The Rich Soil of the True Listener.

As I was reading Luke 8, the parable of the soils, I was taken back to a night in 1974 when the darkness in my soul was as deep as the moonless darkness outside. I was alone at home and picked up a Helen Steiner Rice book that I had given Emily some time before, to seek consolation. Opening the book I read the following poem, a poem that had such an effect on me that it has stayed with me ever since then:

“The farmer ploughs through fields of green

and the blade of the plough is sharp and keen,

But seed must be sown to bring forth grain,

For nothing is born without suffering and pain –

And God never ploughs in the soul of man

Without intention and purpose and plan,

So whenever you feel the plough’s sharp blade

Let not your heart be sorely afraid

For, like the farmer, God chooses a field

From which He expects an excellent yield –

So rejoice though your heart is broken in two,

God seeks to bring forth a rich harvest in you.

Although I wasn’t converted yet, after I had dried the tears away, it was as if a shaft of light suddenly shone into my darkness. “How exciting, the pain I am feeling is a sign of the fact that God is preparing me for a specific task!” There are a few signposts in my life which stand out as pointers that God has always had a very special plan for me. Of course I now believe He has a special plan for each one of us, but this was part of a completely unexpected, highly personal directive.

So to Luke, the three stories from Luke 8:4-21 need to be read together as they have a common theme. It is a twofold theme and deals with God’s Word on the one hand and our response on the other. The three stories are held together by: “He who has ears to hear let him hear.” Luke 8:8; The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of God has been given to you (the disciples), but to others I speak in parables, so that though seeing, they may not see; though hearing they may not understand” Luke 8:10; Whoever has will be given more, whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken away from him. Luke 8:18; My mother and brothers are those who hear God’s word and put it into practice Luke 8:21.

Can you see the link to the name of our blog lets LISTEN to Jesus. The premise is that there is “listening” and “LISTENING”. He who has ears let him hear. How do you know whether you are hearing Jesus Word? Well it shows in the response, doesn’t it. One who hears and understands produces fruit, there is a change, isn’t it. The story of the lamp is basically saying God isn’t really making a secret of the kingdom (as He says in vs 9b), His Word is as clear as a lamp on he hill. The problem of not understanding lies with the attitude of the listener (reader). So, as in the third story those who really listen and are truly part of the kingdom (iow saved) are those who not only hear the word but put it into practice. In other words they hear from the heart, they hear Jesus speaking to them personally. These stories reveal that the way we listen can bring a sort of judgement on those who don’t really want to hear, who don’t want to obey who are like the first three soils in the parable.

Don’t we see this in practice? The most intelligent and highly trained intellectuals often miss the point completely because they are just interested in analyzing the passage, not in hearing Jesus and having their lives changed. Others come to church for whatever reason, but have no real interest in meeting with Jesus and having a life-transforming experience. etc. To many others, this life-giving, all-powerful Word makes no sense at all, even when it is explained. On the other hand is it not so exciting that we all have access to Jesus and His words, they are as plain as a light on a hill-top, if we wish to hear and respond. And just as John the Baptist was “preparing the way for Jesus”, so our Father prepares our hearts and sometimes this means using a sharp plough to prepare our heart’s soil so that we can be receptive to His word. Seek and you shall find, knock and it will be opened unto you.

Lets then – really “listen to Jesus”, expectantly asking Him to open our hearts that we may truly change to love and obey Him more and more, from our hearts.

Knowing God or Knowing about God?

A song is playing: “Be still” (and know that I am God) – a song – a thought put into words by the song writer – such familiar words – but my desire is not only to know that “I am God” (ie about God) – but to know that God intimately, personally. My first thought is Romans 10:6 ff “who will ascend into heaven? (that is to bring God down) – what does it say? The Word is near you, it is in your mouth and in your heart”. While to know that Yahweh is God – I am overwhelmed with the vastness of His creation and power – Pictures of Suns crashing into each other and exploding 10 000 times the power of our sun, Tsunami’s, earthquakes, cyclones, massive thunderstorms tearing through the heavenly realms blasting off lightning like the sparks from a blacksmith’s forge, and waves towering into the air crashing onto the rocks that makes them quiver and so on go through my mind.

