Soul gardeners

Life is messy and not a 5 point plan! Jesus gave us wonderful metaphors to navigate the mess. We are an African couple committed to the Gardener. Our passion is tilling and working the soil of our lives and gardening with a community. We live in South Africa and we are praying for God's direction in our lives.


More than numbers

I can't hold it in anymore. Last week we had a great worship time at Pierced the community I am a part of. The first question we face from Woodmen (the megachurch that supports us) after a weekend is : HOW MANY PEOPLE WERE THERE?
Here is a typical conversation:
Person from Pierced (PP): Wow we had a great service this weekend!
Person from Woodmen (PW): How many people were there?
PP: God worked in our midst and some people were stretched in their spiritual journey
PW: How many people were there?

Like a broken record, broken record, broken record. Big is better - if we have more numbers then God must be there! NOT!

In Run with the horses , Eugene Peterson wrote the following:
"Pling the Elder once said that the Romans, when they couldn't make a building beautiful, made it big. The practice continues to be popular: if we can't do it well, we make it larger. We add dollars to our income, rooms to our houses, activities to our schedules, appointments to our calendars. And the quality of life diminishes with each addition."

Over Christmas we had 80 people at Pierced and the good people at Woodmen decided to report 180 in the attendance spreadsheet! Why?


The last few days have been wonderful. We had fun skiing and snowboarding. Well actually that's a lie - our friends fell their brains out :) Lollie and I tried to teach them skiing, we were on our snowboards - and it really didn't work. Same as in spiritual manners - if you don't lead by example then you mess people up. Hermann and Adel are determined to ski, and we will go back on Friday - they will take lessons this time (from a qualified instructor).

My soapbox for the week : We looked after a bunch of 4 year olds on Christmas eave. One of our questions to them was "What do we celebrate tomorrow?". In a super synchronized chant they all shouted: "It's the birth of baby Jesus". In one sense that is true in another it is not. Yes, Jesus broke into humanity but He always existed and therefore it was not a birth in the sense of - He did not exist and now he does. Jesus is in Genesis 1. Anyway - part of my thoughts for the week.

On a lighter note - I got a Mp3 player for Christmas (It has a 20Gig hard drive) - I am currently transferring music to it. Question:What is your favorite CD that should be on my player?


Our friends Hermann and Adel are here! We are very excited. Tomorrow we will take them snowboarding - they are from Africa so it will be the coldest day of their lives.
We had a great church service, focused on the ultimate search and rescue. Jesus rescues those who know that they are lost. I realized today that immersion in materialism makes it hard to admit that we are poor. People who have everything find it hard to acknowledge their poverty - me included. Here's a quote from Merton that challenged me:

Into this world, this demented inn, in which there
is absolutely no room for him at all, Christ has
come uninvited. But because he cannot be at
home in it, because he is out of place in it, and
yet he must be in it, his place is with those
others who do not belong, who are rejected by
power, because they are regarded as weak,
those who are discredited, who are denied the
status of persons, tortured, exterminated. With
those for whom there is no room, Christ is
present in this world.


My paraphrase of Luke 19:1-10

Jesus and Enron - would we be able to handle it?

Jesus entered Houston Texas, and was passing through. A man was there by the name of Kenneth Lay; he was the CEO of Enron and was wealthy. Jesus intrigued him; being an astute businessman he knew there must be something concrete about the Jesus buzz. He was incredibly late for the party where Jesus would appear; in shear desperation he grabbed his daughter's scooter and raced to the function. When Jesus arrived at the entrance of the facility, he saw Kenneth on the scooter (sweating and wind blown) and said to him: “Kenneth, come down immediately, I must stay at your house today. He jumped of his super scooter and leaped up and down with excitement – he could not stop blabbering his thanks and joy - A fantastic meeting!

The people saw this and began to mutter, “He has gone to be the guest of a corrupted businessman, this is the man who weeks before his company filed for the largest bankruptcy in U.S. history, touted the energy giant's stock as an "incredible bargain" in a Web chat with his employees. He said to them: "My personal belief is that Enron stock is an incredible bargain at current prices, and we will look back a couple of years from now and see the great opportunity that we currently have," THIS GUY IS SCUM! HOW CAN JESUS HANG OUT WITH HIM?

The people followed them, camera crews, journalists and reporters – it looked like the super bowl final! But Kenneth stood up and said to Jesus “You are Lord! Here and now I give half my possessions to the poor, and I will pay everyone that I cheated four times the amount I embezzled from them.”

Jesus, compassionately looked at him, “Today salvation has come to your life, you are a part of my family. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.”
How would you handle this scene?


A few guys will jam a bookstore next year. They are concerned that people read the wrong stuff; it is something I discussed this week with one of my friends. It is so easy to spend money and time on a bad book. I might join this cause. What do you think? Whose books will you jam?

