From Gavin’s desk 06/12/2020

Readings: Isaiah 40: 1-11, Psalm 85: 1-2, 8-13, 2 Peter 3: 8-15a, Mark 1: 1-8

Friends don’t let friends drive drunk. That is an incredibly appropriate term for this time of year where alcohol seems to flow easier and people seem to think less. Friends do everything they can to help build friends up. Friends protect friends from their folly and friends support friends through the difficult times.

Friends also don’t let friends guess. In order to grow in friendship, friends need to communicate openly and honestly about what they think they need. If one person is making another person guess what they want, then that is an unbalanced friendship. If you know that I care about you, why would you make me guess. When you make me guess, and even worse; use it as a test of my affection, then you are setting me up for failure. Friends don’t set friends up for failure. Friends make it as easy as possible to be friends with friends.

John the Baptist didn’t make the people of God guess what God had been asking him to tell the people. John simply passed God’s word on to God’s people. God knew what they needed, and God told them what they needed. God never made John guess and John never made God’s people guess. God never expected that we would be able to guess, God never had a plan A in case we guessed right and a plan B in case we didn’t. God only had a plan A that had been set in motion before time was created and Plan A was that they would need us to tell them how to love because chances are we would make the wrong choice. God never makes us guess because it is impossible that we can read God’s mind, it is impossible we can know God so well as to assume how He would need to be loved and how He would love.

God has made relationship with Him as easy as possible. So easy in fact, that we are in relationship with Him before we even know that He exists. Our spirits always know God exists, but it is our intellect that tries to justify that He doesn’t or that He exists only within the limits of our understanding. John speaks so clearly when he says that he baptises with water, but Christ is coming, and He will baptise with the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit washes over us and convicts our spirits that we are loved by the One who loves us perfectly. We are convicted that we have been given the most incredible invitation by the perfect Host and that invite is into His glorious presence. He doesn’t ask that we bring wine or meat or salad; He asks simply that we arrive. He has set everything before us and there is nothing we need to bring. We only need to respond and arrive. Come into the presence of the Holy One, the Beautiful One, the One who is Love. I am encouraging you to come, because friends show friends where to find the good stuff.

Gavin

From Gavin’s desk 29/11/2020

Readings: Isaiah 64: 1-9, Psalm 80: 1-7, 17-19, 1 Corinthians 1: 3-9, Mark 13: 24-37

Anticipation. Waiting. Longing. Hoping. Maybe. Maybe it could be different. Maybe it could be better. Maybe.

What is it we anticipate? What is it we are waiting for, what is it we are longing for, what is it we are hoping for? What is it that we want to be different? If it had to be different but in a very different way to the way we expected it to be, would it be better if it stayed the same? Do we only want things to be different if we are in control of the change so that it happens in exactly the way we would like it to happen?

Advent is a time of anticipation, a time of waiting, a time of longing, a time of “maybe it could be different”. We anticipate the presence of Christ with us even as we celebrate the fact that God is with us. We anticipate the possibility of a different future because we know how the first coming of Christ has made our present different. We know that things can be different because as God was faithful in the past, so God is faithful in the present and God will be faithful in the future.

So many who were waiting for the Messiah to come missed it when He came the first time because it happened in a way that they did not expect. So many who longed to be freed from their chains did not want to be set free from the chains they were being set free from. So many could not believe that God had worked because God did not work in the way they said He needs to work. They expected that God would fit into their expectations, without even considering that their expectations  would be detrimental to the things God was doing and if not detrimental, they would at least severely limit the work God had come to do.

Our expectation is normally for a solution that will solve only one problem (our problem), even while it creates another problem that is more than likely a whole lot harder to overcome than our current one. They missed God because they couldn’t see how God was redeeming every problem perfectly at the same time. Our expectation may be for a vague solution to a complex problem and while God is faithful to that prayer, we may miss it because God is working at it, one specific answer after another.

