Thursday, September 28, 2006

Cape Town and Table Mountain

We are enjoying our time around Cape Town immensely.

Yesterday we climbed Table Mountain via the Platteklip Gorge.

It is a strenuous hike, as you can see from this website. We did it in 21/2 hours, which was pretty good, I guess.

It tok a lot out of me, but was a very beautiful trip.

For a lovely photo of the gorge, click here.

Monday, September 25, 2006


Saw a wonderful live open air concert in Cape Town yesterday. The Moreira Project. The swing of black musicians with a mostly black audience brought tears to my eyes.

Before the band came on, a storyteller told a story. (Sermons should be that way). One thing he said struck me:

You are because I am.
I am because you are.

That is Africa, I thought. Community. I only exist because the other exists, and he/she can only live if/because I live.

We have lost that in our western society. People are "objects", "products". Means of exchange.

My partner is there to meet my needs.
The shopkeeper provides me a service.
I want to help my children grow up and be productive.
I support my friend and he/she me.
The politician tries to provide a peaceful and wealthy society.
The congregation pays its minister to deliver a reasonable sermon and be there in times of crisis.
The minister tries to keep his/her congregation on the straight and narrow and hopes to receive a word of encouragement in the process.

But the thought that I can only exist because the other is there? And he/she because I am there?

Paul said "do not be conformed to the thinking of this world".
It seems to be like we have conformed big time.

Try to look at other people differently today.

You cannot "be" without them. and they without you.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006


I was speechless.

A very well done museum - you can tell that by this sign.

There are no words for the type of evil committed during this period of South African history - which wasn't all that long ago.

There are no words for the type of heroism of those who gave everything for the cause they believed in.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Maher Arar

This is what I meant in my post "Can we trust him now"?

The story of Maher Arar.

Saturday, September 16, 2006


Tomorrow my wife and I fly from Amsterdam to Johannesburg, South Africa.

A sister of mine lives there, and she works with her husband for Trans World Radio.

We're also going to the Cape to see the Southern White Whales and pay a visit to Cape Town and Table Mountain.

We're very excited to be able to go back to Africa again, and we're interested in the culture there and the influence of apartheid.

I won't be blogging so much for the next three weeks - vacation is, after all, vacation!

I will try to do some, but the frequency will be less.

Until the next time. Take care of yourselves.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

The surprise of washing feet

Jesus washed the feet of his disciples.

He was their Lord, Master and Creator, and he kneeled down before them and washed their dirty feet.

When he was done, he gave them a command: "Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you should also wash one another's feet."

His command contains a surprise. You would think that he would say, "I have served you, now I want you to serve me."

That's what is often preached in church. God has done X for you, now go and do Y for Him. (Even gratitude is placed in that light.)

But that is not what Jesus says.

I have done it for you - now go and do it for someone else. The movement is horizontal. Because Jesus has washed my feet, I go and look for someone else whose feet need washing.

It does, of course, come back to Jesus in the end. "Whatever you did for the least of these brothers of mine, you did it for me".

If you have lost contact with God, or don't know exactly what He wants you to do, maybe this will help.

Go look for a pair of dirty feet.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

We're safe

Can't resist this one either.
Mostly the words of our President. Much more doesn't really need to be said.
Remember "does 'is' mean 'is' or doesn't it"?

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Judge ye not one another

When I look back at our years of church planting in Amsterdam I am struck by a focus that lay close to the heart of our ministry: we felt we needed to know whether or not someone had crossed the line from death to life, from darkness to light.

The theology was that people are in darkness, heading for hell, sinking in the cold waters of death in the same way the victims of the Titanic were sinking so many years ago. It was a question of life and death to provide the way to escape from destruction, but also to know whether a person had made sufficient use of the means of salvation provided to him or her.

Someone would, on the street in Amsterdam, pray the “sinner’s prayer” and make a profession of faith. We would write home about that with great joy – someone had escaped from death into life!

But we were also realistic and we were trying to build a community of believers. So we would see that person be sporadic in church attendance, irregular in pursuing spiritual disciplines, and persistent in continuing a lifestyle that was not in accordance with Biblical norms.

