What to pray for your pastor in 2016…
I started reading through Jeremiah in early December, thinking I’d take big chunks and try and be done by New Year. It didn’t happen. Things just jumped out of the text, and grabbed me around the throat and shook me around a bit. I supposed the double-edged sword, the living and active Word, will always do that, right?
But here’s where I have been for the past 2 days… and the more I read and meditate, the more profoundly this is applied – the end of chapter 15. It is a great chapter, dealing with Jeremiah’s own calling and ministry. From verse 10 Jeremiah has slipped into somewhat of a pity party, because prophetic ministry about sin and repentance and judgement is hard – it hasn’t gone down well. He’s feeling personally bruised and battered, and in fact, a little betrayed by God. God confront Jeremiah on that, and challenges him to deal with his own self-pity and impatience. That is the context of verse 19…
“Therefore thus says the LORD: “If you return, I will restore you, and you shall stand before me. If you utter what is precious, and not what is worthless, you shall be as my mouth. They shall turn to you, but you shall not turn to them.” (Jeremiah 15:19, ESV)
I fully understand that this was written to Jeremiah, and not to me. But, there are three timeless principles I think that any pastor, preacher, ministry or rector could be applying today. This sounds horribly baptistic, with 3 points which are alliterated, but think about these. This is what I have prayed for myself for 2016 and beyond. I you want to know how to pray for me, or your own pastor, maybe use this as something of a framework.
- To commit to minister from a CONDITION of repentance
Jeremiah was told quite simply by God, “Get your heart and life right, turn around, walk right and I will restore you.” He could stand and serve as a prophet only if his life was right, and no evident, recurrent and unconfessed sin was a hindrance. Well, even pastors and preachers are sinners, but in that position of humble awareness of our own deficiencies, there should never be complacency and an unwillingness to change. That’s what my brother Glen preached on Sunday from Colossians 3… put sin to death. Murder it off.
Pray that I would be under the conviction of the Spirit this year as the Lord exposes more of my own heart, and drives me back to the cross again and again and again.
- To commit to minister with sound CONTENT
If you utter what is precious, and not what is worthless, you shall be as my mouth.
The point is quite clear right… purge out the dross from what is said. The content of Jeremiah ministry, and I venture to say of all those who claim to be a minister of God, should be pure, precious and undefiled. We do not have the liberty to use our stages and podiums and pulpits as a space for opinion, self-promotion and conclusions from a text that are not actually God’s intention from that text. The temptation to do otherwise is huge, because the world loves the darkness. People in churches want to have their ears tickled. That is worthless is very popular, because it appeals to the base side of people: “Tell what makes me feel good, look good and don’t rattle my cage!”
But to truly be God’s mouthpiece means that content needs to be precious, and not worthless. That means hard study mining out the truth as God intended, and then correctly applying that to our people.
Pray I would be committed to that this year!
- To commit to minister with no COMPROMISE of truth
They shall turn to you, but you shall not turn to them
The point to Jeremiah was simple… “Your country and people will want you to turn to their ways because they are stubborn. The pressure will be on to dilute the truth, so as to allow them to go on doing what they are doing. DO NOT DO THAT!”
We have to learn from that today, right? Pastors, hammer the stake deep into the ground. Biblical truth and standards are just that – the true standards. Let society, the world, the unsaved in our churches, the sinning believer hear and see and know what God demands, and let them turn to that standard, but never ever lower the standard.
Pray that would be true of the Randburg Baptist Church pulpit inn 2016, plus our ministry areas where other teaching occurs. Pray for our neighbouring churches… there are good, sound evangelical churches which are faithful to the Word, but many where a weak, man-centred and false “gospel” is promoted. Pray for faithfulness, accuracy and discernment.
But pray for me as I shepherd at Randburg Baptist Church – for a right heart condition, accurate content and a desire to never compromise.
Thanks for the support and partnership in the gospel!
