Month: January 2015

Yes, you can achieve plenty, but not at the expense of your faith

So when Jesus heard these things, he said to him, “You still lack one thing. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” Luke 18: 22

To whom much is given, much is expected. This was the theme that accompanied the message of following Christ during service on Sunday, 11 January. As the new year gets underway, members were asked to reflect on the resolutions they had made regarding their spiritual growth. Shepherd Lance Smith said often we are focused on setting goals for our natural life, and while there is nothing wrong with this, our material goals and accomplishments should not be at the expense of our faith and spiritual growth.

Explaining the Bible verse used for the service, the shepherd said the rich young man who came to Christ described himself as a person who had always obeyed the law (10 commandants). However, his line of questioning also revealed some uncertainty as to whether he had thereby already gained eternal life. And he also showed interest in life after death—in other words, he was looking beyond the confines of the purely human domain. Therefore Christ said to him: “You still lack one thing. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.”

“Why did he have to surrender everything? Why was that important at the time,” asked the shepherd, continuing by explaining that he needed to grow spiritually. “How have we grown spiritually,” he then asked, “How have we surrendered?”

The shepherd reminded us that God does not say, “do not aspire to great things”, but asks us to also aspire to obtain eternal life. “Our life should not just be about being the CEO or about wealth, it should be about much more. We should say we have achieved great things because we are serving Christ. We must bring Christ to the centre of our achievements.”

He also said that following Christ means we have a certain responsibility to use the gifts and talents given to us. “We must multiply our talents, create opportunities, and talk about our faith using different methods. In doing this, we become stronger in faith, we receive the benefits of Christ and we find joy in Christ.

A heartwarming reprimanding

Evangelist David Cooks said that the text word was a heartwarming reprimanding from God, reminding us of what needs to be done. “Yes, we have emotional and material needs overtaking us, but we need a shift in priorities. We need to realign ourselves, refocus and put God first. Ask yourself, do I still start and end my day with God, and before a meal, do I thank God for what I have and what I don’t have?”

God’s desire, he continued, is that we should be found worthy, and so ask yourself, he said, if Christ had to return today, would you be found worthy. “Weigh up your circumstances, prioritise, and see where you fall short. It’s not like the old days where you have to leave everything – God does need us to sustain our natural lives as much as he needs us to do his work.”

The shepherd added: “We are reminded to prepare every day to accumulate wealth in heaven … To follow Christ is to give to one another, to follow Christ is to serve one another. To follow means we need to surrender things, we need to grow beyond the law (10 commandments), we need to grow spiritually. Let it be our task this year. Ask God to guide you, and if you ask the question, let us be ready to receive the answer from God. As you achieve, do what is necessary to achieve eternal life. As we read in Galatians, we have been given spiritual gifts of love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control; let us allow the holy spirit to grow within us. Following Christ means we build on the fruits of the spirit and have joy in everything we do.”

* Adapted from the divine service held at Midrand Congregation on Sunday, 11 January 2015.

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The bride can be recognised by her love

And this commandment we have from Him: that he who loves God must love his brother also. 1 John 4: 21

Those who love the Lord Jesus will know how they are supposed to act: they are to love God and their neighbour. That was the message delivered on Sunday, 4 January. As ministers elaborated on the message, members heard that the spirit glorified the Lord; our love for the Lord becomes stronger and stronger; and how does this love for God come to expression?

In the first days of the new year we are often curious as to what the future will bring. In one or the other, cares and fears may arise. At such times we need good advice! There is one to whom we can always turn for good counsel, namely the holy spirit. Jesus expressed this as follows, “He will guide you into all truth … and He will tell you things to come” (John 16: 13). The holy spirit thus also speaks about the future – and our future is to be caught up to God on the day of the Lord.

In order that we may prepare ourselves for this future, the holy spirit guides us and helps us to know the Lord Jesus better and better. The better we know Jesus, the more we will love Him. The foundation for this insight—which leads to love—is the awareness of that which Jesus has done for us.

