Dancing Without Shoes in the Cold


Last night I went with a local church team in Port Elizabeth to an open park in the old part of the city to meet some homeless people and their children. There were about 60 people and 25 children. Chairs were put out, and a little service was held. Welcome, worship, reading of the Word (Psalm 17), a testimony and a short presentation and invitation to the Gospel. With the Church across the road’s doors closed, we were in a Cathedral under the stars. The bitter cold did not stop the children, even those who had no shoes, from dancing. Their beautiful faces beaming hope and joy. On the sides, in the shadows, weary adults sat. They have heard it all before. Unmoved, they were impatient to eat and go and secure their place to sleep. But one man who had been in prison came and took the mike and like a poet poured out his heart, addressing heaven as he lamented his pain. Prayed for in a huddle, I sensed that his demons, his loss, his grief was silenced for a while and that the Gospel like gentle rain was falling on him. One day He truly will be free. After everyone had eaten and the serving team cleaned up, I watched as one happy boy collected a cardboard box on the instruction of his mother who was pushing their trolley carrying all their possessions. I watched as they disappeared around the corner into the night. I was left feeling, once again, that in the ordinary is the extraordinary and in the simple the sacred.

Dancing Without Shoes in the Cold

Cars and Dolls

As many of you may know, I am an unlikely choice to work in the James 1:27 Trust space.  My training and background seem to make for some disconnect, leaving me not always able to cope with the chaos and messiness of community development. There is no protocol, seemingly just a relational matrix of complexity.  There is, however, some semblance of diplomacy; I was recently successfully lobbied by 4 children from a family I was visiting in Stinkwater, 2 boys and 2 girls ranging in ages from 5 to 9.  Their skill at negotiation needs to be appreciated as they made their pitch, the substance of which was all about cars and dolls.

I originally captured their pitch on my camera in order to help negotiate with my 8-year daughter to access her dolls and “fluffies” from her vault of acquired and inherited treasures.  Having 3 older siblings her loot is substantial.  In any event, the 8 year old refused and instead persuaded me to purchase an additional “forest family” animal for her collection.  Her response to my criticism of her values ended in stalemate and I found myself taking her on a shopping expedition, for herself!

As we searched for these Sylvanian family marketing gems, I remembered the pitch from the 4 Stinkwater children and realised that I may need to buy them toys having failed to acquire them through ethical and emotional appeal.  Being a boy, I could find just the right cars easily.  The dolls however, were another story.  Immediately, my cognitive overdrive kicked in and resistance to buying any Barbie came to mind. Secondly, why buy a black child a white doll?  As if it matters to a child, I searched for the correct appropriate doll.  The toy store’s buyer obviously has no clue so nowhere was one to be found.  Also having strict instructions to buy dolls with hair, I then purchased as do millions of other foolish shoppers, big plastic pink Barbie looking dolls with lots of hair.

Feeling exhausted by the complexity of the exercise I glanced at my 8-year old for some affirmation only to be faced with, “You do love your own children more, don’t you?”.  I then explained that I had purchased her gift with my money and the Trust had purchased the cars and dolls with its money.  Not satisfied with the side step, she stared very intently.  Inspiration in a flash came as I told her that she had change from her R100 budget and perhaps she would like an ice-cream from McD.  As we drove home, with a happy 8 year old eating potato based fake ice-cream, no longer preoccupied with how much her father loved her more than others, I thought of the smiling faces of 2 other little girls, of the fake dolls with fake hair. Then with great relief I thought of the beautiful cars as uncomplicated toys, of the boys and their delight. Life while complex seemed maybe doable!  I was then left wondering what diplomats could learn from children about interests, conflict and negotiations and what MBA students could learn from a child’s elevator pitch and then of course what toy stores could learn about dolls and little girls.  Maybe we all still have a lot to learn.

Cars and Dolls

Social Change and the James 1:27 Trust

Probably the greatest lesson we are leaning is that it takes time to bring about change. Measuring impact is also a lot more complicated. But what we know is that when we are relationally present and have contact in a community, family and in a child’s life, we can bring hope. What this means is being physically present, listening, opening our hearts to feel and to share whatever resources we have. There is something transformational in being available to God to be His eyes, ears, heart, hands and feet. However, the greatest difficulty is to be His voice, to be a prophetic call to action proclaiming Isaiah 58 and Mathew 25, encouraging, enabling, facilitating and warning people that they have an obligation to focus where the Lord is focusing. The Greek and Hebrew languages make no real distinction between the words for justice and righteousness. Logically therefore if the Kingdom of God is about, righteousness, Shalom and joy then surely Shalom and joy require justice. Therefore as we relate to ourselves, each other, and our community and society, we need to be righteous meaning to act justly. What this means of course is that we no longer are living a life of self-realisation, accumulation and being upwardly mobile, but rather one that is sacrificed in order to realise Christ. Giving away rather than buying more and using ones knowledge, wealth, influence to come down the social ladder. Just as John the Baptist in preparing for Christ’s first coming called for the sharing of two tunics, “if you have two tunics give one away”, we in the social justice space are also preparing for the Lord and saying if you have two tunics give one away.