I can clearly remember sitting in front of an old transistor radio trying to catch the Top 40 (of the time), while recording my favourite hits on an old cassette recorder. Ja, I know… it dates me a little. For those who are clueless… a tape recorders used rectangular cassettes, with 2 windy things, and magnetic tape. It went round and round, recounting or playing stuff. If you wanted to record, you could… just rewind, reset and you could record over what you didn’t like. Kinda like a rewritable DVD… almost!
That rewind and re-record function could obliterate mistakes. Not so with our words.
Without flagellating her any more than has already happened, a South African realtor woke up this morning wishing that she had a rewind function. She made some misplaced, racist comments on Facebook about the annual New Year celebrations on our South African beaches, and it has gone viral. Without making light of the situation, she has discovered that rash words, even in text, are no monkey business.
I could blog on the racism issue – and there are probably biblical grounds to do that. But our “Okes” group have engaged with David Platt on the Race issue through our “Counter Cultural” series, and it is crystal clear that this is a sin and reflects a heart that needs gospel change. So I won’t go there today.
However, what was striking for me, and I offer it here as pastoral caution to our church, is the danger of rash speech – or writing. Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp and other social media forums were not around in Bible times. But methinks that the biblical principles governing speech could well be applied to written stuff as well.
It is very easy – and harmful – to speak foolishly. There is no rewind function on our words. We can never truly take back what we say, as much as we might wish to from time to time. Sometimes in everyday conversation we all speak without thinking – without weighing our words. And in our age, that is not restricted to just spoken words – that which is typed and posted on social media or an e-mail can also be regretted. By God’s grace, usually the impulsive speech of Christians isn’t full of wickedness and evil, but it certainly can be foolish.
Think about it: What causes us to react emotionally, rather than respond thoughtfully?
Hear the diagnosis from the Bible…
"The heart of the righteous ponders how to answer, but the mouth of the wicked pours out evil things." (Proverbs 15:28, ESV)
What is this proverb teaching? I think it asks us all a probing question: “ “Is your speech and written words thoughtful and measured, or is it mostly a gushing, uncontrolled torrent? Hmmm… If we had to record your conversations over a day, and then replay them, would your speech be considered as thoughtful and measured? What practical steps can (and should) you take to “ponder how to answer” better?
Selvaggio summed it up as follows as he pondered Proverbs:
“Only the fool speaks in haste, without contemplating the potential implications and ramifications of his words. Only the fool has enough misplaced confidence in his or own wisdom to trust in the value of whatever unedited thoughts may come to mind.”
What principles can we draw out of that statement and use to examine ourselves?
But Scripture offers even more penetrating examination of the nature of words spoken rashly…
"The mouth of the righteous brings forth wisdom, but the perverse tongue will be cut off. The lips of the righteous know what is acceptable, but the mouth of the wicked, what is perverse." (Proverbs 10:31-32, ESV)
"When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but whoever restrains his lips is prudent. The tongue of the righteous is choice silver; the heart of the wicked is of little worth. The lips of the righteous feed many, but fools die for lack of sense." (Proverbs 10:19-21, ESV)
"Whoever guards his mouth preserves his life; he who opens wide his lips comes to ruin." (Proverbs 13:3, ESV)
"Whoever restrains his words has knowledge, and he who has a cool spirit is a man of understanding." (Proverbs 17:27, ESV)
So then, while we need to cautious about our words, we can also be hopeful. God is eager to be at work in, and through us, as we speak. As Paul Tripp summarises, in his brilliant “War of Words” :
- “God has a wonderful plan for our words that it far better than any plan we could come up with on our own.
- Sin has radically altered our agenda for our words, resulting in much hurt, confusion and chaos.
- In Christ Jesus we find the grace that provides all we need to speak as God intended us to speak.
- The Bible plainly and simply teaches us how to get from where we are to where God wants us to be.
