Category: "Current affairs"

Should Christians be readers?

by Gavin  

Should Christians be readers?

Should Christians be readers?


The SABC’S Hlaudi Motsoeneng thinks too much education is no good:


“All that many educated people know how to do is to read the whole day. They don’t have time to think.”


One could only hope that he was misquoted, but that was apparently part of his address to the SADTU national executive committee at Kopanong Conference Centre in Benoni, Ekurhuleni, on Wednesday 1st June 2016.  That is a bold, yet infinitely scary, statement.  The mind boggles at the long-term implications were that to be heeded by the countless listeners that would clutch on to that as an excuse to not read.


Enter the Christian thinker and prolific author, C.S. Lewis… A biographer records :


Lewis was born into a bookish family of Protestants in Belfast, Ireland. Eclectic in their reading tastes, they purchased and read “endless” books. “There were books in the study, books in the dining room, books in the cloakroom, books (two deep) in the great bookcase on the landing, books in a bedroom, books piled as high as my shoulder in the cistern attic, books of all kinds,” Lewis remembered, and none were off-limits to him. On rainy days—and there were many in northern Ireland—he pulled volumes off the shelves and entered into worlds created by authors such as Conan Doyle, E. Nesbit, Mark Twain, and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.


Now, look at Lewis’ life and influence.  One has to question whether he would have developed such weighty thoughts, contributed so much to the literature and thought of Christendom, and being responsible for such prolific and meaningful literary output, were it not for the shaping and formative influences gained by his reading habits.  Surely Lewis’ own thinking was shaped by his engagement with the world, and authors from different backgrounds, traditions, opinions and era?  Surely his own thoughts would have been the weaker if he were not a reader?  Surely the world and Christian history would have been the poorer were it not for a solid foundation of mental process shaped by reading?  Generations of children (also readers, by the way!) would have been impoverished had they not had access to the magnificent “Chronicles of Narnia” series penned by Lewis, shaped no doubt by his own reading.


This is the self-same Lewis who gave this sage counsel :


It is a good rule after reading a new book, never to allow yourself another new one till you have read an old one in between.


He advocated balance, seeing the value of older works and the insights from the past.


Now, juxtapose that wisdom against what the Chief Operations Officer of our national broadcaster is seemingly proposing… that education and reading appears to be a bad thing. Hmmm… really?  I wonder how C.S. Lewis would respond?  In fact, one wonders who will have the greater legacy in the world, and why?


That then begs the question as to whether Christians should be readers.  It should be a no-brainer that a regular diet of God’s eternal truth, as revealed I the Bible, should be normative for the Christian.  We need to hear and respond to God’s written revelation – that is true.  But beyond that?


Interestingly, as an historical vignette on the side, the origin of the Sunday School was founded on the need to see reading as a skill developed in children.  The earliest Sunday Schools focussed on education of children, providing instruction to poor working children on their only free day of the week. To be sure, the teachers used the Bible as their primary textbook, because evangelism and the inculcation of biblical truth was the core goal.   But reading as a means of upliftment was an essential purpose in this emerging ministry area.


Back to our main discussion then… should Christians read?  If so, what?  Let’s assume a solid and rich diet of biblical truth already features – we hope!  Delving into Scripture with a meditative, prayerful heart should be part and parcel of daily life for the believer.  But along with that there is much value in reading Christian books.  We stand on the shoulders of giants, and the insights, observations and applications of wise and godly writers can be a means of growing, stretching and refining us.  Read!


John Piper notes that:


Biographies have served as much as any other human force in my life to resist the inertia of mediocrity. Without them I tend to forget what joy there is in relentless God-besotted labor and aspiration


Warren Wiersbe challenged preachers in this way :


Every preacher ought to read books about words and good writing


I would encourage our Randburg Baptist Church to read – widely and broadly, but with discernment.  One doesn’t have to agree with everything that is written, but the mental engagement with material and thoughts can sharpen and shape us too.


Beyond that, surely a reading diet of the classics, biography, history, contemporary analysis etc is a critical means of just expanding your mind?  While not Christian per se, there is much wisdom and insight out in the world, made possible my God’s common grace.  Even a rank pagan can have much to offer in his analysis and thought on the world, current affairs and politics.  To be sure, it will lack a biblical worldview, but it doesn’t mean that we shy away from engaging on the thoughts, does it?  Different perspective, counter-views and critical debate help sharpen and refine our thoughts.


