Seeking.

With the notes of the songs I have been listening to and singing still fresh in my ears, I am surrounded by quiet. Asking God to help me quiet my thoughts and the inner voices clamouring to be heard. “Cleanse me and my thoughts Lord that I may hear you speak”. I picture myself sitting at Jesus’ feet like Mary. “Be still and know that I am God .I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jesus. I am here with you”.

“You have been singing of the joy that awaits you when you pass into the new world – the new heavens and the new earth to be in My presence forever – yet there is a reluctance on your part to want to part with this world and the known – the comfort and love of those around you – you are not totally convinced of the huge joy that awaits you on the other side of the ‘divide’. In fact your thoughts stop at the divide – allow yourself to focus on Me and what I have demonstrated in the past – how I opened up the Red Sea for my people to pass through, how I opened the Jordan to allow my people to pass into the Promised Land. Remember the empty grave. I have the power, I have the plan, I am The Way through the divide – keep your eyes fixed on Me and allowing the thought of the great wedding feast of the lamb to fill you with joy and anticipation– knowing you are going to be there. Don’t cling to this world don’t stare at the divide with fear. Trust Me trust My love and grace. I am for you”.

As I pass into ch 7 of Matthew, let me share a few thoughts that seemed to be what Jesus was saying to me today. Coming to vs 7 Jesus says we should, “Ask, seek, knock and the door will be opened to you”. This spoke to me of an attitude towards God that seemed to connect with earlier thoughts expressed in the Sermon. 5:6 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst.…”. 6:31 “Seek first….” This brought to mind the words of Psalm 42, “As a deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants…… My soul thirsts…”

This speaks to me of an attitude of deep longing, of a continuous desire. So what is the desire to be for? Well it is not for mammon or treasures on this earth 6:19. It is not even for the ordinary mundane things that make up our lives, “The Father knows already what you need”. 6:25-31. 6:32, “Your Father knows you need them”.

So what should we be seeking? 5:6 speaks of ‘righteousness’ . 6:31 expands that to “His kingdom and His righteousness“. 7:7 invites the hearer to seek, with a promise that they will be heard and God will respond. In the parallel passage in Luke we read, “…How much more will the Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him”. Then in Psalm 42 we see the key to this search in David’s words. Three times he repeats that he is panting, thirsting and seeking God Himself, in vv 1,2.

So what did I hear Jesus say to me from these words? Firstly God wants us to know that He is available. He invites us to seek Him and in return gives the very real promise that He will hear and respond. The second thing is that, while the theme of the SOM is God’s kingdom, how the members look like, how they should behave and function, the word ‘righteousness’ sort of summarizes that. But it is not just any righteousness, it is HIS righteousness, which is the feature of the lives of the people of His kingdom. But where does that righteousness come from? Well from Him and our relationship with Him. Therefore David is right when he says He seeks God, because God is the true source of righteousness, that is where we will find it.

So where does this all spin down to? Well God is looking for those who have an attitude of longing for Him and everything that has to do with His area of reign. Can we ask for more of Him? He has already given us Himself completely ‘in Jesus’, so when we are born again we have everything of Him. What we do need is more of is a greater awareness and appreciation of Him and everything about Him that we already have. That is why Paul, for instance in Ephesians prays the we may ‘know’ His love. Experience in our hearts that which is freely available. He wants us to know Him better and He wants more of us and our love and obedience and trust.

Does that mean we should not speak to Him about all the other things on our minds? Of course not. Why, he includes “give us this day our daily bread” in His prayer. But this is a matter of priorities. On a personal level. If you have a friend and all you always talk about when you are together is yourself, your struggles and needs, where will that friendship go? So if we are to grow as Christians it makes sense to tune into God’s program and seek to be part of that, to hear what He wants of us and to speak to Him about that. In that way our friendship will grow in leaps and bounds. In return He will of course want to hear about your personal issues as well. Romans 8:31 “If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up for us all – how much more will He not also, along with Him, graciously give us all things”.

Do you have that sense of longing for Him that David describes as a deer, having fled into the mountains to escape, finds himself panting for water? If you don’t why not ask God to give it to you so you too will seek Him, His kingdom and His righteousness often and continuously.

Thy Kingdom Come.

In the dark of load shedding I have a different experience of my time with the Lord – no electronic helps, songs, et cetera.

