New Year’s Resolutions

I read a story some time ago about a high school principal. At the beginning of a new year he decided to post his teachers’ New Year’s resolutions on the bulletin board. As the teachers gathered around the bulletin board to read one another’s resolutions, a great commotion started. One of the teachers was complaining: “Why weren’t my resolutions posted?” She was throwing such a temper tantrum that the principal hurried to his office to see if he had overlooked her resolutions. Sure enough, he had mislaid them on his desk. As he read her resolutions he was astounded. Her first resolution was not to let little things upset her in the New Year.

Or how about this one? A son called his parents from overseas to wish them a happy new year. When his Dad answered the phone, he asked his Dad: ”Well Dad, what’s your New Year’s resolution?” His Dad replied: “To make your mother as happy as I can all year.” When his Mom got on the phone he asked her the same question. His Mom replied: “My resolution is to see that your Dad keeps his New Year’s resolution.”

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As grain once scattered on the hillsides

Many of the churches within our federation have celebrated the Lord’s Supper in the past couple of weeks. This celebration is a command of our Lord Jesus Christ, who told us through His apostle Paul: “Do this in remembrance of Me.” (1 Corinthians 11:24)

We know that when we celebrate the Lord’s Supper, we have communion with Christ and communion with each other. Paul speaks about the body of Christ in 1 Corinthians 11, of which we are all part. That is so beautifully symbolised in the Lord’s Supper.

Hymn 61

We have a beautiful hymn in our Book of Praise, Hymn 61, where we sing:

                As grain, once scattered on the hillsides,

                was in the broken bread made one,

                so from all lands your church be gathered

                into your kingdom by your Son.

This hymn was probably sung in several congregations on the Lord’s Supper Sunday. The element of being one with the church of all times and places receives even more emphasis when we realise that the words of this hymn were taken from an old liturgy, which probably originates from the first century: the first generation after the apostles. We can find it in the Didache, or The Lord’s Teaching Through the Twelve Apostles to the Nations. Most scholars date this document to the first century.

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The deceiver

The deceiver is a subject that we don’t normally like to talk or write about and when you see the above title you will no doubt shudder. Why write about the deceiver, the devil, our arch enemy? That’s not a nice and pleasant subject you will say. And I agree. You are quite correct, the devil is not nice, never has been nice and never will be nice. That’s also the reason why I wrote his name in the title with a small letter instead of a capital letter, for he doesn’t deserve a capital letter. Sometimes he pretends to be nice but that’s his deceitful character for he is the deceiver and liar from the beginning. We shudder when we think of him. And for that reason it certainly is an awful subject to write about. Most likely that is also the reason why we don’t read much about this topic. Yet we ignore the devil at our peril.

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Mind the Gap

Several months ago, I was reading a book on biblical counselling in the local church and read this sentence: “The church, operating as Christ has intended it, is the best possible place for healing”[1]. In one of the many books that I have been reading, I stumbled across this sentence and it has stuck with me ever since. The church is the best possible place for someone to heal. I read that sentence in June. Since then, I have read a lot more, listened to a whole lot more lectures, podcasts and presentations yet that sentence is still bookmarked in my mind. It is still hanging there.

This sentence stands out in my mind, not just because those words are now scrawled on one of the many sticky notes that can be found on my desk, but because of the questions I have had since reading it. I know the sentence is theologically sound. The questions I have relate specifically to practice: why is this not evident for the FRC? Why is it that so many hurting people look for healing elsewhere? Why do they leave and go to other churches? Why do they seek counsel from professionals without members of their church knowing? If we believe that the church is the best place to find refuge, why are there so many hurting people in our community unable to find shelter and escape from the brokenness of their lives?

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Suffering

I imagine most of us, if not all of us, would do our best to avoid suffering. It is an experience we do not find pleasant. It is an experience we probably would not choose to hear on the day we profess our faith. After all, this is a day of joy and celebration. Many of us would still be in our teens at that stage of life and, if you are like me, quickly push aside those first words of 1 Peter 5:10, 11:

After you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the dominion for ever and ever. Amen.

