Act like men

by Gavin  

Act like men

 

These reflections flow from very real issues that have surfaced in our church life and local community over the last week.  My focus in this blog is most particularly men, but I am acutely aware of very similar issues in the lives of many of the ladies too!  As our elders considered and prayed for our people last Saturday morning, the phrase, “Men in crisis” surfaced as a kind of summary statement.  If we take just a few samples to get a feel, our guys are facing issues like:

 

  • Decision making about jobs and finances and investments… “What do I do? How do I know that this path is right?”
  • How to live and function in a country with a economic rating downgrades, and loss of pension security.
  • Bereavement, having lost close family members
  • Health scares… this could be a new diagnosis of a problem, or situations with no real clarity as to the diagnoses, which fuels greater anxiety in families.
  • Health issues in a spouse or close family member, with concern as to the issues and the way ahead.
  • Parenting challenges, where spouse and kids need to be helped through deeply troubling waters as a result of living in a sin-affected world.
  • Work issues where oppressive corporate systems, harsh bosses and insecurity reigns daily.
  • Sexual temptations through visuals that are encountered and seen
  • Daily pressure of school and varsity, where academic demands and extra-murals combine in a fever-pitched frenzy of activities.

 

“Help!  Help me!  Say something to give me direction and hope!”

 

That is the cry – spoken and unspoken!

 

One man used words like these on Sunday as we chatted after the service: “Struggle.  Press on.  Run the race.  Fight.”  How true!  To that we could add, “Wrestle” and “endure” and “put to death” and “strive” and “toil” and “work.”  Those are the New Testament verbs that describe the Christian life.  It is not without biblical support that Bunyan created allegorical pictures like, “the slough of despond,” “Giant Despair” and “Valley of Humiliation” as images of life.  Why?  Because it is hard and confusing and uncertain!

 

And our men – and in fact, our people, live with those realities every single day.

 

What do we say as leaders?  What counsel should be offered pastorally?  What comfort and direction can be given, in the midst of the pain and the brokenness and the despair?

 

A few trite, throw-away comments don’t really cut it, do they?  Skim through the Bible, and pick a promise, and quickly apply it like a Band-Aid to a gaping wound? 

 

The space in this short reflection does not allow time to develop all the answers and solutions.  But suffice to say that we have God’s Word as a sure and steady guide, a resource of His gracious revelation to us that contains all we need for life and godliness.  The value of the ‘means of grace’ God has provided through the Word, prayer and Christian fellowship cannot be calculated.

 

This is my comfort in my affliction, that your promise gives me life.” (Psalm 119:50, ESV)

 

But then I stumbled across this verse yesterday, in the process of a combined admin/pastoral task I was doing – matching appropriate Bible verses to the new members at Randburg Baptist Church as we prepare to welcome them into membership…

 

Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love.” (1 Corinthians 16:13–14, ESV)

 

Now, I get it – this is NOT just written to men, because the Corinthians church was a multi-gendered and multi-ethnic mix – that’s true.  But that is still a powerful challenge to men:  “…act like men.”

 

That is actually a single word in the original Greek: andrizomai.  It is a power-packed word.  It is a word that seeks to convey the issues of courage and maturity and strength.  The clever dudes who know their Bibles better that I, show how this verb is a frequent command in the Septuagint (Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament).  It is a word that is used in contexts to encourage people to act with courage and strength in obedience to the Lord, and with confidence in his power.  For example, soldiers would be told to andrizomai.   We see it used in texts like these:

 

Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.”” (Joshua 1:9, ESV)

 

And Joshua said to them, “Do not be afraid or dismayed; be strong and courageous. For thus the LORD will do to all your enemies against whom you fight.”” (Joshua 10:25, ESV);

 

“Then David said to Solomon his son, “Be strong and courageous and do it. Do not be afraid and do not be dismayed, for the LORD God, even my God, is with you. He will not leave you or forsake you, until all the work for the service of the house of the LORD is finished.” (1 Chronicles 28:20, ESV)

 

