I need shade!

by Gavin  

I need shade!

 

I got terribly sun-burned year ago!

 

It was December 2002.  I has assisted with driving some of our teens to Baptist Youth Summer Camp in Barkly West, just outside of Kimberley in the Northern Cape.  A group then stayed at Christiana, waiting for the return trip… we camped there, and chose to go and play golf one day at the Christiana gholfbaan,  a dust bowl with no green on the greens, or anywhere else for that matter.  I only had my travelling bag of clubs, with a small selection of weapons.  Sadly, my normal bag was not there, and hence I had no sunscreen on hand. If I remember properly we teed off at about 10am.  Remember this is December in the Northern Cape!  No sunscreen.  No shade.  No trees.  No protection.

 

The result was not pretty – roasted lobster would be a fair comparison.  I am pretty sure my legs between my shorts and shoes glowed the dark.  An old boere recep was applied – egg white!  And so with extreme pain, and encrusted in egg white I endured the after-effects of that sun!  They say that only mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the noonday sun.  Well, I can endorse that saying, through bitter experience!

 

We have a need for shade.  We need protection from the heat and sun.  When the sun is very intense, our bodies cry out for relief, for protection, for shelter, for anything that provides shade.

 

Well, I suggest to you that the same is true spiritually.  Life and issues come at us with an intensity that burns at times. Even as we face 2017, there may well be times this year (and possibly even right now) where it feels as if life is hitting you with the intensity of a furnace blast. You long for relief, for the heat to be turned down, for some barrier to protect from the worst of the intensity of life and issues – circumstances, health, family, finances, opposition, challenges in ministry…

 

The need for shade was an acute one in the ancient world too where the Bible was written.  The need for shelter from the sun would have been very familiar to those living in the Middle East.  Those living in the extreme desert conditions know that shade can be a life-saver.  In the heat of day, any shadow is welcome.  There is comfort that comes from that.

 

But shadows can be temporary.  Remember Jonah?   He crouched under a vine, finding protection.  But it was short-lived, and the vine dried up and died.

 

But we see over and over in our Bibles that the Lord God is described as “shade.” Let’s see this in action…

 

“For you have been a stronghold to the poor, a stronghold to the needy in his distress, a shelter from the storm and a shade from the heat; for the breath of the ruthless is like a storm against a wall, like heat in a dry place. You subdue the noise of the foreigners; as heat by the shade of a cloud, so the song of the ruthless is put down.” (Isaiah 25:4–5, ESV)

 

“He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say to the LORD, “My refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.” For he will deliver you from the snare of the fowler and from the deadly pestilence. He will cover you with his pinions, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness is a shield and buckler. You will not fear the terror of the night, nor the arrow that flies by day, nor the pestilence that stalks in darkness, nor the destruction that wastes at noonday. A thousand may fall at your side, ten thousand at your right hand, but it will not come near you.” (Psalm 91:1–7, ESV)

 

He will not let your foot be moved; he who keeps you will not slumber. Behold, he who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep. The LORD is your keeper; the LORD is your shade on your right hand. The sun shall not strike you by day, nor the moon by night. The LORD will keep you from all evil; he will keep your life.” (Psalm 121:3–7, ESV)

 

What do all these images mean?  What does it mean when we hear God referred to as ‘shade’ or as a ‘shadow’?

 

All of these refer to the fact that God helps the helpless. When you are faced with issues and trouble and insecurity, you can find shelter and rest and comfort in God. God is totally interested in your life, and He welcomes us to approach His throne of grace with confidence and find mercy and grace to help us in our time of need.  If you are poor in heart, or in distress, facing seemingly insurmountable issues, God will be shade and shelter for you, if you will approach Him humbly.  If we come and cry out to Him to act, expressing our own weakness and inability, He will act.  He will be as a delightful shadow or source of shade to you.  We find rest and comfort in the relationship we have with God, as we cling to His own nature and the promises given to us in His Word.

