Calvary Methodist Church

Celebrating and Sharing God's Embracing Love in the World

Tree of Life Course: Personal Testimony

By Karabo Malakalaka

 

Post the two previous courses, I must admit, I wasn’t very keen on going for a third course in a row but little did I know what the Almighty had in store for me. I know usually peer pressure is associated with negative things but this time round it worked for me. Thank you Tiisetso for nudging me to do this, it was the Holy Spirit speaking through you.

The first session was very interesting and spoke to the environmentalist in me. It got me thinking and crying… most importantly acknowledging the number of times I have deliberately chosen the tree of death instead of life as I worked through the week’s assignment. So my confession for that week was REALLY difficult. In the same week, I got reminded that there are people strategically placed in our lives to offer nourishment- SOUL friends. And one friend of mine stood out the most. I have made a deliberate point of praying for her, so that GOD can continue to give her strength and empower her, as she tends to my soul.

The GOD in every day, I got to be reminded that GOD doesn’t care about the how we come to him, HE simply cares about the fact that we made an effort to have time with Him by seeing HIS awe and majesty in the everyday things we take for granted, and being thankful for those. The air we breathe, the birds that sing to us each day- trying to put a smile on our faces in our ever hurried activities, the list goes on.

A time for everything. This was a wakeup call for me! I had been lamenting over something, to the extent I became like Job- questioned whether HE really loved me and why couldn’t this one simple thing be answered. Just like a smack on the face, I was snapped back into reality. YES, I’m greatly loved, that’s why I’m still here on earth- I had elevated my challenge beyond GOD and it was obscuring who MY FATHER really is. I chose to focus on the wrong master… hence the concept of Happy darkness didn’t make sense to me. My situation hasn’t changed, BUT my focus has. Despite everything, I choose GOD to be my focus, intentionally seeking HIS kingdom first and everything will be added unto me in due time. Talk about change of perspective.

The dark within and 3 days in the belly.

A gentle reminder of how each day I battle my own demons. I’m still working on the possibility to trust, release and abide. This is difficult when dealing with the darkness others have inflicted upon me. I pray for grace and mercy each day, so I can release it to GOD. One vernacular song stood out for me as I was doing that week’s reflection- “ Sebe se le thata se ka nkatametsa ho Morena- as difficult as sin is, it pushes me to GOD” excerpt from Haufi le Morena (sotho song).

The Selfish Giant- Oscar Wilde…. Let’s just say, there’s more commonality between me and the giant! That’s also work in progress…

Finally, the one exercise we did stood out profoundly over others. When Yvonne presented the story of the Pearl of Great price. As I looked at and reflected, I saw that despite the clutter we put in our lives- our material possessions and everything- the love of GOD shines through regardless. It matters not how we try and fill the space.  You have to see the schematics to understand, can’t put it down on paper.

I learnt many lessons through the course, mostly about me and my relationship with MY Father in Heaven, but I would like just to share two.

  1. In the fellowship provided by the course, two things happen- we lose focus of our problems as we realise what others are going through- a reminder to elevate GOD and not the problem, secondly we testify GOD’s greatness to each other- something to tap on in the dry winter season.
  2. Each one of us carries with them their sin on one hand and the grace of GOD on the other. Each day is an opportunity to choose the grace of GOD even in the little things.

Finally, I don’t know what the next course has to offer, but I’m sure I will be there. See you there!!

 

***

A note from Yvonne:

Our next runs on Wednesdays in August. Details below.


Affirmation: Synod Witness Service

*testimony shared at my Witness service as a candidate for Ordination*

The Methodist Church of Southern Africa has always been home to me – family.

From my youngest years when I was content to eat the chocolate cake crumbs that escaped my mother’s plate as she fellowshipped with other young mothers, to my formative years when the stories of Jesus sat proudly beside “The Adventures of Hercules” and Enid Blyton’s “Enchanted Wood” on my bookshelf, church was a place to play, to be, to belong.

At the age of 13, as I watched the Easter story being dramatised at our youth church one Sunday, it suddenly struck home: the reality of God’s great love for me and the suffering that Jesus was prepared to endure for my salvation. And so I became a participant rather than an observer – in God’s story and in God’s community – attending Bible studies and youth events and then leading them.

At 18, I was passionate about God and God’s people, but I also had very distinct plans for my future.

Then, one evening during worship, I heard the voice of God within and around me telling me that God had other plans. I returned home feeling a little confused, a lot anxious; wondering whether I had imagined the whole thing; praying for confirmation of God’s will in God’s Word.

The Spirit led me to Paul’s first letter to Timothy (1 Timothy 4:12-16) and the message was clear:

Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith, and in purity….