When David’s time to die drew near, he commanded Solomon his son, saying, “I am about to go the way of all the earth. Be strong, and show yourself a man, and keep the charge of the LORD your God, walking in his ways and keeping his statutes, his commandments, his rules, and his testimonies, as it is written in the Law of Moses, that you may prosper in all that you do and wherever you turn, that the LORD may establish his word that he spoke concerning me, saying, ‘If your sons pay close attention to their way, to walk before me in faithfulness with all their heart and with all their soul, you shall not lack a man on the throne of Israel.’” (1 Kings 2:1–4, ESV)

 

Wait for the LORD; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the LORD!” (Psalm 27:14, ESV)

 

Men, life is hard and complex and perplexing.  As men who trust in Christ we’re called to serve Him faithfully, and to lead our wives, children, fellow believers and ministry areas with courage and diligence in the midst of a fallen world, filled with much pain.  Let’s not deny those realities, and the struggles we have.

 

But, while accepting that much has NOT been said here, can I exhort us all to heed the challenge of God to “be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong?”  Don’t give up!  Don’t get frozen into paralysis!  Resist the temptation to throw your hands up in the air and abandon hope!  For the sake of your own faith, your wife and children, others who look to you for guidance and support, the sake of the church and the cause of the gospel, stand firm!  Act like men!  Be strong!

 

Let’s do so relying on the rich support and fellowship that He graciously gives in local church settings, flawed and imperfect as that may be.  Let’s do so trusting in His great and precious promises that His grace is sufficient, that His power is made perfect in our weakness, that He will never leave us or forsake us and that heaven is indeed our ultimate home.

 

Call to prayer for South Africa :  April 2017

by Gavin  

Call to prayer for South Africa :  April 2017

Prayer points for individuals, families and small groups

 

In light of the national events which are currently unfolding, and most particularly the happenings in national government, the elders have called our Randburg Baptist Church family to pray, heeding the injunction given in God’s Word…

 

First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time. For this I was appointed a preacher and an apostle (I am telling the truth, I am not lying), a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth.” (1 Timothy 2:1–7, ESV)

 

 It is to be stressed that this is not a political; statement, not swung by some party-political agenda.  We simply want to call our people to pray for those in authority, and for our nation at this time.

 

Please also note the blog posting on the church website as of Friday 31st March, on a parallel theme.

http://www.randburgbaptist.com/Blogs/

 

 

This is not an exhaustive listing, but here are some prayer pointers for us as we commit to intercede.

 

  1. Pray for the welfare of our city and country, even in its secular, godless state. Heed the Old Testament principle given to the exiles in Babylon, and pray for peace and prosperity of the place where they were, as subjected exiles

 

But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.” (Jeremiah 29:7, ESV)

 

  1. Stand in the gap, and intercede (as per Daniel and Nehemiah) for our country, identifying as a citizen with the national wrongs. Pray that we as Christian South Africans would repent from our high tolerance of rampant corruption in our public institutions, for allowing evil to triumph on our watch and for our complicity in ‘low key’ corruption and lawlessness, mirroring what we see at national level.

 

  1. Pray with informed joy! The corruption, lawlessness, injustice and increasing self-gain just points to the fact that the ‘last days’ are here, and that we’re closer to Christ coming back…

 

But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God…” (2 Timothy 3:1–4, ESV)

 

  1. Pray looking up – gaze and meditate often on the sovereignty, bigness, power, wisdom, goodness, mercies, faithfulness and love of God. Let that be food for your soul!

 

  1. Pray looking long – consider often the fact that this world is not your home, that heaven is your place of citizenship, that Christ is coming back, that justice will prevail and that heaven awaits for you, and that a devastating hell awaits for those who reject God. That those truths shape your thinking in the present.

 

  1. Take some time to read, re-read and pray through Psalm 73, even as we hear more stories of political and national abuse, corruption and a slide to greater sin… take note of the slippery slope and the eternal end…

 

  1. Take time to read and pray through Psalm 2, noting the sovereignty of God, arrogance of rulers, and the warnings given to them. Pray for spiritual conviction of sin in the lives of Mr Zuma, his acolytes and those pursuing selfish and dishonest gain.  Be so bold as to pray for their salvation – to Kiss the Son lest He be angry, and they perish in the way.

 

  1. Pray imprecatory prayers calling for God’s justice and righteous anger to burn against the moral and ethical slides, against the injustice and against the godless patterns of behaviour which are seen. Pray that God would bring both restraint and just intervention against that which offends His character.