 

And that is guaranteed – a guarantee right from our Bibles.  God is a consistent shade, a shadow that does not change…

 

Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.” (James 1:17, ESV)

 

You know those days when you’ve taken your car to the shopping centre, and sought out a nice shady spot under a tree, thinking that the vehicle will be nice and cool upon your return?  Then you get back and discover that the car is baking in the sun? What happened?  As the earth moved, the sun’s rays changed, and the shadow shifted.  Even our own world and sun and earth are inconsistent.

 

But James assures us that our God does not change like the shifting shadows. He is a constant refuge and comfort and source of hope.  God might not lift the pressure and alleviate the intensity of the trial He takes you through, but He does promise to be a consistent shadow, a source of comfort and security and relief in the midst of the distress and hardships.

 

But this is only true for those are in Christ.  These promises are not for all people – they are given to believers in God, and we know that if we reject Christ we reject God.  So these promises are for Christians!  If you’ve accepted Christ as your Lord and Saviour, if you’ve come humbly to the cross pleading forgiveness and grace, and been adopted in God’s family, forgiven and redeemed, then these promises are true for you – God is your shade. God has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in Christ – to enjoy God’s favour and protection as a shade means that you need to be in a relationship with Him, through Christ.

 

What does that mean for you in January 2017?  Believer, the Lord God is your shade, shadow and source of comfort!  Believe that. Cling onto that.  Run to God and find grace and mercy and protection and aid and shelter and hope and provision.  May you truly experience the grace and goodness and blessings that God offers to His children.

 

 

 

 

 

2016 – a year worth forgetting!

by Gavin  

2016 – a year worth forgetting!

As we approach the end of 2016, the usual flurry of reflections and future assessments emerge.  Just today, predictions hit the news of possible fuel increases for our country as we heaf into the new year.  George Michael demised, with a resultant flood of retrospective nostalgia, back to WHAM days.  Ananias Mathe passed into eternity, with comments renewed again on his notorious life of crime.  Predictions abound as to the state of national and international politics and economics in the new year... we are not without a daily dose of doom and gloom, right?  

 

One local reported penned an interesting article, entitled, “2016 – a Year Worth Forgetting.”  She makes some interesting points, summing up with these words:

 

What awaits us in 2017? A toxic mix of the nuclear deal and the concomitant secrecy, ANC succession battles, the flailing economy and Treasury fighting the good fight, the ‘State of Capture’ report which must be dealt with and the ANC benches in Parliament increasingly divided. Oh, and the 783 charges of fraud and corruption hanging over Zuma’s head.

 

So then, 2016 may well be a year worth forgetting – there is much to forget in terms of the pain, corruption, injustice, crime, disease, natural disasters, political shenanigans and the sheer raw side of human sinfulness we see.  That is undeniable.  And that is even without mentioning what happened with Springbok rugby in the last season... the term annus horribilis has been used freely to sum up the 2016 season!

 

The question is, will 2017 be better?  And what happens if it is not? 

 

In fact, just to drive us all into even greater despair, it may well be worse!  We don’t know.  The pain might be worse, the corruption might escalate, the lawlessness [progress to even more levels of degradation, injustice might abound at unprecedented levels, the economy might collapse, the rich and corrupt may get even more rich and corrupt, and South African politics may descend into depths of sordidness that could not be imagined.  Nkandla (version 2 on steroids) might still happen!  Nene-Gate may well pale into insignificance by some 2017 political move!    It’s possible.  Our sin-affected world is in “bondage to corruption” (Rom 8:21).  Paul penned these words, and they still hold true in our own age…

 

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)

 

If that’s true, and it is, then our future looks rosy, right!  NOT!

 

Can I offer a modicum of pastoral counsel as the days of 2016 slip away, and we as a Randburg Baptist Church family face 2017?  I know that many battle with the situation of the world, as described above.  I am not immune to the same. I know that our people at Randburg Baptist Church are angry at what happens, disillusioned about the state of the nation, despairing over the slide to greater sin, and boiling inside at the injustice and corruption. 