“I have invited you to spend time with me, which does not depend on any outside help. I am here I am your light, I light not only what you can see but into the depths of your heart. Look up and away and see My glory filling the sky– Glorious light, multiple colours, power and beauty pouring forth from Me. But I am not only out there I am in the depths of your soul – there is no place there that is dark enough to hide from me. I seek to bring you light and hope – my light is not a cold white light but I warm glow bringing you the warmth of my love. Yes I am here with you, just as I am with everyone of my children when they draw aside to focus on me and their relationship with and dependence on me”.

We move on to Ch 6 of Matthew. There is much teaching here, but I will lay out a framework to bring the different strands together.

The theme continues to be God’s Kingdom, as Jesus is interpreting it in the light of His coming connecting up with the Old Testament. (cf 6:10,33). Chapter 6 is about “practicing righteousness” (cf 6:1, 33), in other words the practical application of practicing ‘religion’ or we would say expressing our relationship with Jesus.

The opening section deals with the motive behind the religious practices. He condemns the open showy practice, instead repeats the need for secrecy, not desiring to be seen giving alms, praying, fasting etc. Now this almost seems a contradiction to 5:14 ff where He has said the people of the kingdom must be seen, demonstrating their relationship with Him. Underlying this then is the question, “What is our motive in our religious practice? Are we doing it to get attention for ourselves or focusing on His kingdom and His righteousness?”

So the underlying principle, which defines the people of the kingdom? It is buried in two places. Our lives and everything we do must be for His glory (6:9). Secondly we are to be single minded, focusing on Him and His righteousness. So in vs 21 He states the age-old conflict for all men (and women). The conflict of self. Self interest and self enrichment. When He says in v 22, “When your eyes are good,…..”, the Greek word for good could be better translated as “single”. Meaning focused on one thing somewhat like James warns us in James 1:6-8.

Running through this whole section is the thread of prayer which is the connection point between the citizens of the Kingdom and Jesus (or God). There is much there which each of you can unpack, from the warning not to babble a lot of words, to the reassurance that He already knows what we need and the beautifully laid out Lord’s prayer. Once again there is a warning that unforgiveness is a hinderance, a great hinderance to our prayers.

Then finally he deals with our relationship with our possessions, with the subtle and often repeated in this gospel, motivation to have faith, rather than fear. I read recently the suggestion that our fears are an indication of where we are trusting God the least.

And fasting? Well whether you actually fast or deny yourself in other ways, that is meant as a demonstration of the kingdom life which expresses itself in self-denial. Jesus says later in the gospel that if His disciples wished to follow Him the should take up their cross, daily.

So I must ask myself and maybe you should as well. “How is your practice of righteousness doing?”

How is your prayer-life? What are you focusing on? Why not keep a diary of how much time you spend on prayer for yourself and how much on other needs and kingdom issues.

More on the Law.

The last two days I have been meditating on whether I truly know Jesus’ love in my heart or whether it is mainly intellectual. This morning I imagine I am sitting at Jesus’s feet like Mary, looking to Him and listening to Him.

“ Some days you are like Mary – able to focus on Me and my love flowing out to you. Receiving everything I want to give you, other days you are more like Martha bustling around – busy with this and that in your mind. You, like all other people are a human being with changing emotions, depending on many things. Now know this I am not like that, my love is constant – it does not depend on how I feel about you – my love is fixed. It is present and focused on you to the maximum – held to you like the power that holds the atom together. When you feel any doubt, remind yourself of the many faces of My love, but start with Me giving My Son Jesus for you – for you on the cross – that is the ultimate sign – stop and meditate on that fact and let your soul rest in it.“

I want to stay with the law a bit longer in Matthew 5:21ff. The law plays such a huge part in the lives of many people. On the one hand there are those who believe, for whatever reason that to be accepted by God they simply must obey the law. “I live my life by the sermon on the mount,” they may say. To them Jesus says “You want to satisfy my demand from you? Then, ‘Be perfect as your Heavenly Father is perfect'”. To a greater or lesser degree such people then spend their lives in bondage to the law, trying to reach that standard. There are many forms of this, especially in the Western world which is post Christian and people are third and fourth generation “Christians”, who have had some exposure to “Christianity” without the real gospel. There are tens of 1000’s who stream to church on a Sunday who fall into this category.

Then there are many real Christians, as we have seen in Galatians, completely devoted, who, having been saved and having received the Spirit by believing, they nevertheless fall back into a life of trying to please God by obeying the law to perfection, but in their own strength (cf Galatians 3:1-5). This often follows their conversion because of soft teaching, which does not explain the gospel clearly or just not maintaining a living relationship with the Lord, through the means of grace He has given us.

