The True Gospel Affirmed.

Fire – I see a fire – a burning furnace – intense heat. “What you are seeing is My gospel – My Gospel is more powerful than the greatest furnace – I created all the suns and stars – all of them together are less powerful than My Gospel. My Gospel has filled your heart and thoughts – continue to care for it, continue to teach it – not only to people so that they may understand it and be saved, but for every aspect of their lives – for every aspect of your life – understand and teach the true gospel and how it transforms lives – how it truly sets people free, not just initially – but every day – helping each person to live by My power through my grace, in My love – not trying to live in their own power (your own power), not trying to live to please me, not trying to jump through self-imposed hoops – but in a pure relationship of trust – remember trust before action, trust always comes first”.

In Acts ch 15, Luke describes in narrative form, how the elements of the gospel were first clarified and defined in the early church. This is a vital section, because perhaps the greatest problem in the church then and ever since then is the pollution of the pure gospel of grace. A drifting away from the simplicity yet magnificent power of the pure Gospel of Jesus. Up till now in Acts there have been various expressions used to describe the people who were being saved. They are described as hearing the testimony or message believing or accepting it. cf Acts 6:10, 10:43, 11:21, 13:48. Now in ch 15, the Lord arranged a confrontation between those who were saying that you can only be true Christian, i.o.w. “saved”, if you are also circumcised and keep the law of Moses.

I say the Lord arranged it because He is firstly always in control, but secondly it was a pathway to defining that the gospel is completely free, requiring no additional conditions so that this decision could be recorded for every generation from then on. So here we read in 15:11 “We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus we are saved, just as we are”. just before that he said “He purified their hearts by faith”, demonstrating the basic benefit of the gospel of complete forgiveness of sin: v 9 b. Overarching these two statements is the plain statement which seals and defines the real conversion of the unbeliever: “God, who knows the heart, showed He accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them”.

There was one additional instruction, v 20, but it should not be seen as a condition of salvation. It had to do with the social interaction of the new Christians in Antioch and the the Jewish believers. In those days there were no restaurants as we understand them, people’s social life in many cases took place in the pagan temples where meals were served and people could interact with each other. This was intolerable to the Jewish believers and also undesirable for the Gentile believers and so the warning not to participate in these feasts.

Although circumcision was a huge issue then it is not any more, yet there are vast denominations that hold baptism (especially infant baptism) as a requirement for salvation. But that is not nearly the only example of an additional requirement that people are expected to do to be saved. More recently, for instance, speaking in tongues was in vogue as sign that you had been “baptized in the Spirit”‘ a synonym for being “born-again”. Then there are groups and even denominations that demand the laying on of hands, usually by a specific person as a requirement and there are many other less formal examples.

Please understand me clearly, there is nothing intrinsically wrong with these practices, it is the laying down of one or more of them as a requirement for salvation that changes the gospel to no gospel at all.

For many years I believed, without voicing it that when I died God would measure my life and if more than 50% was good it meant I would qualify to go to heaven. When I returned from the weekend in Noordhoek, where I met the Lord, I was asked at the church bible study to give my testimony. I can clearly remember my reply. “Its free, I have discovered that it is completely free!” I kept saying it over and over, while tears were running down my cheeks..

Please forgive me if you feel I am repeating what I have said previously. It is because this is such an important subject that we cannot stress it enough, especially in the light of what I sensed God was saying to me earlier and in the light of the vast pollution in what is taught as the gospel throughout many churches.

So what do I glean as Jesus’ message to me today? Very clearly that I need to keep asking myself if I am trusting in Jesus’ death on the cross as the only means to salvation and am I living that freedom out in my every day life?

Why don’t you examine yourself again today, as you should do regularly? (2 Cor 13:5)

Continued dynamics of Kingdom growth.

Be still and know – the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob is here with you – through Jesus. Remember the mountain-top meeting? “This is My beloved Son, listen to Him.”

Peace is the word that floods my mind – “not as the world gives it, but peace IN Me – I have come to bring Peace and Rest – that is what the Sabbath celebration was to be a reminder of – My Rest which I give you – the world is restless – everyone is so busy, so occupied, so distracted, even when they are trying to rest, but in Me you find true peace – representing the harmony you have with Me. Even when the waves are rolling towards you – they won’t engulf you – you are held safe in My peace.”

