You can download the PDF here.
What, you think because I’m the pastor I don’t understand the power of sin? It’s festering grip? Enough about me, let’s talk about Joe Soap (that’s you by the way). Why can’t Joe shake off the shackles of sin? Why do you keep on doing precisely what you don’t want to do? Actually, there are tons of possibilities, here’s a stab at three:
1. You enjoy it, you love it, you revel in it.
Oh, I’ve heard plenty of testimonies of how bad things were before a person came to Christ, and how rosy things are now; but maybe that’s not you. Maybe you think back and you’re not quite sure things were as bad as the guy weeping his heart out at the front of the church says it was.
2. You’re not a mass murderer, it’s not like anyone’s getting hurt by what you’re into.
Like we all know of someone who gets drunk and beats up their wife or kids. Those guys really need Jesus. For their own sake, and the people around them. But you’re not that bad. You’re not hurting anyone. Your sin is under control.
3. You’re on top of things. Yes you sin, but you’re trying really hard to keep Mr Hyde under wraps.
Like everyone else you’re doing what you can. Trying really hard not to get cross, really hard not to watch porn, really hard not to drink, really hard not to… I don’t know what you’re wrapped up in but I know if you try hard enough the neighbours’ll think you’re a saint.
But, it doesn’t work does it? Ever watched a dog return to it’s vomit? It’s a disgusting thing. But they do; again and again and again. Good News is you don’t have to and here’s why:
1. If you love your sin more than Jesus I’ve got to tell you about my saviour.
Sin’s lying to you. Remember Eve in the garden of Eden? Remember the snake? The fruit? Remember what he said? “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” Satan lied. In a way Eve did die that day, and with Adam she lost her ability to choose good of her own free will. Maybe that’s you? Maybe you’ve fallen in love with the forbidden fruit? Don’t feel alone; the Bible says “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” and it says that “the wages of sin is death” and it says that “God’s wrath remains on them.” If you’re a great sinner you’re in need of a great saviour. Jesus Christ lived a perfect live and died so that you may be saved from that wrath, from that death. A wonderful life in eternity is promised, free from sin; and an abundant life in the present can be experienced too, no longer living as a slave to one’s sin.
2. If your sin is as black as night I’ve got to tell you something of God’s grace.
I’ve got one of those testimonies where I tried everything. Well maybe not everything but enough to make my ears burn red and leave me knowing I needed a saviour. For the longest time I didn’t trust anyone who said they’d become a Christian when they were a kid. I just couldn’t see what drove them to the cross unless they’d done something dreadful, something wicked, like me. I underestimated the sinfulness of sin. Mother Teresa, Mahatma Gandhi and whoever else you put up on a pedestal all have something in common: they have a condition they share; sin. Oh their sins may look a little whiter than yours or mine but we’re not their judge. Comparing ourselves to Adolph Hitler or Lady Gaga isn’t helpful when one day we’ll stand before a holy God who’ll compare us to His perfect standard. Even our good works on that day will be like filthy rags. But His grace; His infinitely, brilliant, saving grace, which makes me weep right now even to think of it, is enough! It’s enough to turn you and save you and keep you.
3. If your best isn’t good enough I’ve got to tell you about His best.
I was a dreadful student at school. I remember once or twice my dad sitting me down and saying, “Son, just do you best, that’s all I ask.” God doesn’t demand your best, He demands perfection, and you’re never going to measure up to that. That’s why He sent Jesus. Jesus, the Son of God, is the best. Ever heard that hymn “Jesus paid it all?” We’re beggars at the foot of the cross with nothing to offer. “Jesus paid it all.” Your work, your effort, it’s stupid hypocrisy. Trust in that and on that Day you’re standing on sinking sand. But trust upon the name of Jesus Christ, His finished work upon the cross, and you’re standing on a sure foundation.
What am I saying? Maybe you’re struggling with sin because in truth you’ve not laid the burden of it down at the foot of the cross and come empty handed to the saviour, trusting in His finished work rather than your own; God’s abundant grace rather than your own excuses or a professed a love for the beautiful saviour rather than a lust for the things of the flesh. Maybe this note’s for you.
