More Precious than Gold.

2020. Many ways to look at the year that’s past. The thought that comes to mind is: it was a year in which God once again showed his global power, despite many shaking their fists at Him.

So on this last day of 2020, as I become quiet before the Lord I see gold. Not just the colour gold but a real shining bar of gold. What are you saying Lord? “I am refining you like gold and silver – I’m refining you through my Word, which is more precious than gold or silver – I am refining you through suffering.” .As my mind immediately feels a dark cloud passing over at the mention of the word suffering, I sense God saying to me “stop focusing on the “what ifs” of the future – focus on to-day – what you are going to face to-day My grace will be sufficient for you to-day – for anything you may face to-day – let the future in my hands, my grace is always going to be sufficient for you – remember the song “it is well with my soul””.

So I pursue my search of God’s word for confirmation and I find:

Psalm 119:71,72: “It is good for me that I was afflicted that I might learn your statutes. The law of your mouth is better to me than a thousand pieces of gold or silver”

1 Peter 1:6,7; “In this I greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. these have come so that your faith – of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire – may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honour when Jesus Christ is revealed.”

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.

And Luke is writing in the same style of his first chapter, using the 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. And like the shepherds in vs 12 to 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 2021 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!

And so let me end 2020 with words of the blessing in Numbers 6:24 as I call down God’s power and grace on you all for the coming year:

“the Lord bless you and keep you,

The Lord make His face shine upon you and be gracious to you;

The Lord turn His face toward you and give you peace”.

How can I be Sure?

On Christmas day, I was pondering again the dark cloud of Covid, which has enveloped the world. As I looked at it in my imagination I saw that it was like a net. A net which is trapping the world. Then a thought came to me: The net is not actually the Covid. The net is something that Covid represents. It is SIN. Behind the cloud of Covid, which will eventually dissipate to a large degree, leaving lots of wounds and scars, behind that and far more serious is the cloud of sin which has covered the world since Adam, covering and entrapping us in a net from which we cannot escape. As serious as the danger and the effects of Covid are, they are nothing compared to the seriousness of sin, which leaves NO PERSON untouched.

There is only one way out. As I read Luke 2 of the description of Jesus’ birth, I was struck again by the description in vs 9: “an angel of the Lord appeared to them (the shepherds), and the GLORY of the Lord SHONE around them”. This is described in the next verse as “good news of great joy”. Good news = Greek; “Evangel”, this is the gospel. This is the greatest Good News of all time! But note carefully it is not a message, the Good News is about a Person. A Person who has just been born. A Person so distinctive, that His birth is the greatest Good News of all time!

Isaiah prophesied 800 years earlier “The people walking in the darkness have seen a great light, on those living in the land of the shadow of death, a light has dawned”. The shadow of death cast by Covid is nothing compared to the shadow of death cast by sin. And there is just one solution = the Gospel of Jesus. He has come to set us free from that net which traps every one of us, much worse than Covid has done to the world.

Yesterday I was reading the first passage in Luke. My attention was grabbed by the statement in vs 18 where Zecharaiah is confronted by the angel bringing him the news that his barren wife would have a child. His reaction “How can I be sure of his?” God’s reaction in vs 20? That he will be struck dumb “because you did not believe my words.” The contrast to that is Mary’s reaction, although she is greatly troubled and doesn’t grasp the full significance of the message the angel brings her, ends up by believing and being filled with great joy.

Simple heh? All you must do is believe or you will be judged. Well not so quick. I was led to God’s interaction with Abraham in Gen ch 15. Here God is heard reiterating the Promise He had made to Abraham several times up to then. Of course this is the Promise which will eventually play out in the birth of Jesus. First the writer records Abraham’s response to the announcement in vs 6 “Abraham believed the Lord and it was credited to him as righteousness’. Now Paul regards this response as so important that he equates it with salvation faith in Romans 4:3. Pat on the back for him and 0 out of 10 for Zach. Yes? Well look forward in Genesis ch 15 to vs 8. Abraham is saying “How can I know for sure?” Oops.

