Well, good morning. My name is Martin. I'm the rector of Christ Church, Midrand. It's a great joy and privilege for me to be with you at Jesmond Parish Church, this Sunday morning, your Education Sunday. Normally I'm with you at least once a year. Unfortunately, due to COVID, we haven't been able to do that, and I really missed being with God's people - my brothers and sisters at JPC. I said to someone the other day that COVID and lockdown is really a taste of hell. There is grief. The suffering there is loneliness. We’re cut off from fellowship from social relationships. We get angry, we get irritated. We get depressed. Well, that sounds to me a little bit like hell. Of course it will be a million times worse, which is a good reason for us to avoid it. We've read from Deuteronomy 6 from the Old Testament, and I would just like us to pick up two or three verses in 2 Timothy, 2 Timothy 1.5 and 2 Timothy 3.14. 2 Timothy 15 Paul writes to Timothy his disciple, and he says:
I'm reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, dwells in you as well.
And then in 2 Timothy 3.14, Paul continues to speak of Timothy's childhood. And he says:
But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood, you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.
Well, let's pray as we come to God's word and you may want to turn back to Deuteronomy 6. Let's pray:
Father, your word tells us that the Bible is a light to our feet and a lamp to our path. And so Father, we do pray that as we consider your wor that by your spirit, you may enlighten our hearts and our minds and above all that, you may draw us closer to Christ. Amen.
Now, before we dig into Deuteronomy 6, let me just make two, two comments. First of all, just a little bit about my background for those who don't know me, you need to know I'm not a teacher or an educator. In fact, I studied law and practiced as a lawyer before I went into pastoral ministry. It's called from law to grace. But I've always been passionate, not only about the gospel and the church, but passionate about Christian education. So my wife and I planted the church at Christ Church Midrand in 1994. And then we started a Christian school actually for our daughters. And we started that in 1997, we started with six children and the school has grown and we now have over 600 children from grade, triple 0 to grade 12. Many of whom have gone to university and have done very well.
Then in 2010, we started a school in the neighboring township called Thembisa. The school is called Nokuphila School, which means place of life. And we started started the school for the most vulnerable children in Thembisa, children infected and affected by HIV AIDS. And we now have over 380 children from grade triple 0 to grade seven. And what you need to know, unlike in the UK, neither of those schools are funded by the government. So Christ Church school is funded through the fees and then Nokuphila School is funded through fundraising, which means that my passion for education has included a great deal of blood, sweat, and tears. We also started a teacher training college for preschool teachers and we have 10 centres around the country where we train preschool teachers for two years. They graduate with an accredited diploma and thus far we have graduated 500 students and we have 200 in the pipeline. So arguably, we have had a significant influence in 700-800 preschools around the country, which is a great, great privilege for us.
My second comment is just to publicly thank everyone listening this morning, watching, who have given their time, their energy, their lives to educating other people. This is education Sunday, and it is right for me too. Thank you for what you have done in the education of other people. So that may be teachers, that may be head teachers or principals, that may be support staff, maybe lecturers, Sunday, school teachers, youth leaders. Thank you for your commitment. Thank you for your energy. Thank you for your time, your gifts, your talents, your life to teach and form and disciple others. It's one of the most, most important functions in our society. To train the next generation. So thank you for what you have done for all of us. Thank you for what you do.
The things that we can't do you have done for us. Thank you for your blood, sweat, and tears. Thank you for not being ashamed to be known as a Christian, only eternity will tell the fruit of your labours. Well, let's get into our passage. Deuteronomy 6. The talk that I have got will be divided into two headings. We'll be having a look at our challenge and then our response. So let's have a look.
1. Our Challenge
Hear O Israel: The LORD, our God, the LORD is one. You should love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart.
Now you may well know that verse four is called the Shema, the creed of Judaism, and it's recited daily by every Orthodox Jew. It tells us that there is only one True God. And then verse five, it tells us that we are to love the Lord, your God with all your heart, soul and might, notice, not just believe in him, not just acknowledge him, but love him.
You remember when Jesus was asked, what is the greatest commandment? He quoted verse five and then he added to it and he said, the second is like, it love your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22.39). Which means that you and I, we, we are, I am my brother's keeper, especially my younger brother or my youngest sister, which is what we read in Deuteronomy 6.7-9:
You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your Gates.
