We all know the feeling… when you walk into an interview and you know that it’s going to be a roasting. Or when you get a first glance at the test, and you know that you should have forgotten about the sports on TV the night before. It’s never a great feeling!
I have spoken to many couples before they get married. Many of them can explain in the finest detail how the flowers will be arranged for their special day, how the children will be entertained, and what spices will be put on the chicken.
And then I ask the simple question: “What have you guys done as a couple for marriage preparation?”
Some of them probably think: “Haven’t you listened when we explained the whole reception?!” Others say that they know each other so well that they don’t need marriage preparation.
In life, one of the most important things that we should consider, is the amount of preparation that we put into things. Equally important is the approach that we use to prepare. I can prepare for something for months, but if I don’t prepare wisely, I will have wasted a lot of time.
For example: I can be convinced that I should be investing some of my time into a teenager who needs support. That is a great idea. But the fact that I have a great idea, doesn’t mean that it will have a great outcome. Ideas like these need to be executed, and for that we need to prepare properly.
The thing with wise preparation is, it helps us to figure out the nitty-gritty detail of what we are planning to do. How will I invest my time? How much? When? And as I flesh out the details of what I want to do, a whole other set of questions might pop up that I have not even considered, like: Why do I want to do this? Do I even know what a teenager needs? What if my investment in time leads me to the conclusion that I need to make a financial investment?
You see, we started with an idea. Stuff of the mind. As the preparation started taking flesh, we were confronted with our intention behind the idea. And that is where the magic happens; when the stuff of our minds get aligned with the stuff of our hearts, which leads to the stuff of our hands and feet and lips.
Many Christians all over the world are participating in the season of Lent. Lent is the forty days before Easter. The reason behind Lent, is that followers of Jesus take the time to prepare for Easter. Preparation questions our intention, which leads to action. In this time of preparation, many people focus on the sacrifice and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Of course, followers of Jesus are free to prepare and question their intentions as much as they like, whenever they like! But this time of communal focus helps many.
I have come to the realization that I need to make the stuff of my head connect with my heart more. And for that to happen, I have to keep on questioning whether the stuff of my hands and feet are intentional actions.
I saw a man complaining at McDonald’s yesterday that his ice cream was melting too quickly. No jokes. The poor manager had to endure about forty minutes of pointless blabber, because this man believed that she needed to hear his disappointment with how quickly ice cream melts. It’s funny when we stop and consider the things we sometimes focus our attention on, and how we can get so tense about things.
In South Africa, most of us try to avoid a home affairs office at all cost. I was privileged enough to visit one at the end of the month…big mistake! Or was it?
I haven’t seen so many old people together in a while. Why most of the people in the queues had grey heads, I’m not sure. But it was really odd. Usually, when there is an elderly in a queue, you make sure that she/he gets a chair, or is helped first. So, what do you do when there is a whole bunch of them?!
If you want to spend most of your life dealing with disgruntled people, all of them adamant that their case deserves your serious attention, you should consider working at home affairs. I wouldn’t be surprised if a home affairs employee receives danger pay!
One thing that I try to do when I know I’ll be standing in a queue, is to take a book along. By the way, I’m busy reading Donald Miller’s A Million Miles in a Thousand Years. Great book. But this time, it was as though my eyes couldn’t focus on my book. I began wondering about all the grey heads around me. Can you imagine how fascinating it would be if all these people started turning around, and asking each other questions, like: ‘Why are you here? Where are you from?’
I could compose a pretty fascinating journal if I took the time to write down all the stories that were caught up in that room. The lady on my left realized after seven years of being a widow, that her husband’s identity had been hijacked by someone, and that person has been receiving his state pension for the last seven years. The couple on my right were going to get married. They could hardly contain their excitement. With a simple question, like “Why are you here?” I almost felt like I was treading on holy ground. On my left, I could share in a woman’s helplessness; on my right, I felt like a guest at a wedding ceremony.
We can so easily get caught up in the trivial things in life: deadlines, quarrels, budgets. These things often numb our senses to truly experience what surrounds us: smells, tastes, faces with stories to tell. Instead of becoming caught up in trivialities, I want to be drawn into stories.
