Month: August 2015

New strength

But those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint. — Isaiah 40: 31

Message

Those who wait for the help of the Lord will receive new strength.

After the conquest and destruction of Jerusalem, many of the people of God were brought to Babylon. The Babylonian exile lasted nearly sixty years. During this period, the people at times had the feeling that they had been abandoned by God. Many were filled with a deep feeling of resignation. The promise of God that Israel would have an enduring home in Canaan was called into question. But God had not abandoned His people. He continued to speak to them through a prophet. The Lord renewed His promise and gave the people words of comfort so that they could overcome their hopelessness and dejection.

Our Bible text is the conclusion of an argument between the people and the prophet. To begin with, the prophet made it clear how incomparable and mighty God is. He cannot be judged by human standards, “The everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth, neither faints nor is weary. His understanding is unsearchable” (Isaiah 40:28). He makes it clear to the people that God is even capable of changing circumstances that seem impossible to change from a human point of view.

Our circumstances of life

We too find ourselves in situations that seem hopeless. Perhaps there are health difficulties, or problems in the family, at work, or in the congregation. Perhaps we even feel that we have been abandoned by God. Perhaps we have given up and no longer even bother to commend our cares to God in prayer. Perhaps we have been overcome by hopelessness. Perhaps we feel abandoned and alone. Perhaps we have no more strength to look for a way out.

In such situations we can apply this Bible text—which was originally addressed to the Jews—to ourselves. Let us remember God’s omnipotence and mercy, and “wait” upon Him, that is to say, let us depend on His help. Those who do so—as our Bible text makes clear—will receive new strength. They will receive the certainty that God is their helper, even in situations that seem hopeless. He can provide solutions that no one has ever thought of, or grant us the capacity to continue bearing our burdens.

Strength from the Lord

In poetic language, our Bible text speaks of the strength that is granted to those who trust in God, “They shall mount up with wings like eagles.” The image of flying imparts lightness and optimism. The leaden heaviness of hopelessness gives way to hope and trust in the Lord. The difficulties which we have here will be revealed as perfectly surmountable, or at least light enough to bear. Even if there is no way out and no solution, the knowledge of God’s power and aid nevertheless prevents us from despairing.

“They shall run and not be weary.” Here it becomes clear that hope in God’s help does not imply remaining passive. Rather, we receive new driving force, which encourages us to look for ways out and seek ways to overcome the difficulties.

Even if we do not succeed at first, and even if not all our problems disappear, let us trust in the strength of God nevertheless and continue to align our lives by His will.

The Bible text calls upon us to plan on God, to count on Him and incorporate Him into our lives, and to trust in His help. Through our permanent connection to the Lord—through trust, prayer, word, and sacrament—it will also become possible for us to “walk and not faint”.

 

* Thoughts from the Chief Apostle adapted for the divine service held on Sunday, 30 August 2015 at Midrand Congregation.

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God’s goodness and guidance

Your mercy, O Lord, is in the heavens; Your faithfulness reaches to the clouds. — Psalm 36: 5

Message

We experience God’s goodness and mercy, and commend ourselves to His guidance.

In our Bible text the psalmist compares the goodness and mercy of God with the incomprehensible breadth of the heavens—an image that is to help us visualize the magnitude of God and emphasize the difference between us human beings and the perfection and majesty of God. God is always greater than any idea that we can ever have of Him.

God’s greatness

In contrast to us, God is not subject to any constraints. There are no limitations for Him. God is not bound to time: to Him a day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years are as a day (2 Peter 3: 8). God’s providence has already prepared the way for our present an immeasurably long time ago. He provides for us daily, and at the same time, makes use of the present in order to prepare us for our future, namely the return of Jesus Christ, our work in the kingdom of peace, and our eternal fellowship with Him. We only have a tiny inkling of the future that God has in store for us.

God’s goodness and mercy

We experience God’s goodness and mercy in His love: it is on the basis of this love that God desires to lead us into the heaven of eternal fellowship with Him. The love of God was revealed in perfection in Jesus Christ. The Lord performed miracles in order to show that He had been sent by God for the salvation of mankind. In Jesus’ actions the boundless love of God is displayed: Jesus loved Zacchaeus, the sinner (Luke 19: 1–10), the centurion of Capernaum, a Gentile (Luke 7: 1–10), and Saul, the enemy who had persecuted Him (Acts 9: 4).