 

  1. Pray for the true church of Jesus Christ in South Africa to be real salt and light at this time, showing in our responses, conversations and actions the fruit of gospel-transformed thinking.

 

  1. Pray for the thousands of nominal believers, churches and church leaders in our country – that God would stir their hearts to see and hate sin, to both present and live the Gospel, and to stand up as heralds of truth in a society that hates truth.

 

  1. Pray that the Lord graciously uses this time to further His Kingdom. Pray that local churches would be faithful to proclaim true gospel hope in Christ that is far superior to trusting in a politician, a party or a court.  Pray that the Holy Spirit brings many hopeless and despairing people to the foot of the cross even through this dark valley.

 

  1. Pray that God’s purposes and plans would prevail through all that happens, and that He would be glorified in and through the dark and mysterious paths that He is taking us through as a nation and Christian community in South Africa.

 

Prayers for our President

by Gavin  

Prayers for our President

 The media has called it Zuma’s “Night of the Long Knives.” 

 

The midnight events as Thursday 30th March gave way to Friday 31st March streamed through the news feeds.  A major Cabinet reshuffle in South Africa has occurred, with political carnage being the order of the night.  Hirings, firings and lateral movement was the issue. A week of uncertainty, tinged with some scary certainty, ended as the President expelled the Finance Minister and his Deputy, Pravin Gordhan and Mcebisi Jonas.  Opposition parties are in protest, business leaders cry, “Foul” and the blog sites reflect the anger, disappointment and fear of ordinary South Africans.

 

No doubt opinions will continue to fly.  Emotions will rage.  Discussions will be had across the board in our country, amongst all strata of our beautiful people.

 

As professing believers in Christ, how do we see this all?  What perspective and should we have?  Irrespective of our own political allegiance, what are the umbrella principles and worldview issues that should dictate our responses and conversations and prayers? 

 

In a nutshell, writing as a pastor to help our people, I’d venture this in summary – look high and look long!

 

1)  Looking high involves a robust view of the sovereignty of God – that He is on His throne, that none of this takes Him by surprise, that His will and purposes are being worked out even in this turmoil, and that nothing undermines or thwarts His supreme authority.  Linked with that, consider that petty human kings, rulers, authorities and governments serve at the behest of God… If Mr Zuma thinks it is his prerogative to hire and fire ministers, he might be well advised to consider that he too serves under God’s supreme control…

 

Do you not know? Do you not hear? Has it not been told you from the beginning? Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth? It is he who sits above the circle of the earth, and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers; who stretches out the heavens like a curtain, and spreads them like a tent to dwell in; who brings princes to nothing, and makes the rulers of the earth as emptiness. Scarcely are they planted, scarcely sown, scarcely has their stem taken root in the earth, when he blows on them, and they wither, and the tempest carries them off like stubble.” (Isaiah 40:21–24, ESV)

 

2)  Looking long is the believer’s hope, isn’t it? Jesus Christ is coming back.  He is coming back as “King of Kings and Lord of Lords.”  He will judge the living and the dead.  Perfect justice will prevail round the Judgement Seat of Christ.  He will restore all things, and make all things right.  There is blessed forward-looking hope for the believer. What is happening in 2017 is a blip on the radar screen of eternity for the believer in Christ.

 

This is evidence of the righteous judgment of God, that you may be considered worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are also suffering— since indeed God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to grant relief to you who are afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might…” (2 Thessalonians 1:5–9, ESV)

 

In light of that, how then do we pray for our government, and our President?

 

There are many texts to shape that kind of prayer – prayers for conviction, for restraint, prayers for repentance and them to come to faith in Christ.  Ample cases could be made for imprecatory prayer, seeking God’s intervention and justice to be brought to bear to stop the rot, halt the abuses, and bring good for the poor and vulnerable who face the brunt of the aftermath.  To be sure, praying for God’s righteous anger to burn would be appropriate, coupled with His mercy to flow – for the nation, for the government and for the President.

