Category: "Christian living"
The media has called it Zuma’s “Night of the Long Knives.”
The midnight events as Thursday 30th March gave way to Friday 31st March streamed through the news feeds. A major Cabinet reshuffle in South Africa has occurred, with political carnage being the order of the night. Hirings, firings and lateral movement was the issue. A week of uncertainty, tinged with some scary certainty, ended as the President expelled the Finance Minister and his Deputy, Pravin Gordhan and Mcebisi Jonas. Opposition parties are in protest, business leaders cry, “Foul” and the blog sites reflect the anger, disappointment and fear of ordinary South Africans.
No doubt opinions will continue to fly. Emotions will rage. Discussions will be had across the board in our country, amongst all strata of our beautiful people.
As professing believers in Christ, how do we see this all? What perspective and should we have? Irrespective of our own political allegiance, what are the umbrella principles and worldview issues that should dictate our responses and conversations and prayers?
In a nutshell, writing as a pastor to help our people, I’d venture this in summary – look high and look long!
1) Looking high involves a robust view of the sovereignty of God – that He is on His throne, that none of this takes Him by surprise, that His will and purposes are being worked out even in this turmoil, and that nothing undermines or thwarts His supreme authority. Linked with that, consider that petty human kings, rulers, authorities and governments serve at the behest of God… If Mr Zuma thinks it is his prerogative to hire and fire ministers, he might be well advised to consider that he too serves under God’s supreme control…
“Do you not know? Do you not hear? Has it not been told you from the beginning? Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth? It is he who sits above the circle of the earth, and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers; who stretches out the heavens like a curtain, and spreads them like a tent to dwell in; who brings princes to nothing, and makes the rulers of the earth as emptiness. Scarcely are they planted, scarcely sown, scarcely has their stem taken root in the earth, when he blows on them, and they wither, and the tempest carries them off like stubble.” (Isaiah 40:21–24, ESV)
2) Looking long is the believer’s hope, isn’t it? Jesus Christ is coming back. He is coming back as “King of Kings and Lord of Lords.” He will judge the living and the dead. Perfect justice will prevail round the Judgement Seat of Christ. He will restore all things, and make all things right. There is blessed forward-looking hope for the believer. What is happening in 2017 is a blip on the radar screen of eternity for the believer in Christ.
“This is evidence of the righteous judgment of God, that you may be considered worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are also suffering— since indeed God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to grant relief to you who are afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might…” (2 Thessalonians 1:5–9, ESV)
In light of that, how then do we pray for our government, and our President?
There are many texts to shape that kind of prayer – prayers for conviction, for restraint, prayers for repentance and them to come to faith in Christ. Ample cases could be made for imprecatory prayer, seeking God’s intervention and justice to be brought to bear to stop the rot, halt the abuses, and bring good for the poor and vulnerable who face the brunt of the aftermath. To be sure, praying for God’s righteous anger to burn would be appropriate, coupled with His mercy to flow – for the nation, for the government and for the President.
But I am compellingly drawn to the timeless words of Psalm 2…
“Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the LORD and against his Anointed, saying, “Let us burst their bonds apart and cast away their cords from us.” He who sits in the heavens laughs; the Lord holds them in derision. Then he will speak to them in his wrath, and terrify them in his fury, saying, “As for me, I have set my King on Zion, my holy hill.” I will tell of the decree: The LORD said to me, “You are my Son; today I have begotten you. Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth your possession. You shall break them with a rod of iron and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.” Now therefore, O kings, be wise; be warned, O rulers of the earth. Serve the LORD with fear, and rejoice with trembling. Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and you perish in the way, for his wrath is quickly kindled. Blessed are all who take refuge in him.” (Psalm 2, ESV)
This really should be a model of prayer for South African Christians at this time – for God’s Spirit to bring conviction of the sheer arrogance, power-mad behaviour and godlessness that prevails.
