DAY 500: POP-UP PULPIT

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Ever since I posted a blog on the troubled state of income and expenditure in the Methodist Church of Southern Africa people have asked: “So what’s your solution?”. Clearly there are many decision makers who are either in denial or who simply choose not to engage in the debate.  Those who rob Peter to pay Paul can always rely on the support of Paul.

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I loved the creativity.  There were many observations, experiences and practical suggestions to help us on the way.  A Dutch Reformed church in Walvis Bay has turned into a gym and is still used for worship on Sundays; questions surrounding the real cost of moving the MCO (Methodist Connexional Office) from Durban to Johannesburg were raised; separated bishops (costing the equivalent of 3 ordained ministers) with no sign of income generation coming from their offices constitute a massive drain on resources.

The debate opens the door to a host of proposals.

  1. Eradicate the office of bishops.  The MCSA has been crippled by the shift to Episcopalian governance. Instead of being a movement of the spirit of God, we’ve become infatuated with positions of importance
  2. Resurrect a one year Presidency.  Each newly appointed President brings years of ministerial experience and wisdom to the Church.  There are stories to be shared and visits (to each District) that need to be made. Their wise words of encouragement bring grace, joy and perspective to those who work at the coal face.
  3. Bring back the Ministerial Session.  Litigation must fall and dialogue must regain its rightful place.  Turning the Laws and Discipline  into a Book of Order says something about us. We’ve lost the discipline of the Wesleys and the law of love.
  4. Candidates for the ministry should not be older than 25 years.  The energy, enthusiasm and contribution of the young no longer exists in the Church.  Call has got lost in the attraction of sheltered employment.
  5. Learn from the ecumenical community.  There is a place for worker priests. Ministers who pay their own way and remain active in ministry are no a burden to struggling communities.
  6. Learn from History.  In order to meet the future, we have to learn from our past. One thing that strikes me about the Church in the Middle Ages is that people planted a Cross and created a presence around the Cross. Church became central to the town or village. There was local ownership and buy in to all the activities that came from the gathered community.
  7. Make property work.  It’s agonising to see so much underutilised church real estate.  Here’s my take. There should be only one church in a town, village, suburb.
  8.  Sell all our churches and (with the help of  architects and town planners) create a living, life giving space shaped around meeting basic human needs.  I see a place of worship surrounded by shops, cafe’s theatre, recreational space, film  studios, music and student centres, heritage and board rooms and much more making up the modern day church.
  9. Sabbath living.  Instead of worshiping for one hour on a Sunday, Sabbath keeping turns into Sabbath living.   The Methodists, for example could meet on Wednesday, Presbyterians on Thursdays, Baptists on Fridays. The Rule of Order is to use the property 24/7 to the glory of God.
  10. Examine the Context.  We live in a multi-faith society. What does it mean to listen to and include people whose life world is different from ours?

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I think Wesley would invite us to use the internet (and our imagination) and support “POP-UP PULPIT” to bring out the best in people.  All it takes is a CROSS (the love of God), an OPEN BIBLE (the living word) and a GLASS OF WATER (the gift of life) to start all over again.

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Christians celebrate the HAPPENINGS (Signs of the Kingdom) of what God is doing in the world today.  No matter where we are in the world, through POP-UP PULPIT we can preach what we practice. Join the conversation and express your thoughts.

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DAY 499: ALLISTER RUNDLE (THE SHERIFF)

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Ten days ago we said goodbye to Allister Rundle.  The good Reverend Doctor William Allister Rundle born 26 March 1933 was my ex-boss and has always held a very special place in my heart.  For many years he chaired the Salty Print Board of Management  and stood alongside me in my quest to address the business of transformation in South Africa through the life of the Church.

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When Allister became Superintendent of the newly formed Table Bay Circuit he looked at his young staff and exclaimed “I’m in charge of the Wild Bunch!”.  The ministers were his “young Turks” bursting with energy and enthusiasm, ready to conquer the world.  He was the SHERIFF and he wore the BADGE.

