The Bible as a Sacrament: Experience the Presence of God in the Pages of Holy Scripture!

During the last few weeks we have been considering the precious aspects of ministry, always honored by our Lord: anointing the sick with oil, serving holy communion, and today: reading from the Bible.

A couple of years ago Dr. Francis Martin, a priest and Pauline scholar, spoke at Regent University. Father Martin passed away last year, but I’ll never forget his words. He told us that reading the Bible is a sacrament. We can touch the Bible, we can open it, and read from it. As we do so, God pours out his grace on us and we experience his presence through the work of the Holy Spirit. Isn’t that wonderful! In reading from the Word, the living Lord appears to us!

In the last few years a number of books were published, urging the church to renew her devotion to the study of Scripture. I am thinking of Hans Boersma’s Scripture as Real Presence: Sacramental Exegesis in the Early Church, 2017, Matthew Barrett’s God’s Word Alone, 2016, and D. A. Carson’s edited comprehensive volume of essays on the Enduring Authority of the Christian Scriptures, also in 2016. In 2009 Timothy Ward wrote Words of Life: Scripture as the Living and Active Word of God, and in 2003 John Webster urged us never to forget that the Bible is Holy Scripture. As I review these books, the words of Revelation 2:29 (ESV) come to me: “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”

Every revival and renewal movement in the history of the church was always preceded by prayer and study of the Word. A love for the Bible is one of the clearest signs of the work of the Holy Spirit in a person’s life. After I had given my life to Jesus as a 12-year old boy, I read my Bible and underlined it in a way that encourages me to this day. I am sure you had the same experience. Please share with us in the “Discussion” space below!

Today we have the best and easiest to read translations. People often ask me which translation is the best. The best translation for you is the one that speaks to you! Competition between publishers is so fierce today that there are no bad translations on the market. Let me share with you what I find helpful in my daily reading of Scripture. The New International Version (NIV) remains one of the best. The NIV committee of translators included scholars from all denominations, including Pentecostal denominations, and this is why the NIV remains so widely accepted. I also find the New Living Translation (NLT) enjoyable to read and true to the original languages. The English Standard Version (ESV) Reader’s Bible, deserves special recognition. Beautifully printed in a single column without all the verse numbers and section headings, it is uniquely suited for extensive Bible reading.

Have you discovered the benefits of listening to audio versions of the Bible? In my early morning devotion I am listening to the audio edition of the New Living Translation, called Breathe Bible. What the creators of this audio presentation say is true: “Feel the moving of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, and sit with Paul as he pens his teachings.” Get the free app and listen to the Gospel of John. Access to the rest of the New Testament is not expensive.

Let us listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches and let us read our Bibles diligently and experience the presence of our Lord!

Share with us what you have found helpful in your reading of the Bible.

The Risen Jesus in Our Midst: Holy Communion





We are reflecting on the five Christian practices that are always successful—always honored by God:

  1. Anointing the sick,
  2. Serving of Holy Communion,
  3. Reading from the Bible,
  4. Laying hands on those who are set apart for a task, and

Last week we talked about anointing the sick as part of the gospel message. Let’s focus our discussion today on the serving of Holy Communion.

Holy Communion was instituted by our Lord during the last supper he had with his disciples. This is why Holy Communion is also called the Lord’s Supper/the Last Supper, or the Eucharist (from the Greek word for thanksgiving). Jesus said to his disciples:  “I have wanted so much to eat this Passover meal with you before I suffer!” (Lk 22:15 Good News Translation).

Paul conveys the words of the Lord so beautifully in 1 Corinthians 11:23-26:

For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, ‘This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.’

In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.’  For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.

The early Christians took these words of the Lord seriously. Acts 2:42 states that the believers “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer” (NIV). When the early church ate together, they also celebrated communion. The New Living Translation says it so well: “All the believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, and to fellowship, and to sharing in meals (including the Lord’s Supper), and to prayer.”

Jesus promised that in the elements of bread and wine he would be in the midst of his followers. That is why the early church celebrated holy communion every time they met! Although Calvin supported this practice, many churches of the reformation celebrate the Lord’s Supper much less—some only four times a year, but many monthly. The reason is that they want to treat Holy Communion with the reverence it deserves.

