The Gospel – Proclaiming Him in whom is Hidden all Wisdom and Knowledge.

So listening to a children’s talk in church recently, I realized that the teacher who was teaching from the Old Testament was making the (well meaning) classic mistake many teachers and preachers make when they are proclaiming the Gospel, especially from the Old Testament.

I have started spending time in Colossians after two months in Proverbs and was enthralled afresh at the emphasis on the gospel as it is set out in this beautiful letter of Paul’s. So let me share some of the insights I have picked up so far.

The key of the first section to me was expressed in 1:28 “We proclaim Him, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone perfect in Christ” and a little further 2:2 “My purpose is …….that you may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that you may know the mystery (not something hidden but something buried deep and integral to who He is) of God, namely Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge”.

Up to now Paul has emphasized the (1.) importance and the power of the gospel 1:5-11, (2.)The central and pivotal role of Jesus, focusing on Him and what He has done (this is perhaps the most beautiful and complete description of Jesus and His sovereignty and what He accomplished on the cross) (3) Paul’s complete devotion and dedication to proclaiming this.

And now the interesting thing – proclaiming a person not a message! Yes it is a message but it is wrapped up in a person, none other that Jesus the Messiah. So if we are not proclaiming Him with the purpose of those who hear getting to know Him more completely then we are not proclaiming the true gospel.

Many messages will mention Jesus and even give some attention to Him, but are really more about what we need to do! How we should live, what we need to do to keep right with God etc. This is NOT the gospel. The true Gospel is GOOD NEWS and should be that when we present that.

Why is Jesus THE Good News? Because we are living with the worst news: dead in our slavery to sin, under the power of this world and the Devil, condemned to eternal separation from God. This is far more awful than we tend to think about it, but the Good News is that God took the initiative and did something about it and that solution lies totally in the person of Jesus. Once we have come to know Jesus however we don’t move into a mode where we live lives according to a set of principles which are aimed at keeping us right with Him. No – we have been set free from this bondage and live in His power, not according to a written code but according to the Spirit. We cannot live perfect lives, we cannot live without sinning, Joh 1 tells us that, we cannot be Christian by trying harder, we can only live lives of freedom from condemnation when we realize this, coming to Jesus in repentance for forgiveness and knowing His continuing love and acceptance which does NOT depend on how good we are but on His love and commitment to us.

Does that mean we can live as we like without regard to Him and His desires? Of course not our lives are changed and if we truly wish to live in a relationship with Him we will desire to live as He has taught us to. Remember His words to His disciples in Mark “deny yourselves, take up your cross and follow Me. That does NOT mean go and live a life of ascetism, this is clearly shown in ch 2 Colossians. It means stop living with yourselves central in all your thoughts and desires and place me and my desires central in your minds and hearts.

Friends when you tell the gospel, ask yourself is it the real Good News that I am telling, not “some pat on the back feel good news” nor “some try harder and do your best sort of bad news.”

Future Grace, Living a Life that gives God All the Glory.

Firstly let me apologize for being silent for so long. Actually I have been bursting to share some of the wonderful insights I have been experiencing. However last Thursday, without warning, Telkom suspended my service. Not just cut me off, suspended me completely. It was entirely illegal and uncalled for. It had to do with a glitch in their bookkeeping system. So finally I was reconnected today, through the intervention of a fellow-Christian who kows someone at Telkom.

Now during the last few days of of frustration, I have been facing a conviction from the Lord. Some time ago I started to ask God to reveal more of what His glory is about. I occasioned to listen to a bit of a course John Piper is giving called “future grace, battling unbelief”, last Wednesday evening. In the introductory section he makes the following 4 points: 1. Our attitude should never be that we are serving God (as if He needs our service). Mark 10:45 summarizes this: “The Son of man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many. Conclusion – God is a giver. Yes we serve but not as it were to enrich God, but rather as a spinoff coming from His bountiful gifts wrapped up in His Son Jesus. 2.Everything God does is aimed at bringing Himself Glory. So our service to others, our behaviour towards the world and in the light of the many difficulties we experience etc should always be to bring Him glory 1 Peter 4:11″ If anyone serves he should do it with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To Him be glory and power for ever”.

Now John Piper’s slogan “God desires our good and is most glorified when we are most satisfied in Him!. (In sickness and difficulty as well as health and prosperity.)

Then 3.The importance of Holiness – we cannot see God without holiness Heb 12:14.

Piper also defined what he meant by the term “future grace”. Not some far distant fulfilment of God’s promises, but like a river flowing towards you and minute by minute spilling over you like a wave of His goodness.

