Calvary Methodist Church

Celebrating and Sharing God's Embracing Love in the World

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.

 


Money as relational: Created to be a blessing series

Matthew 6:19-21

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where mothsand vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”       

As a congregation, I have always found you quite accommodating: you’ve put up with me preaching without any shoes on, answered questions in small groups – even fairly personal ones – and watched trustingly as I’ve opened a bag that based on my sermon title might have contained severed heads. But what would you say to me this morning if I asked you to write down on a piece of paper how much money you take home every month and show it to the person sitting next to you?

I suspect that many of you would stare at me as if I had lost my mind. Some of you would have laughed nervously thinking that, surely, I must be joking. A few of you might actually be upset enough at the request to walk right out of this sanctuary and never come back!

Because we all know that you just don’t talk about money! A recent survey conducted in Britain revealed that people are actually more willing to share their most intimate bedroom details with a stranger rather than what it says on their salary slip.

You see, we grow up believing that money is a personal, private matter­; something that is certainly not spoken about at dinner tables. And definitely not in church!! But did you know that Jesus talked about money more than he did about heaven and hell combined? If it was important enough to Jesus to talk about honestly and, often, uncomfortably, it’s important enough for us.

In talking about money, I have to start way back at the beginning with the household in which I was raised. My dad was an insurance broker; my mom, his part-time secretary/full-time mother/part-time church mouse (that is, someone who works very hard for the church and is paid peanuts for it).

We were considered to be lower middle class but my mom’s connection to the church meant that we were always helping out others who had less than us. Even though, at times, we had very little.

Most of my dad’s income came from a couple of annual policies from which he received a sizeable commission. It was our favourite time of year as a family; a time in which we all got along. We would go out to Mike’s kitchen for a meal; my mom would always buy me two dresses to update my wardrobe; and books … we would buy books to swap and share and read and reread.

But after a couple of months the mood would change. My dad would spend more time at the bowling club having drinks with his buddies because it was no longer easy at home. And we would have simpler meals – strawberry jam sandwiches for school; sometimes peanut butter sandwiches for supper as my mom cheerfully announced that she really needed to find time to go shopping as there was nothing to eat in the house.

A constant in our lives though was our pocket money. My mom didn’t mess with that. We each had a star chart full of chores hanging on the back of our bedroom door and every day mom would mark off what we had done in order to earn our monthly sweetie money. I even got stars for managing to go the whole day without chewing my nails off!

I started my first job at the age of 16 marking maths book at a Kumon centre. And then tutoring. And even acting as an afternoon au pair to two monsters who liked to lock me in the very narrow space between their security gate and front door.

I also had to put myself through university on academic scholarships because there was no way my parents could afford it. My middle brother joined the army for the same reason. My younger brother didn’t even aim for tertiary education as, by that stage, my parents were going through a really tough divorce and he bore a lot of the conflict and the blame.

About a year after I was married, my mom started out as a junior typist at an Insurance brokerage, renting a tiny garden cottage in a rather unsafe area but determined to build a life for herself. My dad -well, my dad and I haven’t spoken since he told me what a horribleChristian I am and a terrible minister I’d make after we refused to provide housing for him and his new wife.

Anyhow, I taught high school Maths and Life Orientation while I wrestled with my ongoing call into ministry and, in 2009, with Darren and I in agreement and two children in tow I candidates to becomea non-stipendiary, non itinerant minister in the Methodist Church of Southern Africa. These are very fact words but they simply mean that I would not get a salary or a stipend from the church or a house to live in but depend solely on my husband to support my desire to preach and teach even in congregations and contexts where people were too poor to afford a minister.

I wish that whenever I look at my husband I could be filled with gratitude at his generosity but I have to admit that the consequences of that decision have been very difficult for us as a couple. It is something that we have fought over a lot. Not the amount of money per say but the power relations that it’s translated into in our household:  because Darren is the primary breadwinner there is always extra pressure on him to perform, to do well, to care for our family, to keep the roof over our heads because without his job we would have nothing.

But even though I work as hard as he does, I sometimes feel like he doesn’t see my ministry as a full time job. When a child gets sick or an emergency crops up, I’m the one who needs to deal with it.When he has to go overseas for a meeting, it doesn’t matter what was already in my diary beforehand. And when I have to work a whole weekend he gets resentful having to pick up the slack at home because he has already worked a long, hard week at the office.

And, honestly, because of my past history there is often at the back of my mind a fear of what would happen if he ever decided to leave because – like my mom – I have nothing to fall back on.

Interestingly enough, he feels unappreciated too. That I don’t see the amount of effort that he puts into his job or the stress and strain that he feels like he has to carry alone. That – especially since I started schooling our two boys and my mom has moved in with us – he is on the outside of the family because he has to go into the office every single day while I get to enjoy a lot of time at home.

Adding to all of this struggle are the times when I wonder whether the arguments and the sacrifices are even worth it, when I want to say to God, “What on earth are you doing?”

I get frustrated, for instance, when we can authorise the purchase of a platter for a meeting or the start of a course but we don’t have money left for end-of-year party packs  for our children. I get anxious when our conversations are all about keeping the lights on when we are called to so much more than that as church. My heart breaks when I see some of the people who gather at the church with nothing but stories of desperation and despair- only to leave here unseen, unheard, by so many who worship so comfortably on a Sunday. But these are not the kind of things that we talk about because they’re personal and private, and it’s impolite.