I believe that we should rediscover the wonder of the Lord’s presence as we celebrate the Lord’s Supper together. Let’s do it more often! Let’s celebrate the Lord’s Supper even in our homes as families! Let’s take the elements to those who are bedridden and infirm, and let’s expect the Lord’s real presence in our midst!

Have you experienced the Lord’s presence in a special way as you celebrated the Lord’s Supper? Please share with us!

Anoint the Sick with Oil

In my June posting, “Do These and You’ll Always be Successful!” Dr. Cletus Hull shared with us that there are five practices in ministry that are always successful:

  1. Anoint the sick with healing oil,
  2. Serve holy communion,
  3. Read from the Bible,
  4. Lay hands on those who are ill, and those who are set apart for a task; and
  5. Pray always!

In the weeks that follow, I’ll discuss each of these holy practices and I invite you to join our conversation.

Let’s start by reading James 5:14-15 (NLT):

Are any of you sick? You should call for the elders of the church to come and pray over you, anointing you with oil in the name of the Lord.  Such a prayer offered in faith will heal the sick, and the Lord will make you well. And if you have committed any sins, you will be forgiven.

Healing the sick is part of the Christian message. It is not an optional aspect of the gospel message.  Anointing with oil was an act of dedicating a person to the Lord. Jesus came so that his followers “may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10). Jesus’ healing ministry clearly shows that “life to the full” includes healing from the pain and suffering brought about by illness.

Sickness was a huge part of the world in the time of Jesus, and it remains a large part of our world today. It is estimated, for example, that health care comprises a sixth of the US economy. Advancements in medicine have brought much relief, and I believe that God in his grace has given this knowledge to humanity. God remains, however, the healer—as the motto of St. Paul’s hospital in Norfolk, Virginia, says so well: “We dress the wound, but God heals.” Despite all the developments in the medical field, millions of people are still suffering and are desperately in need of healing.

My mother had been involved in a serious car accident just a few months before she and my father were married. Her sister, as well as the driver of the vehicle, were killed and my mother was the sole survivor. She experienced fractures all over her body and suffered much pain until her death at the age of 56. We often prayed for her healing, we fasted and took her to healing services. She was a sincere believer and found the joy of the Lord in the midst of her suffering. My dad, Head of the Department of Orthopedics at the University of Pretoria and a devout believer, assisted her with great care. Medicine could not do anything more and our eyes were on the Lord, who brought her safely through many surgeries, including the removal of a brain tumor. It was indeed a miracle that she was able to raise two boys and we are so thankful that she attended both my brother’s graduation ceremony as well as mine.  But she was not healed in the way we were praying, and now we look forward to the new heaven and the new earth where “there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain” (Rev 21: 4).

I still have vivid memories of the times when we earnestly prayed for my mother’s healing. The prayers of our trusted friends were a source of great comfort and encouragement. My mom and dad had a close relationship with a group of missionaries who shared the gospel in South African schools. Joseph Chauke, Samuel and Johanna Theron, as well as Danie and Marie Blom met every Tuesday evening for a few weeks to pray for my mother’s healing. Shadrach Maloko, a devout pastor of a church in neighboring Soshanguve, also came to pray for my mother one evening. As we ate together, he observed that he could not eat much, since he had been fasting for my mother the whole day!

Healing remains a mystery because not everyone is healed. Even Paul mentions that he left Trophimus sick in Miletus (2 Timothy 4: 20). Yet I firmly believe that we should pray for the sick. When praying steadfastly and in faith, the Lord will answer—sometimes with miraculous healing, sometimes with a gradual improvement of the condition, and sometimes with healing in the new heaven and the new earth. God always answers steadfast, believing prayer and grants those who earnestly pray for the sick the experience of his intimate presence. Our Lord reveals himself in a unique way to those who pray for the sick.

 Please share with us your experience of praying for the sick and anointing them with oil in the discussion box below!




The Incredible Greatness of God’s Power

A couple of years ago, Jonathan Aitken, former Conservative Member of Parliament in the UK spoke at “Socrates in the City” in New York City. He became Minister of State for Defence Procurement under Prime Minister John Major, but was unfortunately convicted of perjury in 1999 and received an 18-month prison sentence, of which he served seven months in the Belmarsh prison.

