Seven Simple Steps to Boost Evangelism

(This is part of an article written by Rick Segal on the Desiring God website.  See here for full article)

Develop your “personal Great Commission number” as if it were something as routine to your daily life as church, work, fitness, and carting your kids around. How much time do you spend with unbelieving individuals, and what is the quality of your social relationships with them? You can boost your number substantially by exercising these seven disciplines.

1. Pray for the unbelievers in your life by name.

Margaret Thatcher once famously said, “There is no such thing as society. There are individual men and women and there are families . . .” Her point being that we must regard each other at human scale, not as mere components of larger social institutions. The same can be said of the way we use the term “the lost.”

Of course our hearts grieve for the millions who do not know Jesus, but we don’t know the millions, personally. Most of us do know personally at least dozens, some of us hundreds, and rather than lump these precious individuals into one big prayer cohort, we could begin to take their given names before the Lord in prayer. Start writing their names down and praying over them at least once a week.

2. Be intentional in pursuing relationships and scheduling time with unbelievers.

If you don’t make engagement with unbelieving people a priority, your life will gravitate automatically toward the pleasures and comforts of the church community cul de sac. Identify two people outside of your Christian circle with whom you think you would enjoy spending more time. Look for two more who appear to need someone to come alongside of them as they struggle with burdens in their lives. Target one other with whom you seem to have the least in common, but enough of a relationship that you could see it becoming, with a little work, a friendship. You needn’t feel that you to need to sacrifice any of your principles or values to love someone else. It’s what we’re commanded to do. Love God. Love our neighbors.

3. Don’t withdraw from unbelieving family members. Lean in.

Family members are people with whom, like it or not, you are already in relationship. You already love them, and they already love you, despite theological differences. Don’t make them a project, just love them as members of your family. Be sincerely interested in what they’re interested in, even if you find it hard to be interested. Know their struggles. Encourage them. Affirm them. Don’t be estranged. Lean in and never give up on any of them. Above all else, pray for them.

4. Love your neighbors.

Know your neighbors. Help your neighbors. Enjoy your neighbors. Be the epoxy that glues your neighbors into a neighborhood. Practice hospitality. Make your home a place that your neighbors associate with their love for each other.

5. Appreciate your workplace as the best place.

For most Christians, the workplace is the place where we will spend the most time with unbelieving people. Work requires us to collaborate with others to see it to completion. Relationships in the workplace are sometimes even easier to develop than with family members. You share more time and, in time, more in common. Don’t allow your Christianity to be a wedge that separates you from co-workers.

You needn’t compromise your values, nor engage in any unbiblical activities to secure a co-worker’s esteem or affection, but you do need to take an active interest in your coworkers as fellow human beings, not just the other spokes in a wheel you happen to share. Appreciate that people in the workplace are not the means of getting your work done, they are the objects of your work as an ambassador for Christ.

6. Harvest relationships from your children’s activities.

Children are now involved in lots of activities, year round. If you have several children, the breadth of your relationship universe is substantial across the expanse of all the other coaches, parents and teammates. So, go deep. Work these crowds. Befriend people in these communities. Do things with them. Bring them together in your home with family members, co-workers and neighbors.

A word of warning: don’t permit all of your kids’ activities to take place in Christian-only programs.

7. Take up a new hobby, especially one shared in groups.

Diversions from responsibilities can be personally renewing and restorative, and great venues for evangelism. Find something fun or interesting to do or learn in which you are not fulfilling a specific responsibility or obligation to anyone — just taking your mind off of things for awhile. But, find something that requires you to do it with other people. Here you’ll likely meet people of all different walks, the bond being the shared interest in the hobby. It will help to find something in which someone else, perhaps an unbeliever, will have to be invested in you to help you along. This can be the leaven of really great relationships.

The truth is the product of this hypothetical formula is not a score, it is joy. There are few greater joys in life than sharing the gospel with another person, even fewer greater joys than knowing you have been used as means, immediately or eventually, in another’s conversion in Christ. Yes, we rejoice in corporate worship, in Christian fellowship, and in private devotion, and also in the essential work of sharing Christ with those who do not yet know him.

Marriage

A Statement by the Session of the Presbyterian Church of Wee Waa

The Session of Wee Waa Presbyterian Church met on June 3rd 2015.  After deliberation we wish to issue the following statement regarding marriage.

Introduction

  • The Church of Jesus Christ exists because of the grace of God and for the glory of God
  • The Church is the work of the Triune God:  the Father calls sinners to salvation; Jesus Christ gave his life for sinners to reconcile them to God; the Holy Spirit gives rebirth through the Word and binds saved sinners to the work of the Saviour, and empowers them for their task in the Name of Christ till His return
  • The work of the Church is defined only by God; his will for his Church is expressed in the Bible, the infallible and inerrant Word of God
  • God is glorified through his church where his will is done – He requires his people to serve in the world with love as defined in the Bible: the Church can therefore not love less than God, and it cannot love more than God
  • Acts of mercy, the task of Evangelism, and the calling of Mission are not restricted by humanly defined boundaries like race, colour, creed, language, social standing or sexual preferences.  It is the task of the Church to reach out to all people, always remembering that those who confess to be Christians were once alienated from God, but were shown grace in Jesus Christ
  • People who respond to the call of God through the Scripture to be reconciled to through Christ, repent from their sin and live a life of sanctification defined by God declared in his Word

Session observes that

  • members of the Church of Christ are in no way better than those who have not found forgiveness in Christ; Christians are mere sinners saved by the grace of God, called to glorify Him as Lord of all;
  • members of the Church of Christ are adopted into the family of the Lord and are called to live as God’s Covenant people;
  • the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ (of which Wee Waa is part) has not always been true to its calling as defined by the word of God;
  • the Church of Christ has no right to withhold the Gospel message from any individual;
  • homosexuality/lesbianism is not an unforgivable sin, and should be recognised as all sins:  it is an offence to God, but through repentance can be forgiven by the grace of God in Jesus Christ;
  • members of the Church must constantly repent and grow in their obedience to God through sanctification

Marriage in the Bible

  • Marriage was designed by God who created a man and a woman and brought them together in union.