This simple act of obedience has meant that we at the Trust can share in carrying the heavy load of other community development partners. A recent breakthrough is in Zama Zama, an informal settlement outside greater Tshwane, where 197 families live and struggle for survival. Our community health partners from the University of Pretoria have identified malnutrition among the children at 40%. This tragic indicator is of course symptomatic of other systemic problems. But the God we serve is not just compiling base line statistics, He has enabled the funding of a school for 50 pre-schoolers which is probably the most beautiful school I have seen. Simple, yet beautiful. It carries hope and speaks of the heart of the Gospel. We also now in partnership with community orientated health care workers and specialists, building our own contribution to the rest of holistic care. Emotional, physical, social, psychological and spiritual care is happening, with many partners involved. From a nutrition project and emergency supplements to food gardens to boreholes and solar generated pumps to community meetings and attempt at income generating activities. Complex, fragile and fraught with relational challenges we go on week by week believing that our service no matter how modest can be used like the 2 fish and 5 loaves making a difference. Those of you that make this possible. Thank you!. Also remember that our income mobilisation is based on word of mouth and getting those that give to find others to give as well. Just as I have asked you and you have kindly responded, please ask others. Some will always ask questions and never give, others will be cynical and justify their indifference, but there will be those that will say yes. Unfortunately we have to experience the whole gambit of responses, to find those that say yes!

Social Change and the James 1:27 Trust

Comments on Discipleship

“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.” (Jeremiah 1:5 English Standard Version ESV). I have been reflecting on this specific scripture for a long time. I recently sought insight from a trusted source. I asked my five year old, “where were you before you were born?” she instinctively understood the question and responded in a conspiratorial whisper, “I come from heaven, from a cradle next to the Lord. He took me and placed me in my mummy’s tummy”. The prophet Jeremiah and my five year old testify that the Lord before He formed you in the womb, He knew you. As you come from the Father, from heaven, it is to heaven, through the redemptive plan of the Gospel that you return, because you return to the Father, to the place that he first thought of you and from where He gave creation intent to your life purpose.

Spiritual formation is about being aligned to this creation intent. It is about intimacy, about “knowing” and being known. Jesus said that eternal life is to know the Father, and to know the Father is to know the Son. Spiritual formation therefore is about being heaven minded but living today in eternity, it is about knowing the Father by knowing Jesus. Richard Foster says that spiritual formation is about knowing Jesus as Saviour, Lord, teacher and friend. The method, he explains, is found in the shared traditions of 2000 years of Christian discipleship. The building blocks of which include prayer, the Word, the Spirit, Holiness and social justice. It is about the incarnational reality of living eternally now, with the mind of Christ, character of Christ, love of Christ, doing what the Father intended us to do. To be His mind, eyes, hands, feet, heart and hope.

The outcome of which is that we get to love him with all our heart soul and mind and to love our neighbour as we love ourselves and in so doing fulfills the greatest of the commandments.

It also means that we get to contribute towards the great commission of the Gospel and to further the Kingdom of God. There is in my mind nothing more significant than this which is why spiritual formation is so important. The practical method of which begins when we are intentional about constructing our daily, weekly, monthly, yearly cycles of devotion in which we build rhythms, repetition and routine.

Discipleship is about discipline which is built upon form which follows function and structure which follows strategy. The calibration between grace and action creates for an intimate partnership with the Holy Spirit. Thus repetition while at risk of being religious, offers our minds vast opportunity for renewal and transformation.

It seems that from the very point of conception, life purpose is covered by a redemptive plan of the Gospel. The intent of which is to experience not only being the beloved of the Lord but also to be His servants and to accomplish that which we were created to do. The climatic end is to escape the seat of judgment with no heavenly record of our sin, but to appear before the seat of appraisal, the place where we are held accountable for what we have done with what we have been given. Our work is assessed and reward apportioned. Within the context of this truth and in response to His love we are therefore called to a strategic alignment of our lives.

The alignment thus starts from the place of creation intent and ends in our place and position in heaven. The challenge in ensuring this alignment is our participation in keeping various prophetic threads together. In which the thread of the Alpha and the Omega, Jesus has come and will come again is included.

