Pastoral reflections on #feesmustfall (re-post from 2015)

by Gavin  

Pastoral reflections on #feesmustfall (re-post from 2015)

THIS WAS ORIGINALLY POSTED ON THE RBC FACEBOOK PAGE ON 20TH OCTOBER 2015, BUT RE-POSTED IN LIGHT OF THE CURRENT STATUS ON SOUTH AFRICAN CAMPUSES IN OCTOBER 2016

 

#feesmustfall

 

 

This has been watershed week for our country. 

 

A protest against the tuition fees increase at Wits has sparked a nationwide (and indeed international) response to the matter of tertiary education.  The media is agog with the events as they unfold across the country, on various campuses, city streets and outside Parliament.  Summarising the multitudes of voices in support and against is impossible – from students, academics, politicians and everyone else who has a thought or an opinion.

 

I’ve watched.  Listened. Read. I’ve tried to process and digest and wrestle with some of the issues.  It is clear that there is a level of interrelated complexity in this issue that cannot be resolved easily.  This is not just tuition fees. Issues of economics, socio-economics, race, philosophy, worldview, coupled with our own chequered and painful South African history, all comes into play.  That much is clear to me… the complexity.  I don’t say that lightly or glibly, or as an excuse to not understand.

 

When pushed for a view over the last few days, I have typically been reticent.  I quite honestly don’t know or understand enough.  Maybe I cling to my favourite verse too much :  “Even a fool who keeps silent is considered wise; when he closes his lips, he is deemed intelligent.” (Proverbs 17:28, ESV).  I also am not one prone to like conflict… raised voices and fists and passions and red-faced anger and protesting crowds doesn’t sit well.  Having been caught up in explosive and violent students protests at Technikon Witwatersrand decades ago, the intensity of all this brings back bad memories.  It just doesn’t typically end well – for all concerned.

 

And yet, in God’s providence, I am called to try and pastor our people at this time.  And our people are affected.  Some are even involved.  We have church families reflected on Wits and UJ and NWU (Mahikeng).  Parents pay fees, and cry at the increases.  Some really battle – year on year.  In fact, most do, I’d imagine.  We have students on those campuses wrestling with these very issues.  Parents watch from the sidelines.  Our own Randburg Baptist Church family is affected – and grappling with how to understand it all, engage, respond.

 

And so I am forced to enter the discussion – pastorally.  I am not a politician.  I do not pay fees at the moment, although in time that will change.  I have however been there and done that, and felt the weight of financial constraints and burdens and crippling study debt myself.  I am not so far removed from the issues that this is a mere cold, clinical response.  I just feel the confusion and pain that our students, parents and families have been thrust into. 

 

So then, how should we see and respond to what is unfolding with #feesmustfall?

 

What follows are merely provisional musings.  I concede yet again (as I think we all must), that our perspectives are all limited, skewed and sin-affected.  We all carry baggage and prejudice, and look at the world through lenses which are most often not gospel-centered.  While we think we know in our arrogance, we probably don’t.  There is much listening to be done.

 

Firstly, we live in a fall, sin-affected world.  That is our present reality.  Nothing works as it should.  Structures and people and relationships are all sin tainted.  All creation is indeed groaning.  Sad – but true.  It will be different in heaven, when Christ restores everything to perfect harmony.  But, for now, we live and work and study in a world of pain, injustice and disharmony.  That is even seen in aspects of this protest action… what was largely peaceful and controlled has at times degenerated into the picture Paul paints :  “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).  The intimidation, destruction of property, sheer disrespect and theft cannot be excused.  Nor can the response of police brutality.  Even as I write, news feeds show that foreign students at Rhodes have become targets of xenophobic attacks.  Sinfulness abounds in much of what is unfolding.

 

That, despite the best interventions and political willpower, will not change.  And yet, in that mess, believers in Christ are called to live out their faith, and be salt and light for the gospel. 

 

Secondly, it is clear that even in that mess, believers carry a responsibility to promote peace and justice.  Again, there is a complexity of dynamics and economics beyond my limited understanding, but it is clear that much of what undergirds these responses is a legacy of injustice.  While the true gospel is always about salvation in Christ, does Scripture also not compel action to ease the situations right now?  There is a case to be made for intervention – where there are broken relationships, hunger and poverty, social ills etc.  Where there is a “neighbour” in need, believers are called to respond, right?  Tim Keller makes a compelling point as he writes :

 

"A strong social conscience, and a life poured out in deeds of service to others, especially the poor, is the inevitable sign of a real relationship with God, of real faith."

