Biblical Joy.

So yesterday afternoon I was browsing through a little booklet which was written by Dudley Foord, who came from Australia in the 1980’s to be our presiding Bishop. Dudley and I were completely on the same wavelength especially in the area of discipleship and he gave me a copy of his little booklet called “Life’s Big Questions”. I must admit that, although I really appreciated the signed gift I never really studied the contents seriously. Yesterday I found the copy hiding between some large tomes on my bookshelf and was drawn to read one of the chapters headed “How can I discover genuine joy”. As I dipped deeper into this chapter which is an exposition of Psalm 32, I was more and more blessed and intrigued by the way it linked to James ch 1 which we have looked at a few times recently.

So why don’t we look through this psalm with the promise of discovering genuine joy, together So read through the psalm and then vss 2-8 of James 1 and try and connect some dots. This is what I came up with, with a little help from Dudley:

The first two vss describe this person who is really filled with joy or happy (Blessed). Why does he feel this way? Well he has experienced forgiveness. Now I am convinced that most of us Christians don’t really focus and appreciate that factor in our relationship with God sufficiently. In Ephes 1 Paul speaks about the great benefits of being “in Jesus”. Of prime importance is vs 7,8 “In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace which He has lavished upon us with all wisdom and understanding”

There are two extremes here: On the one hand there are some who so focus on sin that they actually fail to see and experience the glory of being forgiven. I know of groups who have gone on retreats were they focused almost exclusively on trying to find and dig out every imaginable sin in their lives. On the other hand the experience of forgiveness in some, maybe because they have not really perceived themselves as great sinners, is really to almost take this aspect of their relationship for granted. I would class myself among these.

However, especially recently I have been brought up short more and more by descriptions of the seriousness of sin in the bible. Maybe as Christians we don’t commit the grievous sins of the non-christian, but there are so many almost inapparent sins some of which which I am more and more conscious of committing myself. Lets look at a few: pride, even where we have just dealt with this we so easily slide back into it, self-centredness (an aspect of pride), lack of trust and faith, not being completely honest (the little exaggeration you know), slander (often even in the guise of a prayer request), Relying on ourselves and our own intelligence and not Jesus’ wisdom and so I can go on. Recognize any of these?

So this is the basis of this psalm, really bringing to light the huge benefit of forgiveness which opens the way for his relationship with God. Then he psalmist describes the debilitating health effects of sin. So what did he discover was the answer? vs 5 This is the whole basis of our gospel relationship with the Lord. Don’t try harder to be a good Christian when you realize you’ve messed up again, go in humble confession, receive immediate forgiveness and in the strength of the Spirit and motivated by Jesus’ love and forgiveness you start again.

Then the psalmist opens the door to how we should live to have the full benefit of this forgiveness which is ultimately reflected in an unbounding joy. see if you can pick out his advice to us in our daily pilgrimage. Here is what I found:

vs 6 pray continually. Be in close conversation with the Lord now that you have access to Him. vs 6b and 7, You will have he assurance of God’s ongoing protection. And instead of being surrounded with fear you will be surrounded with great songs of deliverance. vs 8 You will experience God’s guidance. Vs 10 You will experience God’s unfailing love (His covenant love Chesed) surrounding you. Finally vs 11 you will be filled with joy. Notice there are 3 different expressions of joy here to emphasize the reality and extent of that. Rejoice in he Lord, be glad and sing (other translations speak here of shouting out loud).

So what does James say? when you are faced with many trials you must rejoice, but you can only do that if you are aware of the huge work God has done for you and in you starting with forgiveness of your sins. Even then he immediately warns against being double-minded.

I like the way Dudley ends his chapter where he says Jesus invites us to a great banquet with the following beautiful dishes:

A big helping of friendship, the key to friendship is communication so the next dish is prayer then the dish of security in Him. After that comes the promise of comfort and wisdom and then guidance and finally the pudding – unbounded joy.

Serenity in the Turbulence

I have flown into some turbulence the last few days, so sorry that I’ve been silent. I can’t write if I’m trying to catch my own breath. So let me start with sharing a poem by Stuart Holden written in 1931 and published in the little booklet “God-guided pain”.

