When God Doesn’t Give Children – 2

The previous article discussed the reality of infertility and gave some insight into the grief that people experience when the longing for children is unfulfilled. Included was an encouragement for all of us to open our eyes to those who are suffering, to be willing to share their pain and be ready to encourage them in the Lord. In this issue I speak directly to those struggling with infertility, although much of what is said applies to suffering in general.

One of the challenges when suffering pain, loss and grief in this life is to have a proper perspective of God, and how we should relate to him. It is often tempting to give in to anger or resentment, whether that is directed to God or others. There are many conflicting emotions to deal with. Travelling the road of infertility forces you to examine what you believe about God and about yourself, and it causes you to become a person who must rely on faith, and learn to put total trust in God as the one who truly sustains.

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Reformed Education: Responsibility of the Parents

To whom belongs the child?
In 1996 Rev. G. Van Popta delivered a speech at a teachers’ convention which was published in Clarion , in which he addressed this question. In it he summarises and evaluates an extensive discussion which our Canadian brothers and sisters had in that time about this question, in which he also addressed the position of the schools.

We now live in a climate in which the state is more and more inclined to claim the authority to teach our children what to believe and how to behave with regards to all kinds of moral issues. It is to be expected that in the coming few years, the state government in Western Australia will be trying to exert its influence more and more on what is being taught in Western Australian schools, how it is being taught, and by whom. It is important to consider the question: where do we stand as Christians? But also: what are the practical implications of this for our schools?

In this article I will look at what the Bible teaches us, and how throughout the history this question has been dealt with. In a second article I hope to come to some conclusions relevant for our own situation.

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When God Doesn’t Give Children – 1

A quick Google search will tell you that more than 1 in 10 couples of child-bearing age will experience fertility problems. Some of these, with or without medical intervention, will receive children. Some will not.

You need to trust these statistics because many infertile couples struggle in silence. The reality is that in our churches there are people sitting in the pews who are struggling with the pain of infertility. In a church culture where marriage and children are expectations, most people fit in with that culture, and those who don’t – well, many of us do not know how to deal with that. Most of us don’t know if we should raise the subject, or what to say if we do. For those who do not receive children, suffering then comes with the added burden of silence and shame. For those who have not experienced infertility, I want to give some idea of what it is like.

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Change Happens in Community

As we study what Scripture tells us about growth, change, and restoration, we learn more and more that the process of healing and restoration happens in the context of community. The New Testament is filled with commands for how we are to live in relation to one another because of the work of God that is happening in us.

The Body of Christ
Jesus gives his disciples the command to love one another (John 13:34; 15:12). A new command, not because loving one another is something new, but because the model for that love is new. John explains this further in his first letter: “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers” (1 John 3:16). We have the model of God’s love which spills out from our hearts into the lives of those around us: “We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19).

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God’s Grace is Always Sufficient

God’s Grace is Always Sufficient

When thinking about depression I am reminded of William Cowper (1731-1800). This name might not be known by many. His loyal friend the ex-slave trader John Newton, though, will certainly be more familiar because he is the author of the popular hymn “Amazing Grace”.

Cowper was often plagued by doubts and melancholy. His depression was so serious that he spent time in an asylum, a place for people who suffered from mental illness. His friendship with John Newton proved to be an enormous blessing for him. John Newton was always at Cowper’s side whenever he needed him. Cowper said, “A sincerer or more affectionate friend no man ever had”.[i] To have true friends when you go through the valley of depression is a real blessing.

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The First and Second Advent

The First and Second Advent

O come, O come, Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here,
Until the Son of God appear.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

In the Old Testament times the people of Israel would have sung similar words in expectation of Christ’s first coming. This hymn speaks about the Son of God appearing, the Emmanuel Who was promised by the prophet Isaiah in chapter 7 verse 14: “Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel”. The New Testament church, that’s us, sings this beautiful hymn in preparation as well as commemoration of the birth of Christ, His first coming, but also in expectation of His second coming. He is the One Who has come, is coming, and will come. When He will come again we don’t know. No one knows the day or moment when the bridegroom shall appear. It’s a day on God’s calendar.

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‘conversion therapy’ Laws

ACT and QLD ‘conversion therapy’ laws pave the way for Christian persecution in Australia.

In the last month, two Australian jurisdictions (Queensland and the ACT) have passed laws which are a serious threat to the Christian faith. While these laws may not seem dangerous at first glance, they have serious implications for religious freedom.

In mid-August, Queensland became the first Australian state to ban ‘gay conversion therapy.’ Health professionals in Queensland who are found guilty of trying to suppress or change a patient’s gender identity or sexual orientation through any form of therapy face penalties of up to 18 months’ imprisonment.

By the end of August, the ACT did the same, making it an offence to perform a “conversion practice” on a “protected person” (including children), irrespective of whether or not the person, a parent or guardian gives consent. Despite a last-minute clarification by the government that “a mere expression of a religious tenet or belief” would not be banned, more stringent amendments to specifically protect parents, teachers and counsellors as well as amendments to protect churches and faith-based schools were not passed.

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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.

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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? Dictionary.com 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 https://tabletalkmagazine.com/article/2019/07/faithfulness-in-the-little-things-where-we-are-called.

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

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