Tag Archives: Water

Cyclone Irina and the Water of Life

We were in Durban last week on the day that the coastal city experienced the edge of Cyclone Irina.  We drove down in the morning and found our normal route through the city blocked due to flooding.  A taxi trying to drive through the water had been washed off the road into a ditch.  We took the long way round.

Jen was visiting her Mom, and I was sent off to find a coffee shop for a couple of hours writing.  It’s a tough job being a writer, but I’m willing.  I settled into a corner of the Musgrave Centre.  The lower level of the centre was flooded, and shop owners were wading through water in shorts and bare feet rescuing what they could and sweeping out the water.

Water!  Such a gift when it is in the right place and the right time and the right quantity.  Huge volumes are useful when running a hydroelectric scheme.  A somewhat smaller volume coursing through pipes is critical to the running of our kitchens, bathrooms and domestic appliances.  But containing the flow inside the pipes is important.  We have had experience of a burst pipe between the tap and the washing machine.  It certainly cleans the carpets, but the damage puts it way up on the “not to be recommended” list.

In our well-regulated and carefully-choreographed city-dwelling lives, we are not used to being at the mercy of the elements.  Months of dumping rubbish from pockets and car windows (“someone will pick it up”) wreaks havoc in the form of blocked drains and lifted manhole covers.

The analogies to the Christian faith are many and varied.  Am I a conduit for the water of life, or am I blocking the flow?  Do I bring refreshment to dry and dusty lives or do I wreak havoc with an uncaring, unfocused spraying of good tidings to all and sundry?

The ministry of Jesus was extremely focused.  His death and resurrection was for everyone, of course, and God’s love is for all.  But that love was not sprayed around the deserts of Israel as if from a burst pipe or a flooded river.  For one who had so little time and a whole world to save, how could Jesus stop by a well in Samaria, take time out for a wedding in Cana, or touch a leper on the side of the road?  But he did.

Floods happen; burst pipes are a reality of modern living, but they are not the norm. Five thousand people are fed, and another 4,000, but that was more a question of Jesus dealing with people and situations as they presented themselves.  When a flood happens we deal with it, but we don’t go looking for it.  Love’s way, it seems, is to reach out to neighbour, stranger and friend struggling with pain and thirst, unloved and unwanted, displaced and disempowered.

Large groups are so much easier, less personal and require minimal engagement.  I was at an outside table at the foot of a busy escalator. How simple it would have been to stand in the middle of the concourse with a Bible in one hand and a loudhailer in the other, proclaiming God’s love or the end of the world.  Perhaps among the crowds there would be someone who needed to hear such a message proclaimed like that.  But each member of the ever-moving throng is an individual who is loved by God.  And the message that Jesus lived and proclaimed is that God cares about each and every one.  Each of us, in our uniqueness and in the complexities of our smaller or larger communities, is loved, and has a place in the family and in the plans of God.  That message, more often than not, is best conveyed through a cup of water rather than a hosepipe or a raging flood.

We must, of course, spend time focused on the source of the life-giving water, but we must also focus on where it is needed, who is to receive it and how best to get it there.

Lord, you give us the water of life,
And what a gift for our dry and dusty lives.
e hold on to it;
We nurture it, protect it, and enjoy it.

But your life reminds us that it is not the water that matters.
The water is given to create and nourish friendships;
To bring healing and hope to 
our neighbours and strangers and friends.
It is they who are the gifts you ask us to nurture, protect and enjoy.

As we open our hearts and lives to those around us
so the water of life begins to flow among us.
Dry and dusty lives are watered, and thirsts are quenched;
Deep wounds are cleansed, and broken lives made whole.

Lord, there are strangers in this place.
Is that because I am a stranger too?
Teach me the way of friendship.


Filed under Community, Odds & Ends

New Year Flood

This was going to be a grand New Year post about resolutions and the like, but that was before the flood.

We had a delightful evening with some wonderful friends last night.  We are all a bit old for the midnight Auld lang syne bit so we said our good nights at a reasonable hour and tootled off to our respective homes and beds.  The neighbourhood did it’s best to keep us awake past midnight with fireworks resounding in our ears, but it was a poor effort and we managed to slip off into dreamland just after the witching hour.

After Church this morning, while cleaning up outside, I turned on one of the garden taps and the entire ‘mechanism’ came off in my hand.  The water spurted up into the air taking with it the tap, which disappeared down the drain–the only one, of course, without a wire grid.  The drainpipe drops about a foot then disappears around a bend, large enough for the kitchen sink let alone a garden tap.  I ran to the back of the house, pulled open the hatch that covers the water mains, and switched off the water supply.