 

Hmmmm….  Now understand, doing good deeds does not save anyone.  The gospel is about salvation from sin through Christ.  But our works – deeds done in response to God’s grace – should surely involved helping real need. 

 

Now does that mean solidarity with the #feesmustfall protest?  Does that mean involvement in the #feesmustfall protest?  I don’t know, and can’t answer definitively.  But action is called for to assist those who have been unjustly treated.  What should the response be from professing believers, with means, to those who battle in very real ways? 

 

Now, to more personal matters… I’ve been asked what people should do.  I have been thrust into a situation of needing to give guidance where there is confusion and pain and anger.  There is no easy answer.  Some little throw-away comment will probably not suffice.  But, allow me to highlight some principles which I think can (and indeed should) be helpful.  I’d encourage students and parents and others to just think through these points carefully, and see what emerges in terms of God speaking through His timeless and sufficient Word…

 

  • Should we get involved?
  • What is my motive for involvement?
  • What should my attitude be to authority, Senates, SAPS and parents?
  • What is shaping my opinion and responses?
  • Will my actions be honouring to Christ, and promote the gospel?

 

Look and reflect on these texts to shape your own thinking and engagement:

 

“If one gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame.” (Proverbs 18:13, ESV)

 

“The one who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him.” (Proverbs 18:17, ESV)

 

“He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8, ESV)

 

“But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.” (1 John 3:17–18, ESV)

 

“Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment.” (Romans 13:1–2, ESV)

 

“Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work,” (Titus 3:1, ESV)

 

“Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme,” (1 Peter 2:13, ESV)

 

“But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.” (Romans 13:14, 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)

 

“Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. “Honor your father and mother” (this is the first commandment with a promise), “that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land.”” (Ephesians 6:1–3, ESV)

 

““You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. 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 5:14–16, ESV)

 

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

 

Those are really just my initial pointers.  If you genuinely seek to be led by God’s Word and your conscience on all of this, then read, study and pray.  Here’s my pastoral counsel as individuals and families grapple with thus – be led by God’s Word and a clear conscience, not popular opinion and mass waves.  Sure, you may well still settle on that being an acceptable option.  But this is a time to pull back, think, reflect and come to a sober, rational, biblical and God-honouring position. 

 

Should we be involved?  Not involved? Supportive?  Opposing?  That’s a conscience issue that we all need to grapple with.  In fact, is God challenging even more from us all, more than merely support for a popular protest?  Are there areas of challenge and cost that might be needed to truly make a real difference in the life of someone who is struggling in tangible ways?

 

In the meantime, let’s pray.  Pray for your country and government and varsity Senates and Vice-Chancellors.  Pray for the student leaders and students involved – for calm, safety and reason.  The way ahead looks rocky.  But, for the sake of all in our country, pray as Paul instructed :

 

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)

 

I offer this provisional response humbly, mindful of the multiple pitfalls and deficiencies, and yet hopeful that God will shape our thinking and responses in ways that honour Him…

"I give you my word!"

by Gavin  

"I give you my word!"

Fans of the old TV series “24” will connect with this… Jack Bauer, the CTU Federal Agent, was renowned for the phrase, "I give you my word."  Fans of “24” will also know how that often didn’t count for much in the heat of the moment and difficult moral and ethical decisions needed to made.  That “word” – the unbreakable assurance and commitment – often got broken.

 

That raises a challenge for us as believers.  How firm should our “word” be?  Scripture seems clear that we should not be known as fickle people who vacillate and flip and flop on issues and commitments…

 

Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil.” (Matthew 5:37, ESV)

 

As surely as God is faithful, our word to you has not been Yes and No.” (2 Corinthians 1:18, ESV)

 

Our men – the crazy “Okes” gang – bounced this around this morning at dawn, with coffee in hand – flowing from our discussions on integrity in Psalm 15.

 

So then, what did David mean when he wrote this?

 

“… who swears to his own hurt and does not change;” (Psalm 15:4c, ESV)

 

Remember the context is outlining patterns of integrity – things that a righteous person will do, flowing from his belief in God, as a normal course of daily life. 

 

Can I suggest the following then?  This person – this man of integrity – holds himself accountable to what he has said or promised.  He is accountable before God, and possibly even before other people, to keep to what had been promised, even if it was to his own cost.

 

This is someone who commits to something, but due to changed circumstances, would battle to keep the commitment.  To do so would involve sacrifice – there is some form of hurt, some form of loss, some negative that comes through keeping the commitment.  This could be time, finance, convenience, comfort etc.

