A Great Light in the Dark

As the dark cloud of a second wave of Covid 19 arises with a new strain threatening, like a seething cumulus thunderstorm, which seeks to cut off the Light of Christmas, a smouldering miasma of evil, I felt the Lord calling me to remind you of what we really believe at this time.

This morning my time with the Lord started with Him showing me the “well” from which we can drink “Living water” – a picture of Him and His Spirit – then psalm 1 comes to mind, “the blessed man is like a tree that is PLANTED by streams of water” – it is necessary not only to drink constantly of the Living Water, but I need my roots planted where I can continually draw water, the real Water of Life.. Then I see God, as the Rock and am reminded that I must build my house on that Rock. He is that Rock, but I must build my foundation. But wait a bit, if this depends on my ability to build, then the foundation will always be flawed. So it is necessary for God to build, with me so that I have a foundation with His strength, so when the storms come the house will stand. In fact His promise is that it will stand against any storm.

So “come to Me and I will give you rest, I will give you peace, I will give….. I will give, not as the world does but from my well of everlasting, living water that will never dry or rum out, so remain in me, plant your roots firmly.”

As I internalize this, I am looking out the window. A few meters away is a tree growing. It is an indigenous tree of which I have experience from my previous house. It grows tremendously quickly, shooting out new branches in overflow when pruned. But it easily outgrows its strength and when the wind comes it shatters and splinters. It really needs to be in a forest, among other trees to support it. Trees, some of which grow slowly and are very strong, like the yellow-wood tree, or the stinkwood. So the metaphor comes to me that this is a bit like the church, some people who are the real movers and shakers can easily be shattered if they are not protected by others who are slower yet more stable. Yeah the church is a bit like a forest. We were never meant to be out there, as it were, alone on a rock facing the storm, we are meant to be part of the forest where we can stand together to resist the storm.

So my final reading in 1 Peter is from 1 Peter 5:6-14. Now, when I used to train students to be discipleship group leaders, I always had them study this section as part of their quiet time. I wanted them to see it as encouragement in the context of the word in vs 5 addressing “young men/women”. Today it struck me that actually this is a summary of the whole of 1 Peter, remembering the basic gospel as foundation and then the extensive discussion on suffering. In vs 7 the verb translated “cast”, is a very forceful word. With energy throw your cares off your own shoulders onto God’s shoulders. There is also a play on the word “care”. The verse should read “cast your cares on him because He cares for you!”

So standing back and summarizing, there are three instructions to the reader on what his response should be to the message of the letter, and three corresponding promises from God which He will do in response. For us: humble yourself, under God’s mighty hand; Cast your cares on Him; be self-controlled and alert especially towards the whiles of the devil who prowls around seeking to devour us. It is necessary to consciously resist him and stand firm in the faith (because mainly he is in the business of discouraging us and causing us to lose faith). From God’s side: He will lift us up under His mighty hand in due time; He will care for us in the midst of the suffering and the attacks of the devil; He will restore us after we have suffered for a little while, making us firm and steadfast.

Vs 12 “This is the true grace of God, stand fast in it”

He has the power and the desire to banish this dark cloud at this time, shining the true light of the gospel on it and through it, as we remember the first baby steps of what would become a mighty powerful Presence sweeping through the world, far more powerful than this puny virus. Take heart dear reader, apply this and live in it.

To Him be the power for ever and ever. Amen (vs 11)

May I end by wishing each one of you a most blessed and truly joyful time especially on Friday, no matter what you are planning to do. May He bless you and make His face shine on you and give you peace.

Suggestions for a more meaningful quiet time with Jesus.

In line with my blog yesterday, I am writing some suggestions on enjoying a deeper communication in your quiet time. This blog is NOT meant to be prescriptive. These are suggestions which I have found useful to enhance my time with the Lord. Each one of us is an individual and therefore there can be no formula, one size for all. Each one of us must find our own way, which I am sure you have already. Yet we can always be challenged to move forward. Covid isolation has had one beneficial spin-off in that most of us have more time to do this. So here are my suggestions:

  1. Find a place where you can be comfortable and uninterrupted. It is useful to use the same place every day. There should be a table to write on and a place to keep your books and bible at hand.
  2. Collect your gear together. A bible in one or more translations, a comfortably large exercise book to use as a journal. Maybe a hymn book or song sheet. Some of us have all these things digitally available, yet I still find a good old fashioned bible like a comfortable friend. Writing gear and high-lighters. A commentary or reference book which you may feel comfortable with.
  3. Choose a time. I suggest you decide on meeting at the same time every day. This helps to set this meeting into a pattern which will call you every day, that it will become a habit, a good habit Each person is different. I am an a.m. person so like to meet first thing in the morning with cup of coffee in my hand.
  4. I start my time by reading some of what I wrote in my journal the previous day or days, to bring me back into the line of conversation I was having, and remember what was important the previous time. This is often where I climb in with my highlighters.
  5. Taking the next step, aiming to preparing my mind, I try to vary what I do. Sometimes, for instance, I focus on an image of the vs in Psalm 121. “I will lift up my eyes to the hills from whence comes my help” I will visualize God meeting with His people at various times or I may use another visualization like focusing on God’s creation, there are endless options. Sometimes I may sing a hymn or song, or listen to one on my cellphone. The whole purpose of this exercise is to cut out the many voices of the outside world and Satan and the many conversations going on in my own head. Spending time going through a number of reasons to thank and praise the Lord also draws me closer and prepares my attitude.
  6. Now I try and relax physically. Close my eyes and take some deep breaths. At the same time asking the Lord to help quieten my thoughts. I may repeat a number of times “be still and know that I am God”. I also call on God to help quieten my thoughts. Usually I find myself repeating David’s words from psalm 139 “Search me, O God……….” Using this as a platform to confess whatever separates my from God. I try and continue like this till I am completely calm and quietened in my mind and ready to hear God speaking to me.
  7. The next step requires the most discipline and patience. While my mind is completely stilled I ask God to speak to me and seek to listen “Speak Lord your servant is listening”. With practice you will then find thoughts coming into your mind which you can pick up, by faith that they are from God. Mostly the thoughts are associated with pieces of scripture which God personalizes. Sometimes I find He uses pictures to explain or make what I am hearing more real
  8. I then write down what I feel God has been communicating to me. Here I find my thoughts crystalizing into more coherent ideas. Now let me say, though this has become the most exciting adventure to me, if it makes you uncomfortable, I suggest you start by just imagining God as your Father and you sitting snuggled next to Him enjoying His presence and feeling His warmth. I really believe God wants us to draw close to Him and to just enjoy His presence and if in the beginning you are not sure about the communication, you will love the feeling of closeness and love and soon grow into hearing Him make love to you.
  9. The next step is vital. now comes a time when we can read a passage of scripture, while asking God to go on speaking to you. Several times I have burst out laughing when I have read something which is so completely in line with what I believe He has been saying to me just before. I read through a book in the bible a small piece at a time. First I read the passage through completely, try to understand the gist in he light of the context, then I read through it a second time writing my observations down. Looking for repetitive words and seeking the telos of the passage. To clarify my thoughts I make notes at this stage of what I think is important. Now if you are reading a prepared devotion, you may like to read the scripture which is used first. However it is probably wise to read more than just the one verse which is usually given to get the broader context.
  10. Having done that, I will read a bit of commentary on the passage or some other explanitory notes to get more of the meaning, especially if there is something I am struggling to understand. Before I do this though I try and ask God to explain a difficult piece. So if you are using a devotion, now is the time to read he rest.
  11. Having come this far I now write: “What is all this saying to me today?” I then try and distil my thoughts and observations to a few central thoughts which I can take into the day with me.
  12. At this stage, although you have been in prayerful communion all the time you can go over to further prayer requests for yourself and intercession for others. Here again you may like to make a note of special prayers for specific people or circumstances.

This may all sound very roundabout and complicated, but it actually flows smoothly from one stage to the next and of course would be adapted by each one who tries it to suit their temperament.

Now what I have decided to do, as we move into the New Year is to publish on this blog the scriptures I intend to be reading in the next few days, I invite you, if you want to read parallel to me, to read the same scriptures. It doesn’t have to be the same day, but in the same sequence. If you wish to comment on any one of the passages or have a question, you can either publish it on the blog or put it to me and I will include it in my next blog. I will continue to share as I have been, specific insights with you all, in an effort to encourage you.

So over the next two days I will finish reading 1 Peter and on Thursday I intend to start with Luke.

My readings for the next few days after that will be: 1:1-25; 1:26-45,1:46-56; 1:57 – 80; 2:1-20; 2:21-35; 2:36-52.

Remember again to publish a comment, just click or touch the title of the piece and a place will open for you to comment.

Christmas Rememberance and our Blog.

As the time approaches when we will again be reminded of the history- tilting event when God Himself entered our world and our humanity to turn history around. From then on nothing would ever be the same again. And surely it is a time when we also are reminded of personal memories which seem to come into more bright focus now.

It is also a good time to take stock of our lives and especially, considering the nature of our blog, our spiritual lives as represented by our living relationship with the Creator of the universe through His Son Jesus, by the Spirit. And I am finding myself weighing up the progress we are making with this which is OUR blog, yours and mine, dear reader.