We are born within a prophetic time frame that requires us to know the “times” that we are in. There is the thread of the nations, international patterns and relations, located within the political economy in which issues of Justice, morality and ethics are shaped, the outcomes of which impact on the daily lives of billions of people. Then there is the national thread, where our nationality is shaped and where our social mission is located. We also have threads that relate to our city, neighbourhood, community, Church, work domain, family and friends, household and home. Generational issues playing out their full force, redemption! Then there are relational threads, some of which are covenantal. In these spaces daily decisions are made, acts of selfishness and acts of kindness and generosity of spirit, evoked, attitudes of the heart shaped, choices made between fears and faith, insecurities and maturity demonstrated, all of which impacting on each other’s life purpose, diminishing the light within or encouraging the light on the hill. In this place we search for meaning and love and turn helplessly to power, wealth, influence and significance, only to find that the rot is internal. We are forced to face the truth that despite our theology, doctrines and understanding of grace, we are not up to the task assigned to us. We cannot live the life to which we are called at the standard for which it is intended. In time, we all who travel on this path, come to a place of bankruptcy, where a sign is placed in our window which says, “Character under-liquidation”, “new management sought”.

We realise that despite being “born again” and “spirit filled” we seem set not to be able to achieve our life purpose and are faced with our own mediocre levels of spirituality from which we seem set on a slow trajectory for failure with destruction and unnecessary pain marking the road along the way. The question is whether this is the intended Christian experience? Does the Master have a path on which we can walk? Is it a new path for a new age or is it an ancient one? Perhaps one that is well traveled by others, other weary travellers like us.

Thus says the LORD: “Stand by the roads, and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls. Jeremiah 6:16 English Standard Version (ESV)

Comments on Discipleship

Reflection on the Resignation of Pope Benedict

I don’t think the week can pass without a reflection on the resignation of HH Pope Benedict XVI.  I was deeply moved by his resignation speech.  As I listened to the English translation, I became aware that not only was I witnessing an important marker in history, I realised I was watching the display of human greatness, holiness and brokenness.  The following words used will remain with me forever:  “I am well aware that this ministry owing to its essential spiritual nature, must be carried out not only with words and deeds, but no less with prayer and suffering”.

You may not know, but I grew up Catholic and my early childhood experiences of God were shaped by the silent pauses and reflection within the intimacy of liturgical service.  The manner of taking of communion, kneeling, repenting and even confession have remained deep within me.  As a young lad I used to regularly help serve the priest as he took the sacraments. I experienced being an insider as we put on robes and prepared for the service.  His kindly tone and gentle encouragement always made me feel known by God. Unfortunately he left the country finding the domestic politics of the day an affront to his conscience and ethics and my own theological development seemed to drift.  It was only at university in my fifth year that I would have a spiritual renewal and personal encounter with Jesus.  These past 25-years have been a celebration of this commitment and I feel incredibly alive to the Spirit of Christ.  While I have learnt about the importance of doctrine and remain an evangelical charismatic, I am also at times a liberal and even confess to a love for reference expressed in tradition and being Anglo-Catholic, but what guides me is being Christ centred with a focus on what Dallas Willard calls the vision of the Gospel and the Kingdom, the intention of being discipled and discipling and openness to the method of spiritual formation, all of which continue to bring alignment to one’s life purpose.  We thank the Lord for the Life of Joseph Ratzinger, a servant of Christ. May we learn from him that “ministry owing to its essential spiritual nature, must be carried out not only with words and deeds, but no less with prayer and suffering”.

Reflection on the Resignation of Pope Benedict

Reflection on Nelson Mandela


We all awoke this morning with the news that our beloved father of South Africa, Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, had passed over that eternal bridge to the place and One that first dreamt and thought of his life, destiny and purpose. Today is for many a treasured reflection of memory of meeting, speaking to, serving and being inspired by Madiba. All have similar cameos of his greatness. In the ordinary, his extraordinary view of people and life, in the simple acts of kindness, forgiveness and generosity of spirit, the sacred heartbeat of Christ could be seen. I watched as he descended the small steps of the plane at an airport in Paris, his VIP car waiting, only to find him after a warm embrace moving to the real VIP, a man sitting on a service vehicle, transfixed. Madiba walked up to him, saw him, greeted him and in that instant changed both his life and mine. I had not seen the man before; I was waiting for the VIP. While we may never be great like him, we do serve a God that reflects an image and a character in all of those humble enough to be open to His glory. May Madiba now rest in peace in the embrace of the One that has always loved him and may we all be the richer for his inspiration and sacrifice. South Africa you have a dream from the dreamer. Let us not just focus on the nightmare of the enemy of God. Let us rather follow the example of the greatest leader that South Africa will ever have! Let us see the dream and commit ourselves to its completion.