 

But I am compellingly drawn to the timeless words of Psalm 2…

 

Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the LORD and against his Anointed, saying, “Let us burst their bonds apart and cast away their cords from us.” He who sits in the heavens laughs; the Lord holds them in derision. Then he will speak to them in his wrath, and terrify them in his fury, saying, “As for me, I have set my King on Zion, my holy hill.” I will tell of the decree: The LORD said to me, “You are my Son; today I have begotten you. Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth your possession. You shall break them with a rod of iron and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.” Now therefore, O kings, be wise; be warned, O rulers of the earth. Serve the LORD with fear, and rejoice with trembling. Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and you perish in the way, for his wrath is quickly kindled. Blessed are all who take refuge in him.” (Psalm 2, ESV)

 

This really should be a model of prayer for South African Christians at this time – for God’s Spirit to bring conviction of the sheer arrogance, power-mad behaviour and godlessness that prevails.

 

Mr Zuma, it is highly unlikely that you will ever get to read this posting – but I hope you read something similar from someone, at some stage.  Believers in our country are concerned – not just about the political issues, which are often mere opinion. We’re concerned about the godlessness, the lack of righteous behaviour, the slide to a moral abyss.  We’re concerned about the heart motives in the corridors of power that seemingly undergird that – what appears to be a wilful rejection of God, an abandonment of His Word and a disregard for the authority of God under which you serve.

 

Mr Zuma, you claim that the ANC will rule until Jesus comes back.  In God’s mysterious providence, that may, or may not be, the case.  But the more compelling issue is this – Jesus Christ IS coming back.  And you, along with every other person, will get to face Him and give an account for your life.  And the Bible is crystal clear – those without Christ, without faith in the glorious Son of God, will be condemned to eternal judgement.  Mr President, will you be ready for that day?  I pray so, for the good of your eternal soul.

 

Please heed the call of God to you as a ruler:

 

Now therefore, O kings, be wise; be warned, O rulers of the earth. Serve the LORD with fear, and rejoice with trembling. Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and you perish in the way, for his wrath is quickly kindled. Blessed are all who take refuge in him.” (Psalm 2:10–12, ESV)

Why did Jesus curse the fig tree? (sermon follow-up from Sunday 26th March 2017)

by Gavin  

Why did Jesus curse the fig tree? (sermon follow-up from Sunday 26th March 2017)

 

Why did Jesus curse the fig tree when it had no figs, and yet Mark clearly made the point in Mark 11:13 that it was not the season for figs?

 

A few folk picked up on that yesterday after the service – well done!  Good Bereans, following the text!!!! OK, I alluded to the solution in the way I unpacked the passage, but didn’t want to get lost in the technical details.  The answer is not hard, and lies in a careful lexical and contextual understanding.

 

In essence, as I explained, fig trees are unique in that the fruit appears before the leaves.  Early buds comes BEFORE the leaves appear.  Therefore, tree with leaves should have fruit!  So how then do we read Mark’s enigmatic comment?  Remember that, firstly, Mark often inserts explanatory notes, so this comment is quite possibly for the benefit of those who were not familiar with fig botany!  Secondly, different Greek words were used to describe the young buds and the mature fruit.  So the sense is that is was the season for young buds, even if the full, ripe figs had not developed.  The point remains: this tree was deceptive because it was in full leaf, but had no fruit – it remains a picture of the empty worship of Israel at the time!

 

For those wanting the technical stuff, Edwards’ commentary excerpt here might be of value:

 

The sandwich complex begins on the road from Bethany, which John 11:18 identifies as “fifteen stadia” (slightly less than two miles) from Jerusalem. Jesus is hungry, and seeing from a distance a fig tree in leaf he approaches it in hopes of finding something to eat. In disappointment at finding no figs, and in earshot of the disciples, he condemns the tree.

 After the fig harvest from mid-August to mid-October, the branches of fig trees sprout buds that remain undeveloped throughout the winter. These buds swell into small green knops known in Hebrew as paggim in March–April, followed shortly by the sprouting of leaf buds on the same branches, usually in April. The fig tree thus produces fig knops before it produces leaves. Once a fig tree is in leaf one therefore expects to find branches loaded with paggim in various stages of maturation. This is implied in 11:13, where Jesus, seeing a fig tree in full foliage, turns aside in hopes of finding something edible. In the spring of the year the paggim are of course not yet ripened into mature summer figs, but they can be eaten, and often are by natives (Hos 9:10; Cant 2:13). The tree in v. 13, however, turns out to be deceptive, for it is green in foliage, but when Jesus inspects it he finds no paggim; it is a tree with the signs of fruit but with no fruit.