I've often wondered whether Deuteronomy 6.9, isn't a Biblical basis for graffiti, but what this passage means is that we as Christian adults, Christian parents, Christian churches have a huge responsibility, have a huge duty, have a huge privilege to train and disciple the younger generation, especially in the knowledge of God.
One of the hallmarks of the reformation in the 1500s was the passion for education, for Christian education for Christian schools, for both boys and girls. Martin Luther said, I quote:
What would it profit us to possess and perform everything else and be like pure saints. If we meanwhile, neglected our chief purpose in life, namely the care of the young…to bring young people to a knowledge of God
So our duty from Deuteronomy from Martin Luther is perfectly clear. It's perfectly obvious. Our challenge is doing it in 2021. And for you doing it in the UK, in Europe, which is very secular and very hostile to the gospel. Africa of course is very different. Things are changing, but Christianity is still seen in a positive light. In most Sub-Saharan African countries. We still have huge opportunities in the public square. We still have freedom to start and grow Christian schools and Christian institutions and Christian platforms. We still have huge freedom to openly speak and preach biblical truth in all areas, especially areas of gender or sexuality or marriage or family that is not.
So in your context, I don't need to tell you that your context is aggressively hostile to Christianity, to Christian truth and the Christian gospel. Your secular context is positively anti-Christian. I think it's Christ-phobic. People hate Christ in the public square like schools and universities. There are, there are biblical truths, you know you cannot say, you cannot speak. It's not called hate speech. It could become a crime. You know, far better than I do that. There are many things you can no longer say. You can no longer express. You can no longer publicly speak about things concerning marriage or sexuality or gender or family. And if you do from a Christian perspective, you may well be called to explain yourself, to defend yourself. And in many cases you may be fighting for your life, for your job, for your livelihoods. It's hostile, it's aggressive and there's no mercy.
I often tell our church family, here in Christ, church Midrand that they need to subscribe to the Christian Institute and get the weekly newsletter to find out what's what's happening in Europe and the UK so that we can prepare ourselves. So that we can be ready when these things start happening here in South Africa. Recently I've been reading some very helpful books to help me understand what's happening in the waste. And probably three of the most helpful. One has been a book by Carl R. Truman called The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self. Another helpful book has been by Rod Dreher called, Live not by Lies. And a third book written, not by Christians, but by two non-Christians, Helen Pluckrose and James Lindsey, called Cynical Theories. So there's our challenge. Our challenge is that our biblical duty is to disciple and to train and to grow and to teach the younger generation, our children in the ways of God. But our context is profoundly hostile in doing so brings us to our second point:
2. Our Response
We need to be smart. You need to be wise as serpents. We need to, we need to learn from history. We need to learn from the persecuted church in the first three centuries. When the Christian Church was viciously persecuted, we need to learn. In terms of what they did and how they survived and how they thrived. We need to learn from churches who lived and thrived under Soviet communism and Eastern Europe. What did they do? How did they grow? How did they share their faith? We need to learn from brothers and sisters in China, who today are being persecuted for their faith. So there's much to learn. Persecution. Isn't new to the Christian Church. It's new to us, but we can learn a great deal from church history and do our homework.
Let me, let me suggest two things that we must do. There are probably many others, but here are at least two. Number one, I think we need to build a gospel ecosystem. An ecosystem as you well know, is a friendly, positive environment for the growth of something. Well, that's precisely what we need as Christians for our children, for our young people, for Christian families and environment, within a hostile context that assists Christian growth, Christian flourishing. I think that's what Moses had in mind yet in Deuteronomy 6 notice not only Deuteronomy 6.5, must we love the Lord, our God, but Deuteronomy 6.6, it needs to impact our hearts. Not only Deuteronomy 6.7 must we teach our children God's word and God's truth, but Deuteronomy 6.7-8, we need to surround our children with Christian truth, verbally, visually, or audibly. They must see it in our lives, our behavior, our relationships. That's a key. I know we've learned some new tricks doing teaching online and by zoom, but nothing can beat the profound impact of learning through personal relationships.
If I was to put Moses as words in contemporary language, I think our children need a gospel ecosystem. They need to hear the gospel, understand the gospel. They need to see a credible gospel model in front of them, around them, behind them. Now I'm not saying we must cut ourselves off from the world. We are to be in the world, but not of the world. Our children and young people get enough of the world through media and social media and through their peers and through the political legal environment.