Jesus reminds His disciples that He is faithful and even as they will be asking Him to return and restore the Kingdom, they need to continue being faithful to what He has called them to. When they do that, then they will see Him at work. Even while we are waiting for Christ to come again, we are urged to be faithful to our call. Our prayer is that things will be different and our faith is in the only One who can make it different and our hands are set to the work that the One who can make a difference has put them to. That is the difference that will be made. While we do what we are doing, Christ is working alongside us and the difference that is made is a difference that is beyond what we could ever anticipate or hope for.

Gavin

From Gavin’s desk 22/11/2020

Readings: Ezekiel 34: 1-2, 11-24, Psalm 95: 1-7a, Ephesians 1: 15-23, Matthew 25: 31-46

Does a leaf know what the trunk does or what the tap root does? Does a leaf know what the purpose of the bark is? Does a leaf know anything except that it exists and alongside all of the other leaves, it makes the food needed for the tree to grow? Does a leaf know what photosynthesis means or does it just collect the sunlight as the required source of energy it needs to convert the water that comes up the roots through the trunk and branches and the carbon dioxide it gets from the air into the sugar required by the tree to grow. Does the leaf know that as a part of the whole, it is a benefit to all of creation as it’s waste product is the oxygen that all of life needs to exist. Even though asking this question may be giving the leaf abilities it does not possess (anthropomorphism), it still begs how much the leaf knows about the function of the whole?

How much do we know about the function of the whole?  How much do we understand about our King? How fully do we grasp the purpose and intention of our Creator? A bunch of small leaves may think that a large leaf is their king, but even a large leaf will not have any idea of how large the whole is and even though it may be vital, it is also replaceable. We are all simply the leaves that form a part of the tree that is the Kingdom of God. Leaves will come and go, and they will make a difference while they are here, but the Tree of life will stand eternal as the one who planted it is eternal.

When we try and understand Christ as King in terms of earthly monarchs, we fall far short of recognising the significance of Christ’s reign. A human monarch is nothing more or less than a human subject. They may have more authority, but that authority is not divine, that authority is given by those who are subject to that authority. The number of revolutions that have disposed those in authority testify to that fact.  God’s authority is not given by us or withheld by us. God is King because no other can reign as God reigns. God cannot be revolted against and God cannot be taken from power. Many have tried throughout history, but no-one has the power to reign in God’s place. We may be leaves on the tree and we may help provide whatever the Kingdom needs by living within the Kingdom out of love (not obligation), but the story was never about the leaf, it is about the tree and it is about the One who planted the tree. I wonder how often we want to make the gospel about the leaves. In the story of Christ making the Kingdom of God available to all people, Christ is the Subject, and we are the object. The story is about Jesus; Jesus the King. We are the recipients of the gifts of life and whether we receive it or not, the tree will continue to live and other leaves will add to the whole.

Gavin

From Gavin’s desk 15/11/2020

Readings: Judges 4: 1-24, Psalm 123

There are so many portraits placed before us of the ideal man and the ideal woman, but as we age, we become increasingly aware that no such thing exists. There is no ideal man or ideal woman. There is no perfect fit or match made in heaven. There is only us, with our strengths and our weaknesses and with God being our helper, we will go on the incredible journey of learning how to love each other and care for each other better. Life is not about getting to the winning line, but about enjoying the journey. It is about celebrating those moments in which we get it right and appreciating those moments in which we get it wrong because we have just learned something about ourselves and about the way we relate and we have learned that the needs that others have are not the needs we think they have. How often do we place heavy burdens on the shoulders of others because we assume they have the ability to guess what our hearts long for? I think relating to each other is hard enough without making it harder by believing that a good guess is the same thing as a real love.

I think one of our biggest obstacles in relating to others is the way in which we place expectations on ourselves or others that are not the expectations others have of us or of themselves. This is especially true when we treat our expectations as fundamental truths. Society doesn’t help in this area much either because all of us together as society also create stereotypes of the ideal man and the ideal woman and then we place those expectations on all of its men and on all of its women without considering the individual.