During the Christmas season in which we still find ourselves, people often talk about love, especially as they prepare for the celebration of Christmas—often referred to as the feast of love. When we talk about our preparation for the return of Christ, we are also talking about love! It is the commission of the Apostles to strengthen the bridal congregation in her love for Jesus Christ so that this love may prompt the corresponding actions. Let us remain in this love because “he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him” (1 John 4: 16). The worthiness of the bride will be measured by her love for God, for Jesus Christ, and her neighbour.

Our love for God comes to expression when we:

  • inquire into the will of God and make the endeavour to fulfil it – not by force, but out of love.
  • not only come to the Lord with petitions, but increasingly thank him with all our heart.
  • keep the vows we have made to God.

Our love for Jesus Christ comes to expression when we:

  • model our lives on the example of Jesus.
  • take his word – the gospel – seriously and put it into practice (John 14: 23)
  • look forward to his return and prepare ourselves for it.

Our love for our neighbour comes to expression when we:

help bear our neighbour’s burdens. Let us do this first and foremost in the congregation. This burden is comprised of everything that depresses us and prevents us from moving forward. This also means that we must perceive the suffering of our neighbour.

  • make time to listen to our neighbour.
  • intercede in prayer for our neighbour.

Our love for God – and thus also for Jesus Christ – can therefore never be separated from the love for our neighbour.

* Thoughts from the Chief Apostle

Motto for the year 2015: Joy in Christ

Yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation. Habakkuk 3: 18

Joy in Christ: this is the motto for the year 2015 which Chief Apostle Jean-Luc Schneider has addressed to the global congregation of all New Apostolic Christians. His intent here is to point to the strength and power that Christians can derive from their intimate relationship with the Son of God. Although no one—including the Chief Apostle—knows what the coming year will bring, we can nevertheless already set priorities now.

The New Year’s Day divine service with the church leader was eagerly anticipated in the District Church of North Rhine-Westphalia. Chief Apostle Schneider visited the congregation of Herne-Wanne-Eickel, where the large church building of the New Apostolic Church boasts seating for 1,000 people.

There he emphasised the importance of inner joy and referred to several specific examples to illustrate the point, for example, the joy in the congregations. Such joy can even be felt in a congregation that is small or in a congregation where the members have very different characters. “Let us be aware that God has brought us together in order to lead us into the kingdom of God together,” emphasised the Church leader.

However, the congregation is not merely to be a collection of consumers or clients, but rather a working community that depends upon each and every individual. Appreciating others, accepting them as disciples of Christ, helping along in the work of the congregation, these are just some ways in which we can increase our joy, explained the Chief Apostle.

“It is also something special for a congregation when a child is baptised,” he noted. “Jesus already stated that there is joy in heaven over one sinner who turns back to God in repentance. This same joy can also be felt by the congregation!”

Rejoicing together

“I am well aware that such a motto might seem somewhat removed from reality, given the prognoses for the future and the situations that prevail in various congregations,” said Chief Apostle Schneider, “but if that is how the conditions are, then they have been permitted by God! That is my firm belief.

“From time to time, I get the impression that it is easier to mourn together than to rejoice together. We human beings at times feel envious when someone else rejoices, but through the love of God we can all rejoice unconditionally with our neighbour. Just give it a try sometime,” challenged the Chief Apostle.

And everything is to revolve around the Lord. He has promised to come—this is and remains the goal of faith for New Apostolic Christians. He grants us grace, responds to our prayers, and gives us strength in our battle against sin.

Joy in daily life

The Chief Apostle also wished the believers much joy in their daily lives. “In consideration of the various daily circumstances, this is not always easy, but God will grant the necessary gifts and strength to do so,” he stated with great certainty.