Did God strike him dumb? No he went ahead and took him through the whole covenant cutting ceremony. Then Yahweh says to him “there – now you can know for certain”. (vs 13) In fact despite repeated promises from Yahweh to Abraham he still often acts in ways that show he has run out of trust and tries to bring his own solution.

So how do we interpret this and how do I apply it to myself. Here goes (and maybe the Lord may show you otherwise.) Firstly we know that faith is one of he most important means through which we relate to God (through Jesus). It is the KEY to our relationship with the Lord. This is a thread that runs through the whole bible. So here Luke is laying that basic fact on the table, right at the outset of his gospel account.. He starts his book with a statement that he has researched everything carefully so that the reader may KNOW THE CERTAINTY of everything he is about to write about. Then in the very first of his stories he again underlines that, by the story of Zach and compares that to the reaction of Mary to emphasize it. From the very start he wants the reader to know that he should take the writing of the Gospel story seriously and respond by believing it and trusting God and all His promises through it.

But do we all do that? My first reaction was “I wonder how I would have fared if I was in Zach’s shoes?” So we have other stories in the bible, many of them to teach us more about faith. Like Abraham. When Abe struggled with faith God said “here let me make this sure with a physical ceremony, the cutting of the covenant”. And despite Abe’s later struggle we can stand in he shadows at Mt Sinai and see him going up to sacrifice his son. Not only his son but THE SON of the promise. How much has he not grown in faith in this time? For us today we have the terms of the “New Covenant” which God made through the death of Jesus on the cross, to remind us that we can trust Him completely. But we need to see the story written down, after careful research to show us hat it is certain!.

So friends, may I challenge you to ponder these things, like I have. The Evangel, the good News of great joy is not just for Christmas. It was the beginning of a light, far, far greater than the darkness covering the world, the light that is cast by the very Creator of light and of the world. the very purpose of Christmas was to dispel the darkness. The virus will dissipate but the huge challenge, which I believe God is reminding the world of, is the challenge of the other great darkness and the only solution, “the good news of Jesus who has come to dispel that darkness”.

Do you believe this? Or are you saying to yourself “How can I be sure?” Don’t be afraid to be honest, because it is only when we are truly honest that we can grow. So I call out to God: “I do believe, yes I do, please help my unbelief”!

A Great Light in the Dark

As the dark cloud of a second wave of Covid 19 arises with a new strain threatening, like a seething cumulus thunderstorm, which seeks to cut off the Light of Christmas, a smouldering miasma of evil, I felt the Lord calling me to remind you of what we really believe at this time.

This morning my time with the Lord started with Him showing me the “well” from which we can drink “Living water” – a picture of Him and His Spirit – then psalm 1 comes to mind, “the blessed man is like a tree that is PLANTED by streams of water” – it is necessary not only to drink constantly of the Living Water, but I need my roots planted where I can continually draw water, the real Water of Life.. Then I see God, as the Rock and am reminded that I must build my house on that Rock. He is that Rock, but I must build my foundation. But wait a bit, if this depends on my ability to build, then the foundation will always be flawed. So it is necessary for God to build, with me so that I have a foundation with His strength, so when the storms come the house will stand. In fact His promise is that it will stand against any storm.

So “come to Me and I will give you rest, I will give you peace, I will give….. I will give, not as the world does but from my well of everlasting, living water that will never dry or rum out, so remain in me, plant your roots firmly.”

As I internalize this, I am looking out the window. A few meters away is a tree growing. It is an indigenous tree of which I have experience from my previous house. It grows tremendously quickly, shooting out new branches in overflow when pruned. But it easily outgrows its strength and when the wind comes it shatters and splinters. It really needs to be in a forest, among other trees to support it. Trees, some of which grow slowly and are very strong, like the yellow-wood tree, or the stinkwood. So the metaphor comes to me that this is a bit like the church, some people who are the real movers and shakers can easily be shattered if they are not protected by others who are slower yet more stable. Yeah the church is a bit like a forest. We were never meant to be out there, as it were, alone on a rock facing the storm, we are meant to be part of the forest where we can stand together to resist the storm.

