Thursday, December 21, 2006

Nathan 1 month old!


Nathan turned a month old on the 14th. It totally passed us by! Sorry Nathan. Happy mini-birthday, old chap.

Nathan is putting on a lot of weight! He now weighs 3.75kg, meaning that he has gained over a kilogram since birth! Who could blame him? His food comes in such nice containers!

I am convinced that he is not going to be a Christian, but rather a Rastafarian. He is TOTALLY laid-back and I can almost image him with a zol between the fingers. Hence, I have renamed him "Bob" (Marley). He sleeps for about 4 hours, wakes up, looks at the world, laughs, drinks, messes in his nappy and falls asleep again. He doesn't cry, but just lets us know that he needs more food. Sometimes we forget he is even there.

Matthew loves his brother to bits. He is the first to greet him in the morning, the last to say "Goodnight".

We are truly blessed!

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

God-complex

I know many ministers and pastors. Let us call all of them ministers for now. I am a minister myself, so what I am about to say, although generalised, speaks to me as well. I know many ministers for whom what I am about to describe is not true, but are people devout in their faith and whom I deeply respect and admire.

I am struck, listening to many colleagues (and others on TBN), how responsible ministers feel to convince people about God and the Christian faith. Before reading further, stop now and think about it for a while. My question to them is WHY?

The focus on this point is not so much the message that is declared, but the manner in which ministers tend to take responsibility for their hearers and measure their own effectiveness in ministry in numerical terms. A good service can therefore be described in terms of a good numerical response to an altar-call, the amount of tears shed during a moving sermon or prayer, even the size of a congregation.

The way many ministers take personal responsibility for the entrenching of God’s Spirit in the lives of the faithful is done to such an extent that it gives the impression that the opportunity they have been given to testify to their congregations is the only time God is able to speak to that person or group. It implies that God does not speak to the individual or congregation or society at any other point than when the minister flaps his/her gums from a nicely designed wooden- or Perspex pulpit. This is further amplified in ministers’ lack of being able to facilitate counselling sessions. Many of these events are not opportunities for people to discover their own path for recovery, but are made recipients of another sermon, or hear “What happened to me on-the-other-hand…” quickly followed by an invitation to the surrender their lives to the Lord. It is not surprising, as in my own ministerial training we had two 3-hour sessions “teaching” us how to counsel.

My question is this: I wonder if there is a common psychological profile that can be drawn up of ministers? Perhaps that will be the basis of my Psych-masters – studying ministers? It seems quite possible to me that many ministers find a natural place for control and power in the church as they recognize their own histories being riddled by a lack of control or power. This place of religious conviction and the ability and opportunity to address and influence other people then becomes so strong that no external reality to that of the institutional church is recognized or deemed to be acceptable. Prof Wessel Stoker suggested something to the same effect in his book “Is vragen naar zin vragen naar God?” – an excellent and easy-reading book and also available in English.

Does God really only speak through ministers? Further, does God only speak through ministers’ sermons and teaching? What we tend to forget is that even proclamation is a subjective and anthropocentric approach to give testimony concerning a God who is not confined to the limitations of our dimensions. Is it not arrogance to verbally declare that a specific theology or understanding of God is the full comprehension of all truth? For this reason, I struggle to listen to the convicted sermons of many, and am careful in what I say to my congregations. If ministers were the sole custodians of the declaration of the Word, then we should see much more “conversions” at Synods, Conferences, Circuit Quarterly meetings… but we don’t.

My mother is a lay-person who did not know about the two creation-narratives in Genesis until I pointed it out to her. She nevertheless acted as an instrument of God’s self-disclosure to me as a person. Not that God revealed Godself through her, but the awareness of God’s self-revelation in Jesus Christ was clear in her presence and testimony.

What is impressive is not how many people a person has “won” for the Kingdom, but how “few” people were lost to the Kingdom because of that person. You catch my drift? So what if, for example, either Benny Hinn or John Wesley is responsible for 100 000 commitments at one crusade, but puts millions off from even considering Christianity when listening to that same message? Sorry for comparing Benny Hinn to John Wesley. So, I am not impressed by names such as Webb, Graham or whatever. I may know of a few, or even many who have come to faith through their testimonies, but that is all that I’ll know.

What fascinates me is how responsible many ministers/pastors feel for a particular individual’s soul, when their primary message to the world is that a human being is unable to affect salvation, but that it is an act of grace from God. Ironic.

Do I then believe that ministry is obsolete and that ministers all need therapy. Answer: “No”, and “It wouldn’t hurt”. Ministry is an essential function. It builds community. It creates opportunities for people to be humane, and where they are already humane, even more so.

This is what I believe. I believe in God. I believe that God reveals. I believe that people are convicted of this self-revelation by the power of the Spirit. I believe that all Christians are called to testify to this act of revelation and salvation, verbally and/or non-verbally, but non-judgementally. It is God who reveals, God who convicts and God who saves, God who judges. It is the same God who revealed God-self to Abraham, Isaac and Moses before ministers and the church existed. The same God who revealed Godself through Jesus Christ and convicts through the power of the Spirit.

Then why is it that I hear ministers declaring their feelings of guilt of not taking a day off in order to be the presence of God to others? Can they not be the presence of God to others on their day off? Can it be because of a ministerial God-complex? A powerless childhood? Can ministers allow God to speak for Godself and therefore not having to parade an “answer to all situations”?

I would like to work myself out of a job, so to speak, where people can trust their own encounters with God without feeling the need for it to be validated by a person with a clerical title.

Just some mind-wandering.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Words

A short lesson from a devotional book I'm reading (Thanks Pete, it is great!):

A man walked next to the shore and found a crowd gathered close to the water. As he drew closer he saw a man in a self-made boat getting ready to row across the ocean. As he was preparing, the crowd tried to persuade him to abort his attempt. "You will never make it in that boat!", "You will burn in the sun!", "You don't have enough food" were some of the comments made. As he set off, this man ran to the water's edge, yelling "Go for it! You can make it! We are proud of you". As he turned back the crowd stood silent. They asked him "Do you seriously believe that he can make it?". He responded "I don't know, but when he is in trouble I hope that he will remember my words and not yours!".

Words have the power to motivate or to discourage. Choose your words carefully, especially as we enter this Christmas season.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

On a lighter note...


We went to the Lionpark outside Krugersdorp. Here Matt and I are stroking a 3 month old lioness! What an amazing experience.
God is great! To look into the eyes of a lion while scrathing her tummy is something to behold! Just to think that we won't dare do the same to her in a year or two!
Blessingss to all as we start on the Advent journey, recognizing that the world indeed needs a saviour, but that the signs of the Kingdom are here in a little boy sitting without threat next to a lion.

Sorry for the outburst!

Apologies to God and all readers for my outburst.

God answered in the funeral service held today at the Krugersdorp-North Nederduits Herformde Kerk.

Ds. Fourie preached on Habakkuk 1 and the concluded with Habakkuk 3. If you have an Afrikaans Bible, you will find Habakkuk's complaints much better expressed than what is available in the NIV. (My opinion).

Oom George, rest in peace.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Crime Again!

I am sick of this! My wife's sister's father-in-law was killed in his house in Krugersdorp a couple of days ago.

Oom George was a wonderful man who always had a smile on his face, a joke to share and who loved his family more than anything else. He was killed a day after returning from holiday, a holiday that he enjoyed with his wife.

He probably surprised the robbers in his home, who then killed him with a hoe.

What mother's child can do such a violent thing?

This is now the second act of violent crime experienced by this family. The first was Jason, Natalie's cousin, who was shot while sleeping in his bed. They stole R3 and a broken cellphone.

Excuse me for not feeling to ministerial, but I wonder what the hell God is doing while this is taking place. A question of theodicy. Don't feel compelled to try and answer this.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Nathan - news


Tomorrow Nathan will be 2 weeks old.

He has settled in very nicely and is enjoying home. So far, he has given us more than enough opportunity to sleep. He feeds at about 10:30pm and then again at 4:00am and then every 3-4 hours.