“The coming year will not only bring tests and trials, but also many good things, like the help of God,” he encouraged the congregation. “We can likewise rejoice over our health and a bit more money,” said the Chief Apostle, “but the important thing is to make good use of that which God provides in the sense of the gospel.” He went on to add, “And if our neighbour rejoices, then we can rejoice right along with him!”

For the coming year, the Chief Apostle issued a new motto, Joy in Christ. The new internet magazine nac.today discusses the new annual motto and features Chief Apostle Jean-Luc Schneider’s New Year’s address.

* Adapted from Motto for the year 2015: Joy in Christ – La joie en Christ – Alegría en Cristo 

 

January 2015: An answer to all questions?

In many Christian circles there is a prevailing view that the Bible contains the answers to all questions and that it is possible to infer specific instructions from it for our conduct in every conceivable situation of life. Anyone who espouses this argument will have no trouble at all justifying the death penalty, for example. The problem with this is as follows: one chooses an isolated passage from the Bible, elevates it to the level of a dogma, and builds an entire doctrinal construct on its foundation. In the past, we did the same at times.

Today, however, we have a different understanding of holy scripture: one must see it as a whole. Many things from the Old Testament can only be properly understood when one reads them in the light of the New Testament and the teachings of Jesus. Then it will also become clear that not every biblical statement has the same value and application. For example, one must distinguish between things that are necessary and decisive for salvation, and things that are bound to their own time and only valid in a specific historical situation for the people who lived in that period.

We are not among those who believe that God has something to say about everything through the Bible, and that all of its contents have exactly the same applicability, level of priority, and importance. However, it is also clear that the Bible is not merely a book for antiquarians. It is still just as current for us today as it was in the past. It is indeed a book for our time—and is even relevant for twenty-first-century Christian life. It is worthwhile to read from it.

Thoughts from a divine service by the Chief Apostle

December 2014: Let yourself be called into question

We know that attending the divine services is associated with special blessing. We also know that we can experience the Lord Jesus there in a special way. He offers us the word of God in the sermon, He grants us forgiveness of sins, and He celebrates Holy Communion with us. He thus enters into our hearts. In order for this to occur, it is important for us to prepare ourselves accordingly. After all, who would want to receive a visit from a very important person without preparing appropriately beforehand?

A passage from Revelation has something worth considering to say about this. In one of the letters to the churches recorded there, the exalted Lord Jesus promises: “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me” (Revelation 3: 20).

That is the promise of the Lord Jesus.

I envision this as follows: Jesus Christ stands at the door of our hearts and knocks. Well, why wouldn’t we open the door for Him? One very simple reason for this might be that we did not hear Him knocking in the first place. Perhaps He has been knocking—or to use more modern language, perhaps He has been ringing the bell—and we have simply not heard Him. If that is the case, we will not open the door! The Lord Jesus wants to come to us every Sunday, every divine service, even in the middle of the week. He knocks upon the door of our hearts. But if we want to hear the knocking of the Lord, we must see to it that there is sufficient peace and quiet in our hearts. That is our task! If there is too much noise, if everything else is too loud in there, then there is also a danger that we might not even hear the Lord Jesus knocking in the first place!

Perhaps this is only a simple image, but if we think about it for a moment, we realise that it is very applicable. After all, there are many things that can prevent our hearts from being at peace. Our daily lives keep us quite occupied. Perhaps there are various cares in our hearts. Perhaps we have to deal with illness or other matters that burden us.

Allow me to illustrate another obstacle with the following example: when someone rings the doorbell at our home, it may well be that we do not wish to be disturbed, so we do not open the door. Perhaps we choose not to open the door for the Lord Jesus because we do not wish to be disturbed. In other words: we do not open the door because we might be called into question. Perhaps it will not be all that pleasant if Jesus happens to come at this moment. After all, one might already have an inkling beforehand: “Oh, He is only going to tell me what I am doing wrong and what I am supposed to change.” And perhaps we do not feel like changing. Perhaps we do not want to be called into question. And so the door of our heart remains closed, just because we do not wish to change. Therefore let us already look inside ourselves before the divine service and tell ourselves: “I do want to listen to Jesus and I do want to change!”

