Listening to the Echoes

Trauma is heavy.

The weight of it lingers, staying with us for a long time. The echoes don’t stop with one generation. Unresolved pain and open wounds are passed down, memories and stories continue to travel through the bloodlines. As they ricochet across the generations, they find a voice in the echoes of past experiences, manifest in certain patterns of behaviour, or hide inside particular values and beliefs.

The topic of intergenerational trauma is big. A single article only allows for us to brush over the topic. A book would only begin to touch on what the subject means for our community. There are many stories that have been bundled up and pushed away in an attempt to silence them. Parts of our histories are tucked in corners, hidden away in the hope they will be forgotten. Regardless, the pain continues to find a means of expression. The stories continue to find a voice.
As a community, the ramifications of this can be found most strongly in our beliefs and our behaviours.

Continue reading “Listening to the Echoes”

The Fruit of the Spirit – Faithfulness

Great is Thy faithfulness, O God my Father;
There is no shadow of turning with Thee;
Thou changest not, Thy compassions, they fail not;
As Thou hast been Thou forever wilt be.
(Hymn 66:1)

To gain a deeper understanding of what faithfulness implies for us, it is necessary to first of all gain insight into God’s faithfulness as the goal for which we must strive. Bridges observes, “… a study of the sixty references to the faithfulness of God couldn’t do justice to the subject: The entire Bible is a treatise on the theme. God’s faithfulness appears in precept or illustration on almost every page. It is impossible to describe the acts of God without in some way touching upon His faithfulness to His own.” Indeed, it is readily apparent that every aspect of our lives rests upon the faithfulness of God.
God’s glory, the honour of His Name, is at stake in all that He does. So, God is always faithful first of all to Himself, and therefore also to His promises to us, His people. In 2 Timothy 2:13, Paul explains that the reason God remains faithful even if we are faithless is that “He cannot deny Himself.” For God to be unfaithful, even in the face of our many infidelities, is impossible. God must be faithful to Himself. This necessary faithfulness of God toward Himself is the ground of our hope and the fount of every blessing we can ever know. From it springs every display of God’s glory, greatness, and grace. Upon it rests the dependability of His every promise. It is the foundation of the gospel and of the redemption bought for sinners in Jesus Christ. The incarnation, suffering, death, resurrection and glory of our Saviour can all be understood as the outpouring of divine faithfulness.

But what exactly is faithfulness? provides this explanation:
• strict or thorough in the performance of duty: e.g. a faithful worker.
• true to one’s word, promises, vows, etc.
• steady in allegiance or affection; loyal; constant: e.g. faithful friends.
• reliable, trusted, or believed.
• adhering or true to fact, a standard, or an original; accurate: a faithful account; a faithful copy.