Nathan is peaceful and does not cry much - only when he gets impatient (a trait he got from his mother).

Matthew has moved into the role of "big brother" very well. He is proud of his brother and wants to share everything from his yellow motorbike to Smarties with him. In the photo you can see the love.

Thanks for all the well-wishes and interest! We believe that with all the love shown to our boys, they will grow knowing the family that God created which extends beyond bloodlines!

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Masks

Last Sunday we had Remebrance services at our church. We remembered those whom we are in relationship with, but who have parted from this life.

Our focus was on our method of remembering, or our lack thereof. So, using the story of Hannah in 1 Samuel 1, we remembered together about our remembering. It is so difficult to remember effectively sometimes,for we all have our Elkanah's, Penninah's and sometimes critical Eli's wanting to comment on how we should feel.

This poem by Chalres C. Finn proved to be helpful in creating a place where we allowed ourselves to feel what we feel:

Please Hear What I'm Not Saying
By Charles C. Finn

Don't be fooled by me.
Don't be fooled by the face I wear
For I wear a mask, a thousand masks,
Masks that I'm afraid to take off
And none of them is me.

Pretending is an art that's second nature with me,
but don't be fooled,
for God's sake don't be fooled.
I give you the impression that I'm secure,
that all is sunny and unruffled with me,
within as well as without,
that confidence is my name and coolness my game,
that the water's calm and I'm in command
and that I need no one,
but don't believe me.

My surface may be smooth but
my surface is my mask,
ever-varying and ever-concealing.
Beneath lies no complacence.
Beneath lies confusion, and fear, and aloneness.
But I hide this. I don't want anybody to know it.
I panic at the thought of my weakness exposed.
That's why I frantically create a mask to hide behind,
a nonchalant sophisticated facade,
to help me pretend,
to shield me from the glance that knows.

But such a glance is precisely my salvation,
my only hope, and I know it.
That is, if it is followed by acceptance,
If it is followed by love.
It's the only thing that can liberate me from myself
from my own self-built prison walls
from the barriers that I so painstakingly erect.
It's the only thing that will assure me
of what I can't assure myself,
that I'm really worth something.
But I don't tell you this. I don't dare to. I'm afraid to.

I'm afraid you'll think less of me,
that you'll laugh, and your laugh would kill me.
I'm afraid that deep-down I'm nothing
and that you will see this and reject me.

So I play my game, my desperate, pretending game
With a fa├žade of assurance without
And a trembling child within.
So begins the glittering but empty parade of Masks,
And my life becomes a front.
I tell you everything that's really nothing,
and nothing of what's everything,
of what's crying within me.
So when I'm going through my routine
do not be fooled by what I'm saying.
Please listen carefully and try to hear what I'm not saying,
what I'd like to be able to say,
what for survival I need to say,
but what I can't say.

I don't like hiding.
I don't like playing superficial phony games.
I want to stop playing them.
I want to be genuine and spontaneous and me
but you've got to help me.
You've got to hold out your hand
even when that's the last thing I seem to want.
Only you can wipe away from my eyes
the blank stare of the breathing dead.
Only you can call me into aliveness.
Each time you're kind, and gentle, and encouraging,
each time you try to understand because you really care,
my heart begins to grow wings --
very small wings,
but wings!

With your power to touch me into feeling
you can breathe life into me.
I want you to know that.
I want you to know how important you are to me,
how you can be a creator--an honest-to-God creator --
of the person that is me
if you choose to.
You alone can break down the wall behind which I tremble,
you alone can remove my mask,
you alone can release me from the shadow-world of panic,
from my lonely prison,
if you choose to.
Please choose to.

Do not pass me by.
It will not be easy for you.
A long conviction of worthlessness builds strong walls.
The nearer you approach me
the blinder I may strike back.
It's irrational, but despite what the books may say about man
often I am irrational.
I fight against the very thing I cry out for.
But I am told that love is stronger than strong walls
and in this lies my hope.
Please try to beat down those walls
with firm hands but with gentle hands
for a child is very sensitive.

Who am I, you may wonder?
I am someone you know very well.
For I am every man you meet
and I am every woman you meet.





Hope you find it helpful too.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Nathan Daniel Bentley is here!

Nathan Daniel Bentley is here! He was born at 12:45, weighed 2.85kg.

Here is a pic of him shortly after birth.




Here is a proud dad!



Mommy and Son, happy together.



Here Nathan is sleeping.



Thanks for all the prayers!

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Almost here!

Our baby boy is almost here. Natalie is scheduled for theatre at 12:30 on Tuesday the 14th November.

We are very excited about the little one's arrival, but a bit anxious at the same time. We ask for your prayers for health and a pleasant birth-experience.

We hope that Matthew and Little One (Name to be announced at his
birth) will grow up in a world that is tolerant, serious about peace and has the ability to love beyond the spectrum of faith and nationality.

Won't be blogging until next Tuesday. Got exams to write, baby to catch, dogs to feed, doors to open for strangers...

A positive experience

After writing on Tuesday, I quickly popped into MacDonalds for a hammy (To console my soul). On leaving the premises, I noticed a black guy heading for the door that I just pased through. Both his hands were full, so I quickly jumped to open the door for him.

Passing through, he looked my way and said "Thank you. I love the new South Africa. I now see you as a brother!".

Well, I didn't know what to say. In typical Dutchman style, I fumbled over my words, just to get the tail-end of "It's a pleasure" through to him. In retrospect, I should have given him a hug.

Just made me think that small things like opening a door for someone who's hands are full can affect the way in which we relate to each other.

Have you got a good story to share?

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Another kind of sin

Job 38:1-7; 34-41
Hebrews 5:1-10
Mark 10:35-45


These were the lectionary readings for last Sunday. It speaks to me about the types of sin that we do not usually confess. Perhaps we don't because they do not fall in line with our understanding of sin.

Sin, to most, consists of actions, words, thoughts that are contrary to the nature and will of God. To be totally other to God's image is considered to be a place of fallenness. These passages do not speak of sin as being contrary to the image of God, but speaks of the places where we want to be like God too much.

Wanting to sit at His side.
James and John wanted to sit at his side. In other accounts it is their mother that puts forward this request. Sitting on the ruler's side meant a place of authority, a place where commands could be issued in the name of the "king" and to expect other subjects to obey on the weight of this authority. It is not surprising that Jesus responds with "You do not know what you are asking". Can anyone be in a place where they can speak on behalf of God, totally convinced that what they say or do is the absolute will of God? Extreme conservatives in the gay-debate are convinced that "God hates fags", while extreme liberals believe that "Jesus was a homo(sapiens)". It is a dangerous place, trying to speak on God's behalf. Perhaps this needs to be included in our prayers of confession, especially when our words cause unjust pain.

Wanting to tell God what to do.
In the story of Job, Job was frustrated with God and with life. "Why do the innocent suffer?" His frustration led to the point where he believed that he was able to see righteousness where God failed to do so. The natural response was to start telling God what to do and how to do it. A bit arrogant, we might think. So, in our arrogance, we pray that God must rid our society of crime, as if God stands idly by. We pray that God must heal gays and lesbians, as if God made a mistake and should form them in our (heterosexual) image. It raises a few questions. God responds to Job: "Who the hell do you think you are?" - paraphrase.

Wanting to be indespensible.
Perhaps God cannot do without me. Perhaps God would be stuck if I choose this career instead of that one, this spouse instead of that one. We have been caught up in the whole spin of predeterminism. Proving our loyalty to God through our actions, positions and status may be our way of holding on to the idea that if it weren't that way, the world would cease to exist. Guess what, God calls, we follow. See how this is written in Hebrews.

Some things to think about: My place before God, my place as a Christ-follower in society, my place as a person called by God to be a citizen of the Kingdom.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Bluebull country



It's a beautiful day in Pretoria. The Jacarandas are in full bloom, the Bulls are in the final, our congregation's Men's Fellowship braai-ed boerewors and ate it with pap-en-smoor at 8 this morning, talking rugby.

