God is with Us.

“The king is coming”! I am singing this beautiful song his morning and my eyes are filled with tears as I am taken back to those first weeks after my rebirth in Christ. – the expectation of Your return.

“Yes, since I walked the earth and passed to heaven there has been an expectation of My immanent return. That is right because my return has been as immanent then as it is now – because I am outside of time. The huge display of sound and light, trumpets and chariots are a mere symbols of the reality of what it is going to be like. In an instant, the present will roll back – everything will be transformed. I will display Myself in all My majesty and every knee will bow an every tongue will confess My Lordship – and you will be part of My Bride consisting of myriads of others who will be celebrating their redemption and rescue from the sin and evil of this world. Let this vision and thought transform you this week. Let it soak into your conscious right down to the bottom of your subconscious, so that it affects every part of your life.”

I am going to leave the vision in Isaiah for the time being and move on to the next section of Isaiah. Chapters 7 t0 12 have been called “the book of Immanuel”. Now the challenge is to read this meaningfully as a devotion, without doing a deep bible study. War is always complex and the biblical wars no less. To understand all the aspects of the conflicts which form a backdrop to Isaiah’s prophecy, one would have to study Kings and Chronicles and follow the thread of the whole history of Israel. So what I suggest we do is visualize a framework, within which Isaiah’s prophetic words can fit, in such a way that we can draw an intelligent conclusion on which to base what we feel Jesus is saying to us daily, without necessarily grasping all the details of the different hostilities and the intricacies of all the prophecies

So this is how I see the basic framework at the moment. The book has begun with 5 chapters describing Israel’s apostasy, with warnings of God’s judgement because of that. In ch 6 we see the beginning of God’s reaction. He has raised up and called a spokesperson to bring His message to the people. In this chapter we see the wrath and judgement of God as the immediate message. However there is a glimmer of hope, a remnant. Now we know where this picture of a remnant is ultimately aiming. From it God will raise up a “Servant” who through His suffering will bring release from God’s judgement to that remnant and later to the whole world.

We should take into account the way God communicates. He uses names, for instance to pronounce concepts, like Isaiah’s two sons. Into the mix comes a significant name “Immanuel” which means “God with us”. Initially, though this “name” is not necessarily attached to one particular person, but rather a general statement of God’s presence with His people cf 8:10b.

God also uses pictures to make the truth and severity of His judgement more real. Like 7:18, whistling for flies and bees, the result of calling on Egypt and Assyria for help. 7:19 the danger of hiring Assyria to help is likened to a razor that will shave everything even their private parts. 8:7,8 Assyria coming like a mighty flood to sweep everything away before them.

Behind this appears this mystical figure called Immanuel, which is a faint prediction, at this stage, of the real Saviour. We remember that He is later known as Immanuel. Matthew tells us that in Matt 1:23. We also read the familiar description of a figure who is a Stone to cause stumbling, a Rock which makes them fall. cf Isa 8:14. For now this description focuses on His role as judge. From ch 9 we will see Him in a different role.

So as I read now with this framework in mind, I see Ahaz, a weak king faced by aggressive nations, who are being used by God to enact His judgement. Ahaz is warned of this and reminded of the importance of standing firm in his faith. 7:9b. The Lord says “ask Me for a sign” 7:11, as He appears to offer help. However Ahaz is hard hearted and follows the plan he has already devised in his own mind 7:12. In the light of this attitude of rejection, God pronounces judgement, and the name Immanuel as the “sign” of that.

So what do I hear Jesus saying to me? God’s judgement looms large, even in the name Immanuel. This reminds me again of the reality of God’s judgement, as severe today as in that time. I only have to look around at the world to see the signs of that. Understanding this makes me ever so grateful that I have escaped it through the very figure we are getting the first glimpse of for now. I am also reminded of the urgency with which I should be telling this message to others.

