God’s Glory.

This morning I am listening to Hillsong sing the beautiful worship song “So will I” (also known as “a hundred billion galaxies”) and am deeply moved by this breathtaking picture of our “God of Creation”. A picture of a hundred billion galaxies being born, that awesome power being released, tens of thousands of lightyears in size, just by a word and yet ….. and yet – He is interested, intimately interested in me, in you, in each one of us! As the music washes over me, I see a crystal clear mountain stream tinkling down over little waterfalls and stones. The water, absolutely pure. Then I think of a description of John Piper’s in which he, in trying to describe God’s glory, he says it is like the word “beauty”, when we use that word a picture may come into your mind but how do you define it? Just so Glory is difficult to define and the closest he can come to describe it is that God’s glory is manifest in His holiness, which you can describe.

So I see in the clarity of the water a picture of God’s holiness, completely clear and unpolluted. In comparison to that I see a raging, muddy, torrent flowing past it, stones, leaves, rubble and mud swept along – “that is like the world”, the Lord says. Polluted, sweeping everything before it.

How does the crystal clear communicate with the torrent? That is what the work of Jesus which He has accomplished for us. A means for our filthy, muddy water to touch the pure – a picture of the power of Jesus’ work on the cross. He must cleanse a small amount of muddy water to meet with God’s pure stream. However as each individual being is cleansed it is almost infintesimal in its effects on the torrent. When more and more water is cleansed and flows together in a pure stream is has more of an effect. That is why we are so ineffective on our own. We need to act together to make a difference to the torrent. That is why the church is so important. On our own we can have an effect, but together the effect is much greater in changing the muddy torrent to the crystal clear .

My reading is in Luke 5:12-26. These are the first two of 5 stories following the calling of the first disciples. Among others it demonstrates the growing antagonism by the high Priests etc against Him. In the first story about a leper, what spoke to me was the fact that the leper came to Jesus for help. He humbly declared his need to Jesus, vs 12. Jesus’ answer to him is the same as His answer to each one of us when we we go to Him for help, “I am willing”. Perhaps the problem is that we don’t always see or want to admit that we need help. Or maybe we just don’t think of going to Him, but rather try and worry it out by ourselves. Recognizing our need is the first step, then going to Jesus believing that He will help is the next. Of course His answers are not always as clear as the leper experienced, but He is always willing and will help.

The second story is a classic in demonstrating the real nature and identity of Jesus. His true divinity is the main point of this story, which I find to my amazement that many commentaries don’t pick up. Just as He is crucified for blasphemy, claiming to be God, here He demonstrates His divine authority and ability by doing a visible miracle to prove forgiveness of sins which is an invisible action but which God alone can do. This IS God Himself in human form.

The question I ask myself is “do I really believe this? That He is God in human form, walking here in Galilee, able to forgive sins to the uttermost? Able to heal anyone or any situation completely? I am not just speaking about mental assent. I am speaking about heart-felt, when the chips are down faith. I think this is an area in which I need to grow and would venture to suggest hat it is the lifelong task for each Christian. To grow in your faith and vision of who Jesus really is and what He can and wants to do for you, the church and the world.

First love.

Yesterday morning I started my time with the Lord listening to a song sung by Kari Jobe called “First Love”. As she was singing it I was taken back to the first moment that I really experienced God’s love consciously, at a camp in Noordhoek over Easter in 1980. I remembered the thrill of the immediacy and reality of Jesus, the waves of love that swept over me as we sung songs like “Jesus Name above all names”, how I walked early one morning on Noordhoek beach with the dank grey mist came swirling in from the cold Atlantic, talking to Jesus, overcome by this soul-lifting experience, where His presence was so real that I found myself offering Him a sweet from a roll I took out of my pocket. When I went home, after the weekend I had to curb my enthusiasm that I didn’t engulf my dear Emily with the waterfall of emotion I was feeling.

Yesterday morning I was thinking back of that time and even comparing it with the tsunami of emotion I had felt when I first met Emily. After a while I started asking the Lord to help me to relive that feeling again. Later in the day I was musing on all this, still feeling a bit of the emotional high of the morning, when it occurred to me that actually this could not be about emotion. Emotions, as amazing and wonderful as positive emotions can be so unreliable they can be, being swept away by some negative happening within seconds. So it occurred to me that the warning of Jesus to the Ephesian church (in Rev 2:5) could not be about how they felt about Jesus. Nor did it necessarily have to do with their chronological love, in other words how they had behaved when they were first converted, although that was probably part of it. It seems to me that what Jesus is speaking about here is the primacy of their love for Him demonstrated by their active practice of love for Him and His people. This is the warning which I felt was applicable to me. That love, the love of Jesus, should be the most important love in our lives, our “first love”, reflected in our love towards others. It should be of first importance as it were.

So I battle, I think we all do with placing the love of Jesus first in our lives all the time. There is a constant struggle between love for Him and other objects (idols). Probably the most important idol is our love for ourselves. Reading Oswald Chambers’ biography I see how he is portrayed as one who constantly made a point of placing God and His agenda above his own. Even when it was inconvenient for him and his family and associates. What a challenge.