So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. So the Lord God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man’s ribs and then closed up the place with flesh. Then the Lord God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man. The man said, “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called ‘woman,’ for she was taken out of man.” That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh. (Genesis 1:27, 2:21–24, NIV)

Jesus Christ said:

“Haven’t you read that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.” (Matthew 19:4–6, NIV)

  • A man is not superior/inferior and the women is not inferior/superior: both are created in the image of God.
  • Marriage is based on faithfulness: partners promise to not betray their love and trust.   They depend on God’s faithfulness who brought them together and promises to bless them.
  • Marriage is not an end in itself: God created marriage to His glory to display Christ’s covenant relationship to his blood-bought church.

Session observes that

  • Ministers and members who are Marriage Celebrants within the Church of Christ are bound to obey the commands of Christ when they are requested to officiate at marriages
  • It is extremely desirable that prospective couples should receive thorough instruction about the meaning of Biblical marriage and the nature of mutual responsibilities of man and wife towards one another and the children God might give them before entering into marriage
  • Married members of the congregation are called to preserve the holiness of marriage according to the Word of God, always remembering that their relationship with one another should reflect the relationship between Christ and his Church

For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Saviour. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church. (Ephesians 5:23-25, 32, NIV)

  • Cohabitation (de facto relationships) has no covenantal binding in the eyes of God and as such mocks God’s deeper meaning of the relationship between Christ and his Church; without public vows to one another in the presence of God such a relationship between Christians is sinful
  • Divorce is an offence to God (Malachi 2:16), and should only be allowed in extreme circumstances (Matthew 19:9).  Those who were unfaithful toward their spouses and divorcees have not committed a unforgivable sin and should be restored into fellowship after heartfelt repentance
  • For millennia, even in communities other Christianity, have grasped what God says in nature — that marriage unites man and woman

Australian Law

  • The current Marriage Act (1961) acknowledge the principle for marriage as defined in the Scriptures and states that marriage as:

“the union between a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others, voluntarily entered into for life”.

Session observes that:

  • the current secular definition of marriage reflects some Biblical principles
    • union between a man and a woman” is necessary with a view to multiplying the human race
    • for life” is necessary because children need the security and safety of a stable family
    • voluntarily” is necessary to guard against forced or arranged marriages where marriage partners can be used as commodities, and mutual love, respect, trust and faithfulness are no obligation.
  • The Marriage Act (1961) was weakened by the Family Law Act 1975, referred to as the “No Fault” Divorce, where one spouse must simply state a reason for the divorce that is recognised by the state.

International Human Right Laws

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) (which does not [openly] take Biblical principles into account) declares*:

Men and women of full age, without any limitation due to race, nationality or religion, have the right to marry and to found a family. They are entitled to equal rights as to marriage, during marriage and at its dissolution.

  • UDHR declares the family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State.
  • UDHR stresses that “motherhood and childhood are entitled to special care and protection”. In a same sex marriage, who of the partners is the mother?
  • Article 8 of the Convention on Rights of Children (CRC) states “the right of the child to preserve his or her identity, including nationality, name and family relations as recognised by law without unlawful interference.” How would this be possible in the case of anonymous sperm and egg donours?
  • Article 18 of CRC declares that, “States Parties shall use their best efforts to ensure recognition of the principle that for the upbringing and development of the child.

(*By quoting from the UDHR and the CRC Session in no way confers any authority to those statements; it is quoted merely to point out that proposed changes to the current law would even go beyond the scope of contemporary humanistic statements.)

New Marriage Act proposed

  • Those who propose a new definition of marriage do so to
    • to remove from the Marriage Act 1961 discrimination against people on the basis of their sex, sexual orientation or gender identity;
    • to recognise that freedom of sexual orientation and gender identity are fundamental human rights;
    • to promote acceptance and the celebration of diversity.

Session observes that

  • Marriage between and man and a woman has never been based on discrimination; it has been a mere recognition that it takes a man and a woman to marry and make up a marriage
  • Even the UHDR does not see the right to marry as a fundamental human right (UNICEF define human rights as “those rights which are essential to live as human beings – basic standards without which people cannot survive and develop in dignity.” – this also applies to those people who remain single)
  • “Equal rights” in marriage refer to them having these rights in a court of law: men are not favoured above women, and women are not favoured above men.
  • The current marriage act precisely celebrate diversity. What diversity is celebrated if the sexes are “the same”? (There is substantial difference between being “equal” and being “same”?
  • Members of the same sex cannot reproduce – it is how God designed human beings; they have to be different
  • If the law is changed as proposed, children will become a commodity, produced outside of marriage through surrogacy, sperm and egg donation, or ethically unaccepted methods
  • Children of same sex marriage partners could be denied the right to know their biological parents, and in some cases will never know their brothers and sisters (which of course puts a complete new interpretation on the Laws governing incest).