Relief.  Of course the problem then was that we would be without water for New Year’s Day lunch (to which guests were coming) and beyond–not a good plan.  But that was not the only problem.  Cutting off the mains did not deter our intrepid tap.  Water was still pouring out.  Somehow it managed to swap its allegiance to the hot water system and was now spewing boiling water into the air.  In spite of our having a pressure geyser the flow continued until the geyser was empty so I had to switch off the electricity too.

New Year’s Day is not the best time to find plumbing supplies but we finally contacted a plumber who was still in town and had a spare tap (the right size) in his truck.  I met him at a convenient point across town, collected the tap, and raced home.  It fitted.  I turned on the hot and cold taps, ran all the air bubbles through the system, and switched on the geyser.  We were up and running, two minutes to lunch.

Our quiet time reading yesterday was Isaiah 35, a magnificent prophecy about abundant water in dry places.  Our garden is no desert.  We’ve had so much rain these last few days that the garden had no use for the additional water that poured out generously from the open tap; and the prophecy said nothing about hot water, for which our garden also had no use.

A garden tap directing water through a hosepipe onto flower beds or onto a dirty car, or a bath tap directing hot water into a bath, are useful to all concerned.  A maverick tap that showers all and sundry with hot and cold is of no use to anyone.

I pray that I will be a conduit of healing streams in desert places during 2012.  I pray that my writing, my prayers, and my contact with people this year will not be a shower of unnecessary words, glossing over hurts and ignoring pain but will be under the loving control of the Spirit; dare I call him the heavenly plumber?


Filed under New Year

Into the Flood, Priests First

Rafting in the Jordan river

The Jordan River: Wikipedia

In Joshua 3, we find the Israelites on the banks of a flooded river.  Now we need to understand that the Israelites were not a seafaring people.  One could put it more strongly than that.  The Israelites were terrified of the sea; it was a symbol of evil.  The sea contained all the worst of the monsters that threatened God’s people.  Often it’s the sea or a river they thought of as getting between them and God.

In the creation story of Genesis 1, the cosmos is drawn out of watery chaos (Gen 1:1-2).  Then God separated the water that was on the earth from the water that was in the sky; then he separated the waters on the earth so that dry land would appear.  And when God brought his people out of Egypt, God separated the waters of the Red Sea and made it possible for his people to escape.

Since Egypt the Israelites had been wandering around the desert for 40 years, sometimes listening to God (usually when they were in trouble of some sort) but mostly ignoring him, and getting into trouble.  Now at last they find themselves on the edge of the Promised Land with only the River Jordan in the way.  Behind them in the desert lay the graves of their parents and grandparents; and behind the desert, lay some 400 years of slavery in Egypt.  In front of them was the Promised Land.  God’s people finally home where they began, in the land of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

It’s time to cross the Jordan River.  Just one tiny problem.  The Jordan which is usually little more than a stream, at this time of the year is a raging flood.  And these folk have been living in the desert all their lives.  Their parents and grandparents who might have learned to swim in the Nile are all gone, and that’s one skill they would not have had the opportunity to pass on.  Now, to enter the Promised Land, there’s a flooded river to cross.

What did they do?  They plunged in; as one commentator put it, “priests first”.  Those early priests knew their place; right in the front, at the very place where God was touching his people.  They didn’t speak; they simply took the covenant box, the symbol of God’s presence, and in God’s name stood between their people and death.  And as they put their bodies on the line, God opened the waters of the Jordan River as he had opened the waters of the Red Sea forty years before.  And the people of God entered the kingdom.

Fast-forward a couple of thousand years and we find very different priests—descendants of those same priests of Joshua’s day.  But Jesus tells his disciples in Matthew 23, “Don’t expect your priests and teaches of the law to stand in your place, to lead by example.  Yes, listen to their words,” Jesus says, “because that’s what they do best.  But don’t follow their example; they don’t know how to live as the people of God, let alone as his priests.”

They were in it for the prestige, the power, the way of life, perhaps.  Compare them with Paul.  In 1 Thessalonians 2, Paul tells the church that his only reason for sharing the good news with them was his love for them.  , “Because of our love for you we were ready to share with you not only the Good News from God but even our own lives.  You were so dear to us.” (2:8)

Revelation 1:9 tells us that we have been made “a kingdom of priests to serve (our) God and Father.”  And 1 Peter 2:9 “…you are the chosen race, the King’s priests, the holy nation, God’s own people, chosen to proclaim the wonderful acts of God.”  Since Jesus, all of God’s people are his priests.  Today, 2000 years on, we too, all of us, are priests of God. 