But what speaks to me more clearly, is the interaction between Ahaz and God. Ahaz’s reaction reflects what many of us, myself included, often run to when we are faced with a crisis. Rather than stop and turn to God for His guidance, I immediately start devising my own plans and seeking another rescuer. This will not call God’s judgement down on me, however like Ahaz, because Jesus has taken that judgment on Himself. It may, however lead me down a path which takes me away from God rather than towards Him. Nevertheless I have His promise that He will always be with me.

What do you hear Jesus say to you from these two chapters?

God’s Commission

Singing this morning: “By grace I am received, by grace I am redeemed”.

I have a picture of the sea – calm – the swells gently lifting and falling – I am floating on it – it extends to the horizon on all sides. “That is like my grace – it extends further than you can see, it surrounds you completely. That word describes the whole of My relationship with you. Everything that I do, everywhere we interact – Grace is operating – it is the basis of every action I take towards you. It is a word which is used so often, without true comprehension of its deep significance and meaning. Allow the knowledge and experience of My grace to transform you continually.”

Isaiah 6. This is such a magnificent chapter that I have found myself coming back to it several times. Here are some of the things that have caused me to ponder:

The significance of Uzziah’s death in relation to the previous 5 chapters of Isaiah’s prophecy of God’s pending judgement. Uzziah died from leprosy which is attributed to God’s judgement on him for desecrating the temple (2Chr 26:16). So this is the completion of the backdrop against which Isaiah is called. Judgement is prominent and apparent throughout this chapter. In the presence of the vision of Yahweh, Isaiah repents (v 5). God’s action towards Isaiah shows his cleansing by a coal from the altar. Significantly coming from the altar, which reminds us of the substitutionary death this forgiveness requires. Secondly the burning coal is a picture of judgement. Remember what I have said that salvation is always closely linked to judgement. So Isaiah is prepared for his mission.

Then Isaiah is warned that his ministry of preaching God’s word is going to have the response of hardening peoples hearts and closing their ears. A difficult concept which is taken up by Jesus in Mark, as He describes His reason for teaching in parables. So the preaching of God’s word is a form of God’s judgement on those who do not want to listen. Those who are open to God, will hear and be enriched while those who do not want to hear, for whatever reason will be hardened even more. This explains so much about people who are so obviously blind to and cannot comprehend what we feel are obvious facts.

The difficult part is v 10 b “Otherwise – they might see, hear or turn”. What do you guys make of that?

Secondly we see this whole chapter against the backdrop of vs 3. Declaring God’s Almighty, universal power and authority. Remember I said at the beginning of our reading of Isaiah, the key vs for Isaiah is 40:5? Says the same thing. So we are reminded both by the vision and those words again who this whole book is about. General when one writes there is an concept of “show, not tell”. That means if you can show a concept it is much more powerful than simply describing or narrating it. I have been pondering over the vision as such and will chat more about that on Monday.

Finally the reminder in the last vs brings up the shining hope we should have against the background of all this judgment. That power and universal authority of vs 3, is fully focused on the “Stump” which is the “Seed (vs13.b)”. A pinprick of light, at this point, that is going to come alive in a blazing furnace later, to fulfil the whole purpose of God for the world..

So how are you hearing? Notice I said “how” not what.

Fruit, the Sign of a Healthy Vine.

“It is your heart that I seek – since you were born I have been working in you and around you to win your heart. This is not about obedience, this is about your heart, but as you find more and more satisfaction in Me, you will give Me your obedience as a full and appropriate response to My love for you. As you taste and experience My love for you, you will give Me more and more of your love. However while you are still in the “now but not yet”, there will still be other things that are drawing your love away from Me. I am weaning you away from those things as I seek to win those parts of your heart as well. It is OK to enjoy life, good food, warm fellowship, long walks in My creation, as long as you don’t love those things for themselves but see them all as gifts that I have and am giving you, flowing from My love for you.