The question would inevitably arise: Was the profession of faith credible? Had the person really passed from death to life?

And so we spent quite a bit of time trying to determine, for the community in general but also in specific instances, what the real indications were that someone had credibly crossed that line.

It was a perfectly logical and necessary thing to do, given our theology. It was a question of life and death.

But it made me uncomfortable:

Was not the motivation for our ministry primarily fear – fear of destruction and hell? And is that the Biblical motive for ministry?
How much of what we did was manipulative, based on fear? (And manipulation is perfectly legitimate when the situation is a matter of life and death. If I am rescuing someone from a burning building, then every possible means is valid.)
Did I really love the person as a person?
Was it right or good for me to make a determination about the person’s spiritual state? Was that my job, and was I capable of doing that?
It felt moralistic to me to judge a person’s heart based on his or her actions. I didn’t want to be a moralist. And wasn’t it a little bit weird to write joyfully home about someone’s conversion and be doubting it a few months later?
Even “friendship evangelism” could never completely convince me that the “friendship” was little more than a method to get to the real and important issues. I was struck by that especially when I finally did have a few “real” friends who were not Christians and whom I was not actively trying to “convert”.

Given the paradigms, what we did was the right and necessary thing.

But why did I feel so uncomfortable while doing it?

Monday, September 11, 2006

Turning Point

It was a defining moment for me theologically and personally.

We had a series of follow-up evenings after a summer of street preaching in Amsterdam (this was about 14 years ago.) The topic this evening was “Forgiveness”. I had, in several short presentations, made some comments about forgiveness and its roots in the Gospel and Jesus’ forgiveness of us.

At the end we opened things up for discussion and comment. A number of people said things about what they thought forgiveness was and how it impacted their lives.

One woman whom we had met on the street, in her early 30s, told the group that her father had abused her when she was a child. She had , in the last few years and with the help of a psychologist, been learning how to forgive him. She commented on how hard that was but how good it was for her to be taking those steps. It was moving.

Then a fellow team member of mine stood up and in gentle but clear terms informed that woman that her forgiving of her father was at best incomplete and at worst sinful if she was not doing it out of an active faith in Jesus. She had not repented and believed in Jesus as her Savior and Lord. Her forgiveness of her father was fatally flawed. My team-mate did not quite say “worthless”, but that was the bottom line.

My team-mate was responding completely in accordance with our (Reformed) evangelical Christianity. All our righteous acts are like filthy rags.

But something in me protested and my heart broke. Here was a woman, trying to recover from an abusive childhood, taking the only steps she knew how to take to turn horror into hope.

And the first thing we had in our suitcase to give her was the thought that these acts of hers were really filthy rags.

Was this the way Jesus would have responded? I tell you the truth, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith.

For the first time I realized that something about my theology had to change if I was going to be able to minister in Amsterdam and come out of it alive.

It was the beginning of a long journey.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Can we trust him now?

President Bush gave a speech this week in which he acknowledged the existence of secret prisons for terrorists. I happened to see most of the speech “live”. A couple of comments:

He continues to want to scare us. I don’t know how many times he used the phrase “they want to kill innocent Americans”. Apparently he thinks that the more afraid we are the more likely we are to support his policies.

It seems he has forgotten or doesn’t believe that the terrorists also want to “kill innocent Europeans”. We weren’t even mentioned. I guess we don’t count. (I have a double nationality: half of me is afraid, half of me doesn’t count.) When is he going to realize that the world is bigger than Crawford, Texas?

And he wanted to assure us that the CIA is doing great work: they are arresting terrorists, squeezing the information out of them, and using that information to save thousands of “innocent American lives”. And of course, we don't torture..........

I remember that he once told us with the same look in his eye and tone of voice that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. We could trust the CIA and U.S. intelligence on that one, according to him.

We couldn’t then. How do we know we can now?

(Please don't misunderstand me. I'm not suggesting that Bush deliberately lied regarding Iraq. Born-again Christians don't deliberately lie ;-). But apparently the CIA, U.S. intelligence and the American government was not capable of providing us with trustworthy intellingence information. If they couldn't then, how do we know they can now?)