The obvious question is, do we, like the priests of Jesus’ day, preach one thing and live another?  Do we sing and pray in holy harmony on Sundays and ignore each other during the week.  Do we rejoice in our forgiveness on Sundays and spend the rest of the week criticising and judging everyone around us?  Do we live by one set of values when we are in the Christian community and another when we are at work, or watching rugby, or driving a car?

We celebrate Jesus our Servant-King and we proclaim servant-hood as our Christian way of life but are we willing to get down and dirty, to wash people’s feet, or their dishes, or their wounds?

The people of Israel may have been confronted by a water-filled river we can find on a map but people around us today are confronted by rivers that are just as real and just as frightening.  The river of corruption is a raging torrent that threatens our future.  We can turn our backs on it, ignore it, and pretend it doesn’t exist; we can dabble on the edges, where we think it’s ok, but find ourselves swept away by the current; or we can determine, in God’s name, to find a way through, to stop the river.

If poverty were a water-filled river, Africa would be a tropical paradise from the Sahara to the Karoo.  We may think of Malema’s March as a cynical exercise by a self-centred politician, but the crowds he draws are real people who are desperate.  And there are many millions more of our fellow South Africans who have nothing, nothing at all.  For them, the Promised Land is a pipe dream; poverty has wiped out hope as a flooded river will wipe out a village.

Where are the priests who will stand between God’s people and the lure of corruption or the despair of poverty?

In Psalm 107 the Psalmist celebrates God’s rescue of those who call to him, people who were faced with a variety of flooded rivers that cut them off from God.

He tells us of people who were lost in the desert and could not find their way;
Some were homeless and insecure;
Some were hungry and thirsty and had given up all hope.

Others were suffering from depression;
Others trapped by their own rebellion;
There were those who had rejected God;
And some were worn out from hard work.

Still others suffered because of their sins or perhaps the sins of others; guilt and shame kept them in chains.
Others were not able to eat and were close to death.

Some encountered a huge storm while on the sea; their ships lifted high in the air and plunged down into the depths.  Whether they were physical waves or financial, emotional or some other turmoil in their lives, they lost their courage, stumbling and staggering like drunks.  

The Promised Land was out of reach.  But the refrain throughout the Psalm is: “in their trouble, they called to the LORD, and he saved them from their distress.”

Perhaps tonight you find yourself on the edge of a flooded river, one that seems to cut you off from all that God wants to give you.  I want to say to you, my friends, the river is not the end of the road.  The river of poverty, of loneliness, of despair, of fear, of helplessness, of sin; the river is not the end.  There is a way through.  However many people have let you down; however many of God’s people have failed you, there is one who planted his cross in the middle of the flood.  His wounds have stopped the water, and he’s waiting for you to cross.

Don’t get me wrong.  The other side of the river isn’t a bed of roses.  There are battles to be fought, land to be claimed, cities to be built, crops to be planted in dry ground.  The Promised Land, to be honest, looks remarkably like the other side of the river, with all its pain and struggle.  But it offers a life lived in the presence of a God who loves you, who put his life on the line for you, and who welcomes you into his kingdom.  It’s a community, learning to love one another.  The Kingdom of God isn’t some Care Bear land of heavenly perfection.  God’s Kingdom is right here; in the very presence of poverty and despair; in the middle of uncertainty, in the middle of our own sinfulness,.  “The Kingdom of heaven is among you,” Jesus said in Luke 17:21.  And John Wesley commented on that verse, “Look not for it in distant times or remote places: it is now in the midst of you: it is come: it is present in the soul of every true believer.” 

We’re a kingdom of priests, not a kingdom of saints.  Crossing the river doesn’t make us perfect or sinless; it’s only the beginning of the journey.  But in our own weakness, in our own sinfulness, we are called to stand in someone else’s flooded river and help them cross.  We can’t force them.  We can only stand there as we offer our bread, as we teach ill-equipped teachers, as we wash sores and we wipe away tears, as we listen to stories of pain and fear and guilt and shame.  We can only stand and wait for God’s moment, as Jesus waited three long days for God’s moment; that moment that brought us into God’s kingdom.

You may have read in the paper recently about a man who is on trial for attempting to poison his wife.  For me it was just one of those many tragic stories, until I went for a haircut yesterday.