Focusing on Isaiah Ch 5 today, it starts with this song that God sings about the one He loves, His vineyard. Stop there. This is food for thought. It gives the reader a picture of God’s purpose in calling His people Israel into a covenant relationship with Himself. The picture is familiar and clear in symbolic agricultural language. God poured His love out on this people whom He called to Himself. He gave them every start. All He wanted was an appropriate response to His love, “producing the appropriate fruit”. Now that purpose and expectation has surely passed on to the Church. God has planted His Church and tended it with love. As the story of the Church unfolds in the NT we are constantly reminded that God seeks fruit from it. Fruit can only be produced if the Church remains connected to the Vine. The question which we must ask ourselves as we look at SA is; “What fruit do we see from the Church?” Bringing that home to each one of us, “What fruit is God harvesting from your or my life?”

In the rest of the chapter He catalogues a number of Israel’s sins which could easily be a description of life in many places in SA today. This is clearly because of the prevalence of sin due to the people’s general disregard for God. We need to remember that SA and for that matter the whole world is already under God’s judgement. The solution to the problem does not lie in warning society to change its behaviour. It cannot do it. The solution comes from God and the starting point will be revealed as Isaiah’s prophecy goes on, as the curtain is slowly pulled aside and we can see the Gospel peaking out. There is only one solution for this awful state of affairs. That is wrapped up in the tiny word “Gospel”.

So what do I hear Jesus saying to me from this litany of sins and warnings of evil and God’s judgement? As much as they were aimed at the Israelites, we should all now read them individually and corporately as members of the Church. Firstly the call is still to produce fruit. As I said earlier, we can only do that if we are intimately connected to the Vine who is Jesus. Receiving the life-giving sap of His Spirit and the word. This reminds me of this absolute basic requirement and joy of a relationship with Jesus, spending quality time with Him daily.

What about all those sins? They look so gross at first glance, but as we look carefully there may be embryo’s of sins which are present in our lives. Like V 19, for instance. I am sure I have felt like asking God to hurry, when I can’t see the answers to my prayers. Maybe asking Him to lay out His plan for my life. It seems that expresses a doubt in God Himself.

Salvation from Judgement.

I see a castle, a huge castle, soaring up into the sky, projecting higher than the rolling cumulus clouds, the sun catching its turrets. “The king is in his castle”, is going over and over in my mind.

“I am not that sort of king – a king that has walled himself off behind fortified walls, who has separated himself from his subjects. They need to book an audience with him to be able to come near enough to hear him speak. When he speaks it is a one-way conversation. I am not like that, I have come down to meet with My subjects, to move between them, to communicate in a two-way conversation. To feel what they are feeling. My word is not like a wall that has been written on to keep you on the other side, only seeing what is written. My word is a gateway to Me. It is the means through which you can communicate authentically with Me. To see, feel, smell, taste everything about Me – so that you can explore My full riches. It is meant to draw you close to Me – so come here, so that I can envelope you with My Spirit and My love.”

Isaiah, chapters 4 & 5 are in my view today. While individual sins are carefully enumerated, it seems to me the that the underlying problem is pinpointed in 3:8b. Jerusalem and Judah’s sin is that their words and deeds show that they are “against the Lord, defying His glorious presence”. So while sin may manifest itself in many ways, there is an underlying disregard and rejection of God and His kingship. I think this is worth meditating upon. How often are we guilty of that? Even in a small way.

The picture then moves to a court room, 3:13 as the Judge takes His place. the Judge is identified as “the Lord” (Yahweh). I see also that the initial focus of His judgement is on the leaders, who are accused of ruining His “Vineyard”. Remember that we need to contextualize this as the “Church” today. While individuals may “drift away”, it requires the leadership to steer the whole ship in the wrong direction. There is, as I understand it, a continued spiritual attack on the leadership of all denominations as well as each individual church. Friends, the leadership should constantly be in your prayers.

Then we see an interesting repetition of the phrase “in that day”, (3:7; 18; 4:2). This is an expression used many times in the OT. It clearly reflects God’s warning that there will be a specific day when He will pronounce His judgement. No Zuma tactics will work. But when will this day be? Well, in the lives of the people that Isaiah was addressing it was coming soon, as the people were about to be taken as slaves and carried off to Babylon.