For most of us, each day offers numerous opportunities to speak wisely, in matters small and great. That includes what we write in text form on the various social media platforms, where people – believers and non-believers – see and process. Are our spoken and written words reflective of the transforming power of the gospel within us, or do they reflect a heart which still oozes hate, prejudice and bitterness? Is what we say helping or hindering the gospel, and promoting the cause of Christ? Rash written words have caused a backlash against a South Coast estate agent today. She is being threatened, abused and facing criminal charges. Pray for her through this – to somehow see her own need of the gospel. Pray for those reflecting such blind rage as part of the response – they too need to encounter God’s grace. But let’s again learn from this – whoever guards his mouth (or fingers as they type) preserves his life.
I realise that year-end mania dominates much of what is being said on social media and blogs, and in a sense these musings just surf the same wave… While nothing mysterious happens between 23:59:59 on the 31st December and 00:00:00 on the 1st January, the end of a year, in our western lives, does seem to bring a conclusion to a defined period of life, and usher us into a new phase. I suppose there are some legitimate grounds for retrospection, as well as a rightful gaze ahead.
These then are just some pastoral musings on church life at Randburg Baptist Church, looking back and ahead at the same time. I trust that in some small way this will be helpful to you, even from my own sin-affected, warped but hopefully biblical perspectives.
2015 really has become the year of the empty offices. If I had to pick a single image that sums up the past 12 months, it would be that picture – empty offices. Why? Well, as I shared with our elders a few weeks ago in an e-mail, 2015 has been a year of great loss, particularly in terms of the ministry team at RBC. The Lord has given and the Lord has taken away, and I am compelled to still say, “Blessed be the name of the Lord,” right? Track through it with me…
We heard in early December 2014 that Johann Strauss would not be continuing as an intern here in 2015, having accepted a call to the Underberg Baptist Church. It was a joy to be involved in Johann’s induction in KZN on the 1st Sunday of 2015, and to hear the reports of the ministry over the year that has followed. While I need to joyfully think “kingdom” and rejoice in the progress and opportunities, the loss of friendship, fellowship and interaction at our own church has been a loss.
Then came the tumultuous midyear period, where in a single fateful night in late June, the Lord saw fit to call home our pastoral couple, Maruti Moses Seane and Mmamoruti Sedibane Seane, along with two other family members through that horrific vehicle accident. It was a period of personal reeling with the issues, but in a sense just needing to be driven to plan and organise and be involved in the multifidi of arrangements. I am not sure I ever really got around to grieve through the frenzy of stuff and planning and arrangements. The confusion was compounded by the fact that, after a very long battle with immigration etc, Priscilla had moved to SA from Botswana to join Moses in April, 10 years after they were married. Their deaths left gaping holes at Randburg Baptist Church – both here at the church, as well as the blossoming work at Diepsloot. Sure there has been great ministry loss, not just to us as a church family, but to the broader BNA and BUSA as well. But, yet again, at a personal level there was again a loss of friendship, fellowship and interaction in the office on a daily basis.
But the year had not ended yet… it has been an incredible joy seeing Glen Culling’s involvement in our high ministry, and the wonderful, God-sustained path of rebuilding that he has accomplished with the teens. It has been so encouraging to me and the elders to see a group reforming, relationships happening again, the Bible being taught faithfully each week, newcomers being attracted… God has been at work. But through that, I have been personally stretched and challenged and grown through daily interaction with Glen as we have walked a road of ministry, academics and life issues. To hear his decision about a move to Australia, and the acceptance of a ministry call to Sydney was not necessarily a surprise, but certainly not what I wanted to hear. Yet again, a loss to Randburg Baptist Church ministry, but yet again the prospect of loss of friendship, fellowship and daily “Calvin-laced” interaction in the office… sometimes even involving TimTams.