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The five points of the STAR told me that he was 1. Superintendent 2. Secretary of Synod 3.  Supernumerary  (Allister was older than us. We respected him as a man “above number”)  4. Stations (South Africa, South West (now Namibia) and the States  5. He always said: SURSUM CORDA i.e. “Lift up your hearts!”.  Our chorus “We lift them to the Lord”  set the tone for the life giving relationship.  I have always seen him in that light. Wearing the BADGE.

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As Superintendent he “held things together”.  They were difficult days and Allister (“The Holy Father”) was always present in the heart of the struggle to be the Church in a changing South Africa.  Who can forget his “Chairman/Bishop calls” at Synod time?  There was a measure of respect.  This man of stature brought a sense of dignity to the office of the Secretary of Synod. Everything had its rightful place and his ability to keep people pinned to the ground was stunning.

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The devotion that we gave him as “one to be respected” brought to mind the true meaning of Supernumerary.  That diagnosis of living with Parkinsons pushed Allister onto a whole new path. Through it all, he also beat cancer. It’s a remarkable story. Everyone associated with the family has marvelled at the faithful care that Margaret gave to her man over these years of unstoppable decline.

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His death symbolises the end of an era for the Methodist Church of Southern Africa.  Faithful servants of God who led by example are no longer with us. Allister was in a league of his own. He brought spirit.  Let us not forget that his appointed stations were not easy.  Going to places that “nobody wanted” he always pressed on and led the way.  He gave direction and pointed us to the rule of God. Grounded in scriptural holiness he proclaimed: “Lift up your hearts (SURSUM CORDA)!”.  Yes, my brother “we lift them to the Lord”.

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We turn the badge around and look to the other side. On a personal note we say:  “Allister, we will remember 1. your smile 2. your shirt 3. your singing 4. your service 5. your struggle.  The shine of the star reflects the memory 12 July 2017  – the day you died.  My Dad, Charles R. Stephenson died on the same day in 2010″.

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Many things made  you smile: contact with your beautiful daughters (and grandchild) now living in the U.K.; a game of cricket; a good old cup of Methodist tea and Margaret’s regular visits to your place of care.

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Sometimes you spent lots of time shaping and shaving your generous beard into a work of art.  I always waited to see the “new look smile” and the twinkle in your eyes.  It made me smile.  You also wore your famous checked shirt to remind us that the SHERIFF was back in town.  You needed the protection for the tasks of dealing with difficult people in church meetings.  Nothing could daunt your spirit – neither hobgoblins nor foul fiends – when you wore the shirt.

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Listening to you sing was always a treat.  You found your voice in the singing of hymns and being a choir member. When news broke of your passing, people remembered with affection your years of ministry (service). We picture a theology student from Rhodes speaking to young people at Seven Fountains in the Grahamstown District, starting the work in Durbanville, facing the Caspirs in Buitenkant Street and working with diversity in a multi faith society.

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Yet my heart will always settle on the struggle that consumed the last two decades of your life. It’s a story of love and faithfulness that will never be forgotten.

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As I watched the Wyllie Hearse take you down Bunney Street, I gave thanks to God for Kensington – home of your last appointment. The Church (recently renovated) was looking great. It was the place where I preached on the “Refining Fire of God” as a Trial Service in my ordination year (1980).  Here my Dad and Alex Boraine opened the Gateway Center in August 1971.

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Now you are gone. You leave your badge, hoping that someone will pick it up and start up all over again.  I found an image of an original sheriff’s badge and noticed that it had another point to the star.

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It opens the door for us to continue the conversation. God bless you my brother as you ride into the sunset.  You will always be the SHERIFF. Never to be forgotten.

 

DAY 498: A RULE OF LIFE (MONEY)

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The Methodist Church of Southern Africa is in big trouble.  Big, BIG TROUBLE! Wherever you look, local churches are struggling to meet assessments. There is not enough money to pay the bills at the end of the month.  Across the board, the drain on declining resources is scary. Many colleagues in active ministry feel overwhelmed and intimidated by the  steady drain on declining resources, accelerated by a burgeoning bureaucracy.

