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.


CSI - Being a detective of divinity

I have my CSI baseball cap on (given to me by some precious friends). Today I will conduct an experiment, looking for God's footprints in people and circumstances around me. I'll be a Christ Seeking Individual, why don't you join me? You don't need a cap for this exercise :) Here's a quote that drifted into my head early this morning:

When the service was over that day, I walked out of it into a God-enchanted world, where I could not wait to find further clues to heaven on earth. Every leaf, every ant, every shiny rock called out to me - begging to be watched, to be listened to, to be handled and examined. I became a detective of divinity, collecting evidence of God's genius and admiring the tracks left for me to follow. - Barbara Brown Taylor.


I am reading 1 Peter today, a powerful book!
One of my immediate thoughts: I SHOULD BE A STRANGER :
To God’s elect, strangers in the world,(v1)
Since you call on a Father who judges each man’s work impartially, live your lives as strangers here in reverent fear.(v17)

I can relate to being a stranger. Being a South African in the States helps with identifying with the label. I remember my first chat with the guys in our small group about basketball, baseball and football. It was totally ...... strange. In South Africa we play rugby, cricket and soccer - by the way this last weekend i had the opportunity to preach at our church and I told the 5000 people there that RUGBY IS THE GAME FOR REAL MEN.

My friends in the small group spewed out terms never heard before, for me. I am wondering today in what ways am I a stranger in the world? Please share your thoughts.


The task of pastoral ministry is, above all else, to arrange the contingencies for an encounter with the Divine.
Citation: Dietrich Bonhoeffer


Last night I read the Winter publication of the Leadership journal and found this quote that shows the huge difference between modern and postmodern ministry:

Fraternizing with church members has its dangers, but my positive experiences far outweigh the negative

Fraternizing according to Webster:

1 : to associate or mingle as brothers or on fraternal terms
2 a : to associate on close terms with members of a hostile group especially when contrary to military orders b : to be friendly or amiable

What do you think?

Fans of the American Wild West will find in a Deadwood, South Dakota, museum this inscription left by a beleaguered prospector: “I lost my gun. I lost my horse. I am out of food. The Indians are after me. But I’ve got all the gold I can carry!”


In numbers and entertainment we trust!

I found this article on the megachurch via Josh Sargent via Christdot, what do you think of this?

Bob Russell, the pastor of Southeast Christian, talks of a world that is getting worse. Christians feel a need for a greater strength he explains - and there is strength in numbers.
Southeast Christian is the place to be seen in Louisville, it's the place to meet the leading local politicians, to make business contacts. It's the country club of religion.
So successful is this religious country club that they take in $500,000 in donations every week. There's even a police escort for the collection.
There are ambitious expansion plans that will cost more than $30m. The church is buying or putting in bids for every scrap of land around. They even have the equivalent of a chief executive. He moved here from the company that owns Kentucky Fried Chicken. Now he is marketing God, not chicken wings.

I experience the huge vastness of the world today, somewhere in the States my parents and brother are continuing their journey back to South Africa. We are here in the Springs, mainly reflecting if it's worth spending our time here in the States - away from family and friends and the continent that still has its heartbeat in our souls. God what do you want? Jason Evans is back from his visit to Africa his reflections really make me homesick.

Until Then...
Fyodor Dostoyevsky

This terrible individualism must inevitably have
an end, and all will suddenly understand how
unnaturally they are separated from one another.
It will be the spirit of the time, and people will
marvel that they have sat so long in darkness
without seeing the light. And then the sign of the
Son of Man will be seen in the heavens... But,
until then, we must keep the banner flying.
Sometimes even if he has to do it alone, and
his conduct seems to be crazy, a man must set
an example, and so draw men's souls out of
their solitude, and spur them to some act of
brotherly love, that the great idea may not die.


Visiting a Mormon Bookstore

Tuesday I visited a Mormon bookstore. It was just plain weird! One of my more interesting finds were Joseph Smith's translation of the Bible (God told him that the current version is all screwed up). They have their own little sub-culture : favorite authors, musicians, and faith heroes. People and things I have never heard of in my life. Certain authors are writing the same stuff that some Christian authors are writing, It is basically a use Jesus for better health, wealth, family, hobbies, business writing style (the covers tell us how successful they are). I sat in the shop for almost an hour listening to people looking for bestsellers, buying things to help them on their faith journey. One of the funniest/scarier moments were when one customer wanted a specific Mormon sacred book and was told that the book is being reprinted because God revealed something new to the leaders of the church. A whole new definition of relativism!