So here’s the thing, it was cold this morning, I was lazy this morning, and if it wasn’t for the fact that I’m the pastor I might have been tempted to give church a skip this morning. Actually, there are a billion reasons (little bit of hyperbole there) why you might not have gone to church this morning and I’m not going to uncover all of them, but here is a stab at three:
1. Church is for people that need church, I’m fine, by myself, with my Bible, at home.
Truth is if you think anything like the heading above you’re not in the minority. Loads of folk think church can happen wherever they are (like underneath the duvet on cold Winter days). Church is for people who need church and if you don’t need church don’t feel guilty for not going.
2. Church is for people who have something to offer, I’m too short/too nerdy/too poor/too rich to add any value to church.
Can’t help driving around Jozie and noticing the billboards all over the place with really rich looking pastors, bling draped around their necks and on their fingers, 1,000,000 Million Dollar smiles plastered on their faces. Or those guys that lead worship with the rock star haircuts and designer clothes. Even the woman that operate the coffee pots look like they hold theological degrees. Churches can sometimes leave us with the feeling that they don’t need you. So why bother going?
3. My local church wouldn’t miss me if I disappeared for 10 months on an excursion to the Amazon, I’m just not needed.
So here’s the thing, have you ever gone to church, for ages, and then you skip a few weeks and no one notices? Yip, like they make such a big deal about how important people are, but when push comes to shove you’re not too sure if you matter… to anyone other than your mother… and she doesn’t go to that church anyway!
Well here’s the thing (take two), whilst many of us have experienced any number of the objections listed above at one stage or another, they are dreadful excuses for not finding, getting involved in and grafting yourself to a local church. Here’s why:
1. You’re not fine, by yourself, with your Bible, at home.
Church isn’t all about you ninny; it’s about Jesus. Think of this metaphor. Church is like a body. You’re a member of the body. Jesus is the head. Want to be connected to Christ? Be connected to the body! Cut a finger off the body who’s worse off? The finger or the rest of the body?
2. You have something to offer, and maybe it is that you’re too short/too nerdy/too poor/too rich.
God chooses us. And He’s got a plan in mind. He chooses every individual member with intent and has predestined good works for us to live in before the foundation of the world. So it doesn’t matter what your deficiencies are, your characteristics are needed, both by others and to God’s glory.
3. Don’t go on a 10 month excursion to the Amazon, not just yet, you’re needed where you are.
So maybe you’ve had a bad experience. Sorry about that. Truth is just because some group here or there messed up your relationship with them doesn’t negate your obligation to serve God and His people. See, the church isn’t a building that people go to, leave and don’t go back to. The church is the people. You are part of that people. That people need you to be the people they are supposed to be. I’m thinking of Paul right now. I read Romans 16 and Colossians 4 earlier this morning. Paul lists about 36 people in those two chapters that are part of his life and his ministry. Who’s life and ministry are you part of? Who’s part of your life and ministry? You’re required.
Get out of bed. Find a church. Get connected to the body and Head. Live out your life to God’s praise and glory.
So Ministries of Mercy was first published in 1989. Maybe you can remember, shortly after, in the 1990′s, red ‘WWJD?’ armbands popped up all over the place. You just weren’t cool if you didn’t have one. ‘What Would Jesus Do?’ quickly became “a personal motto for adherents of Evangelical Christianity who used the phrase as a reminder of their belief in a moral imperative to act in a manner that would demonstrate the love of Jesus” (Wikipedia 2012a). Ministries of Mercy as a book was not causal in the social concern explosion of the 1990’s, but was rather a product of its time.
How might we summarise the content of Ministries of Mercy? “Who is our neighbour, and how should we relate to them?” asks Garibaldi McFlurry (2012), “That’s the question that drives this book.” Ministries of Mercy is divided into two parts, the first part, a running contextualized commentary on the parable of the Good Samaritan, is captured succinctly in this quote from the book, “The only true and enduring motivation for the ministry of mercy is an experience and a grasp of the grace of God in the gospel. If we know we are sinners saved by grace alone, we will be both open and generous to the outcasts and the unlovely” (Keller 1989:58). The second part is very practical, dealing with implementation ideas and issues.