So my final reading in 1 Peter is from 1 Peter 5:6-14. Now, when I used to train students to be discipleship group leaders, I always had them study this section as part of their quiet time. I wanted them to see it as encouragement in the context of the word in vs 5 addressing “young men/women”. Today it struck me that actually this is a summary of the whole of 1 Peter, remembering the basic gospel as foundation and then the extensive discussion on suffering. In vs 7 the verb translated “cast”, is a very forceful word. With energy throw your cares off your own shoulders onto God’s shoulders. There is also a play on the word “care”. The verse should read “cast your cares on him because He cares for you!”

So standing back and summarizing, there are three instructions to the reader on what his response should be to the message of the letter, and three corresponding promises from God which He will do in response. For us: humble yourself, under God’s mighty hand; Cast your cares on Him; be self-controlled and alert especially towards the whiles of the devil who prowls around seeking to devour us. It is necessary to consciously resist him and stand firm in the faith (because mainly he is in the business of discouraging us and causing us to lose faith). From God’s side: He will lift us up under His mighty hand in due time; He will care for us in the midst of the suffering and the attacks of the devil; He will restore us after we have suffered for a little while, making us firm and steadfast.

Vs 12 “This is the true grace of God, stand fast in it”

He has the power and the desire to banish this dark cloud at this time, shining the true light of the gospel on it and through it, as we remember the first baby steps of what would become a mighty powerful Presence sweeping through the world, far more powerful than this puny virus. Take heart dear reader, apply this and live in it.

To Him be the power for ever and ever. Amen (vs 11)

May I end by wishing each one of you a most blessed and truly joyful time especially on Friday, no matter what you are planning to do. May He bless you and make His face shine on you and give you peace.

Suggestions for a more meaningful quiet time with Jesus.

In line with my blog yesterday, I am writing some suggestions on enjoying a deeper communication in your quiet time. This blog is NOT meant to be prescriptive. These are suggestions which I have found useful to enhance my time with the Lord. Each one of us is an individual and therefore there can be no formula, one size for all. Each one of us must find our own way, which I am sure you have already. Yet we can always be challenged to move forward. Covid isolation has had one beneficial spin-off in that most of us have more time to do this. So here are my suggestions:

