Month: May 2016

Devotions: June

In June, the Divine Service Guide will be dedicated to various highlights from the book of Acts. Last month we looked back at the activity of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost. The Pentecost event had encouraged the Apostles to go out and fulfil their missionary commission. The divine services in June explore the actions of the Apostles in various situations and congregations.

In many translations of the Bible, the book of Acts is also known as the Acts of the Apostles. It becomes clear that the book deals with actions that are necessary for practising and spreading the gospel at the behest of Jesus Christ. Jesus gave His church Apostles to teach the gospel and put into practice that which He had commanded them to do (Matthew 28: 20). This is how the Apostles have understood their commission to this day, and they still endeavour to live up to it.

The first Sunday divine service shows us some fundamental things that are indispensable for the growth and survival of Christian congregations: fellowship with one another, the doctrine of Christ as proclaimed by the Apostles, breaking of bread, and the collective prayers of the congregation.

The sermon for the second Sunday is based on a Bible passage from 2 Corinthians. Here Paul relates of difficulties he experienced in preaching the gospel in Macedonia. There he was confronted with troubles facing the church. Although the Bible text is not taken from the book of Acts, its content is nevertheless an important testimony of the history and activities of the early Apostles.

On the third Sunday we are called upon to accept the Apostle ministry sent by the Lord, and to support the mission of the Apostles. To this end, we can testify of the present-day activity of the Apostles in both word and deed. Here the recognition of the necessity of this ministry, its activity on the basis of the power of the Holy Spirit, and the worthy receiving of the sacraments are cornerstones of our profession.

The last Sunday of the month is in preparation for the second divine service for the departed of the year. This divine service is likewise based on the activity of God through the Apostle ministry for the redemption of many who have passed away. The apostolicity of the Church also becomes clear in the fact that the sacraments are dispensed by the Apostles for both the living and the dead (Catechism 2.4.3; 6.5; 9.6.3 / Catechism-QA 402; 408). Recognition and a believing longing are prerequisites for receiving the sacraments. The preparatory service is to make us aware that souls from the beyond are present in every divine service in order to hear the gospel with us and be prepared to receive the sacraments.

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Teaching and preaching

And daily in the temple, and in every house, they did not cease teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ. — Acts 5: 42

Message

We follow the example set by the Apostles, and preach and teach the gospel.

The Apostles had been arrested and questioned by the Sanhedrin for preaching about Jesus Christ. They refused to be intimidated into silence by public pressure or by beating. On the contrary, they were compelled by what lived in them, namely the Holy Spirit, and continued to preach and teach.

Preaching

A preacher is a herald, someone who proclaims news.

The Apostles proclaimed what they had seen and heard: Christ’s life, His death, His resurrection, and the promise of His imminent return. In Acts 4: 20 both Peter and John say that they cannot but speak what they have seen and heard.

Today also, like then, the Apostles proclaim the gospel and the imminent return of Christ. What a beautiful moment when we are heralded with the message: “Your sins are forgiven. The peace of the Risen One abide with you!” The grace of our heavenly Father, through Jesus Christ, is proclaimed in every divine service.

Proclamation is more than just an announcement of words and is not only done from behind the altar. Our lives are to become a proclamation of what our heavenly Father has done, does, and will do. When we eat of His body and drink of His blood, we proclaim the Lord’s death until His return.

Teaching

This is to show something or to explain how to do something. Through the activity of the Holy Spirit, the Apostles teach Christ’s doctrine and the gospel of the New Testament.

We can teach through example and word. The words we say, the various actions of love—and also that which we refrain from doing—can serve as a teaching to those around us.

We can only teach something that we know and have understood. If we integrate the teachings of Christ into our own lives, we become better teachers.

In the temple and in every house

The Apostles had the audacity to continue preaching and teaching in the temple, the central place of Jewish worship. We should be aware of the fact that wherever we find ourselves there are those around us who can learn of Jesus Christ through our actions and words.

We receive preaching and teaching primarily in God’s house, but no place should be excluded, whether it is in our own house or that of our neighbour.

