One thing that I have learnt over the years and continue to learn is the danger of sin when too many words are spoken. On several occasions, I have said things (or even printed words or allowed them to be printed) without giving proper thought as to whether they were admirable or praiseworthy. On some occasions, they ended up giving offence, even when no offence was intended. The words of Proverbs 10:19 spring to mind, “When words are many, sin is not absent, but he who holds his tongue is wise.” James also gives us a timely warning, “My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for man's anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires” (Jms 1:19-20).
The reality is, that sometimes, some things just don’t need to be said. The words may be true and correct, but they still may not need to be said. If words spoken or even written are not admirable or praiseworthy, then they should not be spoken or published. Paul writes in Eph 4:29, “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” I suggest the same rule applies when we publish written material. Paul goes on to say in the very next verse, “And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.”
So, should we ever speak the truth or admonish one another? Yes, but we need to do it in love. Paul encourages us to speak the truth in love in Eph 4:15. So, yes, we need to speak the truth, but we need to do it love for only then will they be admirable and praiseworthy. However, if love is missing from our spoken words or written material, then sin will be present and we will be grieving the Holy Spirit within us. No wonder James warns that not many of us should presume to be teachers because those who teach will be judged more strictly (Jms 3:1). Scary!
Perhaps we can learn best from the Chief Shepherd himself who when finally arrested, was mocked, beaten, spat upon and hung on the cross to die like a criminal when it was his right to reign as King. The Prophet Isaiah writes, “…he did not open his mouth; … he did not open his mouth (Isa 53:7) … nor was any deceit in his mouth” (Isa 53:9). On the contrary, Jesus, prayed to His Father to forgive those who had committed this terrible act for they did not know what they were doing (Lk 23:34). Now, that’s a pretty good example to follow. JZ
Nowadays, there is a lot of talk about ‘culture’ and especially how it relates to Christian worship and the gospel in general. The question with which we need to deal is whether our culture drives the gospel or should the gospel drive our culture. It seems to me that the latter is correct, but it is easier said than done. We certainly wish to be relevant to our culture, yet we don’t wish to compromise the pure gospel.
Jesus was born into a culture and presented a refreshing gospel, which was rather radical by the Scribes and Pharisee’s standards. Perhaps we may need to think seriously about how we present the gospel and all that we do as Christians so that we can affect our culture positively as well. And sometimes it may mean thinking ‘outside the square’ a little more than we tend to do.
For many in our present culture, the ‘church’ is a place where you go when there is a wedding or a funeral. For some, ‘church’ is the soup kitchen that is held every Friday evening, or a men’s breakfast or even our own ‘Lifted-Up’ on a Saturday morning. For others, it may be the Christian op-shop. Whatever it is, the reality is that it is at these ‘mission’ events where some non-Christian people gather and have ‘fellowship’ with Christians and each other. And if that is the case, it is important that these small, but important ‘mission’ events are saturated with gospel talk and good, Christian literature.
It seems to me that if we really wish to influence our communities and reach them with the gospel, a lot more thought needs to go into these types of mission ministries and also how we ‘do church’. That doesn’t mean that our normal worship services should be done away with, not at all. There is a time for coming together as the Lord’s people and to worship and just delight in our marvellous God and what He has done for us in Christ. And it is our hope and prayer that some people who come to the mission events will progress and join us in worship.
Yet, we should occasionally ask the hard questions. Why do so many churches struggle to keep their young people? Why don’t more ‘non-Christians’ come off the street and worship with us? Is the building we use for worship aesthetically appealing and welcoming? Maybe it isn’t enough to just have an ‘A’ board outside the steps announcing that we are open. Perhaps it is the seating or the arrangement thereof that hinders the gospel. Perhaps it is our worship style or format, after all, it can be rather monologue at times. All the above are food for thought.
Now I am not suggesting for a moment that we throw out our present structures or the way we worship. Yet, some of these things would be good to think about from time to time. Perhaps a small tweak here and another one there can have a great impact in our endeavours to reach the lost for Christ.