He led me to the way of pain,

A barren and a starless place;

[I did not know His eyes were wet,

He would not let me see His face]

He left me like a frightened child

Unshielded in a night of storm;

[How should I dream He was so near?

The rain-swept darkness hid His form]

But when the clouds were driven back,

And dawn was breaking into day,

I knew Whose feet had walked with mine!

I saw the Foot-prits all the way.

So on Friday amidst the “turbulence”‘ I become quiet with the Lord and in my minds eye I see a large pool of pristine water surrounded by lush trees and grass. The water is so quiet it is like a mirror – a picture of absolute serenity. Do I hear Jesus saying “this is a picture of the peace I want to give you”?

Yes Lord but what about when the waves of turbulence come? “Remember your decision:

‘If you want to walk on the water, you must first get out of the boat’. Your trust must be in Me completely. Remember James1:6, ‘When he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like the wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind.'” I remember the work I have been doing to understand James 1 afresh. There can be no splitting of our trust. It is either God or the world. It is so easy to ‘hedge your bets’. Place your trust in God?? and then make plans to depend on the world’s solutions.

So God is saying to me “you must get out of the secular boat you are in and trust in me completely and I will be your Shield, I will fold you into My arms and hold you close – you will be safe with me. Remember your new identity – you are – “in Jesus”. That makes you a completely new person with a new identity – shielded by a bullet-proof shield of my mercy and grace”

So I cuddle up to the Lord and say “hug me Lord – I need a tight hug from you – I receive your peace.”

I must confess as I have considered this first chapter of James that I have had a bit of a revelation. You know vs 3 that says you “must consider it pure joy when you face trials of diverse kinds”? To my shame I have often thought, now please this is deep down sharing, that God is a bit mean with His trials. Its as if He just wants to keep disturbing my life. OK I don’t think like that with my rational mind, this is just a deep reaction I sometimes have, almost dreading the next one. Well while I was reading this passage over again the other day it hit me (I’m sure it came from Jesus), “Your attitude towards the testing in your life is still a barrier to my relationship with you”. But do you know what, even as He was saying that to me its as if my eyes were opened and I suddenly saw these trials in a completely different light:

I saw them as being allowed by a supremely loving God, taking no joy in any pain I may experience, but allowing the effect of living in a fallen world with an active enemy to be part of my experience to help me to trust Him more. “You are already facing a huge trial Emily’s sickness which will progress. The small things along the way I allow to keep you trusting in Me, to keep your attention on me and to grow your faith in Me as these things get resolved you will be able to trust me more and more in the big things of life. This is all part of the act I have of loving you completely. And hear this; I protect you from many things along the way that you don’t even comprehend or know about”.

So suddenly I could see that these things, and they will continue to irritate, are all part of His benevolent love and NOT a way of making my life difficult. And of course, I am ashamed as I think of the multitude of ways He has shown His love to me, the multitude of issues that have been resolved often in amazing ways and not the least the number of dear Christian friends who love and support me in so many ways.

So what does the gospel say? Repent, confess and trust in Jesus afresh, and He will restore us completely. Wow what a Saviour we have!

More on Listening and Love.

I’m speaking today to God – no, I am continuing to try to really learn what it means to listen. First I ask Him to purify my mind, my heart, my tongue – forgive me for every wrong thought and inappropriate word and action I have done.

“Help me to empty my mind of all the thoughts churning around in my head that I am thinking [that means what I am saying to myself in this constant conversation I have with me] because this stops me hearing You speak Lord. Especially the worries and cares of this world (Mark 4:18,19).” Here I am reminded of teaching I had during a course we did to become Life-Line counselors, where the basis of their counseling is listening. What they said, and listen carefully now, because we don’t hear so good do we? “If you are thinking what you are going to say to the person while they are still speaking, you are NOT listening to them”. Ouch – so if you are speaking to yourself while you say you are listening to the Lord then you are not listening to Him.