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Over the years we have seen the good that money can do: the opening up of lives through poverty relief; the provision of shelter, medicine and schools; the joy of being cheerful givers.  We have also seen the harm that money can do: the exploitation of the vulnerable; the greed that destroys relationships and the thirty pieces of silver that paid for Jesus to be betrayed.

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So what has MONEY got to do with A RULE OF LIFE?   Recently I opened up the 2017 Synod Blue Book of the Cape of Good Hope District and tried to calculate the cost of agency in the local church and compared it to the cost of running the District Bishop’s office (a separated appointment). We cannot judge how rightly or wrongly we are spending our money unless we know how we are spending it and where it is coming from. What is the ROI (Return on Investment)?

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If a Circuit seeks to appoint an ordained minister, a minimum of R500 00.00 per annum is required. That equates to R54 000.00 per month.  The Office of the Bishop costs R1.5 million per annum. The price of three ordained ministers.

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Here’s the rub.  When we breakdown these Budget figures, a local church (the church) needs to generate R1400.00 per day on a 30 day month. When a Circuit minister says that he/she needs a “day off” it might be good to ask “who is going to pay that R5600.00” needed to pay for the four days of “down time?”.  Some Financial Advisors will point out that these estimates are way below the actual (TOTAL) running costs of our churches.

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Bottom line is that our people are struggling.  The old money is gone and we are selling off the silverware (manses and church property) at an extraordinary rate. One society in our Circuit has even bonded its property to secure loans for maintenance. The Methodist Church of Southern Africa is in big trouble.  Big, BIG TROUBLE!  I saw this trend in the United Kingdom when I visited 40 – 50 Methodist churches across the country in 1982.  As leader of a visiting MAYC  Exchange group I was shocked to see big FOR SALE signs on church doors. I saw churches turned into squash courts, engineering works, restaurants, carpet wholesale outlets, residential and old age homes.

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Even the Three Tower Church where my late father was baptised in Gloucester had turned into a Supermarket.  From those early years in my ministry I learned that Churches do die. It’s a global phenomenon. That’s why I went to Detroit to see what had happened to the once prosperous religious community. I even visited the old church of Reinhold Niebuhr in the heart of Detroit City.  Now the birds of decline are coming home to roost here in South Africa.

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Unfortunately we run churches following the pattern of “having enough money to pay the professional to do the job of work”.  Our income streams are dependent on”bums on seats”.  We view our congregations as a field to be exploited for the maximum monetary payment we can extort.  If “mind your own business” means to be business like: punctual, efficient, reliable, keen, determined to give good value for money, then we are in business.

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The rot has set in across our land starting at the top. My word to those in active ministry is “Thank God for your congregation. Work with them. Look to Tierwaterskloof Dam in Cape Town. It’s the same old story.  You can’t take out more than you put in! Soon there will be no more water”. So when the stewards count the collection from pledges and plates, remember that they do their sums.  You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to calculate what is needed. The Church has to become something else.

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DAY 497: A RULE OF LIFE (TIME)

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As I get older I am astonished at the way in which I have learned to gather up fragments of TIME. I have also observed how we crowd things out and become “too busy” for worship and service.  Yesterday was the Protestant Reformer, John Calvin’s birthday (10.7.1506). He makes a telling statement: “Knowing yourself begins with knowing God.”

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In a word, the Psalmist says “Remember your Creator in the days of your youth” and goes on to say “teach us to number our days”.  We must be able to respond freely and quickly to fresh needs and interests to new challenges and calls.  But also remember that an unexamined and wholly unplanned life can leave a great deal undone.

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So where does A RULE OF LIFE (TIME) begin?  St. Paul reminded the Galatian Christians that “in the fullness of time God sent his only son”.  The Roman empire brought unparalleled peace and stability.  The perfect time?  If Jesus came today, think of the impact.  He could have relayed his message around the world in seconds.  Clearly God’s timetable and ours may not be at the same time, but his RULE OF LIFE asks us if we are ready to put his timing first.