My hairdresser is a magnet for broken people.  Over the last twenty years I have seen hurting, struggling people bring their pain and their brokenness to her door; and she never turns them away.  There’s not a lot she can do, but she listens, and loves, and she’s there for them.  And this man, on an attempted murder charge, out on bail, came to see her on Thursday.  He spent the whole day there, and had supper with them—got a free haircut too.  And you know why he came?  Because she prayed for him.  He was a customer of hers.

I must confess to my shame that if he was a customer of mine I’d probably pray, “Lord, please keep him away.  Don’t let his hair grow.”  But my hairdresser isn’t like me.  She prayed, “Lord, bring him back for a haircut.”  Please understand, I’m not discussing the merits of the case.  Perhaps he deserves a long jail sentence, I don’t know.  But God knows he needed a friend.  And when God looked for one, my hairdresser was there; ready to stand in that man’s river and help him across.

My friends, what river of yours is Jesus calling you to cross?  In what river of yours has Jesus planted his cross for you to walk through tonight? 

If not your own river, then whose river is God calling you to stand in tonight, or this week?  Because, as Paul said to the Thessalonians, “God is at work in you who believe.”  God is ready.  Are we?

A sermon preached at Prestbury Methodist Church on 30 October 2011


Filed under Sermons

Census 2011: How much stuff?

South Africans are being counted.  Census 2011 is underway.  Jen and I completed the form on Saturday.  One set of questions asked whether we have various appliances in our home.  These include a television set, DVD player, refrigerator, microwave—about ten items.  We have them all.  I could not help thinking of the vast majority of South Africans who would be answeriing ‘No’ to all of those questions.  The next question asked whether we produce any agricultural products: livestock, fowls, vegetables, etc.  I had to confess that we do not produce any.  (I did ask Jen whether she thought her herbs would count; she thought not.)  The reality is that the majority of us who have most of the items in the first list probably answered “No” to the second.  Those who have none of the items on the first list, probably produce a good deal of those on second, at least for their own consumption. 

The truth is that I am a consumer.  I give little or nothing back; just money.

We were also asked whether we had running water in our home and I was reminded of my last post which dealt with the challenge posed by a young student for whom the greatest excitement of his aeroplane trip to the big city was having a hot shower.  It had been, for me, a sobering and challenging discovery.

It appears that it is not an isolated case.  A friend of mine has just returned from a conference in Johannesburg.  One of the speakers was a professor who had done a great deal of research into, and was well qualified to discuss, the socio-economic realities of life in South Africa.  She said that fifty percent of black South Africans measure success, and mark their climb up the social ladder, by whether or not they have running water and a geyser to provide hot water in their home.  When my friend read my post as it was published in The Witness, she was amazed to find a local example of such statistics; and I was equally amazed to find that the local example with which I had been presented was not an isolated case but a general reality.

The obvious question, that I fear to ask is, what difference will I allow it to make in my life?  What difference will we allow it to make in the life and witness of the local church?

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Filed under Articles, Community

Life in Desert Places

A Desert Meditation

Written during a Life Revision Workshop with Jim & Heather Johnson at Beth Shalam, Pietermaritzburg, August 2010

Isaiah 38:4b-8 GNB

“Be strong and don’t be afraid!
God is coming to your rescue, coming to punish your enemies.
The blind will be able to see, and the deaf will hear.
The lame will leap and dance,
and those who cannot speak will shout for joy.

Streams of water will flow through the desert;
the burning sand will become a lake,
and dry land will be filled with springs.
Where jackals used to live, marsh grass and reeds will grow.
There will be a highway there, called the Road of Holiness.”

Only in the desert,
Not in our self sufficiency and self reliance;
Not in our comfort zones, or our frenzied worship of the latest trends.

Only in the desert,
In the empty, uncluttered spaces;
Only in the desert,
A place of dying to the false self, a letting go of all that I cling to,
all that defines me, that gives me a sense of worth.

Only in the desert, when I recognise my blindness,
my inability to see, to understand, to be wise,
when I recognise my inability to speak, to bring words of wisdom, hope, and love,
when I recognise my lameness, my weakness, my need to be carried.

Only in the desert, when all that is false has died,
There in the depths of the desert,
The earth will rejoice,
Water will gush out of the rocks,
and sight and strength and speech will be given.

And what delight and celebration there will be
as we walk the path of life together;


Filed under Meditation & Prayer, Poetry