To close, let’s go back to Lewis for a moment.  In his book “An Experiment in Criticism,” Lewis explained that reading widely has two major benefits: (1) the opportunity to experience places we've never experienced before, and (2) the opportunity to think thoughts we've never before considered.


Surely, that is a good reason to read.  And good reasons for the Christian to read – to keep growing and being stretched, and to have our thoughts stimulated.  Hlaudi Motsoeneng thinks people should stop reading and just think… Lewis would no doubt disagree, and rightly so. 

"Bible" by Shakespeare

by Gavin  

"Bible" by Shakespeare


Before Surinarayan Venkatrathnam was released from Robben Island in 1977 he asked around 30 fellow inmates to sign the book he called his Bible.  Incarcerated as a political prisoner, Venkatrathnam had managed to source a copy of the “Collected Works of William Shakespeare,” which was illicit contraband for a political prisoners.  To keep possession of it, he carefully disguised it as a holy book, and called it his Bible: “I took my Diwali greetings cards that my family had sent me and I stuck the cards on the front, back and the spine of the book and when warders asked me what it was I told them that it was my Bible.”  He is quoted as saying that the Afrikaans guards were afraid of 2 things – lawyers and the Bible – and so he got away with it.   Venkatrathnam’s copy of Shakespeare was his only source of comfort during his long imprisonment.


That famed volume has toured the world, and is a prized exhibit.  It contains the signatures of some famous South African political prisoners.  It is most surely a treasure, and something that is significant in our nation’s history. That is not disputed.


But, I did have a deep moment of sadness as I read that story about Venkatrathnam and his “Bible.”  So much emphasis was placed on Shakespeare, who was indeed a literary genius, and someone who has made an immeasurable impact on English development.  To be sure, there is value in Shakespeare – both in the reading and the studying.


But, there is infinite value in God’s Word.  How might Venkatrathnam’s life, and the lives of others with him, have been radically changed if they were to have access and a desire to read God’s eternal truth?  Instead of disguising mere human words (profound as they are) as a holy book, what if he, like Augustine, took up and read the inspired biblical Scriptures and found total transformation?  Instead of some short-term hope and brightness in a prison cell from Shakespeare, might he not have been set free in his soul forever by the power of the gospel?  As Steven Lawson says, “


God is the one Source and sole Author of truth. Sin is whatever God says it is. Judgment is whatever God says it is. Salvation is what God says it is. Heaven and hell are what God says they are. It matters not what man says but simply what God says. One word of what God says is worth more than ten thousand libraries of what man says. “Let God be found true, though every man be found a liar” (Rom. 3:4).


Shakespeare disguised as a holy book is an interesting account of national political history.  But reading great literary masterpieces doesn’t change lives.  Reading and responding to God’s truth is of infinitely more importance!


We as believers need to be supporting Bible translation, Bible distribution, Bible reading and Bible preaching – so that the lost can find true hope and lasting joy through the gospel of Jesus Christ.  That gospel is contained in the Bible, God's full, final, authoratative and complete Word. 


The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple; the precepts of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes; the fear of the LORD is clean, enduring forever; the rules of the LORD are true, and righteous altogether. More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb. Moreover, by them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward.” (Psalm 19:7–11, ESV)


and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:15–17, ESV)

Cry the beloved country

by Gavin  

Cry the beloved country

 The title of Alan Paton’s seminal work might have been penned in a different era, and in response to a very different socio-political climate than we face in South Africa in 2016.  The book of that name is a poignant tale that captured much of the deeply rooted racial dynamics in our nation at that time, as well as exploring through narrative many of the associated socio-economic results which impacted the lives of real people across the spectrum in South Africa.