So then, a year ago all three men were still here – present, involved and serving. As the end of 2015 looms in a few hours, the spectre of empty offices here is a stark reminder of God’s providential movement of people, for their good, His glory and the broader sake of the gospel. But we have all lost – Johann to KZN, Moses to heaven and Glen to Aus. That is apart from the other membership movement as well, if we widen the circle slightly… Mike and Bev Clancy retiring to KZN late in 2014, and now the sad prospect of Prasanth and Ramya Pendy returning back to Bangalore, India at the end of January. God also shuffled others around in a way that best served His wise and good purposes for church life at RBC, plus brought some new families to us.
But at a staff level, 2015 really has been the year of the empty offices.
How do we handle that? What perspective can I bring both to myself as one who feels it acutely, as well as to a local church who also feels the vacuum, confusion and loss? I suppose on one hand we reaffirm what we sing often: “Behold our God, seated on His throne, come let us adore Him.” He is sovereign and just and good, and His rule and reign is not threatened. I suppose we cling to the great truths I tried to unpack last Sunday morning – that in all things God is never surprised, that He knows all things that everything that happens, both good and bad, occurs in full accordance with His will. Our God’s hand is firmly on the steering wheel of church life, and our own lives. Those were precious truths to be reminded of even yesterday as I connected with a precious couple from Randburg Baptist Church who had been tied and assaulted for 5 ½ hours in an armed robbery on Tuesday night/Wednesday morning…. God knows, God cares, and God’s good and perfect will unfolded even through the grossest acts of human sinfulness.
Those are the biblical pillars we have to cling to even as we look back at what has unfolded – a year of empty offices. Those are truths we cling to as we seek to move forward in the murkiness of 2016… despite what happens and despite what the future holds, my God, our God, is still King. He still reigns. His justice will still prevail. He has never ever failed me, you or us as a church, and He will continue to work all things for the good of those that love Him, those called according to His purpose, even as we hit 2016 together.
It has been a joy over the last 13 hours to see gospel seeds sown in the build-up to Christmas…
A number of our Randburg Baptist Church family went across to Douglasdale Retirement Village to lead a Carol Service there at 5pm on Christmas Eve. Over 70 people were present, inclusion at least 50 of the residents. John Rowland shared a simple, direct message from John 1. We had chance to linger and enjoy some refreshments.
Some of our “Okes” connected with the local CHUBB security detail on Christmas morning at their 6am shift change, with the traditional coffee, muffins and gift of gospel literature. There is also some limited chance just to connect, chat and show something opf the love of Christ.
Now, is this “hit & miss” ministry? I’ve heard people castigate ministry like this before, saying that the church is called to make disciples, and nopt just converts and not just random exposure to the gospel. The [point is that ministry without follow-up is a waste of time.
Well, having been preaching through Mark’s gospel over the past few months, I am increasingly convinced otherwise. Sure, disciple-making is key, and we should never, ever lose sight of that. We’re called to build into peoples’ lives, being faithful to the Lord’s command to “teach them everything I have commanded” (Matt 28:19-20). Long-term input and nurture is crucial - agreed!
But this in no ways should ever serve as an excuse to avoid the indiscriminate sharing of gospel truths, and then trusting God for the outcomes, right? We see that through the life and ministry of our Lord Jesus, do we not? Mark 2:13-14 gives us that wonderful balance: Jesus taught the crowds, many of whom He would never see again. But He also directed specific attention to Levi, and called him to faith. The parables in Mark 4 reinforce the theme – gospel seeds are sown far and wide, indiscriminate throwing of truth to whoever would hear. But God causes some to land on good soil, and He produces growth. In fact, the sower can sow in that way, and then go to sleep, waiting for God to bring about true spiritual change…
“And he said, “The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground. He sleeps and rises night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows; he knows not how.” (Mark 4:26–27, ESV)
So, let’s give God thanks for opportunities for gospel ministry. I’d dearly love to see people from DRV and the local CHUBB sector crew coming to faith, and growing in a way whereby we could walk with them. But I think we need to rejoice in the fact that then gospel has been presented and demonstrated by our people in these 2 areas, both last night and this morning. Now we pray – that the Holy Spirit would bring fruit from the effort, to God’s glory.
