During the week I was chatting with a friend and he asked how our plans for the upcoming Europe trip were going. After making a few comments about it, I concluded by mentioning the date we hope to leave and that is when the ‘adventure’ would begin. My friend then noted that the first part of that word is also what we use for this time of the year, ‘Advent’. The definition of ‘Advent’ according to the dictionary is, “the coming into place, view, something exciting about to happen.”
This Sunday is the beginning of the ‘advent’ season, the first Sunday of four, before the celebration of Jesus’ birth. Although I am personally not such a ‘church-calendar’ man, it is good to sometimes remember these specific events, for they too can easily pass us by if we’re not careful. Of course, in some ways, every Sunday should be an ‘advent’ Sunday, for we come together to worship the Saviour who was born of a woman, lived amongst us for thirty-three years and then made the ultimate, perfect sacrifice for our sin. Unfortunately, we sometimes become so used to that good news, that it doesn’t excite us anymore and if we are not careful, it all becomes a little dull and boring.
So it is good to be excited about ‘advent.’ It is good to be excited about the fact that Jesus took a huge step-down from His exalted position to become our Saviour. It’s exciting to know that He became one of us (sin excepted) and made His dwelling with sinful man. It’s exciting to know that Jesus in perfect obedience to His Father, did not think equality with the Father something to be grasped but made himself like us so that He could redeem all those whom the Father has appointed unto eternal life (Phil 2:5ff).
There is nothing dull or boring about those truths, for without Jesus we would have nothing to be excited about. Without Him, there would be no forgiveness of sin, no peace that passes understanding, no eternal life for all who believe. So it is good to be excited about ‘advent’.
Interestingly, the thought of total obedience to the Father, the shame of being ‘cursed’ on the cross outside the city, and the redemption of all the Father has appointed to eternal life, filled Jesus’ with joy as well (Heb 12:2). Despite the fact that the road of total obedience to the Father in heaven meant suffering (Heb 2:10) and abandonment for Jesus, He willing endured, even to the point of shedding his blood and dying an agonising death. Thankfully, death could not hold Him and He rose to be seated at the Father’s right hand, a place of absolute authority.
I am not too sure what exciting adventures you are planning over the Christmas season. Whatever they may be, may our excitement about Jesus’ coming never diminish, but cause us to look forward with the same excitement to His second coming. JZ
"Where Mr Trump is trumped"
I am somewhat surprised how many people, including some Christians, who have become unsettled with Mr Donald Trump’s election as President-elect. Some suggest that he is too rash, a little like a loose cannon. Others suggest that his foreign policy is far too confronting. Some suggest that he is not fit to have the nuclear codes in his hands. Others suggest that the policy towards illegal immigrants and Muslims is far too harsh. Still, others suggest that his ‘locker-room’ talk indicates that he is not morally fit for office.
Well, I am sure some of these concerns are justified, and sure, he has said some rather rash and unsavoury things. I too have my misgivings, but to be fair, I would probably have had them if Mrs Hilary Clinton had ben elected also. Perhaps, it is good to be reminded that Mr Donald Trump has no authority except that which God has established (Romans 13). Furthermore, God can even use a ‘crooked’ stick to strike some straight blows, and perhaps that is what the western world needs at this time.
Over recent decades there has been a slow but certain demolition of biblical morals and standards in western societies, not only in America but also in our society. For example, the Lord’s prayer can no longer be recited publicly in many of our State run schools. We are repeatedly told that everyone needs to be tolerant of alternate ‘faith views’, although it increasingly appears that may not be true for those who hold to the Christian faith. The same-sex and civil unions debate continues in our parliaments; the Safe-Schools program leaves much to be desired; indeed, those who hold to the Christian faith are facing more abuse and ‘name-calling’ than ever before.
But even if Mr Donald Trump cannot stop the erosion of Christian principles and morals in our societies, alarming as that may be, Jesus is still on the throne and will be forever more! So don’t panic. Jesus has promised to be with us to the close of the age. When all is done and dusted, we as Christians don’t place our trust and faith in a mortal human being, albeit the President-elect of the most powerful nation on earth. We trust and place our faith in an almighty God who has revealed in His word that He is the same yesterday, today and forever. And all His promises for His children are sure and yes and amen in Christ. So dear Christian, don’t let any election unsettle you too much, rather remind yourself that God is on the throne and will be forever.
Indeed, this is a great reason for thankfulness. There is one stable Rock we can stand and build on, even in the midst of a possible turbulent Presidency. We build on Christ Jesus and not on the moving sands which change with each tide. As the Psalmist says, God is our refuge and strength, therefore we shall not be afraid (or unsettled Ps 46).
It’s all good and well to express some concern at the result of any election, but our hope and futures lie beyond Prime Ministers and even beyond President-elect Mr Donald Trump. Prime Ministers and Presidents are like the flowers of the field. They may bloom for a day, but when evening comes, their flower fades and their place is remembered no more. The same is true of us.
And so we look beyond our immediate earthly surroundings and set our sights on the heavenly city, whose architect and builder is God. Jesus reminded us that He would be with us to the very end of the age and the He and the Father will never let us fall out of His hands. Paul reminds us that nothing in all creation can separate us from God’s love in Jesus Christ. Let us find rest and peace in the One who is really on the throne. JZ
There are several reasons why sinful man suggests that God is unfair to hold them to account for their rejection or total unbelief toward Him. For instance, some just flatly say that God cannot be real or true, for He cannot be seen (Atheists). Others suggest that they ‘believe’ there is a God, but that he cannot be known. Still, others say that if God was real and loving, He would reveal himself in such a way that people could not help but believe.
The Bible says that man is without excuse for their unbelief. The reason given in Scripture is not because God hasn’t revealed himself, but that because of man’s wickedness they have chosen to reject God and as a result, God has allowed them to continue on in their rebellious behaviour, which only gets worse.
