Comfort in the sleepless nights

by Gavin  

Comfort in the sleepless nights

 

We’ve all had sleepless nights – not only due to coffee – but where something just runs through your mind over and over. The clock ticks on and on and on… the issue does not go away. The bedroom starts to lighten, and the birds begin to tweet – and the concern still looms large on the horizon. It could be something in life, family, business or a relationship that eats at your mind – just lying there, thinking and pondering the issue.

 

Maybe you even face something at the moment? What is bothering you today? Each one of us will have something. Some people have more than one issue. And often we don’t know how to deal with it – there doesn’t seem to be any solution.

 

Well, while accepting this is not some “magic wand” verse, nor a quick promise for the day, allow me to share something from the experience of the psalmist from Psalm 94 which trust will be of some help…

 

When the cares of my heart are many, your consolations cheer my soul.” (Psalm 94:19, ESV)

 Some versions read, “In the multitude of my anxieties within me…”

 

So then, what were the Psalmists anxieties? We don’t know for sure, but we can guess from the Psalm. We get a sense of trouble, enemies and being threatened. His life was in danger, the righteous were being oppressed while the wicked seemed to prosper. Through all that is looked like God did not care. This was compounded by murder in the land of the widow and stranger and orphan. Evildoers abounded. The Psalmist has a list – a long list of problems and things that concerned him.

 

So do you – if you take time to think about it. Don’t issues trouble you too? In the country, our city, your family, your church, relationships with people, financial issues, your future, your health or someone else’ health? Maybe you can say like the Psalmist here - “In the multitude of my anxieties within me… When the cares of my heart are many.That is real and honest and raw.

 

But the verse does not end there… see what follows… “In the multitude of my anxieties within me, Your comforts delight my soul” or “…your consolations cheer my soul.”

 

This man acknowledges all that is happening. He doesn’t try to hide his problems and confusion and distress at life. “I do have a multitude of anxieties and concerns. ”

 

But – and hear the glorious “but” – Your comforts Lord delight my soul. In the middle of all the problems, the comforts of God bring a delight and joy to His heart.

 

So then, what are the comforts of God? Are they some form of warm feeling that descends out of heaven, and maybe a nice feeling of security and happiness? No. I don’t think so.

 

I believe that the comforts of God are the truth and promises found in the Word of God – truths about who God is, and what He has done for us, and what He has promised us. The pages of the Bible are full are the comforts of God for those that are in relationship with God. Those passages are designed to bring encouragement and hope. As Paul wrote:

 

For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.” (Romans 15:4, ESV)

 

What about all the other comforts found in Scripture for those who are part of God’s family and are in relationship with Christ? Surely believers find comfort in God’s sovereignty, faithfulness, love, grace, power, wisdom and justice? The truths that He will never leave us nor forsake us and “I will be with you” shore up weak faith in times of feeling abandoned, right?

 

The nature of God provides a solid foundation – that he is the steadfast One, the Rock, the strong tower, mighty fortress, the King established on His throne.

 

There are rich promises of hope for the believer – that Christ is coming to claim His bride, the inheritance stored up for us in heaven, the assurance that Christians are marked with His seal and that our lives are hidden with Christ in God.

 

It’s like there are 2 lists…. The multitudes of our anxieties within us, but counterweighted against God’s comforts. And the latter far, far outweighs the former! Praise God for that! God’s comforts far outweighs the trouble and distress.

 

That means that we can and should come and find comfort in the promises contained in the Bible, and pray for the Lord to impress those on our hearts so that we truly trust in Him and find rest in Him.

 

Outcome Based Theology

by Gavin  

Outcome Based Theology

Millions of learners, parents and educators around our country became familiar with the concept of OBE (Outcome Based Education) a few years ago. The essential premise was to ensure that learners were competent as an end goal – outcomes were the acid test of what they supposedly knew. The outcome was the standard.