When we unpack these related meanings we get the picture that the faithful person is one who is dependable, trustworthy and loyal, who can be depended upon in all of his relationships and who is completely honest and ethical in all of his affairs. For example, it was said of Daniel that his rivals “tried to find grounds for charges against Daniel in his conduct of government affairs, but they were unable to do so. They could find no corruption in him, because he was trustworthy (i.e. faithful) and neither corrupt nor negligent.” (Daniel 6:4 NIV)
It is also instructive to note the use of the word faithfulness in the context of the parable of the talents in Matthew 25: 14 – 30, in which the two faithful servants enter into the joy of the Lord because they had acted wisely with the resources of their master’s house. To them, their lord could say, “Well done, good and faithful servant; you have been faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things, enter into the joy of your lord.” By contrast, the unfaithful servant is judged most severely and cast into the outer darkness, where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth. Inactivity in our service to our Lord, when we have been made the recipients of His faithfulness in Christ, is a very dangerous thing indeed.
Every particular calling in life, in every specific situation, presents us with unique opportunities for faithfulness in those little things – “a few things”. We tend to emphasise faithfulness in the “big things” in life, such as the vows we make: at our public profession of faith, our marriage solemnization, the baptism of our children and at our ordination as office bearer, and faithfulness to these vows certainly needs to be emphasised. But have we considered our everyday callings, and what distinctive opportunities they present for demonstrating faithfulness? Whether at work, at home, or in the Church, whether as father or mother, whether as husband or wife, whether as friend or neighbour, God wants us to please Him with our faithful service —not just in the big, public moments, but especially in the secret and seemingly insignificant incidents such as faithful habits of reading and studying God’s Word, habits of prayer, habits of family devotions after mealtimes, habits of honesty and integrity and humility throughout the day—all are just little things in themselves. But together, they build up the Christian character in our personal lives and in our families, and they enable us to remain faithful to those important vows we make in our lives referred to earlier.
Many of us give half our waking lives to our workplace, so it should be no surprise that the apostle Paul emphasizes these often-unseen aspects of our work. “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men” (Col. 3:23), “rendering service with a good will as to the Lord and not to man” (Eph. 6:7). Twice he accents “sincerity of heart” and speaks of serving “not by way of eye-service, as people-pleasers” (Eph. 6:5–6; Col. 3:22).
These little things add up over time, like how we treat our employer’s property and resources, how efficiently we make use of our time and how diligently we work when off-site or out of sight, how we are supportive to our co-workers and how we are willing to give a few extra minutes of our time to complete a task. It is in these small things that we can: “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.” (Matt. 5:16)
Such faithfulness in the small things often begins when we are students. Academic life teems with small, seemingly insignificant moments in which we either train ourselves for a career of diligent, energetic labour, or learn to default to laziness and cutting corners. At school or on campus, Christian students can demonstrate faithfulness and honour God by developing self-discipline and knowledge, studying diligently and practicing academic honesty.
For most of us, the home is, by nature, more private than the workplace. So our lives at home, all the more, can be sequences of one little thing after another. For those who work outside the home, being at home can be a temptation to laziness. If we go out “to work,” we might assume, particularly as husbands, that we come home only to eat, rest and sleep, but the home is certainly not at all solely for those purposes. That is especially true when young children are around. Here the unseen moments often matter most. For husbands in particular, it can be the smallest of considerations in being faithful to our marriage vows. How readily do we tackle household chores to save it from piling up on our spouse? How eagerly do we roll up our sleeves to do the dishes? And how willing are we to invest the extra energy it takes after a long day to think of and speak affirming words to our wives rather than just expressing frustrations? And most importantly of all, how much of an effort do we make as fathers to provide leadership in word and deed in setting the tone of a faithful Christian household – also in the daily family devotions?
Consider how the qualifications for elders are, by and large, little things. We read in 1 Timothy 3:1 – 5: “A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, temperate, sober-minded, of good behaviour, hospitable, able to teach; not given to wine, not violent, not greedy for money, but gentle, not quarrelsome, not covetous; one who rules his own household well, having his children in submission with all reverence ….” These are the little things of faithful Christian living that all add up. What we need from our office bearers is not world-class intellect and learning but the kind of faithfulness in the seemingly little things that is the very heart of Christian maturity and thus serves as an example for the flock.

Faithfulness, too, is a fruit of the working of God’s Spirit in our hearts and lives. The wonder of the Biblical concept of Christian faithfulness is that when believers hear at last the, “Well done, good and faithful servant” of our Master in whose kingdom we have been servants, we will know—in ways we only glimpse and often overlook here—that all our faithfulness on earth was but the product of God’s faithfulness to us and the fruition of God’s faithfulness to Himself. No small part of the joy of the Lord into which we shall one day enter will be the discovery that Christ rewards us for the fruit of His own great work for us at the cross and in us by His Spirit. We will bow down and confess that we are unworthy servants, having done only our duty (Luke 17:10), but Christ will welcome us into His presence with joy in His crowning act of covenant faithfulness.