Had Deborah been around today, I fear that in many of our communities, the story of God redeeming His people would have turned out very differently. If Deborah had been silenced as a prophet because the expectation was that God could not speak through a woman; she would have been silent because we would have told her that she was not equipped to talk about God and Israel would never have turned back to God. If her husband had called her to order as so many societies would expect him to do today, Israel would have become a vassal state to the Canaanites. If she was not heeded as a judge, the community would have lain in ruins as the disputes she administered over would never have been resolved and the community would have imploded as internal clashes would have brought down the nation from within, in which case they would not have needed her as a judge to help them bear witness to God’s deliverance from their oppressors.

I think that as a global community, we have a very far way to go in terms of not deciding for God who God can use to make His love known and who God can use to redeem and deliver His people. May God help us to let God use who God knows He needs to use to bring about Heaven on earth. May God help us let go of social expectations of the role of women and of men as we allow individuals to be who God created them to be and as we allow them to serve in the ways in which God set them aside to serve.

Gavin

From Gavin’s desk 08/11/2020

Readings: Joshua 24: 1-3a, 14-27, Psalm 78: 1-7

Due to my great inability to plant things and get them to grow, I have to work really hard to keep those things that are alive in the garden to stay alive. It does not help, I guess, that all of our soil, including our pots, are full of those fat white worms that decimate the roots of the flowers and the herbs and the vegetables that I am trying to keep going. I have heard that they are called Grubs and I spend a lot of time in our pots digging them out, but I have not been able to get rid of them. Not even the miracle cure you get at the nursery that is meant to eradicate them from the life source of my pepper stalks works. It is apparent that they prefer the taste of the roots to the taste of those little bits of whatever is in that grub removal remedy. I am starting to think that the grub poison acts more like a motivation to multiply and decimate the roots than a means of bringing an end to their dynasty.

I was speaking to our neighbour the other day and she was also complaining that the soil in all of her flower beds and pot plants is teeming with these grubs and that she has found that she can get rid of them from her pots by immersing her pots in water. Apparently, the grubs float to the surface and she is able to scoop them out and dispose of them appropriately (she doesn’t throw them over the wall). I have subsequently tried this, but have only managed to drown the plant and have not found any grubs to scoop off of the top of the water.

Joshua tells the Israelites that they need to make a choice; they either need to follow God and get rid of their other gods or they need to follow their other gods and not pretend to follow God. Joshua is aware of how difficult it is to follow God and be faithful to God when we so easy revert to the gods of our own invention because the gods of our own invention are easier to follow than God. The gods of our own invention do not challenge our sin and do not teach us to love perfectly and do not drive us to end injustice and inequality. Our spirts long for union with God, with Christ, but our hearts struggle to let go of our sin.

When we make the choice to follow Christ, when we are convicted of our sin and our need for Christ, we so often try really hard to root out the sin from our lives. Time and time again we fail to do this and even though we have been born again to new life in Christ, we seem to continue living our old ones. I would like to suggest that this is true because we are not able to root out the sin in our lives. While we have not been able to defeat sin and death, Christ has defeated sin and death and so even though we are unable to root out our sin, Christ is able to; even though we cannot change our sinful nature and change our destructive attitudes, Christ can.

I don’t know if immersing a pot plant in water works for grubs yet; but immersing ourselves in Christ is the only thing that will take us on to perfect love. When we are immersed in the one who has defeated sin, when we are immersed in the Breath of Life, the Holy Spirit will bring all of our sin to the surface as we allow God to root out all of our sin and one attitude at a time, one prejudice at a time, one habit at a time, we are being drawn on to perfection. When we remain immersed in Christ, He will help us dispose of the grubs that eat away at the roots of our hearts and together we can dispose of them appropriately.

Even though I may have drowned my plant by leaving it immersed in water for a few days (I didn’t ask how long it should stay in the water or how long it takes the grubs to float to the surface and so I will be sure to ask in our next conversation), I do know that we cannot live lives worth living; Holy and live-giving lives, unless we remain immersed in Christ.