  1. Find a place where you can be comfortable and uninterrupted. It is useful to use the same place every day. There should be a table to write on and a place to keep your books and bible at hand.
  2. Collect your gear together. A bible in one or more translations, a comfortably large exercise book to use as a journal. Maybe a hymn book or song sheet. Some of us have all these things digitally available, yet I still find a good old fashioned bible like a comfortable friend. Writing gear and high-lighters. A commentary or reference book which you may feel comfortable with.
  3. Choose a time. I suggest you decide on meeting at the same time every day. This helps to set this meeting into a pattern which will call you every day, that it will become a habit, a good habit Each person is different. I am an a.m. person so like to meet first thing in the morning with cup of coffee in my hand.
  4. I start my time by reading some of what I wrote in my journal the previous day or days, to bring me back into the line of conversation I was having, and remember what was important the previous time. This is often where I climb in with my highlighters.
  5. Taking the next step, aiming to preparing my mind, I try to vary what I do. Sometimes, for instance, I focus on an image of the vs in Psalm 121. “I will lift up my eyes to the hills from whence comes my help” I will visualize God meeting with His people at various times or I may use another visualization like focusing on God’s creation, there are endless options. Sometimes I may sing a hymn or song, or listen to one on my cellphone. The whole purpose of this exercise is to cut out the many voices of the outside world and Satan and the many conversations going on in my own head. Spending time going through a number of reasons to thank and praise the Lord also draws me closer and prepares my attitude.
  6. Now I try and relax physically. Close my eyes and take some deep breaths. At the same time asking the Lord to help quieten my thoughts. I may repeat a number of times “be still and know that I am God”. I also call on God to help quieten my thoughts. Usually I find myself repeating David’s words from psalm 139 “Search me, O God……….” Using this as a platform to confess whatever separates my from God. I try and continue like this till I am completely calm and quietened in my mind and ready to hear God speaking to me.
  7. The next step requires the most discipline and patience. While my mind is completely stilled I ask God to speak to me and seek to listen “Speak Lord your servant is listening”. With practice you will then find thoughts coming into your mind which you can pick up, by faith that they are from God. Mostly the thoughts are associated with pieces of scripture which God personalizes. Sometimes I find He uses pictures to explain or make what I am hearing more real
  8. I then write down what I feel God has been communicating to me. Here I find my thoughts crystalizing into more coherent ideas. Now let me say, though this has become the most exciting adventure to me, if it makes you uncomfortable, I suggest you start by just imagining God as your Father and you sitting snuggled next to Him enjoying His presence and feeling His warmth. I really believe God wants us to draw close to Him and to just enjoy His presence and if in the beginning you are not sure about the communication, you will love the feeling of closeness and love and soon grow into hearing Him make love to you.
  9. The next step is vital. now comes a time when we can read a passage of scripture, while asking God to go on speaking to you. Several times I have burst out laughing when I have read something which is so completely in line with what I believe He has been saying to me just before. I read through a book in the bible a small piece at a time. First I read the passage through completely, try to understand the gist in he light of the context, then I read through it a second time writing my observations down. Looking for repetitive words and seeking the telos of the passage. To clarify my thoughts I make notes at this stage of what I think is important. Now if you are reading a prepared devotion, you may like to read the scripture which is used first. However it is probably wise to read more than just the one verse which is usually given to get the broader context.
  10. Having done that, I will read a bit of commentary on the passage or some other explanitory notes to get more of the meaning, especially if there is something I am struggling to understand. Before I do this though I try and ask God to explain a difficult piece. So if you are using a devotion, now is the time to read he rest.
  11. Having come this far I now write: “What is all this saying to me today?” I then try and distil my thoughts and observations to a few central thoughts which I can take into the day with me.
  12. At this stage, although you have been in prayerful communion all the time you can go over to further prayer requests for yourself and intercession for others. Here again you may like to make a note of special prayers for specific people or circumstances.

This may all sound very roundabout and complicated, but it actually flows smoothly from one stage to the next and of course would be adapted by each one who tries it to suit their temperament.

Now what I have decided to do, as we move into the New Year is to publish on this blog the scriptures I intend to be reading in the next few days, I invite you, if you want to read parallel to me, to read the same scriptures. It doesn’t have to be the same day, but in the same sequence. If you wish to comment on any one of the passages or have a question, you can either publish it on the blog or put it to me and I will include it in my next blog. I will continue to share as I have been, specific insights with you all, in an effort to encourage you.

So over the next two days I will finish reading 1 Peter and on Thursday I intend to start with Luke.

My readings for the next few days after that will be: 1:1-25; 1:26-45,1:46-56; 1:57 – 80; 2:1-20; 2:21-35; 2:36-52.

Remember again to publish a comment, just click or touch the title of the piece and a place will open for you to comment.

Christmas Rememberance and our Blog.

As the time approaches when we will again be reminded of the history- tilting event when God Himself entered our world and our humanity to turn history around. From then on nothing would ever be the same again. And surely it is a time when we also are reminded of personal memories which seem to come into more bright focus now.

It is also a good time to take stock of our lives and especially, considering the nature of our blog, our spiritual lives as represented by our living relationship with the Creator of the universe through His Son Jesus, by the Spirit. And I am finding myself weighing up the progress we are making with this which is OUR blog, yours and mine, dear reader.

