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Minister's Letter: October

  • 2 October 2013
  • andre.groenewald

Dearly beloved congregation,

September has been quite a busy month, with all the groups and organisations starting again after the summer holidays. It is also really exciting to welcome our new locum, Rev Dr Jonanda Groenewald. She has taken on her new role  with enthusiasm and commitment, which I appreciate. I am sure she is going to make a huge pastoral difference in the joint Parishes.

Weather-wise, September has not been too bad at all, though I am sure others will say it could have been better!

If there is one thing about Scotland that I really like, it is how everyone always discusses the weather. I like it because it gives me a wonderful opportunity to tell people about God who controls the weather.

I think in Biblical times it also provided biblical writers with opportunities to tell the people of Israel and their foreign neighbours about God’s Almighty power over all things including the weather.

It is when you read Job chapter 37:1-18 that you realise that humans have no control over God’s creation. 

The book of Job is part of the wisdom literature in our Bibles. In many ways it is a protest against “progress theology” - a belief that when you do good and obey God you will prosper, as is found mostly in the book of Proverbs. The book of Ecclesiastes is also written along the same lines as Job, saying that bad things happen to all people, those who obey God and those who don’t. So all you need to do is to trust God and accept His will.

Then Job replied to the LORD: “I know that you can do all things; no plan of yours can be thwarted. You asked, ‘Who is this that obscures my counsel without knowledge?’ Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know. “You said, ‘Listen now, and I will speak; I will question you, and you shall answer me.’ My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you. Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.”
Job 42:1-6

You will not find a more God-fearing man than Job in the whole Bible. He did everything according to the book when it came to his faith and trust in God. Even after he lost everything, his family and all material goods, he still held on to God. Even when his friends speculated over God, Job simply remained quiet. Job knew that his faith was being tested and he relied fully on God, not on the wisdom of his friends.

“Listen to this, Job; stop and consider God’s wonders. Do you know how God controls the clouds and makes his lightning flash? Do you know how the clouds hang poised, those wonders of him who is perfect in knowledge?
Job 37:14-16

At the end of the book, God answers Job “out of a storm” confirming that He is in control. Job replies saying that he acknowledges the Almighty power of God over all things. He has come to the conclusion that God knows better and that He can be trusted.

Maybe we also must trust God and use every opportunity we get to speak about God and proclaim to the world, as we do on “Back to Church Sunday”, that He is in control. And when we struggle through life and cannot understand why bad things happen to us, then we must hold the hand of God even tighter, just as Job did. Maybe then, we too must wait for God and just listen as He speaks to us in all sorts of ways, through people and events.

So whatever the weather man says, God is in control. Whatever the weather, God can be trusted at, and in, all times. He knows what we need and He will provide in His own time.

May we all be thankful for everything we receive from God! May we show it as we celebrate Harvest Thanksgiving on the 13th of October 2013.

All my best wishes,
André

Minister's Letter: September

  • 30 August 2013
  • andre.groenewald

We had an absolutely wonderful holiday in South Africa during July and a bit of August. We had quite a busy program visiting and reuniting with friends and family far and wide. We spent time in Johannesburg, in Pretoria, and went on safari in the wild Bushveld near Bella Bella. We flew to George in the Eastern Cape to be with Nanda’s godmother and her family. Then on our return from George we flew directly to Durban where we spent a  week with my mother  at a beach resort in Umhlanga.  The boys loved the swimming pool and although it was winter in South Africa it was still 22C  almost every day.                                                                                                                                                                        

On our return from the resort, I had the opportunity to preach at my old congregation who were celebrating 80 years of witness. It was really wonderful to see my old flock and how the “bairns” that I baptised, have grown - some even taller than me now! We travelled to the Western Transvaal, where my family absolutely spoiled us and finally, on the last week, we celebrated my father in law’s 70th birthday in a game reserve. It was magic and we all had a fabulous week before returning home to Scotland.