Gavin

From Gavin’s desk 01/11/2020

Readings: Joshua 3: 1 – 4: 18, Psalm 107: 1-9, 33-38


When we arrived in Worcester in December of 2005, we went for a drive to the surrounding areas and on the road to Brandvlei/ Rawsonville, we crossed over a relatively long bridge that runs over the Breede River. We stopped after the bridge and walked back over it to look at the river because we couldn’t see it from the car and a few meters below the bridge was this tiny little stream a few centimetres wide flowing under the incredibly wide bridge and hidden between the reeds. In our estimation, it was not so broad after all.
Six months later, after some good rainfall and snow on the mountains around us, we drove over the same bridge and this time the river was at least 1 ½ km’s wide and was lapping over the bridge as it flowed in strength. In my few years there, I buried a number of people who had drowned in that very same river, just a little down river of that bridge (there is a picnic spot). That little stream could become a massive body of water that was deep enough to completely hide the form of grown ups in full stretch as they succumbed to the slow but relentless flow of the water. We had been fooled by what we thought was the timidity of nature, but we learned a valuable lesson that winter and that was that nature is not timid. Neither is the God of nature timid.
We can block damns, we can harness energy, we can push back seas and we can do amazing things as we attempt mastery over nature, but in the flash of an eye; nature is able to take back what we think we have won. I sometimes think nature gives us space to expand our wings, but we can see that when we become too arrogant and push too far, nature resets its boundaries (you shall not pass). We can do everything we want to stop a river flowing, but when the river is in flood, nothing we can do can stop it.
I was listening to an excellent talk by a good friend (Ralph Travers) this week about some of the work he had been involved in as a civil engineer and one of the sites was a railway bridge on the Umfolozi River in KZN when Cyclone Demoina passed through the area in January of 1984. The water from the 700mm rainfall flowing down the river at the rate of 16 million litres per second (16 000 cubic metres per second) moving at a speed of 2,6 metres per second, churned the soil of the river bed to a depth of 18m and carried in its path the 10 spans of the bridge, each weighing 160 tons; carrying some a number of them downriver and burying the rest. As Ralph had said: “The forces of God’s nature can be colossal and way beyond man’s ability to control”
It is all beyond man’s ability to control, but God is no man. The Jordon river was in heavy flood when the priests stepped into the river and instantly, the river flowing downstream was cut off and damned up as the Israelites crossed over on dry land and they even had time to go back, get stones and have a stone laying church service as a reminder of what God had just done…
God may be gentle, but God is not timid. There are many rivers that seem too wide, too deep and too turbulent for us to cross, and they probably are, which is why we need the God who can stop the waters as we pass through those rivers on dry ground under His protection and guidance. Keep your eyes fixed on Him and follow where He leads you.

Gavin

From Gavin’s desk 25/10/2020

Readings: Deuteronomy 34: 1-12, Psalm 90: 1-6, 13-17

The bushes offered us up a gift the other day. It was an avocado pear that had fallen from the tree in the wind and had managed to hide in the undergrowth long enough for it to dry up into a hardened shell and loose pip.

The tree had soaked up the nourishment it needed from the soil through the roots, pumped it in the blossom which grew into the avocado. After a few months, the avocado had grown large and green and good. It was so green that it managed to hide amidst the leaves of the tree and it managed to evade being found by hiding in the bush once it had fallen from its womb. By the time the bush offered it up to be found, it had once again given up its moisture to the air, which would turn into rain at another time and place and fall to the ground, giving new life to the next season of growth. It had also given up its flesh to be dust which would become the ground upon which the rain would fall and the tree would draw its nourishment from in order to give life to the next blossom as it turns into a fruit.

The skin is hard and the pip is inside, but anything that could nourish the body is long gone. Under the protective layer of hardened skin, the pip still holds within it the potential to become a whole new tree and it is an incredible testimony to the creative nature of God that even in this state; it is never too late to do something different.