To show you have been listening properly to your client and to help them to see their own problem, we were then told to feed back to them what you have heard them saying. So it would go something like this “so what you are saying to me is xyz?” (The aim of that sort of counselling is that the client should work out solutions to their problems themselves with you just playing a part in active listening). Now how do we do this, give feed back, when we are listening to God? Well quite simple actually, keep a journal and write down what you feel He has been saying to you, with the scripture references or even the passages written out in full. This will enable you to crystalize what you have “heard” Him say to you.

At he end of my time with Him I write in my journal, “So what is this saying to me today?” as I seek to condense it into action for that day.

Now I want to get back to my discussion last time on what it means when we say “God is love”. Our interesting discussion at our early morning prayer meeting with Ludwig was that we can only know God in as much as He has revealed Himself to us. Thus we know God is love because of many actions He has taken favouring us, like and especially, sending His Son to die for us. The story of Tim Keller of the two bushes in Jerimiah where he was saying that we should love God for who He is and not what we can get from Him through our relationship with Him, refers to an attitude where we seek God merely to receive from Him what we desire. So that means it is quite an OK part of knowing God by seeing His revealed actions as a revelation of who He is.

A picture of the Songs of Solomon then comes to mind, of the love of the bride and the groom for each other. I seem to hear The Lord saying to me “Remember the most exquisite moments of your relationship with Emily, how you felt then. Now multiply that by many times and that is how I feel about my bride, each one of the people who make up that group, and that includes you”

But God’s love for us needs to pass on further, not stop with myself. So what does that mean? lets look at that passage in 1 John, where he repeats twice that God is love. John is warning the readers that their love for Jesus will be known by their love of others revealed, in their actions. It is not enough to say “I love you”, one has to demonstrate that. The problem his readers had was that they claimed to be Christian yet were being nasty to some other Christians. Sound familiar?

I am reminded of a revelation I had many years ago about the meaning of the word “attitude”. This was the definition I found: “An attitude is a way of seeing others in relation to ourselves and it is expressed in actions”. So our experience and appreciation of God’s love for us is demonstrated in the attitude we have towards others in relation to ourselves. OK that means not only to family, not only to other like-minded Christian brothers and sisters, but to every one of the people we interact with. Paul, in his letter to the Philippians, says our attitude should be like that of Christ Jesus. We should consider others better than ourselves (Phil 2:3) .

Wow – does he really mean that? Its easy to regard the good, nice, distinguished people, especially those who love us, as better than ourselves, but Paul is saying “everyone”. The meanest, the lowest, the dirtiest most detestable, cruel ??? Jesus said in Matt 5:43 we must love even our enemies. Can I do that? Can you do that?

I have good news for you. The gospel isn’t about trying to do the impossible, just trying harder and harder every time we fail. No, the gospel is – first experience God’s love for you, Really experience it believe it and receive it and from that flows the power and desire to love even the most unlovable. Will we fail? Of course. Should we try harder?…. NO the gospel tells us when we fail we go to Jesus, the foot of His cross, confess our failure and draw again from His love and go out. And no matter how often we fail, that is the Good News, He will always forgive us and fill us afresh with His love. Read 1 John, first chapter, that explains it.

Dear reader there are so many of our brothers and sisters who are trying so hard to be good Christians, but it is no more than legalism. The Good News is that we have been transformed by Jesus, filled with His love, all we have to do is go out in that knowledge and strength of the Holy Spirit and do it.

Hallelujah that is why it is called “The Gospel” in other words “The Good News of Christ Jesus”.

God is love.

The mist is dense outside, like a thick grey blanket. Cold? or Warm and covering you like a blanket?

At the end of my journal entry for yesterday I wrote, following Paul Tripp’s poem on God’s pleasure: “One day my deepest pleasures are nowhere to be found in creation and only to be found in the Creator and He finds pleasure in His glory.

So today I spend time meditating on the fact that I must love the Creator for Who He is and not for what He has done and will do for me.