 

But this person has a sense of honour before God, and seeks to keep that word.  The true man of integrity keeps his commitments, even if it does cost him in some way.

 

And in that he does not change!  That means that this person is not fickle.

 

That may well be related to the preceding financial issue – that of making a promise or commitment.  But maybe the principle here is a little broader as well… does it not mean that in life in general this person does not blow hot and cold? Does it not mean that they are consistent, and behave and act in ways that are not hypocritical or 2-faced?  Is this not a question of honour? Seeking to stay consistent in circumstances, but also not allowing varying circumstances to have a significant effect on attitudes and responses?

 

Hmmm… that’s fine on paper, but it applies to our lives in real and awkward ways… as we saw as the “Okes” chatted about that earlier…

 

How might this apply to these hypothetical scenarios?

 

  • You made a pledge to support a ministry with regular financial giving for a period of time, but your work situation changes, and you are retrenched and have a monthly struggle financially…
  • You committed to a local body of believers to love and serve and attend as part of that community (Hebrews 10:24-25 in action), but that commitment takes second place to family, sport and social stuff at a moments notice… church life gets put aside.
  • You committed to serve in a ministry area, and people rely on you, but that gets turfed when it becomes inconvenient…
  • You promised to fetch an old lady for an event and take her home, but then realised that it would intrude on Manchester United game scheduled for the same time… and you really want to watch that…
  • You assured the leader of your Fellowship group you’d be there at the meeting, but you got home a little late and feel tired (not thinking that maybe he is too, of course!)…
  • You’re scheduled for a turn to sing, serve tea, put out chairs, greet at the door, and then remember it is a family event on that day...

 

In those situations, varied as they might be, what do we do with David’s hallmark of integrity?  What is God saying here?

 

“… who swears to his own hurt and does not change;” (Psalm 15:4c, ESV)

 

Is there not a place to say, “Hey, I know it is not what I want to do, but I’ve committed, and so I’ll still do it… I’ll go, play, give and help even though it will cost me money, time, convenience and maybe clash with something else I really want to be at.”

 

This is not legalism at all… merely poking and prodding at applications of life that may well resonate with us in some way.  But we need God’s Word to do that, right?

 

Now, having said that, does this leave NO room at all for getting out of what we committed to, and where we should be?

 

Well, I think that there is a counterweight to this…

 

My son, if you have put up security for your neighbor, have given your pledge for a stranger, if you are snared in the words of your mouth, caught in the words of your mouth, then do this, my son, and save yourself, for you have come into the hand of your neighbor: go, hasten, and plead urgently with your neighbor. Give your eyes no sleep and your eyelids no slumber; save yourself like a gazelle from the hand of the hunter, like a bird from the hand of the fowler.” (Proverbs 6:1–5, ESV)

 

This text gives instruction to try and extricate yourself from situations where unwise promises and commitments have been made.  The context in financial, but I think the principle holds in a broader sense.  And I don’t see this as contrary to Psalm 15:4c!

 

If the situation is dire, and poverty might result, then go and talk and find a reasonable solution.  Engage with the other person.  Negotiate.  Try and find a compromise.  Free yourself from the commitment. This could be financial.  But it may also be a promise about time, involvement, a scheduled turn for something, an assurance of help… whatever!

 

BUT – this “extrication” is done in full and open discussion with the other party. There is no sense here of a quick clinical SMS, WhatsApp or e-mail… “Hey, sorry, I can’t help or can’t come anymore… Sorry for you!”  No, one goes to someone, talks to them, explains to them, and asks them for release from that commitment if it is at all possible.

 

But, in general, as far as possible, the sense of Psalm 15:4c is this – seek to honour the promises and commitments that have been made.

 

Don’t be like Jack Bauer and say, “I give you my word,” and then do a 180 degree turn on that commitment.  That is not integrity.  That is not God-honouring.  That’s flipping and flopping like the world around us.  It works for the “24” screenplay, but fails to work well in the life of a professing believer.  Let’s seek – for God’s sake and others who depend on us – to do what we said we would do – even if it hurts us in some way!

 

 

 

 

Praying for the men in your pulpit

by Gavin  

Praying for the men in your pulpit

The preacher's 5 year-old daughter noticed that her father always paused and bowed his head for a moment before starting his sermon. One day she asked him why.

 

"Well, Honey," he began, proud that his daughter was so observant of his messages, "I'm asking the Lord to help me preach a good sermon."

 

"How come He doesn't do it?" she asked.

 

OK, so stop laughing now….!!!! J  That was NOT my daughter, and even so, she would NEVER had said something like that… I hope!