Devote yourself to preaching and to teaching….

Watch your life and doctrine closely and you will save both yourself and your hearers.

I was surprised to discover that very few rejoiced with me that I had discovered my life’s true calling. Some ridiculed my experience. Many friends abandoned me as I abandoned the life plans that had bound us together. Even those in the church who I trusted for guidance and support seemed to throw obstacles in my way: doubts and questions I was ill-equipped to answer.

It took many years for me to candidate for the Ministry of Word and Sacrament: years in which I tried my best to live up to my calling at church, at work, at home; years in which I felt that I was giving my all but it was not good enough; years in which I grew more and more frustrated with a God who would stir up such things in my heart yet not make a way for me to use the gifts that I had been given for this particular purpose.

Yet when the way finally opened up through the non-itinerant, non-stipendiary category, there was no pat on the back; no “well done my good and faithful servant;” simply hard truths about my own limitations, about the imperfection and discomfort of what it is to be community; and, ultimately, about the true cost of discipleship.

Over the past seven years, I have had to wrestle with God and with myself.

I have listened to how my family would be butchered in front of me if I did not learn my place as a white, female minister in training. I have been afraid to close my eyes and pray after a colleague was knifed during a service I was leading by one that we had been called to serve and to love. I have grieved at the non-itinerant category being closed and felt with some of the soul friends with whom I have journeyed for so long that the church suddenly does not want the unique gifts that we have offered. I have worried about how my family are connecting with God in the diverse and different communities in which we have worshipped and served.

But today I thank God.

I thank God that as we have wrestled, God has never let go of me. I thank God for the people who have accompanied and supported and tested and taught me. I thank God for the countless moments of love and laughter and and intimacy and self-offering that have presented themselves as I have served and been served within this Methodist family. I thank God for the hundreds of babies I have held in my arms at their baptism and see now walking into Sunday School class for the first time. I thank God for the table at which we are all equal in our need of God’s grace.

But above all, I thank God for those things that have touched me in a way that has caused pain for a while but opened up new ways of being and seeing and loving.

It has been in those moments that God has shown me that obedience to God’s call is actually an invitation into intimacy with the One who made me by hand, and not the expectation of a distant and demanding God.

It has been in those moments that I have learned to be a servant and not to try and be a Saviour. God’s got that covered already!

It has been in those moments that I have experienced the liberating power of forgiveness and the full extent of people’s desperation that inspires me to love, love, LOVE; even when that love leaves me vulnerable.

It has been in those moments that I have discovered that our greatest differences from one other can indeed be our greatest gifts to each other.

It has been in those moments that I have learned to dance …
… and to let God lead.

And so, today as I whole-heartedly proclaim that I am grateful for the community of the church (as imperfect as she can be) and confident of God’s continued calling and constant presence in my life, I can only echo the words of Charles Wesley with all my heart:

No condemnation now I dread;
Jesus and all in Him is mine!
Alive in Him, my living Head,
and clothed in righteousness divine,
Bold I approach the eternal throne
And claim the crown, through Christ, my own!


Monday Meditations: from ruin to restoration

The prodigal son in Luke 15:1-3, 11-32 is a well-known story; one that marks a complete journey from ruin to restoration as a young man has to hit rock bottom before he can realise the profound treasure of the family and the household into which he had been born.

Self will 

Our story starts with this young man feeling – like many young people do – the restrictions of his father’s household; the weight of expectation and responsibility; the chafing of the rules that govern how he is to behave as the son of an obviously wealthy and powerful property owner.

He wants, like we often do, to be his own person; to make his own mark on the world; to experience the fullness of life as an independent and free person who is capable of making his own decisions. But not without his father’s resources! So he tells good old dad that he wants to set off on his own and asks for his portion of the inheritance to fund his adventures – and his father obliges.

Selfishness and separation

With no one looking over his shoulder, and no responsibilities to carry, the young man’s life is truly his own and he spends his inheritance on everything his heart had ever desired. He travelled to a far off place, found himself some exotic friends, kitted himself out in the very best threads, and partied, partied, partied. All the money in the world – and he never made an investment, never purchased land of his own, never planned for the future; he lived for the present moment, for absolute pleasure – until the money ran out ….

Self-destruction 

And he began to be in need. Isn’t it interesting that none of his good-time, party time friends offered to assist him? That the inn which had probably accommodated him didn’t offer to put him up for free for a while?

He had absolutely nothing and no-one. His own choices had destroyed him but he only realised the fact when it was too late.

Shame

The only option that he had was to sell himself as a casual labourer – and the only work that he could find was in the fields tending pigs. Unclean, dirty pigs – a forbidden food in the Israelite culture – yet, in his desperation he has no other option but to look after them in the mud and the muck.