I hope that you have started to see, my friends, through my story that these money matters that we think of as so personal and private are not personal at all. They may be secret, unspoken, unacknowledged because they make us feel so uncomfortable:

  • about how we see ourselves,
  • about how we see another,
  • about those ugly thoughts we’re thinking when the person standing next to us has clearly not taken a bath in days,
  • or the envy we feel as someone pulls into the parking lot in a car we could never even dream of affording,
  • about the questions we have as to someone’s integrity that we would never dare ask to their face only talk about behind their backs,
  • about how well or how poorly we are behaving as stewards of God’s resources and children of God’s kingdom.

Money is relational. It changes power dynamics, influences our sense of self-worth, determines our priorities, and, ultimately, impacts every significant relationship we will ever have. Do we really think by not talking about it, we are lessening its power?

No wonder Jesus says, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

When the love of God is at the centre of our desire, our will, our choices, love flows within and beyond us. When money is what occupies that central place, it is something that we will always hoard and hold onto – with conflict and division and secrecy and dishonesty following in its wake.

This morning, as I have shared a bit of my story with you, I hope that you will be encouraged to look into your own story, to identify the places where money has become a power and a problem, and to talk about it – be it with the friend or partner whose relationship it has impacted, with your fellowship group, or simply with God.

This day, may you have the courage to pray, “Lord, may your love be my greatest treasure.”

Yours in Christ
Yvonne

***

I should perhaps also add, for the record, that my husband and I are aware of our issues and that they are in fact similar to those that many couples face. Life is full of financial pressures, and relationships are full conflict over those pressures. Yet we choose as a couple not to give in to the conflict or the pressure but to talk openly and honestly about our thoughts and emotions so that we can live and act out of a deep sense of calling and love for one another and for God. The journey may be difficult but we value the opportunities to grow in patience, compassion, and understanding. We would not change a thing!


Created to be a blessing

1 Samuel 1

Our story this morning is an unusual one.

It is set within a complicated household: one husband with two wives – one blessed with children; the other completely barren yet dearly loved. It’s not exactly a recipe for domestic bliss, is it? And as we read carefully through the text we get a sense of the underlying game playing and competition and rivalry that occur for this man’s affections.

Every year, like all good God-fearing families, they would journey to Shiloh (remember that this story takes place long before the temple in Jerusalem had been built) to offer the necessary sacrifices – one for forgiveness, another for peace, and a third, mentioned here, as an offering of gifts. This meal offering speaks of a life that is dedicated to generosity and giving and, indeed, during the sacrifice Elkanah responds with great generosity and compassion to the wife he loved so much, who had lived so many years with her barrenness and pain, by giving her the biggest portion.

He probably thought he was helping but year after year after year it merely stoked the fires of envy and resentment in Peninnah and she taunted poor Hannah mercilessly. “You dried up hag. You useless waste of a womb. Don’t you know how it must displease and embarrass our husband that you have given him no sons; not even a daughter. What purpose, what meaning is there to your life when God won’t even gift you with a child while I have so many? You might as well be dead. One of these days our husband is going to tire of trying and he will put you out, divorce you, shame you like your wretchedness shames us.”

It got so bad eventually that Hannah was reduced to tears and lost her appetite completely which provoked Elkanah’s temper, “What on earth are you crying about? Are you seriously getting upset about this again? Am I not enough for you? What do I need another child for?”

Can you feel the conflict, the pain? Not only within Hannah but how Hannah’s hurt affects the whole family in a profound and painful way.

It’s just like this in our daily lives. Be it at work or at home, there are moments of such pain and conflict and stress in our relationships that we lose our appetite or our ability to sleep. We go over and over in our heads the way that we should have stood up to our boss, or our mother, or our partner, or our best friend. We feel misunderstood, unappreciated, manipulated, criticised, insignificant, taken forgranted … and why?

Because each of us is created as a person of value, of significance, of importance.

We are uniquely made because we have a unique gift to offer; a God-given purpose that is unique to our particular makeup of personality, talent, and perspective. Yet, more often than not, we get sucked up into the demands of life, the pressure of parents, the expectations of partners, the deadlines of bosses and bills, the job specs. of work that we are not at all suited to do but doing because it means that at least we have a job and a source of income and a means of providing for those who depend on us.

I invite you, in fact I challenge you, the next time you find yourself in a conflict-ridden situation to look at what is at the heart of the matter. I think you will be surprised to find how often it boils down the expectation that you do something you just don’t want to do or that you do it in a manner that is different to how you prefer to do things.

Now, I’m not saying that we can simply shirk our responsibilities and rid our lives of everything we hate doing. I remember clearly how in the days leading up to our marriage, my mom sat Darren down and said, “Now, you know she doesn’t clean. She doesn’t iron. She doesn’t cook. And she doesn’t do dishes. Are you still sure that you want to go through with it?”

Well, over our 18 years together I have learned to cook and clean and iron and even do the dishes because these are things that need to be done in order for my family to be clothed and clean and healthy and full but we have had to learn to negotiate roles and days in order to enable each other to pursue our passion: that thing which makes us feel alive and significant and worthwhile.

For me, that’s ministry – particularly teaching and preaching and writing. I wonder what it is for you? I wonder if, in the midst of life’s busyness and the demands of other, you’ve ever stopped to ask yourself the question, “What on earth am I here for?”

For Hannah, it was motherhood. I am sure that she loved Elkanah as much as he loved her. That such love kept her in a home full of tension and torment. But there was a part deep within her that wanted more, that desperately desired to carry and birth and mother a son. That was her reason for existence, her understanding of her significance and we clearly see the pain and frustration that had built up within her at not doing what she was made for as she cries inconsolably and pours out her prayer.