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Let’s dig a little deeper. How many of us find ourselves growing increasingly impatient at the way things are going? For various reasons, we want to explode!  At the same time we are stressed out.  We rush from one thing to the next, one eye on the clock, begrudging every wasted moment, unable to practice the presence of God. We need to learn that every moment is God’s gift.  I think the call is to make the most of each encounter. As my late mother taught me “Patience is a virtue!” And I am still working on it!  The Women’s group at Mossop reminded me of this home truth last week.

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It follows that many of us end up so pre-occupied with the past or the future that we overlook the blessings of the present.  What we need to learn is to enjoy each moment, recognising all it has to offer.  The Psalmist insists that we never forget that “this is the day the Lord has made”. (118:24).  Do not let it pass you by!  I think there is a rhythm in life that needs to be observed.  In re-creation we learn the importance of Sabbath living.  Taking time out for God brings new focus.  We learn to discriminate and frame A RULE OF LIFE that animates a Christian spirit.

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Our experience of TIME is always changing and life is constantly moving on, reminding us all too starkly of our mortality.  Think about the passing of TIME: the passing of the seasons, the birth and growth of a child, the anticipation of a special event and, of course, our hope in Christ. The secret to understand what mood or action is appropriate for a particular occasion.

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There is a TIME for everything.  God is the one who holds all TIME in his hands; the one who in all the changes and chances of this life will not change.  One of my favourite passages of scripture is Psalm 90.  The Psalmist insists that “the Lord has been our dwelling place for all generations”.   A RULE OF LIFE is to continually focus on the living God whose eternal nature stands in such contrast to our own transience.

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In the context of faith, we sing with Sydney Carter that life is moving on.  With just “one more step” we enter into an unfolding journey in which there is always more to be discovered and more joys to be experienced.  We come to a decision about the right use of TIME and set out on it.  This turns into a  A RULE OF LIFE.

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DAY 496: A RULE OF LIFE (PRAYER)

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Jesus says “If you love me, you will keep my commandments”. Love turns into the fulfilling of the law. Liberty comes when we have learned to find our pleasure in “the good and acceptable and perfect will of God”.  I often watch pianists master the keyboard. They have learned the laws of harmony and disciplined themselves to mastering the technique of “making music”. The delight that they bring to themselves and others generates musical freedom.

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Our music group PULSE is hard at work preparing for a number of CHARITY CONCERTS. We structure these events around Public Holidays to present in the late afternoon. It’s a great time to meet and greet, but best of all there is hardly any traffic on the roads. Based on our knowledge of what works, we have to carefully order our preparation and practice hard if we want to achieve the intended result. People of faith find themselves adopting similar patterns of life by framing simple RULES around PRAYER, the use of TIME and MONEY.

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PRAYER needs the discipline of regular thinking and regular praying. We need to think about our prayers and form good habits. If, for example we only pray when we feel like it, we shall feel like it less and less. Speak to anyone who holds a Gym membership card. They will tell you exactly what happens when the discipline disappears.

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Unless we discipline ourselves by forming habits of self examination and preparation on the road of life, we will not master the art.  Bondage to a mass of rules is contrary to the life of the Spirit. Forming good habits and sticking to a few SIMPLE RULES can be a great help. The Christian year provides a wonderful framework for the discipline needed.

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I think the secret is to make one’s whole life a prayer. I remember when I first started out on the internet in November 1998, I always prefaced my e mails with the words “CONNEXION: ………………. ”  followed with the subject on hand.  Even though I could not see the recipients face2face, I felt connected and in tune with their life world.

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Now, through the medium of writing regular Blogs I have developed a creative way to witness to the living reality of our faith in an effective way.  I try to practice the presence of God by making connections between life and faith and faith and life.  There’s a continual search for new paths and joy at the discovery of “bringing out the best in people”. I also give place to the sanctity of life.