 

What awaits us in 2017?  Quite possible, even more of the same, if not worse.  And yet we’re called, and indeed equipped, to live joyful and peaceful and faith-filled lives in Christ in the midst of this mess.  Paul Tripp calls it our “Broken Down House” 

 

“Sin has ravaged the house that God created. Our world sits slumped, groaning for the restoration that can only be accomplished by the hands of the Builder.  The bad news is that we’re living in the midst of the restoration process. But the good news is that the divine Builder will not relent until His house is made new again.  Someday we’ll live forever in a fully restored house. In the meantime, Emmanuel resides with us today, returning His house to its former beauty.  You live in a place damaged by sin. But you don’t have to be discouraged and depressed.  Live productively in this broken world.

 

Let’s refocus then on what we know to be true, and hit 2017 with 2 key focus points:

 

  • Look 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!
  • Look 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.

 

Take some time to read and re-read 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…

 

A PSALM OF ASAPH. Truly God is good to Israel, to those who are pure in heart. But as for me, my feet had almost stumbled, my steps had nearly slipped. For I was envious of the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked. For they have no pangs until death; their bodies are fat and sleek. They are not in trouble as others are; they are not stricken like the rest of mankind. Therefore pride is their necklace; violence covers them as a garment. Their eyes swell out through fatness; their hearts overflow with follies. They scoff and speak with malice; loftily they threaten oppression. They set their mouths against the heavens, and their tongue struts through the earth. Therefore his people turn back to them, and find no fault in them. And they say, “How can God know? Is there knowledge in the Most High?” Behold, these are the wicked; always at ease, they increase in riches. All in vain have I kept my heart clean and washed my hands in innocence. For all the day long I have been stricken and rebuked every morning. If I had said, “I will speak thus,” I would have betrayed the generation of your children. But when I thought how to understand this, it seemed to me a wearisome task, until I went into the sanctuary of God; then I discerned their end. Truly you set them in slippery places; you make them fall to ruin. How they are destroyed in a moment, swept away utterly by terrors! Like a dream when one awakes, O Lord, when you rouse yourself, you despise them as phantoms. When my soul was embittered, when I was pricked in heart, I was brutish and ignorant; I was like a beast toward you. Nevertheless, I am continually with you; you hold my right hand. You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will receive me to glory. Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. For behold, those who are far from you shall perish; you put an end to everyone who is unfaithful to you. But for me it is good to be near God; I have made the Lord GOD my refuge, that I may tell of all your works.” (Psalm 73, ESV)

 

I have wanted to leave the church many times!

by Gavin  

I have wanted to leave the church many times!

[This blog is quoted directly and fully from the final chapter of Mark Dever’s book “What Is a Healthy Church?” published by Crossway Books]

 

I have wanted to leave this church many times … all the talk about battling sin and serving others; people keeping me accountable—people who are sinful themselves.” An elder in my church recently said all this.

 

He continued, “But I realize this is exactly the point because I’m still sinful, and I want to be done with sin. I need the accountability, the modeling, the care, the love, the attention. My flesh hates it all! But apart from all this, I probably would have divorced my wife, and then a second, and then a third, and never lived with my children. God shows his grace and care for me through his church.”

 

Healthy churches, churches that increasingly reflect the character of God as it’s been revealed in his Word, are not always the easiest places to be. The sermons might be long. The expectations might be high. The talk of sin will probably feel overdone to many. The fellowship might even feel, at least sometimes, intrusive. But the key is that word increasingly. If we increasingly reflect God’s character, then it stands to reason that aspects of our lives, individually and corporately, don’t reflect his character—there must be smudges on the mirror that need to be polished out, curves in the glass that need to be flattened. That takes work.

 

And God in his goodness has called us to live out the Christian life together, as our mutual love and care reflect the love and care of God. Relationships imply commitment in the world. Surely they imply no less in the church. He never meant our growth to occur alone on an island but with and through one another.