It is a profoundly honest prayer that speaks of a deep-seated sense of being invisible even to God; neglected, unseen despite the severity of her suffering. It is also a profoundly human prayer in that she resorts to a little bit of bargaining to get what she wants. So she recognises the might, the power, the capacity of God to make motherhood possible for her despite years of barrenness; she just feels that it’s necessary to motivate God by promising God that if she should be gifted with a son, she will return him to God.

And so it often is in our own lives, in our own prayers: a sense of God being missing in action, a wondering within us as to why the God we believe to be so powerful and just allows us to be victimised, bullied, mistreated, alienated, and pushed aside. When we are living life out of step with God’s Spirit, the first one that we point the finger at when things go wrong or our lives seem shallow and lonely or our greatest dreams just don’t seem to satisfy is God – as if God has withdrawn his presence or lost his might.

And so we moan and blame and demand and complain when the truth is that we have lost sight of our significance, we have allowed ourselves to be sidetracked from our unique gifting and purpose, and the priorities and the pressure of the world are eating into our time, our pockets, our self-esteem, our energy, our passion, our assurance of God’s presence. Like little Red Riding Hood we stray from the path to to pick a lovely bunch of wildflowers then are surprised to find waiting for us at Grandma’s House in Grandma’s bed and in Grandma’s pyjamas a big bad wolf waiting to gobble us up.

Which is when the bargaining begins. “God, if you get me that promotion, I promise to tithe more faithfully to the church. God, if you save my marriage, I promise I will never look at another woman in a way which would cause trouble again. God, if you see me safely through this surgery, I promise to take better care of my health.”

And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that! God knows that it is when we are in utter despair that we reach this point – after we have tried and tried and tried to solve the problem, to improve the situation, to get ourselves out the bad wolf’s belly. And, as God does with Hannah, God hears every heartfelt, humble, honest prayer and begins making the necessary arrangements in response to what we ask.

What makes Hannah’s story so unusual though is the what happens after this intense time of prayer and pleading with God.

In the second half of the chapter we read how the priest, Eli, mistakes her groaning for drunkenness and rebukes her sternly. But as she explains her desperation and pain to him, he is moved with compassion and gently commands her, “Go in peace. And may the God of Israel give you what you have asked of him.”

And, indeed, Hannah goes her way with the peace that she has been heard and that God is at work.

The woman who’s face was stained with tears and marked by pain becomes radiant; she who could not bring herself to eat, now has a hearty appetite. She does not yet have what she asked for; she is not even sure that she will get what her heart desires but her reconnection with God, her reclaimed sense of being seen and understood by the One who matters the Most, puts everything into a new perspective; makes anything possible.

How often do we bring our burdens before God in prayer, only to pick them up again as we say “Amen?” How often do we ask, and bargain, and resolve to trust God then rush straight back into a situation with our upset and our anxiety and grudges built up on past experience? How often do we say, “Lord, I place this into your hands” without actually letting go?

God longs for us to know that perfect peace which does not promise that we will get exactly what we want, but assures us that God is with us every step of the way. The God of Angel Armies has our back, is on our side, and anything is possible – more even than we sometimes ask for with our limited faith and imagination.

The other aspect of Hannah’s response that strikes me so strongly and that, if I’m honest, is hard to wrap my head around is this: Hannah, in her bargaining with God, made a promise that if God gave the gift of a son, she would completely and unreservedly give him back to God for a life of holy discipline.

And then God gave her her heart’s desire. I wonder how she ever brought herself to put that little miracle down. I can imagine long hours of each day spent happily nursing him, holding him, watching him sleep and breathe while her heart was filled to overflowing with love and a sense of her blessedness.

Yet, in every moment of delight and wonder, she remained true to her intention to give the gift back to God and, when Samuel was weaned – which would have been at about 2 years of age – she returned to the temple with Elkanah.

She sought out the priest who had offered her the blessing of peace and she dedicated her beautiful boy to God for life, placing him into Eli’s hands, trusting him to life in God’s presence with just an annual visit to see how he was growing in gift him with a new gown, handmade and full of a mother’s love.

Hannah recognised that as God was faithful in answering her prayer, she had to be faithful in honouring her promises. But more than that, Hannah discovered a truth that we all need to know: that the significance we are seeking, that unique God-gift, is not for ourselves. It is not to make us feel special or important. It is not to elevate us above others. It is not proof that God is on my side so you had better be careful about messing with me.

Significance only becomes significant when it is used to bless the world around us; when the gift is given away.

One of the things that really irritates me about shops over the Christmas period is the fancy trees with their fake presents scattered all around. Empty boxes prettily wrapped – just for decoration, part of the show. You might argue that their purpose, their significance is simply to look pretty but, at the end of each season, they are packed away or thrown away. They offer no substantial value. Can you imagine how beautiful it would be if those boxes were filed with something real – not to be left under the tree – but on Christmas Eve to be handed out, given away, to someone who feels invisible, unseen, unable to cope with the pain of their circumstances?

That’s how we are called to be living as people of faith. When God hears our prayers and makes the necessary arrangements in response to what we have asked for, the blessings, the gifts, are never for our own benefit. They are to serve a purpose, to be given away, to help others find peace and wonder in the God of Angel Armies who makes all things possible.

Like Hannah, we are created to be a blessing but when we make our bargains with God we are instead quick to forget where the answers to our prayers come from and slow to return that which we had promised.

