A Stranger in Paradise.

As I became quiet before the Lord this morning, the words and tune of a beautiful secular song about love were involuntarily going through my mind – “Take my hand I’m a stranger in paradise, lost in a wonderland….” And suddenly I thought “How true”. Here I am, we all are, exiles from paradise due to Adam and Eve’s disobedience. With Adam and Eve and every person since then we have been thrown out of Paradise and eternal life (the right to eat from the tree of life) blocked by two cherubim who are wielding a flaming sword preventing us from entering. Yet, through the huge grace of God and the work of Jesus the true Adam, we have once again been granted entry into this “Wonderland”. Not entirely physically yet, but completely in a spiritual sense. But, heh, we are actually still “strangers” to this magnificent and beautiful garden and we need the One who is completely at home to take us by the hand and lead us through it, so that we can become familiar with it and live in the harmony which it represents, with God Himself and all else in creation. I thought to myself, how much do I need that guidance and yet it just takes my desire to take His hand and He will lead me all the way until I enter the real physical Paradise one day. Whew! What a thought, my heart is bouncing in my throat, my palms are sweaty and my eyes filled with tears at the thought of it.

Now back to he theme of our blog as I invite you to “listen to Jesus”. Coming to the end of the book of Colossians there are a number of verses which appear to have little spiritual significance, if we are not careful. As I went through them I was astounded by what Jesus said to me from them. Maybe you would like to sit down with a pen and paper and write down what Paul is saying in these vss, say 4:2-18. Here are some of the things that I felt He was saying to me:

Paul writes from a position where he is “in chains”, vs 18. Just before that he urges Archippus to complete the work he has received from the Lord. Well what does this say to me? I am sort of “in chains” tied down to my house, as it were. The exciting thing is that that does not mean I am of no use to God. He has put me here. Now, if the message to Archippus is for me too, there is still work for me to do, not just any work, the work the Lord has given me. So here I am at 82 with the promise that God still wants to use me, He still has plans for me, a work He has given me. Even if that work is just loving and caring for Emily, it is a very special work because God Himself has given it to me to do, and I must complete it. There is of course the possibility of other things He wants me to do as well, but that alone gives me a new impetus to joy and thankfulness in my situation, doing the special work he wants me to do.

Then of course going back a bit I read in vs 12 about Epaphrus who is described as always wrestling in prayer for the recipients of the letter. Well actually he had been their pastor earlier so he knew them pretty well. Of course it is not only him that should be wrestling in prayer, we are all to be “devoted in prayer”, 4:2. I am now trying to work through this one. I feel my prayer life falls far short of what it should be. I can’t exactly say I picture myself as wrestling in prayer. I am sure there are some of you out there who are doing it far better. But I do know you and I am praying for each one of you and asking God to help me do it more effectively.

There’s more there in that passage, but I will stop there and urge you to take time and see what God (Jesus) is saying to you. I get so excited when I meet with our Lord and sense His opening up His word for me. That is really what it means to be alive. To not only see words on the paper, but to see the words as a portal, a window which opens and displays a vast and beautiful scenery and Jesus can take you through that window, soar on eagle’s wings into HIs very presence. No wonder I feel “lost in a wonderland”.

Thankfulness and Witness.

This morning I was reminded again about the longing many Christians have for real “Revival” to break out. Myself included, yet I am not sure we are all really prepared for the way revival would turn many of our lives upside down. God has used many means to trigger revival and there are many people who have theories why revival broke out at a certain time and place. Prayer sometimes by an individual other times by a community, has often been pointed out as preceding revival. However one thing stands out to me like the Morning Star, that it is entirely the prerogative of the Holy Spirit. The place and means and who He uses is unique to Him and in each situation. I think many have expected the sort of upheaval that the Covid pandemic may have been the key to revival, if not world-wide at least in local areas.

In the light of what I have been reading in Colossians, I have been reminded that whatever God is doing on the big screen, each one of us has the role to be a witness and be prepared to give an answer or take an opportunity to speak of the gospel all the time. Just look at the attitude of Paul revealed in Col. 4: 2-6. Despite being incarcerated he asks for prayer for an open door for his message, so that he may proclaim the mystery of Christ clearly, He urges the readers to be wise in the way they interact with outsiders, making the most of every opportunity, letting their conversation be seasoned by salt.

Now when Jesus was taken to heaven, the last words He spoke to His disciples were “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you and you will be my witnesses”. Notice carefully, He did not say go and prepare yourselves to witness on my behalf. On the contrary He later says, do not worry about what to say, The Spirit will give you the right words to say.

Now I want to take you back to Colossians. Underlying the whole message of Colossians is a golden thread. The thread of thanksgiving. This is painted like the backdrop of a beautiful golden sunset across the sky against which the wonderful truths of the Gospel are told in bright shining letters in this astounding book.