Having watched and listened to the events at the end of March unfolding, one is tempted I think, without any sense of political agenda, to echo the cry of Paton many decades later: “Cry the beloved country.”  We have witnessed the ground-breaking judgement handed down by our Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng in the Constitutional Court again both the incumbent President and National Assembly of the Republic of South Africa.  The judgement was comprehensive, insightful and damning.  On Friday 1st April we were witness to the broadcast of President Jacob Zuma called at short notice for 7pm last night, followed by the ANC announcement of Gwede Mantashe at 8pm on Friday 1st April.  Alas, sadly, neither broadcast was an April Fool’s joke.  I was personally both incredulous and angered at the sheer arrogance portrayed (although labelled as “humble” by the ruling party), staggered at the gross lack of accountability and moral conscience, and glib write-off of the matters as a mere mistake.  In my opinion, watching it unfold, it was spin-doctoring of the highest order.  Additionally, I have listened to and read the responses of the various political commentators, opposition leaders and other voices, sensing the widespread disappointment, anger and frustration at the governmental responses mounted.


It is at that stage that one needed to take a step back as believer in Christ, and think through the issues and events using a biblical lens.  See, as believers we should have a biblical worldview, one shaped by the Word and strong, unshakable views on God, His attributes and plans.  Therefore, in the interests of reinforcing my own thinking, and providing some pastoral guidance for our Randburg Baptist Church family, I offer the following reminders from Scripture and prayer thoughts, rushed and simple as they might be at this stage.  This is not in any way a political diatribe, and certainly not written in support of any party.  This is merely the application of God’s truth to the issues that have emerged as reality in our country, and which could well be applied to many other nations at various times in the history of humankind.



  1. God is still sovereign


Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases.” (Psalm 115:3, ESV)


all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and he does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand or say to him, “What have you done?”” (Daniel 4:35, ESV)


Ephesians 1:11 tells us that God works all things according to the counsel of his will.  He can because He alone is God. We as fallible, sinful and mortal humans might not understand the purposes of God, but it does not mean that He is not at work.  Even through the more dire circumstances, involving pain and affliction at times, our God is still on His throne, doing all things well.  What is happening in the South African political landscape is not a surprise to God, and much as it blows our minds, He is actively at work in all which is unfolding.  That is a source of confidence for the believer.  Pray for increased faith to trust His plans and purposes which unfold. 


  1. God is ultimately responsible for the appointment and “dethroning” of leaders


I can’t say it better than the inspired text of Isaiah… see the bigness and vastness and power of God, and then see how people  are contrasted…


12 Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand and marked off the heavens with a span, enclosed the dust of the earth in a measure and weighed the mountains in scales and the hills in a balance? 13 Who has measured the Spirit of the Lord, or what man shows him his counsel? 14 Whom did he consult, and who made him understand? Who taught him the path of justice, and taught him knowledge, and showed him the way of understanding? 15 Behold, the nations are like a drop from a bucket, and are accounted as the dust on the scales; behold, he takes up the coastlands like fine dust. 16 Lebanon would not suffice for fuel, nor are its beasts enough for a burnt offering. 17 All the nations are as nothing before him, they are accounted by him as less than nothing and emptiness. 18 To whom then will you liken God, or what likeness compare with him? 19 An idol! A craftsman casts it, and a goldsmith overlays it with gold and casts for it silver chains. 20 He who is too impoverished for an offering chooses wood that will not rot; he seeks out a skillful craftsman to set up an idol that will not move. 21 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? 22 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; 23 who brings princes to nothing, and makes the rulers of the earth as emptiness. 24 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 40:12–24 (ESV)]


Those last few verses are staggering in their application to our age.  Nothing has changed.  As God raised up and used sinful, violent nations like the Babylonians and Assyrians, so God’s power has not diminished or being lost through the subsequent millennia.  Kings, Prime Ministers, Presidents and governments in our own era are subject to the same sovereign God – the One who brings them to nothing, malkes them as emptiness, plants them and uproots them, and causes them to be remembered no more.


While not biblical in the least, Percy Bysshe Shelley got that right in his epic poem, “Ozymandias.”  I don’t know where that though came from… possible flashback to Standard 7 English class at Blairgowrie High School… but the sentiment rings true.  When God brings someone down, all that is left is stubble and dust…


I met a Traveler from an antique land,

Who said, "Two vast and trunkless legs of stone

Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,

Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,

And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,

Tell that its sculptor well those passions read,

Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,

The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed:

And on the pedestal these words appear:

"My name is OZYMANDIAS, King of Kings."

Look on my works ye Mighty, and despair!