What a lovely day. Good luck Cheetahs!

Monday, October 09, 2006

Exams again!

At the beginning of this year I enrolled for 4 second-year Psychology subjects: Research in Social Science, Child and Adolescent Development, Personality Theory and Counselling Skills. Tomorrow I start with a whole series of exams. Why am I updating my blog? Because I am avoiding the books a bit longer. (Studied the whole day and am now a bit "gatvol").

Please pray for me.

It has been 7 years since I last wrote exams. Having done a lot of post-grad work, writing assignments, journal articles, dissertations, a thesis and presenting papers at conferences, it is now quite akward having to "cram" again. It feels nice - it reminds me of my time at John Wesley College (probably the most enjoyed time of my life) and the history that went along with it.

If you are bored and disinterested with life, then try this: enroll for a few courses somewhere and get an adrenalin-rush that will open up new perspectives in your world. It did so for me.

Blessings to all.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

The Kingdom of God is at hand - the end of the church?

The more I read theologians like Barth, Moltmann, Hauerwas and the
Reformers, the more I become aware of the difference between the
institutional church and the movement of the Kingdom of God.

Christianity, represented through the institutional church, expressed
as a religion, is continuously challenged by the world, and I
believe, God, to be a bit more Christ-like. My friend, Peter Grassow,
recently posted a list of questions to the Christian church in South
Africa on one of our chatgroups, and to him I am grateful for nudging
me in this direction.

Karl Barth goes to great lengths to differentiate between "religion"
and "Faith" and does so specifically in Church Dogmatics Volume 1,
part 2. The discussion revolves around the doctrine of revelation and
asks whether Christianity is a religion of revelation or whether it
is a revelation of religion. I am not going to go into too much
detail here - go read it for yourself - but it seems as if the
Christian Church borders on being a religion of revelation, and at
the same time, believes itself to be the continuation of the full
revelation of God through Jesus Christ.

Now, this may sound very orthodox, but it poses a very clear
Christological- and we might add, a soteriological problem! The
Christological problem is found in that such an expression of
Christianity places too much emphasis on metaphysics and takes into
account the divinity of Christ at the expense of Jesus humanity. For
a more detailed explanation of how this takes place, wait for my
doctoral thesis due soon. Even the divinity of Christ in the teaching
of the church is distorted and the teaching itself may be
compromised by the fact that the church indirectly claims ownership
of the revelation in a way which is exclusive and self-centered.

There is a bit of an antinomianist in me, perhaps a rebel or a cynic,
but where institutional Christianity tries to use its structures,
discipline and claimed authority to work change in society, I cannot
help but feel that it is "urinating in the wind" - The word I wanted
to use will be blocked by the server. I similarly cannot help but
feel that when the world watches the church arguing about social
matters (often directed inward as self-evaluation), that this is
precisely how the church is perceived. Who wants to be part of this?
Urinating in the wind might be liberating, it might even feel
fantastic while you are doing it, but it only lasts for a while,
disappears into the ground and the few drops that messed on your
shoes will turn to stench!

What is going to save the world? I fear that it won't be religion,
even more so the institutional church. I nevertheless believe that it
is the little bit of Kingdom-yeast, working through people who do the
basics of the gospel right in their daily living (love God, love
neighbour as self), not under the banner of a certain denomination or
belief-system, which will bring about justice and mercy.

More and more of me believes that the Kingdom of God and the
institutional church are mutually exclusive. Both Moltmann and Barth
express the opinion that the church will cease to exist at the
consummation of God's Kingdom. The Church, even the church, is an
instrument of witness to a Lord who is God's revelation to all. It is
not the Lord, and it is not God's sole instrument of expressing love
and grace to God's creation. The sooner the institutional church
operates from this premise and stops deciding who is loved by God and
who is not, who is part of God's community and who is not, what the
clerics may wear and what they may not, the sooner we might see the
signs of a growing Kingdom here in our midst.

Just blowing off steam.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Every person needs a sanctuary.

Every person needs a place where they can get away and be at peace. My study has been such a place for years and when we moved into our own home at the end of last year, a house that did not have a study, my life was disrupted.

If you've been following my blog, you would have heard about the start of our building operations. Well, here she is:




I moved in about a week ago and have found my EARLY morning conversations with God, Barth, Moltmann and others fulfilling and deeply satisfying.

Here I am with my baby Mac and with Barth's Church Dogmatics conveniently within arms reach. Happy as can be!

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Happy Birthday!


This is just a short note to wish my wife, Natalie, and her twin-sister, Michelle, a very happy birthday.

Natalie, we love you very much! You serve and love without hesitance. You are beautiful! You are appreciated and we pray that this year will be filled with love, fulfilment and joy.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

What shall we say...

Win a fun holiday or a ... funeral?

September 23, 2006 Edition 1 Pretoria News

Staff Reporter

When one thinks of a church fete, prizes like heavily decorated cakes, cards and other homemade goodies spring to mind - but a funeral?

That's exactly what's on offer when the Randburg Methodist Church holds its fete on October 7.

For a mere R10, one can enter the raffle and win a self-catering weekend for 10 at the Malutizicht Lodge near Ficksburg, a self-catering weekend for four to six people at Little Eden, Cullinan, or a funeral worth R8 000 courtesy of undertakers Collinge & Co.

Congregation member Margaret Lombard, who is helping to arrange the fete, told Pretoria News Weekend that Collinge & Co's offer of the prize has been welcomed with open arms.

"Anyone who has had to pay for a funeral knows it's no laughing matter," she said.

Asked if it was not a strange prize to offer patrons, she pointed out that various kinds of businesses offered what they could - and Collinge & Co was no different.

"That is what they offered, and it was accepted with thanks."

Undertaker Mike Collinge said the prize consisted of a coffin and services, including the removal of the deceased, arranging the death certificate, arranging the funeral, preparation of the deceased in the coffin, conducting of the funeral at the chosen church, transport of the coffin to the cemetery or crematorium, delivery of the ashes and death certificate.

It did not include "third party payments" - costs such as donations to the minister, organist, verger, church, catering, flowers, doctor's fees, crematorium fees, cemetery, Press notices and the like - "as we have no right to dictate to the family regarding what they should do at the funeral".

Monday, September 11, 2006

Matthew's birthday




3 years ago we were anxious and scared. Our little Matthew was born with a series of heart-defects that threatened his life. He was born with dextrocardia, upstairs-downstairs ventricular orientation, VSD, ASD, PDA and the worst, transposition of the great arteries. In simple language, his aorta and pulmonary arteries were switched around, his heart was lying on the wrong side and was twisted sideways. Along with that he had several holes in his heart. Thanks to Dr. Colyn at UNITAS, Drs. Dansky, Mamorare, Colsen and Kinsley, Matthew had a successful repair when he was 4 months old, undergoing an 8-hour operation at the Walter Sisulu Paediatric Cardiac Centre at Sunninghill hospital.

Look at him now! On his birthday he is healthy and riding a bike!


Thanks for all the prayers, the commitment and knowledge of the doctors, and most of all, our Lord, who held us very close to his heart.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Short note

Just a short note to say that Matthew's operation went well. He was
discharged the same day and wanted to kick a ball on arriving back
home. Thanks for all the prayers!

Monday, September 04, 2006

Spot our baby



This is a 3-D picture of our developing baby. He is lying with his head against the placenta, thus the poor quality of the image. In the middle you see his eye. He is looking down, so use his eye as a reference point to identify his nose, mouth and his puffy cheeks.

Our little lion.



Our little Matthew has an inguinal hernia and will be undergoing surgery tomorrow morning. Please pray for him and us.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Somebody takes my doctor-ate seriously!!!

The project manager overseeing our building operation is a member of the congregation. He sub-contracted the building to a youngish guy who is fantastic. I suppose it is a novalty for some of the congregation-members to say that their minister is "studying to become a doctor"...