My visit made me think of the bookstores in my hometown, Colorado Springs. Would people view it as scary/weird/inviting? Will they even come into the store? Do they have any idea what is it all about. Even more scary was the thought: If their only contact with God was this bookstore, what would they think?

I walked away from the Mormon bookstore with a lot to ponder.

This article is worth a read and ponder.

Growth for the sake of growth is the ideology of the cancer cell.
Citation: Edward Abbey

The biggest enemy of the Church is the development and proliferation of programs to meet people's needs. Everyone has a hunger for God, but our tastes (needs) are screwed up. We've been raised on junk food, so what we ask for is often wrong or twisted.
Citation: Eugene Peterson


Can you remember your first love?

This morning my brother asked me if he could make a long distance phone call to his girlfriend in South Africa - i agreed. The metamorphosis was amazing (well worth the expense of the call) - he changed from a sagging,hanging swaying depressed 19 year old into an energetic, humorous handsome dude. Puppy love is amazing! Sadly we somehow think we should mature out of it, buck up and grow up. A few months ago Disney had a commercial where the wife woke her husband in the middle of the night and said to him that he never speaks to her like Donald Duck anymore - he observes her sad face and then he 'speaks' the Donald dialect - I don't know why but that always bring a tear to my eye.

How easily I loose my first love towards God, thinking I should mature and be 'fit for ministry'. Jesus' admonition in Revelation 2 comes to mind:

2 I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance. I know that you cannot tolerate wicked men, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false. 3 You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary. 4 Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love. 5 Remember the height from which you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first.

Thanks to Josh, I now have a new commenting system.


St. George is a beautiful place. Surrounded by red cliffs and breathtaking canyons. Yesterday we went to Bryce Canyon. We would be Lollie (my wife), Colin and Sullette (my parents visiting from South Africa) and Francois (my brother also from SA). Our favorite line for our tour so far is : You will see beautiful things that'll make your eyes pop out of your head, it becomes funny if you repeat it as a family about 900 times.

At Bryce we hiked into the canyon and I was tremendously proud of my dad, he had bypass surgery 7 months ago and he trucked up the incline out of the canyon - a stud. On top of that my mom and dad have a huge problem with heights and Francois gave them a hard time by hiking on purpose as close as possible to the edge.

St. George sure has a lot of mormons! Earlier today my dad and I played some golf on the 9 hole municipal course, our playing partners - a 85 and 84 year old. We exchanged usual pleasantries and then he asked me the question:

What do you do for a living?
I'm a pastor.
Are you one of those fire and brimstone types?
No (laughing), [my dad assures him that I'm a very nice guy]
We are mormons, do you know what that is?
In the end it doesn't really matter, we all serve the same God.

I gave no response to that last question. It really bothered me later in the day. Nice, I was very nice in that situation - not engaging in a theological debate. At that moment I decided not to confront that statement because,

a. I was not in the mood to challenge a 85 year old on the golf course.
b. I knew my dad (who dislikes religion) would not appreciate an apologetics session on the golf course.
c. I really did not realize the severity of the statement till 3 hours after it was made.

Some may say I was just sensitive, others will shout with the crisp echo we made in Bryce canyon, the echo of COMPROMISER! It is good for me to be out of Colorado Springs this week - I think I'm really sheltered there - from real people with questions and opinions. I did play a great round of golf, not that it matters.

He did it again! Ernie Els won his first competition of the year, and he set a new PGA record for a tournament, 31 under par. South Africans ROCK! With his earnings in the Netbank tournament 5 weeks ago, and his check this weekend, he made $3 million in 6 weeks.


I'm currently reading an Anne Lamott book, it is funny! Here is an interesting article on her.


