Thursday, January 28, 2010

Being Sure

Sometimes I feel sure I am loved by God, and other times I have doubt. There are moments when I am sure that God loves me, and there are moments when tiredness, frustration, financial worry, and stress crowd out the peace and joy of the presence of God.

I do not doubt that Jesus came to live amongst us and offered his life as a “fragrant sacrifice” (Ephesians 5:2). But I do not always “feel” close to God. Scientists have shown that human feelings have to do with chemistry in our brains, and shows how useless it is for us to trust our feelings as a sign of the presence of God.

It is for this reason that Jesus points beyond feelings to the fruit of our lives. Jesus says that if we want to be sure of God’s presence in our lives we must look for signs of God activity (John 15:8). Our relationship with God is based on God’s goodness within us that transcends both our ups and downs. This is a goodness that is shown in the way we care for those who struggle with life; in the way we encourage those who have lost faith; in the way we practice generosity with people around us; and in the way we refuse to repay anger with anger, pain with pain and hate with hate.

This has nothing to do with me “feeling good”. This has to do with surrender: I surrender my tiredness, my irritability, my scepticism, to God – and God’s Spirit uses me to bless someone else. It is in these moments that I m sure of my faith: because in spite of my weaknesses, God’s blessing has been given to another person (1 Corinthians 1:23-31).

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Paul Verryn

Paul is a friend of mine.
I have known him for the past 23 years. Back then we both were both Supervisors of Probationer Methodist Ministers – he in Johannesburg, and I in Cape Town. I would stay with him when I went to Johannesburg, either in Hillbrow (when it was not safe), or in his Soweto home.

Why not safe? Because he found himself caught up by the political currents that swirled around Winnie Mandela and her “soccer team”. Paul was followed by the security police. He was shot by a local township gangster who tried to take his car. He was vilified by white Methodists for his commitment to political change, and excoriated by black Methodists for challenging the inept and often lazy ministry exercised by some. He was fearless in challenging injustice and in championing those without a voice.

And I am appalled by the short memories of those in leadership of our country. Many of the current political leaders were helped by Paul when they were still youngsters in the townships. And many of the current Methodist leadership were taught by Paul when they were student ministers. He is not a saint. He is often stubborn, and irascible, and determined to have his own way. These were required weapons to cope with the ugly face of the Apartheid years. And these have become necessary tools in the face of entrenched xenophobic South Africans.

Clearly these are not helpful tools to deal with the intricacies of Church politics. In the holy huddles of Bishops and other church flunkies, blunt honesty and fearless comment are unwelcome. They muddy the carefully purified waters that are sprinkled on troubled brows. Many have bided their time and waited for the right moment to put him in his place. And now he is being charged in a church disciplinary committee with a technicality: he is accused of usurping the right of the Presiding Bishop to go to court on behalf of the Methodist Church; and of speaking to the press without the authority to do so. Grave crimes indeed!

My church is less concerned with the children than with the instigator of the court action. And these charges could have been brought months ago: Paul has spoken to the press for years and years without church complaint… but they are timed to do the most damage to his reputation.

Paul remains my friend. And I will pray for my church’s leadership.

Thursday, January 21, 2010


I have not known how to speak about the disaster in Haiti. But have been deeply moved by two articles. I am asking you to read the following quotes:

On Oct. 17, 1989, a major earthquake with a magnitude of 7.0 struck the Bay Area in Northern California. Sixty-three people were killed......
...........a major earthquake, also measuring a magnitude of 7.0, struck near Port-au-Prince, Haiti. The Red Cross estimates that between 45,000 and 50,000 people have died. This is not a natural disaster story. This is a poverty story. It’s a story about poorly constructed buildings, bad infrastructure and terrible public services
. ( David Brooks )

Why have Haitian farmers been run out of business? Why is the Haitian soil stripped and the country plagued by mudslides? Why are Haitian girls sold into slavery? Why is 80% of the Haitian budget going to pay other countries? Why are the people there eating mud? Why is their government corrupt? Why are there hardly any jobs in Haiti? Why are there no supplies to build decent buildings? Why is it so hard for kids there to get education? Why are there no roads? And when we discover that the answers to many of those questions are unjust U.S. trade and military policies, it can be hard to swallow. We can brush it aside as just trying to pass blame and point fingers – and continue to give aid and remake the country in our image. Or we can own up to our collective sins and take responsibility for making amends.
( Julie Clawson )

Weep for those who have died.
Weep for those who survived and now have less than nothing.
And weep for those of us who have more than we need and cling stubbornly to our riches.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010


Her has brother died – and the family is relieved.