This afternoon, on arriving home, this builder came to me, striking up a conversation, saying "Are you a doctor already?" to which I replied quite concisely (not to drag the topic on too long): "Not yet, but soon."

He then started speaking in a lower, rougher voice, stroking his throat and said "Eish, it is burning here, what must I take?". I was really not going to try to explain the difference between eschatology and a colonoscopy, so I gave him a Strepsil.

He then continued: "...and when I eat in the morning, it is sore right here" (Pointing to his stomach). So, I asked him a couple of general doctor-like questions like how often he flatulates, whether he drinks on an empty stomach etc. and decided that Gaviscon would do the trick. "If it doesn't work," I concluded, "then call me in the morning".

I had a good chuckle afterwards.

"Thou shalt not bear false...." Oops.

A little laugh about a serious matter

School Teacher arrested

NEW YORK - A public school teacher was arrested today at John F.Kennedy
International Airport as he attempted to board a flight while in
Possession of a ruler, a protractor, a set square, a slide rule, and a
calculator.

At a morning press conference, Attorney General John Ashcroft said he
believes the man is a member of the notorious Al-gebra movement. He did
not identify the man, who has been charged by the FBI with carrying
weapons of math instruction.

"Al-gebra is a problem for us," Ashcroft said. "They desire solutions by
means and extremes, and sometimes go off on tangents in a search of
absolute value. They use secret code names like 'x' and 'y' and refer to
themselves as 'unknowns,' but we have determined they belong to a common
denominator of the axis of medieval with coordinates in every country.
As the Greek philanderer Isosceles used to say, 'There are 3 sides to
every triangle.'

'When asked to comment on the arrest, President Bush said, "If God had
wanted us to have better Weapons of Math Instruction, he would have
given us more fingers and toes." White House aides told reporters they
could not recall a more intelligent or profound statement by the
president.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

We're building!!!


We have been privileged to live in our own house, but it has always been without a study. My books have been stored in a Wendy-house for the past year, found their way to our diningroom-table (on occasion) and made their way back.

With our second little expression of love on the way, we have had to close our eyes and take the plunge... We are building a study.

So, here is a picture of our study on day 1 of building. Please pray with us that this project will be a success. I will keep you informed of developments.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Some questions that fry my brain.

Here are some thinks that freak me out.

One must be able to count the amount of gravel-stones used to tar the N1 between Cape Town and Polokwane. What would that number be? In addition, if you were able to scrape all the stones used to make the highway together and make a heap, how big would it be? Seeing that it came from somewhere, we should be missing a couple of mountains.

How much ammo did the Voortrekkers take when they started on the Great Trek? How much did it weigh? Considering the amount of battles and wars, where did they get the lead to make ammo while they were on the move? Is the story of the Great Trek, propoganda?

If the revolution of an electron around a nucleus were experienced in the same manner as we experience the amount of time it takes for the earth to revolve around the sun, what would it do to our concept of time? Is there a bigger dimension asking the same question about our experience of time and theirs?

How can a God who superceeds all our knowledge of time, space and experience love this piece of dust so much that God chooses for it to be able to be in relationship with God and in meaningful relationship with other pieces of dust?

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Barth Conference


I was fortunate enough to be invited to speak at the "Reading Karl Barth in South Africa today" Conference held in Pretoria during the past few days.

What a privilege it is to interact with students and seasoned professors who are as passionate about the subject as I am, if not more. My topic was once again "Barth's definition of church in politics and culture" and was accepted very well. A couple of awkward questions, especially by my friend(?) Dion, kept me on my toes, but all went well.

Statement of the day that jumped out of my mouth without thinking: "The institutional church is one of those holy cows that sometimes needs to be slaughtered."

Oops. Did I say that?

Friday, August 04, 2006

Prof. Vroom

Prof. H.M. Vroom from the Vrije Universiteit van Amsterdam visited this week
at TUKS.

For those who are interested in new developments in theology regarding
consciousness, creation theory and inter-religioius dialogue, will find his
material extremely valuable. A topic that he also shared related to how the
university at which he serves is making headway in the recent introduction
of Islamic theology in their faculty. They resisted forming a seperate
faculty and also did not allow themselves to merely teach Islamology.

Many university theology-faculties have moved along the "religious-studies"
route and are finding it difficult to keep head above water.

An interesting comment about the Free University-approach was made in that
Christian-theology students are now, more than ever, "forced" into a
position where they have to stand-up for what they believe in. This is not
done in an apologetic- or militant manner, but in their conversations with
students with different religious backgrounds, they have to sharpen what
they believe in if they want to engage meaningfully regarding issues where
other beliefs portary a greater certainty or confidence i.e. the doctrine of
God.

By going down this path, religious relativism is avoided and an atmosphere
of serious, but respectful inter-religious dialogue is ensured. Staff from
the different religious communities are also asked to share offices, and so,
the dialogue continues even in the tea-rooms.

Nobody can "talk about us without us". Perhaps we should consider this model
in shaping our theological faculties?

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

A good God?

Archibald MacLeish wrote a play called "J.B.". This is a modern interpretation of the book of Job.

In this book a phrase is repeated stating: "If God is God, then God is not good; If God is good, then God is not God; take the even, take the odd." (sic.)

When we speak about God, we tend to get caught-up in one of two mutually exclusive paradigms. The first makes God supreme, but fails to explain how God tolerates suffering. The other speaks of a God who is present, but fails to achieve perfect justice. I suppose one is pretty much a 15th century Catholic perspective (or even a perspective held by Plato), while the latter speaks of a liberation-theology deity.

To me, Christianity offers a third perspective in the belief of Divine incarnation. Passages like the raising of Lazarus are helpful in seeing the two natures of Christ (the God who is God and the God who is good).

But in my impatience I long to see the Kingdom NOW!

Theodicy creates interesting God-talk, especially in the light of the current middle-East crisis.

"If God is God, then God is not good;
If God is good, then God is not God;
take the even, take the odd."...

Monday, July 31, 2006

Preaching Theology

We had one of those rare opportunities to go to church and worship.

Visiting home (Carletonville) is always special, but more so having experienced a worship-service that offered insight, "meat" and great participation between preacher and congregation.

This is a "Thank you" to Kevin de Beer, the minister at Carletonville Methodist Church for the great work which he is doing there. It was wonderful to listen to his explanation of Jonah and how he made it applicable to our lives, and explained how it speaks about what is happening in the middle-East.

God bless you Kevin, and know that our prayers are with you as you faithfully follow God's will in a corner of our country that is not always remembered. You are special!

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Global warming


With summer on the way, here is something to think about.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Miracles of Community

This past Thursday we started on a 10-week journey, doing the Manna and Mercy programme. For those who are not familiar with this course, it is a striking course proclaiming God's work of reconciliation in a very broken world.

Here at the Glen, God is speaking to us again about COMMUNITY. Then, I watched a movie called "Crash" and I saw that COMMUNITY is not only spoken about in church, but is also something that Hollywood is aware of.

Switch on the news, and you find an obvious "LACK OF COMMUNITY" that results in strikes, war, discrimintation and all kinds of evil.

"Deus dixit!", Barth proclaimed. It is God who speaks, but speaking about what? Perhaps about being intentional in seeing my neighbour as my brother and sister.

That is hard to do. Being one of the victims of crime in our country, it is hard to even want to be in community. This is evident in my reaction to gunshots in the middle of the night, when without theological reflection I sometimes pray that the victims should hit their target. Perhaps the we will be able to sleep in peace?

God's miracle of community starts here, in my heart and in yours. Hopefully this miracle will grow to the extent that it captures Israel, Lebanon, Palestine, the States, Iraq, Africa...

Let us pray!

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

A bit of a holiday diary

3 July – Car trouble

We left early on Monday morning. Matthew slept most of the way. Near Harrismith (about 300km’s into our journey), our car broke down. After waiting for over an hour, we were towed to Harrismith. Matthew enjoyed riding in a big truck – perhaps the highlight of his holiday. It turned out that our outer-CV loosened and damaged the driveshaft. They didn’t have the right spares in Harrismith and managed to patch it up, just so that it could last to Pretoria. We returned home.