They hardly seem relevant, especially to us who have grown up with so many privileges.  This tends to make us believe that we are entitled to a life free of suffering, and we are going to do everything we can to make this happen.

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A letter from John Calvin to the brothers in France

Part of the Reformation monument in Geneva: four Reformers

There was much persecution during the time of the great Reformation. It greatly affected John Calvin; it caused him to study the Bible on this matter and write many letters to comfort fellow sufferers. This letter is an example.

Geneva, June 1559

Dearly beloved and honored brothers,

You are all suffering persecution; like a storm it is suddenly blowing with such power that its effects are felt everywhere.  We do not know about your personal situations, so we thought it best to write a general letter to encourage you in the name of God. Although Satan causes great trouble, not to give up brothers; do not withdraw from the battle. Withdrawing will rob you of the fruit of the victory which has been promised and confirmed to you. It is most certain that if God did not give freedom to Satan and his agents, they could not attack you.

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De Bres, the Belgic Confession & Persecution

Did you know the Belgic Confession is the only officially adopted Reformed confession written by a martyr?  True, other confessions were written by martyrs.  The most notable is the Guanabara Confession.  It was written in 1557 by three Huguenot martyrs in Brazil – it bears the distinction of being the first Reformed confession written in the Americas.  Yet, unlike our Belgic, the Guanabara Confession was never adopted by any church.  The Belgic Confession stands alone.

If we closely survey the Belgic Confession, we’ll find the themes of martyrdom and persecution pervading it.  It’s common knowledge that Guido de Brès borrowed heavily from the French Confession of 1559.  However, one of the significant differences between the French Confession and the Belgic is the emphasis in the Belgic on persecution and martyrdom.  In fact, there is no European Reformation confession as oriented to this subject as the Belgic.

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Better Listening, Better Helping

Introduction

It’s probably been a while since you were young, but you might recall a nursery rhyme from years ago. It’s a poem about the merits of measuring our words:

A wise old owl sat in an oak;
The more he saw, the less he spoke;
The less he spoke, the more he heard;
Why can’t we all be like that wise old bird?

This little poem points out the close connection between being wise and limiting what we say: “The less he spoke, the more he heard.” It picks up on something that God himself has revealed, for Proverbs 10:19 says,
“In the multitude of words sin is not lacking, but he who restrains his lips is wise.” Choosing to speak less certainly allows us to hear more.

Yet it seems that listening is in short supply these days.
People aren’t used to being listened to, because everyone is busy and they don’t have the time to really tune in. Or everyone is eager to air their opinions: we want to be heard, and we want others to see and notice us. The result is that we don’t always listen to what’s going on around us, and we miss out on something essential.

In this article and the next, we’ll see that listening is fundamental to the activity of helping a fellow member in the church. So how can we do it better, so that listening becomes a tool that we can use to bless and
support other people?

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The Invisible Hand of God

All around us in creation, we can see God’s hand, and His awesome handiwork. One ancient psalmist wrote: “Of old you laid the foundation of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands” (102:25). In another psalm, the author knew that his existence came from God’s hand: “Your hands have made me and fashioned me” (119:73). It is also from God’s hands that all blessings flow: “You open your hand, they are filled with good” (Psalm 104:28). “You open your hand and satisfy the desire of every living thing” (Psalm 145:15).

And no matter where we are, or where we go, “Your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me” (Psalm 139:10). When we are in trouble, we can cry out to God: “Stretch out your hand from above; rescue me and deliver me” (Psalm 144:7). When I read all these passages from the Psalms, I feel so wonderfully safe and secure in God’s hand, for nothing in heaven above, or on earth below is able to snatch me out of the loving, wise and powerful hands of my Father and Saviour (cf. John 10:28-29). 

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Greeting the Newcomer

It is Sunday morning, and you are tired. You are walking out of church and you see some people you do not recognize. It would be easy to slip by and head for home and coffee. But then you remember: God has so graciously redeemed me and made me His own. He has pursued me and now through Jesus Christ I am a sinner saved! So instead of walking by, you gather your courage and you head towards that visitor….

But how do we greet this visitor well?

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