In December 2009 Midrand Chapel set up two Bible Studies using Ministries of Mercy as a guide book (Penrith 2009). As elders we desired to initiate an evangelistic work into Olivenhoutsbosch, a neighbouring township, and felt there needed to be a deeper theology of social concern tied to the project. At the time there was also a perceived lack of social concern in our congregation and we wished to approach the issue in a measured way. Over the period of the study I evaluated the book and was involved in initiatives which flowed out of the study. Both my positive and negative observations are detailed in the evaluation section below.
It’s a parable not a fable
Ministries of Mercy is very well written. It is engaging. It is challenging. The use of a single passage of Scripture upon which several chapters are hung gives it a flow and makes it come across exegetically. Tim Keller is a great writer. However, I believe the book’s use of the parable of the Good Samaritan is flawed. Let me demonstrate:
|1||The Jericho Road||Luke 10:25-37|
|2||The Call to Mercy||Luke 10:25-29|
|3||The Character of Mercy||Luke 10:34-35|
|4||The Motivation For Mercy||Luke 10:33|
|5||Giving and Keeping: A Balanced Lifestyle||Luke 10:33|
|6||Church and the World: A Balanced Focus||Luke 10:33|
|7||Conditional and Unconditional: A Balanced Judgement||Luke 10:33-35|
Keller sees a point of teaching or point of application under every stone and behind every bush in the parable of the Good Samaritan. Oh, he isn’t as allegorical as Origen (Lienhard 1996:138), but he breaks a fundamental rule in interpretation. Each of Jesus’ parables makes only one main point.
Keller will have his reader believe Luke 10:33, “And when he saw him, he took pity on him” underpins The Motivation For Mercy; and, from the same verse, “But a Samaritan…” makes a point about Church and the World: A Balanced Focus. No, that’s beyond Christ’s intent. The parable as a whole is Jesus’ single answer to the single question, “And who is my neighbor?” To go beyond that is to inject meaning into the text that was never intended. I believe that’s what Keller does; for noble reasons he embellishes the point of the text until the point becomes obfuscated and the intended meaning to the intended recipient is lost.
I’m a chapel not a mega-church
The second negative is hardly Keller’s fault, so I’ll not dwell on it too long. Much of the application seemed to be focused on a straw church of 1,000,000 volunteers and an unlimited budget (weighed in Dollars not in Rands). We had neither.
Also Keller’s use of surveys immediately smacked of church-growth which is anathema to the conservative church culture I come from.
It’s not the Gospel and social concern, it’s the Gospel and social concern
To me it seems amongst the Christian’s primary challenge is to maintain one’s focus upon the cross. That’s really not easy in this messed up world, but we make it harder when we start to allow even good things to impinge on that which should be singular.
Keller presents a model in which the Gospel and social concern go hand in glove.
The Gospel must be primary in the relationship, social concern may be necessary, but it remains of secondary import. I don’t believe Keller got that balance right. He implementation of Ministries of Mercy strategy feels like social concern leads, with the Gospel tagging along.
So what did I get out of it? A lot actually.
An increased awareness
Before reading Ministries of Mercy I lacked a heart for social concern. I hate myself for saying it, but, I knew I needed to do something, but didn’t see the urgency of what I needed to do. Whilst I may not agree with everything between the pages of Ministries of Mercy it certainly challenged me towards action.
Keller’s heart bleeds off the page and his zeal for the afflicted is contagious. I loved the desire to do something that the book instilled into me.
A stalled project
Very soon after completing the Ministries of Mercy Bible study our church began working in Olieven providing a number of services to the community including Saturday tutoring at the local high school. Whilst our church plant stalled the experience gained was incalculable.