That was only a forewarning of the real judgement of God, which in a way has already come with Jesus. In Jesus’ death God has judged. Those who refuse to acknowledge Him will be eternally separated and those who acknowledge Him will be saved. The final “Day of he Lord” has not yet come and will only happen when Jesus comes again and the curtains of history are finally drawn. Remember we live in the “now but not yet”.

It is important to consider and understand that when Jesus died on the cross it was both an act of judgement as well as introducing his mighty act of salvation. That awareness should make us that much more grateful for our salvation than ever. The picture in the second half of Ch 4 is a beautiful forecast of what that day will be ushering in for those who have responded to God’s love. Notice at the end of ch 4, the picture reminding of God’s presence with His people during their travel through the desert. This points to God’s immediate presence with us today. Of course, through Jesus, who replaces the smoke and fire.

What is Jesus saying to me today? This is the same God who is still present today. No amount of denying or disregarding will reduce His power, holiness and purity. We must continue to fight for Him every day, even though the battle has already been won.

Has the Church forsaken God?

I have been eager to meet with you. I have been eager for you to recognize Me and the preciousness of our relationship, by spending time alone with Me. I have enjoyed your eagerness in coming to Me. I am most glorified when you are enjoying Me most – so it warms My heart when you come out of a sense of love and not out of a sense of duty, out of a sense of wanting to spend time with Me, not because you are desperate or hoping for relief. Yes, recognizing your need, is the first step to seeking Me, but your greatest need is simply to open your eyes to what I have already given you, to open your eyes to Me and My presence and My love and what that means to you. So, remember “you are My beloved Son, in you I am well pleased”, that is because you are “in Jesus”.

Now as we come back to Isaiah, ch 1, bear with me while I do a rough summary of what he has written in that chapter. Before we apply it to ourselves though, we need to bring it into a contemporary context. The prophecy is directed at the Israelites, who are identified as “God’s children” in vs 2. So who are “God’s children” today? Not South Africa, not the Afrikaners who trekked up North and their descendants, not the American South. It is the Church. We are regarded by God as His children. So we need to apply the accusations from Isaiah, to the church as a whole in SA, to our local church and to each one of ourselves, individually as members of God’s church.

The main accusation, which underlies al the other is in 4(b). “They have forsaken the Lord, they have spurned the Holy One of Israel, and turned their backs on Him.” There are huge problems in God’s “church” in SA. How much of that is due to the fact that they have lost contact with the very One, whom the church is all about? What can I do to make sure I don’t lose contact with God through Jesus? Can we do something about the general state of the church in SA? Well maybe even if we can redouble our prayers for the wider church. We can make sure each one of us however, lives according to His gospel and not by the law.

What are the symptoms of this loss of contact? Corruption vs 4. He speaks of evil deeds and doing wrong v 16 & 4, which seems to be shown by a lack of justice and a neglect of the oppressed, fatherless and widows. Much more will play out as we read further in Isaiah. But the result is really frightening. All their religious rites and acts have become an abomination before God. He declares He will NOT hear their prayers, no matter how much they pray vs 15. Just stand back and think of the many church services, with all sorts of rituals and rites, being held around the country. How much are all these things directed at building the people’s relationship with God and their brothers and sisters? I think there is a massive slide into nominalism.

Is there no hope? Well the well-known vv 18,19 shout out there is real hope from a merciful God. These vv will be played out to a greater degree later as he starts writing about the “Servant Songs” from ch 40, looking forward to the coming of the Messiah who will be the one through whom this cleansing will occur.

Then later from vv 24 onward, he speaks about a cleansing judgement from God in which many will be broken and perish but, and here is the good news, there will be remnant who repent V 27 a. This is a theme of Isaiah (and the whole OT). The theme of a chosen remnant, from whom the Messiah will arise.