Every now and then it is worthwhile for us to ask ourselves the question: “What am I lacking anyway? What do I still need in order to prepare myself for the day of the Lord? What am I lacking in order for me to have peace, to be happy, to regain my spiritual equilibrium?” Most of the time we will notice that we are still lacking a great deal. And then all of a sudden we will come to the divine services with holy longing and we will open our hearts to the Lord. Then we will hurry to open the door because we know: “Finally I will receive what I am lacking!” That is how our preparation for the divine service could look! Let us see to it that peace and quiet prevails in our souls in order that we may hear the Lord knocking. And let us have the desire to change, let us gladly let the Lord call us into question. And let us accept the things we still lack with great longing such that peace may grow within us. Then the Lord will give us what we need.

* From a divine service by the Chief Apostle

November 2014: To serve is to testify

One day the Lord went to Galilee with His disciples. There He told them that He would have to suffer and die. The Lord also told them that He would resurrect a short time later. In Mark we read that the disciples did not understand Him. The disciples had seen the miracles that Jesus had performed. They had seen the people flock to Him. Three of the disciples—Peter, James, and John—had even witnessed the transfiguration of the Lord just a short time before. So when they arrived in Capernaum, Jesus asked the disciples what they had been disputing about on the road. As it turned out, they had been discussing who was the greatest among them. After all, once Jesus had revealed Himself in His glory, they too would profit somewhat from His glory as His disciples—at least, that is what they might have been thinking secretly. That was why the disciples were discussing who would have the highest position once Jesus was Lord and King (cf. Mark 9: 30-34). It is not much different today. Nowadays, people behave in very much the same fashion: when they find out that someone is about to become very powerful, they want to be very good friends with him.

How is it with us? We have decided to follow and serve the Lord. But did we also understand Him? What is our motivation for following and serving the Lord? I propose the following test: if we want to discover our true motivation for following the Lord, all we have to do is look at our conversations. Let us ask ourselves the question that Jesus asked His disciples: “What was it you disputed among yourselves on the road?” How do we talk about our neighbour? If we spend all our time accusing our neighbour, we demonstrate that we have not understood the Lord. If we have truly understood the Lord, we will speak differently about our neighbour. We will defend our neighbour and not accuse him.

How do we talk about our Church? Let us talk about what the Lord does in His Church, let us not just see the Church as an organisation and spend our time complaining about all the things that don’t work. If we have understood what the Lord is doing in His work, we will not spend any time on unnecessary discussions and complaints.

The disciples were discussing who was the greatest among them. How much energy do we spend on showing others how important and useful we are? When you listen to some people, you notice that they spend a great deal of time trying to show how much they have done and how good they are. We usually think very highly of ourselves. Let us not discuss who is the greatest among us. Jesus settled the dispute among His disciples this way: “If anyone desires to be first, he shall be last of all and servant of all.”

All New Apostolic Christians must serve their fellow human beings by making their lives a testimony for Christ. If it is our desire to serve all in the Church, then we must bear the burdens of our neighbour. If we seek to serve all in the Church, we will have to comfort our brothers and sisters when misfortune befalls them, pray for them when they are weak, and encourage them when they are in need. Let us help them grow in faith by testifying to them of the gospel.

As children of God, we can all perform this service: let us make our lives a testimony of the gospel, bear the burdens of our brother or sister, and contribute to the edification of the Church.

* From a divine service by the Chief Apostle

October 2014: A small contribution

Harvesting is always a beautiful thing: a seed has grown, has brought forth fruit, and can now be enjoyed or made into a noble beverage, a delicious loaf of bread, or a delightful meal. Some fruit requires a great deal of care and patience, and a great deal of effort, before it can finally be harvested. Other fruit grows without our help and care. We can simply pick it from the trees and bushes. But behind all of this is the blessing that God has placed into the visible creation, a blessing which has lost none of its power to this day.