In my African context, we've tried to use three legs in our ecosystem; the Christian family, the Christian Church, and the Christian school. We tried to build a Christian community into in which we can grow seedlings and young plants, and we need to work hard at sustaining all three. I think the Christian family is still the most effective and powerful means of growing young disciples. Never underestimated the power of a healthy Christian family or a relatively healthy Christian family. We don't get it all right. There was Timothy. He was influenced by his grandmother Lois, by his mother Eunice. In our church we have lots of new babies all the time and I privately privately call it the first principle of church growth, but don't tell anyone.
With your kids, you can't stop peer pressure. That's a given, but you can influence who their peers are. It's important that you see that they get to Sunday school, get to youth group and youth activities, that they get to kids camp and teen camps and youth events and conferences. You bear the fruit in the longterm. I know there that there are many parents here at JPC. You can testify to that. The energy and effort they put into their children, teenagers has borne fruit years later. And if your children are not following Christ and sadly, that is the case with some of us. Do you remember two things? Number one, children are sinners in their own, right. It's important to remember that, often have parents come to my study and asked, where did we go wrong? Now, of course, there are no perfect parents, but we must remember that children are sinners in their own right. The second thing we must remember is you never know when they will turn to Christ. It may even be after you've died. So keep praying. So there's the first thing, our response gospel ecosystem.
Second last principle is gospel intentionality. Have a look again at two Timothy 3.14-15, Paul wrote this:
But as for you, continue in what you have learned and a firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood, you have been, you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.
Paul reminds Timothy of those who taught him the gospel. He reminds Timothy of how he knew the gospel from childhood, but in particular, he reminds Timothy how the scriptures made him wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. So we need a gospel intentionality. We want to share Christ. We want people to come to know Christ. We want people to come to salvation. Of course, we want to make the gospel winsome and attractive, but our failure’s because it must be crystal clear. I think the unwritten motto of every school in the world is to prepare children for life. The unwritten motto I have for our schools is to prepare children for life and death, which means the Bible, which means the gospel because only the gospel can prepare us for both life and death. As chairman of different boards of governors, I often speak to our governors. I speak to the senior staff and I sometimes remind them of who we are. And I say to them at the centre of every school, it's actually true of every institution at the centre of every school is something. It may be sports results, it may be academic results, it may be arts or culture, it may be money, it may be power. There'll be something at the centre of that school. Our centre is none of those. Our centre is not even Christian values, Christian ethos, or a Christian worldview, as critical as those are. And they are, but our centre is Christ. Our centre is Christ. That's why we do what we do.
Now, if you're involved in education here in the UK, I have no idea how practically you have a gospel intentionality where you work, none at all. I'm in Africa, you're in the UK context of vastly different, but I do know that you will have to be smart and you will have to be very smart. I do know that you will need to be as wise as serpents and as gentle as doves. And we need to remember both. I do know you need you'll need the wisdom of Solomon, so you will need to pray and ask God for wisdom. Perhaps you need to gather around you other Christian teachers at your school, not only to pray together, but to strategize together, to work together so that you can have a gospel intentionality, never underestimate the power of one Christian. Never underestimate the power of God's word, never underestimate the power of God's spirit. Right?
I'll tell you a story of a man called Andris. Andris went to Sunday school as a child in the township. When he turned 12, 13, he stopped going to church. He stopped going to church activities. When he was 18 or 19, he went through some major emotional problems, a major crisis. And at that time he turned to God. He remembered what he'd learned at Sunday school. Today he's one of our ministers. He's a lecturer at a Bible college. He's doing his PhD in theology. Now here's the catch, I don't think, those Sunday school teachers know that he was probably naughty at Sunday school. He probably didn't listen or seem to listen. They don't know what's happened to him. They will only find out in heaven, never underestimate. A Christian example, a Christian word, a Christian act of love, a Christian strategy to share the gospel. Well, let's pray:
Father, we thank you so much for those who shared the faith and the gospel with us. All of us Lord can think of family members, a friend, perhaps a teacher. Thank you, Lord for their faithfulness. Thank you for the love. Thank you that they persevered with us. They prayed for us. Lord, will you help us to do the same? Will you help us that our labours for Christ, wherever you've placed us, that you may use them to grow your kingdom. And we pray these things for Christ's sake. Amen.