Not only does he know the shame and degradation of having to take such an inferior position – this educated son of a wealthy and powerful landowner – but it is a sign of how completely he has lost his way, turned his back on his culture, and on his God.

Starvation

Yet despite him enduring such humiliation, it is still not enough to meet his basic needs for he is paid so little that as he watches the pigs being fed, his stomach pangs with hunger and he enviously desires even that which the pigs are eating. Yet either no one notices – or no one cares – for he is not given anything.

***

Friends, this is the slippery slope of sin that leads us ever further away from our loving Father, from the household of heaven; to places of complete ruin and humiliation and despair.

We never embark on the journey with the intention to end up in the mud and the muck – but when we take that very first step of saying, “God, I just want to do things my own way for a little while” we really have no idea where we will end up.

And I need to say that all too often as Christians we say, “If God didn’t want me to pursue this path he wouldn’t have opened the door” when actually it is the path we long to pursue even knowing that it might lead us away from God and – as the story so clearly tells us – the Father is generous to the son who wants to set off on his own, allowing him the freedom and the free will to go his own way.

Are short-lived pleasures and fair-weather friends worth the separation from God; the shameful things we have to do to hide our situation or try to get out of it; the gut-wrenching, soul-destroying sense of emptiness and loneliness?

Some of us might self-righteously be thinking that we would never allow the little sins, the once-in-a-while selfishness to take us that far. Like the pharisees and the chief priests who were muttering about Jesus eating with sinners and tax collectors, we think we are so much better, so much smarter, so much more cautious than our neighbour which is exactly why Jesus told this story: because we are all sinners and if we have taken even one step away from the Father’s love and presence, we are on the road to ruin.

***

Fortunately, the story does not end there. It is a story about God, as much as it is a story about us, and so “ruin” can never be the final word.

Realisation

As this young man sits in the squalor and starvation of his circumstances, the realisation suddenly hits him that in this strange land in which no one cares for him or sees him, he is not being paid enough for this humiliating labour to even fill his stomach. Yet in his father’s household, the hired men are treated with such justice and respect that they even have food to spare.

He begins to see for the first time that the household full of laws and responsibilities and expectations from which he longed to escape, was a household of far more dignity and reward and kindness than what he has found in the exotic country that he longed to explore.

Resolution and repentance

And so he makes up his mind; he comes up with a plan: he will go back to his father and admit the mistakes that he has made. He will apologise for his selfishness and stupidity. He will own up to the disrespect that he has shown and throw himself on his father’s mercy, asking not to be considered a son again for he knows that he does not deserve that, but at least to be an employee, a hired man within the household. That will bring vastly more into his life than he currently has.

Return and reconciliation

He starts the long journey back home – I doubt with eager feet – probably rehearsing over and over again what he will say, imagining how his father might respond, dreading what would happen to him if he is turned away, hearing already the ridicule of the servants and of his brother.

Yet as he comes into view at the bottom of the road up to his father’s home, his father sees him and we read that his heart is moved with compassion; he runs to the son who was lost – not even needing to hear the words that had been practised – throws his arms around him and greets him with a kiss which is a sign of intimacy and trust and deep affection.

In that moment, the past is erased; the mistakes are forgiven. And as much as the young man manages to blurt out his confession, his father ignores him in the excitement of what is to happen next.

Reclothing and rejoicing

The father orders his dirty son reclothed in finery and the fattened calf slaughtered in order that all might celebrate and feast his return. He who was dead is alive again; he who was lost has been found. What a magnificent moment of reunion! It far outweighed what the young son had been expecting – this complete and utter restoration into his father’s household, this full and unhesitating embrace, this royal treatment declaring, “This is my son.”

***

When we look at the path back to the Father, it becomes clear that on the road to reconciliation God does most of the work.

Yet just as the young man had to realise the mistake he had made in demanding to be set free, let go, set off on his own – and his unworthiness to be considered a son of the Father again – so too do we need to acknowledge the extent of our wrongdoing.

I’m not talking about some simple, half-hearted prayer of confession that secures our forgiveness even when we plot and plan to repeat the behaviour again tomorrow, but of that long and painful journey back home to the Father’s heart during which we have to bear the weight of our sin and measure what it has cost ourselves and others.

The good news is that we don’t have to hit rock bottom in order to change our direction; at any step towards ruin, we can realise where we are headed towards, repent and return to God.

And the embrace of God will be unhesitant and generous. The affirmation will come, that “This is my son, my daughter, who was dead but is now alive; who was lost but now is found.”