Of course, we all realise that the Holy Spirit needs to change hearts and bring people to Christ. Nevertheless, I have a strong suspicion He uses redeemed sinners like us to bring them to Christ. We just need to make sure that we are not only ready to be the willing instruments in His hand, but ensure that our buildings, furnishings, and structures are not a stumbling block. If they are then we may need to be radical and change some things so that with the Lord’s blessing, we may see the gospel impact our culture for God’s glory. JZ.
Sometimes when we discuss the third mark of the true church as listed in Belgic Confession Article 29 (i.e. the faithful administration of discipline), we could exchange the word ‘discipline’ with ‘love’ for discipline is a sign of love. The disciplining of Church members is always a difficult thing to implement, however, the ruling elders have been given this responsibility. They not only have to ensure the gospel is proclaimed and the sacraments administered, but to also discipline those who are behaving in a way that shows they have no regard for God’s word or live in obedience to it as it reflects the way of salvation in Jesus Christ.
Of course, the process of disciplining members can sometimes take months and even years. Part of the process is for the elders to make regular visits to encourage, implore, caution, warn with tears if necessary, those who are deliberately being disobedient to God’s word to repent and again love Him above all else, especially because of His great love to them in Christ. The ruling elders, as servants of the Chief Shepherd have a responsibility to keep the ‘bride of Christ’, the Church, as pure as can be humanly achieved (Eph 5:21ff). Just as a human bride wishes to stay pure for her future husband (also vice versa), so also, the ‘Bride of Christ’ needs to remain pure for her Husband, just as He who bought her with His own precious life is pure and holy. Hence those who deliberately live a life of sin and have no desire to repent, need to be lovingly disciplined, not unlike a parent disciplining a naughty child.
When little children are naughty, parents who love their children will discipline them. It may mean sending them to their bedroom for some ‘time-out’ or an occasional loving ‘smack’ to correct bad behaviour. In fact, if children are constantly allowed to do what they wish to do without boundaries, then they usually grow up to be teenagers and young adults without boundaries as well, often with vastly more serious consequences to their bad behaviour. As one wise father said, “Better that our children shed a tear when they are small than parents having to shed many tears when they are older.”
What does this have to do with church discipline? As ruling elders, we love our Church members dearly, but we love Christ more. Hence, when the need arises, we lovingly discipline those who are being disobedient so that they may turn and again love the Lord as they promised to do when they professed their faith in the Lord Jesus as Saviour. The Psalmist says that the man is blessed who the Lord disciplines (Psa 94:12). Solomon writes that he who heeds discipline shows the way to life (Pro 10:17).
Now I would be the first to admit that parents and ruling elders get it wrong on occasions with discipline. Sometimes they’re too slow and at other times far too quick. Sometimes they don’t act when they should have and at other times they have acted when they shouldn’t have. Please show patience and forgive them when they err.
Thankfully, our Father in heaven doesn’t get it wrong. The writer to the Hebrews writes, “Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness.” That’s good news, for none of us would want to miss out on glory due to lack of discipline. What a great sign of our Father’s love that He would lovingly discipline us to make us holy and fit for glory! When the need for loving discipline comes our way from the under-shepherds, may we also receive it as such. JZ.
For some people, the biblical doctrine of election becomes difficult to comprehend since some of our close friends, perhaps even family members that we love, have until now not responded to God’s call on their lives. At other times, we know our own hearts and wonder why God would make Jesus known to us, whilst other people, often morally decent, generous in love and giving, exemplary in behaviour, seem also to be passed over. It seems so unfair.
Well, perhaps we should state from the outset that God would have been perfectly just to pass us all by. Sometimes you will hear people say (even from pulpits), that God thought we were worthy and hence He sent His Son to redeem us. Not only does such thinking rob God of His glory, nothing could be further from the truth. No one is righteous, not even one (Romans 3:9ff). Hence, that God would call any of us to be saved and to enjoy eternity with Him is entirely a work of grace on His part. As Paul reminds us in Romans 5:8ff, “While we were still sinners … while we were still God’s enemies, Christ died for us.” Furthermore, who are wee to accuse God of being unfair? He is the Potter and we are the clay (Read Romans 9:14-26).