Before entering prison a well-wisher slipped a small book, Praying the Psalms, into his pocket. The first evening, in severe agony he opened the book on June 8 (the date of his imprisonment) and read the Psalm of the day, Ps. 130. With the Psalmist he exclaimed:

Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord!
     O Lord, hear my voice!
Let your ears be attentive
to the voice of my pleas for mercy! (verses 1-2)

I wait for the Lord, my soul waits,
and in his word I hope;
my soul waits for the Lord
more than watchmen for the morning,
more than watchmen for the morning. (verses 5-6)

He read the psalm over and over and allowed verses 7 and 8 to restore his hope:

O Israel, hope in the Lord!
For with the Lord there is steadfast love,
and with him is plentiful redemption.
And he will redeem Israel
from all his iniquities. (ESV Translation)

The Psalm made such an impression on Jonathan that he often talked about it in prison. The months passed and as the date of his release drew closer, the prison chaplain invited him to give a talk on his last Sunday evening in prison. Notice boards were put up all over the prison, leading to quite an enlarged congregation. Suddenly, total silence fell on the noisy congregation, as “big face” entered. He was the most dangerous and feared inmate, the executioner of his gang before he was captured.

Jonathan read Psalm 130 and talked about God’s unfailing love and full redemption. Big Face was visibly moved as tears filled his eyes. After the service, he walked up to Jonathan and mentioned to him that the passage he read spoke to him hard. He invited Jonathan to come to his cell. He would invite his best mates, because they needed this message. He added that Jonathan could also bring his best mates, so that they all could feel at home.

Jonathan went to Big Face’s cell and spoke to the roughest inmates of Belmarsh prison. He talked about full redemption, God’s gift of mercy, peace, and grace. Nobody is beneath the reach of God’s grace; nobody can earn it, but people can put themselves in a position to receive it. These hardened criminals accepted the gospel message.

As I listened to Jonathan Aitken’s experience, I thought of Paul’s description of the gospel as the dynamis, power, of God. In Ephesians 1:19-20 Paul prayed that the believers would understand “the incredible greatness of God’s power for us who believe in him.” Paul then observed that this power “is the same mighty power that raised Christ from the dead.”

Have you experienced this “incredible greatness of God’s power”? Please share with us your experience!


Do These And You’ll Always be Successful!

Old and young person holding hands. Elderly care and respect.

A couple of years ago, one of my finest Ph.D. students, Rev. Dr. Cletus Hull, shared with me that there are five practices in ministry that are always successful:

  1. Anoint the sick with healing oil,
  2. Serve holy communion,
  3. Read from the Bible,
  4. Lay hands on those who are ill, and those who are set apart for a task; and
  5. Pray always!

This is so true and I asked Cletus to share his thoughts with the readers of my blog. These five symbolic actions are not restricted to pastors, but can be practiced wherever “two or three are gathered in my name” (Matt 18:20). These are symbols of God’s presence.

Cletus told me that an older pastor once told him that by utilizing these five Scriptural symbols, people would sense that they had received ministry. Reading an open Bible, anointing with oil or grasping another’s hand in prayer surpasses anything a pastor could achieve by his own initiative. “We cannot do it. Let God bear the load of ministry!” the wise man reiterated.

Ministry is about the God who acts in human beings. For many ministers it takes deep courage to say, “I can’t do this myself.” The symbols unveil concrete expressions of the Lord that people can touch and hold in faith. These Bible-honored symbols are points of contact, connecting us with God. These symbols of faith employ the five senses to associate with spiritual convictions and draw us closer to the original faith that touched our soul. That is the power of symbols!

The power of forgiveness, prayer, and symbols operate in the hard places of ministry. Because of their divine origin, they demonstrate and release God’s healing power. As a pastor or a lay minister in the Christian faith, we minister the life of Christ, who brought wholeness to a fragmented world. We humbly serve only as the conduits of God’s wholeness in humanity!

Rev. Dr. Cletus Hull has served as a chaplain at two Pennsylvania state psychiatric hospitals for twenty-nine years and is Senior Pastor of Trinity United Christian Church in Lower Burrell, Pennsylvania.


Wishing My Daughter a “Marriage of Many Years”!