This morning, as we celebrate the gift of work and talents and as we reflect on Hannah’s story, I invite you to take home with you three questions to reflect on:

  1. What is your God-given-purpose, the unique significance with which God has blessed you?
  2. What possibility is God inviting you to pray for?
  3. What will you do with the gift that God gives you in answered prayer?

And, indeed, may you go from this place in peace this morning. And may the God of Israel, the God of Angel armies, give you what you have asked of him.

Amen.

Yvonne Ghavalas


God’s Presence In Sorrow

Romans 8: 18-38

Paul writes I this passage, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” Our relationship with God is often if not always under attack. Should anything negative happen to us the first person to be blamed is God. “why is this happening to me?” What did I do do deserve this God? As if God is punishing us. We ask ourselves these questions. As soon as we start asking these questions, life throws at us things that promise relief, even though in the end we get to be disappointed. As we embrace these promises we then drift away from God. We stop communicating with God or God becomes secondary in our lives. These things take the prime spot in our lives.  It feels as though God is not for us.It feels as though God does not care. He takes long to answer when we pray. It feels as though he is not listening. When we are in sorrow these are the thoughts that dominate our minds and our lives.

God Cares and Understands the Language of Tears – then who can be against us?

I find comfort in the story of the Israelites who faced Pharaoh’s hard rule for many years. The Israelites cried out and it must have felt as though God did not hear their cry. It was after centuries that God sent Moses to stand before Pharaoh and ask him to let go of the Israelites. “Go down Moses to Pharaoh. I have heard my people cry. Tell Pharaoh to let my people go.” God was listening to the Israelites. Humanity was caught up in sin. The Law was not helping. Humanity was waiting for  Saviour. Ultimately, Jesus came in an unexpected manner. He came and took away the sin of the world. God cared so much that God’s son died on the cross for us to live. You understand that God cares when you read the story of Lazarus who died and the whole village mourned. Lazarus’ sisters cried out, “Had you been here our brother would not have died.” Jesus felt their pain, heard their lamenting, saw their tears. He was moved and he cried! Imagine the son of God crying. Seemingly compassion is a heavenly language. God not only cares, but understands the language of tears. Jesus used this language on the Cross. “My God, my God why have you forsaken me?” Sorrow is understood by God.

Because we think God does not understand or care we end up stopping sharing our pain with God. There is an English saying, “A shared pain is half a pain. When we share our pain with God, God does not judge us. I would to give you an opportunity to share your pain with God. On a piece of paper write down the things that are troubling your heart. Write the things that have made you to be on the receiving end of trouble. Use the paper to pour out this time all that you have been receiving that has been troubling your heart. We need to learn to let it out. Like I said two weeks ago, we then develop nice language when we avoid sharing, “I have developed a thick skin. Tigers don’t cry.” This way of thinking makes the pain to pile up in our lives and yet Jesus said, “Come to me all who are heavily burdened and I shall give you rest.” We do this by sharing our pain with Jesus. Irrespective of age, gender or any of the divides we use to separate us, sorrow and pain knows none of these. Even children have their sorrows. You may think saying to a child they must drink water instead of fizzy drinks is an easy thing. It becomes a moment of trouble for them. A child who has been molested has to live with the reality of being violated by an older person and yet still expected to trust others. A child who has been bullied at school has to live with deteriorating self-confidence and coping at school with all the uneasiness. We all have to share our pain.

God Responds and Helps us to Feel Again – then who can be against us?

When we share our pain we must also expect God to respond. At times not in the manner in which we expected God to respond. At time God sends people to listen to listen to our pain. Their response to our pain may not be what we were hoping for. When we have a voice that says the life we have chosen is causing so much pain that we are losing ourselves in it and we are not ready to choose another life, we dismiss the response to. Take for instance, the OJ Simpson case. His wife Nicole forced herself to remain with him with all the abuse she was experiencing. No matter how many times her friends advised her to walk away, she chose the abuse. Perhaps it was giving her status as OJ was the most popular American at the time we will never know. Did she love him so much, we will never know. All we know is that she dismissed all the advice she was getting. At times we see the signs like Reeva Stienkamp, but we hope things will work out. In the process we lose ourselves in the sorrow and we end up losing our lives. When we are in debt and we are asked to scale down. We don’t like it. To be challenged about the current life is a blessing. It helps us to feel again. At times our pain makes us numb, hence the thick skin. We lose our emotions. We lose our feelings. We choose not to feel anymore. We become less human. When we have someone who reminds us to feel again we soon realize that we had become so unstable, emotionally, physically and psychologically. We therefore need to feel in our moments of sorrow, otherwise, we lose ourselves in the pain. The people who help us are those whom Paul says they are groaning waiting for God’s children to be revealed.

God Opens us to See the Possibilities – who then can be against us? 

When we feel again, we also begin to see the possibilities to discovering life again. At times our past captures us so much that we do not see anything different to it. We then find ways of coping with the past than breaking away from it. This makes us live in the past. The reality is that God has given us the gift of time so that there can be progression in life. Our lives stand on three legs, the past that can teach us profound lessons because of our experiences.

There is also the PRESENT. At times we forget about the present moment because our past overshadows the present moment. Life can easily be defined by our past especially when the past has been very painful and traumatic. If someone has been hijacked the flashbacks make it difficult to see people approaching and not be anxious they are going to violate your space. When you have been abused in your past relationship, even when you have found love, you can easily have trust issues. The present does not exist, your past defines the present moment. But also the present experiences can easily blot out everything good that has ever happened. This is dangerous because it makes it difficult to move forward in life. The reality though is that present moment soon becomes the past in terms of time. Easily then, a new day can easily become like yesterday.