GW van der Wal
FRC Albany

Bridges, J. The Practice of Godliness. 2008, NavPress, Colorado Springs, Ch. 12
David Mathis in

Reformation Remembrance

Who would have thought that an insignificant Augustinian monk could bring about a world changing event such as the Great Reformation? Of course with the Lord nothing is impossible. For it was He Who brought this Great Reformation about by His almighty power.
The Lord chose Martin Luther and rescued him from the false teachings of the church and opened his eyes for the miracle of His grace. Luther saw the need to re-discover the truth of the gospel and the wonderful news that the just shall live by faith (Romans 1:17). By faith ALONE! This simple truth would change the history of the world. It would also shake the foundations of the mighty Catholic church and the papacy.
By reading and studying the Bible, Martin Luther (1483-1546) began to understand that salvation was not something one could earn. Neither long and frequent prayers, nor good works, nor self-abuse by flogging or chastising one’s self in other ways such as sleeping outside without a blanket in the freezing cold winter weather, nor by frequent fasting, could one earn salvation. All these things Luther did, but it did not give him the peace he looked for so desperately.
Then Luther discovered the simple and wonderful truth that would have a great impact on the history of the church. The words of Romans 1:17 “The just shall live by faith” were like a ray of sunshine to Luther and filled his heart with joy and thankfulness. He began to see that salvation was not a prize to be earned by all those things which had filled his life and thoughts so completely and for so long. All his long prayers, fasting and self-abuse were in vain. He learned that it is a free gift obtained through the sacrificial death on the cross and resurrection of Jesus and received by faith.
The central issue of the Reformation was Luther’s doctrine of justification by faith alone. Dr. Luther was convinced that the Catholic church of his day had got it all wrong. He came to realise that not the traditions of the church, nor the pope, but the infallible Word of God has the sole authority over the church and its members and over all of life.
What was at stake?
What were some of the causes of the Reformation? Over many years Bible knowledge had disappeared, and ignorance and superstition flourished. Augustine defined superstition as the dangerous worship of false gods and also included divination, sorcery and magic. At the same time clergy abuse increased. The scandalous lives and greed of the clergy was an abomination. Consequently, many people began to criticise the Catholic church.
Luther exposed these and other unbiblical practices of the established church and rejected the autonomous papal authority. He wished to purify the church from its evil practices. For far too long the true gospel had been obscured and it was high time that the truth of the gospel was rediscovered and again preached from the pulpits. For example, holy mass was sung in Latin by the clergy, a language no-one but the clergy could understand. Luther and other reformers wanted the congregation to sing during the worship services in a language everyone could understand.
Scripture’s authority
Luther learned and came to believe that God’s Word was infallible and is the sole authority and guide for our lives.
When Luther composed his “95 Theses” he was lecturer at the university in Wittenberg. He chose 31st October for the most effective publishing date because the following day it would be All Saints Day, a special feast day in the Catholic church, a day on which many people would be expected to be in town and the churches would be full.
That is why specifically on that day, 31st October, he nailed his theses to the door of the church in Wittenberg. In them, among other things, he protested the pope’s sale of reprieves from penance, and the sale of indulgences. What are indulgences? They were certificates or letters which claim to reduce the amount of time that one would have to spend in purgatory. They were supposed to reduce the amount of punishment for one’s sins. The Pope promised perfect remission of all sins to all those who bought one of these certificates. By means of these indulgences people were able to purchase better treatment after death. They could even purchase complete forgiveness for their loved ones, who had already passed away. It was no wonder that when people confessed their sins to the priest there was really no evidence of sincere regret or sorrow for their sins. They had that wonderful certificate and felt quite content with that.
These indulgences promised something that could never be delivered. In fact they were stealing money from poor people, giving them a false sense of security and an unfounded hope. The money raised from the sale of these indulgences funded the rebuilding of Saint Peter’s Basilica in Rome and the lavish lifestyle of the Pope and other clergy.
Even though the sale of indulgences was officially abolished by the pope in 1567 the practice of indulgences is still going on today and they continue to play a big role in today’s Catholic church. The newspaper The Guardian reported seven years ago as follows: “In the latest attempt to keep up with the times the Vatican has married one of its oldest traditions to the world of social media by offering “indulgences” to the followers of Pope Francis’ tweets”.
The pope’s reaction
Understandably these 95 theses which included the opposition to the sale of indulgences generated resistance and fierce hostility especially from the pope himself who felt threatened by this obstinate professor of theology. It is therefore no wonder that he did everything in his power to get rid of Luther and even had him excommunicated. On January 3rd, 1521 the pope issued the papal bull by which Martin Luther, God’s faithful servant, was to be excommunicated and cast out of the Catholic church after two months. Luther’s books and sermons were being burned by loyal supporters of the pope. Luther reacted to this by calling the pope the Antichrist. Then, two months after the pope had issued his threat, Luther called some of his supporters and they gathered in Wittenberg, Germany, where they built a bonfire. They burned many of the theological books containing the false teachings of the church and then Luther also threw the papal bull of excommunication into the fire.
God’s timing is always perfect. In the context of this article we can see that in the invention of the printing press, invented at around 1440 by the goldsmith Johannes Gutenberg. This enabled people to distribute information more widely and quickly than was possible before. In that way the printing press was of great benefit to the Reformation. Luther’s 95 theses were distributed very swiftly and before long they had spread across most of Europe.
History often repeats itself, as we know from Ecclesiastes 1:9-10 where it says: “That which has been, is what will be, that which is done what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun”.
May we therefore learn from the lessons of history and remember Reformation Day on 31st October with great thankfulness for what the Lord has done in the history of His church. For this was an event of global and eternal importance. How thankful we should be for what our God and Father has done through His faithful servants. He preserved and defended His church. To Him be glory and honour.