Conclusion

  • We affirm anew the Biblical principles for marriage as defined in the Bible.  We reject any definition or law concerning marriage that is not in agreement with the Word of God
  • We call on our Governments to strongly reject proposals to change the Marriage Act to include people of the same sex to enter into a marriage relationship
  • We repent of neglecting teaching the clear Biblical doctrine that the Christian marriage should reflect the relationship between Christ and his Church
  • Session calls the congregation to repent before God if their marriage relationships fall short of the Bible model
  • Married couples should strive for marriage enrichment and not allow marriages to rich a point where the only option is dissolving the marriage in divorce
  • We repent of the sin of neglecting our duty to our children and young people of not always setting the Biblical example of the holiness of marriage
  • We confess that failing to clearly live out the principles of God’s Word regarding marriage brought the Church of Christ, and ultimately our Lord and Saviour, in disrepute before those outside of the Church
  • We confess if we through speech or otherwise elevated the sin of homosexuality/lesbianism to be seen as a greater sin than idolatry, adultery, greediness, theft, slandering, or swindling (1Corinthians 6:9-10)
  • In our task of evangelism we will reach out to everyone, including homosexuals and lesbians, to hear the saving Gospel of Jesus Christ
  • We confirm that all who truly repent and acknowledge Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour according to his Word will have a place in our fellowship

A Concert of Prayer

Scripture Readings

  • Ezekiel 37:1-14
  • Zachariah 8:14-23

Introduction

It’s that time of the year:  colds, flue, coughs, muscle pains and pains in the joints.  Winter time surely has its rewards.  In most cases our bodies do not have the resistance to these ailments.  We take vitamin tablets, we need antibiotics to help fight our systems against the bugs attacking us.

On the spiritual side of things our enemy seems to more active now than ever before.  We are bombarded by those who attack the God-ordained institution of marriage.  The privilege of Scripture classes in schools is under attack.  In the name of political correctness Christians are not allowed to say anything Christ and the Bible in their workplace.  Tolerance only applies when you believe in nothing; when you are are Christian you’re free game.  This is persecution, but only in its early stage.  Hundreds of thousands of Christians suffer under brutal Islamic regimes.

The Church of the Lord Jesus finds itself in a spiritual winter: we are being attacked from all sides; but the most dreadful truth about it is that we are spiritually sick – we are not in a state that we can effectively stand against the attacks.

The British paper, The Spectator, published an article this week, predicting the death of the Church of England by 2067.  Between 2001 and 2011 the number of children born into Christian homes in Britain fell by 5.3 million — about 10,000 a week. The paper makes this comment:

We often hear complaints about ‘militant secularism’ and religion’s ‘exclusion from the public sphere’. Many Christians seem to believe that the only thing stopping people of faith sharing the ‘richness’ of their traditions is a conspiracy organised by Polly Toynbee, Richard Dawkins and the BBC.

The Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) in the USA has lost about 800,000 members since 2003, when membership peaked at about 16.3 million.

Our biggest enemy is not outside of us, its within. We’ve tried everything to draw the masses in, and apart from pockets in the world where thousands are still saved on a regular basis, the West has lost ground.  Why?  Worldliness is one reason; but prayerlessness in submitting to the will of God has to take the blame.

With all my heart I believe what Jesus Christ said in his last address to his church:

But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8, NIV)

Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19–20, NIV)

A short history lesson

There were glory days in Scotland after the Reformation led by John Knox. That was around the 1560’s.  A century later the Covenanters protested against a watered down Gospel in Presbyterian churches, and many died at the stake or otherwise, unwavering in their faith of the Lord Jesus Christ.

But towards the end of the 17th century some children of the Reformation became wary of the battle and started to slip away from the true Gospel of Christ.  Bible teaching no longer constituted the fabric of the people, but became one of many diverse opinions.  The age of secular pre-eminence was dawning.  Old established beliefs, hallowed by tradition, were no longer sacrosanct.  Young people met together in clubs and there they pulled to pieces the manners of those that differed from them.  At a stage there were seventy-two meetings for prayer in Glasgow, which shrunk to five.  The young ministers and students of divinity were falling in with the English fashionable way of preaching and love to call grace virtue.  The new teaching took full advantage of ignorance but had little sense of sin.

But there will always be a remnant of believers in the Church of Christ.  Around 1730 true Christians saw “the valley of bones” around them and gathered themselves in prayer groups, which they called prayer societies.  They found themselves in a spiritual winter and lamented the spiritual deadness in the the church.

During this time a certain Rev William McCulloch was called to the little village of Cambuslang, somewhat to the south east of Aberdeen.  The spirit between ministers in his presbytery reflected what was going on in about all of the church:  there was strife, tension, harmful paranoia, suspicion and mistrust between members of the court.  In this time McCulloch went to see a colleague, who wrote about that meeting:

… [McCulloch] knew he was not called of God, and who was nothing but a hollow hypocrite, to demit his Ministry, and give way to another, who might be useful?  He opened his mind very fully to me.  The main problem was that since his ordination, he has been preaching on Conversion, and the nature of it and now he thinks he is perfectly a stranger to this great work’

How many times a find myself in that boat!  You just want to give up and walk away.  There is worship, yes; there are Bible studies, yes; there some who attend prayer meetings, yes; we pray for something more, but it just doesn’t happen.  Why?

Then, prayer meetings became a movement.  Members of Cambuslang and other churches pleaded incessantly for the outpouring of the Spirit of God to revive his Church. All along McCulloch resisted emotion and sensationalism, teaching his congregation to maintain decency in all matters, especially within the church.  God used the prayers of his people.