4 July

Our mechanic in Pretoria fixed our car and we were soon on our way. Traveled safely.

5 July – The fit hit the shan.

At about 9pm, sewage started coming through the drainage system, overflowing into our bath. The toilet almost overflowed. At our flat, the ground floor consists of garages, followed by two floors of flats. Ours is on the first level. On calling the plumber, we came to the conclusion that the blockage was on the garage level. The garage underneath our flat belongs to an old oomie who is known for being a pain in the backside. He was fast asleep by the time the plumber arrived, but we managed to get hold of his garage-keys as well as permission from his daughter to work on the pipe. Problem – his car was still in the garage and she couldn’t find the keys. This car was shining from top to bottom – evidently polished at least once a week. The tires were even spotless. We had no choice. We opened the pipe and about 80 liters of raw sewage poured out on this man’s car. After fixing the blockage, I spent the rest of the night washing Mr Foster’s car laughing and gagging uncontrollably. I managed to see the last 5 minutes of the World Cup semi-finals.

6 July

I went to tell Mr Foster about last night’s event. He took it very graciously, but I could see his eyes mist up when I came to the part about his car’s baptism.

7 July

Today we went to uShaka Seaworld – one of our favourite outings when we are here. This is without doubt the best aquarium and theme park in South Africa. Overseas visitors must experience this place. Absolutely brilliant!

8 July

Went to Crockworld. Matthew loved it! Had supper with Natalie’s cousin Sergio, Janessa and their three boys. Supper almost didn’t happen as Scottburgh was plunged into darkness for about an hour at about 6pm. Looks like whatever Cape Town has is contagious.
9 July

We spent a lazy day on the beach.

10 July

Another lazy day on the beach. Our friends, Eric and Sheryl, Lee-Ann and Jan (and little Ethan) arrived. Eric recently had a knee-replacement. He fainted on the beach and we had to bring him back to their flat.

11 July – 17 July

Can’t remember much. Was sick in bed for a day. Had a good chat to God about ministry, a chat that always comes up when I’m on leave or on furlough. We will continue this conversation at a later time


Overall reflection:

It is very difficult to get away. I feel so conditioned to always introspect that I stand the danger of not enjoying the moment. The moments that I treasure are having uninterrupted conversations with my wife, playing rugby on the beach with my son and hearing him say “Thank you Mamma and Pappa take Matthew to sea” each time we returned to the flat from the beach.

Friday, June 30, 2006

Please note:

Dear friends, as from Monday (3 July) we will be on leave for two
weeks. We will be spending this time in Scottburgh.

Needless to say, I will not be able to post to this blog during this
time, but please feel free to post as I get posts forwarded to my e-
mail (which I can access from my phone). I will appreciate hearing
from you from time-to-time.

Please pray for safe travel and I will give you an update on our
return (God-willing).

Blessings to all.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Broken relationships


A friend just broke up with his girlfriend.

"So what?" you may ask. "Get over it and move on with your life" you may be tempted to say. But wait a minute. Do you remember those feelings of loss? Remember crying for days on end and thinking that there is no-one else in the world that can take that person's place?

When I saw him I remembered what I felt like after whats-her-name broke up with me because I was too shy to kiss her, and that-one-that-taught-me-how-to-kiss for I don't know what reason (perhaps because I was a poor student), and that one-that... lets not even talk about that...

I have never had the opportunity to break-up with anyone. I was always on the receiving end. I don't think it matters on which side of the brokenness you find yourself. Broken relationships are painful. It is that kind of hurt that doen't go away, but seems to transform into different kinds of hurt that sting in less-direct ways. There is no quick-fix, not even a fix. But I suppose it is necessary.

So to my friend: "Take your time in licking your wounds. We remember and won't laugh at you or suggest that "this too will pass". I pray that you (and she) will find healing soon."

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Theological Society feedback

What an experience! Sitting in the same room as the De Gruchy's, Klaus Nurnberger and many, many more.

The Conference was something truly inspiring. What I learnt was that presenting a paper is TOTALLY different to preaching a sermon or lecturing. It is a different ball-game altogether, but great fun.

Here is my paper.

Hope you enjoy it. Please send comments as this will help me add value to one of my chapters in my Thesis.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Theological Society

On Wednesday we are going to the Theological Society of South Africa meeting in Pietermaritzburg. I will be presenting a paper entitled: "Barth's definition of Church in politics and culture: Growth points for the church in South Africa".

I am not clever enough to give a downloadable version on this site If anyone knows how, please let me know. In the meantime, if you are interested, please request one via e-mail (pelagius@mweb.co.za) and I'll gladly send it to you. Please note that this paper is itself a construction-site, meaning that it still needs a lot of work before it can be published. Your input will be helpful.

More news about the Conference will be posted on Saturday - God willing.

Blessings to all.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

By the way...

I did not take the post at UNISA. I really need to finish my Doctorate first. If I take anything else on now, I won't sleep and I will slack in all of my work because I'm rushed.

Thanks for all your prayers. This one was anwered VERY clearly.

June 16



My mother gave birth to me on June 16, 1976. I deliberately do not say that I was born on June 16th. My mother gave birth. I was born at about 2pm that afternoon. It was not an easy birth.

Whenever my mom tells the story she recalls her anxiety at hearing the news of the events that were taking place a couple of kilometres away. She always shares what went through her mind that afternoon: "How can I bring a child into this world?"

Our second child will be born in November, God-willing (perhaps a little of my Calvinist history peeping through). I wonder whether the question has changed? I don't know if there are parents who do not ask this question.

But then I am reminded that I was not the only child born that day. In fact there were many children who died that day, accomplishing what many people can't in a lifetime. Life is more than being born and passively receiving whatever the world has to dish out.

Living is about engaging with our world, its people and the different influences that go around. Doing so with the assurance that God travels with us creates faith, and faith in turn creates hope. Having faith and hope, we are naturally directed to the road of love.

My mom is glad that I was born that day. I am glad that she is glad that I was born that day. My prayer today is for our children, especially when they are forced at ever-younger ages to engage with- and challenge a world which at best, scares most parents.

God bless Africa
Guard her children
Guide her leaders
Give her peace.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Just something short and funny.

We are busy potty-training Matthew. Yesterday I successfully guided him through a no.1 and no.2. I have never been so proud!

Then Matthew got up, looked at his achievement, raised a clenched fist in the air and shouted at the top of his voice: "Buuuulllllsss!"

I was not impressed.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

You won't see a picture like this again!


On 6 June 1993 I conducted my first service as an On-Trial Local Preacher. I don't remember much of the service, except Dion Forster sitting in the front row with a marksheet in hand, listening to me say to the congregation that if they did not accept Jesus there and then, that they would go to Hell (...or something like that). 10 Years ago I also entered formation towards ordained ministery as a Phase 1 at Ventersdorp.

All I can say is: "Praise the Lord for spiritual growth, haircuts and a sense of humour!"

I wonder what I will say in 10 years time about my state at present?

Probably "Praise the Lord for spiritual growth, haircuts and a sense of humour!".

Happy anniversary to me!

Sunday, June 04, 2006

The Tragic side of this week.

Sifiso Khuzwayo is a minister at Westview Methodist. He is a dear friend. Their son, Nkisinathi (who is about the same age as our little Matthew) passed away on Saturday morning.

Please remember the Khuzwayo family.

The Good side of this week.

Pentecost is a very special occasion, but this time I preached the worst sermon ever. It wasn't a sermon. It was a Systematic Theology 3 lecture.

As I was preparing a sermon earlier during the week, I wondered how people would respond to some good and solid teaching on Sunday. We don't have the opportunity to raise the questions that everyone asks, but which they are too scared(?) to utter.

