On 11 July 2021, Chief Apostle Jean-Luc Schneider conducted a divine service for the members of Southern Africa and Zambia. This divine service was conducted in English and broadcast from the NACI administrative headquarters in Zürich, Switzerland.
This special divine service was a truly unique event as it featured musical contributions and the calling up of District Apostle John Kriel from the Silvertown church building in Cape Town, South Africa. The divine service was made available on NACTV, the NACTV Facebook page, Cape Town TV on DSTV channel 263, YouTube, as well as Radio KC, Radio Teemaneng and SABIE stereo. For members who were unable to watch the divine service, please find a detailed summary of the sermon:
Opening Hymn: Victory through grace (EH:222)
Bible word: ‘Nevertheless I am continually with You; You hold me by my right hand. You will guide, me with Your counsel, And afterward receive me to glory.’ (Psalm 73:23-24)
My dear brothers and sisters, once more we are experiencing a service in very special conditions. We are here, as a small congregation. We are here in the conference centre where my office is. In Southern Africa, people cannot go to church. All our brothers and sisters are at home, and they follow this service on television or are listening to the transmission on the radio. And in Zambia, the working area of District Apostle Soko, some can go to church, others have to stay at home and listen to the transmission. So, it's a very special situation. But I'm thankful to God that at least we can be connected via the technology. And what's much more important, we are connected through the Holy Spirit. And we are not just connected between Zürich, Southern Africa, Zambia, Zimbabwe and so on. We are connected with God. And that's the most important thing. And this connection is always working. For sure, I was very sad that I wasn't allowed to come to Zambia last Sunday for the service for the departed. And for the moment, I cannot even plan a trip to South Africa. So that's really sad, I must say, and I suffer because of this. But I'm aware that you my dear brothers and sisters in Southern Africa and Zambia, you are suffering much more because you, as all of us, hoped for the situation to improve, and actually it becomes worse and worse. And I noticed that our brothers and sisters become tired. Some are just exhausted by the situation because they hope and hope, and each time they are disappointed, because it's getting worse. The District Apostles told me also that many brothers and sisters passed away during the past weeks. And I do not just keep up with the situation in these countries, but I share your suffering. And really, I suffer with you. And that's why it was my wish to experience this service with you, so that we can be strengthened and comforted by the Holy Spirit all together.
We have a Bible word today that is a well-known Psalm, Psalm 73. You know the story, everybody knows it. It was a faithful man, a faithful believer. He was faithful, he served the Lord, and suddenly he had to go through difficult times. He endured hardship. We don't really know what happened to him, but it was very difficult. He had a lot of tribulation, afflictions. And I am saddened, he suffered from this. And then he realized that others, who he called the wicked ones, those who didn't serve the Lord, those who didn't believe in God, they had a much better life than he had. And then he was first surprised. And then he was confused. And the more he thought about it, the more he found out it cannot be. And then he began to doubt. And he was close to abandoning God. But he did one thing, he was wise, and he went to the temple, the place where God met His people, in the house of God. And he had obviously a meeting with God. I don't know how it happened, but God showed Himself. And God revealed to him who He was. And God showed him, you know, I tell you the truth. I am the righteous One. I promised and I will bless the faithful one, and I will reject in the end the wicked one, So, trust me, I'm faithful, I am righteous. The faithful one will be blessed, and the others will be rejected. That was one revelation. The second one is maybe even more important. That's what I read here, “Nevertheless I am continually with You; You hold me by my right hand.” Often, this verse is understood in the sense that the faithful say I stay with God, it's difficult, but nevertheless, I stay with God. It can be an explanation, but when you look at the text, actually it's not the meaning of this verse. Because it wouldn't make sense. It says, “Nevertheless I am continually with You; You hold me by my right hand.” It's not a question, it's not talking about the achievements of the believers who remain faithful despite all the difficulties. It talks about God. God is faithful. And despite, what He calls the foolishness of the psalmist, who was doubting, who had no more trust, who was close to abandoning God, God did not reject him. And God stayed with him. Nevertheless, he was doubting. Nevertheless, he was close to abandoning God, God remained faithful, and He never stopped loving him. He didn't reject him. And that's the meaning of the sentence. Nevertheless, he says I was foolish, I was like an animal. I was ignorant, I was like a beast before you. ‘Nevertheless… You hold me by my right hand.’ So, the psalmist discovered two things. First, God is faithful. He tells the truth. He will bless the faithful one. He will reject the wicked one. And God is love. Even when I'm weak. Even when I abandon God. Despite my doubt, He never stops loving me. And that's the great revelation of this Psalm. God loves me despite my weakness, despite my doubt.