And what about the invisible creation? It is also subject to the law of sowing, reaping, and harvesting.

God has established His church on earth. He has established the work of redemption and provided all the conditions for it to develop in accordance with His will.

He has sent His Son to become Man and has laid the foundation for redemption through the sacrifice of His Son. He has given His church the apostolate, along with the sacraments that make it possible for mankind to obtain salvation. Everything has come, and still comes, from Him.

We could look at everything as mere spectators and say: “How wonderful to see what God has done! Now all we have to do is wait until everything is ready to be harvested.”

Of course, we also pray for it and we go to the divine services, but is that really enough? Is it enough to say after the divine service: “That was a beautiful sermon, and I really enjoyed the choir today …?”  I don’t think so.

In the end it is important for us to be ripe—to stay in keeping with this theme—at the time of the harvest. This does not happen all by itself. We need to do our part for this too. We need to work on ourselves and make sure that the new creation in Christ can grow within us, that the nature of Christ can take shape within us, and that all the good gifts God has given us can develop within us. That is our contribution. It is only a small contribution compared to what God does, but a contribution that we should not underestimate.

The old Adam cannot enter into the kingdom of God. It is impossible. Therefore, we have to work on ourselves.

In large part, our work is to fulfil the vow that we made to the Lord on the day of our confirmation: “I renounce Satan and all his work and ways”—not because we are afraid of punishment, but because there is no room for sin in the kingdom of God, because sin prevents us from becoming worthy, because the work and ways of the Devil threaten to overgrow the good fruit that needs to ripen—just like weeds.

Just as everyone is responsible for his own maturity and worthiness, we are also asked as a community to contribute to the harvest. It is our task as a community, as a congregation, to comfort our brother, assist our sister, help them, pray for them and support their efforts to become worthy, to remain faithful through trials and tribulations, and not to lose courage or hope in times of disappointment. When the time of harvest approaches, all hands are needed. Everyone needs to help along. And when our heavenly Father blesses our small contribution, the harvest will be plentiful.

* From a divine service by the Chief Apostle

September 2014: The Lord knows your story

You and I, we have been called by God. We cannot yet truly fathom the full scope of what this actually means, but we know that God also knows those whom He calls. God knows us. He knows you and He knows me—inside out. He knows your entire life. He knows your circumstances of life. He knows your past and your present. He simply knows everything about you. He knows every step you take, every thought that crosses your mind. He simply knows everything. He knows your whole story. And because He knows you, He has called you—just as you are, with all your mistakes and weaknesses. Why? Because He loves you. Because He loves me. It’s as simple as that.

What is the objective of His calling? Or in other words, for what purpose have we been called? First of all, He has called us in order to follow Christ. After all, He wants us to enter into His kingdom, and we will get there very easily if we follow the path that Jesus takes, and upon which He invites us to follow Him: “Come, follow me!” (Matthew 19: 21). And if we follow Him, we will enter His kingdom. We are called to enter the kingdom of God by following the path of Jesus Christ.

But God has also called us for another purpose: we are called in order to be a blessing for others. This is always part of divine calling. God elects people and nations in order that they may be a source of blessing for others (cf. Genesis 12: 2).

We are numbered to a people that has been called in order to proclaim the greatness of God (1 Peter 2: 9). We are called to proclaim the gospel, to be a blessing for our relatives, our friends, our neighbours, our people, and even our country. We are called to proclaim Jesus Christ and His sacrifice, both today and later on in the kingdom of peace. Is this not a wonderful calling, namely to be a blessing for so many? And I will say it again: being called means that God knows your story! He knows you inside out. He tells you: “You can indeed be a blessing for others!” Isn’t that marvellous?

