Category: "General"

God is not a vending machine

by Gavin  

God is not a vending machine

Christian-ese uses terms like this:


  • “May the Lord grant you grace to get through it…”
  • “Let’s pray that God would give you the power you need…”
  • “Let waves of God’s mercy envelop you…”
  • “Immerse yourself in God’s love…”
  • “We need a dose of God’s wisdom in this situation…”


Even some of the songs we sing feed into this…


  • “…Waves of mercy, waves of grace…”
  • “Flow like waters comes Your love…”
  • “…So let Your mercy rain, Let Your mercy rain on us…”
  • “…But Your grace found me when I wasn't breathing…”
  • “…It’s Your love that we adore, it’s like a sea without a shore, don’t be afraid, just set your sail and risk the ocean there’s only grace…” (that has to be my favourite from this list… dude, what are you saying…!!!???)


It’s like the mercy and grace and love and power and wisdom of God are commodities which are dispensed.  These benefits seem to flow to us as things disembodied from God, as if He dishes them out as and when there is need.  The levels of an essential benefit are lacking, so we pray and ask God to bestow more of what we need.  It’s like our receiving of the “every spiritual benefit in Christ” is nothing more than a divine dole, where believers come, ask, and receive – but something akin to a commodity.


Then we come to a verse like Psalm 57:3, and it just seems to reinforce that thinking…


He will send from heaven and save me; he will put to shame him who tramples on me. Sela.  God will send out his steadfast love and his faithfulness!” (Psalm 57:3, ESV)


Just ponder that last phrase a bit.


What does the psalmist mean when he writes, “God will send out his steadfast love and his faithfulness!”  The context shows us that there was great need, and that God’s intervention was needed – that is clear.  It is 100% certain that this is about God’s actions, and working on behalf of a believer in crisis – we don’t quibble about that.


But at a quick glance this phraseology seems to feed the Vending Machine, does it not?  God, as a person, sends out love and faithfulness.  Even the Hebrew verb seems to add to that understanding, as שָׁלַח (šā·lǎḥ) means to send out, to dispatch, to send way or to set free.


But can I suggest that sometimes we miss something pretty fundamental?  God’s mercy, truth, faithfulness, love, steadfast love, compassion, power and wisdom are inherent parts of His nature.  They are what, in theological circles, we call the attributes of God.  They are intrinsically part and parcel of who God is, in His essential nature.


God’s attributes cannot be detached from who He is as a personal God. These aspects of His own divine nature are not disembodied packages which can be separated, boxed, duct taped, labelled and dispatched from God to people.


While the language may suggest a sending forth of an attribute, surely we should see that our experience and benefit of those attributes are to be found in God Himself.  Yes, to be sure, He radiates such benefits, and we enjoy and encounter and gain from that, but not in any way removed from Him.  As we know God, love God, trust God, fellowship with God, then we experience the radiation of His mercy and love and faithfulness more. 


Let’s not reduce our need, appreciation and appropriation of the glorious attributes of our God to nothing more than packets of commodities which we get.  Yes, they are sent out in a real sense, but they are sent out from Him as an expression of Himself. 


And so, instead of just desiring what the vending machine throws out, let’s be diligent to not forget the relationship from which those glorious benefits flow to us as believers.  Desire Him for who He intrinsically is.


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…

Where is God?

by Gavin  

Where is God?


Another event-filled week in South Africa passes.  Violent N3 protests in KZN, sentencing and appeal in a racism case, petrol-bombing of a mining bus with tragic deaths, the demise of an admired liberation figure and a life lauded, a high profile court case on fraud and corruption with the prospect of a postponement and more appeals… God is thrown into the conversational mix by many, and we’ve seen church leaders appeal to Him for their particular flavour of preferred human justice. 


So where is God, and His justice in all these events?  How should we regard the workings of God when, as Job legitimately asked, “Why do the wicked live, reach old age, and grow mighty in power?” (Job 21:7, ESV).  How do we answer such a probing question, fuelled by the real events that one sees around us where justice is often seen to not prevail?


The Christian’s confidence lies in the long-term view!


Fret not yourself because of evildoers, and be not envious of the wicked, for the evil man has no future; the lamp of the wicked will be put out.” (Proverbs 24:19–20, ESV)


As Dr D.A. Carson writes on this text:


“The believer must take the long view. If we judge everything by who wins and who loses in the short span of our own lives, we will often be frustrated. But  God the Judge has the last word.”


So look long!  There will be a full and final reckoning before the judgement seat of the One who is infinitely just.