Thursday, September 07, 2006

The Church Blew it

One of the striking things about Dutch culture in comparison to American culture is the depth of the aversion to the church felt here. If you want to get someone really angry really quick, start talking about the church.

That’s understandable. In this small society of people the church has played a significant role through the years, and the splits have broken through family lines and cause pain even today.

An example: The Dutch Reformed Church (Liberated) was formed in 1944 as the result of a split caused by a somewhat obscure theological question which erupted into an argument over one word in the Church Order (Article 33, to be precise).

Notice the date: 1944. Think back to what was happening then. That’s right – World War II. Nazi occupation. Allied invasion. Hunger winter in Amsterdam in which people ate tulip bulbs to survive (I have people in my congregation who remember that).

And in the eastern, rural part of the country, where people had food - a church split.

The Liberated Church considered itself to be the only true church, with roots back to the Apostle Peter. In fact, when the story of God’s redeeming acts in history is taught in the schools of the church, the split of ’44 is found in the same list as Noah, the Exodus, and the return from exile of Israel. (I think there are plenty of people today who still believe that, although very few will now say it out loud.)

When we first came to Amsterdam, we were told that there was only one address for the true church in Amsterdam – and you’ve probably already guessed which one that was!

An American cannot believe the impact of church history for the society here. I will not say that there are no benefits to be found, but the overwhelming legacy is one of disillusionment, pain and anger. You would be hard pressed to find a society more plagued by depression and low self esteem than this one.

Can you understand why the language of “battle for truth” is not helpful here?
Can you understand why the proclamation that we have or know the absolute truth can be misunderstood?
Can you understand why it is hard for us to claim the high road when it comes to questions of morality and how to love one’s neighbour?

Somehow we need to learn to teach and demonstrate that the “truth” of the gospel is so much more than a proposition (to fight for or vigorously defend) - it is a person.

I didn’t get those tools in my training.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Another slice

When I look my congregation of approximately 150 people in a small village just outside of Amsterdam in the eyes on Sunday morning and begin my sermon with: “Dear people”, here’s what I see:

Those who have been traditional Christians all their lives but can’t really explain why
Those who don’t believe Jesus literally rose from the dead (it is idiotic to believe that!)
Those who love the organ and the Genevan Psalms
Those born Roman Catholic, who have never practiced religion and are now looking for God again
Those who don’t believe King David really existed
Those who would love a real swinging Pentecostal service – sans snake handling (that would go too far for the reserved Dutch!)
The woman whose husband left her for multiple homosexual relationships, and with whom she has to share custody of her son
The professor doctor of Assyriology, who can read Sanskrit and multiple other old languages
Those who don’t think it matters a whit whether the Bible is historically accurate or not
Single people having sex, living together, getting married, having babies
Those baptized as babies who have been re-baptized as adults
The 50 year old mentally handicapped lady who loves me
The woman who would have jumped in front of a train years ago if it wasn’t so messy, looking for a respectable way to end her (in her eyes) miserable life
The couple that evangelizes on the streets of Haarlem one afternoon a month
The man who said "I can't make heads or tails out of the atonement."
And there is probably a homosexual or two in the group, I just don’t know about it yet

I didn’t choose this congregation; she chose me.

No, that’s not even right: God put me here.

In another log, sometime, I’ll tell you more about how I cope with that.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Thankful Cat

Since my short interaction with Teampyro and centuriOn I’ve had quite a few more visitors to my log. In an effort to keep some of them I’d like to try to think about some of the issues that have been brought up in that log. They will be short pieces, a little bit at random, but I hope they will give you a better idea of some of the issues I am dealing with, and perhaps stimulate some constructive discussion.

I grew up a Calivinist (TULIP and all that). I remember in my Christian High School vigorously promoting the doctrine of double predestination (probably from the not-so-accurate perspective of the teenager who saw everything in black and white). Original sin and total depravity were, as they say in Dutch, “fed to us with the oatmeal spoon”.

All my studies and training did not prepare me for the question a young Dutch lady asked me a little more than 10 years ago. She was a young woman struggling to find psychological stability in her life and world. I don’t know all that had happened to her, but a lot of it was not good.