The story of this avocado’s season didn’t have to be written in this way though. If we had picked it before it had fallen off of the tree; it could have nourished the body instead of giving itself over to the elements. Within that hardened empty shell lay a story of missed opportunity; a moment to make a difference in the body that it failed to make.

I am sure that most of us will have many stories of missed opportunities, of failed attempts and we give God thanks that we are far more durable and resilient than an avocado. We give God thanks that we hold far more potential and much more opportunities for fulfilled potential than an avocado. Moses had all that he could and he had missed many opportunities to glorify God, but for all of that he was obedient as best he knew how. His flesh did not return to the earth empty and unfulfilled. When it was time, he passed on the mantle to Joshua who would build on what Moses offered and settle the people of God into the Promised Land. Moses’ story would continue to be written and would continue to add value to the body even up until this day. As often as his life brings people closer to God is as often as his story continues to be written.

Your story has yet to end. It is still being written and what may have been a failed attempt or a missed opportunity could still be written over with opportunities taken and differences made. The end is not yet and God will continue to use you for as long as you offer your heart and hands to Him.

Gavin

From Gavin’s desk 18/10/2020

Readings: Exodus 33: 7-23, Psalm 99, Romans 8: 18-27

The people of legend, the people of myth, and the people of stories told for generations of how we came to be here are all people who faced our obstacles and experienced the same emotions in those obstacles. These stories are remembered, with some embellishment, I’m sure, to show how they overcame their emotions, how they overcame their challenges; how they overcame the things that we believe prevent us from moving forward. I have no doubt that we sometimes give them superhuman abilities or pin qualities to them that they didn’t have. We create them to be the people we would hope they would be; people without frailty or people who only had frailties. Those who forged new ground in places unknown are often thought of as pioneering and loyal and determined. I wonder, though how easy it would be to live with them as they pursued a different world. How easily would we get along with Mother Theresa, how comfortable would we be with Galileo, how warmly would we be able to embrace Luther or Calvin or Wesley? We see their accomplishments and we subtract their humanity from it, we subtract their failings from it, we subtract their imperfections from it.

I wonder how often we do this with Biblical characters? Today’s reading is such a beautiful reading that highlights how even Moses; the one who would represent the Law, the leader of the nation of Israel as they came to fulfil the promise of becoming a nation settled in a land given to them by divine promise, was filled with insecurities. Whatever we think about Moses, we do witness the love Moses has for God, the solid faith he has in God and we get to witness the love that God has for him and the kindness that God shows Him. Moses is by no means perfect or the ideal leader or anything that would raise him above the rest, but in his insecurities God is present and through his insecurities, God can work and all because Moses loves God deeply.

This is also an incredible story of Moses asking for something he cannot deal with because Moses is not as fully aware of everything as he is given credit for. God has to protect Moses from his request; God has to protect Moses from God’s glory. Understanding God is not something we are going to be able to do. We cannot even stare into the sun without being blinded, how much more when you stare into the light and the glory that called the sun into creation; that called the universe into existence. God in His kindness, allows Moses to see as much of God as he is able to handle, God in His mercy, reveals Himself to us in as much as we are able to handle and in as much as we need to know that He is present. Don’t ever be afraid to ask God to reveal Himself to you. Don’t ever be afraid to ask God to reveal His will to you. God will do it because God is good and whatever God does reveal will never be too much for us to handle.

Gavin

From Gavin’s desk 11/10/2020

Readings: Exodus 20: 22-26, 32:1 – 33:6, Psalm 106: 1-6, 19-23

Some stories require blood, sweat and tears to be born. These are stories where you have to hunt for every word as you try and complete a sentence, as you try and complete a paragraph, as you try and complete a page. Other stories write themselves. These are the stories that begin with a spark of inspiration and as the words give expression to that inspiration, the inspiration grows and blooms and carries you along in its stream and when you awake from the dream; the story is written and the reader is moved.