Interesting article in the USA Today on the economical struggles of congregations:

The color of Christmas may be red ink this year for many of the nation's churches.
Experts blame 6% unemployment and sinking investment income for pummeling budgets of congregations great and small, black and white, urban and suburban. Adding to it: scandals, controversies and rumors of war.
Many religious institutions finished November at 10% to 20% below the usual level for the year to date, says Jerry Butler, executive director of the Willow Creek Association, a national network of 4,800 evangelical megachurches. "The word you hear everywhere is 'cutbacks.' "
"Churches will cut activities and programs, maybe give fewer youth camp scholarships. They will cut equipment. The last thing they will cut is staff," Butler says. His home church, 20,000-member megachurch Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington, Ill., saw the crunch coming early in 2002 and trimmed 30 people from a staff of 550.


The ultimate search and rescue

He came to seek and save the lost In a week from today we will celebrate the greatest search and rescue ever. God became man.

We are all lost. Not one of us has a clue. We need a Savior and if we don't think we do, then we are extremely lost. A day after September 11 I found this picture in the paper and placed it in my journal. It shows a father looking for his son; he carried a picture of him on his body. It struck me that God through Jesus came to conduct a radical rescue, to seek and save the lost. He carries the pictures of all humanity on his heart.

Earlier this morning I opened my mailbox and waved through all my junk mail, in the pile was a picture of two missing persons. I wanted to throw it away and then it dawned on me that I'm passing 'missing' or 'lost' people every day and regrettably I dismiss them as easily as the junk mail in my mailbox. May this be a season where I bring the good news of the ultimate search and rescue to people yearning for a Rescuer.


Murphy's Law: When you wash your car for the first time in three months - it will snow the next day. Yipee it is snowing! We really need the snow here in Colorado.

Today was a very interesting day. I had a two-hour meeting that was really hard. As I sat there I couldn't help but wonder What would (not Jesus) but Charles Spurgeon say if he was in this meeting. Would he even understand what we are talking about? Terms keep flying around the room like an air show at the Airforce Academy - loud and impressive, yet after the show there is no lasting impression or result. Spurgeon would be confused and so am I. I kept on thinking, "Am I at a HP or IBM meeting?”

Here is some of the "verbal planes" that flew through the room:

- directors and supervisors
- spoiling the donor base for a later capital campaign
- vision statements and values
- staff
- it's not either or/ it's both and
- volunteers and lay people
- success matrix
- task forces

I was reminded of Eugene Peterson's quote in the contemplative pastor:If I, even for a moment, accept my culture's definition of me, I am rendered harmless.
I felt our meeting was petty and harmless (I did play a vicious game of solitaire though)


The truthI woke at 6:00 this morning with the nagging realization that I’ll be in the dentist’s chair within the hour. I silenced the alarm turned around and thought of better things – like ice cream or South African biltong. Ten minutes later the snooze button revolted and I had to get up.

I stumbled to the bathroom and activated my electric toothbrush. Eradicating the mess – I scrubbed extra long, hoping to fool the good dentist. It’s all about presentation! Unfortunately, as you may well know – twenty minutes of rigorous cleaning will not give you a perfect smile it will not fill the cavities.

I crawled into the car and drove to the office. Once in the chair, the dentist stretched my mouth open like a bass. A light blinded me from heaven and I was exposed! Cavities and all, naked before the dentist. The man with the perfect teeth. Luckily he gave me some glasses to shade my eyes from the piercing light. He used his tools (I call them torture instruments) to fill up my wrongdoings.

While he was drilling and blowing and sucking and pulling my mouth ever wider I thought to myself that I could still have lived in ignorance. Pretending like there is no problem, I used to boast that:

1. I haven’t been to the dentist in 5 years
2. I have no cavities.

That all changed when my wife forced me to visit The Man, Number 1 was taken cared of and number 2 was exposed as terribly wrong.

This is so true of my spiritual life too. I can sometimes evade God’s presence and loving examinations – then I live with the conceit that I’m OK. The terrible thing with cavities is that they destroy your teeth long before you feel the pain. True for our spiritual lives too.

CS Lewis wrote about this in Mere Christianity, when he had toothache he says,

"I did not go to my mother," he writes, "at least, not till the pain became very bad. And the reason I did not go was this. I did not doubt she would give me the aspirin; but I knew she would also do something else. I knew she would take me to the dentist next morning. I could not get what I wanted out of her without getting something more, which I did not want. I wanted immediate relief from pain: but I could not get it without having my teeth set permanently right. And I knew those dentists; I knew they started fiddling about with all sorts of other teeth, which had not yet begun to ache. They would not let sleeping dogs lie; if you gave them an inch they took an ell."