“I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. He who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his wages according to his labor.” (1 Corinthians 3:6–8, ESV)
Homer Simpson is not the best guide to spiritual truth.
However, with that statement he does come close to a prevailing worldview about Jesus Christ… “Just because I don’t care, doesn’t mean that I don’t understand.”
A teenager once told me that his life motto was “Ignorance and apathy” – I don’t know, and I don’t care! That’s pretty sad. But also pretty common when it comes to the birth, life and death of Jesus Christ.
We see that same attitude in some of the characters in the story when the Magi arrive to visit Jesus as a young child, between 6 months and 2 years after the actual birth. The following thoughts are extracts from my message for tomorrow morning’s Christmas Day service, so come along for the full package deal :)
So, the Magi arrive. They’ve seen a star. They have worked out the significance – a king has been born in Israel. They come bearing gifts. Herod hears the news and freaks out. And he gets his “brains trust” together – the scribes and high priests of Israel, to get some clarity….
Look at the religious leaders whom Herod summoned – the chief priests and the scribes. These guys were the ones who actually knew something – they had all the facts and figures about religious life before them. They knew all there was to know about the prophesied Messiah. That’s why Herod called them!
Herod plays a little Q&A with them : “Where is the Christ to be born?” And this bunch of religious fanatics and legal professors and top theologians are like, “Herod, is that the best you’ve got? That’s a no-brainer! Everyone knows that! Bethlehem is the birthplace of the Christ!” These men probably had the whole of the Old Testament memorised, and they knew Micah 5:2 :
“But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days.” (Micah 5:2, ESV)
They know the information, the prophecy and the facts. They too were Jews, looking out for the coming of the Messiah, the Christ – they too wanted Him as the Liberator. They have all they need to know about the coming of the Anointed One from God.
But what do they do when they hear something about the birth of a King? There is a strong rumour in the city that a King has been born. Bethlehem was like 9 ½ kilometres from Jerusalem… a half day walk and they could have got there. Do you not think that this group of ultra-religious Jews would have leapt at the chance to go and see, to witness, to verify?
But they do nothing!
They’re less than 10km from where the Messiah might be, and nothing stirs within them to go and investigate. The Gentile Magi have travelled 100’s of kilometres to Jerusalem, but the local Jewish leaders cannot be bothered. Sheer apathy. Total disinterest. Couldn’t be bothered. They knew the facts and the signs, but they couldn’t be bothered in actually knowing the King, and believing in the fact that maybe God had actually sent the long awaited One.
Years later, this apathy and indifference and disbelief would turn to active hate. There initial disinterest in Jesus led to rejection and a murderous desire to see Him dead. Those whom ignored His coming when He was still a young child, would one day cry out, “Crucify Him, crucify Him!”
Homer Simpson said that he understood, but just didn’t care. Well, these Jews did too – they too understood, but failed to care.
What do we learn from this group?
Quite simply – do not be apathetic about the rule and reign of Jesus Christ. Jesus is King, He is the rule, and you cannot afford to not care. You cannot afford to drift along through life, ignoring the facts and evidence as to who Jesus is. You cannot fail to give attention to the birth, life and death of Jesus, the Saviour and Lord.
If I put a Bible Quiz before you today, you might score quite well – knowing all those facts and figures from Sunday School and youth and all the church services you have attended so faithfully. O yes, you might have all the information, attend church regularly, be involved even, give lots, be charitable… But is it possible that you, like these Jewish religious leaders, know about Jesus but don’t actually know Jesus. Maybe you’re cold, indifferent and apathetic about who He really is, and what He came to do. He is the ruler, the shepherd. Your own salvation from sin and God’s judgement hinges on whether you accept and trust and obey this Jesus.
Apathy is a highly dangerous place to be when it comes to responding to the birth of Jesus as King.
Don’t be like Homer Simpson – ever! But more importantly, don’t play the apathy game like these Jewish leaders of old – because it affects you forever.