The last month in South Africa has been a really rough one.
Melanie Verwoerd, a former ANC MP and South African Ambassador to Ireland wrote an article that I read in this past week. She said,
“I think we can all agree that it was tough to be a South African over the last two weeks. We had to face the violent undercurrent that runs through our nation. Men in particular continue to turn on the weak and vulnerable – children, women and foreigners. As the extent of this became more and more evident over the last few weeks it was really hard to stay positive.”
Is that perhaps the sentiments you have about our country as well? Is it really hard, and getting harder to stay positive?
In the midst of all that, we have had for years what seems like a steady, sad melody in the background telling us that it’s getting lonelier and lonelier here. Every few weeks another news article comes out saying that South Africa is haemorrhaging, bleeding good people, hard-working, decent folk, and leaving the country to trouble-makers who will prey more regularly on you and I who are left.
The masses are leaving, they tell us, and anybody who stays behind is a fool who doesn’t understand the times.
I don’t know about you, but that does make me feel like South Africa is not in a good place – like I am not in a good place, like my family is not in a good place.
In these turbulent times, we need a place to stand and be secure. We need a rock that we can hold onto so we don’t get swept over the waterfalls of despondency and depression. We need a hand to steady us so we don’t fall under the weight of the troubles.
What is that rock; what is that hand? Friends, it is God’s Word to you and me, the Bible.
As a young person there’s pressure on me to move. Family and friends and friends’ family have told us to look elsewhere: Look to Australia, look to America, look to England; go somewhere where there’s a hope and a future for you and your kids.
But there’s no guarantees of a better hope or future elsewhere than here. Certainly, it’s not safer or better if God hasn’t told you to be there instead of here. And, as one writer I read said, sometimes I’ve been surprised at how quickly Christians will move their families from one location to another without much thought or prayer.
There are always reasons--they got a better job offer, they like the area, they want to get away from the crowded city and the crime, they want a better place to raise kids, etc. Some of those factors are worth considering, of course.
But at times it seems that Christians hardly consider the Lord and His purpose…Of course, there are times when God wants us to move. The question is, “How can I know whether God wants me to move or stay?”
Today’s message is entitled, I AM STAYING. And, the message is for you, even if you’ve already made the decision to move. It’s for you, even if you have family who have moved and you’re staying. You see, the point of this morning’s message is not about where you stay or move to, but about why you move, or why you stay.
We’re going to look at Acts 7 today. It’s a long chapter, we’re going to read some of it and explain the rest of it.
In this chapter we find Stephen – he’s one of the seven deacons chosen by the believers in the early Church, but he’s been arrested and is facing trial. Though the accusations against him are quite serious, his defence shows us a lot about how God works in and through history, in and through people, in and through circumstances; and shows us how God can work in and through our circumstances as well, to bring about His plan in the world.
Let’s read together from Acts 7, starting at verse 2.
[Read Acts 7:2-7]
I’m going to skip from verse 8 to verse 33 where we see the story of the Patriarchs, the story of Israel’s enslavement, the story of Moses – stories of real struggle and suffering for the people of Israel – God’s people. Let’s read verse 34.
[Read vs. 34]
This chapter is a complete illustration of what Paul teaches the Athenians in Acts 17: That God has an exact purpose that He’s been carrying out since the days of Adam: That “From one man [God] made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live.” WHY? “God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us.”
From this we learn that God’s plan through history is not to give you comfortable circumstances, but rather to make Himself known to every person in such a way that they’d reach for Him and find Him!
And to that purpose He has put you here, and He has put you here now.
So, I want to say again that the point of this morning’s message is not about where you stay, but about why you stay there – or stay anywhere. Why are you where you are?
What matters is where your heart is. So, today I’m going to give you a couple of statements that I want you to pause and consider, whether you are staying here or going there.
First of all,
1. I Believe that God is All-Powerful
Do you believe that?
In Acts 7, Stephen starts out by calling God the God of glory (vs. 3). Then He builds a picture of this God of glory who works through all of history through all circumstances to bring about His plan.
Do you believe that God is All-Powerful? Do you call Him the God of glory? Do you believe that, as the All-Powerful One, He has a right to decide your fate, your family’s fate, and that you have no power even to question why He does what He does?
Many of us like to say that the LORD is All-Powerful. But what we really mean is that He is All-Powerful as it relates to Him accomplishing my plans in life, not that He is All-Powerful to accomplish at all times His plans in the world.
Saying that the LORD is All-Powerful also requires us to step into His plan, rather than asking Him to step into ours.
