Category: "RBC church life"

Welcome to Philippi - some thoughts as we start our new sermon series

by Gavin  

Welcome to Philippi - some thoughts as we start our new sermon series

Welcome to the church of Christ, here in Philippi.  Here we all are, sitting in the spacious and Roman-styled home of Lydia, a local businesswoman.  We’re tried a few other venues, but for this meeting, Lydia’s home certainly has the most space, and in fact the church actually started off in her house anyway!  The date today is between 60 and 62 AD.  The windows are open and a refreshing breeze from the Gangites River is blowing in…

 

Let me introduce you to a few folk…

 

Old grandfather Geriatrix, all of 110 ten years old, sits there in his own world in the corner.  Maybe he is thinking about the events that happened just over 100 years ago when he was 10 years old.  He remembers the stories that his own great-grandfather (Ancientix) told him about what it was like in Krenides, the town of “Little Fountains.”  Ancientix used to play in those numerous springs while his father worked in the nearby goldmine.  But that gold changed his life forever as Philip II of Macedon (the father of Alexander), attracted by the age-old lure of that precious metal, swept down and conquered the region in the 4th century BC.   Krenides was renamed Philippi then (and who says that only South African politicians have the monopoly on name changes! O yes, those were great stories… 

 

Geriatrix thinks of his own story too, with Antony and Octavian defeating the forces of Brutus and Cassius at the Battle of Philippi in 42 BC – just 100 years ago.  O, he can remember it so clearly…  Philippi becoming a Roman colony, and so many of those war veterans settling in the area.  Yes, life changed radically for them.  Geriatrix had to learn Latin – that horrid language.  That’s all that they were allowed to speak.  And he wasn’t even aspiring to become an attorney! Oh well – Est quod est! Roman law was introduced, and things were very different.  But it wasn’t all bad!  Roman customs were introduced, and the city government became was modeled on those great Italian cities.  The changes in kitchen design only came later, but sadly pizza never really took off!

 

But who else is in the room as we gather?

 

Yes, of course, Lydia (the ever gracious hostess) and her family.  Who can forget Lydia, the first convert under Paul?  She continued in the fabric business, still specializing in expensive purple-dyed goods. 

 

“Hang on a sec – what’s that you asked? O, the disruption outside?  We’re used to that by now – sadly!  That’s just two of our ladies arguing outside on the roof.  Euodia and Synthche.  They were also some of the first converts, but they don’t see eye to eye on some church issues.”

 

In the other corner, sitting with his family, is the man from Correctional Services, Fearful Frederix.  Remember his story?  Paul had cast that demon out of the girl who worked as a fortune-teller, and her masters were furious.  They had Paul and Silas beaten and imprisoned.  But then that earthquake struck, and God miraculously caused their release.  Old Fearful Frederix was so unnerved that night that he was about to kill himself, but Paul stopped him, and he believed on Christ and was saved.  The first nocturnal baptism happened that night as he and his family were baptized!

 

Ah, but I ramble… Allow me to give you some detail on our church…

 

All of these events happened during Paul’s second Missionary Journey.  But Paul had a pastor’s heart for our church, and he visited again – at the beginning and end of his 3rd Missionary Journey (we read about that in 2 Corinthians 8 : 1-5 and Acts 20 : 6). 

 

As a local church we had developed a heart for believers in crisis, and helped where we could.  We previously helped Paul with some stuff when he was serving the Lord in Thessalonica. We also contributed abundantly for the needy in Jerusalem because we cared for the broader church.

 

But then Paul got imprisoned in Rome 4-5 years after he last visited us.  We were compelled to try and help him.  But we needed a courier, and DHL just were not operational yet… so along with the gift we sent Epaphroditus, one of our members here.  The problem was that Epaphroditus suffered a near-fatal illness en route to Rome (or was it just after he got there – that part is unclear?). 