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In our lifetime, the idea of a world (global) community has taken practical shape. The size of the problem that confronts us is huge.  We live in a world of diversity and no one clear word to meet the future exists. Decades of hard work ahead remain.  Yesterday I was at Home Affairs in Wynberg seeking to register a Marriage which I conducted on Saturday. I had to wait 2 hours to await my turn.  Every Department (organisation) in this country faces acute management problems. We face a reluctance for people to exert themselves beyond the bare minimum needed.

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With the Psalmist of old I cry “How long O Lord must this go on?”.  It’s frightening.  What is needed is human understanding and skill, unending patience, and a willingness to devote time, maybe years, to the welfare of community. When the hymn writer says “Take it to the Lord in PRAYER” he reminds us that the Church is a unique instrument for making known to people the needs of the world and the means of relieving them.

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As the good book reminds us “Daniel kneeled on his knees three times a day and prayed and gave thanks before his God”.  The testimony of scripture is that ours is a God who always hears and who will always finally answer.

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DAY 495: ENCOUNTERING ENEMIES

 

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On Sunday afternoon we hosted the first of a series of monthly STUDY CIRCLES at Mossop Hall in Little Mowbray. Tony Flint a local resident (pictured below) set the wheels in motion with a memorable presentation on the Anglo/Zulu battles that took place at Isandlwana and Rorke’s Drift on 22 and 23 January 1879.  Three things stood out for me as he turned back the pages of history.  We ENCOUNTERED the ENEMIES of hypocrisy (“we’re better than you”), self esteem (“misjudgement rebounded on them badly”) and cynicism (“an air of uneasy anger at the way history played out”).

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Let me bring these lessons of unresolved conflicts up to date.

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“You’re such a hypocrite!” are words often levelled at Christians. These words may be said behind our back because of the way we have behaved. Our walk has failed to match our talk. Much of our HYPOCRISY is unconscious. Are our outbursts of anger, for example, inspired by a passion for justice or are the explosions merely a product of our own fears, animosities or prejudices?  Like the Pharisees in the good book, we play the part of the person who is always right. We are prone to act out a role which our subconscious has prescribed for us.

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Saying one thing and doing another takes us to the heart of HYPOCRISY.  Working with people teaches us so many lessons. Unresolved conflicts arise out of differences of opinion and behaviour. Dislike sets in and festers. Pride is hurt and the subtle and cunning reality of HYPOCRISY makes its presence felt.

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It’s really painful to peel off the layers and get to the truth of knowing oneself. Without sincerity, the interchange between the knowledge of God and knowledge of self is corrupted.  ENCOUNTERING ENEMIES, whether conscious or unconscious, inevitably works against the establishment of relationships of trust and love.

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Think about it. There is no more powerful emotion than being in love. Many people today suffer from a  low SELF ESTEEM. The love of self is missing.  Others, desirous of praise and power  turn self-love into PRIDE and VANITY.  How to find the balance becomes a constant battle. Jesus argues that it is only when love is turned outward from self and directed toward others, and above all, to God that the common values turn into virtues.

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I think the man from Nazareth helps us encounter misdirected love. He evokes our worship and praise, reveals to us what the will of God is and through his spirit quenches and strengthens us to love as we have been loved. Life turns around when we find the balance.

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Today, people of faith have to deal with destructive criticism. Unlike charity, CYNICISM is swift to expose and eager to believe the worst. It is never hopeful and delights in “debunking” cherished values. CYNICISM wears a mask of maturity, displays a caustic wit that passes for cleverness and is out to destroy faith.

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My take is that the beauty and goodness of life is there to be found. The good book invites us to hold onto the sword of the spirit when CYNICISM threatens. Only an awakened spirit can defeat a latent CYNICISM. Jesus knew how to bring out generosity in a profiteer like Zaccheus. His loving spirit kindled a flame in the hearts of people.

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The outcomes of ENCOUNTERING ENEMIES are learned, better than anywhere, at the foot of the Cross. No one who has looked long and hard at Christ crucified can take a purely sentimental view of love.  What we sow, so shall we reap. Love is working all the time to restore broken personal relationships. There is nothing like a return to the Cross, with its judgement upon sin as well as its forgiveness for the sinner.