Leo Schoof
Free Reformed Church of Byford

What is our Motivation

The famous theologian A.W. Tozer once said:
“Christians, and especially very active ones, should take time out frequently to search their souls to be sure of their motives. Many a solo is sung to show off, many a sermon is preached as an exhibition of talent, many a church is founded as a slap to some other church. Even missionary activity may become competitive, and soul winning may degenerate into a sort of brush-salesman project to satisfy the flesh”.
In the above quotation Tozer obviously suggests that we ought to give some serious thought to our motives behind our service to God. Is it possible that we serve God for the wrong reasons? Could we perhaps be simply going through the motions when we stand on the pulpit, when we play the organ in church, or when we sit in the pew listening attentively to the sermon while at the same time planning our next holiday? Will the Lord be pleased with such an attitude?
Already in the Old Testament the prophet Isaiah warns the people (and us) that “… they draw near with their mouths and honour Me with their lips, but have removed their hearts far from Me” (Isaiah 29:13 NKJV). It is possible to say the right words in worship without participating with the heart.
In the New Testament our Lord Jesus tells us with these words: “Not everyone who says to Me , Lord, Lord, shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father in heaven” (Matthew 7:21 NKJV). And even though they will say that they have done many things in the name of the Lord, yet Christ will say: “Depart from Me”, because it was lip service and not from the heart.
Can we as Christians, Free Reformed believers, worship God in church when our hearts are far from God? Yes, according to our Lord in Matthew 15:8 (NKJV) this is indeed possible. That is why He warns us again with these words: “These people honour Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me”.
“They had no true love to God, nor faith in him, nor fear of him; they were not at all concerned for his presence with them, or for communion with him, or for his honour and glory; their hearts were in the world, and after their covetousness; they made religion a tool to their secular purposes, supposing gain to be godliness; sought the applause of men, and contented themselves with bodily exercise; having no regard to internal religion, powerful godliness, or where their hearts were, so be it, their bodies were presented to God in public worship; and what they did it was to be seen and approved of men, not caring what the searcher of hearts knew concerning them, or what he required of them”.
It is even possible to sing our Psalms and hymns while our heart is far from the Lord. We can, for example, sing mainly to be heard by other people. According to one famous Dutch organist Dirk Jansz. Zwart this was already a problem in the days when our Genevan Psalm tunes were composed. Louis Bourgeois (1510-1559) , who wrote many of our Psalm melodies in the 1550’s, complained that some members of the congregation sang so loud only because they wanted to be heard above the rest of the singers.
In the book of Acts we have the example of Ananias and Sapphira. They sold their property for the wrong reasons. Their life was not focussed on the glory of God. They had not understood their covenant relationship with their God and the extent of His love and grace displayed before them in such glory. They did not understand or appreciate the great works of Jesus Christ of which they were allowed to be part. They did not see that He was building His Church, gathering it from among naturally hostile Jews, defending and preserving it against the attacks of Satan who was trying with all his might to destroy this fragile beginning. Instead they were motivated by self-glorification. They wanted to be praised by people. They focussed on the short-term gains in this life and thereby put at risk Christ’s Church gathering work. We all know what happened, and how Christ rose up to defend His work. It is no wonder that great fear came upon this fledgling congregation.
The Holy Spirit through the Apostle Peter exposed their spiritual pretence and uncovered their efforts to gain spiritual prestige. This was nothing else than hypocrisy which is sharply rebuked by our Lord. This serves as a serious warning for us. If we do things for the wrong reason, we grieve God!
Even when we sometimes do some good things, on reflection we find that our motivation was suspect. Rather than being concerned with or focussed on the Word or work of the Lord, maybe what we were really after was to look or feel good. In that way we can do some outstanding things for very poor reasons. We want to feel needed, wanted and respected, and this can so easily become our motivation rather than a heartfelt love for the Lord, and a desire to serve Him, to be His fellow-worker and to promote His work.
Is it all about God and His honour or about us? Is Christ’s Church-gathering work by which He is preparing His second coming the focus of our thoughts and actions, or are our own wants and desires in the centre, a so called ‘I, me and myself’ mentality? Do we always want to be on centre stage and get all the attention? Sadly we often want to serve ourselves more than wanting to serve our King and Master.
People counterfeit a lot of things, money, jewelry and artwork, just to mention a few. In the same way is it perhaps possible to be counterfeit Christians? Christ exposes them, and in the end will say to them, “Assuredly, I say to you, I do not know you” (Matt 25:12 NKJV).
Let us be careful that our lips and our lives don’t proclaim two different messages. The Lord created us to serve Him. He asks from us that we serve Him with heart and soul, with thought and deed. He has given us His Spirit to make us by true faith share in Christ and all His benefits (Heidelberg Catechism L.D. 20: Question & Answer 53). May our worship, therefore, be from the heart, spontaneous and joyful.
May our service to God and our prayers not be from deceitful lips (Psalm 17:1). For feigned prayers are fruitless. The Apostle Paul urges us to examine ourselves to see if we are truly in the faith (2 Corinthians 13:5). Paul doesn’t say this to make us doubt but to be honest with ourselves and to think critically about our own walk with Christ.
May this therefore, be our prayer:

“Search me, O God, and know my heart” (Psalm 139:23 NKJV).

How good to know that He knows us altogether and that nothing is hidden from Him. But remember also that God’s searching eyes are loving eyes.

Leo Schoof

Do You Meditate?

Blessed is the man who meditates … day and night.  Ps. 1:1,2. 

“Do you meditate?” I was asked.   No, the question did not come from an eastern guru, sitting cross legged on the floor, teaching me yoga (“Aum, aum, aum …”) so I could get in touch with the so called All, the divine presence that is the universe, of which everything is a part.   Nor did the question come from a monk:  “Come, separate yourself from outside distractions, spend some time in a monastery away from your mobile phone.  Join us monks in meditation by repeating Scriptural verses over and over again.”  The question came from an elder at a home visit many years ago.  He wanted to know if I not only read the Word and knew what it said, but also spent time meditating on it.

Do you meditate?  This remains an important question for God’s people.  Christians should meditate.  Someone once wrote:  “A Christian without meditation is like a soldier without weapons, or a workman without tools.  Without meditation, the truths of God’s word will not stay with us; the heart is hard, and the memory slippery, and without meditation, all is lost.”[i]  God made us thinking beings.  We can take information in, we can turn it over in our minds, thinking about its implications, with the result that it is pressed more deeply into our mind, heart and soul. 

Continue reading “Do You Meditate?”

Praying Out Loud

Tangled Words and Quiet Beauty 

The Struggle

Have you experienced the challenge of praying out loud? Specifically, praying in the presence of other people? For some of us—perhaps for many of us—this can be one of the more uncomfortable moments in the life of faith, hearing the dreaded words: “Can you please close in prayer after the meeting…?”

As eyes close and hands fold, the heart pounds loudly in the chest. Words get tangled on a thick tongue, or the right words don’t come at all. You feel sure that you’ve said something deeply inappropriate or even heretical. From start to finish, the prayer feels artificial and forced. The person praying out loud is certain that those who are present have struggled to follow the prayer or to be encouraged by it, while it is doubtful that God has been at all pleased with these mangled petitions.

Continue reading “Praying Out Loud”