But I don’t have to fetch Him down from His throne – He is already near me, in Jesus. I can know God in Jesus without fetching Him – I can know Him as “the Word” that is as near as my mouth and my heart.

“Get to know Jesus better – let that reflect in your walk with Me – joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, faithfulness, purity, honesty, all put together in the package called love -walk in the Spirit and let My nearness provoke that sort of character in you”.

My reading is in Luke 7:41-50. But I need to see this passage as part of the whole message of Chapter 7. We said that salvation is one theme in ch 7. So the first two stories (the centurion and the widow)showed two sides of salvation: faith and the fact that it is a free gift (see my previous blog). The next story is about John and who he is, however it is really contributing to the third aspect of salvation which is mentioned in this chapter. I wonder if you can see it.

John came with a message which is billed as “preparing the way for Messiah”. How was he doing this? He was preaching about sin and the need for repentance and then ministering a baptism which symbolized that repentance. The Pharisees, however rejected that message as not applicable to them, their sin was minimal and dealt with through the law and sacrifices. One can deduce that the way to Jesus was NOT prepared in their hearts. So the last part of the chapter from vs 36 Luke shows a story and a parable which highlights what?

It highlights the seriousness of sin and the only way of having it dealt with, by forgiveness through Jesus. The Pharisees scorned the street woman who recognized her sinfulness and really appreciated Jesus’ forgiveness which opened a flood-gate of love for Him. The religious leaders did not even show common courtesy to Jesus, the King of the universe, because they had no appreciation for the fact that they too were sinners who desperately needed Him.

So this is the third aspect of salvation. First, receiving salvation by faith as a free gift and now the reality of what that gift entails, complete forgiveness of our sins, freely, we cannot earn it. That is the golden treasure of salvation. That opens vast vistas which are too much to talk about here. And notice in vs 50 what Jesus says, just to reinforce the importance of it – your faith has saved you. You must believe and trust Jesus for this forgiveness. Salvation, beginning and ending with faith in the very One who the whole chapter is about.

The other theme in this section is summarized in 7:49 “who is this who even forgives sins?”

John came preparing the way by making people conscious of their sinfulness, but only Messiah, God Himself can actually forgive sins. (Of course we understand that ultimately forgiveness would only be accomplished through the cross.) Fall in love again with this vastly exciting, mystical man-God.

There was plenty for me to meditate on, but here is where I felt Jesus was speaking to me. The very reason the world is in the mess it is in, can be summarized in the phrase: because of sin. That is what, after all, has caused God to place a curse on the world and that resulted in Him having to send His own Son to deal with the effects of that. Sin is extremely serious and the first step to recognizing our need for salvation is that we need to recognize why we need it – because of sin. However what I found Jesus saying to me was that the answer to dealing with sin and our separation from God because of it, is not to dwell on the sin as such. Yes we very definitely need to recognize it, but the way to deal with it is by fixing our eyes on Jesus and as through His Spirit He brings conviction of sin we are drawn to cast ourselves upon His compassion, demonstrated by His forgiveness, through confession and repentance. And we have a complete assurance that the sin is forgiven. The more mature in Christ I become The more I am aware that every thought and action I take is tainted and can only be purified the closer I am to Jesus.

Ultimately, like the street woman, the more we can appreciate how much we have been and are now being forgiven for, the more we will love the one who forgives. Isn’t that what you want? Its what I want. Is the lukewarmness of many in the church not due to the same attitude of the Pharisees?

With Jesus in the Garden.