At times we have reservations and slight doubts when we reflect upon ourselves, and we ask ourselves: “How am I supposed to be a blessing? Impossible.” Not so! God has called you precisely because you are you! He has called me because I am me—because you and I can be a source of blessing for others.

Then there is also a third reason for our calling: you are to be a joint heir with Christ (Romans 8: 17)! That means that you will receive the same as Christ! We will share His glory with Him. That is the will of the Father. He wants us to share glory with Him. We were called in order to be joint heirs with Christ. We cannot even imagine what this means. Jesus Christ has overcome hell, death, and the devil—and He wants to share His victory with us!

When we reflect on this dimension of having been called by God—in order to enter into His kingdom—we see that we can indeed be a source of blessing for many other people and that they too can therefore experience the glory of Christ. This is the grace and love of our God. The more we become aware of the grace and love of God, the more we will be aware of what God wishes to give His elected people, and the more we will recognise how great the love of God really is.

* From a divine service by the Chief Apostle

August 2014: Proclaiming the gospel with the Lord

Recently I found an astonishing passage in the gospel of John. Here Apostle Thomas says: “Let us also go, that we may die with Him” (John 11: 16). These words are not terribly encouraging. They do not offer a very happy outlook, and yet they are among the most beautiful words in the gospels. This is because they relate to a particular phase in the life of our Lord Jesus. Shortly before his sufferings, Jesus was called to Bethany—the place where Mary, Martha, and Lazarus lived—and received the news that His friend Lazarus had become ill: “Lord, behold, he whom You love is sick” (John 11: 3).  Then Jesus said to His disciples: “Let us go to Judea again” But the disciples said: “Rabbi, lately the Jews sought to stone You, and are You going there again?” (John 11: 7-8). The Jews had attempted to stone Jesus several times. The disciples did not understand: on the one hand, Jesus wanted to go back to Judea even though it was dangerous, and on the other hand, He wanted to go to Lazarus, even though the latter had already died in the meantime. This no longer made any sense to them. But then Thomas said: “Let us also go, that we may die with Him!” With these words, Thomas encouraged the other disciples to follow the Lord even into death.

Let us not allow the Lord to go alone. Let us go with Him in order to proclaim the gospel! Jesus found Himself in a special situation, and so did the disciples. He had a message to deliver, and no one wanted to hear it. Indeed it was even dangerous to proclaim the gospel. The message of the gospel must be delivered, however. God wants all mankind to hear it.

Today the gospel is not met with agreement in all quarters. Although we are not likely to be stoned for proclaiming it, we do meet with strong resistance at times. People try to explain to us that the gospel of Christ is no longer relevant. It appears to be so outdated to believe that Jesus will come again. It no longer appears relevant to our time when we say that we need forgiveness of sins. It no longer seems relevant to say that there are living Apostles. Many take offence to this message. But the world needs to hear it nevertheless. Even if there are not many who still want to hear it today, this message must continue to be preached, it must continue to spread—and that is why the Lord needs us.

Let us go with the Lord in order to proclaim the gospel. The disciples were prepared to go with the Lord. They were well aware of the risks associated with this: if the Lord were to be arrested, there would be trouble for them as well.

Today one might say: “We are Christians. We are New Apostolic Christians. But if we do not tell anyone about this, people will leave us alone. After all, people do not want to hear about it anyway!” No! Let us not remain in the shadows! Let us clearly profess our faith and say: “We are Christians! We believe in Jesus Christ. For us the gospel is divine truth. We believe in the return of Christ. We believe in the commission of His Apostles.” Let us go with Jesus in order to proclaim the gospel, and let us profess our faith! That is what Thomas recognised in his time, and that is also what he called upon the other disciples to do. Let us go with Jesus, even if this is associated with risks, even if we must live through certain inconveniences and troubles, even if one or the other laughs at us, even if we are attacked.

* From a divine service with the Chief Apostle