Ruin or reconciliation, I wonder this morning what path you are on. For those of us struggling with our sin, uncertain of how to change direction, I invite you to close hear these words from God:

“Beloved daughter, beloved son,
flesh of my flesh and heart of my heart,
how I have yearned to be the arms you run to;
to wrap them tightly around you
and whisper tear-choked into your ear:

‘There is nothing that can keep you from my love –
no sin,
no worry,
no unspoken thing too big, too small
to dampen my longing
to laugh and dance and feast and sing
and work and love and rest and eat
and be …
… just be with you.

I’m sorry you’ve felt the need to stay away so long;
that you’ve thought yourself unworthy, unwelcome, unforgiven.

In my eyes
I hope you see only compassion
for the things that have hurt you,
for the times you have chosen wrong,
for the desperate, aching need to know you are loved.

In my embrace
I hope you feel how much you have been longed for,
how much you are my delight, my joy,
as my heart beats against your own.

In my welcome
I hope you believe you are at home;
that though you felt dead and distant,
you are alive and well;
that though you felt lost and alone,
you are wanted and found.

Beloved son, beloved daughter,
flesh of my flesh and heart of my heart,
I will never let you go.’”

Yours in Christ
Yvonne Ghavalas
(www.liturgies4life.com; @beloved_yvonne)


Stick to the pattern!

images

Home Economics. <shudder> My most hated subject at school. Three years of heartache and pain and, to me, an imperfect report card. Why?

Because when it comes to knitting, sewing, cooking, I just can’t seem to stick to the pattern!

While my academic agony was easily solved by dropping the subject as soon as I could, my problem with pattern-following perseveres because the Christian life is all about following the directions and instructions of God.

In his letter to the Philippians (3:17-4:1), the apostle Paul speaks about two possible patterns for living: as enemies of the cross or imitators of Christ.

Naturally, none of us would comfortably consider that we might be enemies of the cross. We love the cross. We are grateful for what Jesus endured upon it to secure our life and freedom. But does that necessarily make us Imitators of Christ?

Paul tells us that it is neither words nor intention that demonstrates what pattern we are following, but how we conduct out lives.

As we look carefully at the passage, we discover that enemies of the cross share the following in conduct:

  1. They follow their appetite – for food, for sex, for luxurious things, for power and control, for reputation. Self-gratification and self-indulgence are their primary concerns in life. They worship what they want and don’t really consider the cost or the consequences of their relentless pursuit to satisfy their desires; to feel “full.” Their use of their resources shows exactly where their heart is: check out where they spend their time or what makes up the majority of their monthly expenses and you’ll know exactly what their priorities are.
  2. They brag about shameful things – putting a positive spin on what is not good or right. They can get 100 likes on Facebook for “kicking that cow to the curb” or two thumbs-up for teaching the guy who tried to cut them off in the traffic a good lesson. They make fun of those who pay their help above minimum wage or who are waiting to be deeply in love with another before sharing in the intimacy of sex. Their racist comments are re-shared because they’re just SO funny but all the time they are putting into the world that which breaks down and devastates without a second thought.
  3. They are preoccupied with the present – with this life, the here and now. They want to live life to its fullest which means that they don’t have to be particularly mindful of the needs of others, or to discipline and self-control. Many of them will still take out “heavenly life insurance” so that they can carry on with their before Christ life while securing their place in heaven should something go severely wrong as they party and play.

An imitator of Christ follows a completely different pattern:

  1. They live as citizens of heaven – recognising that from the moment they accept Christ as Lord and Saviour, life MUST be different. They are no longer part of this world but strangers, foreigners, exiles; uncomfortable with the status quo and with how things used to be done. Self-gratification and self-indulgence are replaced with kingdom-building, sacrifice and self-offering. This can be seen in the way that they give generously of their time and money to helping out others and making the world a little better.
  2. They hope for Christ’s coming – recognising that they will never be perfect but that it is Christ himself who takes their weakness and their sinfulness and transforms them from glory into glory. They spend more time confessing their need for God’s grace and mercy than praying for the things they want. They genuinely desire to be true and holy and strive to be more like Christ day after day.
  3. They become a pattern to follow – imitating Christ so that others may also find a precious, significant, life-giving pattern to follow. They have a sense of responsibility for the wellbeing of others so they watch their conduct carefully – knowing that what they put out there can turn people to or away from the One that they love. They seek to be Jesus’s hands, feet and mouth visible and tangible in the world until he comes again.

An enemy of the cross or an imitator of Christ? What does your actual, real, visible conduct suggest you are patterning your life after?

Maybe it’s not so neatly one or the other. Perhaps there is an area in both that may be a strength or a particular struggle. Maybe you find it easy to be an imitator of Christ on a Sunday but slip into an enemy of the cross on a Monday?

It is not easy to follow Christ’s pattern.