A new gameplan
Ministries of Mercy gave me pause to think about the need for social concern, how it related to the Gospel, and how to drive the church towards a Christ glorifying end. I felt that Ministries of Mercy advocated a ‘Gospel plus social concern’ mechanism, but decided that for myself and my church we’d adopt a ‘Gospel followed by social concern’ mechanism. Oh, and our external projects were to be measured against verses like Galatians 6:10, “10 Therefore, as we have opportunity, we must work for the good of all, especially for those who belong to the household of faith.”
A new day
Crystal Park Baptist Church, the small congregation I now serve, has embarked on a number of internal and two sustainable external social concern initiatives. We approached the two schools in our suburb and offered to take their assembly devotionals. After a year of interacting with them we began to offer them social services. We go in and provide counselling to children in the high school once a week and provide drama, singing and dance classes to the primary school.
It is worth pointing out that we’ve recently begun to see fruit from these two evangelistic activities, only realised after the social work began.
Whilst Ministries of Mercy is an excellent read, and will certainly allow the thoughtful bookworm to ponder afresh the need and importance of social concern in the midst of the church they serve. That said I’d caution against running a Bible study following the material.
From Pastor to Pupils
Presenting the National Anthem in a School environment
I love South Africa. I want to make a difference in my country but I’m not always sure where to start. More than anything I desire to see revival in my land, my nation turning to the one, true God, faith in Jesus Christ His Son, a repentance, which is a turning away from sin and a turning to Him. It is to that end I strive.
Crystal Park Baptist Church has established great relationships with the schools and the police station in our area. In the last three blog spots (see bottom of this post for links) I’ve spoken about going to our local High School once a week and the local Primary School too. We also go to the relief parade at our local police station every Tuesday morning and address the officers and members going off and coming on shift.
In the following set of articles I briefly describe the devotionals that we’re currently presenting to the schools and police station in our area. We work line by line through the national anthem at the primary gathering or assembly. The Gospel goes out each week, which is what the church wants, and the school or police station benefits because currently nation building and the national anthem are in the spotlight. We’ve been attending to this ministry for the last year and have begun to see much fruit.
Again, this is a work in progress and I’ll be most grateful if you gave me feedback.
Lord bless us, We are the family of it – Nkosi sikelela, thina lusapho lwayo.
The forth line, ‘Nkosi sikelela, thina lusapho lwayo’, translates to ‘Lord bless us, We are the family of it’.
In the second half of the Book of Acts, the apostle Paul goes from city to city in the Roman world preaching the Good News of the Gospel, that while God is Holy and separated from sin, and while man is sinful and therefore separated from God, God made a plan, He sent His Son Jesus Christ into the world to save sinners. Jesus paid the price we could not and so, if we believe in Him, trust upon His finished work on the cross rather than our own efforts, repent from our sin and turn to Him, we will be saved.
So Paul is going around the known world teaching this Gospel to whoever would hear it and in Acts 17 we find him in Greece, in the capital city, Atheans. And here he addresses the crowd. I want to to hear part of his sermon:
Acts 17:22 – 27,
22 Then Paul stood in the middle of the Areopagus and said: “Men of Athens! I see that you are extremely religious in every respect. 23 For as I was passing through and observing the objects of your worship, I even found an altar on which was inscribed:
TO AN UNKNOWN GOD.
Therefore, what you worship in ignorance, this I proclaim to you. 24 The God who made the world and everything in it—He is Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in shrines made by hands. 25 Neither is He served by human hands, as though He needed anything, since He Himself gives everyone life and breath and all things. 26 From one man He has made every nationality to live over the whole earth and has determined their appointed times and the boundaries of where they live. 27 He did this so they might seek God, and perhaps they might reach out and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us.
Three things about the text above (I’m a Baptist, we do everything in threes):
Number 1, at any school, police station, hospital (or any other place I can think of… your church?) if you ask the following question you get a delightful answer, “How many nations are represented here this morning?” At the police station this morning there were Englishmen, Afrikaaners, Zulus, Pedis (biggest smile on the planet when I acknowledged him), Xhosas… God did that. If we’re a rainbow nation it’s because we serve a God who is creative by nature and without limit. What an awesome God He has revealed Himself to be.