I must say it was wonderful to return to our own house. The boys have been discovering and appreciating all their toys again as if they were new!  Work has quickly resumed and I am starting to find my way again through the parishes, visiting, counselling and teaching. But it is also the time to think about the year ahead and my hopes for the Parish.

After I read Isaiah chapter 43:1-3a at a recent thanksgiving service, it dawned upon me what God is saying to us living here in Scotland. The passage was actually given to the people of Israel as a prophecy of hope for their future.

At that point in time, the people of Israel were finding themselves in bother. They were exiles in a foreign country because they had chosen not to listen to God. The Lord God was merciful but full of justice, eventually allowing the Babylonians to break down the holy city of Jerusalem and take the Israelites to Babylon, today’s Iraq.

Once in exile, they realised what they had done to God, felt sorry, and confessed their sins. So, in chapter 43, Isaiah tells them to have renewed hope. God had called them by their names -  meaning He knew them personally;  He would be with them whatever befell them on their journey home to their own country; He listened to their prayers and would come to their rescue.

God also rescues us. God sees that we are all condemned and exiled sinners and without His help will never see His kingdom. So He saved us all through the life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ. Everyone who has faith will indeed experience the rescue operation of God in their lives.

And maybe this is what we need to hope for in this new session; for God to rescue us in all those moments we fall into sin; when we feel anxious and alone; when we are ill; and when life just gets too much. We need God to rescue us daily through His Holy Spirit when we lose focus and start worshipping the “other gods” of modern living. As a congregation, we need God’s rescue when we worship an institution, traditions and culture more than we worship Him as the Almighty God.

So my hope is that everyone in this Parish will experience the mighty and loving hand of God in the coming session just like Israel did a long time ago.

All my blessings,
André

Minister's Summer Letter 2013

  • 28 June 2013
  • andre.groenewald

"Hullo again”, in the words of the Reverend I M Jolly.

I cannot help but laugh every time I think of Rikki Fulton and his portrayal of a reverend that can be so typical of some minsters. A good burst of laughter is such a great stress reliever!

There are many times in my day where I cannot help but laugh either at myself or because of the things that     people tell me about life and things that have happened. I attended a conference recently which was quite serious but then someone made a remark that really relieved the tension in the whole room when everyone just started laughing.  He said that when he walks into some church buildings, he loses his will to live!

I think we can do with more laughter around without seeming shallow or ignoring reality. There is indeed “a time to laugh and a time to weep” according to Ecclesiastes 3:1-8

This text is all about life and God’s control of time. The function of this section is to call us to a view of God’s sovereignty which both reassures and yet sobers the reader. It reassures because of God’s control; yet it sobers because God’s control remains mysterious. There is     purposefulness in life because of God’s oversight of its seasons. Time means here an ‘occasion’ or ‘season’; and an activity could be translated ‘purpose’ and pinpoints what one wishes to do.

Life is composed of joy and sorrow; building and destroying; and living and dying. Each comes at the    proper time. We are in God’s hands. It is only when death comes knocking on our doors that we realize how mortal and finite we are. It is then that we have to confess that God is the creator of heaven, earth and time. It is only He who will decide when our final hour comes.

But God is also a God of mercy and love. He knew that human beings would never find happiness and fulfillment in life without His help and guidance. Through Jesus Christ He made sure that everyone who believes in Him will not die but have eternal life with him forever and  ever.

There is indeed a time to enjoy life; to value time with family; and appreciate the summer. We must make the most of every moment so that when the hard times do appear, we can face them without sorrow, bitterness or guilt.

So when we cry, may we use all our vocal cords to express our sorrow and sense of loss, and when we laugh, may we do it with everyone around us!

All my blessings and a Blessèd summer,
André

2 May 2013

  • 2 May 2013
  • andre.groenewald

It is wonderful to see all the daffodils and signs that summer is approaching. For a while I wondered if spring was ever going to come! So often in our lives, especially when we are struggling, it seems as if there is no hope for a better day. But we just have to look outside our windows and see the prospects of summer and be filled with hope. God is always giving us hope, not only through his creation but also in the smiles of a stranger, the gentle word of a friend and the company of dear people and family members.