I see a stormy sea with huge breaking swells and then in the midst a strong light shining down and where it is shining the water is totally calm – there is Jesus beckoning – “Come here into my peace – you will only find it here with Me – here IN Me = listen to Me”. I am still and I receive your peace dear Lord.

I start reading in Acts Ch 14, intending to read only the first 7 vv, however the narrative carries me along and I end up reading the whole chapter. There is a lot going on, but as I sort of stand back, I am once again struck by the interest and progress the preaching of the gospel brings and yet each time the growing specter of violent opposition. Without discussing the chapter in detail, a few things grabbed my attention.

Firstly the little word at the beginning of vs 3 – “so”. “But the Jews who refused to believe stirred up the Gentiles and poisoned their minds against the brothers. So Paul and Barnabas spent considerable time there”. Its almost as if the very opposition of these people spurred Paul and Barnabas on to make disciples, spending some time there to see that these people who believed were also grounded in their faith and would not be distracted once they left.

Then there is the reminder of the importance of the exercising of faith. Luke says in Vs 9: ‘Paul, while he was preaching looked at the crippled man and “seeing that he had faith to be healed (remember the Greek word for heal is the same as save or be made complete – ‘sozo’), called out to him…” Here is the continued enigma of our response to the gospel both in terms of physical as well as spiritual completion He had faith when he heard Paul’s message. In the same way we need to exercise faith, yet we cannot do this without the intervention of the very one in whom we are to have faith in. This is a mystery we will only be able to understand when we meet the Lord face to face. Also in vs 23 the people who constitute the new church are described as those who had put their trust in the Lord. Trust is the key element of our relationship with Jesus, it is the dynamic connection between us and God Himself.

Another vs struck me, especially in the light of a request by Elise to pray for rain in the critically drought stricken Eastern Cape, Port Elizabeth area – vs 17 “He has shown kindness by giving you rain from heaven and crops in seasons; He provides you with plenty of food and fills your hearts with joy”. So yes everything we have is a gift form God because of the Lord’s kindness to us. But then what happens when we don’t receive rain? A sign of God withholding His kindness? There can be a lot written about drought as it is played out in the Old Testament, however it seems to me that the withholding of His blessing at any time is something that God does for a variety of reasons which we may not necessarily grasp. But maybe though, in today’s context, could mainly be intended to teach us continued humble dependence on Him and to help us to grow in that vital trust. Something like allowing the new converts of Paul in our passage today to experience serious opposition. This is also a strong reminder to the many who feel totally independent from God. They need to see they do not have complete control over their whole lives as they presume, that on the contrary their whole lives are actually completely in God’s hands, under His control. We understand we fall short of understanding everything, like with the Covid pandemic, but the one thing that does stand out clearly: God wants us to join Him in His team in growing His kingdom and we can all do this by exercising the huge gift of prayer, which lifts us up onto a different plane into His very presence, as it were..

For me Jesus seems to be reminding me of the fact that we live in a world of turmoil and many would seek to blame God for it, however in all this there is the huge desire by God that we join Him in the ‘campaign for the kingdom, by every means possible, starting with prayer high on the list.

So my friends how many of your thoughts and purposes are aimed at being part of that great commission? We never need to be stagnant.

God’s Church – Central to God’s Mission.

“Where is your joy? – You used to be so filled with joy and you have become so serious. So now rediscover your joy this week. Where has your joy gone? Your relationship with Me should continuously be expressed in joy, even during difficulties. Remember ‘love, joy, peace, patience etc’ . Joy is right up there at the beginning. ‘Rejoice in Me always and again I say rejoice-‘”

How must I find that joy again Lord? “This is My joy which I am expressing through you – it flows from Me and your relationship with Me – but it reflects your attitude to Me and what is happening around you – so draw close, open your heart up and let Me fill it, not with a bubbly, frothy, superficial emotion – but one that arises from a deep appreciation of My worth and what I am doing for you and in you. So go forth this week and express My joy”

My following of the story of Luke in Acts reaches ch 13. Reading till vs 13. For the first time we see a group of Christian leaders and elders, representing the central core of the “church” in Antioch, meeting together in prayer and worship, presumably also seeking the way forward from the Lord. It is here where they receive instructions for the next phase and as it is put into practice, we see Saul, becoming Paul (the Roman equivalent) taking on more of a leadership role. What strikes me particularly from this passage is the way God uses the Church in the planning and execution of the next phase of the spread of the gospel.