 

Does a healthy church, then, know joy? Oh, it knows joy, indeed! It knows the joy of real change. It knows the joy of broken shackles. It knows the joy of meaningful fellowship and true unity, not unity for its own sake, but unity around a common salvation and worship. It knows the joy of Christ-like love given and received. Most wonderfully, it knows the joy of “reflecting the Lord’s glory” and “being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory” (2 Cor. 3:18).

 

In the third commandment (Exod. 20:7; Deut. 5:11), God warned his people not to take his name in vain. He didn’t mean to simply prohibit profane language. He also meant to warn us against taking his name upon ourselves in vain, such that our lives speak falsely about him. This command is for us as the church.

 

Many churches today are sick. We mistake selfish gain for spiritual growth. We mistake mere emotion for true worship. We treasure worldly acceptance rather than divine approval, an approval which is generally given to a life that is incurring worldly opposition. Regardless of their statistical profiles, too many churches today seem unconcerned about the very biblical marks that should distinguish a vital, growing church.

 

The health of the church should concern all Christians, particularly those who are called to be leaders in the church. Our churches are to display God and his glorious gospel to his creation. We are to bring him glory by our lives together. This burden of display is our awesome responsibility and tremendous privilege.

 

So let’s go back to where we started. What are you looking for in a church? Are you looking for one that reflects the values of you and your community or one that reflects the out-of-this-world and glorious character of God? Of these two options, which will better present a light on the hill for a world lost in darkness?

 

 

Dever, M., 2007. What Is a Healthy Church?, Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

Defiling our children

by Gavin  

Defiling our children

 

Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled…” (Hebrews 12:14–15, ESV)

 

Our attitudes affect the lives and conduct of others!

 

In the process of preparing today for the brand-new series on so-called “Acceptable Sins” commencing this Sunday (23rd October 2016) in our RBC adult modules, I stumbled across this staggering insight.  Wayne and Josh Mack co-authored a brilliant book, entitled, “Fight to the Death.”  This powerful excerpt is their application of the Hebrews text above… see what they say...

 

“This fact ought to put us on our knees before Almighty God, who visits the iniquities of the fathers upon the third and fourth generations (Ex 34:7).  Mothers should realize that their loose tongues – their constant complaining about the people of God or the church – may be the very instrument that the devil uses in turning their children away from Jesus Christ and the church.  Fathers should realize that when they constantly yield to evil desires, their children are observing them.  When children know that their fathers claim to be Christians, but they see them indulging in sin, they say, “If that is what a Christian is, I don’t want to be like my dad.”

 

To use a good Seffricanism… EISH! 

 

That places a massive burden on child-rearing, when viewed from God’s eyes.  How much defilement is promoted and modelled and encouraged, even unwittingly, in the home?  How much defilement against Christ is fuelled by those scathing critiques of the church and preacher and services after a service or a church meeting?  How much are our children hearing and seeing about our own sense of disgruntledness against Christ’s bride, and therefore growing up to have a low view of the church?  Are those critical parental discussions in the car about church life – with the kids silent in the back seat – helping or hindering them in their own faith development?  And then, for good measure, how many times have the “church” or leaders or elders or youth pastor being accused of failing to “produce” good little Christian youth, when the modelling and shaping at home has been the primary destroyer of any hint of desire for the Lord?

 

Dr Joel Beeke made the point when he was in SA in August, teaching on family and marriage, that the Christian home should be a “little church.”  In other words, home life becomes a mirror of church life – to a degree. Many children grow up with no experience or impression of Christian faith and worship as a daily reality. 

 

Hmmm… does that not make it incumbent upon us as parents to shape and model better, and to deal with our attitudes that might swing our kids against Christ and the church?