Daily and unceasingly

In verse 41 we learn that the Apostles left their interrogation and punishment “rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His name”. The fact that they had a negative experience did not hinder them from continuing to speak about Jesus. Neither trying times nor sorrow nor injustice deter us from proclaiming the gospel in word and deed.

* Thoughts from the Chief Apostle adapted for the divine service held on 29 May 2016 at Midrand Congregation.

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One with Christ and with one another

That they may all be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me. And the glory which You gave Me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one. — John 17: 21–22

 

Message

The unity of the believers comes into being when they are one with Christ.

Jesus asks for His own to be intimately connected with one another—such that they comprise a single entity. In order to describe their unity, He makes reference to His relationship with the Father.

The triune God

The Trinity consists of three divine persons who, although different in terms of their form, are nonetheless one in substance and being. The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit

  • Are always in agreement.
  • Share everything; that which belongs to one also belongs to the others (John 17: 10).
  • Testify of one another: the Son glorifies the Father, the Father attests the Son (John 5: 37); and the Holy Spirit attests to the Father and the Son.
  • Work together for the redemption of mankind.

Oneness with God

“That they also may be one in Us.” Here Jesus requests that we may all be one in God. God created human beings in His image. Adam and Eve lived in intimate fellowship with God and one another. The fall into sin separated them from God and destroyed their unconditional togetherness (Genesis 3: 12). In order to establish unity among human beings, it is first necessary to restore their oneness with God.

“I in them” (John 17: 23). The Son has become Man and has brought His sacrifice in order that mankind may find their way back to fellowship with God. Jesus showed His own how to be one with the Father: He glorified His Father by fulfilling His will and doing His works. Jesus already lives in us through the Holy Spirit, and strengthens us in Holy Communion. In order to be one with Him, let us

  • Bring ourselves into line with His will.
  • Share His mind (Philippians 2: 5). His friends are to be our friends. His enemy is our enemy.
  • Proclaim His deeds instead of praising our own works.
  • Serve Him.

We do not need to give up our personality—that is to say, everything that distinguishes us from everyone else—in order to attain this unity. We can be perfectly one despite all our differences by

  • Subordinating ourselves to the will of Jesus. No matter how very different we are, all the members of the body of Christ obey Christ, who is the head.
  • Sticking together. Let us serve one another and share our joys and sufferings.
  • Uniting in the praise of God instead of criticising one another.

When Christ returns, those who have aligned their lives in accordance with the will of the Lord will have fellowship with God. Perfect oneness will become a reality in the new creation, when God is all in all (1 Corinthians 15: 28).

* Thoughts from the Chief Apostle adapted for the divine service held on 22 May 2016 at Midrand Congregation.

 

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Living and walking in the Spirit

If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit. — Galatians 5: 25

Bible reading: Acts 2: 1–4, 12–21: When the Day of Pentecost had fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. Then there appeared to them divided tongues, as of fire, and one sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance. …

So they were all amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “Whatever could this mean?” Others mocking said, “They are full of new wine.”

But Peter, standing up with the Eleven, raised his voice and said to them, “Men of Judea and all who dwell in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and heed my words. For these are not drunk, as you suppose, since it is only the third hour of the day. But this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel:

“‘And it shall come to pass in the last days, says God, that I will pour out of My Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your young men shall see visions, your old men shall dream dreams. And on My menservants and on My maidservants I will pour out My Spirit in those days; and they shall prophesy. I will show wonders in heaven above and signs in the earth beneath: blood and fire and vapour of smoke. The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the coming of the great and awesome day of the Lord. And it shall come to pass that whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’”

Message

We give thanks to God, the Holy Spirit, by allowing Him to lead us.

On this festive day we gather together in order to thank God for

  • Fulfilling the promise of Jesus by sending us the Holy Spirit, who helps and comforts us.
  • Creating the church of Christ, which was first revealed on Pentecost.
  • Granting us the gift of the Holy Spirit as a guarantee of future glory.

Living in the spirit

The celebration of Pentecost is an excellent opportunity to give thanks to God, the Holy Spirit, in particular for His activity of salvation. Apostle Paul says that we live in the Spirit, in other words, we live through Him. Without the activity of the Holy Spirit we could never have true access to fellowship with God.