Why do I think this is so important? Today (and I’m sure also over the years) there are more and more “Christians” who choose to operate loose from the church as individuals. They don’t want to submit to authority and visit various churches according to their taste seeking to “get something out of them” without committing themselves to the family of the “Body of Christ” and seeking to serve rather than be served. It is often from these individuals that rebellious waves arise against the authority and teaching of the established church. This is an entirely fertile hot-bed for false teaching and launching new ideas and a new gospel which is actually no gospel at all.

To me it was a timely reminder that the church is a representation of Christ’s body and His fullness which fills everything in every way Ephesians 1:22,23. The whole of Ephesians is meant to underline the fact that we as Christians cannot, dare not, try and function outside the scope of it.

Getting back to the passage in Acts, the other thing that I found interesting is in vs 12. This vs is a summary of the interaction between Paul and the proconsul who is saved after a miraculous intervention by Paul to “take out” the sorcerer. “He was amazed” at what? Not the miraculous act on Elymas, but “at the teaching about the Lord“.

So what is Jesus saying to me? “Hold fast to God’s word and teaching about it. Carry the task of teaching as sacred. The power though, is not in the Word per se, but in Me acting through the Word as My vehicle”.

Let us all then, in this trying time when Covid is seeking to keep us from meeting and functioning as a unit, remain loyal to the church and its teaching. The answer is not in rebelling against the rules of ‘lockdown’, but in seeking ways to function effectively despite ‘lockdown’. That is why I started this blog, to give us another way to draw together around God’s Word.

The Word of God Continues to Increase and Spread.

Singing “let there be light”, I look up into the sky where the brilliant light is coming from – shining down on me and lighting every corner of my mind, body, soul and spirit – I am longing to love the Lord more completely = not feeling well this week, it has been easy to focus on myself rather than the Lord.

“Yes Ian I am the light – but not the cold puritanical light of judgement – the warm light of My love – like the light from the embers of a fire on a cold winter’s night – I shine My light down on you to cleanse you from all that is holding you back from responding completely to My love – with your whole body, soul, mind and spirit. I love you and My whole creation with the cleansing, healing light of love, mercy and grace – cleansing each one from the dark areas which are holding you back from loving Me completely. Yes, My light, My fire of judgement does burn down, but not to destroy, only to rescue, to bring back to Me those who are separated from Me. My love burns away the things that they are loving more than Me. But for you today, draw close – sit next to the fire with Me on this cold winter’s day and draw from My warmth”.

In my reading in Acts I have come to the end of ch 12. Looking back I can see that the statements in 11:21 and 12:24 bracket this passage (“A great number of people believed and the word of God continued to spread”) So we can deduce that what we have here are the factors which apparently contributed to this growth. Firstly there was the witness of the believers who had been spread out by the persecution in Jerusalem. This brought many to faith and then the church, on hearing this in Jerusalem, responded by sending Saul and Barnabas to disciple and teach the new converts. However against this background we see the specter of continued persecution in the deaths of John and James and imprisonment of Peter. (Ch 12:1-3).

Let me say as an aside, Luke has included so much ‘incidental ‘ information that it all goes to make us see that these stories are not ‘made up’. eg There is a bright light in the cell and the angel strikes Peter’s side vs 7, Then he tells Peter “put on your clothes and sandals, wrap your cloak around you and follow me” vs 8 then the whole story with the servant Rhoda vs 12 ff. then with Herod, details like Blastus and the whole story of quarreling with the people vv 19 ff. Contemporary extra-biblical writing of Josephus confirms this whole incident with Herod on his birthday and how he was struck down with violent pain in his stoumach and died 4 days later.

Now back to the passage, a few questions come to mind as I ponder it: -Why was only Peter rescued miraculously and not the others and many, many more over the years? – Why this one prophesy which rescued the people from famine when so many other “natural” disasters arrive without warning? – What role did the prayers of the saints (vs12) play in the rescue of Peter? – Why was only Herod supernaturally “executed” when so many other people over the years have also taken on the adulation of people as a god, even our own Zuma, without any apparent, immediate signs of God’s judgement?