When the disciples were surrounded by about 15 000 hungry mouths, Jesus considered a creative alternative: “How about we feed them?”
We are often offered creative alternatives to the ‘stuckness’ of our lives. We might be pleasantly surprised if we explore them.
As a spinoff of the #Neknominations, which apparently originated in Australia, my newsfeed has been filled with #Goodwillnominations. What it boils down to, is that a person shows an act of kindness to someone, records it on video, and then nominates another person(s) to do their own act of kindness.
I have been thinking about this for the past couple of days.
On the one hand, I am happy to see that a whole bunch of people have been mobilized to do something good. I have also been challenged to do some introspection. I’ve been reflecting on the spaces where I find myself, and whether I am really on the lookout for connection points with the people that cross my path. Some corporate companies have also been nominated, and it is heartwarming to see how some of them have reacted by doing some good.
I, however, have a touch of uneasiness with regards to some elements of this initiative.
Let me explain by telling you about the picture of the two ladies on the cover of my blog. They are from a remote village in Botswana, that we have been visiting on outreaches. Well, I never asked for their permission to post their photo on a public platform. I used their photo, because, for me, it symbolizes that beauty is found in unexpected places. But who knows what they would say about the photo? They might even be offended or feel exposed.
Many of you might relate to the fact that we just can’t wait to post some pics of an outreach that we went on. That doesn’t necessarily mean that we want the world to see how good we were. But I am just wondering if we really treat the recipients of our goodwill as equals when we expose them to our public platforms, if we do so without their permission.
I also hope that the acts of kindness that have been shown, will be the start of long-term relationships and commitments. Sure, there is much room for us to show random acts of kindness, without the obligation to do more. But if we want to make a sustainable impact, I believe that we should be willing to commit to relationships of a more permanent nature. When a random act of kindness evolves into a friendship, then something beautiful is born. You might even be surprised to see how a friendship with a poor person might give the original recipient of goodwill the opportunity to return the favor in their own way.
The words of Jesus in Matthew 6 have been mauling in my head the past couple of days:
“Be especially careful when you are trying to be good so that you don’t make a performance out of it. It might be good theater, but the God who made you won’t be applauding. When you do something for someone else, don’t call attention to yourself. You’ve seen them in action, I’m sure – ‘playactors’ I call them – treating prayer meeting and street corner alike as a stage, acting compassionate as long as someone is watching, playing to the crowds. They get applause, true, but that’s all they get. When you help someone out, don’t think about how it looks. Just do it – quiet and unobtrusively. That is the way your God, who conceived you in love, working behind the scenes, helps you out.”
Many of the #Goodwillnominators are good friends of mine, and people that I have much respect for. I know that their motives are pure. But we don’t have control over how people perceive what we say and do on social media. It is for that reason, that I will not be posting a #Goodwillnomination on my Facebook wall.
Scripture is clear on the fact that fellow followers of Jesus should inspire and motivate each other to be His hands and feet in a broken world. There is nothing wrong with sharing our stories of hope. In fact, I believe we have an obligation to do so. For me, the #Goodwillnominations might have been more appealing if people shared their videos in inboxes, or in a message with specific recipients.
I am inspired by people who have taken the initiative to cause a mini-revival of goodwill. That is a good thing. I do believe, however, that followers of Jesus should be ‘behind the scenes’ people. That is where, in my opinion, sustainable community is born.
I would love to hear your (sensitive and constructive) opinion.
One of my relatives has often joked that we should start a new church in Jo’burg. He would be responsible for the management, and I would be the pastor. I should allow him to dictate about half of everything I say or preach, and not ask any questions about money. If I did this, he would pay me a decent salary, and even allow me to use substantial amounts of money to use wherever people needed it.
The sad reality is that many people make heaps of money in the name of God. I’ve experienced this in Sunnyside, Pretoria. Sunnyside is home to people from many different nationalities: Congolese, Zimbabweans, Nigerians, locals. It’s one of the most vibrant places in Pretoria.