God has given us the gift of the FUTURE. This is what gives us hope. As Paul says what good is there to hope for something that we have already received? We hope because we are looking forward to receive. It is this sense of hope that makes us see the other possibilities in life. When we do this then we live with a sense of embracing these ossibilites such that our lives are no longer defined by the past, but by what we hope for such that today becomes different from yesterday and tomorrow becomes a better day. For the hardships of yesterday are nothing compared to the glory yet to be revealed.

If you plot this on a triangle with the PAST to your left bottom corner, PRESENT on the top corner and FUTURE on the right bottom corner:

  1. As you follow the lines from the past to the present ad the future you are not going backwards.
  2. Moving from the past into the present is an incline. It is not always easy.
  3. There are three signs in Mathematics to compare units. ‘Equal to’ ‘Smaller than’ and ‘Greater than’. Looking at your triangle the Present and the Future are on the greater than side of things. Our past limits life, whereas the present and the future expand life. Thanks be to God for the possibilities that expand our view of life. What are the things that can expand your life? You may want to write these down next to your troubles. These are greater than than the trouble. If you embrace them your troubles will diminish and the past will be smaller than that the future. And this is what God wills for you. For God cares and understands your sorrows. God responds by making us feel once again. God wants us to see the possibilities. Then we will know how blessed we are in our troubles.

Sva Waqu


Attitudes of Gratitude

Luke 17:11-19

Today’s story is a very simple one: Jesus is travelling along the border between Samaria and Galilee when he encounters ten lepers on the outskirts of a village.

It is an appropriate place to find them – on the border, in no-man’s land. Unclean, ugly, and infectious as they are, they are unwelcome in the places where normal, healthy people like you and I live.

So there they stand – on the border, on the outskirts, waiting for the man who they know to perform miracles to heal, not only this awful skin disease, but also the social stigma, the pain of being cut off from family and friends, dignity and worth.

And, indeed, as they call out to Jesus, he has pity on them and sends them to the priests – for the priests are the only ones who can proclaim that they are clean and may return from the exile of their illness to the homes and places where they once lived and loved and were loved.

It is clear from the passage that even though Jesus had mercy on them, he was expecting some sort of faith response from them for in verse 14 we read that as they went, they were cleansed. In other words, Jesus didn’t simply hear their cries and heal them and send them on their way; it was only as they set of in the faith and expectation that a miracle would occur that, indeed, their healing took place.

What is so fascinating in the story though, is that as they walked and witnessed the miracle happening, nine of them continued heading in the direction of home and only one of them took the time to turn back and offer a prayer of thanksgiving to the One who had made him whole.

Like I said, a simple story but in it we find three profound truths about cultivating a grateful spirit so necessary to seeing the abundance of God in our daily lives – in both the good times and the bad.

The first truth is that the greatest enemy of gratitude is entitlement.

Have you ever wondered why of the ten that were healed, only one came back? Or is it, perhaps, not even a question that we consider worth asking in a world where “please” and “thank you” and other common courtesies no longer seem to apply? Is there not even a part deep within ourselves which says that Jesus was lucky that even one bothered to turn around?

I believe that woven into the very fabric of our society and ingrained into us from our earliest days, is a spirit of entitlement that keeps us from experiencing the gifts and the blessings of our present moment. With the advent of human rights has come the expectation, the demand, that we are treated with dignity and respect simply because we are human; that we are cared for and protected, clothed and fed, housed and sheltered, employed and educated, heard and healed.

And while I believe that our human rights are fundamental to the creation of a just and life-giving society and based on the dignity and worth that is inherent in every person, I also think that we have forgotten the origin of such rights, the Maker of such virtue and value: the Triune God who created the world and everything in it with the intention that we live in joy and harmony with one another.

We have robbed ourselves of the preciousness of each gift as we have written it into a right, a rule – rights and rules, I might add, that we are prepared to stand up for when it comes to ourselves but keep quiet about as we violate and ignore them as they apply to the circumstances of the “Other” – the leper, the beggar, the outcast, the exile, the foreigner, the inhabitants of no man’s land.

Because I have the right to a house, and I have worked hard for it, I have no reason to be grateful; to see it as the blessing and the privilege that it is. Because I have the right to an education, regardless of how hard I am prepared to work, I have no reason to be grateful, to see it as the blessing and the privilege that it is. Because I have the right to freedom, and my parents or my grandparents or my great-grandparents suffered terribly to secure it, I have no reason to be grateful, to see it as the blessing and the privilege that it is.

Just like, because Jesus had been performing miraculous healings all over Samaria that nine out of ten lepers felt so entitled to his pity and his power, we have become so oblivious to the blessings that each day brings that we simply go about with our business without taking time to acknowledge the things that we should be grateful for.

These so called rights to which we are entitled have robbed us of the wonder and the miracle and the presence of God with us in each breath that we draw into our lungs, in the God-given image of the face in the mirror and the face of a stranger, of the gifts of health and loved ones and the ability to walk and the opportunities to sing and the feeling of a full stomach and even the privilege of a bad day at work when so many are out of work.

These are precious gifts, abundant blessings, sacred privileges which require a response far more than, “I earned it. I deserve it. It’s my right.” Or “It’s the least that God can do for me.”