Number 2, Maybe even more amazing to me is that the creative diverseness that occured in the station house this morning is no accident, rather God, as the sovereign ruler of the universe, determined the times, place and people who were there collected. Sure in the strictest sense the meaning of this passage is a little broader than that but it doesn’t exclude the providence of God to bring together a specific people at a specific place and specific time. As Paul says in another place, “Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and the knowledge of God! How unsearchable His judgments and untraceable His ways!”
Number 3, God is not doing all this for nothing. He has a plan. He has a plan to save sinners. And it’s not a small plan. He plans to save nations! Another apostle, John, when describing what heaven looks like says this, “After this I looked, and there was a vast multitude from every nation, tribe, people, and language, which no one could number, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were robed in white with palm branches in their hands. 10 And they cried out in a loud voice: Salvation belongs to our God, who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!”
God’s is the creator, planner and saver of the nations. Let the nations be glad! Amen!
So on Friday I received a Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB). I was planning on reading through Genesis to Psalms starting this Sunday night, but I was too excited and couldn’t wait, so I read Genesis 1 – 11 to Liezl on Friday night and the rest of Genesis on Saturday morning.
This is interesting: I’ve been inundated with emails, Facebook messages and comments from pastors endorsing the HCSB. And not just any pastors, pastors I look up to. Like Brent Meyers, from Sandton Bible Church, who says, “Its a great translation and one my whole family uses. Its philosophy is to begin with a literal translation and then consider how to best express the literal in an understandable way – which is how I translate. It also doesn’t have the theological bias that the ESV has. I hope you enjoy it.” And Steven Murray, blogger of Daylight, and a cool guy in general (keeping me on my theological toes), makes this excellent point, “I like the look of HCSB but I wonder if most of my folk are going to just go out and buy the updated NIV next time they need a new Bible.” And Fr Robert, a Reformed Anglican (wish there were more), and one of my few overseas readers, says “I love the Hebrew and Greek Word Studies! And we are on the same page as to Bible Translations also. Indeed the “Cognitive equivalence” of the literal translation approach!”
Time will tell if I too decide to adopt it, but for now I can say that I’m finding it very easy to read, I’m enjoying the translative decisions that have been made and the interpretive decisions so far match my own theological leanings.
I’m reading the text out loud, with a notebook and pen sitting next to me. I’ve jotted down interesting verses which I think deserve a mention or more research a little later on (I’ve put down about a third below, highlighting what it was about the text that drew my attention). Oh, and I’ve not read anyone else’s review or endorsements yet, but I will, once I’ve done reading the Pentateuch, tonight, hopefully.
Have you read the HCSB? Thinking of reading it? Using it in your church? Hate it passionately? I’d value any comments or concerns that you may have.
|Verse||Holman Christian Stand Bible (HCSB)||New International Version (NIV)||New American Standard Version (NASB)||Comment|
|1:1||In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.||In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.||In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.||One of my favourite verses.|
|4:26||A son was born to Seth also, and he named him Enosh. At that time people began to call on the name of the Yahweh.||Seth also had a son, and he named him Enosh. At that time people began to call on the name of the LORD.||To Seth, to him also a son was born; and he called his name Enosh. Then men began to call *upon the name of the LORD.||I love the use of YAHWEH for the covenant name of God.|
|12:1 – 3||The Lord said to Abram: Go out from your land, your relatives, and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. 2 I will make you into a great nation, I will bless you, I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. 3 I will bless those who bless you, I will curse those who treat you with contempt, and all the peoples on earth will be blessed through you.||The LORD had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you. I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing.I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”||Now the LORD said to Abram, ” Go forth from your country, And from your relatives And from your father’s house, To the land which I will show you;And I will make you a great nation, And I will bless you, And make your name great; And so you shall be a blessing;And I will bless those who bless you, And the one who curses you I will curse. And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed.”||The establishment of the covenant relationship between God and the Seed of Abraham.|