Our paths once crossed with a family of a mother and two daughters who got evicted from their apartment. They needed accommodation at an affordable price. I got a hold of a pastor who apparently often helped people with accommodation in Sunnyside. The pastor was professionally dressed. He took us to a three bedroom apartment. The place was really dirty; the mirrors were broken, the stove wasn’t working properly, other tenants who were also renting a room told us about the colony of mice that ran around the place during the night.
The pastor was subletting the place from the real owner. Renting out the place per room, he asked about R 8000 for an apartment that was falling apart. But people paid, because they needed a place to live, and accommodation was scarce.
A while back, my wife needed a tent in a township close to Pretoria for a holiday programme that they were doing for school kids. She met the pastor of the church that the tent belonged to, at his home. In his lavish home, there was a life-size flat screen against the wall, leather couches and curtains that looked like it belonged to royalty.
To see how some pastors take the little money that congregants have to support their personal lifestyles, is disconcerting. (Of course, there are many churches and pastors that do great work in poor communities).
With the promise that whatever you choose to give, God will choose to reward you with much more, people are often exploited and manipulated by a self-made gospel.
This is not only a South-African, or an African problem. It is also not only found in lower economic classes. The prosperity gospel has cooed many into believing that God is waiting to bless them, when they give.
Blessing has very little to do with financial success or physical riches. In fact, Jesus says that we are blessed when we are at the end of our rope, even when we have little to give.
The other side of the coin is that, even though we may not believe that God blesses when we give, many followers of Jesus (myself included) don’t always encourage each other to embody what Jesus did and stood for. We are satisfied with a tame, diluted gospel that doesn’t care much about what we do with our hands, feet and wallets.
I got glasses when I was about twenty years old. I always thought that my eyes were fine. But when I put on my glasses for the first time, it was like a whole new world was revealed to me. For the first time, I could see the fine detail of the leaves, the freckles on people’s faces.
The more we get to know Jesus, the more we start seeing life in a different light. As we discover pouring ourselves out everyday, our eyes open up to religious frauds, and to our own blind spots.
When I was a child, we were about a forty-minute drive away from the Kruger National Park; one of Africa’s most majestic wildlife parks. We often made a spur of the moment decision the night before, to go to the park the next morning.
I will never forget the excitement of knowing that we would be waking up long before the sun will rise the next morning.
I don’t stay close to the Kruger Park anymore, but I still get withdrawal symptoms if I haven’t been able to retreat to the bushveld for a while.
Why do we get so drawn to a specific piece of creation? Some people have a special connection with the sea, others enjoy hiking in the mountains.
Apart from the fact that we experience a sense of adventure when we get in touch with nature, I can only conclude that we experience the Creator in a very special way.
The Bible is filled with beautiful references to the magnitude of the Creator when we look around us, and see the beauty of what He has created.
Like Ecclesiates 7:13 (Message): ‘Take a good look at God’s work. Who could simplify and reduce Creations curves and angles to a plain straight line?’
I took this photo of a Leopard cub in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park.
During the times that I have to reside in the concrete jungle, I have a few sources that helps to keep my withdrawal symptoms in check:
Africam has a few webcams situated in wildlife parks across South Africa. I have seen some pretty amazing wildlife while taking a coffee break. Check it out!
Hugo Breed Wildtography is a page that you can follow on Facebook. We stayed in the same residence at the University of Pretoria. Some of the shots that he manages to capture, is really breathtaking.
One of Hugo’s snaps.
If you feel overworked, allow yourself to spend some time in the beauty that is nature. If you feel a deep yearning to be with God, spend time in Creation. He isn’t called the Creator for nothing!
South Africans are a pretty diverse bunch. In a country with so many languages, cultures and viewpoints, it’s little wonder that there will be misunderstandings between people every now and then.
I was recently part of a group exercise where we had to split into pairs. Part of the exercise involved looking your partner straight in the eye when you were spoken to. When the group reflected on the exercise, some people said that they felt like they were genuinely listened to. Others said that looking an older person straight in the eye, would be considered disrespectful according to their culture.
People may be radically different, but there are some things that draw people together.
For example: it doesn’t matter where you stay, what you earn or what language you speak, if you support the same soccer team, you are part of a special brotherhood!