The question I often think about as a believer is how to make contact with these types of people? What should our starting point be if and when we have an opportunity to discuss ‘religious’ things with them? Some Christians suggest we should start to speak about their sin. But then again, sin doesn’t mean anything to someone who doesn’t believe in God or that he is accountable to God. Others suggest that we should speak about the love of God, but again with respect, those who do not believe in God have no understanding of a loving God. On the contrary, they would probably give you evidence of an unloving God, especially when one experiences the tragedies of life.
Well, I think we should start where Scripture starts, namely, creation. Not only does the Bible begin there, so does Paul in Romans 1:18-20; “The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.”
When a student receives a bad mark for an exam, they may be inclined to blame the teacher or lecturer. However, Scripture will not allow unbelievers to blame their teacher for their rejection or unbelief, for the teacher is none other than God himself. In fact, Scripture tells us that it is man’s own wickedness that is the reason or their disbelief.
While in Sydney this week, we went to the Petbarn store at Penrith. It is quite a big store, and along part of one wall, they have all these fish tanks with little and not quite so little fish swimming in them, literally hundreds of them, all made according to their kind! While I was so taken by the vast variety of fish, my mind went to Romans 1:18-20 and I concluded again that Scripture was right when it says God has revealed himself plainly and that man is without excuse. How could you say there is no Creator God when standing in front of such a vast array of creation in one small fish tank? Really, there is only one real answer and that is what Scripture also says, “It’s your wickedness that has brought you to that point.”
Do you know there are estimated to be 9,956 different kinds of birds? 6,199 different kinds of amphibians; 30,000 different kinds of fish; 5,416 kinds of mammals, and last but not least, 950,000 different types of insects? Our God made them all, each with their own particular DNA. It’s mind boggling! And then to think some people never think about God, or reject him outright, or say he hasn’t revealed himself for us to be sure there is a God. How great is man’s wickedness to say there is no God or even to suggest it all started with some big-bang!
There are many ways to start a conversation with a non-believer, but perhaps to start where Scripture starts is worthwhile considering again. And if the Lord wills and blesses our approach, we could also remind them that God knew we needed help to believe in Him after the fall into sin, and hence sent His Son as payment for our unbelief and His Holy Spirit to quicken us to saving faith. As a result of that mercy and grace, we not only praise God for creation, but for our redemption and salvation! JZ
Infant and Believer's baptism...
As most of you know, in our Reformed Church we practice both infant and adult baptism. Today, we actually witness the ‘adult’ or ‘believer’s baptism of Sean Sweeney. In a denomination where we generally see infants being baptised, it’s rather special to witness an adult baptism. Strangely, it is not all that different than infant baptism for all the promises in Christ that are true and sure for our little children when they are baptised, are also true for adults when they come to faith and are baptised. Of course, there is one major difference and that when infants are baptised they still need to come to faith in Jesus Christ, whereas in adult baptism, the baptism itself is also regarded as a Profession of faith.
One of the reasons why some parents prefer believer’s baptism rather than infant baptism is because in the past, parents who have had their children baptised as infants, believe, or at least behave in a way that presumes their children are guaranteed a place in heaven. Well, we know this is not so. The Apostle Paul speaks about the disobedience of God’s covenant children in 1 Corinthians 10:1-13. Most of the male children were circumcised on the eighth day (Gen 17:10-14) as a sign of being part of God’s covenant people, yet Paul mentions that God was not pleased with most of them and twenty-three thousand fell in one day.
So, if anything, let’s take this warning seriously and not belittle our responsibility as parents. When our little children are baptised and become part of God’s covenant people, we as parents and as a fellowship have an obligation, more than that, a God-given duty to teach our little children about the love of God for them, particularly as seen in the Lord Jesus Christ and to live in thankful obedience and not in disobedience. So, circumcision in the Old Testament nor infant baptism in the New Testament guarantees a place in heaven.
A similar warning and responsibility exist for those who experience believer’s baptism as their Profession of faith. Just because adult baptism is linked with a Public Profession of faith, it does not guarantee a place in heaven for the participant. They too, have a responsibility to persevere in the Christian faith and to ensure that their Profession of Faith was genuine. And we as a fellowship also have an obligation to encourage those who receive baptism as an adult in their walk with the Lord. If they, who experience believer’s baptism, walk away from the Christian faith (as some have done), then it either shows their adult baptism as a profession of faith was a sham, or at the very least they are being extremely disobedient for a season in their lives. So, believer’s baptism doesn’t guarantee a place in heaven either.
Finally, when a person does their profession of faith, whether or not they were baptised as an infant or as a believing adult, one thing is sure, it is a sign of God’s grace and mercy towards that individual. In fact, every time we witness this, a small miracle has occurred. God by the power of His Word and Spirit going forth, has changed a person’s heart from one which was a cold, closed and hard as stone, to one which by the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit, is now softened, opened and warmed to became a heart of flesh, receptive to the good news of Jesus Christ. Furthermore, the recipients of such amazing grace, do not embrace Jesus as Saviour unwillingly, as though their will has been abolished or changed by force. Rather, the Holy Spirit applies God’s word in such a way that it spiritually revives, heals, reforms and in a manner at once pleasing and powerful, bends the will back entirely, so that the recipient willingly embraces Jesus as Saviour. And when we arrive at that point, God continues to preserve us so that we can persevere to the end in good works (Eph 2:10). For God has promised to complete the good work He has begun in us (Phil 1:6) and that He, along with His Son, will never let us fall from His eternal hands (John 10:28ff).
So today, Sean Sweeney and we as a Christian fellowship have much to give God thanks for as we witness the public profession of faith in Sean’s baptism today. Gloria Deo! JZ