Watching a movie and loosing a tooth

We are in Utah at the moment and we decided to watch about Schmidt, my brother wrote a review. The day turned out to be totally bizarre - due to the off-screen activity. Three quarters through the movie my parents stood up and left. At first I thought they left due to the huge soda we gave them. As South Africans they are used to minute quantities soooo it was obvious to me that they needed relief. It struck me as odd that they left at the same time. I turned to my brother and asked 'what's up?' He told me that my dad's tooth broke on the candy and popcorn we gave him, I thought he was joking. Well, he did not kid me - my dad's tooth broke, it was an evacuation, leaving a gaping hole!
Anyway, it was a good movie and due to the events one I will not forget.


A few days ago I read Psalms and froze at Psalm 30:6-7:

When I was prosperous I said,
“Nothing can stop me now!”
Your favor, O Lord, made me as secure as a mountain.
Then you turned away from me, and I was shattered.

Jammy was afraid. He constantly felt preying eyes envisioning him as a gourmet meal. Nauseated, that's how he felt. His heart pounded like a formula 1 racing car. Frantically running, trying to evade your pursuers for hours on end will do that to you. Now he stood at the verge of a chasm - literally. "Left, run Left!" he heard someone call in his inner being. Instinctively he obeyed. He fled from them, and then he saw the bridge connecting the two ends of his world (which turned out to be uncomfortable) and a world he has only dreamt of.

Then the meeting occurred, the sight was comical! An elephant standing next to a mouse. Puny meets Massive. Raul the elephant and Jammy the mouse. Graciously Raul picked Jammy up and delicately placed him on his back - from on high Jammy looked into his aggressor's eyes. Miraculously he found the courage to do it, moments ago the courage hid from him. Jammy let loose - he shouted and shook his fist, he danced and mocked.

The chasers backed off - they weren't daunted by the mouse's verbal veracity - it was the sheer size of his protector that scared them - one stomp and they would only be mulch in the dust. With calm assurance Raul looked the enemy over, staring them down and then with sudden elegance he turned his back on them and walked over the bridge. The bridge swung like a leaf in the wind - the massive and impressive bulk of the elephant walking rhythmically over the bridge.

Jammy in childlike glee shouted at the top of his voice:

"Jippeeee, look how we're rocking this bridge!!!"

In the following few months Jammy stayed put on Raul's back. The wonder of the new world stunned him, every day the elephant introduced him to new food - delicious food, like a dream world. The food satisfied him and made him full - unfortunately that was not the only food the mouse ate. Subtly Jammy started to take Raul for granted. Some days he forgot that he was not Raul - he started to think that the elephant was just an extension of him - the mighty mouse. As if there was no distinction between him and his savior. Conversations with his friend became far and in between and lately extinct - he never thanked him anymore - not for the ride or the new food.

They walked over the bridge daily - Raul always rescued someone on the other side. Lately Jammy got aggravated by these search and rescue missions, 'i have better things to do' he would say to himself. As they walked over the bridge he shouted:

"Look how I swing this bridge!"

And then it happened! Raul placed the mouse firmly on his butt. Jammy forgot what firm footing felt like - he immediately lost the advantage of seeing things from his higher vantage point. His old enemies - the ones he confidently taunted on Raul's back - saw his predicament. They attacked with everything in them - seeking to take advantage of the elephant-mouse turned into a normal-mouse.

Thoughts of where he came from flooded Jammy's mind. He remembered running from this mob! As he ran he rediscovered his appreciation for Raul, he turned around and ran over the bridge. Out of habit he shouted:

"Look how I ......."

He stopped, realizing that he did not move the bridge even an inch! In an agonizing groan he muffled : "I miss Raul".
The enemy grew closer, feet pounding on the bridge they breathed in his neck. In absolute desperation he ran, focused on staying away from them. He was so focused on running that he completely missed Raul's appearance at the other side of the bridge, his fleeing led him running full force into Raul's leg - he was knocked unconscious. Upon waking up he thanked Raul and he knew Raul was his savior.

Lately you can hear him shouting:

"Wow Raul you rock this bridge - thanks for the ride!"


Today it is of to the slopes to show my parents and brother the ski slopes. My dad wanted to ski, but I said no (funny reversal of roles). He had bypass surgery earlier this year - and I don't think learning to ski can be deemed a good idea! We will be driving into the heart of the Rocky Mountains, and aim for Brekenridge and Keystone. I will blog later today when I come back.