So who is my God? mmmm 1 John says twice that “God is love” 1 John 4:8,16. What does that mean? Can we define what that means without the context of what John says in this letter? Because John’s definition is all about what God has done through Jesus for us and in us – urging the reader to take this to heart, by demonstrating the same sacrificial care for one another that God has shown for us, which is original. That is He demostrated His love for us unprovoked by us or any merit in us. We are to love like that.

So I quietly ask God “what does the statement “God is love” mean intrinsically to His character? The thought comes to me that His whole being is wrapped up in the benevolent attitude which He has demonstrated and is demonstrating towards His creation. His anger is only demonstrated towards those who reject Him. Further to that I think of the only picture in the bible where we get a glimpse of God is in Revelation 4, where it is all about His holiness and His glory.

So I consult “The New Bible Dictionary”. Their discussion starts with the revelation of God’s love for Jesus which has existed since before creation. John 17:24 “Where Jesus prays “Father I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see My glory, the glory You have given Me, because you loved Me before the creation of the world”. Notice the link between glory and love.

Jesus is also the only one of whom it is written that He is God’s beloved Son. eg Mark 9:7 “This is my Son whom I love.”

Furthermore they say that God’s love can only be known to men as it is revealed in Jesus Christ and our redemption by Him (Romans 5:8). It is the very nature of the God-Head – Jesus Christ, who is love incarnate and personified (1Jo 3:16) and is God’s Self revelation.

Heh and that is not all. There is an emotional aspect to God’s love – revealed especially through the book of Hoseah where God gets Hoseah to marry a prostitute so that He can experience the pain God feels when his bride is unfaithful to him.

There is more, but lets leave that for the moment. Just something more to chew on. In Malachi 1:2ff He speaks about some whom He hates. Read that and ponder and we will speak again about it and if you have the courage post your thoughts on the idea that God is love on the blog.

May you consciously experience that unimaginable love in a special way as you read this and consider it.

Wisdom shown in the way we use words.

Its cold this morning, skeins of mist and rain drifting past to hide the magnificent view of Table Mountain in the distance. The patio is wet and the bushes and trees are dancing to the tune of the icy wind which is reminding me that it is the first sign of spring. Easy to be depressed and down-hearted? Yes? But how we process what we see will determine our mood. Do we see the weather? The cold and greyness? Or do we see a wonderful Creator who is behind every mood of His creation. The very fact that Spring is here is a reminder of His faithful dependability.

As I become quiet and nestle up to my Father, he seems to be saying to me “look at the rainbow – the rainbow symbolises my presence – remember the covenant that I made with Noah? Well the seal on that covenant was the rainbow and every time you see a rainbow it should remind you of that covenant, the first one mentioned in My Word, which was looking forward to another one which would be sealed by the Sabbath and that one was again looking forward to the one introduced by my Son, The beautiful Lord Jesus, which was sealed by the Holy Spirit. You are part of that covenant! I planned and chose you and crafted you before all time to be the person you are. I have shed abroad my love for you through the mighty act of Jesus. Experience my “Chesed” (covenant) love constantly and Ian, this message is for you personally, but also to be shared with all who read this blog. It is My message of love and hope to every one of my beloved children”.

The next pillar of wisdom is “watchfulness with words”. The book of proverbs has much to say about words. How important words are. The words of God bring life. (Prov 10:11) Our words can do the same or they can or they can cause a hurt that lasts a lifetime (Prov 12:16).

For me today this is a special warning as I am so prone to blurt out words before thinking carefully what effect they may have. Dr Phil often used to say “you can’t undo stupid”. I would like to change that to “you can’t undo words once they are spoken”

Then in my imagination I see this person staggering through the desert without water, weak and voraciously thirsty, tongue and lips swollen and dry, caked with sand and spittle. Longing for just a sip of water. That is me, struggling through the desert of this world, the only water that can refresh me is the “living water” which only Jesus can give. That has the power and insight to help me to rise up above the stumbling struggle of every day and mount up with wings as an eagle – into His very living presence. That is reality, although I cannot see it! (Isaiah 40:31).

And a timely reminder the means of His Spiritual Water is the Word of God – that is how He refreshes us!

Oh glorious Lord what a privilege to know you!