Let’s Go on Listening to Jesus.

This morning I am ruing the fact that there still seems so much between me and Jesus that is keeping me from a really close and intimate relationship. So many of my thoughts, inner conversations, actions etc start with myself and then only extend to Him as a sort of afterthought.

So I am kneeling at the foot of the cross and as I look up I see the cross towering above me – stretching up and up, the figure on it being transformed – a huge light – the cross is reaching up into the light and the figure on it is transforming into a beautiful rainbow multitude of colours and the center a blazing white light.

“Ian, I am the light and I am shining my light onto you and into you so that even the darkest corners of your heart will be lit – I have heard your desire to be released from self-interest, self-indulgence, self-satisfaction and to be able to find everything you need and want in Me – so I am shining My light into your heart and I am asking you to turn these things over to Me, that you feel are separating yourself from Me. The world, the flesh and the devil are constantly trying to pull you back and undo the progress you are making. See the chains that are still holding you, see in your mind’s eye Me breaking those chains, that is what the cross and the Light is about. Every day that passes you can be and are coming nearer and nearer to the goal of complete oneness with Me.”

My reading today is Acts 10:1-23. Now this is another turning point in Luke’s story of the Acts of the Apostles as witnesses by taking that witness in stages out to the whole world. It is the start of the astonishing step to include the Gentiles into God’s greater story of His Kingdom. But I am looking at what Jesus is saying to me today. The full impact of this whole movement will be shown later in this story. Why don’t you read the passage and ask Jesus to speak to you personally from it, after you have taken in the main point of the passage.

Firstly, what stands out to me today about Cornelius is that he is a devout believer in Jehovah, whom he addresses as “Lord” in vs 4. Where does his faith come from? Who introduced him to the “Lord”? It is said so by the way, but what strikes me is that whoever spoke to him was merely the agent or messenger that God sent to him to prepare him for this great, world-changing experience with Peter. Another example of how God is working out His plan continually in our lives and that person who is unnamed and unknown is just as important for the successful conclusion of this movement by God.

Another important factor is that several people “hear” the word from God and demonstrate that by obeying. Firstly Cornelius in vs 7 and then Peter in vs 23. Another thing that stood out for me was the fact that God was making a great move, but He doesn’t first appear to Peter and lay out His whole plan starting with a reminder of His instructions to the Apostles at His ascension to be a witness to the ends of the earth. No, he simply takes Peter step by step through the immediate next steps of the plan and Peter, sometimes without even understanding, has to follow Him for the plan to succeed. So I am reminded how important it is just to take the next step every day which you feel is where Jesus is leading you, even though you don’t necessarily see or understand the bigger picture at that stage.

So we have, in some ways come a full circle, to remind ourselves of the purpose of this blog: to learn to listen to Jesus. Way back in Mark 9 at a momentous event in the earthly life of Jesus, God comes down and meets with Jesus in His manhood and 3 disciples on top of a mountain, so symbolically significant, paralleling the meeting with Moses on Mt Sinai. God, at that moment in history has a short 10 word message for the disciples and for all of us who come after them. Mark 9:7b “This is My Son, whom I love. Listen to Him!” In John ch 10 Jesus reminds the disciples 3 times that his sheep know His voice and listen to Him because He knows them and they know Him, in other words they have a living relationship with Him and therefore they know and hear His voice..

So let’s listen to Jesus as He speaks in many ways to us: the underlying and undergirding way is through the scriptures. But remembering to listen for His voice through them. Then there are many other ways like through music, through the creation, through a quiet word to you, if you can drown out the clamour of the world, through that loving nudge when you want make an angry retort or embellish a story, or that gentle reminder to phone someone, or make a visit, take a meal or give some money. You are all good at this, nevertheless it is an area that I believe we can always continue grow in.

So let’s do it – let’s continue to learn to “Listen to Jesus”.

Damascus, a Turning Point.

Well friends I hope you are growing in your ability to listen and hear Jesus speaking to you personally and that it is giving you a greater intimacy with Him. Today I had been imagining all the different characteristics of God and then I head Him.

“Yes Ian, I am all those things that you were imagining – totally omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, holy and pure and totally love – yes, in the great and grand scheme of things you may feel completely insignificant by comparison – yet, in My plan and My grace, I determined you and your role from before time – I brought you into the world in a family with a history – and I planned your whole journey to the fulfilment of My purpose. As you look and see the mire and the mud of a broken and rebellious world around you, there is a flower rising, a most beautiful flower, with all the colours of the rainbow which I created, it is rising and growing up and up, larger and larger and more beautiful – rising to the highest heavens – that is My bride and you are part of that multitude whom I am rescuing from the mire and awfulness of sin and rebellion in this broken world, which appears to be disintegrating because of my judgement curse – but remember and remember this clearly, this is My creation and I love it dearly – I love it and everyone in it and I am rescuing a remnant, all those who have chosen to follow Me – I have given each one of you a free will – yet I am still in control – you cannot understand it, yet it is true – so rejoice and be glad – enjoy Me, enjoy your role and keep looking up at Me not down at the mire around you”.

My reading today is Acts 9:1-19, the oh so well-known story of Saul’s conversion on the road to Damascus. Known so well that even in the lay mouth, having a Damascus experience describes an experience of discovery, revelation and following a new course. This conversion seems so totally from God, that I and I am sure many others have so wished God would give it to a recalcitrant and rebellious loved one. While the story leaves no doubt that it is totally from God, one should remember that Saul had actually been prepared for this. He must have heard numerous testimonies from the Christians whom he was persecuting and deep down in his mind there must have been a stirring. Late at night questions. Could this message actually be true? Nah! But are you sure?