 The most puzzling part of the brief narrative of the cursing of the fig tree is the end of 11:13, “because it was not the season of figs.” This phrase is usually understood to exonerate the tree for not producing fruit since it was not yet the season. Understood as such, the phrase makes Jesus’ curse vindictive and irrational, as Bertrand Russell deduced. But this is neither the only nor the best way to understand the phrase. It is better simply to distinguish between mature figs (Gk. sykē; Heb. te’enim) and early or unripe figs (Heb. paggim). The end of v. 13 might be paraphrased, “It was, of course, not the season for figs, but it was for paggim.”  [Edwards, J.R., 2002. The Gospel according to Mark, Grand Rapids, MI; Leicester, England: Eerdmans; Apollos.]

WHERE TO NEXT??? How do I pray for my spiritually blind children?

by Gavin  

WHERE TO NEXT??? How do I pray for my spiritually blind children?

This blog idea came to me yesterday afternoon, flowing from a very high-speed discussion with someone after our 9am worship service yesterday.  I has unpacked Mark 10:46-52, and considered the sight that was restored to Bartimaeus – both physically and spiritually.  I tried to make appropriate application – to both the believer and the unbeliever… themes of worship, blindness, grace, mercy, faith, commitment and obedience and submission!  It was there in general terms.

 

Then a great question came from a concerned parent: “How do I pray for my unsaved children in light of that, because they still spiritually blind?  In fact, how do we pray for our church kids and teens as many are spiritually blind?”

                                                  

I was in between a service and another class that I needed to teach.  Great question.  Left field.  Heart of concern from a parent.   Hmmmmmm…  Well, I threw out a few things in about 13 ½ seconds, but didn’t get a chance to give much more.  The realisation dawned that, as preachers, we can’t always poke and prod into every possible area of application, but that questions do get raised.

 

So then, what I thought I might start doing, is a follow-up blog from time to time, picking up on some of those loose ends, and trying to drive application a bit more.

 

This comes as a first “trial” attempt!

 

How then do we pray for our own children, and church children, who are spiritually blind to the truth, hard to God and seemingly resistant to the gospel?

 

Here are some general pointers, but not exhaustive, to use in intercessory prayer for our children:

 

  • Realise that they have sinful hearts, and pray that they would come to know their own need before God. Pray that there self-delusion is confronted.  Pray that those who think they’re saved by virtue of coming to church and acting “Christian” would be convicted of sin.

 

The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9, ESV)

 

  • Pray for divine heart surgery to occur, and God’s Spirit to come and bring life whwere there is death.

 

And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.” (Ezekiel 36:26–27, ESV)

 

  • Pray for the re-birth to happen, for regeneration of heart, which is God’s work alone!

 

Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” (John 3:5, ESV)

 

  • Pray that true Spirit-achieved faith happens in a life of a child or a teen. Pray that you yourself do not resort to clever arguments to win a point, but fail to argue a child into the Kingdom.

 

And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power,” (1 Corinthians 2:1–4, ESV)

 

  • Pray that Satan’s veil would be removed that blinds to the truth, and that the Holy Spirit would indeed cause light to shine in the darkness.

 

And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” (2 Corinthians 4:3–6, ESV)

 

  • Pray your increased opportunities for spiritually shaped discussion with your own children, teens and student, and more for that within church life.

 

At the same time, pray also for us, that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ…” (Colossians 4:3, ESV)

 

  • Pray for great patience and godly parenting within our own homes, to keep exposing kids to the truth, and to keep shepherding them in ways consistent with the gospel.

 

Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” (Ephesians 6:4, ESV)

 

  • Keep praying!!!! Be persistent in prayer.  Right back in the 3rd century a young man called Augustine went off the rails, and his mother – Monica – kept praying for him.  Years later, in a dramatic conversion in Italy, Augustine came to faith, and became one of the greatest writers and theologians of the early church.

 

And he told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart.” (Luke 18:1, ESV)

 

Let’s appeal by faith to God’s mercy and grace for the necessary interventions in the lives of our children and teens – at home and at church!

1 2 4 5 ...6 ...7 8