No thing beside remains. Round the decay

Of that Colossal Wreck, boundless and bare,

The lone and level sands stretch far away.



 3. Governmental leaders who reject God are derided by God and will be judged by God


Again, let’s just let God speak through His Word, using the whole text of Psalm 2…


1 Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain? 2 The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the LORD and against his Anointed, saying, 3 “Let us burst their bonds apart and cast away their cords from us.” 4 He who sits in the heavens laughs; the Lord holds them in derision. 5 Then he will speak to them in his wrath, and terrify them in his fury, saying, 6 “As for me, I have set my King on Zion, my holy hill.” 7 I will tell of the decree: The LORD said to me, “You are my Son; today I have begotten you. 8 Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth your possession. 9 You shall break them with a rod of iron and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.” 10 Now therefore, O kings, be wise; be warned, O rulers of the earth. 11 Serve the LORD with fear, and rejoice with trembling. 12 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)]


  1. We are called to pray for our government


First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.” (1 Timothy 2:1–2, ESV)


The command there leaves little room for debate, right?  Believers are called by God to pray for their governments, irrespective of whether they are good, bad or indifferent.  I think it is fair to say, based on some experience of conversations, social events and reading the social media postings of believers that Christians tend to spend more time grumbling about the things we see around us than we do actually interceding for the events around us.  Maybe that is something to be confessed and repented of?


God wants us to be praying for our President, the so-called “Top 6,” the NEC, the National Assembly.  He wants us to be praying for those people and those institutions with a result – so that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.  Should we noy commit to that as a local church body, individually and corporately?


Additionally, while conceding the actual command was given to Judah 2700 years ago as she faced certain exile, the principle of the following timeless words holds true for us as well, right?


But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.” (Jeremiah 29:7, ESV)


Pray for the very and openly Godless, secular, corrupt society in which we live.  It the welfare of South Africa, Gauteng and Joburg, we will find our own welfare.


What can we pray for?  Well, many things.  Here are a few ideas…


If we take some selected thoughts, what about Psalm 2 (cited above)?  Pray that our President and Cabinet feel some sense of conviction of their rank rejection of God, as per the pattern of verses 2-3… the rejection of God, the rejection of Christ, the desire to not function under godly authority, to break off all restraint.  Verse 4 tells us that God, who is on His exalted and eternal throne, laughs in derision at those who so reject Him… “Who are you, you little, feeble, mortal man reigning under my ultimate control, thinking that you are something great when you are nothing apart from Me and the power I have so granted you for a teeny-weeny moment in eternal history?” 


We can legitimately pray along the lines of verse 9 as well (and any other imprecatory psalm text) – that God (in His justice, righteous anger and compassion for the afflicted subjects)  would break them with a rod of iron and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.  Let’s pray boldly for God’s intervention in the sin-affected mess, to bring about real divine correction flowing from His righteous Hand.


We can and should pray that President Zuma, his cabinet, advisors, sycophants and business partners would heed the God-given warning of the closing words to submit by faith to Christ, and to thus avoid the eternal judgement that awaits those outside of a faith relationship with Jesus, who alone can save:


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)


Closing thoughts…


Those believers who love South Africa should be praying for her and her leaders.  It is right that we say, using Paton’s words, “Cry the beloved country.”  But more than that, to exercise a trust in God and His purposes, and be faithful to pray for divine intervention in the sin-affected mess that we are in as a nation. 


With all due respect, our President’s bad theological drivel given at an Easter event at Ellis Park last week is not the issue… Mr Zuma is quoted as saying the following during his address to thousands of members of the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God, at Ellis Park Stadium in Johannesburg on Good Friday:


“We are here to get blessings and prayers. We want you to pray for us as leaders so that when we make mistakes, you can ask God to forgive us because Satan is always around trying to derail us…”


No! Satan is at work, and this true.  But Satan will not derail those running fast and far from God, living and ruling in ways inconsistent with God’s Word. 


What is needed in South Africa and government is gospel transformation, a return of government to serve the interests of the people of our land, and ideally total surrender to the Son, who is ruling on His throne, and Who will come back to judge our rulers with perfect justice.  Pray that our national leaders will be ready to meet Christ as King of Kings and Lord of Lords on that fateful Day of the Lord when He returns, and all things are laid bare.

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