A garden – “Come walk with me through My garden so I can show you where my thoughts and commands to you are rooted and grow into the beautiful flowers of obedience”. As I listen, I am aware of the TREE – that tree that caused all the trouble – ‘the tree of the knowledge of good and evil’, and there is Satan beckoning me to come and try some of the fruit – promising me “freedom” (actually the illusion of freedom) from the constraints of a fearful and angry God. My answer is a clear NO – I will deny myself and take up my cross – give up the notion of independence, even in a small way, from my Eternal Father – to walk close to Him – hand in hand as He guides me. “Come with Me and I will show you some delights in My garden – more beautiful than you could ever believe is possible. I have given you a companion to live with you in the garden – but the ultimate Companion will be Myself when you are finally joined to me at the ‘Marriage Supper of the Lamb'”

My reading Luke 7:11-18, is linked closely to yesterday’s reading of 7:1-10. This is the beginning of a new section which lasts to 8:56 , a series of stories with the main theme of “salvation” intermingled with a few parables. In the background, of course the main melody line of Luke – “who is this Man”? and “what has He come to do”? Why don’t you read through these two stories and see what you can glean from them, what Jesus wants to say to you to-day. Noting firstly how Luke uses contrasts to teach. See if you can spot the clue to the main theme.

OK so here’s the clue: 7:19 “Are you the One who was to come [Messiah], or should we expect someone else?” So what does this passage say that gives us the insight to know the answer? And what do the two stories reveal about Jesus’ purpose?

Firstly the contrast: First story; the main figure (except Jesus) is a gentile (outside of the Covenant race), an important and good man, interceding on behalf of his slave (doulos) who is severely ill. So humble he doesn’t feel worthy of speaking to Jesus himself. In the other a widow, weak, losing her one source of security in the future, her son. She has no standing and doesn’t even say anything to Jesus. In the first story Jesus “saves” the doulos, at a distance, and commends the Centurion for his faith, which can be seen as the vehicle which brought Jesus’ response. In the other story there is nothing said about faith, Jesus, out of compassion raises the son from the dead. But there is a key word – vs 15b “Jesus gave the son back his mother.

Are these two healings contradictory? I suggest absolutely not – these are two aspects of Jesus’ great mission of salvation, which for instance is so beautifully described in Ephesians 2:1-8: “We were all dead in our trespasses and sins v 1, and Jesus, because of His great mercy made us alive” vs 5 and then in vs 8 “For it is by grace we have been saved, (the Greek word for saved and healed is the same sozo) through faith and this not of yourselves, it is a gift of God”. Do you see that both are true – by faith and – it is a gift, totally free?

So who is this man who walks through these stories today? Do you know how important it is that we see who this Man really is? That is what transforms us. That is what settles our anxious hearts. It is the true and growing knowledge and understanding of who this Man really is This Man who, in my mind, walked with me in His garden this morning. Who do you say He is? Truly, deep down in your heart, where only He can see and where only He can go to change and heal you and raise you from the dead.

“Be still and know that I am – Who? Who is your God?

Fruit from a Giving God.

Receive, is the word that comes to mind as I listen. “Receive from Me! I am a giving God – I want to give to you – You must just be open to receive from Me – I have given you so much over the years, you are aware of some of it – but I have given you so much more than you are aware of – not a wallet full of money, but a wallet of love, of companionship and fellowship and friendships with so many people – every day I have been giving – freely of My love and grace – just become more sensitive to me and My gifts and you will see so much more of Me and yes, I do desire communion with you, like with every other brother or sister – walk with me, like Adam walked with Me in the garden, draw near to Me and I will draw near to you!”

My reading in Luke 6:39-49. covers 2 sections.

Having laid down the true characteristics of a Christian and given direction on a number of interpersonal issues, so far in this sermon, Christ covers a whole section with a warning against being judgemental, not to focusing on another’s ability to follow and be obedient to what He has taught so far, which it is so easy to dol. As much as we must be generous in all other aspects of life, so much should we be generous towards the behaviour and actions of others, remembering that we are often more guilty than they of the very misdemeanors we accuse them of. The hyperbolic parable on judgement in vss 41,42 is well-known, but may I suggest, needs to be meditated well on.

He then reaches the closing section of His sermon in vss 43-49 which can be summarized as follows: the basic characteristic of a true Christian is that his/her heart has been changed cf vs 45. The measure of that is the fruit of a changed life, as I suggested last time a supernatural fruit, only possible from a changed heart. And the way to find that and maintain it comes from our attitude towards God’s word (vv 46-49). It is not sufficient to just read His word, or even study it. It must bring about a changed heart which is shown by the obedience of the person reading it and the work of the Spirit in empowering one.