 

Millions of professing believers around the world hold to something similar in the spiritual world – almost an Outcome Based Theology. The essential premise is that our understanding of God is determined by an outcome assessed by human perspectives and standards.

 

Let’s take God’s goodness as the most common example. It’s a great attribute of God, and one that many love and find comfort in – “You are good and do good” (Ps 119:68). But if we boil it down, what is the actual gauge of God’s goodness for people? Experience shows that the acid test for many people of God’s goodness lies in their assessment of a good and pleasing outcome. God’s goodness is prayed for and appreciated, but the assessment is often “a good outcome” according to human standards.

 

That form of outcome based theology pops up in various ways – conversation and prayer. And is heartfelt and deep and well-intentioned …

 

“God, in your goodness, restore Susie’s marriage…”

 

“I know that your daughter is critically ill, but God is good, and everything will be OK…”

 

“God promises to prosper us (Jer 29:11) and so trust in His goodness to make it all better…”

 

And so it goes on. Now we need to be crystal clear – God in His goodness can and does bless, heal and restore. That is true - that is His unconditional grace at work, for believers and unbelievers alike.

 

But do you see how easily and Outcome Based Theology can enter into our thinking? God is good, and therefore we will expect to see good outcomes, but based on OUR definition of good. God is good therefore it is also assumed that He will make us happy and stable and secure – our perspective of what is a good outcome becomes the sole means of assessment.

 

But this is both shallow and fallacious. God, as One who is unchanging, is always good. All that He does is good. Even when, in ways that causes brain meltdown for us, God providentially acts to bring about pain, sickness and affliction, He is still good and still doing good. Where the sovereign, wise and just God acts to bring suffering, He is still good even then.

 

These are mysteries we cannot explain. There is a complexity in God’s will and purpose that defies human interpretation. But that is a good place to be actually – in worship and wonder looking at the bigness and beauty of an incomprehensible God.

 

But we dare not determine our view of such a God by what we, in our limited wisdom, deem to be good. If God graciously helps, leads, guides, provides, heals and restores, sure it is a sign of His goodness. I will be the first to affirm that. And we like that, pray for that and find encouragement in that.

 

But Outcome Based Theology is still a danger!

 

Here is the mind-blowing reality – if God in His wisdom chooses to not help, heal, intervene and restore in the way and timeframe we want, this in no ways diminishes His goodness. As the popular song reflects: “God is good all the time, and all the time God is good”. Let’s avoid the danger of Outcome Based Theology in which we either construct and demand what we think is a good outcome, or even rethink our view on God when He doesn’t act according to the plan we had desired.

 

Does this mean that there are never going to be good outcomes? Not at all. There will always be good outcomes to all that God does – but according to His standard and purposes! Our fallible and limited human perspective falls horribly short, and we lack the divine insight to see how pain and affliction could possibly ever achieve good.

 

An appreciation of the deep mysteries and good providence of God will bring us closer to appreciating and deriving comfort from the classic “goodness” passages. (Genesis 50:20; Psalm 34:8; Romans 8:28 etc.)

 

So, Outcome Based Theology is helpful and faith-building – provided that we humbly accept that God will achieve His will through His good purposes – sometimes even involving afflictiion. But guard against an Outcome Based Theology which redefines God according to what we think He should have done.

 

It is appropriate to end with the profound lyrical musings of William Cowper (1731 – 1800):

 

God moves in a mysterious way,
His wonders to perform;
He plants His footsteps in the sea,
And rides upon the storm.


Deep in unfathomable mines
Of never-failing skill
He treasures up His bright designs,
And works His sovereign will.


Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take;
The clouds ye so much dread
Are big with mercy, and shall break
In blessings on your head.


Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,
But trust Him for His grace;
Behind a frowning providence
He hides a smiling face.


His purposes will ripen fast,
Unfolding every hour;
The bud may have a bitter taste,
But sweet will be the flower.


Blind unbelief is sure to err,
And scan His work in vain;
God is His own interpreter,
And He will make it plain.