As the fervour of the congregation rose, so too did the fervour of McCulloch’s preaching, until on Sunday February 14, 1742 a woman came under extreme conviction in the morning meeting. She was carried to the manse and there McCulloch answered her anguished cries of despair with promises from the Bible. McCulloch kept the event as orderly as possible by having those gathered sing psalms from time to time to settle the atmosphere. At the end the woman came to a glorious conviction of salvation.

On the 18th of February 1743 fifty came together to the manse, under convictions and alarming stirring by the Spirit about the state of their souls.  This went on for twelve weeks and eventually spread to other towns, and England.

That woman’s conversion popped the cork on the revival that had been brewing for many months and which had been bathed in earnest prayer. Word spread like wild-fire and crowds were drawn from far and wide.

In August of that year at a special celebration of the Lord’s Supper, ministers were called in to meet the needs of the ever growing crowds. Tents were erected near a spacious natural amphitheatre close to the church, as well as in the church yard and a nearby field.

It was estimated that not less than 30,000 people attended on that occasion. Four ministers preached on the Friday, four on Saturday, fourteen or fifteen on Sunday, and five on Monday. There were 25 communion tables, 120 at each, in all 3,000 communicants. Many of these came from Glasgow, Edinburgh, and other towns, even some from England and Ireland. God stirred his work in America through the ministry of George Whitfield and carried forward by Jonathan Edwards.

How did this happen?  Surely it was the work of God through his Spirit, but God used the prayer of small numbers of people who constantly and earnestly prayed the He would restored his church to spiritual health.

The prayer groups formed through Scotland, Northern Ireland and the United States were called Prayer Concerts. Regularly, on certain days of the week, small groups of people united in prayer, and prayed for the Spirit of God to revive his church.

The pattern, even before and during other revivals was just the same:  God answered the prayers of devoted Christians for the Spirit to give new life to his church.  This happened in Wales after Rees Howells became an intercessor for his people and others joined him.  In 1860 a Spirit-driven revival hit South Africa and thousands upon thousands came to the Lord.

This is what the Lord Almighty says: “Many peoples and the inhabitants of many cities will yet come, and the inhabitants of one city will go to another and say, ‘Let us go at once to entreat the Lord and seek the Lord Almighty. I myself am going.’ And many peoples and powerful nations will come to Jerusalem to seek the Lord Almighty and to entreat him.” This is what the Lord Almighty says: “In those days ten people from all languages and nations will take firm hold of one Jew by the hem of his robe and say, ‘Let us go with you, because we have heard that God is with you.’ ” (Zechariah 8:20–23, NIV)

God’s plan for this word yet to be completed

The Bible proclaims glorious things about the growth of his church have never yet been fulfilled. There has never yet been any spread and pervasiveness of the Gospel to the extent and universality which the prophecies represent. Let’s look at some verses:

God’s promise to Abraham, and through him to Jesus Christ:

I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” (Genesis 12:3, NIV)

About the Messiah King:

May all kings bow down to him and all nations serve him. May his name endure forever; may it continue as long as the sun. Then all nations will be blessed through him, and they will call him blessed. (Psalm 72:11, 17, NIV)

In the last days the mountain of the Lord’s temple will be established as the highest of the mountains; it will be exalted above the hills, and all nations will stream to it. (Isaiah 2:2, NIV)

At that time they will call Jerusalem The Throne of the Lord, and all nations will gather in Jerusalem to honour the name of the Lord. No longer will they follow the stubbornness of their evil hearts. (Jeremiah 3:17, NIV)

From one New Moon to another and from one Sabbath to another, all mankind will come and bow down before me,” says the Lord. (Isaiah 66:23, NIV)

By myself I have sworn, my mouth has uttered in all integrity a word that will not be revoked: Before me every knee will bow; by me every tongue will swear. (Isaiah 45:23, NIV)

“…the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be destroyed, nor will it be left to another people. It will crush all those kingdoms and bring them to an end, but it will itself endure forever. This is the meaning of the vision of the rock cut out of a mountain, but not by human hands—a rock that broke the iron, the bronze, the clay, the silver and the gold to pieces. “The great God has shown the king what will take place in the future. The dream is true and its interpretation is trustworthy.” (Daniel 2:44–45, NIV)

“In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all nations and peoples of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed. (Daniel 7:13–14, NIV)

that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:10–11, NIV)

Jonathan Edwards writes:

It is natural and reasonable to suppose, that the whole world should finally be given to Christ, as one whose right it is to reign, as the proper heir of him who is originally the King of all nations, and the possessor of heaven and earth.

How will this happen?

Our Lord knew what He said will happen.  It is possible because He will make his enemy his footstool.  But He also taught his church to pray:

Hallowed be Thy Name, Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as in heaven.

Surrendering our will, confessing our sins to Him, putting his Kingdom first, lifting up his Name – this is where it starts.  The disciples waiting upon the outpouring of the Holy Spirit were praying; when they were persecuted, they were praying; when they faced problems, they were praying; when facing a new task, they were praying.

We can plan and scheme as we like, but without praying we will go nowhere.  Allan Webb, a former National Director of OMF Australia said,

“We can do more than pray after we have prayed, but we cannot do more than pray until we have prayed.” 

Are we praying?

I want to suggest that we submit to the Lord in prayer.  Small groups, regularly, earnestly, purposefully.  Think about what family you will team up to pray regularly with.  Make it a standing item on your agenda. If you like I will work on prayer points and have it published on the pew sheets.

It will be a concert of prayer – to the glory of God.