Having said all this, there is surely no harm in the wonderful feelings of love which we may feel for God and Jesus. Often when we sing or experience His closeness in prayer or other circumstances, it spins off to engulf other people. However the encouragement to love, should not depend on those feelings but rather be constantly reaffirmed and built on through our daily relationship and interaction with Jesus.

Coming to my reading in Luke 4:14-21, the reading of the passage of the scripture from Isaiah 61 by Jesus in the synagogue, seems to serve as a written and verbal introduction in Luke to the next phase of public ministry by this Man, clearly linking Him to the Old Testament prophetic word. So He is presented as the “Anointed One”, which is of course what the word Christ means. From here on we will see His character and ministry develop as the true Messiah. So as I had pondered last time at the description of Jesus being “full of he Holy Spirit” we see here in vs 14 that description repeated and it will be repeated a number of times as the gospel unfolds. This seems to be a reminder of two things by Luke. 1. The humanity of Christ. That is apparently a strong theme in Luke’s gospel. So by repeated mentioning the work of the Holy Spirit being, with Jesus in His ministry brings the Trinitarian nature of the Godhead clearly into view. he was not acting on His own. 2. It is a constant reminder of the identity of this Man Jesus: He is truly “The Anointed One”.

So what does this mean to us? Well the baptism and work of the Holy Spirit is active in each truly “born-again” Christian. This supernatural power and wisdom is built into our nature. Does this mean that we can go out and do all the miracles that Christ did, like the charismatic believers profess? Well I suppose theoretically the power of the Spirit is there, however Jesus Himself said He did nothing without His Father’s instruction (John 8:29), one would have to be sure that God had clearly shown you to do it. The point of Jesus’ miracles was clearly to show who He really is and therefore completely unique. However we can be sure to be carried by God’s grace and power through any circumstance and in any ministry situation, as much as we shall ever need. The problem with most of us, me included, is that I try to do so much in my own strength and wisdom, that God wants to empower me to do. So the need for us to surrender completely to Him and be aware of the immense possibilities in His Name is constantly there. We are the supernatural children of the Creator God. Sadly, outsiders many times would not be able to tell that we are different to them. Why? “By their fruit you will know them”.

It is harvest time in all the orchards here in the Boland and well, maybe harvest time in our lives in the face of the challenges of 2021. Let us be so bound to Jesus that His fruit will draw people to Him the Gardener, that we are actively contributing to the “coming of His kingdom and His will being done”.

Fruit of the Spirit

“Search my heart and show me if there are any wicked ways in it”. This has become an integral part of my preparation for “Listening to Jesus”, so that I may confess and have any sinful barriers between us dealt with. Then a warning thought flashes through my mind; “this has almost become a rote, another step to complete before experiencing ‘the real thing’ – that encounter with Jesus. A red light blinks, everything must be fresh, meaningful and real”. The word “generosity” comes up – I am a bit shocked – then I admit that my so-called generosity is often driven by a legalistic obligation, without the generous spirit which should inhabit it and drive it. Then Jesus reminds me of a few of the other fruits of the Spirit: Joy, love, patience, kindness, gentleness peace – How am I doing? What about goodness, faithfulness, self-control?

My mind pans over my day. How is my interaction with those I come into contact with every day? Mostly this is my dear Emily, with whom I am in close contact most of the time. I think of my impatience sometimes when she can’t grasp when I am asking her to do something she was able to do yesterday. My lack of real gentleness when she isn’t responding like I want her to. My faithlessness when I sometimes dream of going off somewhere for a break with someone else. My joy- how much joy am I expressing and feeling in my present situation? And of course there is meekness – how do I feel about submitting to others that I perceive as less important than myself. And then the one I started with, my whole sense of generosity. Ultimately, how much of my behaviour reflects the true state of my heart?

Well folks I am baring my soul before you all, not to show myself off, but rather how easy it is to fool yourself that you are living a good, holy and sinless life.

I am not going to stop there because God continued to speak to me this morning. “Abide in Me and I will abide in you”. But what does this mean from a practical point of view? So I say to myself – when you are converted you are taken, by faith, into Jesus – I am now “in Him” and that gives me access to all the gifts that come with the Holy Spirit with which He has sealed me. So my walk with Jesus starts with me reminding myself of my new identity – a Christ-i(a)n and with this comes the presence of Jesus through His Spirit. The life I live now should arise from and demonstrate the Spirit’s work in me – ie the fruit of the Spirit and exactly that fruit arising from the transforming presence and power of God’s Spirit which I can access through faith. From that arises the power and reminder to be generous, arising from a generous, transformed spirit within me.