So how much of what is happening in SA today is part of God’s judgement against His church, who has lost contact with Him? Becoming taken up with all sorts of other issues, changing the bible to suite their own desires and needs? Remember the words of Peter in 1 Peter 4 17 “For it is time for judgement to begin with family of God”. It places so much urgency on sharing the true gospel of God, to begging people to repent and to pray for all this with a greater level of understanding and fervency.

Listening To Jesus, Through Isaiah.

Ian you have been trying to share your location. (I had been trying to send a pin drop to someone, without success before I turned to the Lord). You need to know you never have to do that with Me. I was here before you, I am here now and I will still be here when you leave. I am so completely part of your life. So let go of those things that are holding you back, let them go and remember, concentrate on the power and the presence of My love, which surrounds you. It is only when you let go and place your trust fully in Me, that I can take you and lift you up to fly like an eagle. I can restore your youthful eagerness, fulfil your expectations and take you far beyond that. So let your mind imbibe the fact of My presence so that you can experience lift-off.

So friends, welcome officially to 2022. I have decided to dig into Isaiah for a time. The challenge is to continue to listen to what Jesus is saying through this prophetic book. It is roughly in two parts. I will tackle ch 1-39 and then have an interlude somewhere else before coming back to the rest.

Just a few words of introduction, to orientate ourselves. Isaiah prophesied in Judah during a time of relative prosperity. The people of Israel had drifted away from God. He highlights two main problems: formality in their religion and adoption of heathen practices. Later when faced with danger, they rather relied on the help of pagan nations for help than Yahweh Himself.

Just to give you a beacon to hold you on course, the key vs in Isaiah is 40:5 “And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together, the mouth of the Lord has spoken.” This verse is spoken at the commencement of the second part, which starts withthe “servant songs” which point to Jesus. Put that together.

The introductory chapter 1 spells out the problem. It is pretty self-explanatory, but let me highlight a few things. Vs 3 b says Israel does not know, nor understand. This is maybe the key to their backsliding? Why do I say this? Because the lack of knowledge and understanding comes with the loss of contact with God. “The fear of God is the beginning of all wisdom”. Sometimes prosperity does exactly that. It leads to complacency and self reliance. So religious acts are continued, but they are merely outward performances. Other practices are introduced to “enhance” religious experience.

Now here comes my message for 2022. It is from 1:10. “Hear the word of the Lord….listen to the law of our God”. That brings us back again to he very reason for this blog. To encourage us to LISTEN TO JESUS. Put that together with Isaiah 40, which is pointing forward prophetically to a new way in which God is going to speak to the people. That means reading God’s word with more than just a literary interest in it. But taking it to the next step. Combining it with a desire to hear Jesus speaking to you. With an attitude of expectation of God speaking to you personally. Of asking Him, through His Spirit to make His word come alive to you. Of ending every time of devotion with “What do You want me to hear today? How must I respond?” This is sometimes a bit harder in the Old Testament than the New. So lets help each other as we read through Isaiah together.

So won’t you read Isaiah 1, before Monday and try and apply it to our contemporary situation. Then we can chat about it Monday’s blog.

God’s Steadfast Love.

As I contemplate the presence of the Lord, which He has revealed to us in so many ways in His creation – His power, revealed in the thunder and lightning and lashing rain of storms, crashing waves against the ocean shore, winds ripping through forests tearing down mighty trees, volcanoes erupting – He speaks to me.

“I have revealed so much about Myself in My creation, but much is still shrouded in mystery – My ways are so much higher than your ways. It is not only My power that is revealed in creation, but My love and compassion. Think of a warm summer’s day clasping you in its embrace, the birds and animals showing their care and love for their offspring. My love and care is all around you if you look; but nowhere as great as the presence of Jesus who is with you now. I will never leave you nor forsake you – no matter how difficult this path is – I will always surround you and protect you. You have my promise, which never fails, is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow and everywhere you may go in this New Year.