As Michael Josephson said, “The world has enough beautiful mountains and meadows, spectacular skies and serene lakes. It has enough lush forests, flowered fields and sandy beaches. It has plenty of stars and the promise of a new sunrise and sunset every day. What the world needs more of is people to appreciate and enjoy it.”

There is much that we can learn about appreciating these and every other gift in the actions of the one remaining leper who, open realising the magnitude of the gift God had given him, responded with heartfelt gratitude.

His actions point us to the second truth of the passage – that true gratitude always finds expression.

And I’m not talking about lip service or a short “thank you” as we say our bedtime prayers. The reaction that God desires, the expression that God deserves is far greater than that!

So let’s look a little closer at the grateful leper.

He was on his way to see the priests, as Jesus had commanded, travelling not with friends really but with people whose similar life circumstances had made them his companions. As he walked, he witnessed the miracle of healing taking place and his heart was stirred with such gratitude that he:

  • stopped travelling in the direction in which he was headed,
  • turned around and travelled back to the One who had healed him, alone for none of his companions would accompany him now that they were well,
  • praised God in a loud voice, shouting his gratitude and joy,
  • and then threw himself at Jesus’s feet offering thanksgiving.

You see friends, when we are truly touched by God’s goodness, when we catch a glimpse of God’s real and tangible presence at work in our lives, we cannot carry on with business as usual.

True gratitude breaks through the routine of our day and the demands of the hour. It fills us with such uncontainable joy that we have to stop what we are doing and seek out the Source of such blessing regardless of the judgment or censure or disbelief of others. It moves us to a place of such emotion that we want to shout from the mountaintops “How great and powerful and majestic and wonderful and loving and merciful and good is my God!”

True gratitude brings us to a place of humility and surrender, where we fall on our knees in worship and adoration recognising the sovereignty and power of God in our lives.

There is nothing polite or superficial or restrained in the leper’s response – a response which is affirmed and appreciated by God. It is spontaneous and heartfelt. It is loud and unashamed. It stands out from the usual practices and the conventional crowd. It is a testimony to what God is doing and a trusting surrender to what God still has to do.

Are these the characteristics of our worship and our giving? Is this the nature of our response when God breaks into our day in a surprising way? Or are we so striving to be acceptable, conventional, respectable that we take blessing after blessing without allowing our gratitude, our joy, our blessedness to move us nearer to God or interrupt our business?

What is so wonderful, so amazing, so surprising about our God is that even when we take God’s goodness forgranted, even when we fail to allow our gratitude to find authentic, whole-hearted expression, God continues to bless us.

Notice how, in the passage, the nine lepers who are not moved to a place of gratitude or surrender receive still the gift of healing. At no point does Jesus curse them or take the gift he has given away. But to the one who returns, an even greater gift is given.

And this brings us to the final, and most surprising truth of this passage: that gratitude is a gift for transformation.

I want us to wrap our heads carefully around this because it is one of those truths that can shift our entire perspective on life, on God, on how we worship, on the attitude with which we can into this place.

I’ve said already that God desires a response of true gratitude to God’s good gifts. But God does not desire that response because God needs a pat on the shoulder; a little recognition or affirmation for what God has done. Do you remember how, when the Pharisees were telling Jesus to rebuke his disciples from singing “Hosanna” as he rode into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey, Jesus replied, “if these become silent, the stones will cry out?”

God does not need our thanks or praise – for the whole creation sings God’s praises, joined by the heavenly host around God’s throne. Instead, God desires that we move from a spirit of entitlement to a spirit of gratitude so that God can gift us further with greater blessings.

Let’s think back to the lepers. Their suffering took place on two levels – the external, obvious affliction of their skin disease, and the deeper, internal suffering of their alienation and exclusion. All ten of them, in asking for pity from Jesus, received physical healing, a cleansing that would make them presentable to the priests and able to return to the lives from which they had come.

But the nine who immediately went back to those lives without taking time to express their gratitude and appreciation missed out on a beautiful moment which would have erased some of the scars and the insecurities of their banishment and exile.

To the one who returned, Jesus says, “Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner? Rise and go; your faith has made you well.”

It is a powerful affirmation of the man’s uniqueness that draws an outsider, a foreigner, into the kingdom of God. He is not just healed; because of his faith, because of his gratitude finding expression, he is made whole – inside and out.

It is a promise of God’s abiding presence and company as he returns to loved ones left behind; a reassurance that all will be well, that all things are possible in and with God; it is an invitation to a deepening intimacy and transformation that is soul-deep rather than skin-deep.

So gratitude is not a gift we give God; it is a gift God gives to us for our wellness, our wholeness, our complete healing.

Even in secular fields, substantial research is being done on gratitude and findings show that those who live with a heightened awareness of their blessedness, who go out of their way to offer gratitude and thanksgiving, are healthier, happier, less envious, more resilient to the difficulties in life, kinder, more optimistic, less self-centred, less materialistic, more productive, and more creative. They show improved sleep, increased energy, get more exercise, increase in a sense of self-worth, maintain more intimate and happier relationships, and even live longer.

I’m not saying let’s express gratitude to God because it’s good for us and we’ll get back more than we give; such bartering and game-playing is a shaky foundation for the loving, intimate relationship for which we are made. What I hope we will take away with us from this story is a sense of wonder and a deep desire to worship a God so gracious, so generous, that even the ways in which we can give expression to our thanksgiving become the means through which God blesses us more and more.

***

 

May we give up the sense of entitlement that deprives us of seeing all the good gifts of God in our lives.

And when we recognise the blessings may we respond with true gratitude instead of depriving ourselves of deeper intimacy with God by carrying on with the business of our day.