  • Only the Holy Spirit can produce belief in Jesus Christ, which is a prerequisite for eternal life (1 Corinthians 12: 3; John 11: 25).
  • Also, it was only through the rebirth out of water and the Spirit that we received life from God.
  • The word of God, which is imparted to us in the sermon inspired by the Spirit, in turn nourishes this life (Matthew 4:4).
  • Without the involvement of the Holy Spirit in the consecration of the communion wafers, we could not partake in the body and blood of Jesus, and yet this is indispensable for the divine life within us.
  • And finally it is the Holy Spirit who sanctifies the Apostles at their ordination and confers upon them the authority inherent in the Apostle ministry.

Walking in the spirit

Indeed, we have many good reasons to give thanks to the Holy Spirit. But how do we do this? Apostle Paul tells us the solution: we bring our thanks to expression by “walking in the Spirit”. This means that we allow Him to guide us.

Following the instructions of the Spirit, we look after the divine life within us by supplying our soul with plenty of the food it needs.

Permeated by the Holy Spirit, our prayers bring to expression our limitless trust in our heavenly Father (Galatians 4: 6).

The Holy Spirit teaches us to follow the example of Christ. Although He is true God, Jesus Christ accepted His humanity in all aspects. He dedicated His earthly being to God in obedience, even though He must also have enjoyed pleasant moments (Matthew 11: 19). Even as children of God, we face hardship and distressing circumstances, and we accept these with trust in God. We do not despise our life, but rather know to treasure it and enjoy it. And being instructed by the Holy Spirit, we recognize that every day which God grants us offers us an opportunity to decide for God and gain victories over evil.

As members of the body of Christ, we have received gifts from the Holy Spirit in order to put them at the service of others (1 Corinthians 12: 7). Certainly these gifts differ from person to person, but there is one gift which we have all received, namely the ability to love our neighbour (Romans 5: 5)!

Finally, through the ministering of the Apostles we hear the call of the Holy Spirit: “Come!” (Revelation 22: 17).

Our entire life is filled with this plea: “Come, Lord Jesus!”

* Thoughts from the Chief Apostle adapted for the Pentecost divine service held on 15 May 2016 at Midrand Congregation.

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Engage the Holy Spirit!

And I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever. — John 14: 16

Message

To experience the help provided by the Holy Spirit, we must include Him in our lives.

The promise of Jesus in our Bible text was fulfilled on Pentecost. Following this, it is repeatedly reported that the Holy Spirit was with the first Christians and helped them.

In Acts 4 we read that Peter, John, and their companions prayed for boldness to proclaim the gospel. They stood up to the threats made against them. The Holy Spirit filled them and gave them strength so that they could fulfil their commission.

We can also benefit from the comfort and help offered by the Holy Spirit, but we must open the way for Him to be active in us. Then He can really help us, and the words of Jesus will also be fulfilled on us.

Sharing the gospel

The Apostles refused to be silenced despite being threatened; they proclaimed the gospel and were filled with the Holy Spirit. Being a Christian means that we are to reach out to all people in order to teach them the gospel of Jesus Christ. The most powerful testimony is made when we live in accordance with the gospel, regardless of threats.

We may be threatened by scarcity; the feeling that if we give of what we have, there will not be enough for ourselves. In modern society, time is increasingly scarce and one can become stingy in sharing it. When we are willing to help our neighbour, even if this requires that we put our personal agenda aside, we bring the gospel to those around us and open the way for the activity of the Spirit.

We may feel threatened with social rejection if we live in accordance with Jesus’ teaching and seek to assist those who are rejected by society (Matthew 25: 35–36). We do not bow to this threat, but rather open the way to the activity of the Spirit by fulfilling the commandment of love (Matthew 22: 37–39).

Prayer for boldness

Those who had gathered in Jerusalem were filled with the Holy Spirit when they prayed for boldness to proclaim the word of God (Acts 4: 29, 31).