Prayer

Hear us, Shepherd of Israel, you who lead Joseph like a flock. You who sit enthroned between the cherubim, shine forth before Ephraim, Benjamin and Manasseh. Awaken your might; come and save us. Restore us, O God; make your face shine on us, that we may be saved.

How long, Lord God Almighty, will your anger smolder against the prayers of your people? You have fed them with the bread of tears; you have made them drink tears by the bowlful. You have made us an object of derision to our neighbours, and our enemies mock us. Restore us, God Almighty; make your face shine on us, that we may be saved.

Return to us, God Almighty! Look down from heaven and see! Watch over this vine, the root your right hand has planted, the son you have raised up for yourself. Your vine is cut down, it is burned with fire; at your rebuke your people perish. Let your hand rest on the man at your right hand, the son of man you have raised up for yourself. Then we will not turn away from you; revive us, and we will call on your name.

Restore us, Lord God Almighty; make your face shine on us, that we may be saved. (Psalm 80:1-19, NIV)

Amen.

Sermon preached by Rev D Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 14 June 2015 

Be wise (3)

Mind your friends

Scripture Readings

  • 2Timothy 2:14-26;
  • Proverbs 1:10-19

Introduction

Dr Google is for the most part of our society the beginning and the end of knowledge.  So, I find this site to help me select friends.  It says make friends with people like this:

  • People who can never remember when your birthday is.
  • People who can’t stop correcting you
  • People who wait for YOU to make plans (and then almost always cancel).
  • People who never want to do what you want to do.
  • People who never tell you why they’re mad, even though you know they’re so mad.
  • People who can’t be happy for you.
  • People who never ask how YOUR day/weekend/life was.
  • People who make you feel like everything is the worst.
  • People whom you can’t trust as far as you can throw them.

One person in this list one can’t miss is “you” – always in the centre and always the most important. This runs contrary to the Bible where God is in the centre: what I do, and the friends a choose are determined by God’s choice for me.

When one grows up, particularly around our teenage years, friendship is important.  We suddenly discover the importance of being part of a group.  We develop lifestyles which reflect our choice of friendship circle, we choose to dress like the others, wear make-up and hear styles showing that we are “counted in” -and of course there is the ever important idol worship of music artists.

Today, as we look at the Scriptures the message is clear:  mind your friends, or: make sure you pick the right friends.  Friends can be a blessing, but many folks out there are on the ash heap of life because they over-valued friendship and sacrificed which was supposed to be the most important aspect of the life of a Christian:  friendship with God.

The saying goes, “Show me your friends and I’ll show you your future.”

Pick your friends well

The verse to remember here is:

The righteous choose their friends carefully, but the way of the wicked leads them astray. (Proverbs 12:26, NIV)

Right at the beginning of the counsel of the parents in the book of Proverbs, even before they go into life advice about money, business principles, or minding one’s tongue, the teaching of the parents go to picking the right friends.

It begins with, “If they say, come along with us …” This is the language of the gang.

They offer comradeship. They share one purse and have a common circle; they act as a brotherhood. In addition, they promise riches; precious wealth, spoil from their victims, belongs to the fraternity.

They hold out the thrill of possessing and wielding the power of life and death. They lie in wait for the righteous law-abiding citizen; they identify themselves with the power of the grave and the pit. They are sort of hell’s agents, grim reapers who swallow the innocent alive. This excitement and pleasure beguiles and enlivens the band and calls to the youth to join.

I feel for our young people today; I think in some way we grew up in a more innocent age.  Yes, we had our friendship circles, and we did participate in mischief.  Yes, there was the enticement of cigarettes, and yes we raided the orchards of many townsfolk for grapes and peaches.  Even then there was the pressure to give in to the wish of the group.  It was definitely not a cool thing to not be part of the gang.

But there was no drugs, no ice, no internet pornography; surely the enticement to sexual immorality was not as strong.  Add to this the pressure of the group to disregard respect for parents, teachers and law officers.  It was as if parents cared more for their children – when they out, when they will be back and who they are going with.

I think we should pray more for our young people.  We should talk to them about who they should choose to hang out with.

Sure we all know one thing:  once part of a group, one can easily become very silly.  Social group pressure can be enormous.  Just look at how a group of footy supporters act when sitting in the group.  If they sat all be themselves they could easily be seen as well-behaved and civilised; they same group can become monstrous, more so when you add a bit of alcohol to the mix. Don’t give in:

Like a muddied spring or a polluted well are the righteous who give way to the wicked. (Proverbs 25:26, NIV)

The Bible’s advice is clear this morning:  mind your friends.  Pick your friends well.

Do not make friends with a hot-tempered person, do not associate with one easily angered, or you may learn their ways and get yourself ensnared. (Proverbs 22:24–25, NIV)

Do not envy the wicked, do not desire their company; for their hearts plot violence, and their lips talk about making trouble. (Proverbs 24:1–2, NIV)

When you are wise – and you understand that beginning of wisdom is the fear of God – then what rules your choice of friends is not what you want in the first instance, it is surely what they want you to do, how you should act, how you should talk, and what activities you should be involved in – who makes this choice for you is God:  his will is the most important.

Very soon in there walk with God all Christians should learn the Lord’s prayer:  Hallowed by The Name, Thy will be done, Thy Kingdom come.  Our example is the One who gave his life so we can indeed call God our Father, Jesus Christ:  that was his prayer, “Not my will, but Your will be done.”  He gave his life so that we can be free from the bondage of sin; He gave his Holy Sprit to bind us to Christ so that we will want to please Him an all we do.