This context reminds us of another story, that's an earlier story, the story of Job. You know this story too. The story of Job tells of a faithful man much earlier in history. He was also very faithful, he served the Lord, he was obedient to God, and suddenly he too had to go through a difficult time. He had a lot of tragedy. Everything went wrong, and for a long time, he had to go through trials and difficulties. And he wanted to know the reason for all these afflictions, of this tragedy. Why? His friends came and they looked for an explanation. The one said that's a punishment for your sins. Job said that I am not a bigger sinner than you, why should I suffer because of my sins and you not? The other one said maybe God wants to cleanse you, to purify you through your suffering, that's a way to be purified. And Job said but that cannot be, why me and not you? And they were looking for an explanation to explain the suffering, the pain, the difficulties, and they couldn't find a satisfying answer. Job couldn't go to the temple, there was no temple at that time. But he was wise too because he never stopped talking to God. And he had the courage to talk to God and to tell Him I do not agree with You. That's not right. Why? I am angry and upset. He was angry with God, but he never stopped talking to Him, and thus God could answer him. And one day, I don't know how it happened, but God answered. And it's strange because God didn't answer his questions. He didn't give him an explanation. He never got an explanation why he had to suffer. Why it was so difficult for him. Why did these things happen to him and not to the others? He had no explanation. God talked to him and talked about His glory and His power. He reminded him who He was. Job was touched, and he could say, until now, I've heard about You, but now I know You. Now I know who You are, God. And that's why I want to remain faithful, and I decide to trust You. That was the key, and God blessed him. Because Job talked to God and never stopped talking to Him, He got the answer. He got no explanation, but God revealed Himself in His glory, in His power. And when Job realized who God was, he decided: I trust You, I remain faithful.
Two examples from the Old Testament. Now let us come to our time. Dear brothers and sisters, more or less all of us, we have to deal with the same situation. There are some moments for some years in our life, we have to go through very difficult times, a lot of pain, a lot of suffering, a lot of afflictions, there is a long list. And first, that’s human, that's normal, we are asking for an explanation, why God? I am faithful. I am obedient. I serve You. I go to church, I pray, I give my offering. What's the matter with You? Why didn't You answer my questions? Why didn't You answer my prayers? Why didn't You save me? Why didn't You help me? Why are You so silent? And we get no explanation. Just nothing, nothing happens. And then we look around us, and we realize quite often, but look, the others, they have a much better life. Those who are not obedient. Those who don't care about the commandments of God, the corrupted ones. They have a good life. They are rich, they are healthy, they are wealthy, they have everything. And I have nothing. I was hoping for a change. I didn't ask a lot, just a few things, the minimum, and I couldn't get it. And the others, the wicked ones, the corrupted ones, the sinners, they get everything.
And, you know, my dear brothers and sisters, what I'm talking about, you experience that in your countries. And then it can happen that we doubt and say is that God? You always talk about God of love. Are you sure this God does exist? And then we begin to doubt. And it's not surprising. That's just human. When nothing happens, when we see this injustice. What's the matter? We go to church, we pray, and we follow the teaching of the Apostles. And we are told these are the Apostles sent by Jesus Christ to bless you. Okay, we are faithful in our church. But in this church, they always talk about spiritual blessing, spiritual wealth, eternity, the return of the Lord. And I know some brothers and sisters say that's nice, but you know, I need help right now. I need help in my earthly life. I need some concrete, real help. Don’t talk about heaven. Don't talk about the future. I'm talking about my present. I am not talking about Jesus, heaven, blessing. I need help right now. And then sometimes, these brothers and sisters doubt. Is this the right church? Maybe I should try elsewhere. They promise me miracles. They pray for my health, and they give me some money, and they promise me that if I believe and I bring my offerings, Jesus will help me in my earthly life. And then we become unsteady. We are doubting. It is the church of God, it is the work of God, the Apostles are sent by Jesus. But when we look around us, we see so many imperfections. The servants, the ministers, the brothers and sisters are everything but perfect. And so many things happen that shouldn't happen, but they happen. And then comes the question, is that the work of the Lord? Are you serious about that? It cannot be. Questions, doubt, we become unsteady, we become upset, confused.