I think that one of the most inspired stories to write with our lives is a story that is not a story that is told in isolation, but a story that is a part of an ongoing story; a story that was started many generations before us and will continue many generations after us. These stories can free us as they inspire us to greater things and as they offer us purpose. When we have to work out why we are here from scratch and what we are meant to be doing while we are here, it can be quite daunting and difficult, but when we know that we are meant to add value to the world and add to the positive legacy that was left by those who came before us, it is easier to find our own road and still leave clear the path for those coming after us to find it for themselves.

When we write our own story within the greater story, our introduction is connected to someone else’s main body and still someone else’s conclusion. Our main body and conclusion is connected to the introduction, main body and conclusion of the stories that others are writing for themselves, even as they are written within the greater story. The beginning of my story is a part of the story that my mother and my father wrote, the conclusion of the stories that my grandparents wrote and it is a story that runs concurrently to the stories my brother and sister are writing.

When God offers Moses to start a new people from his loins; Moses is humble enough to realise that his story is only a small part of a story of becoming that started many generations before him and it is a story that will continue for many generations after him. He is aware that he is not the central character or the one who will determine the fate of the universe. He is humble enough to know that what God has started, God will bring to completion and its completion will bring glory to the author, to the central character, to the one who will determine the fate of the universe.

Gavin

From Gavin’s desk 04/10/2020

Readings: Exodus 20:1-21, Psalm 19, Mark 12: 28-34

Jesus completed the law. Jesus finished the law. Jesus fulfilled the law. Never did Jesus discard the law. Never did Jesus delete the Law. Never did Jesus nullify the Law. Jesus filled in those pieces that were necessary for us to understand the Law completely. Jesus finished the sentence that Jews should have understood. He finished it so that the Jews and the Gentiles would understand. Jesus fulfilled the promise made by God to reveal Himself to them. When He revealed Himself in the Law system, they thought it was about them rather than an explanation of who God is. Jesus lived the Law out in a way that the people would be able to say “now I see God – there He is!” We see God in the way in which Jesus fulfilled the Law.

If I complete a puzzle, it does not mean that I throw the puzzle away. Completing a puzzle means I fill in the missing pieces so that the whole picture becomes visible; so that everyone will see exactly what the full picture looks like and can appreciate the work of the artist. Completing the puzzle doesn’t mean that the picture was not there before. It was always there, we simply couldn’t see it fully. If I finish a sentence; it does not mean that I delete the sentence. Finishing a sentence means that I fill in those parts of the sentence that may or may not have been assumed; but are necessary for everyone to understand exactly what was being said. I finish a sentence for the sake of those who do not understand what I was saying, as well as for those who did understand what I was saying. When I fulfil a promise, it does not mean I nullify the promise. Fulfilling a promise means that I do what I said I would do, which also happens to make me righteous because being righteous means that I fulfil my part of our agreement. I fulfil a promise because of who I am, not because of who you are.

We fix things that are broken. We replace things that cannot be fixed. We repair things that are in disarray. We restore that which was lost. We reconcile that which was separated. We correct that which is incorrect. Jesus didn’t fix the Law because the Law was never broken. The Law of God is perfect. Jesus didn’t replace the Law because the Law did not need replacing and there was nothing that could replace it. Jesus didn’t repair the Law because the Law was never in disarray; the Law of God is pure. Jesus didn’t restore the Law because the Law was never lost. As God is present all of the time, so is His Word present all of the time. The darkness cannot put out the light and the Law of God is radiant. Jesus didn’t reconcile the Law because the Law was never separate from God. We were separated from God because we were lawless and so Christ, in fulfilling the law reconciled us to God. Jesus didn’t correct the Law because the Law was never wrong. The Law of God is right and pure and sure.

Jesus lived the Law, Jesus summarised the Law and Jesus enabled us to live the Law. “The most important one is this: Hear O people, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: Love your neighbour as yourself”

Gavin