|22:12||Then He said, “Do not lay a hand on the boy or do anything to him. For now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your only son from Me.”||“Do not lay a hand on the boy,” he said. “Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.”||He said, “Do not stretch out your hand against the lad, and do nothing to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me.”||This might just be me, but I’ve really enjoyed the capitalizations of the Theophonies. This is a interpretative decision rather than a translative one, and I like it.|
|25:30||He said to Jacob, “Let me eat some of that red stuff, because I’m exhausted.” That is why he was [also] named Edom.||He said to Jacob, “Quick, let me have some of that red stew! I’m famished!” (That is why he was also called Edom. )||and Esau said to Jacob, “Please let me have a swallow of *that red stuff there, for I am *famished.” Therefore his name was called *Edom.||I love the easy readablity of the text. There of tons of examples of this throughout the text like the way apostraphies are used to shorten words.|
|26:20||But the herdsmen of Gerar quarreled with Isaac’s herdsmen and said, “The water is ours!” So he named the well Quarrel because they quarreled with him.||But the herders of Gerar quarreled with those of Isaac and said, “The water is ours!” So he named the well Esek,because they disputed with him.||the herdsmen of Gerar quarreled with the herdsmen of Isaac, saying, “The water is ours!” So he named the well *Esek, because they contended with him.||I love the transliteration of the names of proper nouns. They don’t do it with all of them, but do do it where it makes sence. This is a translative decision, and I like it a lot.|
|29:17||Leah had delicate eyes, but Rachel was shapely and beautiful.||Leah had weakeyes, but Rachel had a lovely figure and was beautiful.||And Leah’s eyes were weak, but Rachel was beautiful of form and *face.||I immediately realised the distinction that had been made here.|
|31:53||The God of Abraham, and the gods of Nahor-the gods of their father-will judge between us.” And Jacob swore by the Fear of his father Isaac.||May the God of Abraham and the God of Nahor, the God of their father, judge between us.” So Jacob took an oath in the name of the Fear of his father Isaac.||“The God of Abraham and the God of Nahor, the God of their father, judge between us.” So Jacob swore by the fear of his father Isaac.||I The pluralisation of the gods (el) which makes translative sense given that chapter 1 was translated as plural.|
|32:26||Then He said to Jacob, “Let Me go, for it is daybreak.” But Jacob said, “I will not let You go unless You bless me.”||Then the man said, “Let me go, for it is daybreak.” But Jacob replied, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.”||Then he said, “Let me go, for the dawn is breaking.” But he said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.”||Another example of capitalisation of a Theophony.|
|33:19||He purchased a section of the field from the sons of Hamor, Shechem’s father, for 100 qesitahs, where he had pitched his tent.||For a hundred pieces of silver,he bought from the sons of Hamor, the father of Shechem, the plot of ground where he pitched his tent.||He bought the piece of land where he had pitched his tent from the hand of the sons of Hamor, Shechem’s father, for one hundred *pieces of money.||Quesitahs. Going to have to go away and add that to my Biblical dictionary.|
|43:34||Portions were served to them from Joseph’s table, and Benjamin’s portion was five times larger than any of theirs. They drank, and they got drunk with Joseph.||When portions were served to them from Joseph’s table, Benjamin’s portion was five times as much as anyone else’s. So they feasted and drank freely with him.||He took portions to them from *his own table, but Benjamin’s portion was five times as much as any of theirs. So they feasted and drank freely with him.||This was interesting spin on a story I’ve read a number of times before. Maybe a little more cutting that I expected.|
|46:25||These were the sons of Bilhah, whom Laban gave to his daughter Rachel. She bore to Jacob: seven persons.||These were the sons born to Jacob by Bilhah, whom Laban had given to his daughter Rachel—seven in all.||These are the sons of Bilhah, whom Laban gave to his daughter Rachel, and she bore these to Jacob; there were seven persons in all.||Now this raises a major concern I’ve got, the online HCSB doesn’t line up 100% with the printed HCSB I’ve received. In fact two of the verse I choose to highlight here weren’t the same in the two formats. This will be a big problem.|
|50:9||Horses and chariots went up with him; it was a very impressive procession.||Chariots and horsemenalso went up with him. It was a very large company.||There also went up with him both chariots and horsemen; and it was a very great company.||I much prefer this rendering.|