 

The Dark Guest

by Gavin  

The Dark Guest

Shadows and dark corners and unlit areas are typically spaces to be avoided.  The thought of what might be lingering in those spaces causes a certain fear to well us within us.  “Might there be a presence, a person, a thing there which I cannot see?”  Dark corners in homes and gardens and bedrooms cause us to think twice about going there without adequate illumination.  The apprehension of what might be there is shaped by some lingering, deep rooted form of Achluophobia, Arachnophobia, Entomophobia, Lygophobia or Merinthophobia (Google those – it’ll be fun! J)

 

But there is a real concern that should govern the hearts of true believers in Christ… the presence of indwelling sin.  I don’t think we actually have a clue as to how deep-rooted our own sin actually is.  Sure, the penalty of it was paid at the cross when Christ died.  The power of sin was broken.  Sure, we’re called to live in the light of those realities – to be free and victorious, living as those free from sin.  But the reality is that believers will struggle each and every day.  There is, as an unnamed Puritan write centuries ago, a Dark Guest which still resides in us.

 

Jeremiah was correct when he wrote these divinely inspired words :

 

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

 

There is a depth to our own state of heart deception we just do not get – we deceive ourselves as to how bad we actually are.  So when Jeremiah follows that statement up with this, where does that leave us?

 

““I the LORD search the heart and test the mind, to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his deeds.”” (Jeremiah 17:10, ESV)

 

God’s divine X-Ray vision penetrates down to the deepest recesses of the human heart.  His illumination gaze rips away our veneer, and causes the origin of all attitudes and speech and behaviour to be revealed.  Hmmmm…. If I am honest, that cannot be pretty.  I self-deceive all the time.  I justify and excuse and downplay behaviour and attitudes.  I slip into self-righteousness along with the next person as easily as slipping on a favourite T-shirt.  And yet this verses destroys any sense of illusion – because God knows, God sees and God responds.  Thus, the Dark Guest I pretend is not there, or has been successfully expelled or muted is revealed…

 

And so I need to loop back and pray a prayer like this, in the light of this reality.  This was penned centuries ago, but is as relevant today as it was back then…

 

O LORD, Bend my hands and cut them off,

       for I have often struck thee with

   a wayward will,

   when these fingers should embrace thee by faith.

 I am not yet weaned from all created glory,

   honour, wisdom, and esteem of others,

   for I have a secret motive to eye my name

     in all I do.

 Let me not only speak the word sin, but see

     the thing itself.

 Give me to view a discovered sinfulness,

   to know that though my sins are crucified

     they are never wholly mortified.

 Hatred, malice, ill-will,

   vain-glory that hungers for and hunts after

   man’s approval and applause,

   all are crucified, forgiven,

   but they rise again in my sinful heart.

 O my crucified but never wholly mortified

   sinfulness!

 O my life-long damage and daily shame!

 O my indwelling and besetting sins!

 O the tormenting slavery of a sinful heart!

 Destroy, O God, the dark guest within

   whose hidden presence makes my life a hell.

 Yet thou hast not left me here without grace;

 The cross still stands and meets my needs

   in the deepest straits of the soul.

 I thank thee that my remembrance of it

   is like David’s sight of Goliath’s sword

     which preached forth thy deliverance.

 The memory of my great sins, my many

   temptations, my falls,

   bring afresh into my mind the remembrance

     of thy great help, of thy support from heaven,

     of the great grace that saved such a wretch

       as I am.

 There is no treasure so wonderful

   as that continuous experience of thy grace

     toward me which alone can subdue

       the risings of sin within:

 Give me more of it.

 

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ACkyk0BkPwA

 

 

 

 

Praying for the pastor in 2016...

by Gavin  

Praying for the pastor in 2016...

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.

 

  1. 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.

 

 

  1. 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!

 

  1. 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!

There is no rewind function on our words

by Gavin  

There is no rewind function on our words

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.

1 2 ...3 ...4 5 7 8