If I sit down and say I am now going try and become more generous, because that is what is expected of a real Christian, I am becoming a legalistic Christian who will only feel burdened and act out of conscience rather than a transformed nature. However if I remind myself of and live the life of abiding in Christ by faith, then through His power and the power of His Spirit, all the fruit of the Spirit will well up naturally. Will it happen automatically? To some extent yes, however we still have to make up our minds to “walk in the Spirit”. The important thing is the order in which things happen and are done. So many of us live with this feeling of guilt because we are falling short of what we believe we should be doing, rather than turning to Jesus and confessing our self-reliance and asking for a fresh filling and experience of the Spirit with His power to enable us to live this life with real joy. That is why it is called “Good News”.

My reading today is Luke 4:1-13. A very important passage as Jesus launches His new life as the “Anointed One”. Luke has just finished a number of stories on who Jesus is, with the summary “Son of God” 3:22 and also “son of Adam” 3:37. Mark says He was “driven” (ekbalo) by the Spirit into the wilderness, where Luke says He was led. The scene suggests a parallel to Adam’s experience in Gen ch 2. Except Jesus is in a desert, while Adam is in a garden. Both are allowed to be tempted by Satan. Jesus is seen here as setting about repairing the disaster of Adam’s failure. I found myself asking 5 questions as I read the passage. Here are the questions which I asked. I have not furnished the answers that I came up with as this is not a commentary. Maybe you can ponder them on your own and maybe you may even have more.

  1. Why did Luke describe Jesus as being “full of the Holy Spirit” vs 1? Surely as the Son of God He was always “full of the “Holy Spirit”
  2. Why was it so important that this was the first act He undertook in His formal ministry. Is this unique to Him or do we all face this at the outset of our Christian life?
  3. Why did He fast for 40 days? Is there an application for us here?
  4. What aspect of Jesus’ faith was the devil attacking in each of the temptations and how did Jesus deal with them?
  5. Was He only tempted 3 times during this 40 day period? (Heb 4:15).

So Friends, let us all set our course to “abide in Christ” every day of 2021 and be able to live a fruitful life in the Spirit, filled with joy. My readings for the next few days will be as follows if you want to read with me: 4:14-22, 4:23-30, 4:31-44, 5:1-11,5:12-26, 5:27-39. 6:1-11, 6:12-19, 6:20-29, 6:30-38, 6:39-49.

With Jesus on the Emmaus Road.

This morning, Jesus says “Come and walk with me on the road to Emmaus”. Remember how Jesus met the 2 disciples after His resurrection while they were walking on he road to Emmaus? Remember what He did then (Luke 24:27)? “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, He explained to them what was said in all the scriptures concerning Himself”. So that’s where He takes me into the Old Testament and reminds me of some of the salient pointers to His coming to the earth. Like Gen 3:15, Like the promise to Abraham and his Seed, like the rescue of the Israelites from Egypt at Passover, the giving of he covenant promise, the whole sacrificial system, like the kings especially King David and many others.

The main point of this tour, however seemed to focus on how Israel looked at the end of all that. The Israel Jesus was born into. I was pulled up short – a nation in tatters as a result of years of disobedience. A nation in bondage on the one hand to the Roman overlords, on the other had to the religious leaders, Pharisees etc and then to extreme poverty. A nation in a very sad state. Yet there was a remnant that was expecting Messiah to come. A faithful remnant.

Surprize, surprize, He follows this with: “this is like South Africa at the moment. A country in tatters. A nation in bondage to poverty, crime, corruption. A nation, once known for its Christian stance. Now riddled with corruption, apostacy, drunkenness, murder, domestic violence and lately in bondage to a huge plague – a nation looking and hoping for a saviour. Most are expecting a scientist, a vaccine, an economic genius, a real leader who will lead us out of this mess. But, Jesus says, “I am doing a work of refining in S.A. I am starting with the visible church – I am strengthening and purifying the true Church. I am strengthening the real believers – I am building My kingdom. But there is judgement – “It is time for judgement to begin with the family of God”.

“The rescue that I sent to Israel, was entirely different to what they were expecting. Just so with S.A. I will come – I am already there to do this work. You have a role to play, as does every true believer – just remember that all the glory must come to Me.”

My reading Luke 3:1-9. Here’s John the Baptist again, with his chosen role. The role of preparing the way for the coming of the true Saviour of Israel and the world. He has a simple message: “Repent, and demonstrate the genuineness of your repentance by the fruit of repentance, the fruit that proves the change, the fruit of the Holy Spirit coming, cleansing like a refiner’s soap and renewing a spirit of love, of purity and honesty, not only when others are looking.

Jesus came to an Israel that was not ready for His way of salvation, yet there was a remnant that was ready at that time, like Zachariah, like Elizabeth, like Joseph, Mary, Simeon, Anna and others. The simple people were the ones that accepted and welcomed Him. Praise the Lord, there is a huge remnant here in S.A. Many who are longing for a revival. Longing for the real Saviour to come. We each have a role to play: Starting with ourselves. being prepared to repent and truly turn to God and take up our cross and follow Him. Then we have a role to play as His witnesses, as His prayer army, as the extension of His arm of love to those who are broken. It is time for a new and different “Salvation Army”. Are you on for it this year? This could be the most amazing year in the history of S.A. not like last year.