But as Paul urges the church at Philippi to stay true to the Lord, I encourage you to stick to the pattern so that as others follow in our footsteps, they may find themselves in fact following in the footsteps of Christ.

Yours in Christ

Yvonne


Signed up for Soul Clean?

IMG_7502

After the Israelites had gained access to the Promised Land, they needed a more permanent place to keep the Ark of the Covenant which was, in essence, a sign of God’s continuing presence with them. So God revealed to King David and his son, Solomon, very specific instructions for the construction of a temple in Jerusalem to which all of God’s people could travel regularly in order to worship God, offer thanks, and make atonement for their sins.

After the life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus, his disciples and apostles began to teach that God’s presence was no longer confined to the Temple (remember how at the moment of Jesus’s death the veil that kept people from looking upon the Ark of the Covenant was torn in two) but with and within us through the gift of God’s Spirit.

Paul, in particular, began to speak of our bodies as temples of the Holy Spirit; the living residence of a living and holy God.

Often, at the start of Lent, when we examine the condition of our temples, we recognise with despair just how dirty and disorganised our lives have become – not at all conducive to an intimate relationship with God. In fact, if our houses looked like our hearts, we would probably be too embarrassed to invite our friends over!

Soul Clean is a five-week Lenten journey that helps us, in partnership with God, to begin clearing out some of the cobwebs and the clutter – in our priorities, in our past, in our boundaries, in our self-talk and everyday language, and in our worldview – that we might begin to enjoy the peace and order and possibility and significance of a life built on Christ as cornerstone.

Accompanying the inner, spiritual journey this Lent may be a physical journey through the practice of fasting. There will be specific support for those who seek to develop this discipline. Please use this space to identify what it truly is that you need to give up or cut down on in order to deepen the spiritual journey on which you find yourself. You may discover that God longs less for you to cut out meat or carbohydrates from your diet than a particularly toxic relationship or time-consuming practice from your life!

Should you wish to join us as we order our spiritual temples, please contact the office to sign up so that we can prepare a set of material for you. The cost is R100 payable in cash or by EFT (reference Soul Clean + Surname).

Written and facilitated by Rev. Y. Ghavalas


Monday Meditations: Building God’s holy temple

images

As exciting and wonderful as it can be to worship in a large, fully-kitted out sanctuary, in Ephesians 2:17-22, God invites us to look beyond the bricks and tiles and blueprints of our church to the kind of spiritual dwelling that is made up of each person who gathers each week in work and worship to the glory of God.

Now much as there are many requirements to starting a physical building project such as surveying the site and drawing up plans, estimating costs and securing financing, selecting builders and researching suppliers and so on, today I would like to offer a spiritual checklist which we can use as we create a temple in which God is quite at home.

The first requirement of a home fit for God is that everyone must belong. EVERYONE MUST BELONG.

In the early Church there were huge arguments between those who converted to Christianity from the Jewish faith and those who were considered unclean pagans before they encountered Christ. Those who came from a Jewish background felt that they were somehow closer to God, part of God’s special people and ongoing plan, and they distrusted and judged very harshly those who had once kept slaves, indulged in orgies, and worshipped other gods before being touched by the good news of God’s self-sacrificing love for them.

Paul told them clearly, as he tells us today, that in God’s house there are no insiders or outsiders. No one person is better than a second. No minister more important than a member. No gender or age or ethnic group superior to another. No sinner more deserving of God’s grace than the sinner seated next to them.

Through the cross, every one of us has been reconciled to God – and made equals with one another. We share the same Spirit: the Spirit in me is the Spirit in you; the Spirit in you is the Spirit in me. And we all have equal access to God the Father.

Do you feel like you belong? Have you made people who come into this place know that this is a temple in which God is quite at home by making them feel at home, like they’re your equal, your brother, your sister?

Now, it’s very easy to feel at times that we have been left out, excluded. And it’s very easy to point the finger at how another has treated us to justify those emotions.

But in a house fit for God, not only does everyone belong but everyone takes their place. EVERYONE MUST TAKE THEIR PLACE.

You see friends, through the cross everyone is made equal in their sin, equal in Christ’s forgiveness, equal in God’s Spirit – irrespective of how or when we got here. You are all welcome. You are all wanted.

But each of us has to choose what we will do with that message of acceptance and belonging: will we settle down and be part of the family (or for some of us it’s been so long that we feel indeed more like part of the furniture), or will we carry on roaming, wandering around like exiles looking for the perfect spiritual home that has already been built?

It is true for many of us today that we find it hard to settle in, to put down roots, to be planted so deeply into the kingdom of faith and a Christian community that we are prepared to stick it out when the minister changes or the worship team hasn’t been on form for a while or the finances aren’t looking good or someone has thoughtlessly said something that hurt or offended us.