God’s guidance

Our Bible text is intended to strengthen our trust in God: now that we have experienced the immeasurable goodness and mercy of God in His love, let us commend ourselves completely to the guidance of God. God led the people of Israel out of Egypt and later out of exile from Babylon and back to Jerusalem. Each time He made use of human beings as instruments in His hand: on one occasion it was Moses, then it was the judges, then the prophets, and later the Apostles. Today too, the Apostles serve as vessels in the hand of God in order to lead human beings to “the redeeming act of God” (Catechism 7.4.1).

Our task

We trust in the guidance of God, but do not want to sit back and do nothing either! After all, God also wants to lead our neighbour into eternal fellowship with Himself. This entails that we must love the weak, those who are strange and foreign to us, and even our enemies (Matthew 5: 44) . Furthermore we must do good to our neighbour and show him the access to salvation, just as Philip once did for the treasurer from Ethiopia (Acts 8: 27–39).

In order to redeem humanity, God took roads that astonished and disconcerted many: he even granted salvation to Saul in order that he might serve Him. Today too, the ways of God are unsearchable (Romans 11: 33). Let us nevertheless always trust in Him!

* Thoughts from the Chief Apostle adapted for the divine service held on Sunday, 23 August 2015 at Midrand Congregation.

God blesses in abundance

Judge not, and you shall not be judged. Condemn not, and you shall not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. Give, and it will be given to you: good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over will be put into your bosom. — Luke 6: 37–38

Message

Those who are humble and merciful, and who are glad to give, will be richly blessed by God.

The remarks of Jesus contain advice that is worthwhile to heed in order to be blessed.

  • “Judge not.” Those who are humble will not elevate themselves as an example for others. They will not judge their neighbour for being different or for having a differing opinion. As an example, David did not judge Shimei (2 Samuel 16). We have no right to judge our neighbour; after all, only God knows his heart.
  • “Condemn not.” Even Jesus, who was without sin, did not condemn the adulteress (John 8: 11). We certainly do not have the right to condemn others—because we are sinners, just like them.
  • “Forgive.” Those who are compassionate—and who recognize that they themselves are sinners—will also be prepared to forgive. Thereby the law of Christ is fulfilled, “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ” (Galatians 6: 2). Let us not act like the wicked servant in Jesus’ parable, who did not forgive the debt of his fellow servant, even after his own much greater debt had been forgiven (Matthew 18: 28).
  • “Give.” Those who are humble and merciful know how important the grace of God is. Let us put the gifts we have been given into the service of our neighbour! It is important to learn to give like Jesus: out of love, without reward, and without calculation (John 4: 10; 6: 35).

God blesses

In order to grow into the nature of Jesus, let us act mercifully and compassionately as our Bible text describes: let us not judge, let us not condemn, but rather let us forgive and give. Such an attitude can be blessed by God.

And what does this blessing look like? Jesus used the image of a measuring cup to illustrate this. In order to get as much flour into the cup as possible, it must be tapped gently to remove excess air. God too gives us a full measure— indeed an abundance— of blessing.

When God grants us such blessing, we experience fellowship already today, namely

  • In the divine services, where we can experience His help and nearness at all times, and where the gospel is brought to us.
  • In His gracious care, which is expressed in the forgiveness of sins.
  • In Holy Communion, when we receive the body and blood of Jesus.

Beyond that we will also experience this blessing in our future fellowship with the triune God. Then the words will be fulfilled, “… for we shall see Him as He is” (1 John 3:2).

This blessing is granted us in abundance.

* Thoughts from the Chief Apostle adapted for the divine service held on Sunday, 16 August 2015 at Midrand Congregation.

 

Progress in faith

Till I come, give attention to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine. Meditate on these things; give yourself entirely to them, that your progress may be evident to all. — 1 Timothy 4: 13, 15

Message

As the bridal congregation, let us make visible progress in our faith.

The words of our Bible text are addressed to Timothy, who was a co-worker of Apostle Paul and, according to later accounts, lived as a Bishop in Ephesus. Our Bible text is addressed first and foremost to a minister, but let us all take a close look at the task it describes.

The first verse of the passage contains three important references for being a Christian. It is important to

  • Read the Bible in order to become acquainted with its contents and understand them.
  • Exhort one another, which means to provide pastoral care to one another.
  • Teach the gospel and the doctrine—also to those who do not profess our faith.