At one point in our discussions of the Gospel she asked this question:

Imagine I find a stray cat on the street, feel compassion for it and take it home. I feed it, give it a bed and a home. I provide for it and help it get better.

Do I expect the cat to be thankful? Do I demand that the cat be thankful? And if he is not thankful, do I punish him? And if he still refuses to be thankful, do I banish him from my house?

What would you do? What is your theological answer, and how would you bring it in a way that really helps this woman?

(Please remember - this is a hurting, wounded woman. Her question is serious, coming from her experience. And we want to win her heart for Christ.)

Monday, September 04, 2006

Response to centuriOn

I responded to a blog on the blog “Pyromaniacs”. The blog is called "say kids, what time is it?" I probably shouldn’t have done it, but I did. It was one of those blogs that is a “blog spotter”. Links to lots of other blogs. In that blog he refers to the “Way of the Master” website and podcast. He recommends two passages in that podcast: an answer to a question about the uniqueness of the Christian God, and a comment about the “emergents”.

You can read my response for yourself. Click here and scroll down. The essence of my response was that I said I felt that this kind of stuff makes me feel like the kid with the dunce cap in the front (or back?) of the class. It doesn’t take seriously my struggle – and that of many others, to look for Biblical answers to the questions our world of today is asking.

Another well known (at least I think he’s well known) blogger, centuriOn, responded. For his reponse, click here and scroll down even further. His question: Can you tell us what we could do or stop doing which would make you stop feeling like you are wearing the dunce cap? This is not a request to start fighting: this is a request to understand the concern you have provided here, and to make this blog as much as possible about delivering the Gospel to a world which needs it. The advice of a 30-year evangelist must be worth something to that end.

I must be honest – I’m not entirely sure I trust this question. And I’m a bit afraid to enter into this discussion. But I’ll try. It’s a beautiful morning here after weeks of rain – the most rainy August in history, and how else would I want to spend my morning?

So here are a few comments, particularly in relation to the WOTM podcast, to use that as an example.

First, it’s not, IMHO, humor (P.S. when I say IMHO, I really mean it. Not "it's my humble opinion, but I'm sure I'm right". I really think I could be wrong. But I realize it's dangerous to say that also. The person who says he's humble......well, you know). To me, it’s not even funny, but the quality of humor is really low. Good, quality humor encourages one to look at him- or herself and make a wry smile. This “humor” didn’t do that for me. Perhaps I’m the only one for whom it didn’t do that, but I don’t think so. If you are on the “side” these people don’t agree with, their humor does not produce a wry smile. Again, IMHO. I realize that tastes can vary.

Secondly, and more “seriously”, this podcast – and so much of what I see in blogs – doesn’t ask a fundamental question of its “opponents”: why do you think that way? Why is it you feel the need to look at Scripture again and come up with new paradigms? What’s driving that?

Only when you ask that question can you understand the person, and when you have understood the person you have a better chance to help him or her see the truth.

That’s what cross cultural work forces you to do. Why do you all think this way? What’s lying behind it? Why do you feel these needs? And how does the Bible approach your worldview?

And not only on the personal level. What is going on in our world? What are the movements producing the questions for which people are seeking answers? How is our world developing and growing and changing, and what does that say about how people look at faith and how we respond? I realize that weblogs probably aren't the best places to ask or answer those questions, but even so....

For example: my experience in Holland is that a whole generation has turned away from the church, largely because of the way the church has conducted herself. I know there are other reasons, I believe in the sinful heart, but you cannot escape that conclusion here. I have experienced more than once adults crying on the streets (yes, I have done street evangelism in Amsterdam) because of pain inflicted by the church. I suspect the same thing has happened a lot in the States.

I think it would be beneficial if the church would, in the light of “emergent” or any other “movement”, seriously ask the question: what have we done? What has been our part in the current developments in society? What have we missed? Where have we caused pain and hurt, and how can we help heal? How can we understand?

On that basis, you gain the right to speak truth into someone’s heart. This podcast doesn’t address that at all.

Thirdly (and finally – I’ve got to stop somewhere): some of the statements and criticisms are shallow and or wrong generalisations.