For many years I have been more and more convinced of the need, if we are to grow as Christians and enjoy an open relationship with God through Him, the need to hear Him speaking personally to each one of our hearts. Most of you will have experienced moments when you felt God had just spoken to your heart personally, sometimes in a sermon, or during bible study or even your quiet time. Especially at our conversion we can often testify to a particular word which seemed to wake us up and make us come alive. The question is though, is that your regular experience when you are in communion with God? For many their experience slowly tones down to reading a passage, or a devotion, or listening to a sermon and it just goes into the bank, as it were, to join all the rest of your knowledge of the scriptures, theology etc.

If that is your experience and you are growing I am not decrying that. However I believe that God wants to have a deeper, more intimate relationship with each one of us. He has promised clearly that “if we draw near to Him He will draw near to us”. Now under the Old Covenant, if an Israelite wanted to communicate with Yahweh, he would have to take a sacrifice to the temple and through the priest, who would do the sacrifice, enquire of God. There always had to be an intermediary. One of the promises of the New Covenant, which I think is often overlooked, is “No longer will a man teach his neighbour or a man his brother, saying” know the Lord”, because all will know me. (Heb 8:11). Furthermore Jesus described the work of the Holy Spirit He would send as, guiding us into all truth. There are a number of other references to God speaking through His Spirit. We therefore have personal access to God through this way of reconciliation which Jesus has opened up for us and do not need an intermediary. But how does He speak?

Earlier this year I spent a month working through Psalm 119. Virtually every verse mentions God’s Word. The psalmist uses different words to describe it, like commands, precepts, word(s), law, statutes, promise, decrees etc, but they are all referring to God’s Living Word, because that is what they promise, real life, wisdom, perseverance, joy, hope, guidance etc. But what struck me over and over was that The Word, as powerful as it is, has nevertheless no power in itself. Its power lies in the fact that this Word gives us access to the God of all creation, in whom all the power lies. It is the avenue to Him and His personality, His mind, His desires for us etc. That is where the power lies, and access it by faith.

Now to today. We are being buried under a vast monsoon of information, especially through the digital media. My inbox is flooded with messages from websites representing, John Piper, Paul Tripp, Tim Kellerman, Christianity Today, Sermon Quotes etc etc.I have an unlimited no of bible translations each site offering me daily devotions, there are canned sermons by the dozen on You Tube. It is so easy to be buried under all this and to lose the very contact with the One of whom it is all about and to spend your time listening to all manner of people’s comments, teachings, ideas etc without actually hearing God Himself speaking to you.

Over the years I have tried to encourage the members of my Bible study group to dig into the scriptures for themselves, by setting questions directing them to seek answers in the text. During the study we have encouraged discussion as we shared what we felt we each had gleaned from the passage, helping each other to understand, with me gathering the ideas together in summary at the end. I sought a way to continue this adventure after “lockdown” occurred and so decided on starting this blog.

My aim, from the very beginning was not to produce another bible study or devotion, but to seek to stimulate you readers to dig into the scriptures in such a way that you are meeting personally with the Lord and not feeding on second-hand food from me or anyone else. I had initially hoped to provoke a discussion, as in our studies, but clearly this platform has not lent itself to that. So I have slowly evolved into opening my heart and soul to you all and inviting you into my inner room where I meet with he Lord. Hoping in this way to share some of the excitement, joy, wonder etc of my time with the Lord, so that you will be stimulated to follow suite and seek a deeper communion with Him in your own style.

So in the next day or two I will publish a general guide, with some tips on how to get the most out of your quiet time. I in no way mean to lay down rules and rotes. This should be as individualized as each one of us is. The last thing we need is to find a new form of bondage. So I will simply give a series of things I have found helpful which you can consider using to enrich your time.

Let us move into 2021 with excited anticipation and be prepared to take a deeper step in faith.

Being a blessing, through spiritual fruit.

“Praise the Father, praise the Son, praise the Spirit three in one……”, the beautiful hymn is echoing through my mind and heart as I find myself meditating again on God’s creation – the wisdom, variety, ingenuity etc. “You were right to remember that you are part of My creation, made in My image – you are right to remember that I am busy moulding you – Creator, Potter, yet Father of all love – Now I am working in your life so that you may reflect me more and more – and be a witness to me.”