So, this morning we took a journey from the Old Testament concept of Ruach to the New Testament's Pneuma, from a temporary filling of the Spirit in the Old Testament to the outpouring of the Spirit on all people. From Prevenient Grace to Augustine's "bond of love between the Father and the Son", Glossolalia, Xenoglossia. We had a ball. The response... phenomenal!!!!!
(All in 30 mins.)

At the end of the "sermon" we had some time for guided meditation on "being introduced to the one who has always been there". Not one person left the sanctuary without commenting on a new dimension of the Spirit which they had never recognized before. Praise the Lord!

Today was one of those days where I actually felt that the work that had gone into preparing for Sunday was not time wasted.

This week, two other positive events materialized. I have been invited to present a paper at a Barth-Conference held in Pretoria during August. This is a joint conference between Kampen and UNISA. And then, I was offered a junior research assistant post at the Institute for Theology and Religion at UNISA. A lot of prayer will have to go into this one. Please pray with us and for us.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Happy Birthday Prof. Moltmann!


On 6 April, Jurgen Moltmann turned 80!

He has made a tremendous contribution to Systematic Theology and his deep spirituality has made this contribution so much more than just another philosophical approach to our understanding of God and of one another.

Moltmann served as a German soldier in WWII and was deeply affected by witnessing a friend die in the midst of battle. His struggle with God and righteousness led him to an understanding of a God who simply, out of love, cannot be seperated from those who experience suffering.

He has been tremendously vocal on the Nuclear Race, the place of Superpowers, the difference between Nationalism and Patriotism and ways in which we experience God in an increasingly post-modern world.

To one of the greats: Happy Birthday Proffessor!

Friday, May 26, 2006

Ascension Day

Last night we had a wonderful Ascension Day service at our church. When we started having Ascension Day services about 5 years ago, we used to get 5-10 people. Last night about 80 people arrived. Still a small number for a relatively large Methodist congregation.

As we celebrated together, we reminded one another of what it means for us to say that Jesus is truly Lord. He is not just another good human that walked the face of the earth. We do not worship Him because we think of him as a good idea. He is fully God and fully human.

Furthermore we focussed on an aspect - which I think is often negelcted in the Ascension Day celebrations -Jesus' teaching on Community.

I have become more and more aware, and have shared it with my congregation (who is responding to this in an amazing way!) that Jesus' message is less concerned with our ability as individuals to answer the questions "Are you saved?" or "Do you know where you will go when you die?". Don't get me wrong - of course personal salvation is vital! The message rather seems to be concerned with community. Community in Communion with God and with one another. Klaus Nurnberger reminded me the other day of how our acts of Christian worship seem to focus more on individual salvation and neglects community all together. At the start of the service we pray to God to forgive "my sins" - what about "our sins"? We listen to the sermon and are often challenged on how we as individuals respond to the gospel. What about how we respond to the gospel? After the offertory and benediction we witness how people rush for the doors without really even looking at anybody else, sometimes clearly indicating that they would like to get out of the church's parking lot before the rush.

This gives me new insight into Moltmann's sense of an eschatological community as described in "The Coming of God: Christian eschatology (Das Kommen Gottes)" or Barth's "Christian Cummunity" replacing the noun "Church".

Now we as a community have committed ourselves to wait together, to celebrate Pentecost. Hopefully this journey will enable us to get to know others better, meet needs and have our needs met. The work of the Spirit.

Blessings to all.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Don't misunderstand...

First, to Rock-in-the-Grass: The young man on my left is a rising theologian with some very interesting ideas. You should chat to him sometime. To Gus: Sorry, but you lost me in your comment. Please explain.

The actual reason for this entry: Please do not misunderstand me when commenting on Prof. Heron's theology not moving from the 16th century. His awareness on contemporary issues is quite evident in his works. I was merely referring to the lectures at TUKS. What struck me in our conversation was the degree to which the South African students and lecturers present (From different English and Afrikaans denominations) focussed on contextualisation. It was simply not enough just to hear about the interesting dialogue between the Lutherans, Zwinglians and rising Calvin during the sixteenth century. The recurring question was: "What can we learn from this discussion as we are faced with a church which looks a bit different to that of the sixteenth century?"

The one thing I am extremely grateful for is the way in which our ministerial- and theological formation has helped us to understand that salvation is not only about a person "being right" with God, but that Christian faith celebrates God-with-us (in every way).

So in addition to my thanks to Prof. Heron for his interesting input, I would like to thank the Tim Attwells, Pete Grassows, Dion Forsters and Conrad Wethmars for their contribution in making God more than a good idea.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Prof. Alisdair Heron


Last week we had the gifted opportunity to listen to Prof. A.I.C. Heron from Erlangen University.

Those who studied a B.Th. at UNISA would know him for his book on Pneumatology called "The Holy Spirit". His most significant work was "A century of Protestant Theology".

Prof. Heron gave two lectures, one on Calvin's struggle with Luther's controversy concerning the Lord's Supper. The second was on Calvin's attitude towards Zwingli. It might not sound like earth-moving topics, but it is always a pleasure to listen to a person who knows what they are talking about and to learn some "behind the scenes" insights.

Granted, his theology did not seem to have left the sixteenth century, but still very insightful.

By the way, we had a great Synod! I always enjoy the debates, but most of all, the fellowship.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Try this idea.

This is my second post for today - please don't miss the more important one posted prior to this one.

Last night we watched a very thought-provoking documentary-movie called "What the bleep do we know?!". It is available from most dvd-rentals, so if you're in the mood to think a bit, try this one. I think it is in line with what Dion is doing his doctorate on, and Tim, it follows on from our discussions about Descartes at the DEWCOM meeting.

In the light of this movie, I have been thinking for a while about the notion of fragmentation that exists, not only in the church, but seems to be a natural phenomenon all around us. Working from a revised view about the big-bang and chaos-theory by Stephen Hawking et. al. I am wondering whether fragmentation to the point of infinite exhausted radiation is so much a cosmological phenomenon that natural- or institutional examples of this is something that should not catch us by surprise, but should be telling us that we are on the right track. So, I am working on something entitled "Is God killing the church?" - a phrase borrowed from Stanley Hauerwas.

I would like to hear some comment.

This is us.


So, here is a family-photo.

A couple of weeks ago we walked around in one of the malls and decided to take a family photo.

Natalie, my beautiful wife, is a Kindermusik-educator and loves working with children. She also has one of the greatest theologically-enquiring minds that I have ever encountered. She keeps me on my toes and does not shy away from making comments or asking questions about sermons, bible-study material etc.

Matthew is our little miracle and we cannot thank God enough for him. He reminds us daily that, as his name suggests, God is with us. Not in a manner that suggests that God is more with us than anyone else, but in a way that reminds us that we are not always in charge or in control.

Of course there is another little one on the way. We know that he/she will enrich our lives just as much as Matthew has.

To my family: I love you.

Friday, May 12, 2006

You say you're Christian...

The New Mail and Guardian printed parts of the letter sent by the Iranian president to G.W. Bush.

Here's the link:

http://www.mg.co.za/articlePage.aspx?articleid=271484&area=/insight/insight__international/

I wonder how many prophetic voices spoke from the Christian perspective to old GW.

On the other hand, how does Iran justify its entry into the nuclear family if it forms part of the "return to religion" lobby?

Just thinking.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Hiding behind bushes

Yesterday a dear friend told me that my blogspot is too impersonal, in fact, he told me in the most diplomatic way that my blogspot was crap. So, this is the time for a new approach. No more sermons, only if I think it is a gem that I would like to share with the world.

His message made me think the whole day long about who I am and what I would like to share. My initial response was summed up in the following sentense which I wrote to him "My life seems to be protected by academia, so I keep my mind busy so as to keep the heart quiet.". As I wrote it, I realized that I am in trouble. It wasn't as if I was feeling depressed, as a matter of fact, I haven't felt this good in a long time, but this sentence just appeared as my fingers were punching away at the keyboard.

This response bugged me even more than my friend's challenge.