For many years I have been more and more convinced of the need, if we are to grow as Christians and enjoy an open relationship with God through Him, the need to hear Him speaking personally to each one of our hearts. Most of you will have experienced moments when you felt God had just spoken to your heart personally, sometimes in a sermon, or during bible study or even your quiet time. Especially at our conversion we can often testify to a particular word which seemed to wake us up and make us come alive. The question is though, is that your regular experience when you are in communion with God? For many their experience slowly tones down to reading a passage, or a devotion, or listening to a sermon and it just goes into the bank, as it were, to join all the rest of your knowledge of the scriptures, theology etc.

If that is your experience and you are growing I am not decrying that. However I believe that God wants to have a deeper, more intimate relationship with each one of us. He has promised clearly that “if we draw near to Him He will draw near to us”. Now under the Old Covenant, if an Israelite wanted to communicate with Yahweh, he would have to take a sacrifice to the temple and through the priest, who would do the sacrifice, enquire of God. There always had to be an intermediary. One of the promises of the New Covenant, which I think is often overlooked, is “No longer will a man teach his neighbour or a man his brother, saying” know the Lord”, because all will know me. (Heb 8:11). Furthermore Jesus described the work of the Holy Spirit He would send as, guiding us into all truth. There are a number of other references to God speaking through His Spirit. We therefore have personal access to God through this way of reconciliation which Jesus has opened up for us and do not need an intermediary. But how does He speak?

Earlier this year I spent a month working through Psalm 119. Virtually every verse mentions God’s Word. The psalmist uses different words to describe it, like commands, precepts, word(s), law, statutes, promise, decrees etc, but they are all referring to God’s Living Word, because that is what they promise, real life, wisdom, perseverance, joy, hope, guidance etc. But what struck me over and over was that The Word, as powerful as it is, has nevertheless no power in itself. Its power lies in the fact that this Word gives us access to the God of all creation, in whom all the power lies. It is the avenue to Him and His personality, His mind, His desires for us etc. That is where the power lies, and access it by faith.

Now to today. We are being buried under a vast monsoon of information, especially through the digital media. My inbox is flooded with messages from websites representing, John Piper, Paul Tripp, Tim Kellerman, Christianity Today, Sermon Quotes etc etc.I have an unlimited no of bible translations each site offering me daily devotions, there are canned sermons by the dozen on You Tube. It is so easy to be buried under all this and to lose the very contact with the One of whom it is all about and to spend your time listening to all manner of people’s comments, teachings, ideas etc without actually hearing God Himself speaking to you.

Over the years I have tried to encourage the members of my Bible study group to dig into the scriptures for themselves, by setting questions directing them to seek answers in the text. During the study we have encouraged discussion as we shared what we felt we each had gleaned from the passage, helping each other to understand, with me gathering the ideas together in summary at the end. I sought a way to continue this adventure after “lockdown” occurred and so decided on starting this blog.

My aim, from the very beginning was not to produce another bible study or devotion, but to seek to stimulate you readers to dig into the scriptures in such a way that you are meeting personally with the Lord and not feeding on second-hand food from me or anyone else. I had initially hoped to provoke a discussion, as in our studies, but clearly this platform has not lent itself to that. So I have slowly evolved into opening my heart and soul to you all and inviting you into my inner room where I meet with he Lord. Hoping in this way to share some of the excitement, joy, wonder etc of my time with the Lord, so that you will be stimulated to follow suite and seek a deeper communion with Him in your own style.

So in the next day or two I will publish a general guide, with some tips on how to get the most out of your quiet time. I in no way mean to lay down rules and rotes. This should be as individualized as each one of us is. The last thing we need is to find a new form of bondage. So I will simply give a series of things I have found helpful which you can consider using to enrich your time.

Let us move into 2021 with excited anticipation and be prepared to take a deeper step in faith.