The sentence (and I quote): “Justice demands that I go to a bad place unless God steps in and takes the punishment I deserve” raises the very legitimate question, an old question for theologians – is there a standard of justice that stands above God, that He has to adhere to?

A thinking person here in Holland who hears this podcast - especially one who has a church background and left it - would ask that question, but there is no reference to that issue. It can be a legitimate and serious question for a nonbeliever.

WOTM says literally: “the righteousness of God is imputed to you”. I thought it was Christ’s righteousness. That little piece doesn’t even mention Christ.

In these two examples, I am listening to a sarcastic tone of voice, with almost no quality humor, presenting a partial and not really helpful piece of the Gospel. It doesn’t take seriously my struggle to present the Gospel in our society because, if I had ever learned anything from, say, Brian McLaren, at all, I would really be cast as an idiot (“they don’t embrace anything except 'you’re wrong, you conservative’”). And it doesn’t give me real tools to help me. It’s humor, analysis and answer is superficial. Remember: IMHO.

And because it doesn't, in its style or content, take who I am or what I need seriously, it makes me feel like a dunce. I will be the first to admit I may be a dunce, but I think the Bible encourages us to do everything we can so that dunces aren't made to feel that way. Jesus "spoke the word to them, as much as they could understand" Mk. 4:33 (NIV).
[I don't dare quote The Message, which is even clearer ;-). Well maybe I will: he presented his message to them, fitting the stories to their experience and maturity.]

I don’t know if this helps, CenturiOn. I’m interested to know if it does. And this is not really the best medium to share things of the heart. But I wanted to take a stab at it.

If you want to know more about me, see my website:

Thanks for listening. I have tried to be gracious and honest in my reply, I hope I have succeeded.
C.S. Lewis: It matters enormously if I alienate anyone from the truth.
By the way: the contrast between C.S. Lewis (who never shirked from telling the truth) and this podcast is, again IMHO, enormous.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

André Agassi

On Friday morning I watched the tennis match between André Agassi and Marcos Baghdatis at the U.S. Open Championships in New York.

Agassi is now 36, and this is his last tennis tournament. He has won 60 titles, 8 Grand Slams. He became a tennis professional in 1986 and won his first title in 1987. This is his 21st U.S. Open. After this he puts his racket away.

Agassi is known for his competitive drive and his capacity to win a match after being down 0-2.

This was one of the best tennis matches I have ever seen. Agassi won the first two sets, and was 4-0 ahead in the third (and, should he win, deciding) set. Then Baghdatis came to life. He won four games in a row, and the set. He also won the fourth set. The match became a five setter.

You began to wonder how long Agassi’s body could take the beating it got from the 21 year old Cypriot. It looked like he was totally out of gas physically and simply could not keep up.

But he continued hitting those long, hard, precision baseline strokes that drove Baghdatis (and many players before him) crazy. They stayed on serve, and the score was 4-4.

(Please excuse the tennis jargon. If you can’t follow it, go on to another site. Thanks for visiting!)

Suddenly Baghdatis got a cramp in his right leg. He could hardly stand up, let alone walk. You wondered if he would have to give up and withdraw himself from the match, which would be a real disaster. But he continued to play, and because he couldn’t use his legs, he used his arms. From 5-4 it became 5-5. Agassi won his own service, 6-5. He only had to break Baghdatis to win the match. But that was now not so easy, as Baghdatis suddenly seemed fit and young again.

Finally it was match point (the second for Agassi, by the way), and this one was enough. Agassi won, 7-5.

This was a terrific battle of body and will, which tennis is. Baghdatis’struggle to keep going even when his body had let him down.

Agassi’s capacity to stay mentally sharp and control the match, even as his body was losing strength.

Here were two champions giving everything they had.

“No, I beat my body” said the Apostle Paul “and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified.”

There you have it.

André Agassi has set up a charitable foundation to create recreational and educational opportunities for at-risk children in Southern Nevada (I didn’t even know there were at-risk children in Southern Nevada!). “I have been very blessed and had many opportunities available to me," said Agassi. "Children today face so many obstacles. If I can make a positive impact on at least one child's life, then it has all been worthwhile."

There you have it.