Last year the family had gathered for her mother’s birthday, and her brother got drunk and raped his sister. The other members of the family stayed in their rooms and ignored her cries for help. You see - he is a member of a gang and they were afraid.

He then ran away and she laid charges with the police – who eventually caught him. And the family lived in fear. They were afraid of the way this tore up the family. They were afraid of retaliation by his gang. And they were afraid that he would come out of prison on bail.

But then they heard the news that he was ill – in fact he was fading away. She had herself tested for HIV/Aids, which showed negative. Her sisters asked her to drop the charges because of his illness. And then last week they arrived with a church pastor to pressurise her into withdrawing the charges. She was accused of having a “cold heart” and of “not acting like a Christian.” But she stood her ground. He had entered a ‘not guilty’ plea in court and until he admitted guilt she would not speak to them . In desperation she finally threatened to bring her own pastor (me) to take them on.

Last Friday her brother died in prison. Since then her mother and sisters have apologised to her for their actions: and she knows it was because they feared him. Since then she has been assaulted with a brick by a member of his gang. And now her mother wants her to be a pall-bearer at his funeral tomorrow.
So today she feels conflicted.

I have no answers for her. I listen….I pray with her…..and I assure her of God’s love for her.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

La Chaim

I have just watched the sun settle into the Atlantic Ocean.

Jenny, my friend Rick , and I drove our motorcycles over Constantia Neck, through Hout Bay and up Chapman’s Peak Drive. Just past the toll booths we found a picnic spot and parked our bikes. We sat under the towering buttresses of the Twelve Apostles that range back from Table Mountain and savoured the warm afternoon, with its still air and view over a calm sea. We talked, and drank cold drinks, and relaxed.

And I was aware of the conflicted reality – that I am privileged to be in this moment of tranquillity, while others half a world away are desperately trying to reclaim their lives from the rubble of an earthquake.
I have no answers. But am grateful for my life.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

God with us

I hung out with God today.

At 6:30 am I rode my motorcycle from my home through the oak trees of Constantia, over the winding mountain pass, and down into Hout bay. I encountered God in the crisp early morning air, the beauty of the new sunlight on the mountains, and the sparkle of the sea. I joined 1 000 runners in a road running race between Camps Bay and Houtbay and encountered God in the encouragement given me by both spectators and fellow runners. I met God in the joy of sharing a family breakfast in Dunes restaurant. We laughed together, watched dolphins frolicking in the waves, and were proud of Granny (my 85yrs old mother-in-law) who completed the 5km fun run.
This afternoon our family went for a picnic at Kirstenbosch. We were entertained by Freshly Ground (a local band) and encountered God in the music, the awe-inspiring setting, and the friendly camaraderie of about 5 000 other picnickers. So I come to the end of a perfect day – a day infused with the presence of God.

Today I did not find God in a Church.

Most Sundays I spend inside of Church buildings. I normally have three Sunday services, sometimes four. My Sundays are consumed with the people who meet inside the buildings. And I love them dearly and find great joy in being with them. I also appreciate how the weekly routine of worship keeps me spiritually grounded. But today I was reminded that God is not trapped inside of a Church building. I was reminded that there are many more people outside of the church buildings than there are inside. These are not unspiritual people – they are just people who do not find church helpful in their spirituality. Instead they run, they cycle, they climb mountains, they go to the beach, and they share breakfast as families and friends.
Today I was reminded that I dare not reduce my reality to my church. The church is an important part of my life – but there is another world outside of the fellowship of my church. And I am reminded of John Wesley who insisted that “the world is my parish.”

Monday, January 04, 2010

Christmas everyday

I sometimes think we expect too much of Christmas Day. We try to crowd into it the long arrears of kindliness and humanity of the whole year. As for me, I like to take my Christmas a little at a time, all through the year.
- David Grayson
American author and journalist (1870-1946)