We often expect the Apostles to be a source of help and support when we live through difficult circumstances. There is nothing wrong with that, but we must not reduce the Apostle ministry to this. The main task of the Apostles is to boldly proclaim the gospel in word and sacrament and effect the changes that are necessary for the day of the Lord. What effects are produced when we engage the Holy Spirit?

  • Oneness. In Acts 4: 32 we read that “the multitude of those who believed were of one heart and one soul”. The Spirit can help us move away from a self-centred attitude and into the unity that Jesus prayed for (John 17: 11).
  • Strength of faith. In Acts 4: 33 we read: “And with great power the Apostles gave witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus.” Regardless of how long we have been New Apostolic Christians, the possibility always exists that our faith could become weak and that life’s circumstances could cause us to focus solely on earthly matters. The Holy Spirit can help us maintain our focus on that which is of eternal value.

* Thoughts from the Chief Apostle adapted for the divine service held on 08 May 2016 at Midrand Congregation.

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Why do you stand gazing up into heaven?

And while they looked steadfastly toward heaven as He went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel, who also said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will so come in like manner as you saw Him go into heaven.” — Acts 1: 10–11

Bible reading:  Later He appeared to the Eleven as they sat at the table; and He rebuked their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they did not believe those who had seen Him after He had risen. And He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned. And these signs will follow those who believe: in my name they will cast out demons; they will speak with new tongues; they will take up serpents; and if they drink anything deadly, it will by no means hurt them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover.” So then, after the Lord had spoken to them, He was received up into heaven, and sat down at the right hand of God. — Mark 16: 14−19

Message

Let us profess the ascension and return of Jesus.

For many Christians, Ascension Day no longer holds great significance. They do not understand why it is of any importance. As apostolic Christians, it should mean a lot to us because it also refers to a special element of our faith, namely the return of Jesus Christ to take home the bridal congregation.

The disciples as witnesses of the Ascension

According to the account in Acts, Jesus was “taken up, and a cloud received Him out of their sight” (Acts 1: 9) after He had promised His Apostles the Holy Spirit (Acts 1: 8). Jesus had ascended to His Father. Two men in white apparel explained what had just happened to the disciples: this Jesus, who had been taken away from them, would one day return just as He had ascended into heaven.

The disciples were therefore witnesses of Jesus’ ascension. They had accompanied Jesus on His path up to the very end, had fled at the crucifixion, and witnessed His activity as the Risen One. Now they witnessed Jesus Christ ascending to God. Instead of being sad about this parting, jubilation and joy over Jesus’ ascension to the Father is to prevail.

Ascension and return

It was on Ascension Day that the exaltation of Jesus Christ, the firstfruits of the resurrection, occurred. As true Man, He now sits at the right hand of God, where He acts as our mediator (Acts 7: 56; 1 Timothy 2: 5). From there He will come again and take to Himself “the firstfruits of the dead and the living, who have hoped for and were prepared for His coming” (Ninth Article of Faith; 1 Thessalonians 4: 16–17). The Ascension and return of Jesus are thus interdependent events. Just as Jesus was taken up in a cloud, He will also return on the clouds. The cloud is a symbol of the presence of God. Belief in the ascension of Jesus Christ also means belief in His return!

Why do you stand gazing up into heaven?

The question of the angels alludes to the fact that the disciples were not meant to simply continue gazing into heaven, but rather get to work and fulfil the commission they had been given. They were given the commission to be witnesses of Jesus “in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1: 8). They are thus to spread the gospel to all human beings, irrespective of their various origins or traditions.

Being a witness today

Let us also apply the question of the angels to ourselves. We are not supposed to merely stand there looking up into heaven and waiting inactively either! Rather let us profess this gospel to all people. Let us:

  • Spread the gospel of Christ joyfully and thereby support the commission of Jesus to the Apostles.
  • Profess the promise of His return.
  • Show our neighbour the love of Christ and come to the aid of all in both prayer and in deed.

We see—as is already clear from the biblical record—that the ascension and return of Christ belong together!

* Thoughts from the Chief Apostle adapted for the divine service held on Ascension Day, 05 May 2016 at Midrand Congregation.