 

#feesmustfall 2016 - prayer thoughts for our church

by Gavin  

#feesmustfall 2016 - prayer thoughts for our church

 

We awoke yet again to news of a student protest in Parktown this morning, after a weekend of reports of continued unrest across various campuses in South Africa.  How should Christians respond?  One temptation, I suppose, is to grumble and complain and air opinions.  However, there is a depth and complexity to this whole movement which I fear many of us fail to grasp and understand, and therefore our opinions probably don’t really reflect much true consideration of the deep rooted anger, economics disparity and suspicion that simmers under the surface in our country.

 

This short piece is by no means an attempt to delve into the intricacies of the issues.  In fact, this should be read in conjunction with my previous musings from a year ago (see previous blog).  This is therefore more to urge prayer from our church people as we live and function in this community which is so affected by these protests.  Our church families have students who are in this university cauldron, and their own lives and studies have been affected. There are also families in our church who would really benefit from a #feesmustfall outcome in that they do not have the financial means to afford tertiary education.  Our supported gospel ministry on Wits campus has also been disrupted by the protest action.

 

I know that we as a local church have prayed for this matter – it has featured as prayer items in our Fellowship Groups, men’s “Okes” group and even in corporate intercessory prayer in services.  It is right that we do so…

 

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,” (1 Timothy 2:1–3, ESV)

 

We’re called to pray for our country and government.  Let’s include in that Minister Nzimande, the Department of High Education and other stake holders.  Pray for the various Senates and Vice-Chancellors.  Pray for the student leaders and students involved – for calm, safety and reason.  The way ahead is going to be fraught with many dangers and challenges.   But, for the sake of all in our country, pray!

 

But let’s also pray being mindful of the human sinfulness involved.  Sure, the initial protests have opened up (maybe rightfully) a can of worms, and exposed issues in society that have been forgotten.  But through the potential legitimacy of the original #feesmustfall action, there has been a slide to what the Bible accurately attributes to human depravity… consider the actions and attitudes of the radical protesters, the rampant violence, the arson, the anti-authoritarian resistance etc against the backdrop of Scripture:

 

And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless.” (Romans 1:28–31, ESV)

 

Is that description of human depravity not reflected in what is happening, in and through the actions of certain students and student leaders?  To be sure, much of what is occurring goes far beyond the original peaceable call for the fee issue to be addressed, but the hot-headedness of the 2016 protests is in stark contrast with the relative calm of 2015. 

 

In fact, the apostle Paul describes this scene in the context of the last days…

 

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, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people.” (2 Timothy 3:1–5, ESV)

 

Are we not seeing just a taste of that through the student unrest?

 

So then, should not a fair chunk of prayer be for the penetration of the gospel into this mess?  Surely we would be better serving the cause of God by praying “Your Kingdom come” when we gather and pray, as opposed to merely rehashing our opinions, “insights” and grumblings?  Pray that those who act like this because they do not know Christ, would indeed, by a divine and gracious intervention of God, come to a saving faith in the Lord Jesus.  Pray that some dramatic “But God” style intervention occurs, as per what Paul describes…

 

For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us…” (Titus 3:3–5, ESV)

 

And in fact, going back to the preceding verses, how should we pray for our Christian students on our campuses?  We at Randburg Baptist Church have students at Wits, UJ, Tuks and North West (Mahikeng)?  How should we pray for them?  Here are some pointers…

 

Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people.” (Titus 3:1–2, ESV)

 

and to aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you, so that you may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one.” (1 Thessalonians 4:11–12, ESV)

 

In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16, ESV)

 

But let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a meddler. Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name.” (1 Peter 4:15–16, ESV)

 

So flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart.” (2 Timothy 2:22, ESV)

 

So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” (1 Corinthians 10:31, ESV)

 

So then, can I appeal to our Randburg Baptist Church for renewed prayer in this regard – for all concerned and involved in whatever way?  Let’s appeal to our God for His sovereign intervention – undeserving as we are as a nation for anything good from Him – to work, act, restrain, convict, save, lead, guide, assist and grant wisdom in this #feesmustfall scenario that is playing out across our land.

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