I recently had the privilege of marrying our elder daughter. As I reflected on what to say, I thought of Dana Gioia’s poem,  Marriage of Many Years. And I realized that is what I wish my daughter and son-in-law: a marriage that will last many years.

We are all familiar with 1 Corinthians 13, the Apostle Paul’s poem on love. In first Corinthians 12 and 14 Paul describes the church as the body of Christ, where every member has a specific gift to serve the congregation. We can say that chapter 13 is the hinge that binds chapters 12 and 14 together. Without love the church as the body of Christ cannot function. Although this chapter was not written primarily for weddings, its message is valid for all aspects of the Christian life. My message to my daughter and son-in-law was that if they live this chapter their marriage will last.

Let’s look closer at 1 Corinthians 13: Verses 1 to 3 illustrate the necessity of love. Paul observes that even if he would speak the tongues of angels, but do not have love, he would only be “a resounding gong or clanging cymbal” – a hollow sound. In the next sentence Paul gradually raises the bar. He states in verse 2:

If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.

The gift of prophecy is a laudable gift. In 1 Corinthians 14 Paul encourages his readers to desire the spiritual gifts, especially prophecy. Similarly, the gift of faith is one of the most important attributes of the Christian life.

Paul reaches the climax of his argument in verse 3:

If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to the flames, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

In verses 4 to 8 Paul describes the character of love. Better as any other passage in Scripture he explains to us what true Christian love is. With a series of fifteen verbs Paul describes the love that is the heart of the Christian faith.

The first two clauses, “love is patient, love is kind,” is a description of God, who through Christ has shown his patience and kindness toward human beings. Jesus expects his followers to reflect the same patience and kindness. These two positive expressions are followed by seven verbs that indicate how love does not behave:

Love does not envy,

it does not boast,

it is not proud.

It does not dishonor others,

it is not self-seeking,

it is not easily angered,

it keeps no record of wrongs.

 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.

Finally, there is a staccato of four verbs, each connected with the object “all things.”

It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

These “always” phrases lead to the next section, verses 8-13, in which Paul emphasizes the permanence of love.

Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away.  For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

Love is the “way beyond comparison,” it characterizes the existence of the believer both now and forever – it never fails.

Paul concludes this passage with the triad “faith,” “hope,” and “love.” We find this triad throughout Paul’s letters as these words embrace the whole of Christian existence: as believers we live out the life of the Spirit in the present age, awaiting the day when Christ will return. We have faith in God, we trust him to forgive and accept us through Christ. We trust in his goodness and mercy and we have hope for the future. As we live our lives in faith and hope we have love for one another.

In our own strength we cannot live up to the love described in this chapter. We can only love in this way when the Holy Spirit loves through us. The Paul of 1 Corinthians 13 is the Paul of Galatians 2: 20: the Paul who said, “I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.” The Paul of 1 Corinthians 13, is the Paul of 2 Corinthians 5: 17: the Paul who said, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.”

When Christ lives in us, we are able to be patient and kind. We are not envious of each other, we are able not to be rude or self-seeking, nor are we easily angered or keeping record of wrongs. We are able to protect, trust, hope, and persevere.

When Christ lives in us, our marriages can last as long as we live.

Let’s pray together: “Lord Jesus I know that in my own power I cannot love in the way Paul describes in 1 Corinthians 13. I know that God is love and it is only through the power of the Holy Spirit that I can love. Fill me anew with your precious Holy Spirit.”

A Holy Moment: A Nation Honors Billy Graham and “His Best Friend, Jesus Christ”

My wife and I were deeply touched as we watched the ceremony when the casket of the Reverend Billy Graham arrived at the United States Capitol Rotunda. The Leader of the Senate, Mitch McConnell, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Paul Ryan, as well as the President of the United States of America, Donald Trump presented the gospel message so clearly as they remembered the life of Billy Graham. They talked about the way Billy Graham and the gospel he preached impacted them personally. President Trump recalled that day in New York when his father, Fred Trump, took him and his mother to a Billy Graham crusade. “Americans came in droves to hear that great young preacher,” said the President. “Fred Trump was a big fan.” The Chaplain of the United States Senate, Barry C. Black, concluded the ceremony “in the name of Billy Graham’s best friend, Jesus Christ.”