God is not into just giving aspirin or in superficial tooth brushing. He gives us more – If we want it!

7 Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father? 8 If you are not disciplined (and everyone undergoes discipline), then you are illegitimate children and not true sons. 9 Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of our spirits and live! 10 Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. 11 No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it. Hebrews 12:7-11

My visit with the dentist is over and I feel better and healthier – a peace surrounds me. Now for the other cleaning!


We had a great day today! Woke up at 10:00 and then helped friends move into their new house - they have a beautiful view of Pikes Peak and deserve to be in their new dwelling. Later in the evening we watched the extended version of the Lord of the Rings - IT IS AWESOME!!! Lollie and I just finished making some chili for a leadership meeting tomorrow. We will hang out with 20 of the leaders at Pierced - it will be fun.


Our site changed names today! You can now reach us at

Leadership styles differ!I watched K19 The Widowmaker today with my lovely bride. It really made me think about leadership and in fact it upset me, especially thinking about modern leaders. Enron leadership! Why should we follow that? The plot focuses on the dynamic between two leaders - the one is really demanding and full of ego and the other is relational and mentions family in every other sentence. Ambition meets Shepherd. Captain Relational stays loyal to Captain Ego (remember the context is a Russian submarine during the cold war) and in the end they are best buds. The movie subverts the attention away from Captain Ego's initial sucky decisions and ends with a mushy scene of camaraderie. Jesus' words in Matthew 22:26 Not so with you ring in my ears.


What Bob Marley taught me about the church

Look at my hair :)Early this morning I had a great time with one of my friends at Pierced. He had a Nalgene bottle with a sticker of Bob Marley on it. We started to chat about Bob. Brent asked me if I knew how BM died? I had no clue so he told me the fascinating story of how Bob played soccer in France, stubbed his toe and how it got infected. A specialist who had examined Bob had detected cancer cells and advised that the toe was amputated immediately. Bob refused, saying "I don't allow a mon to be dismantled"
He knew the risks but as a Rastaman he saw his body as a temple. Bob decided to let nature take its course but by 1980, three years after the original injury, the toe was still painful and ulcerated. He jogged in Central Park one morning and collapsed - the infection developed into a brain tumor and he died two weeks later.

In the church we have the same challenge. We experience a lot of human stubbing and hiccups - unfortunately we also decide not to handle the situation and then the wounds fester and the body suffers. The challenge is to speak the truth in love.

Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ (Ephesians 4:15)


This Interview with the Author of "The Younger Evangelicals" ROCKS.


"Christianity has been made so completely devoid of character that there is really nothing to persecute. The chief trouble with Christians, therefore, is that no one wants to kill them any more!" -Soren Kierkgaard

This quote has wrestled with me for the last few days. Is there anything radical left in me? When people look at my life, can they observe that I’ve walked out of the darkness into the light, or am I just part of the throngs living in oblivion? Might it be, that my biggest virtue is just being nice? A person who is not making any waves – just minding his own business – I hope not!

I’m wondering at what altar am I laying my life down?
Maybe I’m lying my life down at the altar of success, popularity and fame. My Hero was crucified because He reflected something so radically different – what am I reflecting?

Sorry for the verbal diarrhea – I’m just wondering and wrestling.


Last week an acquaintance from Switzerland e-mailed me some thoughts on church:

- church is a verb although we have mostly reduced it to a noun
- This Verb can happen in many forms, and we should judge the Noun (the form) by how much and how purely it allows the Verb to happen
- If the noun prohibits the verb to work then you have a problem
- Church is not a structure / an institution but something that happens

What are your thoughts on this?


I found an interesting post from John Campea's website. It is about Performance or preparing, here's an excerpt:

Is there a difference between prepared and performance? After our service this Sunday, the church leaders and I had a meeting and a conversation about how the church service is put together. Over the last couple of weeks we've been working on making the service flow better, little thing like making sure people know when they're supposed to do what. Making sure we start on time and end on time? little things. Anyway, someone brought up the question "are we just making things slick?". I responded by saying there is a difference between being prepared and putting on a performance? but I've been wondering over the last 24 hours if that's true. Is it? I'm not totally sure. We want our services to be authentic expressions of community even in a corporate setting. So the question is: Does preparing and striving to do things well in a service counterproductive to the notion of authenticity?

A few months ago I wrote one of my friends/mentors and here is his response:

Your summer preaching is completed by now so my response to your question about preaching won't contaminate what you have just done! And there is no easy answer to what you ask: a definition and safeguard against entertainment and exhibition. But here are some thoughts...