And may that gratitude transform us from the inside out into people who live and love and think and thank and serve and give in the strength and grace of the One who loves us most.

Yvonne


Rhona 2015: We harvest as much as we plant …

Rhona amount collected to date: R426 780 – just R70 000 short of our dream! Thanksgiving envelopes and EFT’s can still be offered throughout the month of December.

 

Over the next ten Sundays (from 4/10/205 until 6/12/2015), we celebrate a special season in the life of our community known as Rhona or Thanksgiving. This is a time in which we open our eyes to the abundance of God’s mercy, forgiveness, peace, presence, love and life, and – in turn – have the opportunity to be generous to God with our life, our love, our worship, and our resources.

The passage to guide our meditation and thanksgiving this year is 1 Corinthians 9:6-15:

6 Remember this: The farmer who plants a few seeds will have a very small harvest. But the farmer who plants because he has received God’s blessings will receive a harvest of God’s blessings in return.

7 Each of you should give whatever you have decided. You shouldn’t be sorry that you gave or feel forced to give, since God loves a cheerful giver.

8 Besides, God will give you his constantly overflowing kindness. Then, when you always have everything you need, you can do more and more good things.

9 Scripture says, “The righteous person gives freely to the poor. His righteousness continues forever.”

10 God gives seed to the farmer and food to those who need to eat. God will also give you seed and multiply it. In your lives he will increase the things you do that have his approval.

11 God will make you rich enough so that you can always be generous. Your generosity will produce thanksgiving to God because of us.

12 What you do to serve others not only provides for the needs of God’s people, but also produces more and more prayers of thanksgiving to God.

13 You will honour God through this genuine act of service because of your commitment to spread the Good News of Christ and because of your generosity in sharing with them and everyone else.

14 With deep affection they will pray for you because of the extreme kindness that God has shown you.

15 I thank God for his gift that words cannot describe.

In his writings to the church at Corinth, Paul reminds the people that God provides us with all the life-giving gifts we have: our skills, talents, jobs, businesses, and any other spiritual gifts to the glory of God. It is from this generous supply of gifts that God challenges us to continue the cycle of giving that began from God’s ultimate gift to us in Jesus Christ.

Our response, the act of our generosity is Thanksgiving and the continuous praise and worship of God as we plant seeds that further God’s kingdom of shalom.

The Rhona season, then, is about more than sharing our resources with those who have less than us, or just ensuring that our churches are operational: it is about being faithful in using our blessings to bless others and discovering, in the act of blessing, that we are blessed even more.

This year, we hope to accumulate an abundance of R500 000 for advancing the work of God’s Kingdom (over and above our normal Sunday tithes and offerings) through individuals, families, Spiritual formation groups (organisations), fellowship groups, ministry/mission groups, leadership groups and committees giving generously according to the guidelines set below:

Individuals: R500 – R1 000+

Families: R2 500 – R5 000+

Mission Groups: R1 500 – R5 000+

Organizations: R5 000+

Fellowship Groups: R5 000+

Leaders: R5 000+

There will be a special time of sharing as part of each service for people, and groups, to make their pledges and offer testimony as to God’s goodness and presence in their lives (see service schedule below and sign up sheet for testimonies on the notice board). Each service will also focus on a particular blessing of God and our sermons will not only draw us into a deeper awareness of God’s blessings in our lives, but also provide practical ways in which we can respond to God going beyond this season into a brand new year full of opportunity and promise.

May this time be one of profound connection with the Author and Sustainer of our lives, and may the generosity of God become an essential part of our nature and our community.

 

WEEKLY WORSHIP

4 October (Rhona launch): We give thanks to God for who God is and learn about what abundance really means (sermon notes already available on website).

11 October (individual pledges and testimonies): We give thanks to God for the blessing of life and health; and learn about developing Attitudes of Gratitude.

18 October (family pledges and testimonies): We give thanks to God for the blessing of companionship, friendship and family; and learn about strange blessings – God’s presence in sorrow.

25 October (individual pledges and testimonies): We give thanks to God for the blessing of employment, a business, a talent, or skill; and learn about how we were created to be a blessing.

1 November (family pledges and testimonies): We give thanks to God for the blessing of once being a child, then a parent, grandparent, uncle, aunt, or godparent; and we learn about how we become responsible with our resources.

8 November (fellowship group pledges and testimonies): We give thanks to God for the blessing of being part of God’s family; and learn about money as relational.

15 November (Spiritual formation group pledges and testimonies): We give thanks to God for the blessing of being part of the Christian community and being actively involved in the Church’s mission work; and we learn about how God can be blessed through our giving.

22 November (leadership pledges and testimonies): We give thanks to God for the blessing of stewardship and leadership in the community, church, or any other social development organisations in the country and beyond; and we learn about discipline as a gift that giving gives us.

29 November (ministry/mission group pledges and testimonies): We give thanks to God for the blessing of others through mission; and we learn about how our money can truly matter.

6 December (closing of Rhona): We give thanks to God for all of our blessings as we celebrate the Anniversary of our Community and welcome new Confirmees into full membership; and we learn about the journey before us.

 


Understanding Abundance: Blessed to be a Blessing Series

Job 2:1-10

Most people are looking for signs of being blessed. We pray for blessings, we wait for blessings, we see others being blessed, but not us. As a result we feel empty. We feel God is doing good for others. We feel God is taking long to answer our prayers and grant us our wishes. This mentality of scarcity that we reflected on for the past two weeks makes us to walk with emptiness. We do not realise that God has already blessed us and is blessing us all the time.

