Category: "General"

"Bible" by Shakespeare

by Gavin  

"Bible" by Shakespeare

http://www.news24.com/SouthAfrica/News/former-political-prisoner-to-celebrate-bible-by-shakespeare-on-robben-island-20160420

 

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)

I will be in a fight on Sunday morning!

by Gavin  

I will be in a fight on Sunday morning!

I will be involved in a fight on Sunday morning!

 

Let me explain…

 

I heard two very different comments during the course of the last year, prompting some personal reflection.  This has again played on my mind as I come to preach on Mark 6:14-29 on Sunday morning…

 

In a context far removed from Randburg Baptist Church, someone said to me that they “enjoyed the preaching” of a particular pastor.  It’s not an uncommon statement.  While there are no doubt many who do not “enjoy” my pulpit ministry (too deep, too long, too technical, too boring, not enough stories etc), I have also been the recipient of that kind of comment – on rare occasions!  “Pastor, I enjoy your preaching.  You speak well.” You get the picture.  Well, for a sinful man, that feels good, and fuels pride quite quickly.

 

The second comment was in lecture I attended on a year ago by Dr Mark Jones, a Puritan expert visiting from Vancouver.  The seminar was on worship.  The point was made that worship is a battleground, because there is a war between divine faith and shallow human faith as we come to worship.  God wants our focus on him, whereas we want to “feel good.”  And so on…

 

It got me thinking… on an ever narrower issue: Preaching, as part of corporate worship.  Is preaching the Word of God to be regarded as “enjoyable?”  What is our standard for assessing pulpit ministry?  It preaching to be fun, or is it a fight?

 

For the true preacher of God’s eternal truth, I would suggest that it is a fight.  It is a fight to be disciplined in preparation, it is a fight of the mind and heart to engage with the text, and to hear God speak.  It is a fight to avoid a thousand distractions and carefully plot through the historical context and grammatical construct of a passage.  It is a fight to understand the text in the world in which it was written, and it is a weekly fight to grapple with the application of those principles in our era.  It is a fight to be a workman unashamed who rightly divides the truth.  It is a fight to stand and deliver in a way that is Spirit-dependant, and not rely on some clever homiletical tricks.  Preaching is a fight.

 

But what about out in the pew?  Is it also not a fight there?  As hearers (and at times I am privileged to sit and hear as well J), we also have a fight on our hands.  In our sin-affected humanness, we want to feel good, to have our ears tickled, and to feel warm and fuzzy stuff.  We do not like to have our minds challenged too much, to have some funny stories and good illustrations and to ensure that the preacher dude doesn’t go on so long that our minds wander.  The preacher must be engaging and fresh.  I happened to see the profile of a pastor that a Call Committee of a South African Baptist church produced a few years ago: they wanted someone whose preaching would be relevant, inspiring and creative… sadly, biblical and accurate and applicable did not feature.

 

And those are just the superficial little fights we have.

 

The bigger battleground is the heart, is it not?  God’s Word, accurately unpacked and applied is deadly.  Psalm 19 is clear as to the effects of God’s Word – reviving the soul, bringing light to the eyes, making wise the simple and bringing joy to the heart.  But souls do not actually want to be revived.  We actually like our darkness a little too much.  Proud sinners do not want to be confronted and made wise through challenges to godly living. 

 

Preaching is a fight as the Word is unleashed.  “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” (Hebrews 4:12, ESV).  There is a fight that occurs each Sunday in churches – both in the pulpit and in the pew.  There is a sword at work, empowered by the Spirit of God.  And the sword thrusts are hard, clear and decisive.  The Scriptures shatter our pride, open our eyes to the glory of God, and humble us before a cross and a suffering Saviour who alone can save, show us our sins and fallenness and highlight God’s standards.  We fight against that sword.  It would be must easier if the preaching was just fun.  But when the sword is being used, it cannot be enjoyable.  It is not enjoyable to be convicted.  It is not enjoyable to have your mind challenged, and brain stretched with divine truth as doctrine is infused.  It is not enjoyable to be confronted with your own sin and failure and waywardness.  It is not fun to have the way of godliness painted for you, and the demands of Jesus illuminated.  It is not fun to see the centrality of a cross where Christ died so that you and I could be set free.  It is not fun to have our thoughts and attitudes and behaviours exposed for that they truly are, and to then be challenged to confess, repent and strive for godliness.  It is never enjoyable to come face-to-face with the idols of our hearts, and to be reminded of our need of Christ and His righteousness.  Oh yes, to be sure, it is always gloriously encouraging to be reminded of the cross, Christ, justification and the hope and vitality that we have as part of the “every spiritual blessing in Christ.”  But even that is a fight, and not fun.

 

I know I will be in a fight on Sunday morning.  You will be too, no doubt! I pray that I will be accurate, clear and relevant.  I hope that appropriate application will be brought to our people as the Word is unpacked.  I trust that there will be real engagement with the truth as the Spirit works to illuminate and convict and change.  I pray that much life change happens – for me and for all who will be present. 

 

I hope no one will leave saying that the preaching was enjoyable. 

 

It will be a fight for all of us.

 

 

 

Outcome Based Theology

by Gavin  

Outcome Based Theology

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

But Outcome Based Theology is still a danger!

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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


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


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


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


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


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

 

The Dark Guest

by Gavin  

The Dark Guest

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

 

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

 

Jeremiah was correct when he wrote these divinely inspired words :

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

O LORD, Bend my hands and cut them off,

       for I have often struck thee with

   a wayward will,

   when these fingers should embrace thee by faith.