 

Paul decided to send Epaphroditus back to us.  And he’s just got back!  And Paul sent a letter with him as well.  That’s why we’re all here tonight, crowded in Lydia’s house like sardines.  We can’t wait to hear what Paul has written to us…

Act like men

by Gavin  

Act like men

 

These reflections flow from very real issues that have surfaced in our church life and local community over the last week.  My focus in this blog is most particularly men, but I am acutely aware of very similar issues in the lives of many of the ladies too!  As our elders considered and prayed for our people last Saturday morning, the phrase, “Men in crisis” surfaced as a kind of summary statement.  If we take just a few samples to get a feel, our guys are facing issues like:

 

  • Decision making about jobs and finances and investments… “What do I do? How do I know that this path is right?”
  • How to live and function in a country with a economic rating downgrades, and loss of pension security.
  • Bereavement, having lost close family members
  • Health scares… this could be a new diagnosis of a problem, or situations with no real clarity as to the diagnoses, which fuels greater anxiety in families.
  • Health issues in a spouse or close family member, with concern as to the issues and the way ahead.
  • Parenting challenges, where spouse and kids need to be helped through deeply troubling waters as a result of living in a sin-affected world.
  • Work issues where oppressive corporate systems, harsh bosses and insecurity reigns daily.
  • Sexual temptations through visuals that are encountered and seen
  • Daily pressure of school and varsity, where academic demands and extra-murals combine in a fever-pitched frenzy of activities.

 

“Help!  Help me!  Say something to give me direction and hope!”

 

That is the cry – spoken and unspoken!

 

One man used words like these on Sunday as we chatted after the service: “Struggle.  Press on.  Run the race.  Fight.”  How true!  To that we could add, “Wrestle” and “endure” and “put to death” and “strive” and “toil” and “work.”  Those are the New Testament verbs that describe the Christian life.  It is not without biblical support that Bunyan created allegorical pictures like, “the slough of despond,” “Giant Despair” and “Valley of Humiliation” as images of life.  Why?  Because it is hard and confusing and uncertain!

 

And our men – and in fact, our people, live with those realities every single day.

 

What do we say as leaders?  What counsel should be offered pastorally?  What comfort and direction can be given, in the midst of the pain and the brokenness and the despair?

 

A few trite, throw-away comments don’t really cut it, do they?  Skim through the Bible, and pick a promise, and quickly apply it like a Band-Aid to a gaping wound? 

 

The space in this short reflection does not allow time to develop all the answers and solutions.  But suffice to say that we have God’s Word as a sure and steady guide, a resource of His gracious revelation to us that contains all we need for life and godliness.  The value of the ‘means of grace’ God has provided through the Word, prayer and Christian fellowship cannot be calculated.

 

This is my comfort in my affliction, that your promise gives me life.” (Psalm 119:50, ESV)

 

But then I stumbled across this verse yesterday, in the process of a combined admin/pastoral task I was doing – matching appropriate Bible verses to the new members at Randburg Baptist Church as we prepare to welcome them into membership…

 

Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love.” (1 Corinthians 16:13–14, ESV)

 

Now, I get it – this is NOT just written to men, because the Corinthians church was a multi-gendered and multi-ethnic mix – that’s true.  But that is still a powerful challenge to men:  “…act like men.”

 

That is actually a single word in the original Greek: andrizomai.  It is a power-packed word.  It is a word that seeks to convey the issues of courage and maturity and strength.  The clever dudes who know their Bibles better that I, show how this verb is a frequent command in the Septuagint (Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament).  It is a word that is used in contexts to encourage people to act with courage and strength in obedience to the Lord, and with confidence in his power.  For example, soldiers would be told to andrizomai.   We see it used in texts like these:

 

Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.”” (Joshua 1:9, ESV)

 

And Joshua said to them, “Do not be afraid or dismayed; be strong and courageous. For thus the LORD will do to all your enemies against whom you fight.”” (Joshua 10:25, ESV);

 

“Then David said to Solomon his son, “Be strong and courageous and do it. Do not be afraid and do not be dismayed, for the LORD God, even my God, is with you. He will not leave you or forsake you, until all the work for the service of the house of the LORD is finished.” (1 Chronicles 28:20, ESV)

 

When David’s time to die drew near, he commanded Solomon his son, saying, “I am about to go the way of all the earth. Be strong, and show yourself a man, and keep the charge of the LORD your God, walking in his ways and keeping his statutes, his commandments, his rules, and his testimonies, as it is written in the Law of Moses, that you may prosper in all that you do and wherever you turn, that the LORD may establish his word that he spoke concerning me, saying, ‘If your sons pay close attention to their way, to walk before me in faithfulness with all their heart and with all their soul, you shall not lack a man on the throne of Israel.’” (1 Kings 2:1–4, ESV)

 

Wait for the LORD; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the LORD!” (Psalm 27:14, ESV)

 

Men, life is hard and complex and perplexing.  As men who trust in Christ we’re called to serve Him faithfully, and to lead our wives, children, fellow believers and ministry areas with courage and diligence in the midst of a fallen world, filled with much pain.  Let’s not deny those realities, and the struggles we have.