A definition is probably not useful. What we are doing when we enter a pulpit is to say again what is already said/written in the idiom of the people whom we serve, for whom we pray, whom we listen to out of the everydayness of their lives whether in pain or joy or boredom or disappointment. We are letting the text of scripture and the text of their lives be on the same page together and interact. This is why I am convinced that you cannot preach accurately and well to people you don't know, don't know their names, their children, their parents, their jobs, their kitchens, their workplaces - the works. And of course the same thing goes for the scriptures - the whole story in all its interrelated parts. Preaching is not an impersonal proclamations of "truth" it is a communal conversation in which the Holy Spirit is partner to the conversation. The wonderful thing about being a pastor is that it gives the context, the setting, in which these communal preaching-conversations can take place.

I allow for exceptions: evangelistic preaching, for instance. But that is not the norm for preaching and congregational preaching that takes that as its model sacrifices the very genius of the pastoral task to something impersonal and remote.

As for entertainment and exhibition - that's easy, at least on paper. We pray and consult with a friend or pastor or director to watch for signs of that kind of corrosive stuff. One of the things that I always used to guard against this was, when something I said or did was "successful" to ask, "What did I do wrong?" The gospel, is rarely applauded and so when it is there needs to be the suspicion that we did something inauthentic. People love idols over Jesus on the cross any day. It is easier to get by with bad preaching to a crowd of people you don't know than it is to a congregation of men and women who know you, know your kids, know what you look and sound like when you are not in the pulpit. It's harder to fake it with your own family.

What are your thoughts on this subject?


Larry King Interviewed BONO of U2:

KING: We're back with Bono.
You mentioned being Christian, and...
BONO: Trying to be.
KING: ... trying to be. Are you -- do you like organized religion? Are you a Catholic? Do you go to mass?
BONO: Who in Ireland could have too much respect for organized religion? We've seen it tear our country in two. My mother was a Protestant. My father was a Catholic. And I learned that religion is often the enemy of God, actually.
And religion is this sort of -- religion is the artifice, you know, the building, after God has left it sometimes, like Elvis has left the building. You hold onto religion, you know, rules, regulations, traditions. I think what God is interested in is people's hearts, and that's hard enough.
KING: So, especially in Ireland, you've seen it fail.
BONO: Yes, yes. And now, we're watching it around the world. We're watching what religion can do. And you know, I think it's anathema, and see -- religion takes ideas. Religion often reduces the size of God. God is so big. It's a gigantic concept in God. The idea that God might love us and be interested in us is kind of huge and gigantic, but we turn it, because we're small-minded, into this tiny, petty, often greedy version of God, that is religion.
KING: And so, we raise money in his name and go to war in his name.
BONO: Yes.
KING: If there is a God, he must be angry at a lot of this.
BONO: I think God is very angry at the moment, and I think there is -- I think it's shocking what is going on in the world. And I think it is an extraordinary moment.
Right now, I can tell you this. Our age will be remembered. This moment in time will be remembered for three things: the war against terror, sure; the Internet, probably; and how we let an entire continent, Africa, burst into flames and stood around with water in cans. This is not acceptable. It is not acceptable to let people die because they can't get the drugs that you and I take for granted. That means -- you have to ask very hard questions of ourselves if we're doing that.

Another interesting article: Bono issues blunt message for Christians.


Today was another brutal day for me in the Mega-church saga,
On days like today I need to revitalize my definition of pastor,
who better than Eugene Peterson as a guide.


The organization, the Evangelical Environmental Network has a website called What would Jesus Drive? Apparently it is sin to drive a SUV. Here's a witty Colorado columnist's response - this is funny yet sad.


Ernie Els did it again!

Be Truly Poor
Oscar Romero

No one can celebrate a genuine Christmas with-
out being truly poor. The self-sufficient, the proud,
those who, because they have everything, look
down on others, those who have no need even
of God--for them there will be no Christmas.
Only the poor, the hungry, those who need some-
one to come on their behalf, will have that some-
one. That someone is God, Emmanuel, God-with-
us. Without poverty of spirit there can be no
abundance of God.

To read more holiday thoughts by Romero, the Salvadoran
archbishop whose advocacy of the poor earned him an
assassin's bullet in 1980, click here.


I preached tonight at Woodmen Valley Chapel, it was hard for me. A few months ago a friend of mine sent me a letter re:preaching. He said that preaching is essentially aligning two texts, the Text of God's words and of the people we serve, the latter according to him can only be truly found if we hang out in the people's kitchens. Tonight standing in front of the masses I knew that I did not experience their kitchens. I am tired.

Lollie and I are reading "Watch for the Light-readings for Christmas and Advent" - here is a quote from Brennan Manning out of this book:

I wonder, if we were to stop people at random in the street on December 24 and ask them what they want most for Christmas, how many would say, "I want to see Jesus"? I believe that the single most important consideration during the sacred season of Advent is intensity of desire. Paraphrasing the late Rabbi Abraham Heschel, "Jesus Christ is of no importance unless he is of supreme importance."