Brothers and sisters, what should we do? We should be as wise as Job was, and as Asaph was. Job couldn't go to the temple in person, as many of you, 1000s and 10 000s cannot go to church. But we can talk to God. And I ask you, please don't give up. Keep talking to God. You can tell Him everything. Tell Him that you are not satisfied. Tell Him that you can’t even believe in His love, in His existence. Talk to Him in prayer. Talk to Him, tell Him everything that is wrong with you. And do not hesitate. And then give the Holy Spirit a chance to answer. The Holy Spirit needs time and silence to answer. We live in a noisy and busy society. So, we have to make an effort to give the Holy Spirit a chance to answer. But do it please. Talk to God, and then give the Holy Spirit a chance to talk to you. He can talk to you through the minister's pastoral care. He can talk to you in your heart when you have enough time to meditate. Please do it. You have the gift of the Holy Spirit. Meditate. Think about your soul, about your faith, and let the Holy Spirit work in your heart. He will answer you; I tell you. And whenever it's possible, go to church, and listen to the preaching. That's the first. First, we want to talk to God, to seek a meeting with Him in our heart, or in the divine service. But we should have this desire. I want to get an answer from God. Be humble. Don't demand an explanation. Don't demand a solution. Just ask God, if You exist, if You love me, let me experience Your presence. And let me hear Your voice. That's all I want. Please let me experience Your presence, let me experience that You are talking to me. And I tell you, God will answer this prayer as He did for Job, as He did for the psalmist. He will answer this prayer. That's the first step. Talk to God. Give Him a chance to answer. Ask Him, I want to experience Your presence. All I want, is to hear Your voice.
With honesty, the psalmist went to the temple. That means he went out of his house. That's another point. And I take it as an image, even if we cannot go to church, but sometimes we just tend to stay in our house, in our home. That means we are focused on our fate, on our situation. Everything is about me. Go out. Look around you. And then you will realize that many others are suffering. You are not the only one who is enduring pain and suffering. You're not the only one who has to go through times of hardship. There are many others. Just look around you. Go out of your home. Don't stay in your home just focused on yourself. Go out and then you will see there are so many other people, believers and unbelievers, faithful people and the wicked ones, sinners. Many people around the world are suffering. And meditate that and then you will find out by yourself what cannot be. So, the circumstances I go through are not necessarily a consequence of my behaviour because many other people are going through the same situation. And we are different, so it cannot be that the sinners are punished, and the faithful are blessed. That has nothing to do with the hardship, the tribulation, the afflictions are not related with my behaviour, with the behaviour of people, because the good and the bad ones have tribulation. And there are good and bad ones who have nothing. So that's something different. What does it mean? It means that the pain, that the suffering you're going through is due to the fall into sin. That's nothing to do with the behaviour of the individual people. That's due to the fact that the world is under the domination of the evil one. The evil one with the mask of injustice. The evil one who is the king of disorder. So, no wonder that the world is in disorder. If everything would be in order, good ones should be rewarded and the bad ones should be punished. That would be the order. But the old evil one is the king of disorder. He does what he wants and there is no order. That's the domination of the evil one. That's the explanation. And that's total disorder, that is the best way to explain it. Nothing goes the way it should go. That's the first step. But realize, don't remain focused on yourself, just look around you, and you will find out it's not just about me, it's about evil in the world. The first step, go out and then listen to the Holy Spirit as I said. Ask the Spirit and give Him a chance to answer you. He will answer, through your heart, through the Priest, the soul-care visit, the soul-care conversation, or through the preaching in church. And the Holy Spirit will talk to you. He won't give you an explanation, and the solution. When the Holy Spirit talks, He talks about Jesus Christ. And He will tell you, hey remember, the Son of God, Jesus Christ, the Son of God Himself, He had to suffer too. And that was definitely not a lack of love, of interest from God. He suffered too. Remember, Jesus can understand you. Jesus had to suffer too. It is not a sign that God doesn't exist, and that God doesn't love you. His own Son had to suffer. But remember, Jesus overcame the sufferings. He overcame the devil. He overcame death, and He wants to save you. Remember His promise. Remember His word. Remember His plan. He wants to come to an end with the devil. He wants to overcome in that to deliver people from the domination of sin. What He wants is to lead you out of this world dominated by sin and to guide you in His Kingdom where there's no suffering, where everything is in order, where there is justice, peace. That's not the theory, that's the whole plan of God. That's the meaning, the reason for the Son of God coming on earth and suffering. And don't be surprised. Remember, Jesus told you, those who believe in Me, those who follow Me, those ones who want to be saved from the evil one, they will be attacked. Each time they will have to suffer. My enemy will come and try to separate them from Me. He will use the difficult time to attack their faith because he wants to destroy their faith. That's the explanation, that's what we are going for. That's the teaching of the Holy Spirit, listen to Him.