Fact is, the gang cannot deliver on its promises. As birds are ensnared by the invisible net, so the gangsters cannot see the trap they have set for themselves. They lie in wait for their own blood. In the end, the grave swallows them, and the pit takes them.  The so-called freedom they promise through drugs is what in the end will kill them too; the so-called sexual freedom to do with their bodies as they like, in the end get to them in all sorts of physical diseases, not to mention the mental torment some have to live with.  How many women just can’t forget the unborn child they aborted because of their sexual immorality.  There are scores wandering the streets searching for the boy or girl they gave away through substance abuse and promiscuity.  Regret always comes too late!

Real wisdom is to consider end of a thing. To see where a path leads is to discriminate whether it is fit for travel. Consider the end of the gang and be wise. For all its promises, it ultimately cannot deliver anything but death. The voice of peer pressure requires the antidote of wise instruction, wether it comes through friends, or fellow members of your church family.

This does not just apply to the young people in our midst today.  It is for us all.  This wisdom of the Scripture applies to who we take as business partners, who we hang out with socially, who we take that oversees trip with.  it determines what societies and social groups will have my name on their membership roll.

We need to be wise here – we cannot withdraw from this world; we need to have a voice in our society.  The Bible does not forbid us to have an influence in even a bad society.  No, we are called to be the salt and the light in this world.  But we should never be dictated to be the world how we should conduct our lives.  Because the Bible tells us very clearly that same-sex marriages are against his will; we therefore are guided by what God says, not by the world.  But we will surely sound the trumpet for the truth when we called to do so.

We do so because God wants us to be his ambassadors for the truth. There is this verse we need to hold on to in the times we live is.

… if I am delayed, you will know how people ought to conduct themselves in God’s household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth. (1 Timothy 3:15, NIV)

Take the message of God’s Word out of society – and that is our duty – and society has nothing to stand upon – truth is robbed of its meaning and replaced man’s idea of truth, which cannot stand the test of time.

The blessing of good friends

A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for a time of adversity. (Proverbs 17:17, NIV)

A real friend is a blessing from God.

One who has unreliable friends soon comes to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother. (Proverbs 18:24, NIV)

Your real friends, that is if you call yourself a Christian, should be a fellow Christian – which does not mean that all Christians make good friends, or that unbelievers can’t be good friends – we’ve got a long way to grow in our understanding of what the Bible expects of us as Christians to really love one another.

Your true, real friend will do as proverbs tells us this morning:

Better is open rebuke than hidden love. Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses. (Proverbs 27:5–6, NIV)

True friends are not nice – there is no command of the Lord that we should be nice.  Being nice can be extremely dangerous; being nice sometimes evades the truth and dances with falsehood to avoid the boat from rocking.  A true friend tells it like it is: the truth and nothing but the truth.  Let’s be honest, truth hurts and it opens wounds – but that’s what doctors do to make you better.  Always remember, God is more important than friends – his will is supreme.  Love your friend to death, but do not withhold rebuke when necessary.  Listen to the next three verses:

One who is full loathes honey from the comb, but to the hungry even what is bitter tastes sweet. Like a bird that flees its nest is anyone who flees from home. Perfume and incense bring joy to the heart, and the pleasantness of a friend springs from their heartfelt advice. (Proverbs 27:7–9, NIV)

What does it say?  A friend in need is hungry for what is good in the same way a hungry person will eat honey.  A true friends heartfelt love and concern is like a spring of water in a barren desert. Such friends are people we should cherish and hang on to for dear life:

Do not forsake your friend or a friend of your family, and do not go to your relative’s house when disaster strikes you— better a neighbour nearby than a relative far away. (Proverbs 27:10, NIV)

If you are in need a friend nearby is much more precious than a brother far away.  Remember:

As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another. (Proverbs 27:17, NIV)

Some friends will not get it

Of course we need to pour out Christ’s love on those we come in contact with.  We should be ready to give account of the faith that lives within us; we should spread the message of the Gospel to all, irrespective of who they are.  And we should do so with the prayer that God will use our testimony to his glory and to bring the sinner to repentance and life.

But if it doesn’t happen don’t be discouraged.  Keep these verses in mind:

A wise son heeds his father’s instruction, but a mocker does not respond to rebukes. (Proverbs 13:1, NIV)

Fools find no pleasure in understanding but delight in airing their own opinions. (Proverbs 18:2, NIV)

Climbing peas

Unlike other years, the seeds got into the ground on time this season.  As expected, in about a week’s time they pushed up and started to show their little heads. Same packet of seeds, same soil, same time, same water.  All got fertiliser at the same time.  Yet, some grow faster than others. Along the trellis the leaves of all of them looks healthy and strong, but some pushed out their tendrils in search for something to anchor the plant as it climbs. It’s amazing how strong these little squiggly ten tacles are. IMG_0871 Then, some growing next to the one who succeeded in climbing the trellis, twist their tendrils around their strong-growing neighbour, and so they get help to mature and bear fruit. But other plants just fall over, not achieving the same result.  Instead of growing up, they remain low.  They too have tendrils.  These little anchors get tangled up with those of the neighbouring plant, and together they hold one another back from growing upwards.  They still look healthy, but they need help to grow upwards to bear fruit. I visit my garden everyday to marvel at the growth of those who found the the way upwards.  But most of the time I spend with fallen over the peas.  Because they are not anchored, they choke the growth of those next to them. It’s the same way with Christians, even those growing up in the same environment. God gives the growth, and He provides the fast growing, strong and mature members of his family to provide the anchor for the others to help them up and reach the top, producing fruit to the glory of God. Others just keep falling over.  The sad part is that they prevent those around them to grow upwards too.  They are so demanding, spreading their spiritually wandering tendrils so tightly around their neighbours, that even they can’t mature. We thank God for the fast growers, proving the necessary help for others to mature and reach the top. We pray for those who are struggling.  Peas can’t look for strong support and supplant themselves for help.  But Christians can make sure that they lean on mature Christians for help. Weaker Christians should constantly be aware of is their restraining effect on those around them.  They might justify their weakness in faith be finding another weaker brother, resulting in both of them never growing upwards. The reason God put us on the face of the earth is to bear fruit to his glory.  He provides growth, but He also calls us to grow up as we feed on His Word, and His Son, our Anchor.