Just look with me at a few places it appears Ch 1:9 ff, Paul’s prayer for the Colossian people: climaxes in giving thanks to the Father. This is slap in he middle of his proclamation of the wonders of the gospel and who Christ is in bringing it about. He ends this proclamation in 2:7 with the words “overflowing with thanksgiving”. This sort of brackets the section.

Then in the key paragraph in ch 3:15-17, he begins and ends with “be thankful” vs 15, and whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it in the name of the Lord, giving thanks to God the Father through Him. Finally in 4:2 Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful.

I was pondering this and the fact that elsewhere in the Bible, New an O T there are many similar vss, eg Phil 4:6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving present your requests to God. My thoughts started with “that is a very noble attitude to have”. Then I thought a bit deeper. This is not an instruction to add a few words of thanksgiving to our prayers to make them more authentic or whatever. No it should reflect a deep attitude of your heart which pervades your thinking. Yes one can and should give thanks. However real thanksgiving arises like a crystal fountain in the heart of the believer when he/she truly believes and embraces the great and mysterious truths of the gospel. When one is soaked in the truth of the scripture and fused to God through the reconciling work of Jesus and the power of the Spirit. It bursts almost involuntarily to the surface and friends, that is what turns us into true witnesses. That is what results in our conversation being seasoned by salt.

Can it be cultivated? Of course, but on its own it is like a bunch of grapes hanging on a fence, when it is actually fruit which comes spontaneously from a shoot of the vine of Jesus through the sap of the Spirit. It is the stalk which holds all the grapes, the fruit of the Spirit together in the bunch. That is what it means to BE a witness. When you ARE like that, you will be asked questions which you may answer in His power (Col 4:6b). And these are the people that God wants to use to build His revival on.

Just remember we can’t live the gospel by trying harder, it is the natural outflow which comes from our understanding the forgiveness and grace which comes with and from the true gospel message.

Freedom to Love the Lord

A few days ago I was contemplating Colossians 3:1,2 where Paul encourages the readers to set their minds and their hearts on “things above”. I was asking myself “which comes first? My mind is where I make my mental choices, but they only become really part of who I am when my heart echo’s that. So I decided to have a look at my great….great granny Eve in Genesis ch 3. At the process that she went through to end up causing the SPOT of trouble we still live with today. Come with me to the little conversation in Genesis ch 3. Vs 5 Satan says “God knows that when you eat from the tree your eyes will be opened and you will be like God. She looked, saw and desire to sin was awakened in her heart. It started with a mental attack, a challenge to look. Then through her eyes desire was aroused and her heart was moved. (Incidently she saw that she could obtain wisdom through eating, but that for another day)

I want to pass to something else which came to mind. A few days before I had been speaking to God about freedom. In Colossians 2 the readers are warned “not to let anyone take them captive by hollow philosophy”. Col 2:8. Later my conclusion was that God has set us free, Jesus has paid the price, it is up to us to appropriate that freedom. We need very much to use our minds to obtain wisdom and discernment, so that our hearts aren’t swept away by what is worldly and appears to be desirable.

So Sunday as I quietly sat with the Lord the word freedom came up again. I started by thinking again of Eve. Then it occurred to me that she had sought freedom. She had looked past the offer of God in Gen 2:16 “You are FREE to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from this one tree”. So she was so busy looking at the one thing she was not allowed to do that she missed the fact that in ALL other things she and Adam had been given full freedom. But her desire focused on that one prohibition and she wanted to be freed from that. In the process she not only ruined her life but every other person’s life since then.

So this is what I wrote in my journal: The Lord is saying true love sets free – like you hold a bird – you hold it gently to give it security but it is free to fly away at any time – if you hold too fast that is bondage. He is setting me free – rather reminding me that I have been set free – free from bondage to Satan, sin and the world, but – yes – even bondage to Him. My relationship with Him is not one of a slave in bondage but of a son. He sets me free, but invites me closer – “If you draw near to me I will draw near to you”. You have been set free, do not become enslaved again to rules and regulations Col 2:16. See your relationship as one of mutual joy, free to spend time with each other and an invitation to depend totally on Him as my Father.

Yesterday freedom was on my mind again “Jesus is setting me free so that I can come back to Him of my own free will to walk with Him – I choose intimacy “Lean in to me” He says” and I will give you that intimacy – the intimacy of a real son, even a brother”. I lean in to Him, aware that He is the source of all grace “grace upon grace” John 1:16, grace lavished upon me Ephes 1:7. My grace is sufficient for you, given without measure – as much as you need and desire at any time.

What a privilege to know my Creator, my Redeemer like this – yet there is so much mystery that I am still plumbing the depths of – how exciting. Dear reader this immense privilege which I am experiencing is not an exclusive. It is open and available to each one of us. The promise is just “draw near to me and I will draw near to you” and so let us all start really listening to Jesus.

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.