It seems to me that as Luke is writing his description of events he clearly wanted to show that there was ample evidence that despite great opposition, God nevertheless was still in control supernaturally and therefore ‘allowed’ the events to happen. That is why He undertook to intervene overtly in a number of ways, to authenticate that. Persecution has often been a major factor in motivating and encouraging the disciples, both then and now. Yet we need to know it is never out of God’s control.

And the prayers? I had a bit of a light-bulb moment there. Its not as if God could not have rescued Peter without the prayers or that it was the prayers that moved God to action in this case, as opposed to many others. It came to me that this is a sort of divine interaction with God where He calls His people into action on the spiritual plane of prayer to become completely one with Him in accomplishing His purposes. The exact mechanism is a mystery, but a joyful recognition that we can be part of God’s team, as it were.

So what is Jesus saying to me? “As you have seen here and understood more of the extent of My divine action in growing My kingdom, remain committed to make disciples, as much as your situation allows you to. Remember the key is the Word and witness with prayer and yes, expect opposition and many attempts to distract you”.

The Gospel for the Gentiles too.

This morning I am not feeling completely well – so as I sit here in my special corner, the Lord says “Just come and sit with Me and draw from My presence”. After a time my mind fills with a picture of the night sky – billions upon billions of stars – “Yes Ian, be filled with wonder at My creation, but know that in the midst of this vastness and magnificence – I know you – I know you intimately – like a shepherd his sheep, like a mother her child – draw close and feel My heartbeat, like a foetus feels its mother’s heartbeat and feels loved, accepted, secure – I am Jehovah Rapha – in Me is wholeness, so you are programmed to heal – but I stand by you in this process – just be still, relax, be patient and let go into My arms”.

My reading today is Acts 11:1-18, which is a continuation and a repetition of what Luke described in ch 10. Just like with Paul’s conversion, Luke uses repetition of the story to underline its importance. Its probably quite difficult for us in the twenty first century to appreciate the importance and significance of these two events, which describes what had been promised several times during Jesus’ ministry and also in Acts by Luke, that the Gentiles were also going to be included in His huge plan of salvation. The Jewish nation had “owned” Jehovah and regarded themselves as totally separate to the other surrounding nations because of Him and his choosing them. One of the main external characteristics of the true Jew were his strict food laws. To have that distinction simply swept away must have been a huge shock cf 11:2. Although the “circumcised believers” accept what Peter has done by baptising them in the Name of Jesus, we know that that was just the beginning of a long process of integration to bring them all into the same church together and finding unity. (Just see ch 2 of Ephesians)

Circumcision was one of the rites which God had laid down to demonstrate the Jewish acceptance of His covenant. Of course we know from Paul’s writing that God was more interested in “circumcision of the heart” than physical circumcision. It was going to take a long time for the Jewish believers to see that physical circumcision had been done away with. Even today there are huge parts of the church which seek to add something to the simple gospel to make themselves feel more acceptable. Baptism, both infant and adult have loomed large as a substitute for circumcision, causing huge divisions in the church, even separating denominations. Even Peter fell into the trap, in Galatians he is described as wanting to fellowship only with the believers who wanted circumcision to continue as a Christian rite, bringing about Paul’s recrimination that they were preaching a false gospel which is no gospel at all, cf Galatians 1:6,7.

As I ponder these things, I think how prone we are to add on to the simple gospel message and how many people, who can be classed as ‘believers’, are held captive by superstitious rites. Or are trusting their whole salvation on something other than Jesus and His death on the cross on our behalf.

I read an article recently in the “Kerkbode” by a lecturer from the “Kweekskool” in Stellenbosch. It was entitled something like “Trust your baptism”. She was saying when you have doubts and feel insecure in your Christianity, merely look back at your baptism and that will assure you that you are ‘saved’. Of course she was speaking of infant baptism in the NG church and taking Luther’s comment completely out of context.

So I feel Jesus is reminding me again of the huge battle we are engaged in, in keeping His beautiful gospel message pure. So many people are trying to live the gospel plus and falling back into bondage, losing the real joy of their salvation. Yes I am as prone as anyone and need to be reminded regularly, not only for myself but for those who I teach.

What have you added to your understanding of the gospel, dear reader? Return to the pure gospel of Jesus, regularly reminding yourself to trust only in Jesus and His death on he cross.