Be Wise (2)

Mind your wife (or your mother)

Scripture Readings

  • Ephesians 5:22-32
  • Proverbs 31:10-31

Introduction

They say it’s Mother’s day, and we need a day like this.  But for the church Christ every Sunday is a celebration of the resurrection of Christ.  Every sermon should be about Him and his work of salvation.  Every worship service should bring honour to God in the first instance; that’s our chief aim in life. But, even on a day like today, we want to thank God for our mothers.  We want to bring Him thanks for having mothers who love, care and live by example. So wen we read Proverbs 31 about the Excellent Mother we need to look further.  We might be surprised to see that mothers, how much we love and adore them (and we should!), should be loved and adored through the life, death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ – the wisdom of God.

Wives

Let’s learn from a man who knew women far better than anyone on the face of the earth.  We can say this because all up he had 1,000 of them – 700 wives in his harem, and another 300 as concubines, more or less the slaves of the wives he had.

(Was he really wise having a thousand? Must be; there are times I yearn for more wisdom to really understand the one I have! Not really,  she is a gift from God, and I truly love and adore her.)

Solomon wrote the best part of Proverbs and has quite a few things to say about a wife:

A wife of noble character is her husband’s crown, but a disgraceful wife is like decay in his bones. (Proverbs 12:4, NIV) He who finds a wife finds what is good and receives favour from the Lord. (Proverbs 18:22, NIV) Houses and wealth are inherited from parents, but a prudent wife is from the Lord. (Proverbs 19:13–14, NIV)

There are also a few negative things about a wife:

Better to live on a corner of the roof than share a house with a quarrelsome wife. (Proverbs 21:9; 25-24, NIV) A quarrelsome wife is like the dripping of a leaky roof in a rainstorm; (Proverbs 27:15, NIV)

So, Solomon makes it very clear that we need to be careful when it comes to the the choice of who we marry: is it God’s choice for us? Further, how we live with them.  It is of the outmost importance to make sure that we marry within the will and providence of the Lord.  It flows then that a man needs to do whatever in his power to keep his wife happy, and (of course) vice versa – marriage is after all a partnership, requiring two people to make it work.  Who wants to live on a corner of a roof instead of inside the house!   Who wants to live in a house with a leaky roof in a rainstorm!  We will do whatever we can to avoid it.  This calls for wisdom.  Happy wives means happy marriages and happy families. To be fair, the same can be said about husbands.

Mothers

When it comes to wives being mothers, Solomon also had a few things to say too:

A wise son brings joy to his father, but a foolish son brings grief to his mother. (Proverbs 10:1, NIV) A wise son brings joy to his father, but a foolish man despises his mother. (Proverbs 15:20, NIV) Whoever robs their father and drives out their mother is a child who brings shame and disgrace. (Proverbs 19:26, NIV) If someone curses their father or mother, their lamp will be snuffed out in pitch darkness. (Proverbs 20:20, NIV)

Once again the point here is to be wise, to make the right choices and bring joy to the heart of a father and mother.  The best gift any child can give their mother is to be wise and to follow the Lord with a complete heart.  Yes, sending roses and cards, buying gifts and making telephone calls are all important.

To tell our mothers that we love them is of utmost importance, but to tell our mothers or wives that we love them because we love the Lord would be the best news.

There are many mothers who weep for their children – the children of the verses we heard today:  they are foolish, they set their hearts on the wrong things, they chose bad friends and put their hopes on the things of this word.  When evening comes the mother would open her heart and pour out her grief before God for a child who lost direction.  Many mothers fear to openly move around in their circle of friends because of ridicule for her son’s bad life-choices.

How many times have I sat and prayed with mothers who weep for their wayward children.  How many times have I listened to the heartbreaking story and hurt of a mother who can’t sleep out of concern for her children.

Today is perhaps just the occasion to make things right between you and God and then tell your mother about it.  Confessing towards God and then confessing to mother (and dad) for despising the teaching and example they set. Or perhaps today might be the best day and opportunity, if she does not know the Lord yet herself, to tell her about Christ, pray for her and with her.

The excellent wife

Let’s now turn to Proverbs 31. I look at this chapter and I remember my mother. Mom was not perfect, but to us she was a gift from God.  She was indeed noble, and a woman of strength. Let’s go quickly through this chapter again:

This wife’s husband had confidence in her.  This was not only a “for-better-and-for-worse-thing”. This word expresses that sense of well-being and security which results from having something or someone in whom to place confidence.  It conveys something or reliability.  some place it is translated as “hope”.  It is that sense of “all is well”, the feeling of being safe or secure; trust; contentment, fulfilment.  Something in the original verse speaks of no need for plunder – take what belongs to others.  The truely happily married husband has no need to wander into the paddock of his neigbour – his own wife is all-satisfying.   His wife greatly enriches his life.  The noble wife supports her man who manages the land.  He is well-known in the gates of the city among the civic leaders.  She spurs him on to serve in his community with integrity.  She brings him good:  her love and companionship is to him a recompense and reward.  Where this word is used elsewhere in the Bible it is contrasted with harm.  If conveys the nurture of a mother who breastfeeds a baby up to the point when she weans it.