I see a picture in my mind’s eye of me, like a plant, a rose and God’s fruit coming out of me like a bud, a beautiful multicoloured bud. Then I remember Jesus’ words in John ch 15, speaking of a vine – I need to remain in the vine to produce the fruit – the more I draw of the sap of the Spirit, the more I will produce luscious, golden, swollen, grapes, sweet to taste, beautiful to look at the fragrance of joy, of purpose, of obedience and of trust. But then comes the warning; beware of rotten berries in the bunch, which will spread to the rest – pride, selfishness, impatience, frustration, lack of trust, lack of love, deceit, slander, hypocrisy. They will spoil the whole bunch.

I take up my reading in 1 Peter 3:8-12. His general theme is still submission and interpersonal relationships but now he has moved on to the wider relationships of the members of God’s church. Strong words in vv 8 and 9 of mutual love featuring a desire to be sympathetic and loving, showing compassion to each other, all with an attitude of humility, regarding others as better than ourselves.(cf Philippians ch 2)

Then follows a quotation from psalm 34 with the emphasis on the words “tongue, lips and speech”, which remind me again how important the fruit of our lips is. Dr Phil often used to say “you can’t undo stupid”. Well you can’t unsay words that reflect evil, deceit and lack of love and sympathy. Then comes the surprise, “God’s ears are attentive to the righteous in prayer” vs 12. OK… second time Peter has mentioned how important our holiness is in terms of God listening to our prayers. The previous time was in vs 7 where he speaks of a husband’s prayers being hindered because of a wrong attitude towards his wife.

Then there’s the word “blessing” in vs 9. With the right attitude towards others, Peter says we will “inherit a blessing”. I take that to mean that the one who walks like this will benefit from it by being in harmony with God. So, he/she will have that and the promise that God will hear his prayers, I presume as part of it. So there is a a warning which goes back to vs 7. If our attitude is not right towards others, especially brothers and sisters in the church we will NOT experience harmony and He will NOT be attentive to our prayers.

So as I consider all this, I come back to my initial meditation. What is Jesus saying to me today? Well, it is clear how important interpersonal relationships are. The harmony within the church and love shown to each other is the best witness there can be. Yet from a personal point of view He seems to be saying that this harmony is part of the fruit of the Spirit He was showing me, which cannot be produced in any other way than being “in the Vine and drawing the supernatural sap of the Spirit”. More than that, much as it is a huge benefit to be under God’s blessing, our real witness is when we demonstrate this by being a blessing to others. So that is my challenge: To see that in each and every interpersonal relationship I have, I must be demonstrating the fruit of the Spirit, if I am to be a witness. Even in the quiet of the inner room where it is only myself and a beloved wife who is struggling with dementia. Or my interaction with the nurses and helpers who I come into contact with daily.

“Praise the Father, praise the Son, praise the Spirit, three in one”!

God’s grace, Love and Suffering.

Yesterday I found my conversation with Jesus continuing from the previous day, concerning God’s love for me and His creation. This is what I wrote: “Remember, you are my beloved son – however, just as complex as the body’s functions are (I had been imagining in my mind’s eye some of the most incredible functions of our bodies, far far more complex and ingenious than I could even imagine), so complex is my creation – each individual is unique and I love each one I have made – even Adam and Eve -the firstborn. Have I made some for destruction, like Pharoah? Don’t try and understand, don’t question – just accept my absolute attitude for my whole creation – It hurts me that I have had to judge it with a curse, it hurts me that I have to judge each person – it hurts me when people turn their back on me and deny me – it hurts me even when people suffer – that is why my grace has been poured out, lavished on my creation to be with those who are suffering. Each person is unique and will never be tested more than the grace I give them. (There was more for me, to do with my ministry).

So my reading, starting yesterday in 1 Peter 2:11 and ending today at vs 25. The underlying theme is submission and humility and today moves to the submission and suffering slaves should do and what their attitude should be towards suffering unjustly. There is no witness when you suffer justly and accept it. The witness is when you suffer unjustly and accept it. This is why you need the power of the gospel to carry you through and the example is Christ’s suffering, although He never deserved it.

So before I even had the chance this morning to truly stop and ask what this meant for me, this came to me: “This is for you Ian – you may feel you are suffering unjustly, but you are participating in Christ’s suffering; to this you were called (vs 21) – you are not a slave to humans but you are a slave to Me – doulos – in a hugely good way you belong to me, for I not only made you but I bought you with my blood – and equally your suffering is not brought about by evil intent – it is because I love you – it is drawing you closer and bringing you into greater dependence and humility”.

Then looking further down the passage came this wonderful summary of the gospel in vss 24-25: “He Himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by His wounds you are healed. For you were like sheep going astray, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls”. Wow! There you have the gorgeous gospel in a nutshell.

I challenge each of you to try and memorize these two vss, so that when a crisis strikes they will be of the first words that will flood your mind.