 I am not yet weaned from all created glory,

   honour, wisdom, and esteem of others,

   for I have a secret motive to eye my name

     in all I do.

 Let me not only speak the word sin, but see

     the thing itself.

 Give me to view a discovered sinfulness,

   to know that though my sins are crucified

     they are never wholly mortified.

 Hatred, malice, ill-will,

   vain-glory that hungers for and hunts after

   man’s approval and applause,

   all are crucified, forgiven,

   but they rise again in my sinful heart.

 O my crucified but never wholly mortified

   sinfulness!

 O my life-long damage and daily shame!

 O my indwelling and besetting sins!

 O the tormenting slavery of a sinful heart!

 Destroy, O God, the dark guest within

   whose hidden presence makes my life a hell.

 Yet thou hast not left me here without grace;

 The cross still stands and meets my needs

   in the deepest straits of the soul.

 I thank thee that my remembrance of it

   is like David’s sight of Goliath’s sword

     which preached forth thy deliverance.

 The memory of my great sins, my many

   temptations, my falls,

   bring afresh into my mind the remembrance

     of thy great help, of thy support from heaven,

     of the great grace that saved such a wretch

       as I am.

 There is no treasure so wonderful

   as that continuous experience of thy grace

     toward me which alone can subdue

       the risings of sin within:

 Give me more of it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Praying for the pastor in 2016...

by Gavin  

Praying for the pastor in 2016...

What to pray for your pastor in 2016…

 

I started reading through Jeremiah in early December, thinking I’d take big chunks and try and be done by New Year.  It didn’t happen.  Things just jumped out of the text, and grabbed me around the throat and shook me around a bit.  I supposed the double-edged sword, the living and active Word, will always do that, right?

 

But here’s where I have been for the past 2 days… and the more I read and meditate, the more profoundly this is applied – the end of chapter 15.  It is a great chapter, dealing with Jeremiah’s own calling and ministry.  From verse 10 Jeremiah has slipped into somewhat of a pity party, because prophetic ministry about sin and repentance and judgement is hard – it hasn’t gone down well.  He’s feeling personally bruised and battered, and in fact, a little betrayed by God.  God confront Jeremiah on that, and challenges him to deal with his own self-pity and impatience.  That is the context of verse 19…

 

Therefore thus says the LORD: “If you return, I will restore you, and you shall stand before me. If you utter what is precious, and not what is worthless, you shall be as my mouth. They shall turn to you, but you shall not turn to them.” (Jeremiah 15:19, ESV)

 

I fully understand that this was written to Jeremiah, and not to me.  But, there are three timeless principles I think that any pastor, preacher, ministry or rector could be applying today.  This sounds horribly baptistic, with 3 points which are alliterated, but think about these.  This is what I have prayed for myself for 2016 and beyond.  I you want to know how to pray for me, or your own pastor, maybe use this as something of a framework.

 

  1. To commit to minister from a CONDITION of repentance

 

Jeremiah was told quite simply by God, “Get your heart and life right, turn around, walk right and I will restore you.”  He could stand and serve as a prophet only if his life was right, and no evident, recurrent and unconfessed sin was a hindrance.  Well, even pastors and preachers are sinners, but in that position of humble awareness of our own deficiencies, there should never be complacency and an unwillingness to change.  That’s what my brother Glen preached on Sunday from Colossians 3… put sin to death.  Murder it off. 

 

Pray that I would be under the conviction of the Spirit this year as the Lord exposes more of my own heart, and drives me back to the cross again and again and again.

 

 

  1. To commit to minister with sound CONTENT

 

If you utter what is precious, and not what is worthless, you shall be as my mouth.

 

The point is quite clear right… purge out the dross from what is said.  The content of Jeremiah ministry, and I venture to say of all those who claim to be a minister of God, should be pure, precious and undefiled.  We do not have the liberty to use our stages and podiums and pulpits as a space for opinion, self-promotion and conclusions from a text that are not actually God’s intention from that text.  The temptation to do otherwise is huge, because the world loves the darkness.  People in churches want to have their ears tickled.  That is worthless is very popular, because it appeals to the base side of people: “Tell what makes me feel good, look good and don’t rattle my cage!” 

 

But to truly be God’s mouthpiece means that content needs to be precious, and not worthless.  That means hard study mining out the truth as God intended, and then correctly applying that to our people.

 

Pray I would be committed to that this year!

 

  1. To commit to minister with no COMPROMISE of truth

 

They shall turn to you, but you shall not turn to them

 

The point to Jeremiah was simple… “Your country and people will want you to turn to their ways because they are stubborn.  The pressure will be on to dilute the truth, so as to allow them to go on doing what they are doing.  DO NOT DO THAT!”

 

We have to learn from that today, right?  Pastors, hammer the stake deep into the ground.  Biblical truth and standards are just that – the true standards.  Let society, the world, the unsaved in our churches, the sinning believer hear and see and know what God demands, and let them turn to that standard, but never ever lower the standard. 

 

Pray that would be true of the Randburg Baptist Church pulpit inn 2016, plus our ministry areas where other teaching occurs.  Pray for our neighbouring churches… there are good, sound evangelical churches which are faithful to the Word, but many where a weak, man-centred and false “gospel” is promoted.  Pray for faithfulness, accuracy and discernment.

 

But pray for me as I shepherd at Randburg Baptist Church – for a right heart condition, accurate content and a desire to never compromise.

 

Thanks for the support and partnership in the gospel!

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