So the real key to the Christian life is truly “Listening to Jesus”! Hearing what He is saying to you and then taking that to heart, asking Him to change your heart. Our hearts are so hard that we need all the power, on an ongoing basis, of God’s Spirit to change them. However He will not and cannot change them unless we desire to have them changed. A desire which must be matched by our ongoing seeking Him and His Spiritual power. In other words to “walk by the Spirit” as in Galatians.

So for me today, as I meditated on the instructions of not to judge, I became so convicted as to how shallowly I have viewed this command previously. How easy it is for me to slot people into categories and to see their faults, while forgetting mine completely. And of course dealing with that requires further Spiritual heart-surgery. I am so grateful to a God who is patient and prepared to give me renewed hope and strength every day. Thank you my dear Lord, for being such a giving God. I worship at the foot of Your throne.

True Gospel Life is Supernatural

Closing my eyes I allow my mind to take me into a picture of the heavenly vision that John had, which he recorded in Revelation 4. The multitude of worshipers, the cherubim, but most of all the figure dominating everything, The Lamb that was slain, the Lion of Judah. Shining so brightly that no-one could look at it, a figure so beautiful no-one can describe it.

“Let your life be influenced by that and fill your mind with what is good, admirable, of good repute etc and overflow in rejoicing in WHO I AM – Elohim, Jehovah, Jesus, The Holy Spirit! Focus on that and not on the “what if’s” of your everyday uncertainty – so that you can rejoice in Me and be filled with thanksgiving. So live your life in that light – moment by moment, making your decisions, led by the Spirit – with the underlying sense of joy because of my relationship with you”.

I am reminded again of the joy of my conversion at Noordhoek, where my eyes, my mouth and my heart were filled with the word Jesus. Its been a journey, with many deviations, obstacles and joys, which I would not have missed for anything.

Reading Luke 6: 30 -39. I have come to the middle of the “sermon on the plain” which is Luke’s parallel to Matthew’s “sermon on the mount.” These verses have a common theme which is summarized in vs 31 “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”. In other words live your life in an “other people centered way”. the section is bracketed by the vv 29,30 on the one side and 38 on the other and shows us that the basic attitude of the Christian life towards others is one of ultimate generosity which governs how we treat them, whether brothers or sisters, or even our enemies.

I know that the immediate thought that goes through every person’s mind is “that is impossible, a bar too high to be leaped”. In ordinary terms that is oh so true, that is why we must understand that this can only be achieved supernaturally and that is why it is such a good witness as the true fruit of one who is really converted. I have so often seen the change in people who are converted when they become gentle and generous. So it has led me to say on numerous occasions the first sign of true Christianity is when a person’s wallet is also converted. But you know what? The promise in vs 38 is “Give and it will be given unto you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For the measure you use, it will be measured unto you”

This is the motivation behind the instruction, yet not the reason for one’s generosity. The reason for generosity is because of Jesus’ huge generosity through His grace to us. I can testify that I have been the recipient of many other’s generosity, especially now when I am vulnerable and weak, which proves to me that promise to be true. Friends, no-one can pretend this. This comes out of a heart that has been truly softened, by Jesus and His gospel and can only be accomplished through the power of the Holy Spirit.

When I attended the camp at Noordhoek where I was converted, one of the first words that struck me was the word for “power”. The speaker started his talk with a comment on the passage in Acts where Jesus says; “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you”. I remember Him saying the word for power in Greek is “dunamis”, from which comes the word dynamite. That really made me sit up. Well, the gist of his teaching was to do with being able to do miracles. While I now believe that miracles still happen today, the much more common need for power by the ordinary Christian is simply to live the gospel life effectively. When we think that Jesus’ instructions are impossible, we know that we need that gospel power to live it fully, from the heart.

For me today: The passage was a fresh reminder of the all encompassing other-person centered lifestyle that is expected of me. But wow, praise the Lord He has made it possible through the life-giving power of His Holy Spirit! I must just do it.

To God be all the glory.