 

There are many passages in Scripture that could (and should!) be used to shape our praying for those who, in God’s goodness to us, are charged with the exposition of His Word to us week by week.  We lack no depth of content as to what we could be praying for our preachers – at Randburg Baptist Church and elsewhere.

 

But as I was busy with my own reading plan earlier this morning, I came across Ezekiel 2… I know, these are words given to Ezekiel, and not to me. The context is different.  He was in exile.  Israel was still rebellious in outlook and action against God.  But – there is a consistent challenge to faithfulness in prophetic ministry that I think ripples through the centuries, is there not?

 

1 And he said to me, “Son of man, stand on your feet, and I will speak with you.” 2 And as he spoke to me, the Spirit entered into me and set me on my feet, and I heard him speaking to me. 3 And he said to me, “Son of man, I send you to the people of Israel, to nations of rebels, who have rebelled against me. They and their fathers have transgressed against me to this very day. 4 The descendants also are impudent and stubborn: I send you to them, and you shall say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord God.’ 5 And whether they hear or refuse to hear (for they are a rebellious house) they will know that a prophet has been among them. 6 And you, son of man, be not afraid of them, nor be afraid of their words, though briers and thorns are with you and you sit on scorpions. Be not afraid of their words, nor be dismayed at their looks, for they are a rebellious house. 7 And you shall speak my words to them, whether they hear or refuse to hear, for they are a rebellious house. 8 “But you, son of man, hear what I say to you. Be not rebellious like that rebellious house; open your mouth and eat what I give you.” 9 And when I looked, behold, a hand was stretched out to me, and behold, a scroll of a book was in it. 10 And he spread it before me. And it had writing on the front and on the back, and there were written on it words of lamentation and mourning and woe.

 

Randburg Baptist Church family, will you not commit to pray for the men who occupy our pulpits, at 9am and 12pm services, at our Diepsloot church plant, and also in the various teaching modules and Fellowship Groups, men’s and women’s meetings? 

  • Pray for diligent study, wise application, excellent delivery – but above all, a commitment to have God’s Word heralded, irrespective of whether it is liked, disliked, appreciated, resisted or heeded. 
  • Pray for the ministry of the Spirit to convict lost sinners, to warn professing believers who don’t truly follow Christ, to edify the saints and to bring life change to all of us.

 

Pray by name for our preachers:

  •  Gavin Johnston
  • Khulekani Mzilankatha
  • Gideon Mpeni
  • Bafana Tshabalala
  • Elias Masango
  • Lulamile Galoshe
  • Enoch Mpiko

 

100% committed

by Gavin  

100% committed

It’s staggering to think of the sheer commitment to Christ that was shown in previous generations.  My mind is blown by the accounts from church history and missions of the men and women who truly grasped what Jesus meant when He said,:

 

 “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.” (Mark 8:34–35, ESV)

 

I have been challenged to think through that this week… in light of last week’s sermon on v34, and again this week as I turned my attention to v 35.  Shew – we live and strive as believers to make our lives and churches and ministries and missions trips as comfortable and easy as we can.  I don’t think (at least, I know I don’t) that we have a clue as to what 100% devotion, sheer abandonment and radical commitment actually looks like.

 

But as I worked yesterday, tidied up today and hit “Print” for the manuscript to come through, my mind was replaying something I’d read… and so I went and looked it up.  I’d just finished typing and editing comments on how we in the modern church (maybe even at Randburg Baptist Church?) are consumed with comfort and ease, and choose to pursue our pleasure and careers and academics in a way that lessens commitment to the Saviour. 

 

And a letter written by Adoniram Judson is a timely reminder.  Judson was the first real American foreign missionary, ministering in Burma (modern day Myanmar).  While preparing for his missions work in Burma, he wrote a letter to his propsective father-in-law asking if he could marry Ann Hasseltine.  This is an excerpt from the letter:

 

I have now to ask whether you can consent to part with your daughter early next spring, to see her no more in this world ? Whether you can consent to her departure to a heathen land, and her subjection to the hardships and sufferings of a missionary life? Whether you can consent to her exposure to the dangers of the ocean; to the fatal influence of the southern climate of India; to every kind of want and distress; to degradation, insult, persecution, and perhaps a violent death? Can you consent to all this, for the sake of Him who left His heavenly home and died for her and for you; for the sake of perishing, immortal souls; for the sake of Zion and the glory of God? Can you consent to all this, in hope of soon meeting your daughter in the world of glory, with a crown of righteousness brightened by the acclamations of praise which shall resound to her Saviour from heathens saved, through her means, from eternal woe and despair?