The other thing that strikes me on reading this today, is what Jesus said to him in in vs 16. What would you choose to say to someone whom you wish to call to a much higher and more noble task? What would you say? “I will show you how much you must suffer”? Is that the best way to get someone motivated? But Jesus has other plans and they seem to involve the very choice of this most famous ambassador of Christianity. Remember the words to the woman caught in sin, from Jesus “he who is forgiven much, loves much”. And Saul, after he became Paul was so aware of the awfulness of his deeds and the great well of forgiveness that was poured over him (1 Tim 1:16), it was probably the great motivating factor for his life of service to his beloved Jesus.

So surely God chose this man and formed him for this specific task, preparing him for the great teaching task, as he was destined to lay down a large part of the New Testament, by raising him up in a tradition where he was steeped in the Old Testament scriptures. Furthermore using his fiery determination for God, as he saw it was necessary, to prepare him for this huge release from the guilt of what he had done. These factors all worked together to make this man one of the greatest figures in scripture.

And the promise of persecution? Clearly this was the first step in preparing him for what was to come during his years of ministry.

Listening to Jesus I am reminded again of God’s complete souvereignty and vast plan covering the aeons working towards the “telos” or completion which He has planned and is planning, just as He spoke to me earlier. And yes God is the One who saves, He is the One who gives life to the dead, but and this is so important, He nevertheless wants our desire and us to choose. How this works I don’t know, but it tells me to keep praying for my lost loved ones and then continue being a witness to His love and so putting my trust in Him completely for the outcome. Will someone have another Damascus experience? No two people are alike, and God has a unique plan for each one. No one size fits all.

What a God we serve, hallelujah, I cast myself before Him!

Simon – a False Shadow of Messiah?

I look up and see a huge waterfall cascading down a breathtaking precipice, tons of water swirling and churning, spray flying – pouring down into a torrent which is powering its way through a deep canyon – the water mighty and powerful: “The waterfall represents My word and My power released through it – you are being washed by water and the word – the torrent represents My purposes in the world – My purposes are rushing forth across the world like the power of the water in the canyon – but My torrent is spreading over the whole world and it is rushing to a conclusion – it is working out my purposes – they cannot be thwarted – there is much evil – but the victory has already been won – “the battle belongs to the Lord” – you will be part of that victory – look up at the mountain from whence comes the mighty waterfall and see Me and worship Me. You may feel at times as if you are being swept along by the torrent – everything feels out of control – you feel you are drowning – but don’t fear I am holding you I am working out My purposes and the powers that are being unleashed are far beyond your understanding – just worship Me and allow yourself exhilarating freedom in the torrent”.

My reading today is Acts 8:4-25. This is an enigmatic passage about which much has been written and many arguments made. As I seek to hear Jesus I must try and put that all out of my mind and see what He is saying to me afresh, while sticking to Luke’s flow of thought in writing it.

This is an important new phase in the spread of the Gospel, as it is taken beyond the borders of Israel for the first time. As I ponder the passage I find myself coming back to the figure of Simon. Most people who write about this passage are so busy trying to figure out the apparent contradictions about receiving the Holy Spirit in this passage with others elsewhere, that they give very little space to Simon, who then becomes a sort of peripheral figure. But of the 21 verses in the passage Simon takes up 13; more than half. So why has his story been included and what does it contribute to the bigger picture of the spread of he gospel? Mmmm, Lord please help.

So who is Simon? He was an important figure in the community of Samaria. He had what appears to be pseudo-supernatural, magical powers and was actually almost worshiped as the “Great Power”. When he saw the centrality of his importance waning in the face of this new religion, where there were real supernatural signs being done, he decided that the best way forward was to join the disciples and somehow acquire the power to dispense the Holy Spirit, whom he perceived was clearly central to the new power that was being released among the community. Peter, however saw through this and called him to repent of his wickedness.

So what is the significance of his story fitting in here? My mind goes to the statement Jesus made, reported for instance in Mark 13:22; “for false Christs and false prophets will appear and perform signs and miracles to deceive the elect – if that were possible”. Although Simon is not claiming to be a Christ, is Luke not holding him, up as he has done so many times before as a sharp contrast to highlight the real gospel and at the same time as a warning to the reader of the danger of being taken in by false professions of faith and false claims?

Today as I ponder this passage I feel I am being reminded of the danger of being dragged down false paths, to take my eyes off the only Messiah. I am led again to 1 John 4:1-6 to remind myself of “how to test the spirits”. A strong warning to be vigilant at all times, as for instance when we recently had a questionable prophecy loaded onto our WhatsApp group, by a well-meaning friend, so attractive to believe..

I also smiled as I recollected an experience I had after I had spoken at a “Christian Woman’s Club” meeting, many years ago at the Kloof Neck restaurant. After I had spoken I invited anyone who wanted to find out more about the gospel to come to one side. Presently a tall, well-dressed, rather attractive lady walked up to me and planted herself in front of me. Without introducing herself she looked me straight in the eye and said to me “I want what you’ve got”. I felt a wonderful opening to explain the gospel and how she would receive the Holy Spirit, who she had apparently seen in me, if she believed. Starting to explain, she cut me short with “I am not interested in all that, you have got something and I just want that”. My thoughts slid to Simon and I thought, all she is not doing is offering me money. She was followed up but never showed any interest in Jesus or His gospel simply wanting the power and presence of the Holy Spirit whom she had seen.

The Holy Spirit cannot be peddled nor handed out, He is the most precious gift that Jesus gives as part of the New Covenant promise to change our hearts so that we will have a new power to live for Him when we believe and are born-again. Lets us rejoice and enjoy Him and be very careful of false information and misleading advice on how to receive Him.