Now we return for a last time to Psalm 103. We started with the theme of worship and praise. The question is what is it that we should praise Yahweh for? What is worthy of our whole inmost being , our souls being swept up in praise for Him? Well we saw initially that David said we should praise Him for His benefits. The psalm then expands on those. However, the question is, why has He given us these benefits? So there is a thread running through the whole psalm, which would perhaps be more obvious and powerful if we could read the Hebrew.

The word which is repeated four times is “chesed”. vv 4,8,11 and 17. Can you still remember the importance and origin of this word? We first found it in Exodus 34:6 where God re-introduces Himself to Moses. Here in v 8 David uses almost the same wording as Exodus 34:6. “The Lord slow to anger and abounding in “chesed”. This word not only describes the steadfastness and reliability of God’s love but its intimate connection with His covenant (V 18). The Passion Translation gives this rendering of v 8; “Your love is like a flooding river, overflowing its banks with kindness”. So David is so taken up by the thought, the fact of Yahweh’s steadfast love that he wants to praise Him with his whole soul.

Now, to demonstrate the vastness of this “chesed”, David shows how we can see and experience it. The main way is in His forgiveness of our sins, which are so far removed from us as where the sun rises and where it sets. Friends, this is such a timely reminder of the importance of this work which was the purpose of Jesus’ coming to live among us. He was moved to do this because of His compassion. (V8,13 – twice). I found it particularly interesting from my perspective, that He shows this compassion because in vv 14-16, He understands our very frailty, transience and mortality.

Of course we need to remind ourselves that these promises will only find their reality in Jesus and His ministry. But the attitude of God has always been behind that.

As I read this psalm on Saturday again, I was struck by this transient nature of our lives. It came with a huge sense of relief as I considered the bumbling, feeble efforts I seem to be making in many ways, as I live this life. God understands. He really does and has taken it into consideration continually in the way He deals with me. It humbles me even more and makes me long to express my praise and worship to him.

Healing for 2022.

Continuing the call of David in Psalm 103.1 to praise God’s holy name, I have been singing “Jesus name above all names”. I look up and see a beautiful light shining from the top of the mountains – the world around is dark – then I see myriads of lights of all colours of the rainbow, spread out through the dark.

“Look at those lights Ian, those are all the places I touched and led you and blessed you this past year. But it has always been – you have just not been so aware, there has never been a moment when I wasn’t near you. During that time that contact has always been for your benefit – to bless you – to grow you and prepare you to be part of My bride. Just relax now and let that knowledge flow over you as you prepare for the road ahead.”

Today, is a Friday like any other, yet it has considerable symbolic significance. I choose to look back in an attitude of grateful thanksgiving for the past year. There is so much to be hugely grateful for, as we close this chapter of our lives. Yet it will always be part of us, won’t it?

I have spent some time in Psalm 103 this week but want to just stop on vs 3 for today. It is an age-old question, much debated and probably misunderstood by many. So in the psalm David starts his list of benefits we have received from God, remembering the benefit which is probably of prime importance. Having our sins forgiven. To underline that, he returns to this theme again in vv 8-13. Plumer says that “all human blessedness …. must be based on the forgiveness of sin”.

Now the question is what is the link between the blessing of sins forgiven and healing of all diseases, as mentioned in this vs. There are, of course, those who would say that the healing is built into the promise of the covenant. A favourite verse is “we are healed by His stripes” Isaiah 53:5c.

Even though this blog is not the place for a complete discussion of the whole question of healing and forgiveness, I want to put forward a few thoughts on the subject for you to chew on, as the Lord turns the page into the New Year.