 

I can’t imagine that being written in 2016…. I am not sure I could pen that so easily.  What if I were the father receiving that?

 

Well, Judson hadn’t finished yet.  Mr Hasseltine granted consent to their marriage.  Judson then sent the following letter to Ann Hasseltine before their marriage on 1st January 1811…

 

It is with the utmost sincerity, and with my whole heart, that I wish you, my love, a happy new year. May it be a year in which your walk will be close with God; your frame calm and serene; and the road that leads you to the Lamb marked with purer light. May it be a year in which you will have more largely the spirit of Christ, be raised above sublunary things, and be willing to be disposed of in this world just as God shall please. As every moment of the year will bring you nearer the end of your pilgrimage, may it bring you nearer to God, and find you more prepared to hail the messenger of death as a deliverer and a friend. And now, since I have begun to wish, I will go on. May this be the year in which you will change your name; in which you will take a final leave of your relatives and native land; in which you will cross the wide ocean, and dwell on the other side of the world, among a heathen people. What a great change will this year probably effect in our lives! How very different will be our situation and employment! If our lives are preserved and our attempt prospered, we shall next new year’s day be in India, and perhaps wish each other a happy new year in the uncouth dialect of Hindostan or Burmah. We shall no more see our kind friends around us, or enjoy the conveniences of civilized life, or go to the house of God with those that keep holy day; but swarthy countenances will everywhere meet our eye, the jargon of an unknown tongue will assail our ears, and we shall witness the assembling of the heathen to celebrate the worship of idol gods. We shall be weary of the world, and wish for wings like a dove, that we may fly away and be at rest. We shall probably experience seasons when we shall be ‘exceeding sorrowful, even unto death. We shall see many dreary, disconsolate hours, and feel a sinking of spirits, anguish of mind, of which now we can form little conception. O, we shall wish to lie down and die. And that time may soon come. One of us may be unable to sustain the heat of the climate and the change of habits; and the other may say, with literal truth, over the grave–

 

‘By foreign hands thy dying eyes were closed;

 By foreign hands thy decent limbs composed;

 By foreign hands thy humble grave adorned;’

 

but whether we shall be honoured and mourned by strangers, God only knows. At least, either of us will be certain of one mourner. In view of such scenes shall we not pray with earnestness ‘O for an overcoming faith,’ etc.?”

 

To use a common South Africanism… EISH!  That’s hard-core stuff.  That’s not the anaemic, superficial, “Better Life Now” drivel taught in the modern church, right?  This was an era of truly following Christ – denying self, taking up the cross and following Him with 100% devotion… as Jesus expects all believers to do!

 

Well, did it end well?  Ann Hasseltine married Adoniram Judson on 5th February 5 1812 – 13 months after that letter was written. They left for India (and ultimately Burma) in that same year.

 

Ann never returned.  She died of disease in 1826, after struggling for 21 months with the vigours of missions life – disease, death and loneliness.  Their third child died six months later.

 

But when Adoniram Judson himself died many years later, they left 100 churches in Burma and 8000 Burmese believers. Today Burma (Myanmar) has the 3rd largest number of Baptists worldwide.

 

Methinks we can be shattered and shaped by these testimonies of what it means to heed the call of Jesus Christ himself:

 

“And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? For what can a man give in return for his soul? For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”” (Mark 8:34–38, ESV)

Waking up the RBC neighbours!

by Gavin  

Waking up the RBC neighbours!

We haven't terrorised our neighbours for some time, but that changed this week!

 

It was cool hosting the 5C’s Holiday Club at Randburg Baptist Church this week…

 

Christ Church Christian Care Centre is a project in Hillbrow, seeking to demonstrate the love of Christ in practical ways to children at risk from previously disadvantaged communities in South Africa. 5C’s have 60 such children between the ages of 4-22 to whom they provide accommodation, education, counselling and care.

 

Charmaine Koch ran a 3 day Holiday programme for the junior kids from 5C’s, but hosted at Randburg Baptist Church this past week. Good to see our premises used for purposes of the gospel!

 

Great to see some of our teens committing to help during their holidays, so thanks to them all as well: Daniel, Hayley, Luke, TK, Simphiwe, Nqobile, Sanelisiwe, Ntando, Tsepo, Elvis, and ‘The General.’

 

NOW... we refocus on Saturday and the kid's programme to be hosted in Diepsloot, alongside our church plant there... praying for a great morning of Christ-centered ministry...!!!

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