And so we move – we move to a place with a better Easter program or a fully kitted-out sound system or more welcoming members until, in some way, they also disappoint us and we have to find yet again a better place in which to belong.

But the final requirement of a temple in which God is quite at home is that everyone who belongs and everyone who has chosen to take their place is always building to make things better. WE MUST BUILD TO MAKE THINGS BETTER.

There is no such thing as the perfect church, and in chasing the dream of a place that will will always make us happy, always feel like home, we deprive ourselves of the opportunity to share in the creative, transformative power of God.

It is God who holds all things together; Christ the cornerstone on whom God’s church is built – not miraculously as in instantaneously, but day after day, stone after stone, brick after brick and – most importantly – person after person as each and every one of us realises that we have a part to play in God’s temple coming together.

How can you be part of building a spiritual home in which God is happy to dwell?

  1.  If you don’t feel like you belong, chat to one of our ministers or leaders because God loves you and we want to know how to express that love better if we’re not showing it very well.
  2. If you feel like Calvary is home but each week you simply come and go like a visitor, commit to belonging here by giving your details to the church office and looking for a small group to connect with.
  3. If you have been affirmed as a servant leader in our community, stay true to Christ, remember your vows (which can be found here: Affirmation Vows), honour your commitments, and seek ways in which to grow.
  4. If you haven’t yet begun to participate in our building project, start reading the bulletin with new eyes and listening to appeals from the pulpit for the place in which God would have your hands, your gifts, your time employed to the glory of God and the growth of our community.

And may God, the Architect of the Whole Universe, oversee all of our work and plans.

Yours in Christ
Yvonne

 

 

 

 


Monday Meditations: God, our Reason for being

Based on Jeremiah 1:4-10 and Luke 4:21-30 and Sunday’s sermon by Rev. Sva Waqu

Without God, our lives are full of emptiness and unless we take time to ask God to fill us, we will always be empty for our lives originate in God.

God spoke to the prophet Jeremiah about how he had been formed and made. Likewise, we are not made from nothingness but by the voice of God. Our origins are not in our mother’s womb but in God’s loving and caring heart. God is our cause; our lives the effect, the consequence of God’s power and love. We need to come to a space of acknowledging this Cause if we are able to commit ourselves faithfully to following Christ and to discover that our lives are bigger than we had ever imagined.

Poor Jeremiah. God appointed him to be a prophet but he was terrified of his inability to speak before others. Yet God reminded him of his sacred origins. And unless we acknowledge our sacred origins, our fears and anxieties will continue to hold us in their grip and keep us from the life that God has imagined for us.

The greatest danger for us as Christians is that the Cause and Source of our lives and significance becomes for us insignificant – that in our attempt to domesticate God to the confines of Sunday worship, God loses significance not just for us but for the whole world. For God’s covenant is not for us as individuals but an expression of love for all. When we fail to play our part, it seems to those around us that God is actually the one who fails, who falls into irrelevance in our consumer-driven lives.

It is in these consumer-driven lives that we discover what we try to fill the voids in our life with – the things that capture our attention and draw us away from the Cause. It is when we realize that God is the true Cause and Reason for our being that we are able to find healing and wholeness and transformation. When there are faults or brokenness in our lives, we do not need to become despondent but motivated to strive for perfection.

In our covenant moment, God asks, “Why have you abandoned me? Why have you failed to be stimulated by my love? Why have you allowed your anxieties to consume you? Why have you taken me for granted?”

May we again put God first in our lives – not in order to secure the lovely life we have hoped for, but that we might be open to the effect of God in and through us.

 

 


Renewing our Covenant

This Sunday is an important one in the life of our community as we renew our Covenant with God. It is essential that as we do so, we come with hearts and minds prepared for this time of celebration and commitment. Below are a few thoughts to help with our understanding and preparations.

The meaning of “covenant”

The word “covenant” did not originate with the people of Israel, though it is used throughout Scripture in reference to the mutual relationship between them and God.

It was, in fact, a legal term used by the nations who neighboured them to refer to a binding agreement between two equal parties which set out the privileges, roles, and responsibilities of both. These covenants were often accompanied by a sign or a ritual to seal the agreement, like the sacrifice of an animal, the exchange of a blood bond, or -in more modern terms – the giving of rings during a marriage ceremony.

Covenant in the Old Testament

According to Covenant Theology (our study of the relationship between God and humanity as specifically relating to covenant), God intended a covenantal relationship with us right from the very beginning of creation – creating a perfect paradise for Adam and Eve to enjoy with God eternally, provided that they obey God’s command not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

Through their disobedience, death and a sense of separation from God (sin) entered human experience. Yet throughout the Old Testament, we see God reaching out to initiate new covenant relationships – with Noah, with Abraham, with Moses, with David.