So I started meditating on how my attitude must change so that I constantly see God as a giver and serve HIm in such a way that He gets the glory, and also to understand how this is reflected practically in holiness. My attention was drawn to what He seemed to be saying to me: “In your service for me you attract a certain amount of attention and admiration, in all this are you bringing Me glory? From now on be careful to reflect everything you do or say to My glory”. He then reminded me of that beautiful sentence in Ephesians 1 which is bracketed by the phrase “to the praise of His glory”. Everything He has done for us is summarized by that phrase.

So that was the theory on 30th Oct. The practical followed that same day. I discovered, as I said in my introduction that my Telkom service was suspended. During Friday and over the next 4 days I spent several hours on the phone in a fruitless effort to get things sorted out. The temptation was to rant to the world but I kept thinking “how can this be to he praise of God’s glory?” Well so far I am so relieved that things are sorted out, as I look back I can see that God allowed this whole unpleasant affair to happen to test, among other things, my resolve to give Him the glory. I could mention a number of things that have been churning around in my head, but at this stage I will hold my words, except to reflect back on James 1:3:2-4.

May this be the beginning of a renewed effort to give Him the glory in all things and to remind myself to be most satisfied in Him.

TO GOD BE THE GLORY!

More on Love and Wisdom.

John wrote in Revelation 1:10: “I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day when….” I felt something like that this Lord’s day and I am going to share some of what I wrote down. Not all, because some has to do with how this has played out in my relationship with Emily.

True love seals you to the person you love and requires complete faithfulness. The problem is that we struggle to maintain even a semblance of faithfulness. Now the Lord is completely faithful and seals us to Himself through the Spirit (Ephes 1:13). Every time we are unfaithful to Him (sin,) this disturbs the seal, that is why we need to keep short shrift by confessing our sin as soon as we realize we have been unfaithful and receive His forgiveness, which enables us to experience His love completely. Our unfaithfulness, because of Jesus will not separate us from God’s love it will merely mar our experience of it.

Now, after meditating for some time on my life and experience with Emily and my walk with the Lord, I am led to recollect an incident which happened on the weekend I met the Lord in His full glory at a camp in Noordhoek. At the end of the weekend (Easter 1980), we had a communion service and as we received the host, Angus Baine laid hands on each one of us and gave us a “personal prophecy”. Now over the years I have been led to be suspicious of that sort of thing but I find I am changing my mind. The prophecy pronounced over me was simple: “I am giving you the power to love”.

So on Sunday I find my mind focusing on that prophecy and wondering about it. Maybe it was necessary for God to tell me that then, because of my general self-centredness or maybe in some way He was preparing me for this period of my life which was still far in the future, when my time would be taken up with caring for Emily. I could never give her as much love as she needs, without the help of the Lord. So probably that and much more.

So now my mind turns to the question how do “love” and “wisdom” fit together? It seems to me that you can’t separate what is part of the same thing. It is all part of what it means to have a relationship with the Lord and basically how it is expressed in our behaviour – simply put “Two ways to live”. The way of love expressed in wisdom or maybe shall I say the way of wisdom expressed in love, on the one hand and the way of foolishness on the other. Because Jesus IS our wisdom, how does it look like when we express it in our relationship with Wisdom Himself? So on Saturday Ludwig was saying, in relation with another matter that we should be careful not to try and separate things that are so deeply integrated (like love and wisdom.)

So in my mind’s eye eye I see love, like a huge absolutely beautiful jewel (indescribably beautiful), only not hard like a jewel, scintillating and reflecting a multitude of the most beautiful colours which intermingle and sparkle as it spins around. Every facet is important in our lives and gives us depth and a beauty which makes us attractive to the world so that we become – we ARE His witnesses – not just the words that flow so easily from our mouths.

Now Lilly suggested recently that 1 Corinthians 13 is a summary of the characteristics of love. While I agree with that it is far from complete. I spent time and I challenge you to do this, just looing at 4 places where Paul describes the different characteristics of love: Romans ch 12, Colossians 3″12 ff, Galatians 5:22 and compare them to 1 Cor ch 13. Now that is just some of what Paul says about love and there are negatives as well as positives, just like in Proverbs there are two ways, the way of wisdom and the way of foolishness. Here are the ways of love and the other way which is, can I call it “anti-love”. That is just in these 4 letters of Paul, what about John?

So this is such a composite picture, so deep and many-coloured it is impossible to ingest it all on your own and even less possible to do without the power and guidance of the Holy Spirit. It is a lifetime of work – how exciting! especially as we are already recipients of the complete love of God through Christ, no wonder He asks in Ephesians 3 that the readers should be able to comprehend the height, depth, breadth and length of God’s love and to know (experience) it.

Praise the Lord Hallelujah

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!