 

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May 2016: The fear of God and trust

The year 2016 has been captioned by the motto of “Victory with Christ”. This also applies in daily life—perhaps first and foremost. Such a statement incorporates many facets. I would just like to pick out one point of emphasis: the fear of God and trust are part of our victory with Christ. The fear of God is the respect and reverence we owe God, our Creator and heavenly Father. Let us trust Him all our lives, even in bad days.

Here are some examples from Holy Scripture to illustrate:

  • With the help of his fear of the Lord, Joseph was able to overcome sin. As a devout individual, he was aware that God was with him and could see his actions. He withstood the temptation, refused to get involved with a woman who was not his wife, and even remained faithful to God while he was in prison, forgotten by all. But ultimately, the moment came when God liberated him.

Today we too know that God sees and knows all things. Let us therefore avoid sin and trust in Him. He will not forget us!

  • Moses was a man filled with trust in the actions of God. He engaged in a battle against Pharaoh, which at first seemed quite hopeless. Nevertheless, Moses did not give up his trust in God, even though the Egyptian ruler refused nine times to let the people of Israel depart. But ultimately, Moses did give the people the order to prepare for their departure from Egypt—they all obeyed him, and God liberated them.

And today? How often have we already experienced the power of God! Despite all the hostilities of the evil one, let us trust God and obey Him. Soon we will have escaped the evil one for good.

  • Paul had to change himself completely. Everything that had previously appeared holy had suddenly been called into question and become unimportant. Nevertheless, he believed and trusted the Lord, and soon continued his path as an instrument in the hand of God, leading the church of the Lord toward redemption. The Son of God Himself sent him out into the world as an Apostle and preacher of the gospel.

So it also happens with us today. God sends us out into the world so that we may hold fast—and loudly tell others about—the glad tidings of the resurrection of Jesus, His ascension, and His return! Christ will come—that is what we have been promised!

Let us always obey God out of reverence in all situations of life, all through our lives. We know that He sees and knows all things. We can trust in His power. Then we too will experience the victory with Christ!

* Chief Apostle Jean-Luc Schneider

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The hope of salvation

Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us. — Romans 5: 5

Message

We hope in the salvation of Christ and allow ourselves to be led by love.

The hope of salvation

Our Bible text begins with a message of comfort: “Now hope does not disappoint.” To what hope do these words refer? We hope for salvation in Jesus Christ. We hope for His return.

This hope is justified because:

  • It is based on the promise of Jesus. He has promised that He will come again (John 14: 3).
  • It is rooted in the love of God. No one can separate us from the love of God (Romans 8: 39).
  • We can become heirs of eternal life through the rebirth out of water and the Holy Spirit.

It is for the following reason that this hope will not disappoint: it is firmly anchored in God’s will to save.

The love of God within us

Apostle Paul goes on to say that the love of God has been poured out in us by the Holy Spirit, who was given to us.

We have received the gift of the Holy Spirit. This means that:

  • We have received the life of God.
  • We have received the power of God.

And what is God? God is love! Seeing we have received the life and power of God, we have also received the love of God. Apostle Paul states that this love has been poured out in our hearts.

  • In the Bible, the heart symbolizes the core of one’s being and existence.
  • The heart is also the place where decisions are made.

Effects of the love of God

What are the effects of the love of God? God is always the one who gives! He gives without stipulating any conditions or expecting anything in return. The Lord Jesus once said, “For He [God] makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good …” (Matthew 5: 45). Jesus has given His life unconditionally for all. He has given us the gift of the Holy Spirit. He gives this gift because He loves!

Making decisions with love

Now if the love of God has been poured out in our hearts—in the very core of our being, there where all our decisions are made—then our decisions and conduct will also have to be defined by love.

If we truly love, then we should also be those who give. We are to give without calculation, without waiting for anything in return. The Lord Jesus brought this to expression very clearly: “But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you” (Luke 14: 13, 14). Here we once again find this same idea: those who love will give without expecting anything in return, without calculation.

Let us keep this in mind in everything we do in our family, our congregations, and everywhere else!

* Thoughts from the Chief Apostle adapted for the divine service held on 01 May 2016 at Midrand Congregation.

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