God promised to make them into God’s people, to give them a land to call their own, and to bless them from generation to generation. They, in turn, needed to trust and obey God; to live as a people set apart, holy; and to worship no other gods but Yahweh. The sign of this covenantal relationship was, of course, circumcision, which remains an important life event in Jewish families even today.

Jesus as the mediator of a New Covenant

Scripture tells us though that, like Adam and Eve, the people of Israel failed to live up to their covenant commitments.

Yet God persevered.

The prophets began to speak of a Messiah who would come to make a new covenant with his people (Jeremiah 31:31-34) and, indeed, in the life, death and resurrection of Christ Jesus, we see God taking  full responsibility to ensure our redemption from sin and death and our adoption as children of God
(Galatians 4:4-5) so that we can enjoy a better covenant (Hebrews 7:22).

As you consider how God has taken the initiative throughout history to ensure that we enjoy intimacy and eternity with God, what are your thoughts and feelings – towards God, about yourself?

Every time we share in the sacred meal of Holy Communion, we have the opportunity to remember that it is Christ’s blood poured out for every stubborn, selfish sinner (including you and me) that ensures our forgiveness and makes possible for us the gift of eternal life.

Wesley’s emphasis on Covenant Renewal

Yet even though we live under a new covenant made possible by God’s initiative and Christ’s sacrifice, such a covenant should not be taken lightly or treated as a “get out of jail free” card.

That is why, each year, as Methodists, we have the opportunity to remember and renew our covenant with God and to offer, from a place of deep love and gratitude, our voluntary commitment to penitence, obedience, and the deliberate striving for holiness to the glory of our holy God.

Our Covenant Services

This year, in addition to our Covenant services on Sunday at 7:30a.m., 9a.m. and 11a.m., we are also offering a time of prayer and preparation on Saturday from 9a.m. to 10a.m. We hope that you will utilise the opportunity to come close to God, as God desires to come close to you.

Furthermore, if you are new to the concept of covenant or the community, you may want to reflect further on its implications for your life. Please use the following material from last year’s devotions as a guide to deepening your covenant commitment: Covenant reflections.

And may the God of peace equip you with everything good for doing God’s will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him through Christ Jesus, to whom be glory forever and ever.

Yours in Christ
Yvonne


Monday Meditations: Our best possible life

Unknown

This week Christians celebrate the Epiphany – the sudden revelation of God in a way which requires immediate response.

The traditional story for this celebration is that of the wise men worshipping the baby Jesus with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh (Matthew 2:1-12). Yet the greatest gift given from the moment of the star’s appearance is actually the birth announcement through which God declares: “See! I am with you! I am here in your midst!”

God’s declaration invites us to examine whether we living our best possible life. Not a good life. Not a safe life. Not a happy-enough life. Not an at-least-I-know-what-tomorrow-holds life. Not even a I-have-all-I-could-ask-for life. Our best possible life.

A life lived with a deep awareness of our connection to God, to one another, to the world around us, to enemy and to stranger. An open-eyed life in which we look constantly for evidence of God with us, in the familiar and in the unexpected. A life in which we are not bound by rules and routines so much as liberated by Love, to love – in simple acts of kindness as well as extravagant, outrageous, generous gestures. A life in which work is a joy and a reward, and rest is protected and savoured. A life in which our immediate answer is not “No” when we are confronted by the uncomfortable, the unknown, the unplanned for; nor “Yes” to everything that is simply expected from us. A life of seeking and searching, sitting with questions, sharing stories, seeing new perspectives, standing steady on what we know to be true: “See! I am with you! I am here in your midst!”

God’s declaration set the wise men on their journey. Yet for King Herod and all the people in Jerusalem, it caused anxiety and worry, and a stubborn refusal to move from his palace and his power until he knew exactly where the king of the Jews was to be found and what was going on. In the same way, surrendering to the best possible life that God has dreamed of for us often means giving up the security of our good-enough lives.

And so, on this first Monday of 2016, I invite you to take a moment to think about God’s promise “See! I am with you! I am here in your midst!” and how you would like to respond to the great gift of God’s power and presence with you – both this day and in the days that lie ahead.

Yours in Christ
Yvonne


Financial discipline as God’s great gift to us

One of the first questions that we receive regularly from newcomers to Calvary is, “Please can you explain to me how your pledge system works.”

I’m never certain whether that’s because people mistakenly think that their significance in the community is determined by how much they give. Or if they are worried that their membership to this part of the Body has to be covered by a certain fee. Or if pledging is something they’ve always done from where they come. Or if, just maybe, it is an essential part of expressing their love to God and their devotion to Christ’s ministry and mission.

