question of me leaving him and his family stranded out there, the resultant usage of half a tank of fuel caused a degree of anxiety.

Thanks, then, to Ross and the seminary, who felt that since my fuel usage was "in the line of duty", in a sense, they made the generous offer to reimburse me for the fuel used.

I was however wondering why the trusty Camry, which was ticking over as regular as a metronome during our trip, had suddenly developed such a gargantuan thirst for 95 unleaded, but the answer came the next day as Belinda backed a farting Camry out of her garage.  Part of the exhaust had a massive hole in it - equalled only by the massive hole in my budget.

Tail between my legs, I trundled off to Hi-Q yesterday, to be told two lots of bad news - firstly, that the exhaust would cost me around R500 to fix, and secondly, that the part was not in stock - which meant that Belinda will have to live with her flatulent dipsomaniac vehicle until next week.

While all this was going on, I received an e-mail stating that my cellphone contract was up for renewal, so I decided to trundle off to Nashua Mobile to see what they could offer me for the next two years.  The renewal period has come just in time, too, seeing as my current phone doesn't swim too well (having fallen into the bath twice since I got it two years ago) and its thirst for battery power is beginning to rival the Camry's thirst for fuel.

Not being too much of a gadget freak, I was looking for a fairly basic phone, but deep down I felt that it would be nice to get something a bit more sophisticated than I've been making do with for the last six years.  Much to my surprise (and delight), Nashua offered me not only a Nokia C3 (which admittedly is not as fancy as the Blackberry, but will certainly do everything I want it to), but threw in a R2,250 gift card as well!

So how does this relate to God's provision?  Well, I cannot quote chapter and verse as it relates to this particular situation, but it just seems uncanny how every time I am faced with a situation where it seems that there is no way out, God somehow steps in and makes a way.  In this case I not only have the funds to fix the Camry's exhaust, but in fact will be able to give it a service (that is 3,000km overdue) as well!

God is SO good!

Saturday, 15 January 2011

When (and how) do people come to Jesus?

While attending the funeral of a seminary colleague's mother last week, I got chatting afterwards to one of the members of the local congregation, and the subject got around to the time and circumstances in one's life when one accepts Jesus as Lord.

This raises a number of questions - the first one being the influence of one's surroundings on a decision to come to Christ.  Take ministers, for instance.  Most of the ministers I know grew up in Christian homes, many being "sons / daughters of the manse", which is a churchy term for those whose fathers were ministers.  Note too my use of "father", since most churches did not ordain women until fairly recently (the first in the MCSA being in 1976).

However, my friend Shane, who has been in the ministry for around 12 years, did not grow up with Christian parents, and nor did I.  What's also interesting in our case is that both of us were brought up by our mothers alone (with our parents getting divorced while we were young); both of us became Christians in our late teens; and both of our mothers accepted Christ shortly after our own conversion.

In the absence of a Christian influence in the home, what then brought us to salvation?  In Shane's case, it was the weekly tutelage of a faithful Sunday School teacher (which he attended because all of his friends did), while for me it was the result of a long struggle in coming to understand what the "Duty to God" line of the Scout promise really meant.  As time went by, an overwhelming sense that "being Christian" was far more than mere attendance at church resulted in an eventual encounter with the living Christ.

Contrast this image of our upbringing with the picture in our homes now that we have families of our own.  Shane married a "daughter of the manse" and ministered for a number of years with his father-in-law.  Belinda and I met shortly after we had both accepted Jesus as Lord.  Shane's two children have stood at the front of the church chanting "pwaise the Lord" from the time they began to walk, while our son James does not recall any particular day on which he decided to invite Jesus into his heart since, as he told his tearful parents some five years ago, "Jesus has always been my Lord".

The second question is around the nature of people's conversion experiences.  John Wesley, for instance, speaks of a "heart strangely warmed".  Shane's conversion was a classical "spiritual U-turn", leaving behind a lifestyle of drinking and fast motorcycles to follow Jesus.  Mine was an "intellectual" conversion - a point came in my life when the life and teaching of Jesus was "made sense", and it therefore seemed pointless to any longer resist following Him.  James had no conversion experience at all, since for him there were no "BC days".

What, then, does all this say about people and their relationship with Christ?  Those who subscribe to Calvinist theology would cite the events described in this blog post as evidence of "predestination" - a doctrine that stipulates that God predetermines who will be saved, and who won't be.  Somehow, though, I cannot buy this line of thinking.  Freedom of choice is too large a factor.  Continuing with the parallels between my friend Shane and I, both of us are the most stubborn so-and-so's to walk on God's great earth.  We change when we want to change, not when someone else says we must.  Only if things make sense to us will we go along with things.

I can therefore only deduce that God's infinite wisdom and prevenient grace (now there's a good Wesleyan word for you!) means that not only is each individual presented with an opportunity to accept Jesus as Lord, but that such opportunity is presented to each according to where they are.  So why, then, was Shane, to quote Chris Rea's lyrics, on "The Road To Hell" when he encountered Christ?  Why did it happen to me in the cold, intellectual environment of a university lecture hall?  How is it that James was effectively born saved?  And why did John Wesley spend umpteen years as an Anglican priest and a lecturer in theology before his understanding of who Jesus is moved from his head to his heart?