A PSALM OF ASAPH. Truly God is good to Israel, to those who are pure in heart. But as for me, my feet had almost stumbled, my steps had nearly slipped. For I was envious of the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked. For they have no pangs until death; their bodies are fat and sleek. They are not in trouble as others are; they are not stricken like the rest of mankind. Therefore pride is their necklace; violence covers them as a garment. Their eyes swell out through fatness; their hearts overflow with follies. They scoff and speak with malice; loftily they threaten oppression. They set their mouths against the heavens, and their tongue struts through the earth. Therefore his people turn back to them, and find no fault in them. And they say, “How can God know? Is there knowledge in the Most High?” Behold, these are the wicked; always at ease, they increase in riches. All in vain have I kept my heart clean and washed my hands in innocence. For all the day long I have been stricken and rebuked every morning. If I had said, “I will speak thus,” I would have betrayed the generation of your children. But when I thought how to understand this, it seemed to me a wearisome task, until I went into the sanctuary of God; then I discerned their end. Truly you set them in slippery places; you make them fall to ruin. How they are destroyed in a moment, swept away utterly by terrors! Like a dream when one awakes, O Lord, when you rouse yourself, you despise them as phantoms. When my soul was embittered, when I was pricked in heart, I was brutish and ignorant; I was like a beast toward you. Nevertheless, I am continually with you; you hold my right hand. You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will receive me to glory. Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. For behold, those who are far from you shall perish; you put an end to everyone who is unfaithful to you. But for me it is good to be near God; I have made the Lord GOD my refuge, that I may tell of all your works.” (Psalm 73, ESV)


Curse of the crown

by Gavin  

Curse of the crown


There are rich ironies embedded in the build-up to the cross.


Mark as he writes shows us the mocking of Jesus Christ all over the place!  Pilate, Chief Priests, Herod, Herod’s soldiers, Romans soldiers, and the people passing by at Golgotha where Jesus was crucified all revile Him. The whole spectrum of society mocked him as king… from the lowest to the highest, from the most powerful to the least, from the pagan foreign rulers to the ultra-religious Jews.


But you know the irony in all this?  What is the irony in the mocking and taunting and laughing at Jesus when they pour scorn on Him as King?  What have they missed as they laugh and joke??


Do not miss this… this is the crucial part of this whole story. Jesus was the King.  He is the King.  He will forever be the King. They mock Jesus as King but fail to see the majesty of Jesus as real King!


Part of that multi-phasic taunting was the mocking of Jesus as king by the Roman soldiers…


And the soldiers led him away inside the palace (that is, the governor’s headquarters), and they called together the whole battalion. And they clothed him in a purple cloak, and twisting together a crown of thorns, they put it on him.” (Mark 15:16–17, ESV)


The military force was overkill here.  The whole battalion – the local cohort – would have been 600 men, and it is they who gather here.  Pretty much all the off-duty soldiers gathered together to have some fun with this Jewish prisoner, who was known to be the supposed King of the Jews.

Their strategy was simple – if He was supposed to be king, then they’d treat Him as a king.  So they find a purple cloak – a symbol of royalty – and they put it on Jesus.  Then they find thorns, twist those twigs into a rough circle, and create a crown, and force it down on the head of Jesus.


And they began to salute him, “Hail, King of the Jews!” And they were striking his head with a reed and spitting on him and kneeling down in homage to him.” (Mark 15:18–19, ESV)


The whole thing is an act, a show, a time of sport for them, some fun Friday morning entertainment.

They get their few minutes of fun, at Jesus’ expense, by pretending He was a king, and pretending to honour Him and revere Him.


And when they had mocked him, they stripped him of the purple cloak and put his own clothes on him. And they led him out to crucify him.” (Mark 15:20, ESV)


They had no clue. For these pagan soldiers it was just a game, but their sadistic actions actually pointed to Christ as the sin-bearer, as the atoning sacrifice, the One through whom sin would be defeated.  The missed the true majesty of Christ even in their fake homage.  That mocking carried on right through to the cross.


But now, think about this… the crown of thorns was done primarily as an act of fake homage to the real King whom they did not see or acknowledge as King.  But is there a deeper level of significance here?  Track with me…


What was one of the signs of the Fall? 


And to Adam he said, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field.” (Genesis 3:17–18, ESV)


Thorns!  Thorns entered a good world because of sin.  Thorns and thistles are a marker of a sin-affected, sin-corrupted world that is longing for the final redemption.  In Eden, before Adam and Eve sinned, there were no thorns.  In the New Heaven and New Earth, with the effects of the Fall reversed, there will be no thorns.