Mr Zuma, it is highly unlikely that you will ever get to read this posting – but I hope you read something similar from someone, at some stage. Believers in our country are concerned – not just about the political issues, which are often mere opinion. We’re concerned about the godlessness, the lack of righteous behaviour, the slide to a moral abyss. We’re concerned about the heart motives in the corridors of power that seemingly undergird that – what appears to be a wilful rejection of God, an abandonment of His Word and a disregard for the authority of God under which you serve.
Mr Zuma, you claim that the ANC will rule until Jesus comes back. In God’s mysterious providence, that may, or may not be, the case. But the more compelling issue is this – Jesus Christ IS coming back. And you, along with every other person, will get to face Him and give an account for your life. And the Bible is crystal clear – those without Christ, without faith in the glorious Son of God, will be condemned to eternal judgement. Mr President, will you be ready for that day? I pray so, for the good of your eternal soul.
Please heed the call of God to you as a ruler:
“Now therefore, O kings, be wise; be warned, O rulers of the earth. Serve the LORD with fear, and rejoice with trembling. Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and you perish in the way, for his wrath is quickly kindled. Blessed are all who take refuge in him.” (Psalm 2:10–12, ESV)
This blog idea came to me yesterday afternoon, flowing from a very high-speed discussion with someone after our 9am worship service yesterday. I has unpacked Mark 10:46-52, and considered the sight that was restored to Bartimaeus – both physically and spiritually. I tried to make appropriate application – to both the believer and the unbeliever… themes of worship, blindness, grace, mercy, faith, commitment and obedience and submission! It was there in general terms.
Then a great question came from a concerned parent: “How do I pray for my unsaved children in light of that, because they still spiritually blind? In fact, how do we pray for our church kids and teens as many are spiritually blind?”
I was in between a service and another class that I needed to teach. Great question. Left field. Heart of concern from a parent. Hmmmmmm… Well, I threw out a few things in about 13 ½ seconds, but didn’t get a chance to give much more. The realisation dawned that, as preachers, we can’t always poke and prod into every possible area of application, but that questions do get raised.
So then, what I thought I might start doing, is a follow-up blog from time to time, picking up on some of those loose ends, and trying to drive application a bit more.
This comes as a first “trial” attempt!
How then do we pray for our own children, and church children, who are spiritually blind to the truth, hard to God and seemingly resistant to the gospel?
Here are some general pointers, but not exhaustive, to use in intercessory prayer for our children:
- Realise that they have sinful hearts, and pray that they would come to know their own need before God. Pray that there self-delusion is confronted. Pray that those who think they’re saved by virtue of coming to church and acting “Christian” would be convicted of sin.
“The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9, ESV)
- Pray for divine heart surgery to occur, and God’s Spirit to come and bring life whwere there is death.
“And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.” (Ezekiel 36:26–27, ESV)
- Pray for the re-birth to happen, for regeneration of heart, which is God’s work alone!
“Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” (John 3:5, ESV)
- Pray that true Spirit-achieved faith happens in a life of a child or a teen. Pray that you yourself do not resort to clever arguments to win a point, but fail to argue a child into the Kingdom.
“And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power,” (1 Corinthians 2:1–4, ESV)
- Pray that Satan’s veil would be removed that blinds to the truth, and that the Holy Spirit would indeed cause light to shine in the darkness.
“And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” (2 Corinthians 4:3–6, ESV)
- Pray your increased opportunities for spiritually shaped discussion with your own children, teens and student, and more for that within church life.
“At the same time, pray also for us, that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ…” (Colossians 4:3, ESV)
- Pray for great patience and godly parenting within our own homes, to keep exposing kids to the truth, and to keep shepherding them in ways consistent with the gospel.
“Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” (Ephesians 6:4, ESV)
- Keep praying!!!! Be persistent in prayer. Right back in the 3rd century a young man called Augustine went off the rails, and his mother – Monica – kept praying for him. Years later, in a dramatic conversion in Italy, Augustine came to faith, and became one of the greatest writers and theologians of the early church.
“And he told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart.” (Luke 18:1, ESV)
Let’s appeal by faith to God’s mercy and grace for the necessary interventions in the lives of our children and teens – at home and at church!
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.
[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.
“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?