None of us will ever know the answer.  But just as Jesus called His first disciples from an assortment of different characters, so Jesus continues to call different people in different ways.  For me, this points to two things: Firstly, in the words of John Wesley, "all can be saved".  And secondly, if this is true, the Gospel message cannot be presented in a "one size fits all" package if we are to be truly effective for Christ.

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

The tank is full again

There's nothing like a few weeks' leave and a long drive to re-fill the tank and to get one ready for a new year.  I've been reading on Pete Grassow's blog about how he has turned his relocation from Cape Town to Pietermaritzburg into a road trip (read here, here, here, here, here, here, and here for an account of his trip thus far), and having driven nearly 2 500 km these holidays (Pietermaritzburg to Uitenhage; Uitenhage to Johannesburg; then from Johannesburg back to Pietermaritzburg again), I can identify with Pete's experiences of using driving time to think, reflect, pray, and all sorts of random but necessary things to get one's mental "filing cabinet" sorted out and order restored.

I must however confess that my thoughts on Mthatha were not quite as romantic as Pete's, since the traffic mayhem meant that it took us an hour to get through the city.  In fairness to Pete, though, he has memories from his childhood of having been born there, whereas I have memories of sitting in Sandton traffic for hours trying to get to and from work - which might cause our attitudes towards traffic congestion differ somewhat!

It was also good to catch up with the folks in Uitenhage again.  They say that Phase One can either make or break one's ministry, and in this caseI'm most grateful to have sat under the ministry of Bill Thompson, who has recently retired ("gone supernumerary" in MCSA-speak).  I had the privilege of attending his retirement service in Uitenhage, and although it was a long trip to make (seeing as we then went on to Joburg), it was worth every kilometre to be able to honour a man who has not only served God and the MCSA well in his ministry, but has also played a huge role in my own fledgeling ministry - far larger than he probably realises - which will stand me in good stead for years to come.  I know that these words are insignificant coming from my lips - Bill is not one for earthly praises, and would want to hear them only from the lips of Jesus - but I want to say nonetheless, "well done, good and faithful servant".

And as the holiday winds down, I feel re-charged and raring to go.  But in the meantime, there is the vitally important matter of a cricket match between SA and India at Kingsmead this week, which we will be going to complete with silly hats and the like (we wanted to go to the Pro20 at Moses Mabida, but at R350 a pop my stipend would have come up a bit short!).  I mean, after all, cricket is not a matter of life and death - it's FAR more important than that!

Friday, 7 January 2011

Whooooooshhh .... Pfffffffffffffffffffffft......

I haven't been blogging since last year thanks to a dubious decision on my part to change to Cell C's "Whoooooooshh" promotional package for my mobile internet access.  I say "dubious", not because the speeds are poor (they're not - in fact, they're great), and also not because there's any problem with the pricing (at R149 per month for 2GB, it's the cheapest in SA at the moment), but because of the disbolical service from the Pietermaritzburg branch of Cell C.

At the risk of being branded as a complete sexist, I have to choose words that best describe the sales "assistants" at the store - bimbos chewing their cud like cows in the meadows, possessing similar levels of unwillingness to provide anything remotely closely resembling customer service.  The manager wasn't much help, either, having either "popped out for a few moments" or, to use that old classic, "in a meeting".

All this means that I only got connected a couple of hours ago - and then, only once I'd called Cell C head office and comprehensively thrown my toys out of the cot.

However, the following thought crossed my mind as I pondered on this experience.  The one gum-chewing girlie had a permanently-pained expression on her face, as though she is currently working in the worst possible job she could find, which she no doubt hates with a passion.  Now admittedly it can't be too glamorous being a sales assistant in a cellphone outlet, and I wouldn't imagine that the pay is too great, either.  However, it is only grave-diggers and deep-sea divers that get to start at the top - the rest of us need to begin at the bottom, and the only way to progress to higher stations in life is to prove oneself at the lower levels.

So it must be soul-destroying to spend 8 hours a day, six days a week, dragging one's lip around the shop all day (when one isn't busy doing one's bit for the chewing-gum maker's share price, that is).  Sadly, with that attitude, this young woman will still be in the same dead-end job in 20 years' time, wondering what became of her life.

The thought that scares me most, though, is that this should ever happen to me in ministry.  I'm thankful to God that I have always had interesting jobs to do during my "first career", and I'm even more thankful that god has set me aside to do, on a full-time basis, what most lay people give up time to do sacrificially in obedience to God through the local church.  Yet I'm also aware that much (if not most) of ministry involves service - the image of Jesus washing the disciples' feet comes to mind here.

I have also seen others who have been in the ministry for many years who have simply grown tired.  They have lost their passion for ministry.  Sure, they still love Jesus, and they still have a heart for people, but somehow the spark has gone - and so they end up simply going through the motions, just like the woman at the Cell C store.  And so my prayer is that we do not "grow weary in doing good" in the service of the Lord.