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The visit comes with a call for a disciple to be a cross bearer and the promise that we will be inheritors of Christ’s heavenly kingdom.

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DAY 494: HUMILIATION

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A close friend of mine said that you can watch world sport all day.  I felt the heartache of the British Lions losing to the Auckland Blues last week as they recorded their first loss on their tour to New Zealand.  I also shared in the victory of the winning team. You could see the excitement in their eyes.

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Life’s like that. There will always be winners and losers. Sometimes we have to back our team through the lean years. I still think that world sport is the new religion on the planet. It’s a sophisticated, leisure time distraction that sucks you in to follow contests from beginning to end. We are hooked, glued to the TV as our heroes strut onto the field.

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People of faith face similar struggles. The love of God and the love of self is always a battle. No heart is truly free to love God when consumed with a desire for pleasure, possessions, power and praise. It’s a question of where our hearts are fixed. An impulse of pure love towards God fueled by a desire to know Him better is an act of sweet surrender. The desire to love God will be strengthened when we make it our constant prayer “that we may perfectly love Thee and worthily magnify Thy Holy name”.

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Nobody likes to lose. There are few things in life that are more powerful than being HUMILIATED.  In those moments we explore the depths, sit down and examine the facts of life. HUMILIATION will come to us (it’s happening at the Oval and Roland Garros as I type). We must expect it to happen and be ready to face it. When HUMILIATION has been humbly accepted, it has lost its power.

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Time after time we can watch Jesus through the pages of the gospels as He humbles himself.  We can see and feel the HUMILIATION of the mocking and the scourging. The denial and betrayal shame us. Soon we make our discovery. When HUMILIATION has been humbly accepted it has lost its power to do us harm.

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Rugby players accepting defeat  (in post match interviews) say “we must go back to the drawing board”. The going is heavy. How do you pick up from where you’ve left off?  We become depressed. Our path of life leads us through deserts. Times are tough. In such periods of wilderness we may not understand that God is working in us.

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Spare a thought for Theresa May.  Many thought that Labour was heading for a terrible defeat – that people had made up their mind about Jeremy Corbyn.  Now her critics want to see her flinch in self inflicted pain and see her arrogance turn into ashes. One observer said “Please stay while we savour your HUMILIATION“.  We are seeing the same response in South Africa over Helen Zille’s tweet. Tomorrow the Press will have a field day about the performance of the Proteas against India.

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The great temptation when HUMILIATION strikes is to give up. Yet the secret is to “always press on”.  I find it helpful to look firmly and faithfully at the “great abiding realities” when we are made to look stupid and feel ashamed.  Whenever we lose the respect of others, we do well to remind ourselves that He is there, even if we cannot feel the warmth of his love or behold the splendour of his glory.

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Jesus made it clear that his way will be straight and narrow. By taking up our cross daily, we recognise that much of our journey will be uphill. Yet every word that reaches us from the scriptures has the power to transform. God’s promise to Solomon in 2 Chronicles 7: 14 still stands:  “If my people humble themselves …. turn from their wicked ways … I will forgive and heal”.  I can live with that.

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DAY 493: HIDDEN SPRINGS

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I write on the eve of a massive storm moving into Cape Town. It will break the drought and bring relief to a thirsty land.  For months people have looked to the heavens and prayed for rain. I have advised that “in his time” the good Lord will provide. We are a winter rainfall area and cannot play God. Every citizen in Cape Town has learned to appreciate the value of water as a precious resource. Our dams are empty and necessity has turned into the mother of invention.

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A report posted on Face Book suggested that there are around 35 springs in the mountains that dominate our sky line. Over the years, many have been closed up by city council. The run off of fresh water into the ocean from these HIDDEN SPRINGS runs into millions of litres of wasted water.  I don’t want to play wise guy in this observation. We all know that necessity is the mother of invention. Many people have voiced their opinion as the drought has worsened.

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HIDDEN SPRINGS! A spring is a source of perpetual refreshment. Jesus in conversation with the Samaritan woman said that the water he gives is “a well of water springing up into eternal life”.