Our wonderful election to be God’s children forever is something that occurred in the counsel of God before the foundations of the earth were put in place (Eph 1:4ff). Furthermore, our election is unconditional. God did not look to the future and see that we would be nice people and thought that He should save us. On the contrary, He saw that we were rotten to the core with sin and that without His help, none would be saved unto eternal life.
Now, this doctrine of election is a great blessing and reason for great rejoicing for those of us who are saved and who can rest in the completed work of Christ. Yet, it is tinged with sadness for we see so many people we know, family members, friends, work colleagues, classmates, who are still walking without Christ as Saviour and therefore living in darkness. Should we then, write these people off? Absolutely not!
While they still enjoy God’s breath in their nostrils and while their hearts are still beating, there is hope for their conversion to Christ and salvation. So, let us pray for the world in general and that the Holy Spirit may bring about a great revival. But in our prayers, let us not forget to pray for people we know by name. Let us bring them before the throne of grace and ask for God’s Holy Spirit to quicken them to life. But don’t just pray, ask the Holy Spirit to give you the right words so that you can chat to them about the blessing of knowing Jesus Christ as Saviour in a winsome way (Rom 10:14ff).
Oh, they may not instantly be converted, but perhaps the Holy Spirit will use the gospel seed you have sown and caused it to be watered by someone else and spring it to life at some other point in time. Whatever you do, don’t write them off, for God only knows, that perhaps at a given point in their lives, He may overcome their resistance and answer our prayers and efforts concerning them in a marvellous way.
If God saved us, the unlovable with a love that stretches from everlasting to everlasting in Christ, surely, He can save them too! God knows, we don’t, but they may belong to the elect and are just waiting for us to bring the saving message. So, may we never be accused of just sitting back and writing people off. JZ.
One thing I thought that was interesting recently at our Lifted-Up during the Pako Festa was when some people came for a bacon and egg roll, they were reluctant to accept it for free. Some people even offered to pay for it or at the very least make a donation for the food received. Perhaps these people were reluctant to accept a free bacon and egg roll because they were aware of the saying, “There are no free lunches in this world” for their experience has taught them that there is nearly always a catch.
There are generally two obstacles to people accepting Jesus Christ as their Saviour. First, is coming to terms that forgiveness and salvation are free to receive. So, a sinner needs to come to terms with the fact that they cannot contribute or add to their forgiveness and salvation. They cannot make a monetary payment, not even a donation, indeed, not even their good works in response to the forgiveness and salvation received can be added. As soon as they think they can, they defile the work of Christ. The work of salvation wasn’t free for Jesus for it cost Him is very life, but for us it is free to receive. Yet, that is often where the difficulty lies. Our sinful pride raises its ugly head and thinks, “There are no free lunches in this world – where is the catch? Surely, we must have to donate or pay something towards our salvation! It can’t be for free!” Yes, it is!
Perhaps there is nothing more dangerous to receiving the free gift of forgiveness and salvation in Christ than our self-righteousness. Indeed, unless we come to Christ totally bankrupt of all our own righteousness, aware that we are rotten to the core and have nothing to offer, we cannot be made clean by Christ.
That brings me to the second obstacle when people don’t think they need saving. Sinful pride will not allow them to think that they are totally bankrupt and rotten to the core. Some may even think that they are ‘good’ people and don’t need saving, or worse still if there is a loving God, the onus is on Him to save them because they are so good. In fact, they are so good, they absolutely refuse to take a bacon and egg roll for free and insist on giving at least some loose change!
Scripture teaches that we must come to a point in our lives where we confess that we are “nothing else but sin.” Yet, even to come to a point where there is an acknowledgement of sin and the need for cleansing is a work of grace. Sinful pride will not allow us to make that confession, however, if the gracious Holy Spirit is working in our hearts and lives, it will spring spontaneously from our lips. All the dark, filthy clothes of sin need to be stripped off before we can be clothed with the clean clothes of Christ and be seen righteous in God’s sight. “Nothing in my hand I bring, simply to Your cross I cling; naked, come to You for dress, helpless, look to You for grace; stained by sin, to You I cry: ‘Wash me, Saviour, or I die.’” JZ.