Two pregnant women who enter the delivery room at the same time, share a bond that no man will ever be able to understand.
My grandmother found a confidant and friend after the death of my grandfather in the unlikeliest of persons. She shared her feelings with this woman, she cried in her presence, and this woman lent an ear when the loneliness became overwhelming for my grandmother.
She is my grandmother’s domestic worker.
They don’t have the same skin colour. Their mother-tongues are different. Their social and economic classes differ immensely. Even so, my grandmother’s employee has experienced loss in her life as well; which helped her to empathize with her employer.
Loss and pain is a universal thing. The moment that we draw our first breath on earth, we can be assured that we will have to bear loss and pain. Some people may feel that, in comparison with other people, they have been dealt a heavy blow.
People have written many books on the cause of pain. Some have compelling arguments, but even the best explanations doesn’t take away the fact that we struggle to make sense of pain, and how to deal with it as believers.
Many believers have turned to the book of Job to help them with their own painful pilgrimage. If there is one thing that I take away from the book of Job, it is that the friends who accompany people on their painful pilgrimage, should not pretend to have all the answers. I have often been tempted to try and make people’s circumstances better with the words I use, or even the Scriptures I quote. But that is not primarily what people need. In fact, our best effort to provide comfort with words often aggravate the situation.
We needn’t have faced the exact similar trail or painful experience to be of worth for a friend. Presence is a powerful thing.
My neighbor is a 94 year old lady from Dutch descent. Whenever I speak to her (in Afrikaans), I just can’t seem to get enough of her peculiar accent! Even though her health is deteriorating (understandably so), her mind is still as clear as crystal.
Whenever I walk past her glass door, more often than not, I spot her with a book under her nose. I have sometimes wondered how many of the books that she has read, she would be able to recall!
The most fascinating people I have met, are all avid readers. From them I have learnt a simple principle: wisdom is acquired. Nobody is born a wise man.
I also enjoy reading. I can’t imagine my life without books (and music). I want to read as much as and as extensive as possible, for as long as possible, for the following reasons:
1) Reading has helped me to try applying the art of discernment. Not all books are good books. The more you read, the more you develop the skill to separate the wheat from the chaff.
2) Someone else’s creativity stimulates my own creative juices. Writers often have the ability to transform ordinary words into images I would never even have imagined.
3) Some books (fiction especially) has the ability to transport me to a world far from my own. When my circumstances start to overwhelm me, a book often helps me to imagine a different world, where I only have to observe. Sometimes, this other world even helps me to reimagine the role that I play in my own world.
4) Books help me to broaden my perspective. Reading other people’s take on different topics confronts my own beliefs and prejudices. It also helps me to have a better appreciation for people who have different views.
5) I always get a sense of accomplishment when I finish a book. This reinforces the notion that the things I start, I want to finish.
Here are a few books (that I can remember!) that I have found enriching to read:
Fiction or True Story:
The Hobbit (JRR Tolkien)
The Chronicles of Narnia (C.S. Lewis)
Dis ek, Anna (Elbie Lotter) (Also available in English: It’s me, Anna)
Marley and Me (John Grogan)
Tuesdays with Morrie (Mitch Albom)
A Long Walk to Freedom (Nelson Mandela)
Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy (Eric Metaxas)
Die Tyd van die Kombi’s (Koos Kombuis)
Mere Christianity (C.S. Lewis)
Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places (Eugene Peterson)
Nudge (Leonard Sweet)
Jesus Manifesto (Leonard Sweet and Frank Viola)
Where is God When it Hurts? (Philip Yancey)
What Good is God? (Philip Yancey)
Mirror to the Church (Emmanuel Katongole)
The King Jesus Gospel (Scot McKnight)
Everything Must Change (Brian McLaren)
Marriage and Sexuality:
Sex God (Rob Bell)
The Meaning of Marriage (Timothy Keller)
Architects of Poverty (Moeletsi Mbeki)
I Write What I Like (Steve Biko)
The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People (Stephen Covey)
Master Leaders (Barna and Dallas)
Which books would you recommend?