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To find the HIDDEN SPRING of life means breaking through the hard crust of selfishness. We dig out our fears and uncertainties in our search for source. This is easier said than done. Look at our hectic life worlds today. We are surrounded by incessant demands on our time. Increased pressure fueled by the pace of life brings stresses and stains. We struggle to find time for everything that must be done. Soon our “busy”ness begins to choke the life giving HIDDEN SPRINGS of life.

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Even in the Methodist Church, our obsession with organisation, meetings and (top down) Episcopalian governance has killed the life. We’ve become slaves to the business of keeping the machine running smoothly. We like to be seen to be busy.  This was where Martha made her mistake in the home in Bethany. Mary had a true understanding of the chief end in human life: “It is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever”.  Jesus commended her for chosing the better part.

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Many people are losing the art of being quiet. There are too many distractions and we live in a noisy world. How do we deal with solitude? The moment the noise about us stops, we become ill at ease. Even ‘going to church’ has turned into a vigorous effort to be sociable and communicative.

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HIDDEN SPRINGS invites us to work on our interior life. Our most urgent need today is not for anything new. It is for the age-old need for God, the living God.  Make sense of His splendour. Find joy in His presence. Discover devotion in His service and reality in His worship. These are the values that money can’t buy. The real life is nourished when we drink from the HIDDEN SPRINGS.

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What does this mean?  The Celtics invite us to PAUSE – take time to be with God and enter into His presence. The PICTURE  is clear. We learn of Him and receive His promises. When we commune with Him, we ponder and find our balance. The process makes us fruitful and turns into the PROMISE to enjoy Him forever.

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I have really enjoyed the brief moments when rain has come during our build up to winter. Hose Feliciano taught me to sing “Listen to the falling rain, listen to it fall”.  The experience of pouring rain evokes a real sense of gratitude and joy.  It’s like meeting up with a close friend who you haven’t seen for sometime. There are moments when the conversation falls on silence. Spirit with spirit has met and mingled. We’ve tapped into the life giving water of HIDDEN SPRINGS.

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DAY 492: WHAT ARE YOU CARRYING?

Whenever I leave home, I make sure that I have got my wallet, my camera and my phone. My wallet carries my drivers license and that card gives me permission to use my motor car. When I travel overseas I make sure that I have my passport. If not, I will be in trouble. My camera captures life giving moments. My phone keeps me connected wherever I am in the world. These three items make me dig deeper as I look at my ministry in the Methodist Church.

Over the years, I have CARRIED the FAITH and a call to the ministry of WORD and SACRAMENT. I revisited this thought as we celebrated  Aldersgate (Wesley), Ascension and Africa days during the past week. This Sunday at  Pentecost we will replace our batteries.  Maybe we should see them as a Triple A (AAA) battery and build on the events.  Our faith is shaped by Aldersgate, encouraged by the Ascension and given a context in Africa.

WE CARRY FAITH. Jesus appealed for faith. His life was keyed to reality. His words and works carry conviction. Wesley exclaimed on Aldersgate Day “I felt that I did trust Christ”. When the twelve disciples came to grasp the full significance of who and what Jesus was they found themselves equipped with the passport of faith. The Ascension season helps us step up to the next level. Think about it.

The fundamental reason why this world looks so distorted and hopeless is that we no longer believe that a more important world exists. The glimpse of seeing with the eye of faith is “seeing the invisible”. Instead of entrapment, we step up to the next level. Like the sculptor who sees a statue in a block of marble.  Abraham’s life changed when he caught a glimpse of “a city with foundations, whose builder and maker is God”. That is why he is known as the father of faith.

One thing that strikes me about living on the African continent is that there is work to be done. Faith laughs at the impossible and insists “It shall be done!”. If we see a thing to be true, right or lovely, it is bound to influence our action. In Africa there are countless stories which come out of faith. Salty Print, for example, began as an impulse to make a venture (develop a project) and ended in a confirming experience. People of faith act creatively and constructively.

