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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The Word of God Abides Forever

“The grass withers, the flower fades,
but the word of our God stands forever.” (Isaiah 40:8)

Memory Work

She had been a member of the Free Presbyterian Church all her life. Faithfully and diligently she had read the Scriptures and memorized multiple sections of the Word throughout her life. Now, during the autumn of her life, she started to lose control of her faculties little by little. She was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, that degenerative disease which leaves a human being ultimately as a mere shell, at a vegetative level. 

The minister of her congregation visited her faithfully in the care facility where she now resided for a number of years, recounts Rev. Alan Cairns to his audience. The time came that the minister could not have a conversation with her anymore. He would greet her, mention his name, and ask after her well-being, but would not even receive a signal that she was aware of his presence. She was essentially cut off from all human communication and relationship. Effectively, she had already left this world behind.

“But,” recalls Rev. Cairns, “then the moment came, after he had chatted in monologue for a while, that the minister took out his Bible and started to read from the Scriptures. To his amazement he heard a soft, quavering voice speaking the same Scriptures which he was reading. Whereas no communication at all was possible anymore, whereas she needed full-fledged help from bed to toilet and to mealtimes, when it came to God’s Word, she actually came alive and spoke!” All the memory work she had imbibed all through her life was still there, even with everything else gone!

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Psalms of Lament

We are familiar with the Psalms. We sing them every Sunday and many of us have grown up learning them by heart. Within them we find written expression for the range of emotions relating to the human experience. There are a number of different types of psalms, the most common type being the Psalms of lament. These Psalms are cries of anger, protest, deep distress and doubt, all brought before the Lord. The psalmist is in a desperate place and is crying out to the Lord for help, for deliverance.

Let’s learn to use the Psalms of lament as a means of expressing our own emotions and needs to God.

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No One Said ‘Hello’

“No one said ‘Hello’ to me at church today.” This can be a common refrain from visitors to a church, but also from members within a congregation. Research has shown that how visitors are welcomed when they enter a church for the first (or second or third) time can make a huge impact on whether or not they return to that church.

It is true that being a friendly and welcoming church cannot turn people into believers. The gospel message must be proclaimed, heard, and by the life-giving work of the Spirit, believed. It is the message of salvation that makes believers, not a friendly greeting. But it is also true that the message must first be heard.[i]  And how can it be heard if people are not in a church where the Truth is proclaimed? A warm welcome and a kind greeting can make the difference between someone returning to hear that Truth proclaimed and someone who says they will never go back to ‘that church’ again.

So, the question is, how well are we doing with our greetings?

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Humility: The Key to Entry

In his Sermon on the Mount, our Lord Jesus taught us to pursue things that our society mocks. In the first place, He blesses the humble: “Blessed are the poor in spirit” (Matt 5:3).  To be poor means to be destitute before God. Just as this word describes the poor widow whose worldly possessions were two coins, so being poor in spirit means that you are utterly destitute before God in your spirit. You have nothing to claim before God, but you stand before him with utter humility, completely dependent upon him for all things. Christ says that this is a defining feature of those who would share in the kingdom of heaven. 

Today, humility is out of vogue. In a world where everyone is trying to collect as many friends and likes as possible, the norm is self-absorption and self-promotion. Even in the church, humility seems to have lost its place. Some churches pride themselves on their progressive stance; others on their doctrinal purity. The topics that generate books and conferences are mission, evangelism, church planting, pastoral burnout, or doctrines like creation or justification. When is the last time you attended a conference or read a book on humility? Or let me make it personal: How do you evaluate personal spiritual growth? You might include things like church attendance, prayer and Bible reading. But is that really the best measure of spiritual health? The Pharisees had these in abundance, but Jesus rejected them. What about humility?

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Good Parenting

Sometimes parents ask this question, “Do you have any suggestions on good parenting?” It’s a question that usually comes from a parent who is struggling to control a child. And the assumption is made that, due to my line of work, I might know a thing or two about good parenting. Sadly enough, I find it very difficult to offer good parenting advice. Being a good parent isn’t easy. It’s a very demanding and complex challenge! Just last week I heard about a mum in Perth who was fined for spanking her child. I say, “What’s a parent to do?” And further, I am also not sure that what might work at school will necessarily help parents at home. Nevertheless, I hope you’ll permit me to share a few personal observations on good parenting.

Years ago, my first response to this “good parenting question” was: “What does God’s Word say?” In particular, I would often refer parents to Proverbs 13:24, “He who spares his rod hates his son, but he who loves him disciplines him promptly.” Similarly, I would have mentioned Proverbs 22:6, “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.” These verses are excellent reminders that good parenting involves an early intervention (start when the child is still young) and training/teaching, not expecting that a child will know his right from wrong. God’s Word is indeed the go-to-place for good parenting suggestions. 

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