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.


Worlds colliding

On our way to the church where we are volunteering for the time being we experience a clashing of two worlds. First world and third world flowing into each other, a brand new Mercedes Benz and the poorest of the poor so close to each other that the underprivileged man can smell the fumes from the vehicle and the poor man a blur in the rich man’s mirror.

It’s a mind-bender to see the two worlds so close to each other. This weekend I was asked to preach on work at Ruimsig (Afrikaans for ‘a vast view’). My topic, to be precise, was on ‘what do I do if I don’t like my work?’. I didn’t like the topic so I changed it (quite a paradox)!

Would Jesus preach to the white-collar people on how to get a better job? Especially if their jobs are only a way of funding a selfish, ego-centered lifestyle? I don’t think so.

Most of the churches we’ve had contact with in the last few weeks have a huge thing about target markets. The funny thing is that most of the pastors here target the rich middle and upper class. These churches are in danger of sacrificing the essence of the gospel for a homogenous group of people all rich, selfish and burnt out telling each other that they’re OK. Well they’re not.

I preached my sermon (it frustrated me again). Upon reflecting I wondered if I should not have dragged the Ruimsig crowd into Zandspruit (the squatters camp where all the poor people live). The rich and the poor could have made eye contact, smelled each other and who knows even talked to one another!

Slimer and I had a discussion about the grip that materialism has in Johannesburg. It is a huge challenge for the white churches here to liberate their people from an unhealthy worship of things and stuff. May God help us, and may it start with me and Lollie.

The things that come out of a man are they that defile him, and to get out of them a man must go into himself, be a convict, and scrub the floor of his cell. George MacDonald.


Sermon Struggles

I have a confession to make. I don’t think preaching works. Now before you reach for a rock, physical or cyber, hear me out. Traditional preaching doesn’t and won’t work in the new world. I’m a pastor and therefore the ‘sermon’ is a huge part of what I trained for, prepare and deliver on a weekly basis.

Hours of my life are invested into the art and craft of sermon. Some weeks I work twenty hours, if you asked me two weeks later what I preached on then you’ll get the same look a rabbit has in the shining of a hunter’s spotlight. Clueless. You may think I have diminished or damaged brain capacity. Let me ask you what was the topic of the sermon two weeks ago? What was the main message? Last week? Yesterday?

In some instances a sermon sticks, mostly not. In the last year I’ve asked people to retell the ‘best’ sermon they’ve ever heard. An interesting mixture of responses, a hard question – the searching for an answer I encountered was interesting in itself.

When I think how many times I’ve stressed about a sermon it shames me. Will they like it? Me? Will they think it’s funny? Will they think I’m smart? Will they think I’m the best?

An endless barrage of self-obsessed trivialities, wasting time and energy. An obsession. These questions are often greeted after the sermon with a ‘good sermon’, ‘thanks for the sermon’, ‘that was really nice’.

Is that what it’s all about? The sermon accepted, processed, a nice peace of rhetoric worthy of a compliment and then we get on with the real business of finding a good Sunday meal to fill our tummies. I can’t do it anymore! Being like a dog in a show every Sunday I mean.

In the modern system of church the pastor is truly on show every week. Ask your friends why they go to their church and more often than not you will get a response linked to the person of the pastor. ‘Our pastor is an amazing teacher’ or ‘our pastor dresses so cool’ ‘our worship pastor is the best’. When the pastor stops performing or develop spiritual acne they move on…. Searching for a better show-dog.

Most of our worship services are nothing more than verbal rape. Not an environment of dialogue with God oh no! It’s on average a forty minute speech a stream of verbal diarrhea from a single individual. Weird!

One of my friends is joining the Anglicans in America. His first invitation to deliver a sermon was prefaced with these refreshing words: ‘The sermon is not about you, so don’t use it as a platform to promote yourself and don’t take all the time – there should be room for people to commune with God’. I love it! My friend’s Anglican buddies don’t believe the sermon to be central to the service. For them God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit is central. A noble idée, especially when we look at the epistemology of the word sermon.

The word sermon comes from the Latin serere – to link together. What do we link together? I think for too long we have linked the cerebrum of the speaker with the same of the listeners. Creating a horizontal link between people the result is a deification of the speaker hence the huge premium people place on the preachers. I think this link; to use a common expression will always be ‘the weakest link.’ The Anglicans have it right that the worship service should be a link between us and the God we worship. The sermon serves as a bridge of communication, opening hearts and minds to the God of story, history, poetry and all forms of communication.

In this form of communication there should be listening and responding, silence and the pouring out of words – a rhythm facilitated by the sermon.

What will happen if the service becomes a linking together?
How many times have we smothered the dynamic and scary proposition of puny people talking to the Life Giving Link?

These days services are planned way in advance – not wrong in itself. Yet so many times we cut the dialogue portion of the service in favor of the monologue. We exchange breathing with God for partly polluted rhetoric. When I preach and everyone else for that matter we’re partly polluted. The mystery is that God use us, pollution and all. We have a facilitating role to play, but for God’s sake let us not monopolize!


The Hamstring chronicles continue.

My hamstrings are short. When I do stretches, the right way, with my back straight and not hunched over like the Hunchback of Notre Dame I can only stretch halfway up my leg.

The physiotherapist tells me that I have to stretch A LOT. My shortened hamstrings will need two months of disciplined stretching in order to lengthen. A shortened, cold hamstring snaps or pulls easily in strenuous circumstances.

My rehabilitation will force me to stretch daily and warm up before playing squash or doing other sport activities. Laziness will not help my situation. My friend Schalk (who works in Mozambique) admonishes me to make use of activities I’m already doing to stretch – like stretching when I’m showering. This sounds like a good plan of action.