We are all aware of the secular world in which we live. During the Middle Ages Europe was the heart of Christendom. Today, according to Gallup, weekly church attendance in France and Germany is below 10%, while attendance in Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, and the United Kingdom is between 10% and 15% of citizens. The constitution of the European Union does not acknowledge the role of God and of Christianity in the formation of Europe and just vaguely mentions Europe’s “religious heritage.”

Although Gallup reported in 2013 that 4 out of 10 Americans confirmed that they had attended religious services during the last seven days, Eric Metaxas and Os Guinness (among others) warned Americans that they can lose their freedom if they lose the religious foundation of a virtuous life.

It is within this context that the ceremony in the United States Capitol Rotunda has such a profound prophetic meaning. Reverend Graham is only the fourth private citizen honored in this way. During his life, Billy Graham preached 417 crusades in 185 countries. In his death, the gospel message sounds loud and clear as the leaders of the largest country of the free world bow their heads in prayer to God Almighty. The Senate, House of Representatives and executive branch honored the Reverend Graham by placing wreaths next to the casket.

In his book, Global Awakening: How 20th-Century Revivals Triggered a Christian Revolution, Mark Shaw describes how Billy Graham’s ministry led to one of the great revivals of the century. Let us pray, dear Friends, that the events following his death will be the beginning of a mighty outpouring of the Holy Spirit in the United States of America, and all over the world.

  • Please share with us how the death of Billy Graham impacts you. I think of attending his crusade in Johannesburg, South Africa, with my dad many years ago.
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“I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” (2 Timothy 4:7): Reflections on the life of Billy Graham.

As we heard this week that Billy Graham had passed away, I thought of the life and death of my father-in-law, who was also a minister of the Word all his life. At his funeral, the president of our denomination mentioned how few pastors nowadays remain in the ministry. Both Billy Graham, as well as my  father can say with the Apostle Paul, “I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”

Billy Graham understood that the gospel is the power of God unto salvation for everyone who believes (Rom 1:16). He shared with people that they can know that their sins are forgiven and that they can start a new life—not in their own strength, but because those who believe in Christ are, in the words of 2 Corinthians 5:17, a new creation.

Billy Graham introduced millions of people to the living Lord Jesus. The power of God was tangibly present as he invited people to give their lives to the Lord. The gospel message resonated with powerful world leaders, as well as with millions of ordinary people. His ministry kindled a global awakening in the years that followed the second world war.

Billy Graham is no longer with us. Who will fulfill his leadership role in the 21st-century? I believe the Lord is raising up multiple leaders. Let us not overlook the pastors of congregations, small and large all over the country! Let us treasure our pastors because they are at the forefront of the battle for the kingdom of God! Let us pray for them and provide for them so that they can stay in the ministry, proclaiming the same gospel that Billy Graham understood so clearly.

Discussion: Do you agree that God is raising up multiple leaders in the 21st-century? In which ways can we care for our pastors, enabling them to stay in the ministry!

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“… joy comes with the morning” (Psalm 30:5, ESV)

Swedish lake in autumn colors. Early morning lake with a little fog or mist still left.

Today is my elder daughter’s bridal shower. When I woke up this morning I thought of the day about six weeks after her birth when we called upon the Lord to heal her. She was born while I was studying in Münster, Germany. She was born in the University Hospital, the same hospital where Raisa Gorbachev received treatment after diagnosed with cancer. We were still living in South Africa and we asked that our baby be vaccinated against tuberculosis, not knowing that the organism in the vaccine was not sufficiently weakened.  Our little baby developed a growing tuberculosis abscess.

We called Pastor Lehndorf, the pastor of a small Pentecostal church where we worshiped. He and his wife came and prayed for our little one. It was a Saturday afternoon and they stayed with our daughter so that we could get a little rest. On Monday morning the doctor was amazed at the healing – he mentioned that he had planned to operate, but it was no longer necessary. On Tuesday morning our firstborn went home with us!

The words of Psalm 30 gained new meaning for us:

O Lord my God, I cried to you for help,
and you have healed me …

Psalm 30 is also true for you, dear Reader. Call upon the Lord and He will turn your “mourning into dancing” (verse 11). The picture above allows us to experience the wonder of the early morning. It may be fall (as we can see from the colored leaves), but every morning is fresh and new and with God full of hope! Yes, “weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning.”