So, we see Jesus Christ wearing a mock crown, designed to humiliate Him, but made out of plant material that was a result of, and in fact a sign of, mankind’s sin.  We see the Son of God going to the cross to deal with man’s sin wearing a crown made of one of the very signs that points to that sin.  Christ headed for the cross to defeat sin and overcome sin and atone for sin while wearing a deeply painful reminder of that sin.  Without even knowing the depths of what they were doing, these Roman soldiers thrust a sign of God’s curse on humanity onto the head of the Saviour who was about to suffer and die to redeem humanity.    In a very real and graphic way, the Sacrificial Lamb bore the sign of the curse even as He was led to be crucified on the cross,


The ironies are rich!


How does that enrich our reading of Galatians 3:13 as we approach Easter this year?


Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”—” (Galatians 3:13, ESV)



Call to prayer for South Africa :  April 2017

by Gavin  

Call to prayer for South Africa :  April 2017

Prayer points for individuals, families and small groups


In light of the national events which are currently unfolding, and most particularly the happenings in national government, the elders have called our Randburg Baptist Church family to pray, heeding the injunction given in God’s Word…


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. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time. For this I was appointed a preacher and an apostle (I am telling the truth, I am not lying), a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth.” (1 Timothy 2:1–7, ESV)


 It is to be stressed that this is not a political; statement, not swung by some party-political agenda.  We simply want to call our people to pray for those in authority, and for our nation at this time.


Please also note the blog posting on the church website as of Friday 31st March, on a parallel theme.



This is not an exhaustive listing, but here are some prayer pointers for us as we commit to intercede.


  1. Pray for the welfare of our city and country, even in its secular, godless state. Heed the Old Testament principle given to the exiles in Babylon, and pray for peace and prosperity of the place where they were, as subjected exiles


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)


  1. Stand in the gap, and intercede (as per Daniel and Nehemiah) for our country, identifying as a citizen with the national wrongs. Pray that we as Christian South Africans would repent from our high tolerance of rampant corruption in our public institutions, for allowing evil to triumph on our watch and for our complicity in ‘low key’ corruption and lawlessness, mirroring what we see at national level.


  1. Pray with informed joy! The corruption, lawlessness, injustice and increasing self-gain just points to the fact that the ‘last days’ are here, and that we’re closer to Christ coming back…


But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God…” (2 Timothy 3:1–4, ESV)


  1. Pray looking up – gaze and meditate often on the sovereignty, bigness, power, wisdom, goodness, mercies, faithfulness and love of God. Let that be food for your soul!


  1. Pray looking long – consider often the fact that this world is not your home, that heaven is your place of citizenship, that Christ is coming back, that justice will prevail and that heaven awaits for you, and that a devastating hell awaits for those who reject God. That those truths shape your thinking in the present.


  1. Take some time to read, re-read and pray through Psalm 73, even as we hear more stories of political and national abuse, corruption and a slide to greater sin… take note of the slippery slope and the eternal end…


  1. Take time to read and pray through Psalm 2, noting the sovereignty of God, arrogance of rulers, and the warnings given to them. Pray for spiritual conviction of sin in the lives of Mr Zuma, his acolytes and those pursuing selfish and dishonest gain.  Be so bold as to pray for their salvation – to Kiss the Son lest He be angry, and they perish in the way.


  1. Pray imprecatory prayers calling for God’s justice and righteous anger to burn against the moral and ethical slides, against the injustice and against the godless patterns of behaviour which are seen. Pray that God would bring both restraint and just intervention against that which offends His character.


  1. Pray for the true church of Jesus Christ in South Africa to be real salt and light at this time, showing in our responses, conversations and actions the fruit of gospel-transformed thinking.


  1. Pray for the thousands of nominal believers, churches and church leaders in our country – that God would stir their hearts to see and hate sin, to both present and live the Gospel, and to stand up as heralds of truth in a society that hates truth.


  1. Pray that the Lord graciously uses this time to further His Kingdom. Pray that local churches would be faithful to proclaim true gospel hope in Christ that is far superior to trusting in a politician, a party or a court.  Pray that the Holy Spirit brings many hopeless and despairing people to the foot of the cross even through this dark valley.


  1. Pray that God’s purposes and plans would prevail through all that happens, and that He would be glorified in and through the dark and mysterious paths that He is taking us through as a nation and Christian community in South Africa.


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