Our spiritual muscles can also shorten. Lacking regular use they can shorten, atrophy and eventually break. Or in some cases a ‘short’ spiritual muscle can be overused and stretched to the max, resulting in excruciating pain. Instead of overusing a muscle we should take it slow and condition the muscle.

Paul urged his protégé Timothy in this way:

And that special gift of ministry you were given when the leaders of the church laid hands on you and prayed—keep that dusted off and in use.

In another place he urged him to:

Exercise daily in God—no spiritual flabbiness, please! Workouts in the gymnasium are useful, but a disciplined life in God is far more so, making you fit both today and forever.

Like all things prevention is better than cure, so what is the condition of your spiritual muscles? Are they short? Are they stretched to the max? Are you wondering what muscles?


Hamstring stories

Life is a sequential cycle of happy, sad, life, death, winning loosing – and you know what. These extremes keep us in balance by the act of being out of balance. Like the rest of the human sapiens on earth I’m also subscribed to this weird rhythm. Let me explain.

Squash. A word that brings up a myriad of images. Like the time you wished a big African python would squash your brother, mother, sister, father or anyone who deserves your indignation. Or squash an orange to get the sweetest OJ, cool and refreshing on a summer day. ‘I squeezed that girl’ brags the sixteen year old to his wide eyed hormone injected buddies.

But then there is squash – the sport. A racquet sport played by two people on an inside court. I love squash – never played in America, most Americans don’t know the sport squash (they know the other squashes).

Eugene is a psychologist and one of my squash partners in SA. A fortnight ago we played a round, he obliterated me (like squashed the heck out of me). I experienced loss, humiliation and my determination to win him resolved into dreaming before sleeping how I will play in certain circumstances. We played for a second time, he squashed me again. Third time out I squashed him, fourth time I squashed the heck out of him. Last Thursday we played a pretty even matched game, I stretched for a ball against the back wall and then it happened …. Tweeee,tweeee (not a bird entering the court), my hamstring stretched to the maximum and relenting under the pressure snapped! Winning, loosing, fitness, brokenness an endless cycle of on, off.

My hamstring is rehabilitating, under the careful supervision of a physiotherapist. I can’t run, walk, swim or do anything on my leg. My inactive leg is forcing my other muscles to overcompensate; they are picking up the slack.

When the physiotherapist told me ‘NO EXERCISE’ it felt like a jail sentence, and enforced physical Sabbath. I’m trying to make the best of it – my goal is to write a few reflections on my hamstring and what it is teaching me about the Body of Christ. Consider this the introduction.


Lanes Merging.

We were in the United States for three years; detached from our homeland and the rhythms of our friends and acquaintances. Our lives are merging again. Everyday we see someone familiar, our brains start to process the face open the folder with the name and then we start the greetings. It’s fun. The cobwebs over years of rhythms are clearing up. The week of our arrival we felt like strangers – roads that were frequented on a weekly basis looked strange. It’s different now.

Three years change a lot of things, people and relationships. A few of our friends now have beautiful children. The ‘new’ parents are constantly showing of these new additions. We smile, congratulate and listen to endless chatter about feeding and sleeping and viruses and such things.

This morning I had my accountability breakfast with a friend. I saw an acquaintance of three years ago …. With another man! Yet another divorce – a string of them in the last three years. It saddens us. We sometimes wish we can go back three years and prevent these ugly breakups!

As I’m typing this I’m seeing one of my favorite books on marriage in the bookshelf, Sacred Marriage by Gary Thomas. The premise of the book, what if marriage was intended for our holiness and not our happiness?

I wonder what will happen in the next three years?



Pick ‘n Pay is a South African version of Safeway in America. A convenient way for millions of people to buy groceries and goodies for the house. They have a problem. In the last few weeks they are being held hostage. The hostage takers are poisoning some of the food in the stores. Sardine cans, chips and other products are injected with cyanide. It is headline news in SA. The prospect of buying poisoned food is a scary thought.

This past weekend I had the daunting task talking about pain – why God allows it. I thought about the poisoned food in Pick ‘n Pay and realized that we also have spiritual food contaminated with poison. The poison of cyanide teaching. Formulas like this one:

Serve God and you’ll be happy, healthy and successful.

Believing this formula is just as dangerous as buying food with cyanide. It will destroy your system. The Bible warns us against spiritual cyanide,

Don’t suppress the Spirit, and don’t stifle those who have a word from the Master. On the other hand, don’t be gullible. Check out everything, and keep only what’s good. Throw out anything tainted with evil. 1 Thess 5 (Message)

Can you think of other cyanide formulas?


The Da Vinci Code

Those who signed up for the discussion let's read the book and when you're done just post in the shout out that you're ready to rumble! Once we're done reading the book we'll discuss.

God is amazing. For the past few weeks I’ve used a Celtic Prayer book as a part of my rule of life. July’s entry starts with the heading PILIGRIMAGE; the word is derived from the Latin word peregrinus that means ‘foreign’. The Jews went on a yearly pilgrimage to Jerusalem, the Psalms of Ascent was sung during that journey,

Psalm 120:1 reads: “I took my troubles to the Lord; I cried out to him, and he answered my prayer”.

As a foreigner of this world I have a lot of troubles, yet I don’t make God a part of that conversation of my life, in the margin of my Bible next to that verse is a question: Did I take my trouble to the Lord?

Earlier this morning I did just that and God orchestrated some wonderful answers through the day. His answer came through a friend of ours and a lunch with some wonderful encouraging words. I can only hope to be a tool in God’s hand a window of encouragement to others.

Here is a part of the Celtic prayers I pray in the morning:

“Be in the heart of each to whom I speak;
in the mouth of each who speaks unto me.”

God is amazing!