  1. Healing is built into our creation. The whole physiology of the body is focused on healing. At their best, doctors can simply buy into that and assist in some way. We must presume that in the Garden, where there was no death, this function worked perfectly in keeping man healthy.
  2. The curse, God’s reaction to sin, brought death and all forms of sickness into being.
  3. Some sicknesses, like STD’s in many cases are the direct result of sinful actions. You can lump a lot of things into that. Heart disease, diabetes, many forms of metal illness, trauma, the list is endless. Can forgiveness reverse those diseases? Well yes, but only in some cases. In most others, although one can receive forgiveness, one has to bear the consequences of the sinful behaviour.
  4. Every sinful action or thought can be classed as a sign of imperfection – “sickness, as it were.
  5. When we are born again, God starts a process of reversing the effects of sin. He doesn’t just forgive, He brings restoration. This may include physical healing, perhaps through a better functioning of our own physiology of healing. I often allow my imagination to play on the way God is working in my body, if I’m sick. I may pray like: “Please activate my immune system Lord. Let all those cells and antibodies swing into action etc” But the focus is probably much more on Spiritual healing and cleansing. The two are intimately intertwined and continue to be fostered by our relationship with our Father, who created us. These two aspects, as real as they are, are governed by the basic principle of the gospel expectation “now but not yet”. We have been given it all, yet much is still “in the bank” as it were. That means we are still not experiencing it completely in practice yet. We are all still going to die, some time or other.

In summary then. Sickness and even the way we respond to infections, is closely linked to our psyche, our thoughts and minds, our attitudes, sinful and spiritual and that again is still very much influenced by sin. So forgiveness of sins, releases an enormous potential for healing, then and in the future. That is why we need to continually remember the huge benefit of forgiveness, so that we can receive that benefit on all fronts, on an ongoing basis.

Praise in Perspective.

Singing a song of blessing for the Lord especially for His holiness.

“Oh Ian, it is hard for you or anyone to truly grasp and understand My holiness completely. One reason is that, although it is very, very real, it is also unseen. Only those who desire to see it can have some idea of it. It embodies everything about Me. My complete “otherness”, My total omnipresence, omniscience and omnipotence. Totally other than anything or anyone in the world. Yet my expectation for you is that you be holy – “without holiness no-one will see the Lord” – but holiness is not something you can have by trying. Holiness only comes with complete surrender “I have been crucified and I live, yet not I, the life that I live in the body I live through Jesus Christ, the Lord”. Every decision you make leads you either to more holiness or away from it. Decisions coloured by worship and surrender to Me on the one hand or by your own desires or agenda on the other. It is as basic as that. Holiness in a growing measure is available all the time to you”.

So stimulated by a message from Mervyn Eloff yesterday, I am going to study Psalm 103 this week as we move up to the New Year.

Starting to day with the opening two vv and the last 3. These verses set the framework for the whole psalm and its main message. I am sure you can all see what it is. It is all about the importance and value of praising God. So just a few remarks concerning these few vv, for you to chew and meditate on:

David calls on his soul to be the source of his praise (v 1). Perhaps very basic, this tells us that true praise is not just what we do with our lips. Real praise comes from the heart, from our whole being, in fact, the Hebrew word for worship describes an attitude of kneeling submission.

The basic reason we should praise Him is expressed in His name.(v 1) Do you see it? His holy name represents who He is. It is because of His total “otherness” that we can and should praise Him. It is an inexhaustible source, since we can never plumb its depths completely.

Then in v 2 David tells us to “not forget His benefits”. What does that mean? How do we benefit from God? That represents everything about our lives that has value which flows from God and His grace. It represents everything that is good. May I suggest you meditate on that as we consider our attitude of praise to the Lord.

Finally, the last three vv describe David calling on the entire creation and everything and everyone, both seen and unseen in it, to encourage them to praise Him. Everything in his entire dominion. Ever thought of the earthworms in the ground that you walk on praising God?

Here’s another thought to finish. The attitude of praise keeps us walking with God and appreciating Him all the time. The opposite is to grumble. Oh-oh that subject? How many of you are looking back at this last year with an attitude of dissatisfaction and grumbling? So easy to join in the chorus of “ain’t it awful” ? Whether we are together with friends, even Christian friends or our pagan friends. You don’t have to be “holier than thou”, but your attitude towards life and its knocks is sometimes the best chance to be a witness you may have.

As you apply this to your whole attitude to life, this past year and your expectation of the coming year. Why don’t you read the rest of psalm 103 and we will chat about it again on Friday, good old New Year’s eve.