It is a fact that every human being craves affirmation. There is only one place where one can receive full affirmation and that is in the love of God. John tells us that Jesus prayed in John 17:23 (last phrase of that vs) that ultimate obedience would result from Christians understanding that God has loved each one of us, as much as He loved His own Son. “You loved them even as you have loved Me”. That is surely the greatest affirmation one can get. The challenge is to believe it, every day and not try to seek more by our behaviour or what we say.

So do we ignore the law? Of course not. It reveals God’s very own heart and desire for us. What is necessary is to have the right perspective. The desire to obey the law flows from a realization of God’s infinite love for us. We respond to this love by walking in the Spirit Gal 5.16. Following His guide through the word and responding to His Spirit within us.

So as I worked through these vv of Matt. several challenges came to me on a personal level: 1. Not saying anything derogatory about anyone. 5:22

2. Not resisting an evil person. 5:39.

3. Giving to the one who asks and not turning away from the one who wants to borrow from me. 5:42.

4. Loving my enemy. (My neighbour has gone out of her way to be obnoxious and aggressive towards me. God has surely allowed this to test me). 5:43.

5. Greeting and being cordial to everyone even to those who seek to harm me.5:47.

I suppose the biggest challenge is to just keep living the gospel and all that entails.

Next time lets look at what Jesus tells us in the next chapter about prayer.

Fulfilment and the Law.

Sitting here with the darkness of load-shedding surrounding me, I contemplate:

“Thank you Lord that you have not only promised you will be here to meet me – but that you were here first and have actually invited me to come and join you. Thank you Lord that your promise, “If you seek me you will find me, if you seek me with all your heart”, came true for me many years ago – You did not force me into a relationship, you wooed me like a lover. Then you lavished me with your grace – i.e. Yourself, whom John described as Grace upon Grace (John 1:14b) – you gave me Yourself. Like a huge light up in the heavens you lit up and changed my life – dispelling darkness and bringing light and hope into the darkest places. Yes, as I set out on the path to follow You I discovered what it meant to take up my cross – often experiencing rejection because of You but also because of just living in a fallen world. And so I meet with You this morning against the backdrop of load shedding and so much evil and negativity in a world trying to make it on its own, but secure in the knowledge that You make all things work together for the good of those who love You and are called by Your name – and the promise that nothing can separate me from your love!”

Back to Matthew ch 4, as Jesus moves to Galilee, He starts His public ministry. His main activity and purpose is revealed in 4:17. “He began to preach, ‘Repent for the kingdom of heaven has come near'”. We are shown His authority as He calls men and they simply follow Him. As He preaches, He is also busy healing the sick and driving out demons. This activity has often been explained as a demonstration of His compassion. However there is more to it, with the theme “Who is this man?” in mind. His healings demonstrated His unique, supernatural power and they are also a sign of His purpose and power showing the first steps in His mission of reversing the curse, which underlies all sickness.

The “Sermon on the Mount”, in the next 3 chapters expands His message and reveals what it means to be part of the Kingdom He is calling the people to repent and join, as it were.

There is plenty of food in this section, but as this is not intended to be a detailed commentary, I will move to my reading of today: 5:17-20. Here again He is emphasizing the theme of “fulfilment”. We have seen this word used several times up to now eg 3:15, 4:14 and now in 5:17. Understand clearly, He is not setting aside the law but fulfilling it. What does that mean?

The purpose of the whole of the Old Testament (“law and the prophets”) is to prepare the world for the coming of God’s Messiah, which would be the tipping point of history. The sacrificial and ceremonial laws were giving understanding to Jesus’ mission. They were there to help us understand what His role would be in restoring our relationship with his Father. He fulfilled both the role of high priest as well as the sacrifice and we can only truly understand that in the light of the OT. However since He has come, He has opened the way through His death on the cross, so these are no longer relevant. The Sabbath pointed to the ultimate rest He is offering everyone whom He invites to come to Him (Matt 11:28). The weary and the burdened.

On the other hand He has given a deeper and wider understanding of the moral law. It was never intended to be just a minimal, legalistic obedience to the letter of the law, but that is what it became for most people and still is today for many. Instead we will see Him explaining in the next vv that the law can only be truly obeyed if the heart is changed – “repent“. Hence adultery does not happen when the physical act starts, it starts with the lustful thoughts, long before that. Ultimately the change of heart that’s necessary to truly live this life, is at the center of the work of regeneration when we receive the Holy Spirit. We see it beautifully summarized in Gal 5:14, “The entire law is summed up in a single command: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.'” This is what was meant when the New Covenant was announced “I will write the law on their hearts”. Jer 1:33.