Reading the Bible

Let us endeavour to read the Bible as often as possible, because

  • We will always find new “pearls” in so doing.
  • We need to understand the Bible correctly. This means we must read the Old Testament from the perspective of the New Testament: salvation in Christ is already foreshadowed in the Old Testament.
  • We need to understand the message of the gospel as it relates to our time, and derive standards for our actions from it.

Reciprocal exhortation

In this context, exhortation means that we are to edify and comfort one another. Let us

  • Encourage our brethren to follow Jesus.
  • Take an interest in the cares of our brethren, and pray for them when they are in need.

Teachers of doctrine

When we occupy ourselves more closely with our doctrine, for example, by reading the Catechism, we will realize that it not only corresponds to the gospel, but also brings it to expression in a timely manner.

When we are convinced of it ourselves we can be convincing to others! Let us also be teachers of faith to outsiders and “give a defence” for the hope that is in us (1 Peter 3:15).

Our progress, that is to say, our development as the bridal congregation, is to be visible to all. This attests to

  • The activity of the Holy Spirit, who leads us into all truth (John 16: 13) .
  • The potency of the apostolate, which has received the commission from Jesus to build up the work of redemption and lead the bridal congregation to perfection.
  • Our love for Christ and His own, which motivates us to be active in love for our neighbour and in prayer.

May many see this progress and rejoice in it!

* Thoughts from the Chief Apostle adapted for the divine service held on Sunday, 09 August 2015 at Midrand Congregation.

August 2015: Tribiulations

How can this be? Here a work which God Himself has established, which He Himself leads and guides, and in which His own Spirit gives direction and instruction, is moving toward completion—and yet we cannot help but notice difficulties and sobering developments all around: fewer and fewer people attend the divine services, the congregations are shrinking, and we are surrounded by an increasingly difficult environment in which the gospel and the message of the imminent return of Christ find less and less resonance.

And in the process—so one would think, anyway—the bride of Christ should be making her way triumphantly to the bridegroom, Jesus Christ, in a glorious victory march, at the end of which a crown beckons, right?

If we take the words of Paul and Barnabas seriously, the whole thing looks rather different, however: “We must through many tribulations enter the kingdom of God.” There is no triumphal march—only toil and distress: it will become more difficult to keep faith. It will cost us more strength to remain faithful.  Disappointments will pile up. There will be many things we do not understand. We will not be able to find an answer or explanation as to why the circumstances are the way they are. We will see this in the personal domain, we will see it in the congregation, and we will see it in the church as a whole.

Why? Because the church will pursue the same path as its Lord. Before the resurrection was the cross. But after the Passion of the Lord—after the night of His death—followed the victorious resurrection and ascension. Let us therefore not allow ourselves to be deterred by tribulations, no matter what form they may take.

* Food for thought from a divine service by the Chief Apostle

Focusing on the law of God

Teach me good judgment and knowledge, for I believe your commandments. — Psalm 119: 66

Message

Let us strive for knowledge in order to keep the commandments of God. The commandments that God gave mankind are an expression of His love for all human beings. The commandments are to help us build a good relationship with God and our fellow human beings.

The will of God in His instruction

The 119th Psalm is a hymn of praise to the law of God. It emphasizes the importance of leading a life in accordance with the instructions derived from the commandments of God. In the old covenant, the Mosaic Law, the Torah, was the instruction of God. People believed that a life lived in accordance with the Mosaic Law would lead them to a life with God, “Then I would not be ashamed, when I look into all your commandments” (verse 6).

The psalmist asks God for “good judgment and knowledge”. In so doing he emphasizes that he believes in the commandments of God, which means that he trusts in them and builds upon them. He does not trust in his own thoughts or interpretations of the commandments, but instead pleads that God may grant him the proper understanding of the commandments. The psalmist’s petition makes it clear that the knowledge which serves to the salvation of the individual does not come from human understanding, but rather only from God.

Knowledge through the Holy Spirit

In the new covenant it becomes clear that the endeavour to fulfill the Mosaic Law in all its facets is doomed to fail. The only one who ever fulfilled the Law of Moses is Jesus Christ. Through Him we gain a new view of the law, “For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (John 1: 17).