When we step into His plan, we can also know that the All-Powerful One protects us as we go about His plan. This gives me an incredible amount of courage to obey Him.
I can tell you so many stories of how the LORD has protected and provided for me as I’ve walked in obedience to His ways, but I’ll tell you just one: [Story of fasting].
Do you believe that our God is All-Powerful – 1) That He gets to decide the course of history, not me; and 2) That as I step into His plan, He is able to provide for and protect me and my family?
Second of all,
2. I Believe that God is Good
Do you believe that God is good?
When God called Abraham to pack up his things and move from his home to go to another country, He gave Abraham promises of good things. He promised Abraham land, descendants, and that through him all the world would be blessed.
Some of us believe that God is good – for others. But not for me. When God looks at me, He’s just looking for all my flaws; all the reasons why He should hit me over the head with His great, big Discipline Stick.
Do you believe that God has good in store for you, that He does, as Jeremiah 29:11 says and is so often misunderstood, have a plan for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future?
Sometimes, because we don’t believe that, we try to go our own way and find our own best. But that doesn’t always work out well.
[Story of Lot and family] [Genesis 13:8-9 So Abram said to Lot, “Let’s not have any quarrelling between you and me, or between your herdsmen and mine, for we are brothers. Is not the whole land before you? Lets part company. If you go to the left, I’ll go to the right; if you go to the right, I’ll go to the left"]
Some moves to the best are not for the best.
Do you believe that if God makes a way for you to go to another land, that it’s for your good; if He calls you to stay, it’s for your good?
I believe that God is good – He is a good, good Father.
I love the angelic line that’s often repeated at Christmas. The angelic host appear to the shepherds and sing “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favour rests.” God gets the glory, and we get the peace. God wants to give us rest and peace and joy and hope and plenty and plenty more! He even wants to share His glory with us!
That’s a good, good God! He’s not hiding in the shadows waiting for you to do something wrong so He can punish you. He’s also not holding good things back from you until you reach His standard of holiness. He has good in store for you. Do you believe that?
Third of all,
3. I can accept that good doesn’t always mean comfortable
Okay, now we get to the ‘accept’ parts. The first two statements are ‘believe’ statements – something that is true whether I like it or not, but I actually do like that they are true! But the next four are ‘accept’ statements – something that I must choose to accept as true, even though I don’t always like that they are true.
So, I can accept that God is good and desires good for me and will give good to me even though that doesn’t always mean it’ll be comfortable for me.
In Stephen’s defence in Acts 7, we find the story of Joseph. God planned to show His power and mercy through saving all Israel from Egypt. But first He needed Israel to get to Egypt. That involved getting Joseph into a position of high influence there.
How would He go about it? It wasn’t a comfortable experience for Joseph, who was first hated by his brothers, then thrown into a pit to die, then sold into slavery, then thrown into a jail cell, then forgotten; and finally exalted to the second-place of power in the land.
God’s plan for good doesn’t always mean that life will be comfortable for me, but I can accept that it is still good. And where we find ourselves uncomfortable, that might mean that God is using that discomfort to lead us to where He wants us (example of a garden).
Don’t fear or hate the lack – commit it to God.
4. I can accept that my security is in God
After telling the story of how God brought all Israel into Egypt, their four hundred years of bondage and their crying to God for deliverance, Stephen introduces the next big character in the story: Moses.
Moses was born an Israelite, raised in the palace as a child of Pharaoh, and then ran away as a murderer. As he fled for his life I don’t doubt he never thought he’d see Egypt again because if he went back he’d probably die.
But in verse 34 we see God saying to Moses, ‘Now come, I will send you back to Egypt.’
Moses hesitate and fought strongly against going back, but finally he relented and obeyed God’s instruction.
Think of the absurdity of it all: A wanted man with a message walking back to the Pharaoh of Egypt with his armies and saying, ‘Let God’s people go!’ There is absolutely no reason to believe Moses is going to walk out of that meeting alive.
But Moses had to accept that his physical security didn’t lie in his physical strength or even in armies, it rested in God.
Then Moses had to lead the Israelites for forty years through the desert. Again, where would the provision come from for such an endeavour? From God alone. Moses had to trust that his food would come from God in due time. His security didn’t lie in his massive storage of food – because he had none – or in the nations around him – because none were friendly to them. His security was in God alone.
Friends, as we prepare for our move down to KZN we are acutely aware that we are going to have to rely on God to provide for us, through His people sometimes. But in what way are we less secure than anyone else?
In the past few years we’ve seen the fall of massive institutions and organisations. Companies that people think, ‘If I have a job there, at least it’s secure’, and then it falls apart.