I hear the words gasped out but clearly heard on the cross, “It is finished!” ‘Tetelestai’ – it has been accomplished, He has completed His mission of fulfilling what the OT was looking forward to.

I am overcome with joy. This ‘One”, the most important figure in history, has actually desired a relationship and a quiet moment with me. I am totally humbled. It is not necessary to find a ‘humble and contrite spirit’ (Isaiah 66:2b), His presence and His love washes over me in waves of joy, that darkness, no matter how deep could ever hide. I am humbled and overawed.

Fulfilment and Satan’s Attack.

“Yet not I but through Christ in me”, I have been singing.

“I have said, ‘True worship comes from a humble and contrite heart’ – it is necessary to humble your will and realize that for our relationship to work you must understand and live, from the heart, that statement, ‘yet not I but through Christ in me’. To be able to do that you must submit your will to Me. I will put the desire in your heart – but you must make the decision, an ongoing decision, to submit your will to me. Only then can you truly live in the full benefit of my presence and power. Your will is far stronger than you think – that is why I told my disciples that they must take up their cross to follow me – putting to death their own selfish desires and submitting to Me. This is the only true way to the abundant life, the real joy of a relationship and having fellowship with me. That is why I keep testing you – keep your eyes on Me then and keep reminding yourself yet not I but Christ in me. This is the only true way to the abundant life, the real joy of a relationship and having fellowship with me. That is why I keep testing you – keep your eyes on Me then and keep reminding yourself, “Yet not I but through Christ in me”.

I have reached Ch 4 in Matthew. Up to now I have again been struck by the continuity of this gospel with the OT scriptures. Picking up the theme of fulfilment through a number of quotations. Not only have their been direct quotations, but the pictures repeated from the experience of Israel, God’s own son reflect on this. His True Son, for instance, escaped to Egypt and then returned to Israel. Reminiscent of the first Exodus

I have also been reminded of Satan’s ferocious attack on the Messiah as He makes His appearance, represented by Herod’s desire to eliminate Him causing him to kill all the babies of a certain age. So here in ch 4 Jesus takes on Satan, face to face, as it were. We need to see this attack against the background of God’s identification of Jesus identity. The main question of the gospel looms large in the background. “Who is this man?”

Notice that is the challenge Satan makes to Jesus twice in 4:3 and 5.”If you are the Son of God,”‘ he repeats twice. The temptation to Jesus is that He should prove who He is. His reaction underlies the often discussed philosophical question, “Can you prove there is a God?” There is often the challenge to us to want to produce concrete proof. However Jesus resists this and basically states, “Believe what the word of God says”. Obviously this takes a step of faith and that is exactly what God wants.

So we too are constantly confronted by tests (temptations, same word) initiated by the Spirit. Notice this confrontation between Jesus and Satan was an initiative of the Spirit cf v 1. Underlying those tests is constantly the question, can you really trust God? Underlying that question again is, “Do you really believe that Jesus is the Son of God?” Each time you trust Jesus and He arranges a way out of your test 1 Cor 10:13b, your faith is strengthened. It is interesting that at the end of the Lord’s prayer where Jesus asked, “Do not lead me into temptation”, is is followed by “Deliver us from the Evil one”.

While we are always reminded that Jesus parried the thrusts of Satan with the word which is the sword of the Spirit. However notice how subtly Satan uses a scriptural reference to try and mislead Jesus 4:8 b. This is a strong warning to us to be careful how we handle the scriptures. Much heresy and division in the church has happened because people mishandle the word, not sticking to the basic principles of reading it.

The third challenge to Jesus brings a promise from Satan that underlies so much of the wrong in the world. “If you worship me, I will give you all things”. How many people, in an effort to gain, “all things” don’t end up worshiping the devil by following his lead and his way to get them? Gaining “all things” from a scriptural perspective starts by, “first seeking His righteousness and His kingdom” and then the promise is that He will give you all you need (Mat 6:33). Peter speaks of God supplying “all we need for life and godliness” 2 Peter 1:3.

God’s purpose in creating man is focused on His desire and our responsibility to make worshiping Him the most important part of our lives. I was strongly challenged by his passage to beware again of Satan’s ploy to get us to lose trust in Jesus and look for worldly (his) ways to solve and guide our lives. The way to counteract that is to continually focus our hearts on God. I was reminded again yesterday that it is from the heart that our desires arise, not the mind. May my heart be focused on Jesus and walled off from Satan’s tempting offers. It is timely to remind ourselves that the great adversary, Satan, although mortally wounded is still very active around us.

Now I am going to continue reading Matthew and gaining as much as possible from it. Why don’t you read along and we will touch sides again next Wednesday?