In my devotional time this morning, I read the last few verses of Psalm 23 and while chatting to my fellow-staffmembers, came to the following conclusions:

The valley of the shadow of death is a valley we all know. You have to walk through it at some point or another. As a minister, I am forced to travel this road along with people as they are faced with daily anxieties, stresses and worries. This is ok, I can handle that. But the question is, how do I walk through the valley? Do I allow other people to accompany me as I journey, or is the superman-image which is expected by congregation, society and peers so part of my identity that I do not allow myself to be vulnerable.

Perhaps, it is easier, while walking through the valley, to hide behind a couple of bushes - perhaps academia, perhaps busy-ness, perhaps through the professional distance which we are ancouraged to create (to protect ourselves?).

Hiding behind bushes does not take me out of the valley. It is denial - perhaps negotiated distraction.

It is time to get moving - Hiding is not progress.

Watch this space.

"The Lord is my Shepherd...

"...for You are with me..."

Thank you, friend.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Another challenge from Barth

“What causes conflict in the Church? We are told here that it arises because in the Church there emerge people with the best intentions and Christian zeal who no longer understand aright the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ in its unique redeeming power, who even fear and hate it and who extol and demand in its place or alongside it (as if anything could stand alongside it!) fulfiment of the Law as the condition for the salvation of man. This means tempting God and leading men astray and overthrowing their souls.” Barth

No sermon this week, but something else to think about. If you are wondering why Barth features so often in this blog, then here is the answer: I read a hang-of-a-lot of and by this guy. My thesis is on his ecclesiology and so, you can imagine where I spend my spare-time.

The more you read Barth, the more you appreciate his perspectives. I often wonder whether those who don't like him actually read anything written by him...(Certainly not you Dion, at least you read).

I am busy chewing on this, especially in the light of different opinions passionately raised and defended concerning the church's attitude towards homosexuality.

Blessings to all.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Attention!


Numbers 21:4-9
Eph. 2:1-10
John 3:14-21

I find the Numbers passage extremely hard to understand. Many explanations have been offered, but none of them have for me adequately justified this picture of God who sends snakes to bite people who grumble and complain, and then further gives them an opportunity to be healed, only if they do what He says – and look at the bronze snake.

This does not mean that, because we find this passage hard to comprehend, we have a sufficient reason to ignore it. The question that confronts me in this passage is this: What does God need to do in my life to get my attention? Please understand that I do not think that if I continuously fail to hear God calling my name that God would get so fed up, that God would send snakes to bite me and force me to look at the reality of God’s presence in my life. This question, a sobering one at that, the same one that confronted the Israelites of old, confronts us today. What does God have to do to get your attention, my attention, our attention?

Perhaps this is the first time that we think about this question totally unaware that God may have expressed an intention for a close relationship with us, but we simply failed to hear, or worse, passionately denied the possibility of God forming an intimate part of our existence. So, what has God done so far to get your attention?

1. God decided that we are worth it, before we could ever prove it.

“For God so loved the world…”. It doesn’t say “For God so loved the Christians…” or “For God so loved those who were obedient…” or “…those who give a lot towards ministry”. Put in your own words. If it did, we would be in serious trouble. Sadly, many Christian communities do add a footnote when proclaiming this word. “God is only interested in you if…”, “Only when you do x, will you witness God’s faithfulness to you.” You know what I mean and you can possibly site a few examples. If this were true, then the question that we are discussing would have to be rephrased to “What do you have to do to get God’s attention?”. This is not the Christian message. What is the Christian message? God has chosen that we are worth pursuing a relationship with. This word has been revealed through the incarnation and is the essence of the message proclaimed by Jesus and others. Does that get your attention, that God loves you –right where you are, who you are, even in the light of your history with God, others and yourself?

2. God acted on God’s love and has become our Saviour.

“…that He sent His only Son…”. Instead of sending snakes, He sent His Son. Very Good News indeed. Take note: “…not to condemn the world, but that the world, through Him might be saved”. We encounter Jesus daily, bumping into God who came to tell us that we are loved. The recurring response to God revealing Godself is often denial, rejection, sometimes even suggesting that what is revealed is blasphemy. The Pharisees and Sadducees were good people, but good people who responded to Jesus, suggesting that Jesus didn’t look like their picture of the Messiah. Those who screamed for the release of Barabbas were people like you and me, who would rather have the familiar than a person who constantly challenges perspectives. He still did not give up. Everyone contributed towards His death. Even those closest to Him did not stand up for His defence, but hid in the shadows. Testimony of His patience with us is in the empty tomb. Testimony of His faithfulness is in His appearance to the disciples, showing His hands, feet and side to Thomas. What must He do to get your attention?

3. God changes lives.

“…that they may not perish, but have eternal life.”. What is this changed life? It certainly is not a life without trouble. Neither is it a life of financial prosperity, offered to those who see themselves as ‘Friends of God’. Eternal life, a changed life, is a life that is lived with the knowledge and assurance that the creator of the universe is interested in you. Living with this assurance cannot leave a person being unchanged, unmoved, clueless. It is the knowledge that God is not interested in being my friend, my business-partner, my consultant, but that He is interested in being my Lord. His Lordship has all the other qualities as added benefits.

So, God has chosen to love, God has acted on that love and is presently working towards creating a full and meaningful life in each of us. Does God have your attention? Now, listen to what He has to say.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Overturning some tables


Exodus 20:1-17
1 Corinthians 1:18-25
John 2:13-22

I thought I was being clever. I gave up my second cup of coffee for Lent. This meant that I could have my first cup early in the morning to give me a kick-start to my day. On arriving at the office, I would skip my second cup and go straight to my third cup, fourth cup and perhaps even a fifth. I never even missed my second cup. It isn’t rare at all to find examples on how we are able to rationalise our commitment (or lack thereof) to God, neighbour or self. These three passages have forced me to rethink the level of my (and others’) commitment to this way of living, which is called the Christian journey.

1. Rethinking the 10 Commandments.

When last have you tried to name all 10 Commandments in order? Perhaps we don’t view them as that essential to our faith anymore and have conveniently forgotten them. I like Barrett Renfro’s comments on the 10 Commandments (Disciplines 2006). He reminds us that the 10 Commandments should not be read in a negative way – perceiving them to be a list of “what not to do”. These laws are meant in a positive manner, encouraging life to be filled with meaning. Actions against these laws seem to bring about destruction, not only in the offender’s life, but also in the lives of those whom this sin affects. If we reversed the 10 Commandments, it would lead us to be a very dysfunctional community. Read it like this:

1. You can have all the gods you need to secure your future.
2. You can make idols of anything that exists anywhere, and you can worship them as your gods.
3. You can curse God.
4. You can work seven days a week because economics is the meaning of life.
5. You cannot respect your parents or elders because they are old and know nothing about your life.
6. You can kill.
7. You can have sexual relations with anyone you please.
8. You can take as your own anything you want.
9. You can lie anytime you choose.
10. You can desire anything your neighbour has for your own.

Think about what the 10 Commandments have to say to: Those who killed a little girl last week, robbers, hi-jackers, Jacob Zuma, the South African Government in its approach to HIV/AIDS, those who take their office-pens, able-bodied persons parking in disabled parking-zones. It seems to speak to all of us to a greater-or-lesser degree.

Jesus overturned some tables in my life – the tables where I thought that I had it figured out and that nothing in the Bible could make me think about how I negotiate my own righteousness.

2. Rethinking God’s Wisdom.

Read the 1 Corinthians passage again. It places a focus on God’s wisdom and the role it plays in our lives. What do we measure as wisdom in this life? Is it the ability to predict events, to identify patterns that occur in our daily existence and so counter any problems that may present themselves before they actually realise? Is wisdom “thinking ahead”?

I find that life is a bit more complex than that. Life is spontaneous. The good and the bad occur in such a random order that it is impossible to gain any measure of human wisdom that will leave us totally unscathed by life’s happenings. The ability to be shocked by human behaviour, by tragedy, the ability to be surprised by joyful events, are all indications that we experience life, not as a predictable passing of consciousness, but as travellers on what is sometimes a very irrational-, illogical- and perhaps, a confusing- pilgrimage.