 

But, while accepting that much has NOT been said here, can I exhort us all to heed the challenge of God to “be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong?”  Don’t give up!  Don’t get frozen into paralysis!  Resist the temptation to throw your hands up in the air and abandon hope!  For the sake of your own faith, your wife and children, others who look to you for guidance and support, the sake of the church and the cause of the gospel, stand firm!  Act like men!  Be strong!

 

Let’s do so relying on the rich support and fellowship that He graciously gives in local church settings, flawed and imperfect as that may be.  Let’s do so trusting in His great and precious promises that His grace is sufficient, that His power is made perfect in our weakness, that He will never leave us or forsake us and that heaven is indeed our ultimate home.

 

Why did Jesus curse the fig tree? (sermon follow-up from Sunday 26th March 2017)

by Gavin  

Why did Jesus curse the fig tree? (sermon follow-up from Sunday 26th March 2017)

 

Why did Jesus curse the fig tree when it had no figs, and yet Mark clearly made the point in Mark 11:13 that it was not the season for figs?

 

A few folk picked up on that yesterday after the service – well done!  Good Bereans, following the text!!!! OK, I alluded to the solution in the way I unpacked the passage, but didn’t want to get lost in the technical details.  The answer is not hard, and lies in a careful lexical and contextual understanding.

 

In essence, as I explained, fig trees are unique in that the fruit appears before the leaves.  Early buds comes BEFORE the leaves appear.  Therefore, tree with leaves should have fruit!  So how then do we read Mark’s enigmatic comment?  Remember that, firstly, Mark often inserts explanatory notes, so this comment is quite possibly for the benefit of those who were not familiar with fig botany!  Secondly, different Greek words were used to describe the young buds and the mature fruit.  So the sense is that is was the season for young buds, even if the full, ripe figs had not developed.  The point remains: this tree was deceptive because it was in full leaf, but had no fruit – it remains a picture of the empty worship of Israel at the time!

 

For those wanting the technical stuff, Edwards’ commentary excerpt here might be of value:

 

The sandwich complex begins on the road from Bethany, which John 11:18 identifies as “fifteen stadia” (slightly less than two miles) from Jerusalem. Jesus is hungry, and seeing from a distance a fig tree in leaf he approaches it in hopes of finding something to eat. In disappointment at finding no figs, and in earshot of the disciples, he condemns the tree.

 After the fig harvest from mid-August to mid-October, the branches of fig trees sprout buds that remain undeveloped throughout the winter. These buds swell into small green knops known in Hebrew as paggim in March–April, followed shortly by the sprouting of leaf buds on the same branches, usually in April. The fig tree thus produces fig knops before it produces leaves. Once a fig tree is in leaf one therefore expects to find branches loaded with paggim in various stages of maturation. This is implied in 11:13, where Jesus, seeing a fig tree in full foliage, turns aside in hopes of finding something edible. In the spring of the year the paggim are of course not yet ripened into mature summer figs, but they can be eaten, and often are by natives (Hos 9:10; Cant 2:13). The tree in v. 13, however, turns out to be deceptive, for it is green in foliage, but when Jesus inspects it he finds no paggim; it is a tree with the signs of fruit but with no fruit.

 The most puzzling part of the brief narrative of the cursing of the fig tree is the end of 11:13, “because it was not the season of figs.” This phrase is usually understood to exonerate the tree for not producing fruit since it was not yet the season. Understood as such, the phrase makes Jesus’ curse vindictive and irrational, as Bertrand Russell deduced. But this is neither the only nor the best way to understand the phrase. It is better simply to distinguish between mature figs (Gk. sykē; Heb. te’enim) and early or unripe figs (Heb. paggim). The end of v. 13 might be paraphrased, “It was, of course, not the season for figs, but it was for paggim.”  [Edwards, J.R., 2002. The Gospel according to Mark, Grand Rapids, MI; Leicester, England: Eerdmans; Apollos.]

WHERE TO NEXT??? How do I pray for my spiritually blind children?

by Gavin  

WHERE TO NEXT??? How do I pray for my spiritually blind children?

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 have wanted to leave the church many times!

by Gavin  

I have wanted to leave the church many times!

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

1 2