In the meantime - check out this article that have wrestled with me the last few days.


Alias and me

I am an Alias addict! Great show about a girl - Sydney Bristow - a double agent. She worked for SD-6 thinking that it was a covert part of the CIA. Then reality struck - she found out that SD-6 is an organization funding terrorist activity, she felt betrayed, isolated and a ticked off. Now she works her best to thwart SD-6. Her friends at SD-6 still believe they work for the CIA - it kills her. It is complicated for her and she longs for the simplicity of getting out. As I watched the program last night, the neurons fired big time in my brain. I can relate to Sydney.

Three years ago my wife and I progressed on the ministry ladder - settling into a cozy role of Executive Pastor. In my delusions I thought I was doing all for God. Then reality struck - I found out that ego and ambition twinned in my heart, I dabbled with the dark side. A part of my heart went on a covert mission sabotaging my partnership with God; the sad thing was that I mistook my zeal for God's, my ambition for His purposes. I felt ugly, confused and ready to confess. Three weeks after the revelation we resigned.

There are a lot of people in the church today - thinking they work for God ( like Sydney's friends thinking they work for the CIA) in reality they serve another. No realization that they are part of a covert sabotage. Parting from Sydney we can tell these friends what is going on, will they listen? Others, after the shock of discovering what SD-6 really is, decide to be double agents - subversively they undermine their previous employer. The third group are those who cannot play the subversive role - they need the simplicity and straight forwardness of working for the CIA, a normal 9 to 5 job.

I pray for the first group, pray for an awakening,
I work in the second group,
I envy people in the third group.


Whistleblowers and Churchgrowers?

The whistleblowers Last week Time magazine presented their Persons of the year award. Sherron Watkins (Enron), Coleen Rowley (FBI) and Cynthia Cooper (WorldCom) got the award. Here is an excerpt of the article:

These women were for the 12 months just ending what New York City fire fighters were in 2001: heroes at the scene, anointed by circumstance. They were people who did right just by doing their jobs rightly—which means ferociously, with eyes open and with the bravery the rest of us always hope we have and may never know if we do. Their lives may not have been at stake, but Watkins, Rowley and Cooper put pretty much everything else on the line. Their jobs, their health, their privacy, their sanity—they risked all of them to bring us badly needed word of trouble inside crucial institutions. Democratic capitalism requires that people trust in the integrity of public and private institutions alike. As whistle-blowers, these three became fail-safe systems that did not fail. For believing—really believing—that the truth is one thing that must not be moved off the books, and for stepping in to make sure that it wasn't, they have been chosen by TIME as its Persons of the Year for 2002.

We desperately need some whistleblowing in the church of Christ! These women reminded me of Paul and his exploits. One day he confronted one of the 'pillars' of the church, Peter. Unflinching he challenged him on his dubious practices :

When Peter came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he was clearly in the wrong. Before certain men came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. But when they arrived, he began to draw back and separate himself from the Gentiles because he was afraid of those who belonged to the circumcision group. The other Jews joined him in his hypocrisy, so that by their hypocrisy even Barnabas was led astray. When I saw that they were not acting in line with the truth of the gospel, I said to Peter in front of them all, “You are a Jew, yet you live like a Gentile and not like a Jew. How is it, then, that you force Gentiles to follow Jewish customs? Gal 2:11-14

The Trio who were named Newsmakers of the year, got the award for something that should be 'normal'. Unfortunately we have drifted so far in our image and status infected society that we do not challenge wrongdoings! To quote from the article again:

In early December TIME brought all three together in a Minneapolis hotel room. Very quickly it became clear that none of them are rebels in the usual sense. The truest of true believers is more like it, ever faithful to the idea that where they worked was a place that served the wider world in some important way. But sometimes it's the keepers of the flame who feel most compelled to set their imperfect temple to the torch. When headquarters didn't live up to its mission, they took it to heart. At Enron the company handed out note pads with inspiring quotes. One was from Martin Luther King Jr.: "Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter." Watkins saw that quote every day. Didn't anybody else?