Christmas.

“Allow your mind to consider the creation again, as you experience the universal, quiet anticipation of the celebration of the beginning of the greatest intervention of all time on earth. There is a vast unseen cloud of witnesses of spiritual activity out there. And there is a hush as they all wait for to-morrow, which is actually a prediction of My coming again to wrap up the age – no-one knows when, but each one is ready in anticipation. So continue to prepare yourself for to-morrow. Don’t try and foresee – just prepare each day and the happenings in it are up to Me. I hold you close to My bosom – and nothing – nothing can happen to you that I have not foreseen and allowed. Remember I will never force you to do or your decisions you make, but will take all of them and work them together for your good.”

My reading today is Luke 2:1-20. I wrote last time about this passage. It is possibly one of the best known passages in the bible. Who hasn’t seen a number of nativity plays? The danger lies in just that. Because we know it so well it no longer holds the full wonder for us that it was meant to. I close my eyes and see the scene in Palestine 2000 years ago. A small group of shepherds sitting around a fire chatting, dressed in the basic home-spun clothes of the poorest. Behind them in the starlight their sheep, grazing away quietly (sheep feed mostly at night). Suddenly the glory of the Lord shines around them. Their reaction? They are terrified. The Greek could not emphasize this more strongly it reads “megas phobeo, phobos”.

Just think back of the dedication of the temple in Solomon’s time when God visited it with His glory.: 2 Chronicles 7:1,2……Fire came down from heaven and consumed the burnt offering and the sacrifice, and the glory of the Lord filled the temple. And the priests could not enter the house of the Lord, because the glory of the Lord filled the Lord’s house.”And then the announcement: The announcement of the beginning of the greatest history-changing event of all time. That’s not all. The show is not over yet. A great company of the heavenly host appears with the angel praising God. This was no nativity play with paper props, this was a glimpse into heaven itself. A huge supernatural display of God’s power and joy.

Luke is writing in the same style of his first chapter, using huge contrasts to highlight the event, like a master painter. Here is Mary, a pregnant, peasant lass, with her husband Joseph, a carpenter (betrothed yet not consummated). far away from home in the simplest of accommodations. Among animals in a stable. Giving birth to a baby and without a cot he is laid in a manger, with the animal food just scraped out. Outside in the field a group of the simplest folk gathered. No rich and influential people around, kings or religious leaders, just the most simple scene. And God reveals His glory (not nearly all of it but enough to make a huge show)

Who is this baby? The reader must ask? He is, vs 11 none other than the Christ (the Messiah, everyone in Israel was waiting for). But not the King riding in on His white steed but a small, vulnerable child. God, yes I said it God Himself, coming to identify with His creation completely. Wrapped up in that little body was the Saviour of the world. Luke wants us to be gobsmacked, just like the shepherds were. He wants us to absorb this truth so that it will change our hearts, our very lives.

Like the shepherds in vs 12 we must also go out and spread the word, so that everyone who hears it will be amazed vs 18. He is a unique King. A king described best by the term “now but not yet”. There will be a day when He will come in glory. Maybe sooner than we think. The question is: does this story strike such a familiar note that you – yawn, as you see all those little children, in your mind’s eye, bumbling through this year’s nativity play. Aren’t they so sweet? Or is it so mind-boggeling that you can’t wait to go and spread the word?

let’s stop and be honest with ourselves. Which news has dominated your thinking this year? Of which news are you the most concerned? I’m sure like me the whole Corona story is the one most prominent. Why don’t we decide that 2022 will be the year when we, with the Lord’s supernatural help, turn our thoughts and conversation to this coming and the possibility of His next coming and away from Corona and it’s sooty fingerprints on everything. God has created the environment, we need to make use of the opportunity!

(This devotion is a reprint of one from December last year, which I thought was specifically relevant again to day, while I finish my prep for tomorrow.)

May I wish all our readers and fellow-bloggers the greatest blessing tomorrow and He and the historical events around His birth be more real to you than ever before.