This puts a different perspective on how dependant we are on God. The Good News is that God’s wisdom is not confined to space, time or experience. But this leaves God in a place separated from our daily existence and unable to empathise. This is countered through the Incarnation as well as Pentecost – where God journeys with us, and is able to empathise and to encourage us in times when we need wisdom most.

Some more tables are overturned – the tables where I thought that I don’t need God and can do things on my own.

So we are continuously invited and reminded during this Lenten time, that faith carries a cost. It is the recognition that we are not perfect. It is the cost of turning away from sin and to return to Christ. Sometimes we need tables to be overturned, even when we thought that those tables were fulfilling a useful function to the Kingdom.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Rainbows in the sky

Genesis 9:8-17

1 Peter 3:18-22

Mark 1:9-15

It is sometimes a hair-raising experience to stop what you are doing
and to listen to what you say in the course of general conversation. I
was extremely surprised and ashamed to find how my conversations with
my son tend to include words of condition. My son, Matthew, would ask
for a sweet and I would respond with the words: “Only if you eat all
your food”. He would ask to jump on his baby trampoline and I would
respond with “Only when you have finished putting away all your other
toys.” Of course Matthew needs to learn that sweets come after a meal
and that personal tidiness is essential in the running of a household,
but as I reflected on these passages I could only but thank God for
not being as conditional is His conversation with me (us) as what I am
when in conversation with others. Let us look at a couple of things
that God says in these passages:

“This is my Beloved Son whom I love, listen to him”

Wouldn’t it be nice to hear these words spoken about you? Perhaps it
needs to be rephrased to mention “Daughters” as well. A word of
affirmation is always welcome. It tells you that there is someone
besides yourself that recognises you as a person. The Zulu greeting
“Sawubona” is exactly that – it means “I see you”. Can God ever say
that about you and me, that we are God’s beloved children? Peter makes
it known that Jesus didn’t live aimlessly, but that through Jesus we
are drawn into this kind of relationship with God. Can you remember
your baptism or confirmation? Can you remember the last time you took
part in a service celebrating the sacrament of Holy Communion? Did you
feel close to God then? These are all wonderful opportunities where
through symbolism we are reminded that even before we can impress God
or people around us, God had already acted displaying God’s love for
us.

“Repent and believe”

There is a great temptation in the Christian life to live under the
banner of either one of these commands. If we live under the shadow of
continuous repentance, we may loose out on the joys of life, which God
blesses us with. Yes, we need to recognize our sin and we need to turn
around from our evil ways, but the statement does not end with
“Repent”. There is the invitation to be convinced of forgiveness and
of healing. “Believe” shares the idea that we can be convinced of a
restored relationship with God. “Believe” without “Repent” is also a
common mistake in Christian walks. This is the place where we are so
convinced that we are right with God, that we do not need to repent
from anything. Get the balance right.

“I have set my rainbow in the clouds”

The Covenant that God shares with Noah and the rest of the survivors
is totally unconditional. It is not dependant upon human initiative,
or even human obedience! So, God does not say to Noah “I promise not
to destroy the earth if….”, but in the Covenant, the foundation is
laid for a free response of faith to this gracious word.

Whether this story happened as told in Genesis is up for debate, but
this picture helps me a lot (taken from The Interpreter’s Bible): The
Hebrew word for bow was always associated with the use of a weapon. It
was understood that lightning is God’s arrows shot from God’s bow.
When God is satisfied with human behaviour, God will lay His bow
aside. It may be interpreted that the rainbow is God’s bow laid aside.
It is a token, a sign of peace. It proclaims the message of God’s
willingness to be in a reconciled relationship with us. God does not
want war, nor does God want to punish or enter into the realm of
revenge. The message, even in this symbolism is clear: God takes the
first steps to love.

So I am challenged again. God loves my and makes that known. God
yearns for my life to be filled with righteousness and therefore I
have to repent. I have the assurance that God hears my prayers and
that God truly forgives and restores. The Covenant is not only in
place, it is functional.

Now I need to get back to my son and hope that I can show the same
amount of grace.</fontfamily>

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

The Transfiguration

Elijah and Moses met with Jesus on the mountaintop. Why Elijah and
Moses? Perhaps because in Moses we find the personification of Law
while in Elijah we find the prophets. This leads me to think: As we
travel on this Lenten path, what role does these two aspects of our
faith play in our spirituality?

Both of these are obviously important to Jesus, and must therefore be
considered in our faith.

Sometimes we tend to shape our spiritual journey around the law. In
Jesus' time the law was seen as something inspired by God. The Torah
was the measuring rod people used to assess their place before God and
with each other. The Law is just that: A measuring rod. It cannot
replace God. It cannot tell us exactly what it means to be in
relationship with God and with each other. Sometimes we are even
tempted to use the Bible as a law-book, focussing on all the "don't"'s,
trying to avoid those by all means possible. If we read the Bible, we
will find that the Bible contains more "do's" than "don't's". Like
someone said: "If we do all the do's, we will not have time to do the
don't's!". The law does not stand alone on the mountain-top. The law is
not worshipped and we must be careful not to build it a little hut
alongside the hut we build for God. If the law were all there is, then
Peter, James and John would have bumped into Moses alone - a ghost!.
The law without Jesus is a scary thing.

The same must be said about the prophets - or the bearers of the news
of God's offered grace. Grace alone can be worshipped either alongside
Jesus or even without Jesus. Grace without Jesus and without the law is
cheap. It creates an environment where "everything goes". Cheap grace
makes a mockery of salvation. It makes God's effort, initiative and
work worthless.

Let us put these things in perspective during Lent. There are areas of
our lives where we know we have not allowed Jesus to be Lord. The law
helps us to recognize and understand it through the moving of God's
Spirit. We have the assurance of God's work of grace through the voices
of the prophets. There is an opportunity for healing.

When these elements come together, something beautiful happens.
Transformation takes place! We cannot transfigure as Jesus did - He is
God after-all. We can be transformed.

May this Lenten-time be a time of refreshing, renewal, transformation,
new life. May the God of Law and the Prophets be at work in your life,
and mine.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Service

"In general terms, service is willing, working and doing in which a
person acts not according to his (sic) own purposes or plans but with a
view to the purpose of another person and according to the need,
disposition and direction of others. It is an act whose freedom is
limited and determined by the other's freedom, an act whose glory
becomes increasingly greater to the extent that the doer is not
concerned about his own glory, but about the glory of the other." -
Karl Barth

Can you imagine this form of service in a Government department? What
about your local shopping-store? What a great idea!

I am becoming more aware of the need for the local church to serve in
this way. Why? To please people?

No, we do not serve in order not to receive "customer-complaints". We
serve, because it is what Christ asks of His followers. This does not
mean that this form of service is unique to the Christian-faith.

Consider some other social-paradigms. "Community" is built on service,
cooperation, being less concerned with self and having a greater
awareness of the well-being of others.

Perhaps we can give-up self-centeredness during Lent and learn how to
serve.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

A little about me

Hi. My name is Wessel Bentley. I live in Pretoria, South Africa. I serve as a Methodist minister and as a part-time lecturer at John Wesley College - Kilnerton. My field of interest is Systematic Theology and I am currently reading towards a Ph.D. in Dogmatics and Ethics at the University of Pretoria.

Too many sentences in this last paragraph start with "I". More important than any of these things I mentioned is my family. My wife, Natalie, and our son, Matthew are special gifts from God whom I value very much.

This blog is my time-out. So, this will be the place where I share thoughts, sermons and general things concerning my growth as a person. Feel free to interrupt!

Being new to the blogging-scene, do not expect anything too significant very soon. I hope, that with time, what I have to share will prove valuable to you and I know that your comments will aid me in my personhood.

Until we meet again.
Wes