Steinhoff, Bosassa, and other big-businesses that 10 years ago people might have thought would go on forever.
And it’s not a South African problem! Walmart is closing down stores, Bed, Bath & Beyond is closing down dozens of stores, Sears has filed for bankruptcy, Starbucks is shutting 150 stores this year.
If you think you are secure financially because you are an employee of a big and established firm, friend – we’ve seen there’s no security in that!
If you think you are secure physically because you live behind a palisade fence and have an alarm system, friend – we’ve seen there’s no security in that.
If you think you would be safe by moving to a first-world country like New-Zealand or Canada, friend – we’ve seen there’s no security in that!
We can and we must accept that our security rests in the Lord, in God alone.
5. I can accept that I am not my own.
For this point I want to deviate a little bit from our Acts 7 passage and instead look at a few other verses that we need to allow to wrestle our hearts into the right place.
Paul says in 1 Corinthians 6:19-20: “You are not your own; you were bought at a price.” And what was that price? Peter tells us (1 Peter 1:18-19) that “God paid a ransom to save you from the empty life you inherited from your ancestors. And it was not paid with mere gold or silver, which lose their value. It was the precious blood of Christ, the sinless, spotless Lamb of God.”
Jesus died so that you would be His; ‘He died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again’ (2 Corinthians 5:15).
This is why that author I quoted at the beginning was so wound up. How can it be that a people who claim not to be masters of their own fate can move where they find most pleasing in their own eyes without even asking God if He has a different plan for their lives – lives which He purchased and paid for with His own blood.
If I ask Jesus to be my Saviour, then I must have Him as my Lord. That means, He gets to tell me what to do with my life, which He bought for Himself, which leads us to our final statement of faith:
6. I can accept that God can call me to go
If I am not my own, I have been bought with a price – and that price being the blood of Jesus – then whether I like it or not I have to accept that God gets to decide where I go and how I live, and where I live and how I go.
Isn’t that reasonable?
What kind of a kingdom would it be where every citizen pledges absolute allegiance to the king, but then whenever the king instructs a subject the person says, ‘No, not today, and probably never. Go bother someone else!’?
Have you settled it in your hearts, friends, that all you are and all you have belongs to God and that He can tell you to go if He wants to – and not just from apparent strength to apparent strength, but sometimes from apparent strength and apparent safety to apparent danger.
God may call you away from apparent security to apparent insecurity, as He did with Abraham; even to actual suffering as He did with Jesus and Paul (I will show him how much he must suffer for My Name)
God can and will do all this with His people, because He is All-Powerful and has a plan that stretches across all of time, not just your life. It’s because He gets the glory and we get the peace as we step into and stay in His plan.
So let me ask you, friends, do you believe these six statements with all your heart?
If you believe and accept these six statements, it really doesn’t matter whether you stay or go – you can know that you’re right in the centre of God’s will for your life.
In fact, despite the title of today’s sermon, because I believe these six statements, I’m NOT staying, I’m GOING.
When I started studying theology at the Baptist Theological College, God brought me to this Church in this neighbourhood. I began shepherding the people here, and I felt a deep connection here. I felt called to this work. In fact, I used to say that I felt more called to ministry at Wilro Park Baptist Church than to ministry in general, and if God called me away from this Church He might as well call me to a new career, because I have no distinct desire to do ministry anywhere else.
I believe that ministry means relationships, relationships means trust, and trust takes time. So being here for 2 years and moving on wasn’t an option. Being here for 5 years wasn’t an option. The plan, God willing, was to remain here until retirement.
What a blessing this has been: Nine years to be with the same pastoral team; nine years of ministry with Thulani; nine years to learn what discipleship means and start to implement it, and then to see those I disciple start to disciple others, and those start to disciple others; nine years to start getting to know the schools and the churches around here, see the needs and see the fruit of God meeting those needs.
We’ve been so blessed to be here. You knew me before I met Sarah, you walked with me until we got married, you’ve seen us have a child.
Some of you offered your homes when I moved from college to live closer, and I stayed with the Leaders for three months.
You’ve brought us meals when we needed them, prayed for us through hard times, rejoiced with us through good times.
You’re more than our friends, you’re our family.
But God says go. He’s taking us to a place where we have no family, to a job where we won’t be able to settle in a Church, to a work we’ve never done before.
But because we believe and accept these six statements, Sarah and I are going where He sends us. And we’re going confidently. And we’re going peacefully. We’re not going easily, because we love you all, but we’re going.
Where are we going? Let me show you a little clip:
Final statement: When considering a move, seek the Lord and His perspective above all else