The recognition that grace and truth come from Jesus Christ has not come about on the basis of any human reflections, but rather through God Himself, namely through the Holy Spirit, who leads into all truth (John 16: 13). This is why it is so important for us to focus on the Holy Spirit and to be open to His activity. Only in this manner will we be able to act in accordance with the divine will.

Belief in the commandments of God

Jesus Christ illustrated the divine will in both word and deed. His entire existence was a life in accordance with the commandments of God—as they come to expression in the Ten Commandments, for example.

If we take direction from the commandments, then let us not do so because we believe that we can thereby earn salvation on our own! Faith and knowledge are measured by how seriously and genuinely we model our lives on the divine commandments.

Jesus Christ commanded us to love God and our neighbour. Among other things, we demonstrate our love for God when we align our lives by the divine will. In all situations of life and in all areas of life we are to inquire into this divine will and endeavour to fulfill it.

We show love for our neighbours when we lend them a hand—to the extent we are able to—instead of being indifferent to their needs. This also means, however, that we not only worry about our own salvation, but also about that of our neighbour. Knowledge and faith are therefore nothing theoretical, but have very practical effects. They are not just valid on Sundays, but every day!

* Thoughts from the Chief Apostle adapted for the divine service held on Sunday, 02 August 2015 at Midrand Congregation.

 

Devotions: August

The emphasis of the divine services in July was on the various instructions that show us how to live in accordance with the gospel of Jesus Christ. We were called upon to allow the love of God to guide us, to make peace, to be magnanimous, and to take action for the well-being of our neighbour, even as regards his emotional and spiritual state. Those who act in such a manner fulfil the will of God and will be strengthened in their life of faith through such deeds. Jesus explained this to His disciples with the words, “My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me, and to finish His work” (John 4: 34). His strength, His trust in God, and His composure in times of trial and injustice were the result of His obedience—the “spiritual food”—and serve as an encouragement to us in our own life of faith.

We too receive the help and strength of God when we master our path of life in faith and trust. We will also hear about such experiences of faith in the divine services in August, which fall under the theme “Experiencing our faith”.

On the first Sunday of the month, the focus of the divine service is on knowledge. Only those who believe can even discover the will of God. They act with complete trust, in accordance with the instruction of Jesus, “For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened” (Luke 11: 10). Through faith in Jesus Christ, His life, and His doctrine, it is possible for believers to properly understand the commandments of God and utilize them in the right manner for their lives. Then they will also experience that they have certainty in their actions—in all situations of life—and will feel the help of God. It does us good to feel an immediate joy within our hearts every time we act in accordance with the will of God—that is to say, when we align our lives by His commandments. This joy already attests that God—in His favour and strength—is with those who inquire into His will and earnestly and genuinely follow Jesus Christ.

In the second Sunday service of the month, we are encouraged to occupy ourselves with Scripture and the content of our faith as described, for example, in the Catechism. Thereby our conviction will be strengthened, which will allow us to become a testimony to others. The people around us will be able to detect that we have made progress in our faith. Those who live their faith in conviction and speak of it, will themselves experience God and, in addition, will be able to give direction, comfort, courage, and joy to their neighbour.

The article for the third Sunday of the month makes it clear that those who are humble and compassionate, who forgive others, and who are happy to give, will also be richly blessed by God. They experience that divine blessing opens up access to sources of strength that are closed to other people. It is a special kind of experience of faith to absorb strength and security from the sermon, the forgiveness of sins, and the fellowship of Holy Communion. We only experience this kind of access through faith (Romans 5: 1–2).

The divine services on the fourth and fifth Sunday use the example of the people of Israel to demonstrate that God’s kindness and strength can also help us in situations that seem unchangeable or hopeless. Those who believe simply put all things into the hand of God in complete trust, and there – by experience that unimaginable things—and things that are impossible by our human efforts and abilities—really can become a reality.

In August there are two Bible study topics. They complement the theme series of the month. In one of them, the focus of the sermon is on Elijah, who was able to experience in such impressive fashion that one really can rely upon the promises of God, and that God is always at the side of those who profess Him. Even the centurion of Capernaum was able to experience a miracle: as a result of his faith in the authority of Jesus his servant was healed. Although the centurion was a Gentile, he still summoned up a degree of faith the likes of which Jesus had not found in all of Israel. Unimaginable experiences of faith always happen when God sees the faith of the individual and responds to it in His omnipotence and kindness!