At the best of times we see blessings as material possessions. We want to have a good life measured by the cars we drive, the houses we live in, the clothes we wear, the money in the bank account. We forget that these things are all perishable. That means then blessings are perishable. I have known people who had all the money in the world and yet today are poor. I know some rich people who are miserable in life. The quality of life cannot be just measured by our possessions.

On the other hand we think that the blessing of the abundance of life is in having a good happy life without troubles and challenges, without pain and tears, without strife and anxiety. In the process we miss the abundance of life by focusing on all the negative things we are experiencing. The reality is that life is a canvas laced with different phases. Some of these phases are good experiences and yet some are bad experiences.

If we are honest with ourselves there is no one here who has not shed a tear, been anxious and challenged in life. By the same token nobody ever lives without smiling or celebrating life no matter how long or short such moments are. Some people sitting here have met their loved ones and it was the best thing to happen to them. Of course that honeymoon phase did not last forever. Does that mean the relationship is over? No, there will still be moments of love and frustration one after the other. There are those who have celebrated a new job with a higher salary and soon after the first pay cheque, the mean boss makes it hard to continue working. Does that mean you never jumped for joy when you were hired? No! Some have had the joy of falling pregnant and due to pregnancy complication, the pregnancy was terminated. The joy was in the possibility of a new life coming into the family. Some have had wonderful moments with their loved ones who soon died. Will the focus be on their death or the life they have lived? The abundance of life and the blessing should be on their life than elevating their death.

With all of this then how do we celebrate the abundance of life without feeling that we still need to be blessed:

1. The Abundance of Life requires Keeping the Faith: Faith as explained by Paul, It is believing in the things not yet seen. We structure our lives as if those things have already been revealed to us. We look forward to them happening. In other words we live with a deep sense of hope that they are going to happen. People who have hope have something to look forward to. Even when things don’t look good today, they hope tomorrow is going to be a different day with a different experience.   Hope leads to the abundance of life as we look forward. It is this sense of hope that gives meaning to life. People who have lost hope lose meaning to life. They become despondent to the point of being suicidal. They no longer have reason to live because there is no more meaning to life. If you have hop in your life, you are well on your way to abundant life. You are blessed and you can be a blessing to others who know your adversities. As they see you looking forward they will be inspired.

As you look forward expecting the next day to be different you then discover that you also move forward. Life does not stand still for people with hope. It does not matter how long or short the strides are, they are moving forward. The focus is not all on what is happening now. It is also on the opportunities that lie ahead. When we see opportunities then we are blessed, because we have something to look forward to and to work towards. This sense life going on with all the adversaries of life leads to the abundance of life. So keeping the faith is important for us to realise the abundance of life.

2. The Abundance of Life requires Perseverance: People who look forward and move forward are determined people. The persevere even when everything around them says they must give up and give in. They refuse to define their lives by their challenges, but they in turn define the challenge, by pressing on. To be determined is to be focused and resolute. It is this mentality that even though we are sitting in ashes we scratch ourselves to remind ourselves that healing is coming. The determination is a blessing as it leads to the abundance of life beyond what we are experiencing at the moment. I like the story of Thomas Edison, who invented the first working light bulb. He tried for 299 times and it did not work. Only on the 300th time did he get it right. When asked if was he not despondent the other 299 times he said, “No I wasn’t, every time it did not work I knew exactly how not to do it the next time. Such is a life of perseverance. We learn how not to do it the next time.

Of course at times we need people who will support us along the way. We have people in our lives who will encourage us not to give up or give in. We have people who keep on reminding us of the prize that awaits us if we run the race. To have such people is a blessing that helps us see the abundance of life.

We also need to note that pressing on must be done with integrity. Even though Job had sores from the sole of his feet to the top of his head, he maintained integrity. He was consistent in his love for God. He refused to allow his circumstances to change his character. When we allow our circumstances to change our character then we lose integrity. For instance, when your partner cheats on you and you then also decide to cheat on them, you lose integrity. When you are wronged and the person has forgotten to show you humanity and you then decide to hide your humanity and act in a similar manner as them, you lose integrity. Integrity is when you choose peace instead of retaliating. In Biblical terms it is called peace. The abundance of life is in maintaining our character, in maintaining our humanity. To be human after all is to be made in the image of God, and this makes us to be capable of forgiving just as God is forgiving.

3. Abundance of Life is about Testifying: When we have faith that makes us look forward and move forward, when wen we persevere because of the determination, support and press on with integrity, we soon discover that we have stories to share about our journey. This is such a powerful thing, because it helps us others realise that there is hope for them too. In order for us to testify we need to be aware of the good that has happened in spite of the challenges. We have a wonderful opportunity to do this. We write so much on WhatsApp, Facebook, Twitter and other platforms. We never post anything about our journey. We post about things that hurt others, than things that uplift. The time we spend on these platforms could be used reflecting on lives, i.e., journaling. When we journal we become aware of the many blessings we receive each day. Without the awareness we soon forget and as a result we have nothing to share. We all have a story to tell about our lives. As we share these stories we will be surprised at how abundant life is.

The abundance of life is in the fact that we are blessed. As we look at our blessings through faith and hope as we look forward and move forward to grab opportunities; we discover the abundance of life. As we persevere with determination, support for other and with integrity we discover the fullness of life. We then have stories to tell. Is your life any different from these three points? If not, you are blessed to be a blessing through the abundance of your life.

Shalom.
Sva


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