From some, there is a definite sense that this is a burdensome duty, an obligation that they would much rather do without.

And so today I would like us to look at where the concept of tithing or pledging comes from – primarily through the Old Testament passage of Deuteronomy 14:22-27 – to perhaps shift our perspective on disciplined giving from burden to gift.

Before we even delve into it, I would like to mention that there are three types of tithes mentioned predominantly in the Old Testament.

The first was the Levitical or sacred tithe found in the book of Leviticus which was given to the priests for their service to the temple. They earned no money; they had no homes and so a portion of the community’s resources was set aside for them to enable the furtherance of God’s work and a life of dignity and sufficiency for their families.

In a similar way, a portion of our offertory on a Sunday goes to most of the ministers of the Gospel at Calvary – but not directly. A minister’s stipend is paid by the Methodist Connextional Office from contributions made by the Circuit (Johannesburg/Alexandra) on behalf of each society e.g. Lombardy East, Calvary, Ivory Park. Where certain societies are unable to meet their assessments (the amount paid for each minister as determined by the MCO), Calvary also offers financial assistance as part of our own tithing in order to ensure that God’ work is done meaningfully in all corners of our Circuit – and especially the ones where people are struggling to make ends meet.

So tithing is about giving dignity and stability to those who advance the Good News of God’s kingdom and their families.

But as we look at the reading from Deuteronomy, we see the there are two other types of tithes that we seldom think of or mention:

In verses 22-27, we read of a Tithe for Feasts. At certain times in the life of a family such as the birth of a child, the Israelites were required to go to the temple to offer sacrifice. The whole family journeyed together for these times had not only a spiritual dimension to them, but a social one as well. And, interestingly, the tithe was not given over to the priests but shared amongst the family members and eaten and enjoyed together – grain, wine, meat, oil; whatever they wished.

The point of this tithe was to help young and old learn to revere and honour God always, to enjoy time in God’s presence, and to cultivate a deep and abiding sense of joy.

Doesn’t that challenge the attitude with which we sometimes give?

God wants us to set aside money for rest and retreat, for spiritual upliftment, for family thanksgiving! Up to a tenth of all that had been earned was to be enjoyed with time away together.

So tithing is also about recognising and enjoying God’s presence in our lives, with one another.

Then, every three years according to verses 28 and 29, all the tithes were to be gathered up and collected to care for and support the foreigner, the fatherless, the widow i.e. anyone who was struggling with any other form of social injustice. This is the Tithe for the Poor that enabled those who had nothing to come, eat and be satisfied through the love and provision of those who had little or lots.

But besides the giving of food and money, this was also a profound moment for the community to come together and connect meaningfully with those in dire need and with one another. It is in giving to the least, generously and diligently, that people found a sense of blessedness in their hard work and productivity – not in laying up secret stores for their own benefit or in blowing it all on one big party.

It is in this tithe that we find our humanity; that we create our community.

So tithing is also about responding to the needs of others and, in so doing, discovering a greater significance to our work than financial reward.

Thought-provoking, isn’t it? A disciplined approach to giving that includes God, our own physical and spiritual welfare, as well as care and support for the neighbour in need.

Financial discipline is in fact far more than a duty or a demand. It is a gift from God that reminds us constantly of our interconnectedness.

This Rhona season, I would like to challenge you to see the value and importance of each rand and cent that you set aside for God’s work, and to consider where these rands and cents fit into your monthly expenses and what they add up to.

Perhaps, if over the worship and sermons during this season, you have found yourself deeply challenged by how money effects you and your relationships you would like to make the most of this gift of discipline for the next few months and see if it changes anything: on pay day set aside the money that you want to give to God as sacred tithe, as a tithe for feasts, and as a tithe for the poor. It doesn’t have to be 10% but it should be set aside with a prayer of dedication similar to the one below. Spend that money as God leads – putting it in the offertory bag, providing a meal for someone who is unwell, paying for a spiritual course or saving up for a family holiday etc. Spend it all at once or divide it into a weekly amount but remember that it is for building connection and use it as you have pledged. At the end of the month look back at what you have had to miss out on, on what you have gained, at whether your sense of God’s presence has increased.

And may you find that the Lord your God has truly blessed the work of your hands!

Yours in Christ
Yvonne

Prayer of dedication: Oh Lord, my God, every good thing comes from you. I thank You for my ability to work and I thank You for this fruit that has come from the work of my hands. Help me to know that it is Yours; not mine. Help me to use it with care and discipline, not just for my benefit but also for the building of Your kingdom. Amen.

 


Proudly powered by Wordpress