She is wise, industrious, and clever. She works hard and provides for her family like a lioness looks after her cubs.  She gives instructions to her servants – she has everything in control as she plans the day.  She is energetic and strong, a hard worker (she girds her loins with strength, an expression which is through the Scriptures reserved for soldiers.

When she speaks, her words are wise, she gives instructions (torah) with kindness.  She carefully watches over everything in her household.  She is not lazy in her care and provision for her family. She inspects a field, she acquires it with the fruit of her hand (actually, palms).  She complements her food she grows and prepares with wine.She makes sure (tastes) her business dealing are profitable.

She is a discerning and wise women. She spins wool for clothing for her family – she provides clothing for her family.  When she is done with the care of her own family her care spills over into the community.  She cares for her community and the poor.  Her family is looked after in cold weather. the reference in verse 21 to scarlet scarlet is reference of well-being and with luxury.  There is something in the original that talks about double layered clothes which protects against the cold of winter.  There is more than enough from the clothes she makes so that she can trade with it. She herself is clothed with dignity, she laughs without fear of the future.

She knows well charm is deceptive and beauty does not last.  The fear of the Lord surpasses them all, and that is what instills in her family: true values that will last. She makes her children happy, and they called her blessed for it.  They return her dedication with likewise love and dedication. She is their tree of life. She is best of the best: the best wife, the best mother, the best friend, the bast companion.

This is the woman we want to reward her for all she has done.   Her deeds publicly declare her praise. We thank God for our mothers.

Mothers as wisdom examples

Maybe somewhere through this chapter some mothers here today felt a bit like the boy at the funeral of his father.  In the eulogy his father was praised for all the things he did and how well he did it.  In reality he was a lousy husband and father.  So this little fellow poked his mom and said, “Let’s go Mom. I think we are at the wrong funeral.”

Let’s face it, not all mothers can ever display all the qualities of Proverbs 31.  And if you feel a bit guilty about certain things you don’t do or never achieve as mother, for a moment just sit back and relax.

I believe this chapter tells us something very important:  mothers can be a wonderful example of wisdom – that wisdom which is also described as a woman in Proverbs.  By living out the fear of the Lord and knowing Him and following Him, being satisfied in Him, expecting all good from Him, looking up away from earthly wisdom and riches, the wise mother exemplifies wisdom and attracts her family to wisdom which became her only goal and purpose in live.  This same applies to the menfolk as husbands and fathers. Of wisdom is said about the same which is said about the excellent and noble wife of chapter 31.

Coral and jasper are not worthy of mention; the price of wisdom is beyond rubies. (Job 28:18, NIV)

She is more precious than rubies; nothing you desire can compare with her. (Proverbs 3:15, NIV)

… for wisdom is more precious than rubies, and nothing you desire can compare with her. (Proverbs 8:11, NIV)

So, in the final analysis, our mothers are not the measuring stick or the benchmark of what is perfect life.  Like we heard last week:

Do not forsake wisdom, and she will protect you; love her, and she will watch over you. The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom. Though it cost all you have, get understanding. Cherish her, and she will exalt you; embrace her, and she will honour you. (Proverbs 4:6–8, NIV)

To despise wisdom is to love the other woman, the bad one with loose morals.  She is also dressed in fine linen; but she looks and acts like a prostitute.  She destroys and her paths lead to death.

Wisdom will reward us in the same way as our mothers do when we put our minds and hearts to loving wisdom and be wise.  We will be looked after, we will be clothed and fed, we will be satisfied and safe when we are wise and love Gods’ wisdom revealed in his Word and made know to us by his Son.  This is the ultimate lessen of Proverbs 31.

We follow our earthly mother’s example to love wisdom.  It this, the calling of a mother is extremely high. But ultimately we hear the call of wisdom which leads us to God.  We hear the call of the Gospel of Christ which leads us to God.  We follow Him who makes us wise to now live as wise people to please God, glorify Him and think his thoughts after Him.  We listen to the voice of the Holy Spirit who takes the Word and writes it in our heart so that we will know to turn from the folly of the world and set our minds on Christ.

The church as the bride of Christ

Just a final thought:  the church is the bride of Christ.  Our relationship with Him will be consummated at his coming when we will live with Him into all eternity. But it seems reasonable to think that the perfect wife of Proverbs 31 should also apply to the church:  our example of service to our Lord, service to our community, hard work and integrity, our dependence upon Christ, and making his Name great in this world, living wisely making clever choices, should be as attractive to those living around us so that they will be drawn into a relationship with Him who call us his bride.

Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church—for we are members of his body. “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church. However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband. (Ephesians 5:21–33, NIV)

Wives, in the same way submit yourselves to your own husbands so that, if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over without words by the behavior of their wives, when they see the purity and reverence of your lives. Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes. Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight. For this is the way the holy women of the past who put their hope in God used to adorn themselves. They submitted themselves to their own husbands, like Sarah, who obeyed Abraham and called him her lord. You are her daughters if you do what is right and do not give way to fear. Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life, so that nothing will hinder your prayers. (1 Peter 3:1–7, NIV)

Make God give us the wisdom to live like his church bride on earth. Amen.

Sermon preached by Rev D. Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 10 May 2015