- The church is the pillar of truth (or it is supposed to be that), it is time to burn some temple baby.
- Are we living up to our mission, the one Christ our Shepherd gave us?

All the scandals in corporate America were, to tell the truth - shocking this year! Thank God we are part of the church of Christ. Then again if all we are doing is based on what corporate America is doing then Enron and WorldCom might be an unwelcome blueprint of what is to come. Scary thought. If on the other hand we follow God's instructions for preparing His bride, then we might have the relationships and accountability in place to prevent the prolonged deception. One of God's instructions is an elder led church. A group of godly men giving leadership to a community - keeping ego and other vices in check. When I read this part of the interview I shivered:

TIME: Would any of you go back and change anything you did?
WATKINS: I wouldn't not do it. [But] what I really failed to grasp was the seriousness of the emperor-has-no-clothes phenomenon. I thought leaders were made in moments of crisis, and I naively thought that I would be handing [Enron chairman] Ken Lay his leadership moment. I honestly thought people would step up. But I said he was naked, and when he turned to the ministers around him, they said they were sure he was clothed.

TIME: What would you have done if you had known?
WATKINS: I would have gone to the board.

TIME: Would it have made a difference?
WATKINS: There's a slim chance Enron might not have imploded. It's hard to say. People are much more forgiving than we think. The scary thing is the amount of resistance we met. People I thought were my friends and I thought would support me backed away. They said, "Sherron, you're on your own on this."
COOPER: [Nods in agreement] It's a lonely road.

Unfortunately most elders are just board members.
People are afraid to speak the truth and confront untruth.
Interestingly Paul in his letters to the Ephesians said that the church will grow as it speaks the truth in love (a verse often quoted in the context of marriage relationships). No truth, no growth.
Churchgrowers will look different when churchgoers become whistleblowers.
Anyway, this is the end (for now) of my soapbox.


People do not drift toward holiness. Apart from grace-driven effort, people do not gravitate toward godliness, prayer, obedience to Scripture, faith, and delight in the Lord.

We drift toward compromise and call it tolerance; we drift toward disobedience and call it freedom; we drift toward superstition and call it faith. We cherish the indiscipline of lost self-control and call it relaxation; we slouch toward prayerlessness and delude ourselves into thinking we have escaped legalism; we slide toward godlessness and convince ourselves we have been liberated.
Citation: D. A. Carson

My new year's resolution is to keep my Virginity in 2003 (you'll need the latest version of realplayer)

I am jealous for you with the jealousy of God himself. For I promised you as a pure virgin to one husband, Christ. But I fear that somehow you will be led away from your pure and simple devotion to Christ, just as Eve was deceived by the serpent. 2 Cor 11:2-3


Wrestling with Francis Schaeffer

I finished Schaeffer's True Spirituality a couple of weeks ago and it is still wrestling with me (for me that's a sign of a good book). He had some very interesting things to say about relationships with others. In the context of cramming people into programs he writes a stinging commentary on trying to mechanize relationships:

Every man is my neighbor and is to be treated in proper human, man-to-man relationship. Every time we act in a machinelike way towards another man we deny the central teaching of the Word of God - that there is a personal God who has created man in his own image.

For example when we see someone as LOST and then try to EVANGELIZE that person, we need to watch out for the danger of trying to put the person into a mechanized system of persuasion, evangelism becomes "subhuman-legalistic and impersonal".

Another challenge is not to search satisfaction from a person or institution but from God, to quote Schaeffer again:

But when I am a creature in the presence of God, and I see that the last relationship is with an infinite God, and these human relationships are among equals, I can take from a human relationship what God meant it to provide, without putting the whole structure under an intolerable burden. More than this, when I acknowledge than none of us are perfect in this love, I can enjoy that which is beautiful in a relationship, without expecting it to be perfect.

Practically that means:

- If I try to find satisfaction from my wife (Lollie) apart from God then I place her under an intolerable and impossible burden.
- When I make an idol out of church, trying to find my identity from her or by trying to sort her out, then I will be left empty, and full of bitterness. Adultery with the church is a dangerous affair.
- Whenever time spent with God diminish frustration with people or institutions increase.
- It is dangerous to forget that we as humans are created as equals. We all need God!