We all need friends. We all need family members around us. Sometimes we do not have blood relations helping and  supporting us, but brothers and sisters in faith, walking the extra distance with us. Nanda, Henro, Nehan and I can  surely confirm the truth of this. Without blood relations, we are surrounded by brothers and sisters in faith, who love us and whom we love. This is not something new. It has been happening since the time of Jesus’ journey on earth.

For example, take Tabitha (or, Dorcas) from Joppa, in Acts 9:36-43. She was a follower of Jesus Christ, always doing good and helping the poor. She made a huge impact on the lives of all the people around her, but tragically she became ill and  died. When her brothers and sisters in faith heard that the apostle Peter was in Lydda, a town not far from Joppa, they sent him a message urging him to come at once, as Jewish custom dictated that dead bodies needed to be buried before sundown.

Once Peter arrived, he went to the upper room of her house. Her fellow sisters in Christ showed him all the good work she had done while she was alive. Peter sent out the women, knelt down and prayed. After he had prayed, he said, “Tabitha arise.” At these words her eyes opened, her life returned as if she had awakened from sleep. Peter  extended his hand to her and helped her up before he “presented her alive” to all those who knew that she had been dead.

The result of this miracle was that “many believed in the Lord” (v. 42).

 

Tabitha loved her brothers and sisters in faith and they responded to her love.  I think Peter was persuaded by this love. He had a few issues with regard to ritual cleanliness, but despite these issues and personal reservations, he acted in love and broke with the Jewish custom of coming so close to a dead body. Afterwards, he even stayed with a “tanner” named Simon in Joppa. A tanner was regarded by Jews as “unclean” and not allowed to come near the temple. Everyone who touched him or stayed with him was also regarded as “unclean”. But it seems as if the episode with Tabitha made such an impression on Peter that it changed completely all the personal reservations he had.

Maybe this is the powerful lesson of the story - namely the impact of love between brothers and sisters in faith, a love that is rooted in God’s decision to give us his only Son to redeem us from sin, death and hell.

Can we say the same of our congregations, of each other, of our villages? Are we brothers and sisters in faith who help each other, take care of one another and walk the extra mile for each other?

In many respects I think as the linked congregations we meet this criteria.  We care for other people in our communities, by our visiting people who are ill and alone; by having worship services at Stewart Court and Dickson Court. We are also starting a holiday club for both congregations, which I am really excited about.

I am sure there is nothing more powerful than love. We   believe, as it is written in Romans chapter 8, that nothing can ever divide us from the love of God. We have received this love, and whenever we share it, it becomes a powerful vehicle of change in our own lives and in the lives of others. All we need to do is to love unconditionally.

I would like to close with this story:

There is an old Chinese tale about a woman whose only son died. In her grief, she went to the holy man and said, “What prayers, what magical incantations do you have to bring my son back to life?”

Instead of sending her away or reasoning with her, he said to her, “Fetch me a mustard seed from a home that has  never known sorrow. We will use it to drive the sorrow out of your life.”

The woman went off at once in search of that magical mustard seed.

She came first to a beautiful mansion, knocked at the door, and said, “I am looking for a home that has never known sorrow. Is this such a place? It is very important to me.” They told her, “You’ve certainly come to the wrong place,” and began to describe all the tragic things that recently had befallen them.

The woman said to herself, “Who is better able to help these poor, unfortunate people than I, who have had misfortune of my own?” She stayed to comfort them, then went on in search of a home that had never known sorrow. But     wherever she turned, in hovels and in other places, she found one tale after another of sadness and misfortune.

She became so involved in ministering to other people’s grief that ultimately she forgot about her quest for the  magical mustard seed, never realizing that it had, in fact, driven the sorrow out of her life.

We can do the same – making a difference  every moment of every day with the love we have received from our God, who saved us from the agony of sin, death and hell!          

All my love,
André

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