And then the next step, then we can experience the love of God. Talk to Him. Give Him a chance to answer, He will answer, through Holy Spirit, in our hearts, through the ministers, in the service, and then we can experience His love. And then we can realize, as the man in our Bible word did, God loves me. Even if I do not believe that He exists. Even if I doubt, even if I accuse Him. Even if I'm angry with Him. It doesn't matter. God loves me. My behaviour doesn't affect the love that God has for me. He is still there, reaches out His hand and say come, I want to help you. Come, I want to save you. We can experience His love through the word of God. We can experience His love through the fellowship of the children of God. We can experience the love of God through the forgiveness of our sins. And each time we can celebrate it through Holy Communion. That's the way Jesus shows us His love. And when we look precisely, we can experience His love in the daily life, even in the worst situation. Jesus always does a little sign to say hello I am here. Did you see Me? Hello, that was Me, you know, I sent you an angel. You know, I just managed for this and for that. Then, taught by the Holy Spirit, we can experience the love of God. And we realize who God is. That God is the faithful One. He has a plan to save us. And that's such a great experience to experience that God loves me even if I am angry with Him, even if I'm doubting, even if I refuse to believe in Him. He doesn't change. He loves me.
And that's my wish for everybody. Just being able to experience this special love. Again, you won't get an answer or an explanation for everything. But as these two men of God did in the past, you will experience that God is here and He loves me. And then you will know who God is. And as soon as we know who God is, we can trust Him, we can follow Him. “You will guide, me with Your counsel, And afterward receive me to glory.” God is teaching us. Then He helps us to experience His love, and then He wants to guide us through His counsel, through His advice. He forces nobody. God never uses violence, or He doesn't use His power to force us. He's just the advisor. He tells us, you know, if you do this, if you go that way, that could be a solution for you. He just gives a piece of advice, and it is up to us to follow it or not. We are not punished if we don't, we are blessed if we do. He tells us just go this way. And if you go this way, you can overcome the difficulties and you will reach your goal despite all the violence, despite all the adversity, despite all the difficulties. You will make it, trust Me. Just do this and you will see nothing, no man, no power, no event, nothing can hinder God to love you, nothing can separate you from God. Just go this way, you will see, it will be difficult, it remains difficult, but you will reach your goal. A piece of advice - His counsel, He tells us, you know, and if you follow My commandments, okay, you won't be successful and rich necessarily. Sometimes it works, sometimes not. But at least it can avoid your additional suffering caused by unsuitable behaviour. I know that respecting the commandments of God is sometimes difficult, and those who do not respect them, they are sometimes more successful. But all the old people, like me, we know by experience, if you respect the commandments, you avoid a lot of unnecessary suffering due to unsuitable behaviour. And my dear young brothers and sisters, that's a wisdom that's not just for old people. Every believer can experience that. If you respect the commandments of God, you can be sure that you will avoid unnecessary suffering and pain. And I go even a step further and know when we follow the advice of God, we also have the guarantee that we won’t add evil to evil. Because those who do not respect the commandments, they are just contributing to making the situation becoming worse and worse. And they add evil to evil as I used to say, because of their behaviour, others, their neighbour is suffering. I do not want to contribute, to add evil to evil in this world. There is enough evil. So let us follow the commandments of God as, at least, we are sure that we avoid a lot of unnecessary suffering. We hinder that our neighbour suffers because of us. That's His advice.
“And afterward receive me to glory.” Dear brothers and sisters, that is enough. Everyone can add his own thoughts. Again, Jesus is aware of our situation. He knows how we are suffering, and He wants to help us. It's up to us to find His love and to receive it. We have to keep talking to God. That's the first step. Tell Him whatever is in your heart, just tell it to Him in your prayer. You don't need to kneel down, just talk to Him and seek an encounter with God. Give Him a chance to answer You. He will answer you in your heart, through the ministers, in the service. Go out of your home, don't be focused on your side. Look at the others and you will find out I'm not the only one suffering. That helps a lot. And then listen to the teaching of the Holy Spirit. He will let you experience the love of God, and He will provide you with help through His advice. Follow it, and you will experience His glory. Amen.
Thoughts from Chief Apostle Jean-Luc Schneider