Faith is the passport that gives access to the Way that leads into life in all it fullness. THIS IS WHAT WE CARRY.

Yet faith must be nourished and maintained. The provision is two fold: the word and the sacrament. The Bible becomes a camera that points us to the heart of God. This word becomes a source for spiritual sustenance. Wesley taught us to search the scriptures and discover for ourselves how the word turns into bread of life for the soul. Wesley challenged his followers to follow through and “spread scriptural holiness throughout the land”. This is what we carry with us on the Way. It’s daily bread. We need to cultivate the practice of private meditation and getting our minds to work.

So the Passport (Faith), the Camera (Word) and the Cell Phone (Sacrament) equip us as pilgrims on the way.  God’s means of grace (the Sacrament) transcends speech and the thanksgiving that we do “in remembrance of him” facilitates “love in action”.  It is a ritual replete with meanings and memories, showing us again His love in a language no words can express. And YES! We want to talk about it and tell the world.

FAITH is our passport, and the Ministry of the WORD (Camera) and SACRAMENT (Cell Phone) equips us for the journey.

 

DAY 491: RULES OF THE ROAD

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The RULE OF THE ROAD is the law of Love.  These words seem hopelessly idealistic and possibly futile as we look at all that is happening in the world round about us. Yet this law of love is the basis of new life in Christ. It is God’s way of putting what is wrong in a world where hatred abounds.

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Hatred is a poison. It blinds us to reason, provokes jealousy, inhibits relationships and makes effective co-operation impossible. Hatred is deadly. If it dwells in the heart there is no peace. Globalisation has woken us up to the fact that we cannot live in isolation. We are all one body. We are connected. A common life-stream circulates through the system and the only cure to poisoning us is the purification of the blood stream.

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Christians claim that the Cross of Christ was God’s blood transfusion. Jesus stood up to poisonous hatred and refused to capitulate. His disciples adopted his law of love as the RULE OF THE ROAD. This resolve brings a new determination to meet basic human need and secure the freedom that comes from active involvement in restorative justice. Transformation becomes our business. We persevere with humble acts of kindness and self-giving. Over time we become (like the butterfly) new creatures, sensing the reality of God at work created by deeds of love.

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This is not merely a warm glow. Love is costly. It is always the neighbour who has the first claim. Yet Jesus pushes the boundaries. We soon realise that some will like and others will dislike us. Having goodwill towards all poses a serious challenge. How to obey the RULE OF LOVE turns into a clear challenge when wrong has been done. Bitterness resides in the heart towards the wrong doer.

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A heart unwilling to forgive is a heart out of tune with God. This was the language of the Wesleys. It’s the cry that comes from the Cross. “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do”.  The essence of forgiveness is a restoration of relationship. Take Job as a prime example. Job’s friends had not been kind to him and he felt bitterly towards them. “The Lord turned the captivity of Job, when he prayed for his friends”.

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Wesley began to “pray for those who had despitefully used and persecuted him” after his conversion on Wednesday 24 May 1738 in Aldersgate Street, London. This principle of forgiveness, hard as it is to put into practice, lies at the very heart of the Christian way of life. We also read that Jesus chose disciples “that they might be with him“. For three years they had shared life together. The disciples got Jesus”. They caught his attitude to life’s problems. they began to share his insights, look on the world through his eyes and felt as he felt.

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They caught something of His infectious enthusiasm for God. His loving spirit ignited their own spirit, turning them in deed and truth into one Body indwelt by one Spirit. Christ lived in them. Jesus found a way to weld them into a team. they learned to sink their personal differences, swallow personal resentments and adjust their various outlooks for His sake and the Kingdom. Jesus gave them a vision of the RULE OF GOD at work in the life of the world. He said “the Kingdom of God is among you”.

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The hymnwriters describe him as the “one who breaks down the barriers and casts up the way”. Jesus not only taught the way.  He actually took it Himself obeying the law of love every step of the way. He left a living legacy in a body of people (disciples) who not only understood his way of life but were living it. All things are possible when we follow the RULES OF THE ROAD.

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